2 In the days of the Red River Rebellion
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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter XIV
Missionary Conference at Winnipeg announced—District Meeting moves me to Pigeon Lake—A "migratory church"—A hunt organized—We fall in with Blackfeet and Bloods—A time of great anxiety—Friendly overtures—My visit to Solomon's camp—Good feeling established—A chief with Quaker instincts—Our party divides—We fall in with a Sarcee camp—I make friends with Chief Bull Head—Relief at meeting with large hunting party of our own people—A glorious buffalo run —Attack of fever—Off for Edmonton.


THE spring packet in March brought us word that during the coming summer a missionary conference would be held in the little village of Winnipeg; that the Rev. Drs. Punshon and Wood and other noted men would come that far west to attend it, and that the missionaries would be required to meet these august brethren. The Saskatchewan District Meeting, which took place during the winter, determined on some changes. Peter Campbell was to come to Victoria, and John McDougall to go to Pigeon Lake; and as the best time to move was in the early spring, both parties made ready to do so. These Mountain and Wood Stoneys and western Crees had petitioned the Chairman for "John," and the Chairman and the brethren thought this was the best disposition of our forces in sight; therefore, early in April, I sent my outfit of carts and material around by the south of the Beaver Hills, in charge of my man, Donald Whitford, a worthy fellow who had engaged with me for a year. Several lodges that had been wintering in the vicinity of Victoria accompanied the party back to Pigeon Lake.

Bidding my good sister-in-law and little daughters farewell, and with the company of my brother David as far as Edmonton, I took my buffalo runners, Bob No. 1, Archie and Tom, and started up on the north side of the river, visiting father and mother and friends at Edmonton, and then on to the lake, where I met many old friends. Here, too, I had a fine chance of joking the Dutchman, who had been my companion as I have related, on a trip the year before. I had not seen him since our parting during the night between here and Edmonton, and now, standing in the midst of a crowd of Indians and seeing him approach, I said, "Ah! and here comes the Dutchman! I left him last spring down the trail, and he is but now coming up!" All saw the point and laughed at the boastful little fellow.

Meetings and council, lecture and sermon, fishing and gardening, teaching and helping other men to do so—thus the spring passed and our congregations grew, and we arranged to move out on the plains about the middle of May. Our camp numbered between forty and fifty lodges, largely Stoneys, with some Crees and a couple of camps of half-breeds. A moving village, a travelling school, a migratory church, we almost literally "nightly pitched our moving tent," though not "a day's march nearer home." On and out through the beautiful valley of the Battle River, across many beaver dams, whose builders became our food en passant, and in ten days we had cut our poles and triangles and loaded with dry wood, and were again steadfastly facing the great plains. When camp was moving I generally was far in advance or away to one side. The camp might make from fifteen to twenty miles a day, but I rode from forty to sixty miles, exploring the country and thus keeping myself healthy in both mind and body. A short service every morning, weather permitting; a longer one at night, and practically all day Sunday; but between times away with some interesting hunter or good lively companion and changing these day by day, and thus we explored and hunted and travelled, and still this big land was before us.

Our route from the edge of the woods at this time was almost all new to me. We were days travelling in a south-easterly direction before we found even a few straggling bulls; then, when we came to buffalo and began the work of making provisions, we fell in with a party of Blackfeet and Bloods. These were anxious to make peace; and this entailed a vast deal of visiting and receiving, which was all right in its place, yet took much time from what was our main purpose in coming out to these plains. With all native peoples time is not in question, and it was a part of our mission to make these people feel its value. Then there was the constant need of being on guard. These men professed a desire for peace just now, but there were many who only wanted the opportunity to make war; and thus, instead of taking your turn, as was the ordinary condition when travelling and hunting, while these alien camps were near us every man in our camp had to stand guard all the time, for the others outnumbered us ten to one. Moreover, the Bloods especially had come in from the Missouri recently and were well armed, while in our camp I was the only man with a breech-loading gun, and this not a "repeater." Moreover, these warriors had repeating rifles, mostly Henry's sixteen-shooters, and breech-loading revolvers, and plenty of fixed ammunition, all of which were new to us dwellers north of the forty-ninth parallel, and we saw most clearly how much disadvantaged we were. But it did me good to note how carelessly my Stoneys carried themselves, armed as they were with only muzzle-loading, single- barrelled shotguns, and many of the young fellows with only bows and arrows. In spite of this they moved among these Plain Indians with their superior arms and superior numbers as if all this did not matter one whit; indeed, their whole air was one of pure unconcern. To me every man of the Stoneys seemed to say by his conduct, "Never mind numbers and guns; we can whip them anyway," and doubtless those cunning plainsmen had by experience found this out, and therefore were quite willing to act peaceably.

Here I met Sotanow, a leading Blood Chief, who, when I came to know him, furnished also a reason for this unexpected attitude. Sotanow, or "Rainy Chief," was a Quaker by instinct. He had fought many battles, but not of his own option or desire; he was amongst his fellows a brave man, but was always against war. And now when he met me as a "Godman," and one decidedly for peace, we became friends at once, and thus all his influence was thrown into the maintenance of peace while our camps were close to each other. He visited our camp with a large retinue, and he invited me to his camp, so the next day with a half dozen Stoneys we rode over to return the chief's visit and to see his people.

Yesterday, when Sotanow and his following visited our camp it was pageantry and pomp and barbaric splendor, saddles and costumes, horses and men, in glorious array and wonderfully fitting display on the great plain; a wonderful environment, with its beautiful undulating surface, the sloping hill, the bending valley, the winding stream on the bank of which we were encamped, and the grass-covered hills in the distance. It was a sight to behold these aborigines in the bravery of paint and brass and cotton and blanket and buckskin and moose skin and buffalo skin, according to their own ideas of what was artistic and scenic and beautiful; and certainly they looked fine, and for place and purpose their horsemanship was without criticism. To our mountain and wood people their appearance was decidedly strange and impressive. To-day it is a small party of one white man and six Stoneys (half of the camp wanted to go with me, but I forbade them, knowing that it would not be well for us to thus divide our party), and our horses are plainly caparisoned and costumed, and our demeanor is quiet and unassuming, but we represent a distinct life and entirely different conditions. We come as the forerunners of Christian civilization, and can afford to do without merely human numbers of pageantry or pomp; nevertheless, we are met after a three hours' gallop by an escort, and amid growing numbers, falling into line with our approach, we draw near to this big camp, which, because of its position, we could not see until we were upon it. Already there are a hundred or more warriors surrounding us, and now coming to the top of the brae we see a large camp stretched at our feet.

It is a wonderful scene that now meets our gaze: the beautiful valley; the hundreds and possibly thousands of horses singly and in bands everywhere; the many white lodges, tasselled and bedecked and gorgeous with the hieroglyphics descriptive of glorious exploits; women and children seemingly without number. On horseback and on foot, and through lanes of curious spectators gazing upon us, we are escorted to the chief's lodge, where we are ushered in and welcomed by Sotanow, who introduces us to the assembled aristocracy of his camp. Seating ourselves, we look around at the faces we now see for the first time.

Right here we met (not for the first time, however) with a piece of sublime presumption. The chief had been on the lookout for an interpreter for me, and an old fellow who had professed to be a great linguist was brought in and began speaking to me in what was only a mumbling of unintelligible sounds. I shook my head, and again he tried with an attempt at other sounds, but again I shook my head, and after a few more futile attempts the crowd laughingly dismissed the fraud and the chief sought for another interpreter. This time he was successful in finding a woman who understood Cree very well. She did not speak it as well as she understood it, because of lack of practice, but I soon found that she would make a good interpreter, and through her I spoke to those wild men.

By this time the sides of the lodge were lifted and a big crowd had pressed in all around to listen to the speaker, who told them where he came from and the conditions there; why he was here, and who sent him thus afar and among strange and distinct peoples. I dwelt largely on the benefits of peace; spoke of the future and of the inevitable change soon to come; told them that now the land was without government men did as they pleased, but the day was near when murder and wrong and theft would be stopped, and that the power to do this would, at the same time, be all-powerful and all-merciful. They need not fear the future so long as they aimed at doing the right thing between one another and all men; also that this great power coming would make no distinctions, the white man and the Indian of every tribe and nation would stand the same before it; there would be no favoritism whatever; this was the Great Spirit's wish, this was what His Word enjoined; we were brethren, and the land was big and we could all dwell in it in peace. There were in my audience many who had every reason to hate the white man; every better instinct in them had been insulted and beaten down by the selfishness of the white man; wrong and injury and bestiality and crime had they suffered from his hands; moreover, their idea of the white man's government was of a ruthless, despotic, absolute power breaking treaties, hounding men hither and thither, building prisons and erecting gallows. Oh! these liberty-loving people hated the very mention of government. But to-day, if what I said was true, and some of them had heard that "John" told the truth, then there was hope for them as a people.

My interpreter, she who was once a captive and now had been bought by her present husband, who was also the husband of three other women, as I found out by asking her, was glad to again listen to the tones of her own mother- tongue, and also to listen and be a party to such a message. She modestly thanked me, but I said it was my part to be grateful and hoped we might again meet.

The chief spoke after me, and the woman gave to me what he said as follows: "My people, you see now why I asked John to come to our camp. I saw he was different, and when he spoke to me I felt this is indeed 'God's man.' I must listen, and I heard good things which touched my heart, and now you have heard him also. Let us remember, oh, my people, and try and be ready for the change which John says is coming. He tells me that there are many white men like him who are the friends of the red man, who wish us well and will help us to a better future. I long for it, I am tired of war and hatred, I am glad to hear John, and from this out I will count him as my friend and brother."

They gave us food and poured in questions while we ate, and after spending some three hours in their camp we asked for our horses and these were brought up. The chief said: "I am coming again to see you; I will come almost alone, for I want to hear more of your talk, John." And now, feeling that, after all, our ride over and sojourn in this camp for a little time might result in good, I rode away on the jump for the home camp, carrying within me a thankful heart.

True to his word, the chief came over and spent a night in our camp. He was full of questions, and I did what I could to enlighten him, and when he had returned to his own people we moved away into another part of the country that we might the sooner find buffalo sufficient to ensure loads of provisions. In this we were fairly successful. The Stoneys and Crees were fully loaded, and as the buffalo had been in small bands passing us into the north they were anxious to march woodward. My plan was, when we were loaded, to let my man Donald accompany the Indians into Pigeon Lake, and I take the straight course to Edmonton to join my father there and go on with him to Winnipeg to the missionary conference; but before our carts were nearly full the Indians became anxious, and I concluded to let them go, while my own party and a couple of lodges of half-breeds would move slowly in, picking up buffalo and loading as we might be able to do. So on a Sunday afternoon I told the assembled camp what I proposed, and suggested that they move in as they wished on the morrow. They expressed anxiety about us, but I told them we would be very careful, and after a general prayer-meeting it was thus arranged that we should part on the morrow.

Monday morning there was much handshaking, and in a few hours, as our start had been simultaneous, there were many miles between us. We found a few buffalo the same afternoon, and, securing some meat, concluded to move on until finding a suitable camp we would dry our provisions, make pemmican, and bale our meat. We were moving northward when suddenly we found ourselves almost into a camp coming from the east. The first man to reach us was Bull Head, the Sarcee chief, and I was glad when I found that he could talk some Cree and we were able to converse. Here we were, a very few, with a crowd of the wildest fellows on the plains insight. "What shall we do?" asked my men; and as I saw that our lines of march were convergent, I said to Bull Head, "We will camp together, my friend," and now his solemn look disappeared, and with a smile he said, "I am glad to hear you say so;" and in an hour or two we found our three lodges surrounded by some thirty lodges of Sarcees, and with the not wholly pleasing intelligence that as many more would join us on the morrow. I felt queer, and wished in my heart that we had stayed with the Stoneys. So far as man was concerned, we were fully in the hands of these fellows; what they might do was the question. My brother George was quite afraid of them, and no wonder, for here were some of the hardest and wildest-looking men to be seen anywhere. I resolved to cultivate Bull head; he was a big fellow and evidently very impulsive. Just now he was, or seemed to be, on our side. With him I walked through the camp, and when7 his lodge was fully set I went with him into it, and soon a crowd collected. As the Sarcees were a buffer people between the Crees and Blackfeet, and could understand Cree and speak it some, I told them pretty much what I had told the Bloods. Some of them laughed when I said we were brothers, but all were reverent when I spoke of the Great Spirit.

In the evening my men asked me what we would do with our horses. I said, "We will give them into the care of the chief." I then went to him and told him we were few, he was many; we were really his guests, and I wanted him to take charge of our camp, and especially of our horses, and again that peculiar smile lit up his big face. I returned to my tent and went to sleep beside my little brother, and when daylight came and the camp noise made me fully conscious of surroundings, I was almost surprised that we were alive. In going out I could not see any of our horses, but, walking to the out- skirts of the encampment, I recognized them coming in ahead of a rider, and on near approach was astonished to see Bull Head himself on one of my runners, he having relieved his young men and taken charge of our horses himself. As he came up he smiled and said, "I suppose you thought, John, that your horses were stolen," and I answered, "No, Chief, I slept in your camp just as I would expect you to sleep in my house. The one Great Father watched over us all, for are we not His children?" Again the smile, "Do you think so, John?" and I gave an emphatic "Yes." "Well, I like that," said this man whose hand had hitherto been against every man's.

Soon the other part of the Sarcee camp came up, and here was a multiplying of the problem as to our future movements. Evidently there had been a split in camp, and now we were to be made the occasion of mending the breach. Were we to be the common prey, or might we be the instruments of healing in the ease? The morning passed anxiously and things to us were growing tense, when in came some scouts with the startling intelligence that within a few miles there was a large camp of half-breeds and Crees from the north—many carts, a big ring, very many lodges. And now there was apprehension on the part of the Sarcees, and I saw that our time had come to take the lead; so when Bull Head hurried over to tell me, I at once said, "Let us down tents and go over to them and join forces with them." He looked surprised, but I continued, They are my friends. I give my word, Chief, all will be well." This seemed to satisfy him, and turning with stately stride towards his lodge he shouted forth the news and announced the programme to "down lodges and make ready to travel with John to the big camp; John has given his word that all will be well." I can assure my readers the announcement was welcome to my own party, and soon camp was astir with preparations for the march. At the head of the column, along with Bull Head and some of his leading braves of both factions, we rode towards our friends, and in three or four hours came in sight of a large camp. Then I said to my man Donald, "I will ride ahead and announce our coming." What I had in hand was a rather ticklish business; here were life-long enemies, hereditary foes, cherishing deep-rooted hatred and long unsatisfied revenge; no government, no law but such as we might make convenient for ourselves for the moment. I confess I was sobered at the work I had undertaken. However, I galloped on and into the camp, where I was welcomed on every hand. Very soon, to my great relief, I was surrounded by leading half-breeds and Indians whom I knew, such men as Kakake, and John Hunter, and our own people from Victoria and White Fish Lake, and I sat on my horse and told them that I had the whole Sarcee camp with me. "These are my friends," I said; "will you truly accept them as such ?" "Yes, yes," they replied. Then I said, "Let some of you go out to meet them, and others arrange where they shall camp," and on every hand I met the response, "Yes, it shall be done." I alighted from my horse, and with a circle of friends around me entered Kakake's lodge, feeling that a burden was rolled from my mind.

When the Sarcees were all encamped and our tents were in place, we engaged in a rousing song service, which made the Sarcees and many others look and listen and wonder. Then with a heart full of gratitude I lay me down and slept, while my little brother, why, he was another boy altogether. Alarm, distrust, fear, which had been plainly written on his face, were gone, and peaceful calm had taken their place. Donald was with his people, and a strong sense of security had taken possession of all our minds. We found that just west of us was the fringing of a large herd of buffalo; that for days this camp had lain quiet in that direction, and that the morrow was set for a grand hunt.

On the morrow when we rode forth, an immense company, Crees, Saulteaux, French and English half-breeds, Sarcees, and one white man, on all manner of horses, and clothed in all manner of costumes, and with all manner of weapons, and many of our crowd painted in all manner of colors, we made a wonderful appearance. Behind us came carts and waggons and packhorses and many riders and drivers, and in strong array we went forth to "slay and eat." The ground was good, the country not too hilly, and the buffalo sufficiently plenty to give room for pick and choice. Moreover, the day was almost calm. Oh! the conditions were ideal for a hunt with such a crowd. The charge was magnificent. While many fell, so far as I could learn none were seriously hurt, and hundreds of buffalo were killed. Long before night many thousands of pounds of meat were in the camp and undergoing the various processes of slicing and drying, etc.; also hundreds of hides were being stretched, these in their turn to undergo the treatment necessary to make tents and clothes, moccasins and harness, provisions, saddle-bags, etc.

Of course, with this large camp of diverse people my work was much increased, and I was kept constantly on the go; it was "John" here and "John" there almost day and night. Thou I was taken with some kind of fever, and lay for a day or two between life and death. Oh! how I longed for cold water. The Indian women did all they could for me; indeed, the whole camp was full of sympathy; they did not move for six days, waiting for me to gain strength. Moreover, the time was now approaching for me to strike for Edmonton to join father and start for Winnipeg. I was extremely anxious, but there was nothing to do but let the fever take its course.

When Sunday came I was better, but could do no more than sit beside John Hunter as lie led the service. In the evening, however, I was so much better that I felt I could venture on my journey, so I told the people of the coming conference in Winnipeg, and of the purpose thereof, and bade them good-bye. Next day with Susa (whom my readers will remember as the man I had disinfected of the small-pox) driving a cart, and my brother George and self in the saddle behind some loose horses, we left the camp and started straight for Edmonton. Sarcees, Crees, half-breeds all wished us "bon voyage," and the Christian people said, "We will pray for your safe return and many blessings on your journey. Carry our greetings to the Praying Chiefs and the Christian people you will see; also tell the "Law Chief" at Red River we hope he will not allow any fire-water to come west to us.


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