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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XIV
Home occupations—A course of lectures—Mark and Jimmie as raconteurs—Mark's success as a deerkiller—A buffalo chase on a dog-sled—Our first child is born—Chickens at eight shillings apiece


THE big open fire-places in the Mission house were delightful spots beside which to spend a few hours after a trip such as we had just concluded; but such was the extent of our moving circuit, and such our circumstances, that we could spare but very few hours at home. Many camps must be visited and many mouths must he fed. Mark and I and a lad named Jimmie Horn were kept pretty constantly on the move, now bringing in loads of fresh meat, and the next trip loads of dried provisions wherewith to make pemmican for summer use. We generally managed to keep Sunday in some Indian camp or at the Mission. If the former, the whole day was one continuous series of meetings. I would go from one chief's tent to that of another, and the respective followers would crowd the lodges while I did my best to tell the pagan and barbarous people the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Many a night, at the close of a long day's run, I would give informal lectures on civilization and education, telling my eager listeners what Christianity was doing for man in other parts 9f the world; and all this time I was learning the language and studying the people. Old men and painted and feathered warriors and the youth of these camps crowded the lodges in which I made my temporary home. There was no rest while in Indian camps, and not until we were in our own seven-by-eight-foot hole in the snow, with wood cut and carried and piled at hand and dogs fed, would I sit down to rest both mind and body, and be free for a time from the inquisitive and eager listening and questionings of these people to whom we were sent. Then Mark and Jimmie would take their turn. Jimmie was a lad of nimble legs, but of much nimbler tongue. Had he not come from the famous Red River? He had even visited old Fort Carry, and he would fairly take Mark's breath as he drew from the range of his wide experience.

Mark would tell of the mountains, and grizzlies and panthers and avalanches, and encounters with the enemy, till Jimmie's eyes would bulge with excitement. I would look on and listen and rest. Then before retiring Mark would lead in prayer in his mother-tongue, which neither Jimmie nor myself could understand, though we always said "Amen."

During short intervals at the Mission Mark made several hunting excursions, and killed some moose and deer. One night he came home and reported one moose killed and another wounded. Early next morning we went out and killed the wounded moose and brought the meat of both home. Another time he killed two deer, and brought back word that the forest was so dense the meat would have to be packed to the river some miles above. Accordingly he and I took our dogs and drove up the river opposite to where the deer lay. Fastening the dogs, we struck into the forest, and coming across fresh tracks of more deer, we went after these and killed two more. It was midnight before we had packed the meat of the four deer to the place where our dogs and sleds were. Hard work it was, but the venison was good, and our larder was handsomely replenished.

All that winter the wood Cree camps were from one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles distant from the Mission.. The buffalo kept out south of these camps, and sometimes were a long distance from them. But now that there was a regularly established post beside the Mission, trading parties and settlers and Indians kept passing to and fro, giving us comparatively good roads, and thus enabling us to travel quickly. Once well loaded with either dried provisions or fresh meat, we lost no time on the road.

It was on one of the trips we made at this time that we were stopping for the day in Ka-kake's camp, which was situated beside a pound for catching buffalo, when, hearing of another cluster of lodges some ten or twelve miles distant, I made a run over to see the people, and while coming back the same afternoon I ran across a fine herd of buffalo. As my leader was obedient to the word, I thought "now is my chance to run that herd over to the pound." I had no load whatever on the sled, so I gripped the ground-lashing with both hands and feet, and sent the dogs after the herd, or rather to one side of it. My dogs went into the hunt most heartily, and sometimes brought me dangerously near to the flying mass. Then I would get them under control again, and on we went from side to side, but always nearing the point of timber where the pound was. Presently we came within the lines of "dumb-watchers," and now these helped us, and I kept looking, when I could spare a glance, to see some move in camp. But as the ledges were behind the bluff, and the Indians did not look for buffalo at the time, no one saw us until it was too late to prepare and run the herd into the pound; so, after bringing the buffalo close up to camp, I had the bitterness of seeing them break through the "head sentinels" and dash away.

But what a ride I had that afternoon, my big dogs jumping together, and with long leaps making the sled leap also. It required a firm grip to stay on that narrow sled, and also dexterous poising to keep right side up. Down hills, across valleys, over knolls, jumping the rough frozen snow where thousands of buffalo had rooted and tramped only a few days before, certainly that was a toboggan ride with a race against a herd of buffalo thrown in; and the only disappointment was that after bringing the bunch to the pound, the Indians were not there to receive them.

When Ka-kake came in that evening he loudly lamented that we had not been seen in time, for, said he, "It would have given a name to this part of the country and to my camp, and men would have pointed to this as the place where John brought buffalo into the pound with his dog-train."

One day in February, 1866, while I was at home, my mother, coming down stairs, congratulated me on the birth of a daughter, and when I knew that mother and child were well I mentally and consciously made a step forward in being. It was as God would have it. We gave our first-born the good old Scotch name of Flora, which also belonged to my youngest sister.

About the middle of March father made another pastoral visit to Edmonton, and as we remained over for Monday, I went out to St. Albert, the Roman Catholic Mission north of Edmonton, to find, if I could, some domestic chickens, as mother had often expressed a strong desire for some. It took me all day to drive about twenty-five miles and find the chickens and buy them, the latter two enterprises being the most difficult of the three. At last I purchased three birds, two hens and a cock, paying for them eight shillings each—six dollars to start a poultry farm in our part of the country Wild-duck eggs were very good in their place, but unfortunately for cooking purposes these were generally some way on in the process of incubation before we obtained them, and mother with her eastern ideas did long for a few fresh eggs occasionally.

I was quite proud of my purchase, but was rather taken aback when at the supper table that evening the august Chief Factor inquired of me what I had paid for those chickens, and when I told him eight shillings each, he pooh-poohed the whole thing; and while I was not prepared for such criticism, I could but answer that this was largely a matter of sentiment, that I had often been where if I had it I would have given all that to hear a cock crow. The old gentleman gave me up as incorrigible. However, to the credit of humanity it must be said that we are not all Peters. The crow of a cock or the tinkling of a cow-bell often have been as sweetest music in the ear of a poor lost traveller.


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