Pathfinding on Plain
and Prairie Chapter X
We return to Pigeon Lake—"Scarred
Thigh" exchanged for "Blackfoot"- Planting Gospel seed— We organize
a buffalo hunt—A moose chase—The buffalo as a "path-finder"—We
encounter a hostile camp—All night on guard—My friend Mark's daring
exploit— Wood Stonies visit the Mission—Gambling, polygamy and
superstition among the Indians.
Now that father was home
again I and my party were at liberty to start back to Pigeon Lake, which we
did under instructions to remain there until the Indians should start out
for the winter, when we were to return to Victoria. I was very sorry to part
with Paul at this time, he having decided to go to the plains with the
colony of half-breeds for the fall provision hunt. Also with him I separated
from "Scarred Thigh," my horse for the last three years.
My readers in "SADDLE, SLED
AND SNoWSHOE" will remember that I mentioned a horse called "Blackfoot,"
taken in battle, and time winner of many a long race. This horse had come to
Paul through his wife. He had been stolen from him by those who thought that
might was right, but Paul, being a plucky fellow, had taken him back, and as
he had more or less trouble guarding the horse, I happened to suggest to him
one day that we might make an exchange. He gladly accepted my offer, and now
instead of "Scarred Thigh" I had the noted "Blackfoot." Nevertheless I was
sorry to see the little sorrel go. Many a glorious gallop we had had
together, and I had grown to love the gentle fellow. But Paul was a natural
gentleman, and he also must be considered. In the meantime Muddy Bull had
come in from the plains with our oxen and carts, the latter loaded with fine
dried provisions. Quite a large camp also had come to the Mission, and from
these father traded more provisions. Thus we did not start empty-handed on
our return trip to the Western Mission at the lake.
Westward we rolled with our
carts, every encampment our home for the time. Reaching the spot where we
were detained by storm and sickness during the spring, we left the carts and
packed on through the woods to the lake, where very soon our people began to
settle down around us. Our gardens under the continued neglect now promised
little result for the earlier efforts; but the fish in the lakes were
exceedingly plentiful, and upon these we almost altogether subsisted. Our
dried provisions we were obliged to share with the wandering people who came
to us from the north and west, and who had not been out on the plains as we
had We held meetings twice a day on week-days, and, I might almost say, all
(lay Sunday. What our ministrations lacked in quality they fully made up in
quantity. And some of those simple services were blessed seasons where souls
were born into the kingdom of our Christ. The conjurer might sing and drum
as lie would, and the intensely conservative pagan decry us as he pleased,
our work kept growing as the weeks passed in quick succession, one camp
going and another coming to take its place, and we putting in our best
efforts to sow the seeds of Christianity.
Presently some Mountain Stonies came to us, men
whom I had never seen before. Among them was Mark, of whom I will have more
to say as my narrative progresses. These brought word of buffalo near where
the village of Lacombe now is, on the line of the Calgary and Edmonton
Railway, and as my friend Jacob and his stalwart brothers and cousins were
with us at the time, we concluded to take a run out for meat.
Mrs. McDougall remained at the Mission with a
few of the older people, and the most of the rest started off early one day.
With these I sent my pack-horses and necessary outfit, and with Jacob, Mark
and others I followed in the afternoon. Our course was around the north end
of Pigeon Lake, then over the "divide" to Battle Lake, and thence down the
Battle River. My companions and I had not yet reached the head of the lake,
when we saw a big buck moose plunge into the water across the bay and strike
out straight for a point of timber which was between us and the Mission. The
huge animal was making quick time, and his great antlers and long ears were
high out of the water as with strong strokes he cut through the lake.
The nature of the ground where we were was such
that we could make better time on foot than with horses. Accordingly we left
our mounts, and ran back a distance of about a mile to intercept the moose.
I was on the spot some time before the next best, and as the big buck was
coming straight for where I was in hiding, I fully expected to have the
first shot; but while he was still more than a hundred yards away, and
fairly rushing through the water by the force of his swimming power, and
even as I stood behind a tree admiring the noble fellow, suddenly there came
a shot from down the shore and the moose fell over almost without a
struggle, being fairly hit just under the butt of his big antler. I jumped
out on the beach, and looking in the direction of the report saw my friend
Jacob quietly loading his old flint-lock, a significant smile overspreading
his face. I shouted to him, If you did take my shot you made a very good one
"to which he answered, "It was enough for you to have left us in the race,"
and thus we were mutually appeased and complimented.
But meanwhile Mark had divested himself of his
clothing and was swimming out to the moose, which he soon towed into the
shallow water, where we all took hold and pulled the immense carcase up the
bank. While Jacob and Mark skinned and cut him up I went back for our
horses. Bringing them up, we packed most of the meat back to the Mission,
and late in the evening again started after our party of hunters, whom we
came up with away down Battle River. Holding an open-air service and
stationing our guards, we went to sleep, and with the first dawn of day were
astir again. Holding a short morning service, we very soon were jogging down
the winding saddle-path which was but the adoption and endorsation by man of
the buffalo-path of the preceding ages.
In the course of years I have travelled
thousands of miles on buffalo-paths, and often I have wondered at and
admired the instinctive knowledge of engineering skill manifested in the
selection of ground and route made by those wandering herds of wild cattle.
If one was in doubt as to a crossing let him follow the path of a buffalo.
Gladly have I often taken to these in the winter time, when the snow was
deep. Taking off my snow-shoes, I have run behind my dog-train on the packed
trail made by the sharp hoofs of the migrating buffalo. But alas 1 as I
write these paths are about all that we have left to remind us that a short
time since these vast plains fairly trembled to the roar and tread of these
wonderful herds of nature's stock.
All day on the steady jog, our company of hardy
men and women and little children rode down the valley of the Battle River
on to Mossy Creek, thence on to Wolf Creek, and when in the evening we were
expecting to see some buffalo, instead of these we met the small party Mark
had come from, in hiding from a large camp of Blackfeet and Sarcees which in
the meantime had come upon the scene. Again, alas for us, these enemies had
driven the buffalo back, and, worse than this, were here in our vicinity in
such numbers as to make our little party seem very small. As it was now
evening we determined to select as strong a place of defence as possible for
the night's bivouac. A brief search revealed a small thicket in a gently
sloping hollow, with prairie all around it, into which we put the women and
children, who, wearied with the hard day's travel, were soon sound asleep.
The night was dark and long, for it was now the late autumn. Before twilight
came we saw the enemy and knew we were discovered; but though they
surrounded us for a good part of the night, they knew that we were posted
all around our camp, and did not venture to attack, though we fully expected
them to do so about day-break. However, they concluded to draw off before
that time. Providence and our strong position, and, doubtless, the prestige
of the Stony and wood Indians, influenced them, for when day came our scouts
brought the welcome word of their departure. Their big camp was south-west
of us only some ten miles, and we set off rapidly eastward to lengthen the
distance between us, and also, if possible, secure buffalo, so that we
should not go home empty-handed.
It was during that long night that Mark, hearing
me express my wish for a drink, took a small kettle, and, making his way
stealthily through the lines of the enemy to a creek some distance beyond,
surprised me by bringing back the kettle-full of water. I was truly grateful
for the refreshing draught, and could not but admire his pluck and scouting
ability. Thus was begun a friendship which has continued through all these
years. Full often in the bush and plain, in raging current and dangerous
ford, Mark has been by my side, loyal and brave.
As we journeyed next day we
saw the many trails made by the Blackfoot and Sarcee camps, and from these
could estimate their numbers, which were sufficiently formidable to
stimulate us to increase the intervening distance. We camped that night
across the narrows of what was called "the lake which runs through the
hills," a long narrow body of fresh water, heavily timbered on every side.
Here we felt comparative security from the plain Indians, for these dread
the woods. The next day we moved on down and across Battle River, below
where now our Mission is situated, and were fortunate in killing several
bulls, with which we had to rest content and return homewards. If the
Blackfeet had not taken this circle into the western timber country, which
at this season was an unusual course for them, we would have had great luck;
but their large camp effectually drove the game from us. However, we were
thankful that there had been no actual collision and no lives lost. As it
was we took home 'a little bull's meat instead of the loads of prime cow's
meat we had hoped to bring to reinforce the Mission larder.
Arriving at the lake we found all well, and
noted that some more wood Stonies had come in. These latter were inveterate
gamblers, and generally pretty wild fellows. Many of them were polygamists,
and our hands were full doing what we could to withstand heathenism and
ignorance. There was no rest day or night while these people were beside us.
I had often to act as judge and arbiter. Old quarrels, domestic and tribal,
were brought to me, and these I had to settle as best I could. I also had to
act as doctor and surgeon, which taxed to the fullest limit my small store
of knowledge and experience in this line. But gamble and conjure and quarrel
as they would, nevertheless these people would come to our services and
listen with close attention. Slowly but surely the seed took root as the
more thoughtful began to consider the Gospel message. One idea we had great
trouble with was that they believed all sickness and death was caused by
hatred amongst themselves. Some one, they thought, was working bad medicine
or casting a blight or spell upon those who were taken sick or in some way
met with death. This would generate a strong desire for revenge, and was a
source of constant trouble to the early missionary.
One day when I had a large crowd of these people
before me I said to them, "I have lived amongst different peoples, and in
every case these at times have sickened and died, and from all I can learn
this has been going on for thousands of years. These peoples expect this to
take place at some time in their experience. Everywhere I have travelled I
have seen graveyards, and plenty of evidence that all men in the countries
that I have been in are visited by death. But now I have come among a people
who, if they did not hate one another, and work bad medicines and poison on
one another, would live always—at least, that is what you think and how you
talk. You are different from all other men. How is this? Has the Great
Spirit treated you with partiality? His word says, 'God is no respecter of
persons.' Are you not foolish to think and act as you do? Come, now, think
about this, and ask the Great Spirit to give you light." So at service and
in the lodge and around the camp-fire we kept at them; but the implantings
of centuries cannot be shaken off in one or two generations.
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