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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XIII
A run to Edmonton—Mr. Hardisty and other Hudson's Bay Company officers spend New Year's with us— Sports and amusements—Our party sets out for Mountain House—I experience a "scare"—Intense cold—A cunning dog—Mishaps to a cariole—In the foot-hills—My first view of the Rockies—Hearty reception at Mountain House—Back to Victoria.


IT was now the middle of December, and father arranged to spend a Sabbath in Edmonton before the winter holidays came on. I went as cariole driver, and Mark brought on the provision and baggage sled. A little more than a day and a half brought us to the fort, and while we were there Mr. Hardisty and party arrived from the Rocky Mountain House. This fort and trading- post had been abandoned by the Hudson's Bay Company for some years, but in the summer of 1865 it was decided to reopen it in order to draw the trade of the surrounding Indian tribes —Blackfeet and Bloods, Piegans and Sarceesas also to keep these turbulent tribes as much as possible from collision with the wood and plain Crees, their hereditary foes.

Mr. Hardisty had been put in charge of this enterprise, and with a large complement of men and an ample outfit, had gone overland during the autumn to the site of the abandoned post. A temporary fort was built in the woods near by, and his men were now taking out timber and sawing lumber preparatory to the erection of permanent buildings during the next season. The old fort had been the scene of many a fight between the contending tribes, and as the Hudson's Bay Company invariably followed a "peace policy," not only between themselves and the various tribes, but also in preserving amity among the different races, they had given up the fort and in so doing lost a large portion of the southern trade. But now that the Crees had moved farther east, Victoria had become an important post, intermediate between Edmonton and Fort Pitt, and the reasonable conclusion presented itself that the Blackfeet and southern trade might now again be secured by rebuilding the Mountain Fort.

Mr. Hardisty and Messrs. McAuley and MacDonald returned with us to spend the holidays at Victoria, father having promised to go to the Mountain Fort directly after New Year's day, for the two-fold purpose of meeting the Mountain Stonies, who were expected there then, and also of marrying Mr. McAuley to Miss Brazeau, the daughter of the second officer in charge of the fort. On our return trip to Victoria, in company with the Hudson's Bay officers, we did not camp, but leaving Edmonton in the evening we journeyed all night, reaching Victoria early next morning. As I had father in my cariole, and the rest of the party were comparatively light, the run of between ninety and a hundred miles was a hard one for my team. But old Draffan and his driver did not come in last by any means.

Readers of "FOREST, LAKE AND PRAIRIE" will remember that in the autumn of 1862 Gladstone and I began this place. In loneliness sublime our leather lodge stood on the north bank of the big Saskatchewan. Little more than three years have passed, and this is now the rendezvous of several large camps of Indians. Wood and plain Crees and wood Stonies have frequented the spot. A colony of some twenty-five families of English half-breeds have settled beside us. The Hudson's Bay Company have established a post alongside the Mission. The Mission party has been augmented by the arrival of father and mother, and part of the family from Norway House,and of my brother and sister from Ontario. I have taken unto me a wife, and we are no more alone at Victoria.

The holidays of 1865-66 were full of pleasurable excitement. Religious services and literary entertainments and concerts occupied the evenings, and out-door games, such as football, snowshoe and dog-train races and foot races, were provided for the day. Thus the fun and enjoyment were kept up. Then came watch- night with its solemnity and New Year's day as the culmination of our feasting and innocent frolic.

The second day of January, 186, found us driving our dog-teams westward for the Mountain House. Again I had father and the cariole as far as Edmonton, and from that point we had the Chief Factor of the Saskatchewan District, William Christie, Esq., as one of our company.

The distance between Edmonton and the Mountain House is 180 miles. We left the fort about four o'clock one dark morning, our train comprising in all nine sleds. I had a load of baggage, a portion of which gave me quite a start. As I jumped on the sled while going down a gentle slope, there seemed to be a living, moving object lashed in my load, for it moved under my moccasined feet. Instantly I sprang into the snow, and then it flashed upon me that it was a bag of mashed potatoes which a friend was sending to the Mountain House and which had not yet frozen. I laughed at my scare, but at five o'clock on a dark stormy morning in a narrow winding forest path, a very little will startle one. The cold was intense, a keen cutting wind making us keep a sharp lookout for frostbites. The road was drifted and very heavy, so that when night came on we were glad enough to make camp, which we pitched in a spruce grove at the eastern base of the Woodpecker Hills.

Pile on the logs as we would, still the cold was bound to assert itself, and our clothing alternately steamed and froze as we turned before that fire. The Chief Factor and father, who had been constrained to sit in one position in their coffin-like carioles since five o'clock in the morning, were now making up for it by indulging in lively anecdote and joke and repartee. Pemmican and hot tea went a long way towards heating the internal man, and the great fire did something for our extremities. But the cold was omnipresent. In great chunks, in morsels, in atoms, it was all about us. You could reach out and grasp it. You could shiver in your clothes and feel it. You could almost smell it and see it, and you could heat it plainly enough as with might and force it strained the very earth and made the forest monarchs crack as if these were so many ends to its lash.

Hours before daybreak we were climbing the hills and crossing the ice-bound creeks and lakes, and those of us who had loads or carioles to drive were "running with patience" (at times) "the race set before us." The bridegroom-elect being the shortest-legged of the party, and I doubt not the shortest-winded also, generally brought up the rear. Even if he started out ahead, or in the middle of the procession, before many miles were passed he fell behind. The law of gravitation was doing its work. From the rear at frequent intervals would come the shout to Pat (his leading dog), "Marse! " uttered with a strong Scotch accent.

Pat was a big white dog with a short bobtail. He also had a peculiar twist of the head and a squint of the eye which gave him a wise, knowing appearance. If he had lived in these latter days, and become possessed of eye-glasses, doubtless he would have been given a degree! The shrewd fellow seemed to know that his master was on an important mission, and the dignity of leading a train the owner and driver of which was on his way to be married, was fully apparent to "His Dogness." His demeanor enroute and around camp was simply taking. Pat and his master gave us endless fun on that trip. When these would come up, which was generally after camp was made, the Chief Factor, the Chairman of the Hudson's Bay Missions, and the rest of our party became all attention, and Pat and his master were the centre of joke and fun. Their account of the morning's or afternoon's run (I say their, for Pat would by nod and look confirm his master's recital) was sure to "bring the house down." We were unanimously thankful during the days and nights of that very cold trip for the stimulating presence of Pat and our short-limbed bridegroom-elect.

During our second afternoon's run, while making through a rough country, we came to an exceedingly sidling place in the trail. Having sent my own load past and helped father over it, I thought I would wait and see what our rearguard was doing. After some time I heard "Marse, Pat!" coming from the little Scot's big lungs (for have you not noticed that Nature in the nice balance of her equity generally gives the little man a big pair of lungs), and soon Pat hove in sight, his tongue protruding, and the breath from his big mouth making little clouds of frozen vapor in the sharp cold air. The cunning old dog was making the appearance of doing it all, but all the while I could see that his traces were slack.

Soon dogs and sled were on the sidling road down the hill, and over went the cariole and down the slope rolled its contents. Pat and his companions felt the load lighten, and just then remembered that they were far behind, and in vain my friend shouted "Whoa, Pat, whoa!" On went the train, and now I came upon the scene. The bridegroom-elect shouted, "Catch those dogs, John! I say, John, stop those dogs !" Laughing as I ran, I caught and pulled Pat up, righted the cariole and held the train while the little Colt gathered up the fragments, which I saw largely consisted of presents from Edmonton friends to the marriage supper, now nearly two days nearer in view than when we started.

Nicely cut roasts of beef and pork, bottles of wine, and sundry parcels lay around in sweet confusion. It took some time to gather them up and pack them in place in that parchment- sided, primitive vehicle; and all this time his owner was discoursing on Pat's good qualities -"were it not for his big load he would take the lead," etc. After a time everything was adjusted again, and on we went, camping that night among the rolling hills west of Blindman's River.

Another "stingo" night and away long before day. Roads heavy, snow deep, day so cloudy and stormy that the promised view of the Rockies failed to realize. There were some of us in the party who had travelled far and wide in the North-West for from five to fifteen years, and as yet had not seen the mountains. We were now looking keenly for the first glimpse of them, but the third night came, and still because of cloud and storm we had not beheld them.

Our camp that night was made on the wooded summit of a foot-hill. We were climbing the world fast. If it had been moonlight or clear daylight we would have looked upon a sea of mountains, but darkness and storm and smoke were our portion instead. The smoke from our camp-fire found no vacuum in the overhanging atmosphere, but on the contrary was pressed to the ground about our camp. In fact the conditions were such that I think of that "hill summit camp" as one of the more disagreeable experiences of my frontier life. Gladly we left it while hours of the long night were still unspent, and as daylight came we were ascending another big foot-hill, from the summit of which I first beheld the glorious old Rockies.

Spellbound and in rapture I gazed upon the sublime spectacle before me. How supremely beyond my largest imaginings those lofty ranges stood revealed to the delighted senses. The clouds had disappeared, and in clear, distinct outline hundreds of snow-clad peaks stood out as if cut by mighty diamond upon the dimly lighted morning sky. The beauty of the scene intensely moved me. The majesty and power apparent were most satisfying to my soul. The God who made these made me also I felt exultant in the thought. But now the morning sun had clearly risen, and as I looked the highest peaks were illumined as by electric touch, and scores of great beacon-fires seemed to have sprung into instantaneous being. And the great picture quickly grew. Snow-clad summit and glacier glint and granite wall and forest growth speedily became transformed as with the touches of a million brushes. Halos of light, radiant and grandly bright, spread themselves upon the mighty canvas. In rapture I beheld and worshipped. I had seen a glimpse of the glory of the Eternal, and still I lived. As I reluctantly left the scene and ran to catch up with our party over the foot-hills and across the wide valley beyond, I was elated above measure. What matter the cost in travel and cold and extreme hardship, I had seen the mountains, and the sight would be a perennial blessing in my life.

When I came up to our party they were already descending the sloping bank of the Saskatchewan. Miles of this, and then an almost perpendicular jump or slide, and we were on the ice of the river, following up which for a couple of miles we reached the temporary fort.

It was early morn, but up went the flag, and the little metropolis was all excitement in consequence of our arrival. The Chief Factor in those days was supreme in his own district. And what a district I From below the junction of the two Saskatchewans it stretched to the - Columbia, and from the forty-ninth parallel it extended to the north tributaries of the Peace River. Father's field was still larger, in that it stretched eastward down to below Oxford House and close to Hudson Bay.

No wonder the roughly built but strongly made fort was en fete when such ecclesiastical and commercial dignity came suddenly upon it. Our welcome was hearty, and that of our "rearguard" doubly so. We were fortunate in meeting here numbers of Mountain Stonies and Blackfeet, hardy, muscular mountaineers and wild plain Indians, both comparatively new types to me.

The temporary fort was built on a low flat near the river. The permanent new fort was to be placed on a higher bench. I found that the site of Mountain Fort was about sixty miles from the real base of the mountains and on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan.

We spent a Sabbath at the fort. Father held services for both whites and Indians. In due time the marriage was solemnized, and the wedding supper eaten, and we began our return journey. As the cold had intensified there was no loitering by the way, and early the third day we were back at Edmonton. Sixty miles per day was not bad travelling in such hard weather. The last night we left camp about midnight. I wrapped father in his cariole and kept it right side up until we stopped for breakfast. The next day we started for Victoria, and camping once, arrived there early the second day, right glad to be at home once more.


 


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