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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter XIII
Down the Saskatchewan to Fort Canton by skiff--Fort Pitt—Noted Indian chiefs—A lonely camp and a solitary wolf—A celestial battle—David brings his bride to Victoria—News from the outside world—To Edmonton in a spring-waggon—My wonderful crop of potatoes— A severe attack of the mumps—A visit from father— Two typical westerners—The White Mud Settlement.


I HAD at this time summering with me my sister, Mrs. Hardisty, and her children. One day a courier came in from Fort Canton instructing me to send Mrs. Hardisty and family down to that point, and as all the Hudson's Bay Company's posts and forts were parts of our missions and circuits, and as this gave me the opportunity of visiting Fort Pitt and possibly Fort Canton, and also of meeting any Indians who might be em route to or fro, I concluded to take her and children down the river in the skiff. Arranging to have her horses and two of mine driven across country in the first place to Fort Pitt, we embarked and began our journey down stream. In less than two days we had made Fort Pitt, which I judge is from one hundred and eighty to two hundred miles by the winding of the river; but such was the current, and so continuous was our movement day and night, without loss of time, that we did better than a hundred miles in a day. Here we heard that Mr. Hardisty had passed west, hoping to meet his wife and children, of course never thinking of their coming by river. Knowing that he would return to this point when he met our men and horses, we waited and I had full opportunity W do some mission work. Here traded the Plain and Wood Crees, the Chippewyans of the Beaver River and north country, the Saulteaux and the Cree, and sometimes even Blackfeet came to this post. In my time noted Indians, such as Sweet Grass, Big Bear and Little Pine, made this their headquarters. A big trade in provisions was generally done here, and both wood and plain furs were taken in large quantities; many a boat-load of furs and pemmican went down the Saskatchewan annually from Fort Pitt. Several times in my journeyings I had been privileged to preach the Gospel in the mother-tongue to people who up to these times had never heard it. Nomads, wanderers out of the ages, a strange, mysterious people they were, and how solemnly and earnestly they would look into my eyes as I came to them in their own language with this new and wonderful evangel. This present occasion was no exception, and I held services with a mixed crowd of tribes and peoples. God only knows if any permanent good was done as to Christianity, but in the meantime, at any rate, they were made to understand something aboit law and civilization, and, I do hope, of Christ and heaven.

Hardisty came in Sunday afternoon and thus relieved me of going any farther. We visited a good part of Monday and then parted, my friends going east and I west. It was a lovely evening, and alone with my two horses, Bob No. 1 and Archie, either following the other and not needing to be led, my equipment a leather shirt, trousers and blanket, and my gun and ammunition and some dried meat as provision all on my saddle, so that my free horse was indeed free, on we went and near dark crossed Frog Creek and camped. I have already told my readers I never was made to be alone; I have always found myself in such condition under protest. I remember I was unusually lonely that night. I hobbled my horses, and as they moved off to better grass I made a fire and roasted some dried meat, and nibbling at it thought one man thirty-five miles from the nearest of his kind, so far as he knows, is entirely too far away, and I wondered how some are so constituted as almost to enjoy solitude. Then I became aware that a pair of eyes were fastened on me. A casual glance over my shoulder caught a movement, and gripping my gun I awaited developments. Presently I saw that the object looking down from the brink of the hill was a big timber wolf. This was a relief, for if he was alone I did not fear him; so I threw more wood on the fire, renewed my attention to the dried meat, and by and by moved away and spread my saddle-blanket, then wrapping myself in my own blanket I lay down with gun at hand and fell asleep to waken as the day sky came with all nature around me and myself as well covered with heavy dew. Breaking another bit of meat, I ate as I went for my horses, which had ascended the hill and hobbled some distance. Soon I was back again, and saddling up was off on the lope in the fresh of the morning, while all the earth and its luxuriant vegetation was glistening with moisture, which, as the sun appeared, flashed and brightened the whole scene. I said to myself, "I will do well if I reach Saddle Lake to-day." A vigorous trot, a few miles of canter alternating, and in three hours changing horses, on I went across valleys and over plains, in and out and through and between islands of timber, all the white keeping a sharp lookout on the distant horizon, and as much as possible on everything within this, myself always its centre. Thus across Moose Creek and the Dog Rump and the immense stretches of country this side and between and beyond them, on and on past Egg Lake No. 2, and by the early evening I had made Saddle Lake, with self and horses still fresh.

Near sundown, while going over a high range of hills, I witnessed a grand celestial battle. Two heavy thunder-clouds were coming rapidly together, the meeting promising to take place right over my course. I alighted and belted my blanket about me, leaving the upper part to pull over my head; then, resuming my ride, saw the wonderful fight in the heavens above. Lightning flashed and artillery roared, and down came a torrent of rain, until the jump of my horse was one continuous splash. And now the scene was sublimely grand: flash and crash and roar and rumble, and then another louder and angrier discharge, and thus these atmospheric legions approached each other, each jagged cloud seeming to reach out to the skirmishing lines of the other. Suddenly they gripped, and the heavens opened their floods, and splash, splash went my horse's feet until we were on the bridge of the White Mud and only nine miles from home. Then I jumped down, and unsaddling my horse I caught the other, and bestriding him was away through the jack-pines, a narrow strip of sandy ]and, and across the Smoky Creek and through the valley and over the hill, and down into Victoria and home. The bracing effect of that northern air may be imagined when I remark that neither myself nor horses were tired, and yet since morning we had come one hundred and three miles—not guesswork but actual measurement. Not sleeping much the night before, and being drenched through to the skin for some hours in the evening, I was in prime condition for sleep; indeed I awoke only when our people were preparing the table for dinner. Dressing I went out to look at my horses, who met me with a whinny and a look that said, "Well, we are ready to go on," and I rubbed their noses and slapped their backs and went into dinner.

At this time my sister Libbie, afterwards Mrs. Young, and my two eldest daughters, Flora and Ruth, were with me. But one day who should turn up out at the hay-field where I was working but my brother David, who blushed as he told me that he had not come alone, having brought with him a wife. Of course I was glad, for his sake as also for my own, as they would for this year, I hoped, make their home with me in the Mission house. I put away my scythe for the rest of the afternoon, and went in with David to be introduced to my new sister, whom I found to be a bright, fresh, healthy young Scotch-Canadian woman, daughter of a sturdy pioneer of the second degree—first in Ontario and now in Manitoba. I found the two women already well acquainted, and no wonder, for they were but two of the same kind in an immense stretch of country. David and his bride had driven nine hundred miles on their honeymoon trip, and coming on fast had left their cart and outfit far in the rear. David had the latest news from the outside world: Winnipeg was starting, settlers were coming in, the change had begun. He had brought with him some new arms which were significant of a change.

The next morning we took my two horses and David's light rig, and he and I started on a flying trip to Edmonton. We have the news of the world, and only some weeks old; we are not selfish, we must share it with father and mother and friends at Edmonton; at any rate we will be back for Sunday. "Good-bye, girls," and we are away in a whirl of dust. This is my first ride in a three-spring waggon for many years; it quite intoxicates me, and Bob and Archie are wondering what kind of vehicle they are pulling behind them. The waters have subsided, and we fairly bowl along, and early next day are telling the news of Winnipeg and Toronto and London, yea, the world, to a listening company at Edmonton. Turning back the next morning, we are at Victoria the following day and at work again.

This had been a season of almost absolute rest from tribal war in this north land. The buffalo had kept out on the plains and had been quite numerous; this wild people, too, had seen so much of death in the last year that they were weary of trouble and longed to have rest for a season. However, as autumn advanced the buffalo came north, and with them the camps, and hovering near and on the trails of these the war-parties. We were every little while hearing of fresh skirmishes, and were glad enough when our settlement began to fill up for the winter.

This was the autumn of my wonderful crop of potatoes and barley. In the spring I said to myself, "I don't know much about farming, but I believe in this country I can make no mistake about potatoes and barley;" so I went to work and hauled out all the manure about the place, and then ploughed deep, for I had a good team of work horses that had been trained on a farm. Then I sowed my potatoes and handled them in my own way, in the summer weeded and tilled them, and in autumn the promise was rich. But a large camp of Plain Crees came in and settled for a couple of weeks just outside and above the mission field, and presently it was told me, "John, they're stealing your potatoes," and I said, "Ke-yam" (" Never mind,") and my very indifference stopped the stealing in a large measure. Presently I thought I would ask this whole camp to help me dig up my crop. Accordingly I said to the chief, Big Bear, and some of his head men, "To-morrow I want to take up my potatoes; will you tell the people to help me?" and they promised to do so. - I made my arrangements, team, waggon, bags, etc., and the next day we went at it, men, women and children. Soon the potatoes, in piles, and heaps, and bags, were all over the ground. I selected some young men to load and unload, and did no more myself than drive about superintending the work. The way those potatoes were dug and picked and cleaned and dusted and bagged was a caution, also the way my loading crew worked was splendid. The whole thing was new to these buffalo-eaters; the wonderful crop, this strange four-wheeled iron-bound cart, this most obedient team of horses. Some of them had never taken part in such sport in all their history, and all day I took the fertility of the soil, and the response to agriculture, industry, and the beneficence of the Creator as my texts, and from the vantage ground of the waggon, with reins in hand and rushing things, I lectured and preached every little while to listening crowds. This was a first-class object lesson; every little while some one would say, "John, look! " and there going for camp would he a woman or girl bending under the weight of potatoes inside her blanket, and I merely said, carelessly, "Ke-yam, ke-yam." Indeed there was no need to worry over a few potatoes—the ground was full of them.

All day we hauled in that short distance. The Mission was in possession of a huge cellar which some miners had made as an expression of gratitude to father, and into this we sent the potatoes like a deluge. All day the sneaking of back-loads off to camp went on, and in the evening there still remained fully one-fourth of the field undug. Then I sent for the chief and told him I was grateful for the help his people had given me, and that I was satisfied that he might now dismiss them home to camp and tell them that I would give his camp the balance of the field to dig for themselves. There were loud acclaims at this announcement, and the chief sent the people home on the jump, promising a fair start for all in the morning. And I can assure my reader that in the morning that field was a sight, and further, I will venture to say that no spot in the British realm had any better pulverizing and cultivating than that one during that season. I once and for all time demonstrated that potatoes could be grown on the Saskatchewan.

Following on the heels of the smallpox of last season, the mumps were the fashionable disease of this year; several had died of them, and the type was a severe one. Some time in October an old Indian brought me word of buffalo near at hand, and as I had two Indian boys with me we hunted up our horses, and crossing a waggon and two carts, took with us a couple of running horses and started out after meat. Already I had premonitions of mumps and felt very miserable; nevertheless I went on, and meeting with much success in my hunt, was soon loaded up with fine meat. But oh, how I suffered I Presently I was unable to sit on my horse. This would have been a glorious trip, both for the supplying of our need for fresh meat and for the sport connected therewith, had it not been for those abominable mumps and my sublime inexperience concerning them. As it was I did the very worst I could have done, and intensified the disease, as doubtless did numbers of others, some of whom died in consequence.

For the home journey I had to lie stretched out on top of the waggon, and in the two days we occupied in travelling it seemed to me I died many times; every rut and knoll was torture to me, and when I reached Victoria my brother David was so shocked with my appearance that he at once despatched a courier to Edmonton for father. Then an old half-breed, Peter Whitford, came to see me and took me in hand and helped me, and when father arrived I was able to meet him up the road, and he smiled as we shook hands and said that he almost expected as much, but was so startled by David's despatch that he hurried down. We were glad to see him. This was his first introduction to his new daughter, Annie. He had ridden in a hurry ninety miles over a rough country, and would now return and make no fuss about it, nor lose much time in this journey of one hundred and eighty miles. Verily this big country gave men to take on big ideas of life and work. This last summer had been to father a busy onco, but now the humble mission-house at Edmonton was ready for occupancy, some out-buildings erected, and the start on the church made. Much mentaI. worry, much hard physical labor, everything done by hand —chopping, sawing, planing without any machinery—to build a house at this time and have it finished half-way decent entailed labor and patience in the extreme, and with all this came the week-night meetings and all the Sunday work. Other men rested, but the missionary never; he was doctor, surgeon, dentist, nurse, lawyer, magistrate, judge; he was diplomat and ambassador, and all the time the representative of civilization and government and church and Christianity; no wonder the lines multiplied on his face and his hair became gray. And thus the winter of 1871 and 1872 came to the missions of the Saskatchewan.

Our life at Victoria was a full one. Never in the history of this place had we so many people about us as at this time; church services were packed week-nights and Sundays. My regular work on the Sabbath was, twice in Victoria, morning and evening, and an afternoon appointment ten miles out, where I conducted a Sabbath-school, and held a preaching service immediately afterward. This was known as the White Mud Settlement, and here dwelt two typical men. One of these was John Norris, of gypsy origin in the Old Country, it was said, who came out as a lad in the Hudson's Bay service, by way of Hudson Bay, and had well assimilated the West during his long term of service. Now, as it was termed, he had "gone free," and was freighting and trading, and had grown quite prosperous. A hardy, tough specimen of humanity, a regular fighter with either fists or gun, it was all the same to Jack; withal a good-hearted man, fully amenable to kindly fellowship and Christian manhood. Father was to him a hero, one to be loved and pre-eminently respected. It was in Jack's house that we held our Sunday-school and after-service, and we were genuinely welcomed and all due preparations made for the comfort of both preacher and people. Mr. Norris is still living as I write, and has had a considerable part in the opening up of the North-West. Now in his ripening years he enjoys and well deserves the respect of the whole community.

The other man was from the north of Ireland, his Saxon origin fully revealed in the long flaxen hair, blue eyes and fair skin. He likewise was typical as an Irishman; language, wit, nervous impetuosity, all these he had to the full. He had crossed the continent in the early days; he had seen California when the gold fever was at its height, and had come north along the Pacific coast, through every mining camp; was in at the early days of Washington, Oregon and Montana, and now had settled for a time on the White Mud to take up farming. He had married and was, at the time of which I write, a useful citizen and an earnest worker in every department of local life. Sam Livingstone, or "Sam" as everybody called him, was, as I have said, a typical Irishman, and was taking on Americanism as fast as his nature admitted of his so doing. We can only move at a certain rate in the process of development; anything faster is hurtful in the long run, indeed is often suicidal; and the philanthropist or government that does not recognize this has not watched history nor yet given much heed to either God's or Nature's method. Sam was taking on strength when conditions were favorable, but he lost quickly when these were reversed. To him, as to John Norris, father was a tower of strength. "The old man," as Sam and the frontiersmen generally termed father among themselves, "was one to swear by, you bet." Sam and many others pinned their faith to him. Just now, on his farm and alongside of a mission and such like influences, Sam was a host.

All through the Conference year of 1871-2 I was much in touch with the White Mud Settlement. Then there were Indian camps which I visited and ministered to, sometimes one day's journey distant, sometimes two days', making a four days' trip. During this winter, between November 1st and April 1st, I travelled by dog- train two thousand miles, and with horses one thousand, and yet was very little away from my work at Victoria; indeed, I seemed to stay at borne much more than usual. The Mountain Fort, Pigeon Lake, Edmonton, White Fish Lake, Lac la Biche, and the Cree camps to the south near Battle River, gave me many short trips in addition to my regular Sunday travelling to appointment. My dogs were fliers, my horses were fat and good travellers, and we got over the country in a hurry. Work there was in plenty, and very little time for play all through those long winter months.


 


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