Pathfinding on Plain
and Prairie Chapter XII
Visit to Whitefish Lake—A devoted
Indian missionary— Mark and I go out after buffalo—Mark proves
himself a brilliant hunter—Our camp visited by wolves —Muddy Bull's
generosity—We reach home with full loads of meat.
THE first or breaking-in trip
for both men and dogs in the winter of 1865-66 was a three-hundred-mile run,
and we lost no time between camps and posts. Although we had the roads to
break, still the snow was not deep. Upon our return I took my wife over to
Whitefish Lake to visit her parents and people, and we spent Sunday in Mr.
Steinhauer's parish, where I learned more of the Cree language and acquired
a clearer insight into the religious experience and life and language of
these western people. As I have said before I will say here again, Mr.
Steinhauer was an ideal missionary. He gave himself with entire devotion to
his work. His best was always to the front, and God blessed his efforts. The
cycles of eternity will reveal the good this faithful servant accomplished.
It was always an inspiration to spend a few days on his mission.
Hurrying back to Victoria, we
made a dash out to see where the camps were south and east of us, and
finding some of these after a two days' run, we held a series of meetings
with them, and shared in their shortage of provisions, for we found that the
buffalo had gone far out and there had been considerable hardship in
consequence. Moreover Blackfeet and southern Indians had made several
successful raids, in which quite a number of horses had been stolen. There
had been some reciprocity indulged in, too, by the wood and plain Crees, and
these marauding parties had effectually driven the buffalo farther out.
"But," said the old men, "cold weather is near, and the men will stay at
home, and the buffalo will come into this north country"; a prophecy that we
heartily hoped would prove true. We visited several camps and were cordially
welcomed, our message being eagerly listened to. Many in these lodges heard
for the first time the story of redemption.
It was on this trip that Mark
and I, desiring to see for ourselves where the buffalo were, and if possible
secure loads of meat to take home, started out bright and early one morning,
and following a hunting trail, travelled fast plain- ward for the whole day.
,Just as night was setting in we met a small hunting party, and camping with
them shared their hospitality, which, as their hunt had been a poor one, was
very meagre fare indeed. But even poor meat is better than none, and as
these Indians told us of buffalo which they had not disturbed because they
were discouraged with poor guns and bad shooting, we went to sleep that
night fully determined to have a trial of our luck on the morrow.
Accordingly with the first peep of day we were off, and, continuing
southward, about ten o'clock came to the edge of a large plain, away out in
the centre of which we could see quite a herd of buffalo. Going to the last
point of timber, we tied our (logs in the centre of a large bluff and
started out on the plain. The buffalo were about five miles distant, but as
we had to keep under cover behind hills and along valleys and small gullies
—sometimes having to crawl at full length for a considerable distance, where
it was impossible to go otherwise without being seen by the advance scouts
of the wary herd—it was late in the afternoon when we came within four
hundred yards of the nearest buffalo. Here Mark after carefully scanning the
lay of the land said to me, "You had better stay here, and I will try and
approach alone. You can watch the movement of the herd and follow up after I
have shot" So I shoved up a small hummock of snow before me and quietly
watched a fine sample of scouting. Centuries of heredity and years of
practice were now in full play before my eager eyes. I was almost ravenous.
Some poor meat eaten before daylight was all I had had to appease my hunger
that day, and miles of travel in the sharp keen frosty air to where we left
our dogs, and since then hours of running and walking and crawling to this
point, had contributed to give me a tolerably keen appetite.
We wanted meat for urgent
present need, and we wanted loads of it to take home, and now the whole
matter looked exceedingly doubtful. Yonder were the lines of great bulls,
some of them standing and others lying down, some feeding and others quietly
chewing their cuds, but all on the alert. Beyond these huge sentinels and
surrounded by them were the cows, the meat of which was the object of our
Mark had but a smooth-bore
single-barrelled flint-lock. No long distance shooting for him. He must get
close. lie must pass through the line of bulls. Could he do it? That was the
question on my mind as I moved from side to side on my frozen snowy couch.
With his white blanket belted around him, and the upper half covering his
head and shoulders, Mark was steadily making towards the herd. Fortunately
the day was calm, so that the danger of giving scent was small. For
interminable periods, as it seemed to me, I lost sight of my companion, and
then in a totally unexpected quarter he would reappear, but always nearer to
our game. Now he was among the bulls, and I almost held my breath as I saw
him push himself past a great big fellow where a blow from horn or hoof
might be instant death to the brave hunter. But with consummate skill he
made his way past the bull and was right in amongst the great black fellows
and quite lost to sight.
Darkness was coming on fast,
and the suspense to me as I lay watching became almost unbearable. Cold,
anxiety, hunger, each was doing its work on brain and heart and stomach. But
presently I saw the whole herd start, and there came in sight a puff of
smoke, followed by the report of Mark's first shot, and away I went after
the flying buffalo. As I ran I heard another report, and then I came
suddenly upon a (lead cow. Concluding that this was the result of Mark's
first shot, and that in good time he would come back to this point, I set to
work to skin the carcase, and was thus engaged when I heard Mark
approaching. He was glad to see me, and I delighted at his return in safety.
He had killed two cows. This one we were at was his first. Then as the
buffalo bunched up and fled he had run to one side and, reloading, had
continued running until the herd slowed up. He had then drawn in under cover
and shot the second cow. admired his pluck and skill and speed, and told him
so, but he only quietly replied, "These cows are fat, John, and we will have
better meat to-night than we had last night."
We were now on the southerly
edge of the plain, and about eight miles from where we left our dogs early
in the day. After brief deliberation it was decided that Mark should remain
to butcher the cows and look up the nearest camping place, while I should
cross the plains and bring back our dogs.
Taking my direction, I
availed myself of buffalo trails in the snow as much as possible, and when I
left one to cross country to another, I marked the spot as strongly as I
could upon my memory, and took my bearings of the place as well as I could
in the winter's darkness which surrounded me.
In a very short time I was at
the bluff and found the dogs. Unfastening them I brought my train, with old
Draflkn still in the lead, and put them on my track, and then brought out
Mark's train and shouted, "Morse, Draffan!" and away we went. Fortunately
there was no wind, and though the night was dark Draffan's instinct and my
memory as to where to cross from one buffalo path to another worked well.
Once or twice I stopped the dogs and struck a match, and was delighted to
find we were on a hard buffalo path. Thus we came at a good pace back to
where the first cow was. But before we reached the spot Mark came looming up
out of the darkness to meet us. The faithful fellow had been anxious; and
now he thought it was his turn to tell me that I had done well in finding
the dogs and returning them quick and straight.
We used the hide of the cow
as a floor for our camp, and soon we had a cheerful fire and meat cooking
and dogs fed; and though it was long past midnight before we finished our
meal and were ready for bed, yet with light hearts we sang a hymn and knelt
in prayer and thankfully rested.
We were now four days'
journey from the Mission, but we had found the people and also the buffalo.
We had loads of good cow meat to take home, where our supply was rapidly
getting low, and as we turned under our blankets in that small bluff, with
the canopy of the sky as our roof and the horizon as our walls, it might be
cold, it certainly was isolated, and yet we were happy in the satisfaction
of success. I, a Scotch-and-English-Canadian, and my Mountain Stony friend,
I believe, did that early morning more than ever before appreciate the
kingliness of God and the brotherhood of man.
When daylight came Mark went
out to see how the meat of our second cow had fared, for prairie wolves and
coyotes were in great numbers around us. Mark had built a great fire before
he left, and I was lazily dozing beside it waiting for his return, when
presently there was a great commotion amongst our dogs. Jumping up, I saw a
monster wolf just across the fire. He was snapping and snarling at the dogs,
who were barking at him with much vigor, but prudently not venturing to
attack him. For this I was abundantly glad, as undoubtedly he had some
distemper or he would not have thus come into our camp. I could have shot
him, but I was afraid to do so lest in his death-struggles he might wound
some of our dogs; so I went at him with firebrands, and after some effort
was glad to see him continue his course through the bluff.
When Mark returned he
reported that some of the meat had been taken by the wolves, but that these
had come to the animal just a little before him, and had not had time to
take much. We then hurriedly ate our breakfast and drove over to where the
meat was, took this on, and started for home. Notwithstanding our loads we
made good time, and reached the outer camp of Indians about 9 p.m. We found
that Muddy Bull, who had been away on the chase while we passed, had
returned and, as usual with him, had made a great hunt. He generously
supplemented our loads with tongues and backfats and bosses, so that when we
left his camp that night we were well provisioned. Continuing our journey we
passed several small camps en route, and stopping about 2 am., slept for a
few hours and were away again by daylight. Pushing on, we reached home the
third day of the return journey, bringing word of Indians and buffalo, which
missionaries and traders and settlers were all delighted to hear.
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