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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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