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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XXVI
Another visit to Victoria—Fall in with a war party of Kootenays and Flatheads—Samson and I go moosehunting—A Sabbath afternoon experience—A band of moose enjoy Sabbath immunity—I start out to meet father returning from the East—The glorious Saskatchewan Valley—Call at Fort Pitt—Equinoctial storms - Entertained by a French half-breed family—Meet Mr. Hardisty and one of my sisters - Camp-fire chat—Meeting with father—Rev. Peter Campbell and others with his party—Father relates his experience in the East—Rev. Geo. Young sent to Red River Settlement and Rev. E. R. Young to Norway House.


WHEN we were nicely settled at home I made a hurried trip on horseback to Victoria, for I knew mother and the rest of our people would be extremely anxious about us; and it was with joy they met me as I rode into the older Mission. Father was expected home in September, and mother said he hoped I would meet him somewhere down the Saskatchewan with some fresh horses. Here I learned that there had been considerable fighting on the plains east and south of where we had been. A number of scalps had been taken on both sides, and the reports of these encounters had made our people very anxious about our party.

I spent a Sabbath with the Victoria people, and then made for home. At Edmonton I lost my horses for a whole day, and did not succeed in finding them until evening. In the meantime a war party of Southern Kootenays and Flatheads had come across and spent a few hours at the fort, where they were on their very good behavior. Had I not been delayed by the losing of my horses I should have been alone amongst them that morning, and when I sized the wild fellows up I was exceedingly thankful that I had been frustrated in my desire to push on. These strangers went back the same evening, but when I swam my horses across about sunrise the next morning, and started up the hill to take the trail for Pigeon Lake, I almost ran into the same war party. They had gone across my road just as I came up, as I could tell from the tracks on the grass, on which the dew was still heavy. I immediately took to cover, and went on the steady gallop, never stopping except to change horses until I was thirty-five or forty miles from Edmonton. The greater part of the time I kept away from the trail, and early in the afternoon was once more at home, having swam my horses across the big Saskatchewan that morning, and with the two made the sixty miles in less than three-quarters of a day. This same war party took a number of horses from a camp of Indians situated at the time some fifty miles south of us, and I was very thankful they did not take mine nor yet have a shot at myself.

And now what with hay-making and doctoring and preaching and teaching, our time went quickly. Soon September was with us, and I was thinking of starting for Victoria, when Samson came in, and we went for a moose-hunt. On Saturday afternoon he killed a huge buck moose, and we camped beside the carcase and spent a very quiet Sunday in the woods. During the afternoon I took our horses down to a lake about half a mile from our camp, there being no water nearer, and while the horses were drinking I sat upon the bank admiring the scene. The lake before me was several miles long and about half a mile wide. The banks were quite high and densely covered with forest trees in the full rich glory of their autumn tints. The day was calm, and the whole picture was exceedingly beautiful, specially fitting to the Sabbath evening. My horses, having slaked their thirst, were lazily browsing on the rushes which grew on the edge of the water, and I was being lifted up into a higher, purer atmosphere of experience consistent with my environment, when suddenly my ear caught the splash of water, and looking across the lake I saw five moose doing exactly the same as my horses. Having waded out into the water they were biting at the rushes, and as I watched them one swam out into the lake straight for me. Soon the whole five were quietly and gracefully swimming towards me, and I confess that as I watched those fine big moose coming, I for a moment wished for my gun (which I had left in camp), and wished, also, that this was any other day than Sunday. But as all this was of no use, I decided to keep perfectly still and note how close those moose would come before detecting my presence. Soon they were touching bottom close to my horses, and then there was a moment of mutual surprise, as horses and moose stared at one another. Both, however, again took to nipping rushes, and by and by the big cow moose which was leading came up the bank within a few feet of where I was, and shook herself, sprinkling me copiously with the water from her big sides; another followed, and then all of them went on into the woods, quietly browsing as they disappeared from my sight. For them, also, it was the Sabbath day.

Monday we went home, our four horses haying all they wanted to carry in the meat of the one monster moose. The fellow was in such good condition that I made a big bag of pemmican with his inside fat.

Soon after this I started with my family and two Indian boys for Victoria. Reaching that point, I took with me the two boys and started with the three carts and some loose horses to meet father. Mother had not heard from him since I was last at Victoria, but we thought he must now be on the north side of the Saskatchewan, between Carlton and Fort Pitt. Our horses were in good flesh, and this was hardened on them as we drove early and late down through the northern slopes of the great Saskatchewan valley, the lovely country which had so enamored my more youthful senses when first in 1862 I rode through its rich pastures and over its richer soils. Six years of wider range and larger view had been mine since then, but now as I ride over the many leagues my previous judgment is but strengthened. As we pass Saddle and Egg lakes and cross the Dog Rump, and Moose and Frog creeks, and wind between and over the Two Hills, and all the time behold fresh and picturesque landscapes, and note the wealth of nature's store, self-evident on every hand, my patriotism is enthused and my faith invigorated. And to one born on the frontier, and already having witnessed great changes, it is easy to imagine this easily reclaimed part of our great heritage dotted with prosperous homes. All day long (and somehow those autumn days were unsurpassable in the combination of their glorious make-up) as I rode on in advance of my boys and carts, I was locating homes, and selecting sites for village corners, and erecting schoolhouses and lifting church spires, and engineering railway routes, and hoping I might live to see some of this come to pass, for come it would.

While my boys went straight on I rode in to Fort Pitt, hoping that I might find word of father's coming up the country, but receiving none, I spent an hour or two with my friend John Sinclair, who was for the summer in charge of the fort. Then I rode on fast and steady, and late in the evening rejoined my boys. On we went, leaving Frenchman's Butte far in the rear, across the Red Deer Creek, past Horse Hill, through Turtle River valley, and across the river, all the while constantly on the lookout for signs of our friends or tidings of them.

Mornings and evenings and long nights and many miles came and were passed, and still no signs. Then the equinoctial storms burst upon us, with winds from the north and ice-cold rain in torrents. We drew up our carts in the shelter of bluffs of timber, and hastily covering them built-our fire, and piling on the dry wood became ourselves the clothes-horses on which to dry our soaked garments. Then when partially warmed and dried we would resume our journey. And now our matches were all but run out, and wet and cold we sought shelter under the lee of a wooded hill, and making cover did what we could to ensure the success of our last match. But alas the first scratch sent the brittle thing into many pieces, and it took time and preparation to ignite some old cotton with a percussion gun. Hands were cold and wet and everything was wet, but after what seemed hours our fire blazed, and all through that long night we kept it blazing as in turn we gathered wood and piled it on to slowly dry and burn. And those boys! children of the wood and plain, full of healthy optimism,

"Theirs not to sulk or sigh,
Theirs to grin, and bear, and fry."

We kept those soaked logs frying until day came, and fortunately for us the storm stayed and we rolled on in hope. That afternoon we saw a lodge to one side of our course, and while the boys kept on, I rode over to it and found a French half-breed and his family, who received me gladly and treated me as if I was one of their family. They were on their way from the Red River to Edmonton. They made for me a pancake, for they had a small quantity of flour. What a treat this was may be imagined when it is considered that I had not tasted bread for months.

They gave me a bunch of matches, and, better still, they told me that father was heard from at the South Branch; that in all probability he would now be this side of Fort Canton. This was something definite to travel on, and thanking my kind entertainers, I hurried on, catching up with and passing the boys and carts. That same evening I met my brother- in-law, Mr. Hardisty, and one of my sisters, Georgiana, who, unable to stand the damp and cold of Ontario, was returning to the North-West. With these there were quite a number of Hudson's Bay Company gentlemen, and the whole party were posting westward in quick style. They had left father the day before. As my boys were far behind, I turned back with this company fresh from the outside world, to glean the news and to visit with my friends. When we met my boys I sent them on to camp at Bear's Paddling Lake, while I continued with Hardisty's party, camping with them for the night.

Some of these had been at the Hudson's Bay council at Fort Garry. Others were returning from furlough in Eastern Canada and the Mother Country. My sister had spent the winter in Hamilton, and had come across with father's party from St. Paul. I alone was fresh from the West and the big plains. Around our campfire until late that night we exchanged news and related incidents, and before daylight next morning had breakfasted together and parted. I found my boys sleeping soundly when I rode in on them at at the lake. From there we went for lunch to the forks of the road in the Thick- wood Hills. Here I pitched camp and, as I was not sure which of these roads father would come by, I rode rapidly along the old trail, and reaching the eastern branching of the road, found that my friends had gone the other trail. Returning on this I came up to where they were "nooning," and was received by father with open arms. Job and Joseph, the two Indian boys father had with him, were also delighted, for I brought them tidings of their friends, and once more they had someone to talk to in their mother-tongue.

I found that father had with him quite a number of Eastern people. There were the Rev. Peter Campbell and family, and the two Sniders, who subsequently became teachers in our Mission schools. There were also a cousin of mine, John Chantler, and a lad, Enoch Skinner, from Toronto. Besides those who belonged to the Mission party, there were three men from Minnesota, a father and his two sons, Barlett by name, who had accompanied them from the Mississippi to the Saskatchewan; also two families of Red River settlers, who had taken this opportunity of travelling in father's train to visit their friends in the Saskatchewan country, and take part once more in a buffalo hunt.

We moved on almost immediately on my arrival, and camping short of where I left my boys I galloped ahead and brought them in. I had ridden in the saddle between ninety and one hundred miles that day, but so glad was I to meet father and these new friends from the East that I did not feel the least fatigue. The next day was Saturday, and by pushing through the Thickwood Hills we camped in the evening at Bear's Paddling Lake. All day as we travelled father and I rode in our saddles side by side, as he recounted to me the work of the year in Eastern Canada. He told me how he had pled with our missionary authorities until they concluded to establish in the Red River Valley, and had sent the Rev. George Young to that work, and the Rev. Egerton R. Young to Norway House. He gave me a description of the journey by steamer to the Upper Mississippi, and thence by carts and waggons through the plains of Minnesota and Dakota, and on into the Selkirk Settlement, where they parted from the Youngs, and, continuing the journey up the valley of the Assiniboine, had crossed the divide and the south branch of the great Saskatchewan. And now," said he, "I am tired of the long journey, and of handling tenderfeet, and I purpose to start bright and early Monday morning for home, leaving the whole company and outfit to your care for the rest of the trip." I said that I thought I could handle the concern, and that he was welcome to my horses and one of my boys. I wished him a quick trip, and having been a sailor in his youth, he answered me, with a twinkle of his eye, "When I leave you next Monday morning I will not take a reef in my rigging until with the blessing of Heaven I reach Victoria."


 


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