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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XXVII
Father pushes on for home in advance—Hard times for the "tenderfeet"—A plunge into icy water—My brother David gallops into camp—His high spirits prove infectious—Kindness of the Hudson's Bay Company—Oxen sent to help us in to Victoria—A mutinous camp-follower—My threat of a sound thrashing subdues the mutineer----Our long journey is ended—Adieu to my readers.


WE spent a quiet Sabbath on the shore of the lake, resting and worshipping. As some of the new-corners were quite songful, we enjoyed listening to and learning some of the beautiful hymns that had come in vogue since we left older Canada. Early Monday morning we were astir. Father, taking with him Mrs. Campbell and her two children and one of my boys, started on to make a flying trip home. Mrs. Campbell was glad to make a change from slow to fast travel, and I also was glad to see the lady and her children go, for this meant very much earlier starting for the rest of the party. Father had said to me, "The stock is in good shape, John; you can push from here." And push we did, sometimes too much so for the taste and convenience of the green hands amongst us. Already the later autumn was upon us with its cold nights, and to turn out long before daylight and prepare breakfast and harness up, and be rolling on sometimes hours before sunrise, was anything but pleasant to flesh and blood not inured to that kind of life.

As with the "Ancient Pilgrims," murmurings and scoldings were frequent; but notwithstanding we continued to start early and drive late, and made good time westward. I well remember coming to Jackfish Creek early one morning. The crossing was rough with big boulders, and there was about an inch of ice on the water. I rode my horse several times through the ford to smash up the ice, and called to my cart driver to dismount and take his "lead" horse by the head and wade in, thus lessening the chances of an upset while passing through. Setting the example myself, I took the lead ox by the head, and wading beside him, passed him and his load safely over. But certain of our tenderfeet were afraid to step into the cold water, and the result was almost disastrous to some of the carts and loads. One of these gentlemen, having at last to jump down into the middle of the creek, made a misstep and fell full length into the ice and cold water; and not until then (lid he see that someone knew better than he did. He was a funny-looking specimen as he picked himself up out of the icy stream, and in a little while, when he was standing beside the big camp-fire warming himself, I said to him, You richly deserved your ducking, young man; the next time do what you are told, and it will he better for you."

Early and late we rolled UI) the north bank of the Saskatchewan, those of our company capable of estimating the natural advantages of a new country filled with admiration for the rich and lovely region we were traversing. Doubtless a trans-continental railroad will come along some day, and cross and recross this very trail we were using. Thousands of prosperous homes will dot these plains and fill these valleys with that stronger and more permanent life for which they are so richly endowed by nature's God. The whole land from Carlton to Victoria is one great ready-made farm.

From the north branch of the Saskatchewan, extending a hundred miles north and then west up its whole length, is to be found one of the richest portions of Canada. And we were rolling steadily through this. Every hour a new scene, every turn a fresh view; the strength and endurance of our stock testifying to the quality of the natural grasses, the mud and dust on our wheels, evidencing the wealth of soil, and so the altitude and the large percentage of sunshine vouching for the pureness of atmosphere and healthy condition of climate. This is my sixth trip through this part of the North-West Territories, and as I felt in the morning of my first acquaintance with this immense garden, I now, as the sunlight of my growing knowledge of its many resources is rising and enlarging, am fully convinced as to its great wealth of soil and grass, its water and timber and climate, not to speak of the mineral developments which in all probability will come in the future.

On the twelfth day after father left us, while breakfasting on the bank of Saddle Lake Creek, having come some eight miles already that morning, we were delighted to have my brother David gallop into our camp, bringing us word from home. Father had made a marvellously quick trip, and the whole settlement was now looking for our coming.

David not only brought us news from home, but his jovial noise and wild western boisterous fun put new life into the tenderfeet of our party, who had begun to think the distance without end and the hardships too much to bear, and were constantly reverting to the "onions and garlic of former Egypts." Moreover, his coining lightened my work, for now the roads were newer and the necessity of careful driving more constantly with us. By noon of the thirteenth day of my taking over the party we had surmounted the worst place on the road, crossed the valley, pulled up the precipitous banks of the White Mud River, and were at our dinner, when an Indian came to us with several fresh oxen.

These had been sent by Mr. Tait, the gentleman in charge of the Hudson's Bay Post at Victoria, to help us in at the end of our journey. And right here I want to say that this has been all through the years my uniform experience with the officers and employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. I cannot understand the venom and bitterness with which some missionaries always speak and write about this old and honorable company.

These fresh oxen were indeed welcome aids to the more jaded and weaker of our stock, and very soon I had apportioned them to the several drivers, when the very tall gentleman of our party said he would take one for his cart. I said, "No, sir! Your horse is all right for Victoria." But lie insisted, and I again refused. Then came a cry from another tenderfoot that his oxen were lost, and I jumped on my horse to hunt up the missing cattle. Having found them, I also found that my tall friend had persisted in taking the ox, and had him hitched to his cart.. This nettled me, and I jumped right at him, and said, "Unhitch that ox as quick as you ever did anything in your life;" but the big mutineer simply smiled at me. "I mean it," I said; "unhitch that ox, or I will thrash you most warmly." And now his elongated highness saw I was in earnest, and made haste to turn out the ox. I then gave the animal over to the party to whom I had given him in the first place, at the same time telling my tall gentleman that in a few hours I hoped to bring this party to its destination. After that he could do as he pleased so far as 1 was concerned; but until then my word was law.

Early that evening we reached Victoria, and the long wearisome overland journey was over, the months of continuous travel across bridge- less streams and lonely stretches of prairie and woodland. Everybody was thankful.

That same evening, as usual with him, David got up some gymnastics. And when I had out-run and out-jumped and out-thrown and out-pulled my long friend, I verily believe he came to the conclusion that he did well to obey me as he did.

And now that I have seen this spot (where in loneliness and poverty extreme I began work scarcely six years since) grow into a flourishing settlement, where Christianity and civilization are to the front as in no other place in this big western country; and now also that I am privileged to form one in the small company of Missionary agents and pioneers here assembled, but which, nevertheless, is the largest gathering of the kind the Saskatchewan country has ever yet seen; and furthermore, as I have many more stirring scenes and incidents to relate at some future time, I will here and now, in the late autumn of 1868, bid my readers a grateful adieu.

JOHN McDOUGALL.


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