Pathfinding on Plain
and Prairie Chapter XXIV
Our first interment—Jacob's
tragic death—Hostile Flatheads in quest of horses, scalps and glory—Stonies
attacked by a party of Blackfeet—A hot fusilade—Mark's father is
killed—Destitution prevalent— Hunting lynx—My dogs seized with
distemper—All have to be shot—Another provision hunt organized
—Among the buffalo—I narrowly escape being shot —Heterogeneous
character of our camp—Mutual distrust and dislikes--United by fear
of a common foe —The effects of Christianity.
THAT autumn one of our best
young men, Jacob by name, was killed by the Flatheads. His friends sent me
word that they were bringing the body into the Mission. We dug our first
grave on the hill, and there in the quiet of this "God's acre" we laid to
rest the remains of the brave young fellow who had died in defence of his
people. This was our first interment, in the fall of 1867, and we came here
in the spring of 1865. This was significant of the migratory character of
the people, as also of the healthfulness of the highland country.
Our Indians had camped about
twenty-five miles from the Mission, and in a comparatively wooded section,
where they believed themselves in large measure exempt from attacks of the
plain Indians, and had no thought of attack by warriors from the Pacific
slope. however, as one told me, they had "felt someone in the vicinity," and
were watching their horses closely, keeping them staked right up to camp at
One of our people, called
William One-eye, was on guard when he saw what he took to be a stranger
stooping at the feet of one of the horses. He approached quietly and spoke
to him, as he wanted to make sure before firing at him. But the fellow
answered by shooting at him, and with so good an aim that the hail grazed
William's forehead, cutting away a tuft of his hair, which was bound with
ermine skin, and stunning him for an instant. Ere he could recover himself
the thief jumped on the horse and dashed away at furious speed.
William soon gave the alarm,
but already everybody was stirring because of the shot, and now it was found
that several horses were gone. The whole camp was aroused and the pursuit
became general. It was in this running fight that Jacob was shot. The
Stonies, on their part, killed two of the Flatheads, bringing in their
horses and saddles, and the ammunition and tent which were packed on these.
The marauders had come
hundreds of miles through the mountains on this quest for horses, scalps and
glory, and as the trails were now becoming clearly defined from almost every
direction into our Mission, it looked as if we might he visited at any time
by these lawless scamps.
Young Jacob came of a large
and plucky family, and it was hard work to restrain these from going on a
retaliatory expedition, but the leaven of Christianity was working
sufficiently to keep them in check. Of this we had ample evidence some six
weeks later, when the same camp of Stonies was attacked by a large war party
of Crees, who said that they mistook them for Blackfeet. But this could
hardly be possible, for the Stonies were having evening worship at the time
and were singing and praying. Mark said this accounted for the small
mortality of their fusilade on the camp, as most of them were low down on
their knees and the balls passed over their heads, which the holes in their
lodges plainly showed.
The Stonies repulsed their
foes, and heard them shouting back, "This was a mistake; we thought you were
Blackfeet, our common enemies." It was only when the Stonies returned to
camp they discovered that their aged patriarch, Mark's father,
"The-man-without-a-holein-his-ear," was killed. The old man was on his knees
praying when the ball went right through his vita's. Evidently he had died
without a struggle. Mark said that if they had known this at the time they
could not have spared the Crees, but coming back to camp and finding that
their father had died on his knees while in the act of prayer, they felt
that they must respect his act and faith and not take revenge. Surely this
was strong evidence of a great change in the feelings of the Indians, bred
as they had been to retaliation and deep hatred of their foes.
All through the autumn we
dwelt in the midst of alarms, and it was not until winter came, with its
cold and snow, that we felt in a measure secure for a time from these
wandering parties. On November 25th another little girl came to our humble
home, and was given the name of Ruth.
At this time, what with
holding services at home and visiting camps in our vicinity, attending to
the fall and winter fisheries, providing wood, and hauling hay (for we had
secured another cow and a couple of oxen, and I was keeping a horse in the
stable), my time was fully taken up. In fact I was hard driven, and was very
glad when a sufficiency of fish was stored, so that I could pack my nets and
other fishing paraphernalia away for a few months. Then, as per instructions
from my Chairman, I made a dash for Victoria, spending two Sabbaths there,
and taking Edmonton en route both was. At this time I did not dare attempt
to preach in English, but felt quite at home in the Cree.
During the winter of 1867-68,
the buffalo still kept far out, and there was considerable destitution all
over the country. Our storehouse and fish-house were ever and anon called
upon to come to the rescue. We never failed to emphasize the stern necessity
of making provision for the future, but with a people having no abiding
place this was a hard lesson to learn. The rabbits, fortunately, were more
numerous than usual, and with them came the lynx, both helping out in the
preservation of life from actual starvation.
I killed quite a number of
lynx that winter, and got many of these on the ice of the lake. Whenever I
saw an object moving on the snow- covered ice, I concluded it was either a
lynx or a wolf, and as I had an opera glass I could very soon determine
which, for the wolf had a long, bushy tail, and the lynx a very stumpy
one—in fact, hardly any. Therefore, if the object I saw was tailless, I
saddled my horse and rode for him. My dogs would also join the hunt, and
when we came within a half-mile or so, the lynx generally noticed us and
started off with tremendous leaps as if he would leave all creation behind.
His strong feature, however, was in the height rather than the length of his
jumping, and soon his half circles in the air came to a stop. While I was
coming up on the steady jump, slow and sure, he would crook up his back,
straighten up the fur on it and turn fiercely on me, but a shot from my gun
would quickly keel him over. Later I found that one of my dogs could kill a
lynx at one bite across the small of the back, and then I let him do the
killing, for ammunition was none too plentiful in those days.
I made several trips to
Victoria and visited a number of camps, and in March took my family through
to Whitefish Lake by dog. train. When we reached home, towards the last of
the month, winter was breaking; but what nearly broke our hearts was an
epidemic, a sort of distemper, that took hold of my sleigh-dogs, and one
after the other I had to shoot the poor brutes. They seemed to have a kind
of hydrophobia. They did not attack human beings, but we thought it best to
kill them. I felt the parting with the faithful fellows more than the loss
of their usefulness. A pagan Cree who had come to us asked permission to
skin two of my biggest and swiftest dogs, and I told him he could. The
reader will note this, and see later what his purpose was.
And now our people were
straggling in to the Mission. That spring a number of mountain Stonies
visited us for the first time, and our week-day and Sabbath services were
full of interest. More of our own people than ever before were desirous of
doing some gardening, and we helped all as far as our means allowed us to
do. Moreover, a good many expressed a desire to accompany us to the plains
for an early summer provision trip, and as we wanted the provisions for the
year, and as this was the very best way to have a number of our people with
us for a time, I arranged for such a trip, to start about the middle of May.
This time our camp was quite
large, numbering about forty lodges, and we felt quite able to go anywhere
on the plains. We followed for the first hundred and fifty miles our route
of the previous summer. We lived on ducks, rabbits, beaver and a few deer
and antelope, until about thirty miles out from the last point of woods,
where we found our first buffalo, and from thence on until we reached herds
of them we were never without food.
At the spot where we found
the first bulls Samson and little William and myself were of the party, and
I came very near being killed. We had come suddenly upon the animals, and I
was crossing in front of William to higher ground when he, not noticing me,
fired at them, and the ball whizzed right past my ear. I turned and saw that
William was fairly pale with fright. We were too much engaged for words.
"Almost he cried, and I answered, "Yes, almost," and we dashed after the
flying bulls. This narrow escape bothered poor William for some time, and I
verily believe had he killed me by accident at that time Samson would have
shot him right then and there, for he was angry at the other's carelessness,
as he termed it.
In our camp at that time we
had seven distinct classes of men. There were mountain Stonies and wood
Stonies, plain Crees and wood Crees, French and Indian mixed bloods, and
English and Indian mixed bloods; myself the only white man in the party.
Environment, language and dialect had each differentiated these people. And
now we were, because of the Gospel and for Christ's sake, seeking to bring
them together. It was serious work at times. They could not possibly see eye
to eye. Old feuds kept stirring their bile. Old memories of wrongs and
slights and bloody scenes were constantly being brought most vividly before
their minds, and my every resource was tried in quieting and quelling and
pacifying them. Even the children partook of mutual distrust and hatred. We
were leagued against the common enemy; but we might have a row among
ourselves at any time, and I was forever on my guard so as not to intensify
or afford any excuse for what was clearly apparent. In fact I was hoping for
signs of the enemy to help allay this condition for the time being, when
sure enough we began to track fresh camps and hunting parties of the
Blackfeet tribes. As I had thought, this brought our discordant elements
more into line, and we organized and watched and hunted together under the
spur of a common danger.
Of course, our meetings every
day and all through Sunday, our constant uplifting of the Gospel, and its
resultant forces, were telling upon this conglomeration of humanity, but the
inbreeding of centuries is not to be weeded out in a few weeks, nor yet in a
few years. Early in life I was given to learn the lesson of patience.
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