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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XXI
Alternate feasting and fasting—We start out on a buffalo hunt—Old Paul brings down a fine moose—Providential provision—Enoch Crawler kills another moose—Magnificent landscapes—Entering the great treeless plains—Wonderful mirages—We come upon the tracks of buffalo—Our men shoot a huge grizzly —Charging a bunch of cows—A lively chase—Samson's plucky plunge over a bank after the buffalo— I chase and kill a fine cow—The camp busy killing and making provisions—Guarding against hostile Indians.


ALL through April and May we had quite a multitude around the Mission, feasting or fasting with us, as circumstances dictated. Sometimes the moving ice on the lake kept us for days at a time from visiting our nets, and then there was hunger in the camp. But again the ice moved out, and we were provided with food sufficient in quantity if not all we would like in quality. About the end of May, after putting our garden in shape, with a few families we started for the big plains and the summer ranges of the buffalo.

During the past winter the buffalo kept far out and great destitution consequently ensued. Spring came and found the forts and Mission stations without the usual stock of pemmican and dried meat. There was no use of our looking for help from these sources; we must act for ourselves. I had talked the plain trip up among our people, but only a few would attempt it with us. Nevertheless, these few were picked men. There was old Paul and Samson, and Mark and his father and brother, and a Mountain Stony, Enoch Crawler by name, and Francis and myself. We counted ten men in all and two boys, besides the women and children. The most of our party struck straight for the first edge of the thick woods, while Francis and others went around to bring our carts from where we had left them the previous autumn,

We left the lake on Monday morning. Wednesday evening we were camped together a united party. Saturday afternoon we went into camp early, in order to give everyone a chance to do some hunting for Sunday. Our tents were pitched in a beautiful plain, by the shore of a stream called Pipe Stone. Thus far no large game had been killed. Rabbits and ducks and the few dried fish we had started with formed our food. Saturday evening I shot a brace of rabbits, and carrying them back to camp was surprised to find that nearly all the women had disappeared. Enquiring the reason, I was told that old Paul had killed a moose. Now, old Paul was our invalid. He could only by crawling or with crutches move in any way, and I was surprised that he of all our party should kill the moose. But presently my wife and the other women rode into camp bringing with them the most of old Paul's kill. The 01(1 man had crawled to the edge of a small lake to try and shoot some ducks, and while slowly approaching this had detected the splash of a large animal coming into the lake from the other side. He saw it was a moose, and taking in the lay of the country, he concluded that it would come out about where he was. Hastily seizing his gun-worm and fixing this to the ramrod he pulled out the charge of shot and put a ball in its place. Sure enough the 01(1 hunter's instinct had told him right, for presently the huge animal came out of the lake and through the fringing of the timber right up to where he lay. Old Paul's shot was straight and true, and our camp rejoiced in the prospect of moose steaks as a change of diet. As this came on the eve of the Sabbath, it was very significant to our simple faith as an evidence of the favor of Providence and an endorsation of our Sabbath observance.

Early Monday morning the tents were folded and we were on our way south-eastward. Wednesday we were given another moose, this time Enoch Crawler being the fortunate hunter. Quite a number of beaver were caught and shot during the week's travel, and on Saturday, as we camped at the last point of woods, we killed our first buffalo. Here we organized our number into two watches, five men and one boy in each, to keep guard alternate nights. We spent a part of Monday in cutting and peeling poles and laying in a stock of dry wood; for while our fuel for some time would consist almost wholly of buffalo chips, yet it was essential to carry wood to guard against storms. We were now entering the treeless plains of the great North-West.

During the week we got several straggling bulls, and another Sunday came without any recent signs of either men or buffalo in numbers. We were now three weeks from home. For the first two our course lay through woodland and prairie, an undulating country, rich in succulent verdure, beautifully watered and with magnificent scenic properties. If our living was often without change, nevertheless we always had a sumptuous variety, to serve as both tonic and dessert, in the exceeding beauty of the landscape through which we were passing. Speaking for myself, these scenes were a constant stimulus and blessing to me. My fare might have been hard, the crossing of a creek or the climbing of a hill difficult, a balky horse exceedingly trying, a childish and often unreasonable parishioner very perplexing, but as I stood on some noble vantage ground and "viewed the landscape o'er," I remembered these little worries no more for the time, but with intense pleasure drank in the scene before me. There lay spread a splendid panorama of slope and vale and natural lawn, of terraced banks and lofty hills, beaver meadows and grand prairies, mirrored lakes and gently flowing streams. The forces of Jehovah had been at work. His turning lathes had shaped and rounded. His storms and deluges had washed and laved for centuries. His gardening winds and currents had carried and planted germs and seeds. His rains and dews and light and heat had caused these to grow. His resurrection agencies had covered and swarded and forested and blossomed, and clothed the rich and lovely vales and hills. For man all nature and nature's God had thought and planned and carried into execution. In gratitude and thanksgiving I beheld and worshipped, and with a feeling of growing dignity moved on to another vantage ground.

For the last week we had been out on the real plains. Nothing bigger there than herb plant or tiny rose-bush —grass, grass, everlasting grass, everywhere. Like ocean waves the plain dipped and rose. What gorgeous sunsets we witnessed; what surpassingly beautiful sunrises we beheld as we steadily pushed out on this great upland ocean of grass and plain. And those wonderful mirages, who can describe them? Here was photography on a magnificent scale. Here was direct substantiation of the old assertion, "There is no new thing under the sun." The focusing of light, the developing processes of the chemical properties of the atmosphere, verily we may believe these have been at work, if not before, at any rate ever since the "morning stars sang together."

I had never until now launched out on the treeless plains. Though in the prairie country for five years of constant travel, yet this is my first trip into this bigness and wideness and strangeness of land and grass and mirage. By the agencies of the latter I have seen the facsimile of an immense district of country lifted into the heavens, and there upon atmospheric canvas were clearly reproduced hill and dale and stream, and herds of buffalo and camps of Indians. I believe I have seen in this way photographs of scenes that were from ten miles to six hundred distant from me. I have noticed that where this occurs there is a distinct condition of atmosphere and climate. It would seem as if a mysterious change were going on, and one could feel this in himself.

One day, after a thunder-storm had passed, my wife and I were driving on the high land near the Red Deer River. The sun had come out clear and bright, and presently the whole country was under the spell of a mirage. We were one hundred and fifty miles from the mountains, but these were brought near to us—so close they seemed that, as our horses trotted along the highway, we felt as if we were driving right into them. Watching the wonderful panorama, I saw away beyond the mountains, and there was a body of water, with land and hills in the far background. Then on the water there came in view a steamship. There she stood on her course with a dark cloud of smoke falling astern. I said to my wife," What do you see?" "Why," she exclaimed, "I see a big lake, and there is a steamer coming towards us." All this was real to our vision and sense. And if truly a picture of this world, that mirage was revealing to our vision scenes seven hundred miles distant. It had lifted those mountains thousands of feet into the heavens and drawn them within the scope of our natural sight. Verily this is a strange, mysterious world, even this wherein we now dwell.

The Monday morning following our third Sunday out brought us sunshine and rain, one of those quick downpours you cannot make ready for as you travel. The cloud and mist from this had barely cleared away when I saw a dark object in a lake ahead of us. I pointed this out to an Indian who was with me. "Oh said he, "that is a big stone in the lake." I declared it looked like some large animal, but as we were still distant from the lake we went on, and suddenly came upon the tracks of a large herd of buffalo. These were travelling right out eastward, and must have numbered two hundred or more. As the tracks were quite fresh, I concluded to ride ahead and reconnoitre, for eight or nine miles from us was a range of hills, and the herd was making straight for these. When about five miles from our party I heard quick shooting in their vicinity, and concluding they were being attacked by hostile Indians, I immediately turned my horse and rode as fast as I could towards them. But meeting an Indian, he stayed my alarm by saying, "It was a bear they were shooting." The object I had seen in the lake was an enormous grizzly, and he had shown fight, which accounted for the fusilade I had heard. The Indians told me that they had killed him, and that his meat was quite fat. If I had not been so much taken up with the fresh buffalo tracks I would have had the first shot at that grizzly, an eccentric fellow evidently, or he would not thus have wandered so far from his native mountains.

Our herd of buffalo were travelling fast, so fast indeed that we did not see either them or any of their relations that day, but were forced to content ourselves with roasted grizzly. The next day we came to a small bunch of cows that led us a lively chase. The land was broken and rolling, and the buffalo split up as we charged. Samson and I went after one portion at a breakneck speed clown a range of hills into a valley, where I thought we were going to have a fair race, when suddenly the whole lot disappeared over a precipitous bank into a creek with a plunge and splash. I watched my companion to see what he would do, when I saw him urge his horse over the bank into about four feet of water. As he took the jump he held his gun up over his head to keep it dry, and I followed, doing the same. And now as the flying herd were rushing up the slope, Samson shouted, "That is a good one on your side; try and kill her." When I closed in the cow left the others and ran me a stiff chase up the hill. But I sent a bullet after her which made her slow up and presently stop and face me. Then I gave her another right in the head, and she dropped in her tracks. As my little horse was now well winded, I alighted by the side of the cow, and Samson came up, having killed two. The others also had done well, so we camped by that creek and began making provisions.

Here we remained for several days, going out and killing and bringing the meat home, all the time constantly on guard to prevent our horses being stolen or our camp attacked, for we were now on the outer fringes of the great herds of buffalo and might come across enemies at any time.


 


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