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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter XVII
Arrival at Fort Garry—Kindly received by Rev. Geo. Young and wife—Mr. Marshall—Wife and self start out alone on our long journey—"The steady jog"—A lordly Irishman —"Give him a terrible pounding for me"—A prairie fire —Meet with a party of fugitive Sioux—Participants in the Minnesota massacre—Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Audey - "You will do for the North-West, Mrs. McDougall."


IT was in the waning of the Sabbath day that we rounded into the mouth of the Assiniboine and landed at Fort Garry, and there was a chill autumn darkness over the land as we walked down to the first Methodist parsonage ever built in what is now the Province of Manitoba. Mr. and Mrs. Young and their son George received us kindly and made us feel very much at home. We also met Mr. Marshall, of Owen Sound, who had but recently come to Manitoba, and who has continued even unto this day helping to found and build up the city and province.

It was now well on in October, and Mr. Young said, "You should stay here for the winter, John; there is plenty of work, and I will bear all responsibility in the matter." But I felt that we must go on to our own post of duty, and early next morning set out securing provisions and outfit for the trip. On my way down from the plains the village of Winnipeg had assumed quite large proportions, but now as I walked through it I suddenly found myself north of the stores I wanted, having passed them en route. The horizon of my vision had grown, and this new place was now crude and small. My horses were out at Rat Creek, some seventy-five miles distant, but I had taken the precaution of ordering a "democrat" before going east, and this was now ready. So I bought a pony and set of harness, and loading our stuff on to the waggon and buying a Hudson's Bay blanket capote for my wife, we bade our good friends farewell and started on Tuesday afternoon on our real journey.

We had not loitered in the confines of civilization longer than sufficed us to purchase horse and rig and outfit, and now we are off. We have too much load to make time; nevertheless, we camp at Headingly with the Gowlers the first night, and make Poplar Point to camp with another Gowler for the second night. The third (lay we reach Rat Creek to find our friends, the McKenzies, glad to see us, and setting themselves with lavish hospitality to entertain our little party. My young wife was now beginning to awaken to the largeness of the West. Hitherto she had stood the journey well and enjoyed it, but from this point we would indeed enter the wilderness.

I found my horses in good shape. Little Bob and Archie and my new brown and another older brown were glad to see me and fully ready for the road. I bought a cart and harness and more provisions, fixed everything ready, and then drove over westward to see my cousin John, who had established himself at this point. We spent a quiet Sunday at Burnside with the McKenzies, who, consequent upon father's visit to Ontario in 1867-8, had come out to Manitoba, and to-day rank among her most successful farmers and citizens. That one talk by father in the town of Guelph during the winter of 1867-8 had brought these instinctive makers of empire, and through them hundreds of others, to this land of rich promise. Just now they could not do enough for us, and the good old Scotch mother took my young wife to heart in such manner as to cheer her on her long, strange journey. As the season was now so late I failed utterly in my effort to find any one to attempt the road with us, so I prepared for a lonely journey. I divided my goods about evenly between the democrat and cart, giving Little Bob and Archie the work of pulling the former in turn, and the old brown mare and the pony I had just bought the latter. The new brown of Fort Pitt breeding I kept as my saddle-horse.

On the morning of October 15th we left the hospitable home of the McKenzies and headed westward, my little wire with democrat in the lead, the cart following, and myself in saddle driving both cart and loose horses. "Keep the steady jog, Lizzie," were my instructions to her who had vowed to obey me, and thus we rolled toward the setting sun. The days were short and we had to rise early and travel late to make time; the nights, too, were cold, and sometimes the days were stormy, but we kept steadily at it. Occasionally my wife would drop asleep with the steady jog step and the isolation of her vanguard station, and I would then shout cheerily to her and she would start afresh. By the tracks I knew that some company of freighters was not far ahead of us. A considerable portion of the country, too, was newly burnt, and I was feeling sore because of the careless act of some thoughtless man, and mentally breathing out threatenings and slaughter against him. We had reached the eastern border of what are known as the Beautiful Plains, north of where Carberry is now situated, when 'we met a party coming from the mouth of the South Branch. The leader was a big lordly-looking Irishman, a friend of Captain Butler, the author of "The Great Lone Land." At once he shouted out to me, "Do you know who is starting these abominable prairie fires?" I said, "No, sir," and he began a tirade against any such person, at the same time threatening what he would do if he should catch him. While he was speaking I was looking ahead for Mrs. McDougall and the cart, when away beyond them I saw a man on foot and alone, and as I was watching him I saw that he stooped to the prairie, and UI) came a smoke and blaze. The villain was firing the grass. "There's your man," said I to the wrathful Irishman, and with an oath he turned his horse and galloped towards the culprit, while I cantered after my outfit. Presently my big gentleman turned and met us, and asked me to become his proxy. Said he, "You are going that way; will you just oblige me by giving that rascal a terrible pounding. I will be forever grateful if you will," and thus we parted. When we did come up to the half-drunken French half-breed I asked him where he was going, and he said that his party was ahead on their way to Fort Ellice, but that they had left him when he was drunk, and he was burning the grass so they would be without feed on the return journey. I told him to jump on my cart and ride, and while I did not pound the half-silly fellow, I did give him a fright which sobered him up. This pounding some one by proxy is an old trick of others besides the Irish race, but this time moral suasion, I believe, did better, for the fellow promised me he would never again be so foolish and wicked.

It was late when we came up to the Fort Ellice party at Miry Creek. I saw that the whole party were more or less under the influence of whiskey, so I prudently kept the creek between us and camped a little lower down. I had noticed about dark a fire in the distance to the south-westward, and this was another reason for my stopping short of crossing the creek. About nine o'clock the wind brought this fire down on us at a great rate, and had the effect of sobering up to some extent my friends on the other side of the creek. Standing out as I did with my horses, I could see their frantic moves to round up their stock and load up the carts; then there was a cry of dismay and some one shouted "Powder! powder!" and in frantic haste they ran two of their carts down into the creek up to the axles, and soaking the blankets, covered the carts with them. It was a dark night, but this wild rushing flame with its clouds of reflecting smoke rolling down upon us was a gorgeous sight. I saw that I might save a few acres of feed by firing before the oncoming flash of flame reached us, and I went to work and succeeded in keeping the fire from my camp. In this I was much helped by the camp to the windward of me, for these worked hard to protect their camp, and the spot being much used, the grass was short and close cropped, which favored us in our efforts. Like ten thousand demons in robes of flame the big fire swept past us—the creek was but a tiny check—and on westward it rolled, leaving all quiet in our vicinity. My wife had seen her first prairie fire and still lived, and at this she was at the time much surprised.

Early the next morning we forded the deep Miry Creek in safety, pushed on across the Little Saskatchewan and skirted along the south shore of Shoal Lake. Had one dry camp only between there and Bird Tail Creek. This was harder on our horses than on us, as we had a can of peaches, but we were very glad of a cup of tea at the Bird Tail Creek next morning. Before we reached that point, however, I experienced quite a shock. Something went wrong with the cart, and while I was fixing it Mrs. McDougall drove on, and with the windings of the road between the islands of timber was soon lost to sight. When I did start I rode right into a lot of hard-looking Sioux, and as I was in no mood to palaver with them until I could see what had happened in front, I was surrounded by these fellows, who rode back with me. Then when we met their women and children and whole camp moving, and still no sign of the democrat nor my wife, I hustled that cart and those horses through the crowd, and was indeed glad to catch sight of the waggon-cover shaking as usual, for Mrs. McDougall had never let up on the steady jog. She was all this time serenely unconscious of what was happening, and it was well, for these were the fugitives from the massacre in Minnesota and a most lawless lot of Indians. I turned loose all the Stoney I was worth, and found one of the crowd who spoke a little Cree, and they began to find out that I was not altogether a tenderfoot. When they had told me where they came from and where they were going, and sought my approval of same, and when I had given them to understand that I had come from far, where people were many, and was to go far, even until I would be with some of their own kin near the Rocky Mountains, then they produced some papers they were carrying, and were anxious I should look at these and endorse the same, and thus with much protestation of mutual regard we parted. I straightway galloped after my wife and the cart and horses, and was exceedingly grateful to find these pounding on westward entirely oblivious of the fact that we had just now met with some of the participants in the horrible massacres of the early sixties, many of the victims of which we had become acquainted with on our way into this country; all of these, white and red alike, being the terrible sacrifice of life caused by the immorality and cupidity of men who had to do with the Indian Department of the United States. After our day camp we were glad to unhitch and breakfast beside the beautiful little Bird Tail Creek. While we were again hitching up, a Hudson's Bay factor and clerk, Messrs. McDonald and Audey, drove up. Seeing Mrs. McDougall harnessing her horse, the factor came out with a hearty "That's right, Mrs. McDougall. It does me good to see you take hold in that way; you will do for the North-West." With Audey it was, "John, my dear fellow, how glad I am to see you," etc., and after we had said good-bye and they had gone on, he galloped back in great haste to apologize for calling me John. Only now had Mr. McDonald told him that I was duly ordained, and I laughed at his evident discomfiture and assured him that I was still John, only John; and as he rode away I smiled at the thought of the hundreds of my Indian friends who would never know me by any other name than John.


 


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