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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter II
Camping in the snow—Our costume--Brilliant sunrise effects—Maple and her pups found at last—Striking example of "dog sense"—The Fort Garry packet.


JUST now we are surrounded by both wood and plain hunters. Maskepetoon in my time always had a following of both parties. The gambling and conjuring drums are beating in several lodges. In others, as in ours, the evening hymn is being sung and prayer offered, and presently we roll in our blankets and robes, and sleep, though it takes me some time to forget my lost train of Maple and her pups.

By 2 am. we are up boiling our kettle and snatching a bite of breakfast. Then by the clear moonlight we begin the loading of our sleds. This is tedious work, and had it not been for the innumerable host of dogs, our own to boot, we would have had this over and all ready last evening. Now in the keen cold of early morn even old Joseph has to move quickly to keep from freezing. To put from five to six hundred pounds of frozen meat on a narrow dog-sled, and as nearly as possible to maintain the equilibrium is no light task. But by four o'clock sleds are loaded and dogs harnessed, we bid Mr. and Mrs. Muddy Bull a hasty good-bye, and are off to make the sixty mile drive home in the day if we can. And who doubts our doing it? Not our- selves, at any rate, for the road is fair, our dogs fresh and strong, and we, costumed as we are, must move or freeze.

Perhaps I am the best clad in the party, and my clothes altogether will not weigh much. A flannel shirt, moleskin pants, full length leggings with garters below the knees, duffel socks and neat moccasins, a Hudson's Bay capote, unlined and unpadded in any part, a light cap, and mittens which are most of the time tied on the load, while I wear a pair of thin unlined buckskin gloves. This is in a sense almost "laying aside every weight," but the race which was set before the ordinary dog-driver in the days I am writing of was generally sufficient to keep him warm.

In my own case, I did not for several years wear any underclothing, and though in the buffalo country, and a buffalo hunter, I never had room or transport for a buffalo coat until the Canadian Pacific Railroad reached Alberta, and the era of heavy clothing and ponderous boots came in, with ever and anon men frozen to death in them! Not so with us; we run and lift and pull and push, and are warm. Oil Joseph has for a leader a big dog called "Blucher," and every little while there rings out in the crisp air the call "Buchen," for in Joseph's soft, euphonious tongue there is no use for "l" and "r."

Before daylight we have pulled up in the lee of a clump of poplars, and, kicking away the snow and gathering wood, have built a glorious fire. A hasty second breakfast, and again we are off, while the day-sky is still faint in the eastern horizon. And now the cold seems to double in rigor; old "1)raflkn's"breath solidifies ere it disappears into the infinity of frozen air on every hand. Even the smooth toboggan and the soft moccasin are not noiseless on the hard crisp snow of the road. It is cold, but the colder it becomes the harder we drive. "Marse, Buchen from old Joseph, "Yoh-ho! Put-eyo," from Susa.

The only dog inclined to sneak in my train is "Grog." I ring out his name so sharply as to make him think his last day has come, and he springs into his collar with such vim as to quicken the whole train into a faster step.

Now the morning is upon us, and presently the clear sunlight glorifies the waking world. Tiny shrub, willow bush, timber clump, valley and hill, with their millions of glittering ice crystals, are brilliantly illumined. The scene is dazzling and beautiful in the extreme. For miles on every hand as we run the shadows give way to the most brilliant light, and here and yonder the dark spots, denoting buffalo, singly or in groups, stand out with startling distinctness on the great white expanse.

Stopping for our mid-day meal, we jerk our dogs out of their collars to give them a chance to lick snow and gambol around and freshen themselves generally, while we hurriedly boil our kettle and get out our supply of dried meat. While doing this we also give our dogs about two4 ounces each of the dried meat, just to liven them up and give them an agreeable anticipation of their supper—the one square meal in twenty-four hours they will have at the end of the day's journey. As we gnaw at our dried meat, thankful that what teeth we have left are sound, we drink hot tea and discuss dogs, Indians, white men, and the broad questions of civilization and Christianity. Susa is thoroughly optimistic and joyously sanguine. Joseph is also as to Christianity, but civilization and men and dogs, "well, he kinder doubts "—at any rate he will wait and see. But we .cannot wait long now, so we tie on our kettle and cups, catch our dogs, and start away, leaving our camp-fire to burn itself out. As the shades of night are commencing to fall we turn our loads on their sides, and thus run them down the steep long banks of the Saskatchewan, then righting them at its foot, dash across the big river, and with dogs pulling for all they are worth, and we pushing behind, we climb the other more moderate bank, and are at home once more.

There is general lamentation over the loss of Maple and her pups. The girls shed tears. Little George cannot understand how big brother John could lose a whole train of dogs and sled. Father had taken a great fancy to those pups ever since the Blackfoot trip, and he is sorry because of their loss. Never mind, we are at home, and we unharness and unload, pile away our meat and feed our dogs, visit with our friends, and long before daylight next morning are on the out-bound journey for more meat.

Reaching the Indian camp that evening, I was disappointed at there being no tidings of my lost train. But again we loaded, and started home in the night, and before daylight we came to the camp of a solitary hunter, John Whitford by name, where to my great delight we found the missing team. They had come to John's camp a few hours before us. John said that he heard a jingle of bells, and expected some travellers were either coming to or passing his camp. Then, hearing no further sounds, he went out to see what it was, when he found Maple alone in harness, but dragging the other four sets of harness behind her. Evidently the sled had caught in some bush and the young (logs had become im- patient, and one by one wriggled out of their bonds. Then the wise old mother dog had gone back to the sled and bitten off the traces close up to it, thus freeing herself from the sleigh and saving the harness. She then started for home, and concluding to rest by the way at John's camp, we found her there with her pups.

One often hears about "horse sense," but here was a good large sample of dog sense. That this dog, with her own traces and those of four other dogs between her and the sleigh, should pass all these and go back to the sleigh to cut away and liberate herself, and thus save to us these harnesses, was amazing. I would have rejoiced over the dogs alone, but to receive these back with the harness was great good fortune. I hitched Maple and her pups beside my own train, and taking some meat from Joseph and Susa, lightened their loads and on we went at a much quicker step. On reaching home that evening I need not say there was general rejoicing over the recovery of our lost dogs.

As the buffalo moved so did also the Indian camps, and gradually our meat trails went westward for the month of February. This trip it was fresh meat, and the next it would be a mixed load of pounded and dried meat cakes and bladders of grease and tongues, and as the distance was never more than a big day's run, we would put on tremendous loads, so that gradually our storehouse was being filled up.

Through storm and cold, and sometimes very heavy roads, or no roads at all, Joseph, Susa and myself kept at the work of providing for our mission party. Those at home in the meantime were constantly busy holding meetings, doctoring the sick, taking out timber, whipsawing lumber, or hauling hay and wood. Indeed, there was no time to become lonely or to think of the onions and garlic of the former Egypt. Our party knew it was out in a larger wilderness, but, full of Christian resolution, each one felt as did Joshua and Caleb.

The event of the winter was the arrival of the February packet from Fort Carry. A few letters from Eastern friends it might bring, with two or three newspapers several months old; but this was the one connecting link, and the dwellers in the Hudson's Bay posts and at mission stations in the North-West, though far apart felt a common interest in this packet, for it not only brought news' from the far East, but also from one .another. For days before its expected arrival at the post or mission the packet was the chief item of conversation. Many an eye was turned to the direction whence it should come. Many a person the last thing at night would stand out in the cold and listen for the sound of bells which might indicate the approach of the eagerly looked-for mail. And when at last it came, how many were disappointed. The one lone chance, and still no news where so much had been expected.

And for the swarthy-faced, wiry-built, hardy men who brought this packet, as you looked at them you could see fifty miles a day stamped on their every move; fifty miles and more through deep snow, blinding storms and piercing cold. Picked men these were, and they knew it, and held themselves accordingly, heroes for the time being at every post they touched. Nor did these faithful fellows tarry long at any one place. Arriving in the morning, they were away the same afternoon. Coming in late at night, off before daylight next morning. This was the manner of their faithful service to the great Company which somehow or other had the faculty of inspiring its employees with splendid loyalty to itself.


 


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