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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter VI
We are visited by a band of Crees—Our guests steal away with a bunch of horses—Stonies set out in hot pursuit—Little William's strategy— Horses recaptured —We begin farming operations—Arrival of Mr. Steinhauer—Home to Victoria again—A memorable Sabbath—My gun bursts—Narrow escape—My mother's cares and anxieties--Home-made furniture.


While we were building our house, and during the stay of the Stonies with us, a small war party of Crees came to our little settlement on their way (so they said) to the Blackfoot country. As they knew me they came to our lodge, and all went well the first day and night; but during the second night they stole out of our lodge, took a bunch of the Stonies' horses and put for home. Awakened by their retreating footsteps, I roused Paul and we struck a light and found our guests were gone. Then we ran down to the path leading eastward, and lighting some matches found the tracks of the horses. Immediately we aroused the Stonies, and presently one after another of these started on foot after the thieves. Fortunately for the Crees most of these men were still weak from disease and not at all up to their normal condition, or it is altogether probable not one of the horse stealers would have reached home again. In heart and sympathy I went with the Stonies, but prudence and policy dictated that I should stay at the camp.

Knowing the road for the first thirty miles as we did, we knew that the footmen had the best of it, and it was just a question of how much start the men with the horses had. It was a time of great anxiety to me because of our having sheltered these treacherous thieves. And the more I worried over the matter the more I felt that the onus of blame would be placed upon me. Thus the long hours passed away until about noon, when some young Stonies came back thoroughly played out and discouraged and sullen. Then others began to come in, also exhausted. Measles and scarlet-fever had taken the wind and muscle from them, or else it would have been child's play, they felt sure, to catch up to those horses on that miry brushy trail, where they could-go only single file.

In the meantime all of the stock had been hunted up, and when they found that twelve of the best horses in the Stony camp were stolen, there was lamentation on the part of the women and children. Only my new friend Jacob and Little "William were still away of the whole number that started in pursuit last night. There were five Crees in the party that had visited us, and there may have been more who did not come into our camp. Many anxious people gathered around our lodge that afternoon, but I think I myself felt most anxiety. Presently, though, out of the thick woods to the east of our small clearing Jacob rode in sight, astride of the big white mare which was was as the apple of old Adam's eye. And behind him one after another trotted the rest of the horses, one, two, three, and we counted carefully until Little William came in view on the twelfth. Nine- tenths Indian as I was, I gave way to the one- tenth white man in me and cheered. All were rejoiced except some of the wilder young men, who would have delighted in slaying those Crees.

Jacob told me that after running about twenty miles he played out, and the only one near him was Little William, who was "all there," so he told William to go on, and he would come after him at a slower step. This he was doing when by and by he met William with the horses, he having received every one, and, said Jacob, "William will tell you the rest." So to William I went, and got his story, which was as follows: "After leaving Jacob I ran on at a good footstep. I knew that the horses were not far ahead of me; but I also knew that if the thieves got out into more open country, which was now close, I could not catch them; so I pushed ahead, and sure enough I saw them driving as fast as they could. Sometimes I took sight on one, and again on two in a line. I felt like pulling the trigger, but what you told us last Sunday about Jesus and His loving all men would come to my mind, and I would drop my gun, and again sight it on those Indians. I was not afraid of them. It was something else that kept me from shooting. Then I thought of a plan, so I waited until they would come where the brush is very thick and the path very narrow; there I ran around to one side, and when nearly opposite the leader I came in close, rushed at them, and gave the "war-whoop" as loud and as fast as I could. They were so startled that they threw themselves off the horses and fled, and I rushed in between them and the horses, and turned them around, and then I shouted to the Crees, 'Flee for your lives! Those behind me will not be as merciful as I have been.' They thought when I came at them with the war-whoop that all the Stonies were on them."

Our public service that evening was one of praise and thanksgiving, on my part at any rate, and there were others who felt the same. A collision between the two tribes just at the beginning of our effort, and for which we would have been largely blamed, would have very much prejudiced our cause.

In good time we furnished our one-roomed house. The chimney was a success, the floor was solid, and the parchment windows were in place. We had even gone to the length of putting bark on the roof, and had made a canoe and kept ourselves and dogs in fish, besides feeding a multitude of others. We had ploughed and fenced a small field and partly planted it, for the seed we had was distributed to so many Indians, and went into so many little fields, that our own share was a small one. However, the beginning of such a life was made up by all who came to us. A few potato cuttings and a thimbleful of turnip seed, those were the commencement of another kind of evolution. How many generations of persistent effort to make farmers of these men we did not then take time to estimate—"sufficient unto the day," etc. We had made a beginning.

We had held daily meetings with few or many, as these came about us, and all but the conjurers came to our services. Good lasting work had been accomplished (for even now in our testimony meetings I hear evidence of this), and now the Indians had moved away and we were left to ourselves.

I would have gone with one of the larger camps, taking my whole party with me, as this was true evangelistic work, but father had promised that, if possible, either himself or Mr. Steinhauer would visit us in order to administer the ordinances; but while the Indians and ourselves waited, neither came. Then after. the Indians were gone Mr. Steinhauer arrived, bringing a letter from father instructing me to come back to Victoria to accompany Maskepetoon's large camp to the plains for a season.

So I arranged to have Mrs. McDougall and the rest of the party go out to the mountain trail and wait while Mr. Steinhauer and myself followed the largest camp on their hunt, as there were several baptisms and marriages I very much desired to have solemnized. Accordingly we separated. Mr. Steinhauer and I struck around the north end of Pigeon Lake, then westward to Battle Lake, and on down the Battle River on the trail of the camp, which we reached the second night out. As the next day was Saturday we travelled with the Indians that day, holding services morning and evening, and then spent Sunday with them, greatly to their delight.

• It was a beautiful valley that we were camped in. The newness and beauty of the young summer were richly apparent on every hand. The people were eager and hungry for the Word of God, and there seemed to come a hallowing blessedness upon the day's experiences, making such an impression on my own mind that this has remained with me as a pleasant memory all through the years. Several were married according to Christian rites. Quite a number were baptized and many souls quickened, and with thankful hearts we rolled into our blankets that Sabbath night and slept the sleep of the weary. Another service Monday morning, then a general handshake, and we started for our return journey, this time by another route, making as straight as we could to the place appointed as our rendezvous with my party.

The first day out, as I was leading the way, a huge buffalo bull sprang suddenly from some "bush" close to me, and quite startled both my horse and myself. Then I saw him, and as he took across an open stretch, I carefully threw in a ball on the top of the shot in my gun (for we had been shooting ducks that morning), and (lashed after the brute. "Scarred Thigh" seemed to think that this was now his turn to be the pursuer, and very soon carried me up to the big fellow. I blazed away at him, and saw I had hit him in a good place; but as he did not stop at once, I threw in a charge of powder, put a ball on top of it, fixed on a cap, and was going to fire at him again, when in grasping the gun I felt a big rent down the barrel! Looking at it I saw that it was burst badly, and that I had great reason to be thankful that my hand was not hurt. But one does not at such a time think so much about what might have been as about what has actually occurred. Here was my gun burst, and though it was originally only an old flint-lock, and pot metal at that, still I mourned over its loss. But the bull was mortally hit, and soon tumbled over. We cut up the carcase, packed the greater part of the meat, and reached our friends the second day from the Indian camp. Then all moved on together down the country, keeping on the south side, scouting across the roads leading into Edmonton, and coming out on the Saskatchewan at Victoria.

We swam our stock, crossed our passengers and stuff in a small skiff, and found mother and the children with Larsen, the carpenter, holding the fort. The Indians had gone out on the plains, and father was off on the long trail to Red River or Fort Garry for supplies, also trusting to meet at that point with my brother David and sister Eliza, whom we had left in Ontario in 1860.

The large camp of Indians, and the fearful amount of sickness and death, had wearied mother and the rest of our Mission party, so that our coming brought them a glad respite from the constant worry and excitement of having as close neighbors a people who were as excitable as these, and who were still in the condition of active war with the other tribes. Several war parties had arrived during our absence bringing in scalps and horses and also the tidings of the death of some of their companions. These occurrences would cause a furor of intense excitement in the large camp, and lamentations and scalp-dances resounded all around the Mission house. Moreover, to help the sick and sometimes to pacify the unruly had drained the resources of our storehouse and larder, until I found mother and family with very little provisions. At the time we arrived they were making meal after meal on wild duck eggs. Mother had neither tea nor coffee, the sugar was all gone, and she was obliged to fare as the children did, on water and milk. Neither bread nor vegetables were forthcoming. But the heroic woman was thankful for life, and did not seem to mind the lack of even the simplest luxuries. The little church was finished, and Larsen was getting on well with the interior of the Mission house and the necessary furniture belonging to it.

It is perhaps hard for people who have always had the opportunity of buying factory-made furniture to understand how tedious the hand- making of such is from the tree right to the finish, and, after all, your articles of furniture crude and sometimes very awkward in appearance. Larsen was a Norwegian, and he gave us the style of his native land in his hand-made furniture.


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