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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XXIII
Into the timber country again—Craving for vegetable food—Wild rhubarb a treat—I shoot a big beaver— My horse objects to carrying it—A race for the life of my child—Terrific fight between my dogs and a huge wolverine—Reach Pigeon Lake and find father there—Anxiety felt for our party—A meagre bill of fare—A visit to Victoria—I narrowly escape drowning—Father leaves for Ontario, taking with him my three sisters—Francis leaves us to return to Victoria —My varied offices among the Indians.


ON the twenty-sixth day from our leaving the points of timber we again entered them, and as all in our party were "forest people," there was joy in every heart. We are tremendously governed by sentiment. Our spirits like the barometer rise and fall, subject to environment. And now with carts and travois and pack- animals loaded, and with our stock and scalps intact, we were once more in the outer stretchings of the great northern woodlands. Moreover, we were so hungry for something vegetable that we eagerly partook of the first edible food that was found. We roasted and boiled and ate freely of what is known as the wild rhubarb, and also ate the inner bark of the poplar and drank the sap.

I remember with what. joy I came upon a bed of wild rhubarb as we were approaching the timber. Flinging myself from my horse, I cut a bunch of the rhubarb, and quickly making a willow fire, roasted and ate ravenously of it, and felt it did me good. The same afternoon, as our party was travelling on, I rode away to one side to watch for beaver. The ripple of the water breaking over the dam told me where they were. Fastening my horse I quietly drew near, and by and by heard the splash of one as he came out of his house into the pond. Presently I saw the beaver swimming towards me, and, waiting my chance as he drew near, I shot him.

But now that I had my beaver I found that the horse I rode would not let me place him on his back. I worked for a long time to pacify the sensitive brute, but of no avail. Finally I determined to tie the end of my lariat to the beaver, and mounting first, pull him into the saddle; and after a lot of backing and plunging I finally succeeded in landing the beaver across in front of me, and thus rode on into camp, but determining all the way to take a quieter horse the next time I went beaver hunting.

On we rolled, crossing the streams tributary to the Battle River, and when we had crossed the river, I concluded to send Francis round by the new cart road we had made in coming out, while with my own family I should strike straight in by Bear's Hill for Pigeon Lake and the Mission. All of the Indians who had not carts would come the same way, but follow more slowly.

While on this trip I had two experiences worth relating. I was riding ahead and had my little daughter Flora in the saddle with me. My sleigh dogs, who were now big and fat, were with me. Presently, passing near a shallow lakelet, I caught sight of a moulting goose making for the grass. Dropping my little girl down by the path, and telling her to pick flowers and stay quiet, that "papa would come back soon," I galloped over to the spot where I saw the goose disappear. Of course, all the dogs came with me, and very soon we found the goose. I quickly wrung its neck, and remounting my horse dashed back to where my child was, and away bounded the pack of dogs also. The goose hunt had excited them, and they were racing one another; and now I saw that if I did not reach the child before they did, the strong possibility was the wild brutes would tear the little one to pieces. The race was short and quick, but my intense fear made it seem like an age. The dogs and I reached the child about the same time, and I flung myself from the horse and clutched my little girl, and then fairly danced for joy that I had her safe in my arms again.

Going on we came to Bear's Hill Creek, and as the day was warm both horse and dogs began to drink. As I sat in the saddle talking to my child, I happened to look down the stream, and there I saw a big wolverine come out to the water's edge to quench its thirst. Close to me was a hound called Bruce. I quietly said "Bruce," and pointed down the creek. The quick-eyed fellow saw the wolverine, bounded away, and was close upon him before the wolverine saw him. Then he made a jump for the brush, but Bruce ran his nose between his enemy's hind legs and fairly turned him over with the impetus of his run. Then the whole pack came up, and I sat on my horse and looked on a terrific fight between the dozen dogs and the one wolverine. It did not seem fair, but the wolverine was a big fellow and a born fighter, and he was fighting for his life. He scratched and bit every one of those dogs, and held his own for some time, but at last a big black dog, a powerful brute, got his massive jaws on both sides of the wolverine's brain and crunched it right in, and the wild fellow was dead. I verily believe that in all the big North- West there will not be a single mourner for him, such is the Ishmaelitish record of these animals.

As we were approaching the lake the next afternoon I noted fresh tracks coming up from the Edmonton and Victoria trail. Anxious to see whose these might be, I urged on my horse, and when I came in sight of the house I saw some horses standing at a smudge, and recognized them as belonging to our people at Victoria. This made me jubilant, and I gave a regular Indian "whoop," and then I heard father say, "There, that is John." As I jumped from my horse father and a young man, by the name of James Connor, ran out of our little home overjoyed to see me. Away down at Victoria word had come of several serious battles between the tribes. Scalps and horses had frequently changed owners, and strange rumors had come in from the plains. These had become connected with our small party, and our people were so intensely anxious ab3ut, us that father and James had started for Pigeon Lake, and finding the place deserted were now setting nets and drying fish in order to go out on our trail and seek us.

Father embraced me as if I had come from the dead, and James was only a little less demonstrative. They were at their meal when they heard my shout, and here is the bill of fare: -

WOODVILLE MISSION, PIGEON LAKE.

DINNER, JULY, 1867.

Boiled Jackfish without salt.
Boiled Rhubarb without sugar.

DESSERT.

Thinking and planning and talking about loved ones, said to be massacred, but of which there is no certainty.

Father brought us news from the outside world, and of the people on the Saskatchewan. He said he was ready to start for Ontario, and was going to take my three sisters with him that they might go to school. He was arranging with Mr. Steinhauer to come as often as he could to Victoria during his absence, and he hoped I would visit them when I could.

The next afternoon I accompanied father and Jim on their return journey. We camped for the night with Francis at the edge of the dense and heavy timber, beyond which point we had not as yet been able to bring our carts. From here, as father said provisions were not plentiful at Victoria, we took a cart with about half a load, and went on in a blinding rain-storm, camping that night in a flood, with no tent and but a small covering for the cart.

The next day we had a lively time crossing the White Mud. When, after packing everything across on horseback, and holding the provisions up over our shoulders, I afterwards undertook to drive across with the empty cart, we were swept away by the raging current, and I became separated from both horse and cart. My heavy leather clothes impeded my movements, and I came very near swinging around the point for the last time in this world. Finally, when nearly exhausted with fighting the wild stream, I succeeded in getting hold of the end of a tree which extended out into the stream, and made the shore in safety. Our horse and cart fortunately, too, came out on the right side, and after some mending of harness we proceeded on our way.

We kept on the south side of the Saskatchewan and ferried at Victoria. Since father left to look for us no word had reached Victoria either of him or of us, and our arrival was hailed with joy. Everybody around the Mission wa4 busy preparing for father's long trip east. He contemplated driving all the way to St. Paul on the Mississippi; and to start on such a trip in those days of bridgeless and ferryless streams, and with very few supply depots, required no little preparation, the chief items of which, however, were horses and pemmican, and plenty of self-help, backed up by a strong faith in God. Father was pretty well supplied with these essentials.

He took with him my three sisters and Miss Tait, daughter of the Hudson's Bay Company officer stationed at Victoria. He also had two Indian boys he intended to leave where he might meet railway or steam transport. We were •very busy for three or four days in getting things ready for this long trip, and then we saw them off, and came back to the Mission house feeling lonely enough, especially mother. Father would be at least a year absent, and she would sorely miss her three bright girls whose clatter and romp and play had gladdened and illumined the isolated home so often, in spite of many anxious periods of suspense and patient waiting. No doubt it was a tremendous sacrifice on her part to see them go so far away, and that for years; but, as was consistent with her whole life, she meekly bore these trials and went on with her work as usual.

Returning, I fell in with a party travelling to Edmonton, and from there I struck out alone for Pigeon Lake, but chanced to meet Francis at the limit of our cart road, packing in the provisions, etc., to the Mission. I found all well, and quite a number of Indians in from different points, but these, as usual, did not remain long, but soon were scattered. It was about this time that Francis concluded to go back to Vic- toria, and with the exception of one Indian family and a couple of boys I was training we were alone; but as we knew camps were here and there to the south of us, we felt comparatively safe from the enemy. I say the enemy, but our enemies were not always easy to locate, for the whole country was in a lawless condition, and whims and moods, or trouble and disappointment, might make us enemies at any time. It was best always to be on the alert; to trust in Providence and "keep our powder dry" was always in order.

To put up hay was the next consideration, and my boys and I went at it in earnest. Wooden forks, and poles wherewith to handle and stack, were all we had, but nevertheless we made a good supply of hay, and by the time we were through the Indians began to come in. From the last of August until winter was fairly upon us our congregations were usually large. Our work evidently was telling, for there was very much less conjuring and gambling, and the people were awakening to a better life.

Our duties to and amongst these people were manifold. We had to supply the object lesson in all new industries. In fishing, net making and mending, chopping and sawing, planting and weeding, and even in economical hunting, we found that we must not only take a part but lead. I was doctor, lawyer, judge and arbitrator, peace commissioner, pastor, teacher and brother man. Many a perplexing case of sickness made us feel our ignorance, but we did our best. Crees and Stonies were constantly quarrelling over horses or women, and it was my duty (so everybody seemed to think) to step in and interfere and investigate. Charges of secret poisoning and of conjuring loved ones to their death were frequent, and many a solemn time we spent in disabusing ignorant minds of groundless suspicions, and also many an hour we labored to explain the benefit of Christian civilization in the ordering of the lives of a community.

Some of the strongly conservative pagans and ardent gamblers and staunch polygamists and wild "devil-may-cares" at times vigorously resented (as well they might) our interference. But such men as Adam and Jacob and Mark, among the Stonies who then frequented that part of the country; and of the Crees, Samson, Paul and others stood by us loyally, and our influence grew apace. John, "the young preacher," was becoming quite an authority among the wandering tribes.


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