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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter III
A trip to Rocky Mountain Fort—A tenderfoot's bewilderment—"The hills of God"—Tact of the Hudson's Bay Company—A wolverine's cunning.


DURING February some snow fell and winter travel began. The two Hardistys, Philip Tait and a couple of other men came along on their way to the Rocky Mountain Fort, and as this was a part of my mission I took the opportunity of going with them there. It was a great thing to have such company. Ours was the first party this winter, and we had to break the way through about eight inches of snow. The winter road led across portage and plain and lake, and through the bush as straight as possible, and was entirely distinct from that used in summer. Our first run was the length of Pigeon Lake and across country to the junction of Pigeon Creek with Battle River. We crossed the latter and then proceeded over the country to the Blind River, and then across the Medicine Lodge, and so on into the foothills and down into the valley of the Saskatchewan, where the fort stood on the northern bank of the river. The distance from Pigeon Lake is about one hundred and fifty miles, and we made it easily in three days.

My new leader showed wonderful instinct in keeping a trail which had not been used since the previous winter. Over a hill, down a slope, out on to a lake, and straight across, striking with unerring judgment for where the road would leave the lake. To us, old trailers as we were, this dog was a marvel, and as I easily distanced the party, my dogs and self made the road the whole way.

Our second day out, as evening drew on, I held up not far beyond a clump of dry timber, which I thought suitable for camp, and waited for the advance members of our party to come up. Richard Hardisty and Philip Tait were the first to arrive, and as they voted for camping, we retraced our road a few rods, turned into a thicket and went on to the lee side of the clump of timber. When all had come up but the western slope man, we laid a plot, suggested by his brother, to cover our side track, and see what this tenderfoot would do when he discovered the end of the road. Purposely we left our dogs in the harness, and while making camp and carrying wood we also listened intently for the approach of our friend. By and by we beard his coming, and his style of dog-driving was very amusing. Instead of the quick, vigorous, crisp "Marse," this was his way: "Hello, I say; go on, now." "See here, don't you know we are far behind?" Then aloud to himself, but which came to us in the calm of the evening, "I wonder if those fellows are never going to camp? This is becoming monotonous; it is hours since I saw the last of them." Again, to his team, "Get up, there, you dogs." "Come, now, move up," and so on, while they wondered and took a slower gait, and doubtless awaited further development, for to their dog minds this was an entirely new specimen of the genus homo. But in the meantime it was great fun for us, and what would he do if the old dogs he drove did not discover our side track? Presently, with suppressed laughter we saw them go forging past, with our "antelope" standing on the end of the sled, and a most woe-begotten look on his face as he saw stretching away across the valley a plain in which there was no prospect of a camp for miles.

"Well, well, did you ever see such lunatics; they would rather run and rough it than stop at home. Catch me ever coming on such a trip as this for fun. Get up, there, you old lazy bones, I say; we will never reach camp at this rate; I say, hustle, now!" But soon the old dog, whose head was becoming muddled by all this strange discourse he and his companions had listened to for the last day or two, was now at his wits' end, for here was the end of the road—unbroken snow all around, nor sight nor sound of human being. Even the dog paused and thought, and how much more did the hapless driver, for, having recovered his balance, which he almost lost as the dog-sled suddenly came to a stand, he was altogether upset by this fact that had disturbed his dog and was now dawning upon his own mind—here was the end of the road! He was sure of it. At first he ran on a few steps, as if he thought we had jumped over a piece of the trail. Then he peered into the distance, as if we had taken wings and were now sailing over the earth, or had already alighted on some distant point. Then he stood and scratched his head, which I have noted is a sure sign either of too much life or of dense bewilderment. This time it was the latter, and no wonder, for here was a man who had never been anywhere alone, always dependent on a guide, now suddenly brought to a standstill, guiding himself in midwinter in a northern clime, with party and provisions all gone, trail gone, nothing but snow, wilderness, and isolation. The man's attitude and expression were almost those of despair. He was speechless, and thinking this was enough for the present, I shouted, "Hello, Henry, are you going on to-night?" As if an angel had come to him with joyous message, his face brightened with great satisfaction, and I have no doubt his thought was, "Thank God," but from his lips came, "John, I really thought I was lost," and turning his dogs very soon the "Pondura antelope" was in camp with us, and in a little while was joining with our party in laughing at himself as each one mimicked his style of dog-driving and then struck an attitude as best he could representing our friend at the end of the trail.

On to the mountains, and in the early morn those glorious hills of God were before us. This was my third sight of them. It is my ninth year of constant travel in the North-West, and but seldom have I come this way. In our party to-day is one who is a native and has spent long years in this Saskatchewan country, and yet this is his first glimpse of the mountains; I refer to Mr. Tait. Like myself, he is in raptures over them. And as from every new hilltop we catch fresh glimpses, with their ever-changing moods and panoramic variety for us to look upon and delight in, the miles are gone quickly and we reach the Mountain House. This since my last visit had been thoroughly rebuilt, and was now a large place in regular fort style, with stockades, bastions and citadel. Captain Hack- land was in charge, and we were welcomed with the usual cheer of the Hudson's Bay post. On Sunday at service there were many nationalities present, English, Scotch, French, mixed bloods, Cree, Stoney, Blackfoot, Protestant, Roman Catholic and pagan, and I did my best, withý the help of the Lord, as I spoke in Cree, which was practically the universal medium of the time. We held two services, and visited the people in their homes in the fort and in the camps outside of it. This place had been rebuilt to draw off the Blackfeet people from conflict with the Crees. Making Edmonton the common trading- post served to cultivate conflict, and it was, always the policy of the Hudson's Bay Company to stop this as much as possible. Just now the frequenters of this place are Blackfeet, Bloods Piegans, Sarcees and Stoneys. Any Crees coming here are employed, or are the wives of employees, or are on the warpath bent, and so far as the Company is concerned are discountenanced as much as possible; but as these roving bands of Cree warriors represent so many communities with which the Hudson's Bay Company has trading interests; they have to be handled with great tact. Anything rash would frustrate the object in view and imperil lives all down the big Saskatchewan.

Early Monday morning we were away again. In the meantime more snow had fallen and drifts were now in order, but my noble dogs made light of all obstacles, and now my leader knew the trail, so on we went at a rapid step homeward. A vigorous, lively, hearty party was ours. Storm and deeper snow but cheered us up. An hour before daylight and noon and night the camps were scenes of healthy fun and, at times, of noisy argument. The reader must not think this was light work, to roll out at two in the morning and hustle yourself and dogs into harness for the day; and again, about five a.m., to make fire after three hours' heavy run, chop and carry wood, cut brush and dig snow to be comfortable for forty or fifty minutes, and repeat this at 11.30 or 12 o'clock; to hurry your best all the afternoon until dark is near, and then work for an hour as hard as a beaver in cutting firewood and carrying the same to camp; to gather a huge pile for the six or eight hours you will spend here, cut brush or willows, or dig up swamp hay to floor your camp with after you have cleaned away the snow as much as possible from the breast of Mother Earth, all the while keeping your feet and legs as dry as you can from the melting snow near your fire, remembering that your health is not to be played with. Careless habits in this latter respect have killed off many a pioneer when but starting into his prime. The Indian is not lazy when on either hunting or war expeditions out is careful of his camp and comfort therein. I have often noted this as lacking in white men. When on the trip "anything will do" is on their lips and manifests itself in their conduct. Therefore I have seen a white man, coming out of a luxurious home and out of many generations of upward movement, drop in a few months to being the dirtiest, laziest creature in camp. Such men are objects of curiosity and disgust to the natives. No, to be a real pioneer, adventurer and traveller, winter and summer, entails hard work and plenty of it. Brain and lung and muscle and good optimistic pluck, these are always at a premium. This party I am with now is full of generations of such life, and it is a pleasure indeed to dwell in camp and on the road with such men.

On our way up we cached a big bag of fish for our dogs. We thought we had been careful against the wiles and cunning of our everlasting enemy the wolverine, alias "carcajou," alias the "kig-wuh-hoh-gas," alias the "now-way-uh-ma-shees," etc.; as my reader will note, this notorious criminal against all pioneer mankind has many names. We had hung our bag of fish at the end of a long pole, which in turn we rested in the limb of a tall tree, the bag hanging from the end of the pole away out from the tree— both pole and tree made as smooth as possible with our axes—and thus we felt quite secure. However, as I approached the spot, which I did a long way in advance of my friends, I saw tracks in the fresh snow, and began to fear for our dogs and their fish. Corning nearer, I saw Mr. Wolverine with a fish in his math making for the bush. I had caught him in the act; what need for further testimony? Stopping my dogs at the camp, I ran after the rascal and forced him so much in the race that he dropped the fish. Running on a short distance I found a pile of snow which he had scratched up, and under this lay a number of our fish. These I carried back to camp, and proceeded to investigate our cache. I found that the scamp had managed to climb the tree, and then had jumped at the bag, and at last succeeded in cutting a hole in the bottom of it,, out of which by continuous shaking the fish had dropped to the ground. I could imagine the industrious fellow climbing the tree repeatedly (of which the trunk bore evidence) in order, in the first place, to' make the hole; then the pluck of the high jump to the ground so many times, for the bag was a very strong one and it must have taken considerable biting and scratching on the fly to have made the rent; and then afterwards the shaking process, as fish after fish dropped and the others would block the hole. Then I came upon the scene. The poor fellow had worked so intently that he had taken time to eat only a few, as he in turn evidently intended to cache just as we had done. Why, by the time I had, secured the fish and investigated the manner of theft, if one could call it such, and cleaned the snow out of our camp, and made a fire and put down fresh brush, I was heartily in sympathy with the wolverine and ready to protect him from our party when they came up. Some expressed indignation, but I said, "No, gentlemen, we must make our caches better; it is our brain against his; let us have fair play." However, we and our dogs were glad that after all most of the fish remained to us.

On back to Pigeon Lake, through deepening snow, which, however, made very little difference to my fliers. We lunched within twenty miles of the Mission, and when I took the ice at the end of the lake, twelve miles from home, I could faintly hear my comrades coming, and when I was out in the middle of the lake they began to show up on the shore. My, my, what a race those dogs gave me across that lake in the loose snow, as I sat on a small box I had lashed in the wrapper of my toboggan, the snow flying on all sides. It was a regular whirlwind of speed and rush, and when we climbed the bank before our own door, and I had rubbed the frosted snow from my face and looked across the ice, my companions were as specks in the distance. Our little company from house and Mae had been watching the run and were right proud of our dogs. Pigeon Lake, a city of two shacks and some leather lodges, could "clean out" the Saskatchewan in a dog race. All of which every one of my companions loudly affirmed when at last they came up straggling one after the other, for all had done their best.

As I wanted to confer with my Chairman as to a big gathering for the coming summer on the plains, I took the chance of company on to Edmonton and Victoria, and right glad father and mother and sisters were to see us. The people, as a whole, too, always gave me a hearty welcome, for, as they said, was I not one of themselves in language and western experience? I have so often found this with native people, that to be as good as themselves in their craft, or even sometimes a little better, is the short way to their respect and very often to their hearts.


 


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