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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter XVI
Conference over, I leave on a visit to Ontario- –Dr. Punshon —Passing the Customs—A stubborn Jehu—Northern Railroad at Moorehead—Take steamer at Duluth—Revisiting scenes of my boyhood—Collingwood—Craigvale —Toronto—College education denied—My second marriage—Westward bound—Seasickness—A "wild and woolly" town—Heading off a steamer—Down the Red River—Dr. Bryce—Westward rush begun—A merited rebuke.


A FEW days sufficed for our missionary gathering, and presently we were away, I to join the eastern party and visit for a few weeks the scenes of my childhood. This was pleasant in prospect, but when I had the privilege of travel- hug in the company of such men as Drs. Punshon and Wood and Mr. John Macdonald, it was to me a greatly prized opportunity. We embarked on the International at Fort Garry, and soon were stemming the muddy, sluggish current of the Red. It was a sultry afternoon, and Dr. Punshon, bitten on the hand by a lively mosquito, came to me in his trouble; not only because of the pain and swelling, but also to inquire as to the ineffectuality of the mosquito netting he had on his hat.

Said this learned man, "I took the precaution of purchasing some netting, and a lady friend arranged it on my hat nicely; but it seems of no avail against these pests." I told him that all the netting in sight arranged as his was would be of no avail; and then, ripping it from its artistic setting on his hat, and borrowing needle and thread from the stewardess, I made the netting into a sack which came down over the Doctor's head and neck, and told him to put on his gloves and fear no more. He was greatly astonished and most grateful, and wondered that he had not thought of this earlier. The Doctor was full of questions concerning the West, and as we were standing together on the steamer's deck looking out on the plains of the Red River valley, he suddenly asked me how many horses I had. I straightway began to count up on my fingers: there were Moose Hair and Jack and Little Bob and Archie, and the two Browns, and Beaso, and Wahbee, etc., until I had twelve, that I told him if he knew anything about horses he could either ride or pack or drive, and that I had some unbroken mares and colts running at large on the range. "My, what a stud for a preacher!" was his exclamation, and as he was a big, stout, heavy man, I drew up a little closer to His Bigness and said, "If you had my work to do, Dr. Punshon, you would require seventy times as many as I have." Then he laughed and said, "That is true, John, and I do not mind if you have a thousand so long as you do your work."

At the boundary line we met the Customs officer. My party, desiring to go ashore, left their keys with me and asked me to look after their baggage. With us but not of us was a tall man named Snider, who came and put his carpet-bag beside my pile, but I moved it away and suggested that he had better look after his own luggage. When the Customs House officer came I stood beside my stack of valises and grips, and jingled a half dozen bunches of keys in my hand, ready to open everything if need be. "Who do these belong to?" he inquired.

To those gentlemen you met on the gangway and myself," I answered, and he chalked them through without the opening of a single one. "Whose is this'?" was the next question, pointing to the carpet-bag I had fortunately moved away from our heap. "Mine," said the tall man. "Open it," came the command, and the tall man opening his bag, the officer put his hands in down to the bottom and brought up a nice bundle of martin skins, and quietly putting them under his arm, moved on. The tall man was visibly disturbed at this confiscation, and I read him a lesson on attempting to smuggle. I was glad enough that I had moved that bag from our belongings.

Reaching Grand Forks we were told that the boat would go no farther, and that all passengers would now proceed by waggon. Behold us, then, in a little while crowded into high-seated, low-covered, springless waggons. Here, while looking after the luggage of my friends, the Doctors, I was crowded out of their company and jammed into that of a strange lot of fellow- passengers. As we rode over the rough prairie trail the jolting was terrific. To sit with heads bowed and legs dangling in the air was growing to be something like purgatory, and I very soon began to agitate for a change. By taking out the top sides of the box and lowering our seats that much, we might make ourselves passably comfortable, but when I mentioned this to the driver he at once with an oath declared, "You shall do no such thing." I persisted in my demand, but still the stubborn driver refused. However, at the first stop we made I had my men ready, and we adjusted the seats while the driver was looking after his horses. On his return he was furious, but I gently told him not to worry, and assured him that we could go on without him, even if we had to leave him bound hand and foot to do so. Seeing we were in earnest, and that all his cursing and fuming would be futile, he gave up, and before the day was over had to admit that my plan was the best. To Dr. Punshon that long day under such circumstances was excruciating.

At dusk we crossed the Red River at Georgetown, where more than twelve years before father and our party had camped for some days when we were en route into the north. We still had twelve or fourteen miles to do before reaching the railroad at Moorehead, and had it not been for Mr. Macdonald's forethought we would have hung around an atmosphere of smoke and mosquitoes for hours; but he had telegraphed for a waggon for our party, and there it was standing and ready for us. However, we were very hungry, and on inquiring were told by the big German who owned the place we were stopping at that they had no food cooked. Then Mr. Macdonald asked if they had bread, and the answer came back, "Oh! yes." Again he asked if they had milk. "Oh! yes." "Then please give us some bread and milk," and soon down to big bowls of milk and chunks of bread we sat to satisfy our present hunger. The long afternoon over a rough prairie road in a springless heavy waggon had given us large appetites.

Our homely fare disposed of, we climbed into the lumber waggon and again set forth into the summer's night. Crossing Buffalo Creek we took the long level plain for Moorehead and the railroad. Every man in the party tried his turn on John, the driver, to induce him to trot even a wee bit, but it was no go. John's horses walked, and continued to walk, and it was not till the early morn of the next day that we entered the new railway town, just as one of the dance halls was turning its crowd into the streets. On hearing them Dr. Punshon remarked drily, that "those young fellows had evidently been to Sunday-school." We found that the train left at 5 am., and arranging to be called early enough for a cup of coffee, we lay down for an hour or two to sleep. Here once more I heard the whistle of a locomotive. Twelve years and better had passed since I left the northerly railhead at LaCrosse, on the Mississippi. Steadily northward steam and steel had since then been forcing their way. Twelve years in the wilderness, but now I am in touch with all the world!

Sharp at five we were away, speeding behind the iron horse, and to me for a time the sensation was delightful. "Come with me, John," said Dr. Punshon, and he led the way into another car and presented me to a company of railway magnates, who soon satisfied themselves of my "bona-fides," and straightway the questions came thick and fast concerning, the Canadian North-West. I noticed that it was extremely gratifying to these men to learn that far north of their line there were vast areas of fertile country. They thanked me most heartily, and then pressed Dr. Punshon to come to St. Paul and give them a lecture on his way home. This he consented to do, and left us at Duluth for St. Paul. At Brainard we were held up by a subsidence in the road east of us, and after some hours' waiting were taken to the spot and transferred to another train. I remember Dr. Punshon was very anxious about this muskeg, and I had to pilot him across the floating bog at the side of the track. The whole bottom had fallen out under the dump—indeed it was all dump.

On down the slope of Superior we rolled, and into the new port of Duluth, where the good ship Cumberland, with steam up, was awaiting our train. From the hurricane deck of a cayuse to that of a palatial side-wheeler was a big translation, and for a change I liked it so long as the lake was placid, and such it proved as we coasted down the north shore of Lake Superior. We touched at Port Arthur, Nepigon, and Michipicoten, then on to the "Soo," where I stopped over one boat to meet some old friends of my boyhood and renew my youth with them among the scenes of various canoe and Mackinaw boat experiences. I also visited Garden River, where, with rather and mother and little brother and sisters, we had landed amongst wild drunken Indians twenty years before. I stood on the spot where as a lad I had driven the oxen which hauled the timber to build the first mission house and church. I crossed to Sugar Island and visited the churches, and found both still alive and active. It was like old times to hear Mrs. Church exclaim, "Why, Johnnie McDougall !" "Oh, how you talk!" "You don't say so," etc., etc. Generous and good as neighbors to all of us they were in those early days.

Coming back to the "Soo," and while walking on the dock, I met a couple of gentlemen passengers, and at the first glance knew them to be Hudson's Bay Company officers. A feeling of gladness came over me as I recognized the stamp of the north and west in their walk and talk and actions, and soon I was as one of them, though we had never met previously. I learned in course of an interesting conversation that they were on their way into the wilds of northern Quebec.

I caught the next boat down on the Canadian side, and from the deck feasted my eyes on the scenery of the old North Shore route. Calling in at the Bruce Mines and at Little Current and Killarney, and crossing the wide stretches of Georgian Bay, we came into the port of Coiling- wood, where I bade farewell to my Hudson's Bay Company friends. From Collingwood I took train to Craigvale, where I expected to find my uncles and cousins, as also other friends. Allandale, Barrio, Lake Simcoe, all familiar, and it seems but as yesterday when I was paddling a birch canoe along these shores; and yet more than twelve years of continuous travel and toil have passed, and many hardships and countless adventures and perils have been experienced, and the boy has grown to manhood. "Will my old playmates recognize me?" I ask myself, and as I walk from the station to uncle's store and home, I am all on the strain in the excitement of coming home again, and full of the sense that this is indeed "my own, my native land."

Entering the store I saw my cousin Charlie waiting on customers, and I stood as one waiting his turn. People came and vent whom I had known, but I was as a stranger amongst them. Fully an hour passed and I was not recognized, but after many glances from Charlie he at last got a glimpse of me as of old, and dropping everything he exclaimed, "Are you John McDougall?" I nodded ready assent, and then my welcome was hearty, and presently aunt and other cousins were around me as one from the dead.

A short sojourn with these relatives, and then on to Toronto, where I called on my fellow- travellers, Drs. Punshon and Wood and Mr. Macdonald. I also met the Rev. Lachlan Taylor, Secretary of Missions, and was gently reminded by both President and General Secretary that my time in Ontario was short,. They also advised me to look around for a companion, and indeed were very solicitous on my behalf. A personal matter, that even my own father had never presuined to mention or converse with me about, these wise old men were quite insistent upon! However, I had my own thoughts in the case, and now it came upon me strongly that I would like to attend college for the year, and immediately I went to the President, but was met with a prompt refusal. " No, sir," he said, "you must return; your work needs you. A college education is not an essential, it is a luxury; neither we nor you can afford it." Thus Dr. Punshon met me with kindness yet firmness, and though longing for the college, yet my recent vows of obedience were also ringing in my ears, so I gave up the matter and settled down to visit and enjoy my short sojourn in eastern Canada. Nevertheless, Dr. Wood must insist on my visiting one of our missions where a protégé of his was teaching school; but Providence had something else in store for me. I found that there would be no boat to this special point for some days, and therefore took another in an entirely different direction, and while on this trip met a young lady who made me say to myself, "If I can win her consent she shall go with me to the North-West!"

The next time I visited Toronto Dr. Wood was very anxious to know how I found the people at the isolated mission, and expressed surprise when I told him I had not been there. "Well, well," said he, "you must hurry up; the season is advancing and the distance is great." The Doctor knew a little about it, for he had gone as far west as Portage la Prairie. Then I told him I was advancing slowly and wisely from my standpoint, and he said, "Go ahead, young man." And in good time I did go oil my project and was successful, and late in September we were married. My bride, poor girl, little thought of the long, difficult journey on which I was taking her, nor yet, describe as I might, did she nor many other of the eastern people realize the conditions. But in her case it was "Will go with you, John, to the ends of the earth if need be."

We were married at Cape Rich, and sailed from Collingwood on the Chicora, calling at Owen Sound on the way. Instead of my bride only I found myself at the head of a little party bound for the Red River, including portions of two families who expected to find their complement in the far West. We left Owen Sound some time after midnight, and soon were out in a gale on the wide stretch of the bay. My wife proved to be a much better sailor than myself. She and a few others went to breakfast, while I and the majority had no special desire for breaking fast. There were some jokes and fun at my expense. One young lady thought it was great fun that she on her first trip should do better than "a veteran like Mr. McDougall." I said little, but kept on the broad of my back. After a time, the ship continuing to roll and pitch, I noticed the young lady paling a little, and presently she also stretched herself out on the opposite side of the saloon. Then I opened conversation; it was my turn to laugh. "So you enjoyed your breakfast?" "Yes," faintly. "You've had a turn on the deck ?" "Yes," more faintly. "Do you know what they are going to have for dinner?" "No," in a whisper. "It is now 11.30, are you hungry?" "No," with pathos and much feeling. All of a sudden my young lady jumped up and rushed for her stateroom, uttering a distressed "Oh, my! oh, my!" etc. For the rest of the trip we christened the complaint which affected our passenger list the " Oh, my!" disease. However, in a few hours we were in the straits of Killarney, and our agony was over, and not until we reached Lake Superior was there much chance for further seasickness. Given comfortable ship and agreeable companions, with weather not too rough, and the North Shore route is a most enjoyable trip; the scenery is fine, and the whole run is pleasant.

Locking through the "Soo" canal, we were soon out on the great Lake Superior and hugging the northern shore. The weather was propitious, and we kept on deck most of the time. For the past twelve years my life had been spent on the plains in high altitudes, and this sniffing of the breeze direct from the fresh waters was a very much appreciated change. We called, as was the wont at the time, at every point on the lake, and finally came to Duluth, where we took the train for the west.

During my stay in the east the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway had come north, and, crossing the Northern Railway east of the Red River, was now advanced as far as the Red Lake River. Arriving at the latter point, we found to our dismay that the boat had left oil the afternoon of the previous day with a full load for Fort Garry. "When would there be another boat?" No one knew. This place in all truth was "wild and woolly;" gambling and drinking dens and dancing halls practically made up the town. The rapid building of the railway and the navigation during the season to this point had brought a full quota of these parasites of humanity to feed on the navvies and travellers who, when stranded here, were more or less at their mercy. Obtaining some lunch for my party in one of the tents, I went out to reconnoitre, and found that it was twenty miles across the country to Grand Forks, where one might possibly find some accommodation. I accosted a genuine specimen of the New England Yankee westernized, and found that he had a waggon and team, which I went to see, and he offered to drive me over to Grand Forks with my party for twenty dollars. I told him to hitch up, and then ran to notify my people to be ready.

In a very short time we were rolling over the prairie, grateful beyond expression to leave this place of wild lawlessness. To me the change was delightful. I was again on the plains, and perched on the top of some luggage, with a couple of children in hand lest they should jolt off, I thoroughly enjoyed the western air and scene. We had not gone more than five miles when I saw the smoke-stacks of a steamer. I watched and waited until I saw she was heading our way, and then I gave the wild western whoop, and our driver started and wanted to know where the "Injuns" were. "There are the engines," I said, pointing to the smoke-stacks, which now and then would appear between the fringing of timber along the river's bank. "Jerusalem! there she is, sure enough. Well, pardner," he continued, "what shall we do?" "Drive over and head her off," was my answer, and across the prairie we made as rapidly as we could to intercept the steamer, which had left the railway crossing we had just now come from more than twenty-four hours since. Such was navigation on this tortuous stream.

Picking a suitable spot for the steamer to land at, we waited her appearance, and when she was sufficiently near I hailed, "Ship ahoy!" "What do you want?" cried the captain. To go aboard," was my answer. "We are full and have no accommodation." "Never mind, Captain; shove her bow in and give us a plank," I answered. "I tell you we have no room," came back to us. "That is a matter of detail; take us on board," was my straight answer. Then there was a change of voice from the same man. "Is that you, Mr. McDougall?" was now the question. "Yes, Captain," I shouted back, and the bells jingled and the big wheel spokes rolled over, and right into the bank where we stood came the nose of the steamer, and in five minutes we with all luggage were on the boat. The tall Yankee and I split the difference, that is, I gave him ten dollars and a warm shake of the hand; the bells jingled and over went the wheel, and we turned to find ourselves in a dense crowd of people seeking the west country. Every stateroom and berth was occupied, and the saloon curtained off at night; one part given over to the women and children, and the balance chalked by the steward so as to give each man his two-by-six-feet on the floor with one pair of thin blankets. But we were on the steamer and moving on to the Red, and I was happy to have my party going to their destination.

On the boat I found Dr. Bryce and wife, they also newly married and, like ourselves, on the homeward journey. I also found on this much crowded steamer Commodore Kitson, the manager of the line, a typical old frontiersman. This was the beginning of the rush to Manitoba —the name there usually pronounced with a marked accent on the last syllable. The new country was now attracting some attention. It was three days from the time we boarded the steamer before we rounded the point into the Red, and the boat was actually four days making the run from the Crossing, a distance of only twenty miles across the country. Now we were out on the larger Red River and would make better time.

Reaching Grand Forks, I saw Mr. Kitson with his private secretary debark, and then there was a rush to the steward to secure the vacated stateroom, but the answer was uniform, "Already engaged," and in due time the steward came to me and said that Mr. Kitson had instructed him to keep the room for Mr. McDougall. I had not asked for it, yet here was a case of the last being first, and we were thankful for the kindly act of the old pioneer. However, I did not approach that stateroom for some time, as there were many who thought they had a prior claim to it.

Down the "Red River of the North" we headed with our steamer, the International Captain Amyot in command, laden with many tons of freight and crowded from the main to the hurricane deck with men and women seeking their fortune in this great free country. They were of all classes—professional, agricultural, mechanical—tradesmen of all sorts; also some of no particular occupation, nondescripts, who had come to the West thinking that perhaps this new strange land might locate them, for thus far in life they had found it impossible to locate themselves. A queer medley of nationalities they were; many of them Scotch, among whom the Professor (Dr. Bryce) took the lead, which, by the way, he has kept well, for he is now, as I write, the honored Moderator of the General Assembly of the great Presbyterian Church in Canada, and, I believe, making his calling and election sure for the greater General Assembly of the first-born in the larger kingdom.

The last time I went down this muddy stream we were on a small barge, and our motive power big sweeps in the hands of stalwart men whose loins were girt about with Hudson's Bay sashes, and whose meat was pemmican. Four at a time, in six-hour turns, these men kept at it day and night without stop, and for eight days and nights we wound down from Georgetown, a city of two houses, even to Fort Garry and the Red River Settlement, of whose people and their habit of life a facetious Yankee said some years later, "Why, sir, everything is done out here by man's strength and stupidness," for as yet no modern machinery had come in, neither had it entered into the heads or hearts of any of these passive aboriginal peoples to dream of such. But now we are vibrant with the throb of our engines; every plank and bolt in our vessel is nervous with motion, and undoubtedly as we swing the bends of the river we are conscious of the beginning of a wonderful change. In this we have the advantage of our fellow- passengers, for we have some knowledge of the country to be exploited, and in a small way its infinite possibilities are dawning upon us.

It was a beautiful Sabbath morning as we "crossed the Rubicon "--to wit, the forty-ninth parallel—and entered into our own domain. Dr. Bryce preached, while I acted as precentor and general " roustabout," and our service was well attended and much appreciated. It was well on in the afternoon that we began to touch the outer fringings of the old half-breed settlements. A crowd of new-corners were around me, and I was hurt to hear their language as they spoke of the English and Scotch and German and French mixed bloods and Indian peoples. These very "fresh" men were nasty and vulgar, and sometimes most shameful in their modes of expression. Presently I had my chance, for as we swept past a cluster of houses ranged in a row on the bank, a typical French half-breed in plains' costume came out of one house and entered another, and the crowd, as they noticed his flaxen hair and beard and clear white face, exclaimed: "There is a white man; he is no d—d breed, at any rate." Then I said "There is just where you are mistaken, gentlemen, for that is a genuine mixed blood, and many of these are as white and as fair as yourselves; and in any case, why call them such names and use such nasty language towards them? Whose fault is it, if it is any fault? Where did the Scotch and English and French come from? In all this you are belying yourselves, gentlemen, and I must say that I have felt hurt as I have mingled with you and listened to the tone of your conversation concerning these people. You are going into their country and will have more or less intercourse with them, and I advise you to be more careful, or at least be more courteous," and as I turned on my heel I added casually, "for I also am a half- breed." Later one of the party came to inc curious to know if I really meant what I said. it I really a half-breed?" I laughingly told him that my mother was a pure-bred Englishwoman and my father a Scotch-Canadian, so I thought very reasonably that I was a half- breed. I have knocked about a lot and have been thrown into association with many peoples, but for sublime indifference to the sensibilities of other folk and the most flagrant selfishness the ordinary white man "takes the cake," and were it not for the leaven of Christianity we would be at war with all the rest of mankind.


 


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