Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter V
We start for the big camp—Varied diet—My first breechloader—A scare—A wonderful scene—A "great lone land"—Clerical costumes—Exciting buffalo hunts— Struck by lightning—Charged by two buffalo bulls—A battle royal—Changing conditions - Unerring instinct of Indian guides—Our camp rushed by a buffalo herd— Loss of our only waggon.


THE place of rendezvous for the great hunt was "somewhere on the big plains"—rather indefinite —but we had faith we could find it. Starting my people from the lake, I went into Edmonton partly on business and partly for the purpose of guiding and accompanying the Rev. Mr. Campbell and his brother-in-law, Mr. Snider, to our camp. We made some tall travelling from Edmonton to Battle River, where we caught up to my people and then moved on in a southeasterly direction towards the plains. Passing little Beaver Lake, crossing Buffalo Running Valley and then Willow Creek, and on to the last points of timber, our movement was from twenty to twenty-five miles per day, until we found buffalo enough to live on. Our routine was, early morning service, then down tents and march, stopping for a noon spell, and then on until the early evening, when another service and rest came. Of course relays of guards were on duty each night to prevent surprise or the stealing or driving off of our stock.

All day the hunters were out on each side of our line of march. We had to forage our way, not on the enemy this time, but out of Mother Nature's storehouse, from which the natural man had lived for centuries, but which was even now in this part of the country showing signs of exhaustion. What a bill of fare ours was— buffalo, moose, elk, black-tailed and white-tailed deer, antelope, bear, beaver, lynx, skunk, porcupine, badger, swan, geese of various kinds, ducks of endless variety, prairie chickens and partridges, eggs and chickens and ducklings in all stages of incubation, the sap of the poplar, the wild turnip, and also a species of wild carrot, etc., etc. But it was always essential for one's comfort of mind and stomach to really know what had been brought in, or perhaps what you had been able yourself to bag, before you ordered from such a menu, or perhaps the answer might come back, "I am sorry, but none such killed to-day, sir."

Sunday was the hard day for the missionary on such a trip and in such company. Any amount of trouble all the week, in the saddle or on foot from early morning until late at night, then often taking your turn on guard all night; but with Sunday the responsibility of keeping such a crowd within bounds was no easy task. Perhaps we magnified our office; at any rate, I was always more exhausted, mentally and physically, on a Sunday evening than I was all through the week. Not that we lacked encouragement, for God blessed our labors. Perhaps we were too legal and strictly Sabbatarian; but we must be consistent, and for this, I believe, we were doing our duty for the time we lived in. On this trip Mr. Campbell would often preach and I interpret. The Indians called him "the black head," because of his hair being very dark. Sometimes we were feasting, and again there came camp after camp with children crying for food, and mothers anxious, and we all felt the gloom of hard times. But on we moved to the last timber, where we camped for a day to allow time for cutting and trimming of the poles and triangles requisite for the drying of meat, also for the gathering of firewood, for as many as had means of carrying it, and then we pushed out into the boundless prairie.

One fine morning, many days before we reached the gathering camps we were to join, Messrs. Campbell and Snider and myself rode out to reconnoitre one side of our line of march. We went far, and about noon killed a badger, and, making a fire of buffalo chips, cooked some of the meat. I remember that Mr. Snider and myself ate a little of it, but Mr. Campbell could not touch it, at which I was not surprised, for badger is "strong meat." Continuing our ride, we finally towards evening sighted some bulls, the first my friends had seen. Stopping on a hill and unsaddling to rest our horses, we made signs to a couple of Stoneys moving in another direction, and these, seeing our signals, came toward us. They were a long way off and evening was well on when we started the buffalo. The Indians killed one and I another. This was my first experience with a breechloader with fixed ammunition. I had obtained one from my brother David during the winter. It was a Smith and Wesson single-loader, and when I saw my bullet strike the ground away beyond the bull, I thought I had missed him, and was preparing to give him a second shot when I saw the blood jumping from both sides of the huge fellow, and very soon he fell. This was a sample of strong shooting I had never before seen, and my Indian friends thought with me that this was a wonderful gun.

It was now near dark, and we concluded to camp beside my bull, while I butchered the animal. My friends busied themselves gathering chips and making a fire. It was early summer, but the night was cold. We broiled bull meat on dry chips and ate it straight—not even salt had we. A night on the endless plains, no tent, no blanket, and not too well clad, any of us; but as we also had to guard our camp and horses, we piled on the chips and endured. My friends soon squeezed all the romance out of such an experience and heartily wished themselves back in the camp.

Next morning we loaded up most of the meat and started for where we supposed our camp would be. We had not ridden far when we saw a troop of horsemen coming down upon us., Not knowing whether these were friends or foes, we got ready for the latter. I showed my friends how to loosen up their loads of meat in readiness to drop them, and thus lighten the horses for either action or flight. On came the horsemen at a good quick gallop, bunched together, some with long braids and some with loose hair, hanging leggings, and regular Plain Indian dress. Both our Indians and myself were for some time deceived, and we had decided they were enemies and were bracing up for the fight when they proved to be the young men of our camp out looking for us. We were glad, and so were they, to find us safe, as the camp had become anxious on our account. We told them where we had left the balance of our bull's meat, and they went, on, indicating to us where we might expect to intercept the camp.

While moving down the country, looking for our friends from the eastern points, we had several very long rides. One day I shot a bull, and as he stood bracing himself and stubbornly refusing to die, Mr. Campbell rode up and, drawing on him with his six-shooter, fired several shots right at his forehead, hoping to knock him down. But the bull merely shook his head at each shot, which did not seem to make any more impression than if one had flung boiled peas at the old fellow. Thick skulls and huge frames of great weight had the lords of these great herds. We saw only the stragglers, but enough to keep our camp going, as we travelled eastward hoping every day to find signs of our people. With two Indians I went as far as Nose Hill, a great eminence which stands out as the landmark to be seen for many miles in every direction; but from its highest point we saw no sign or trace of those we were eagerly looking for. I say eagerly, for already I saw signs of mutiny with my mixed assemblage. More than one trouble which threatened internal war I had to work hard to allay. For some of these peoples this was a first venture out on the treeless plains, and they were manifesting unmistakable signs of discontent. I was all the while keenly searching for the camps we were to join, but not until late that evening, and when I di4 not expect it, did I find a willow stick with father's well-known pencil-mark to tell me how far east they were, and where they were hading for. This was definite, and when we got back to camp the next day it greatly cheered our company.

Again I set off in advance. This time Mr. Campbell went with me, and we rode far without any signs, and were about to turn back when I said, "Let us go to yon hill and no farther," when, to our joy, on the slope of the hill we found the trail of a big party, which as we followed up led us to another sign from father, written on the shoulder-blade of a buffalo, telling us should we see it that he left this camp the morning before. They could not be over two days from us, and possibly only one, and, sure enough, we rode into their camp the same evening. I can tell you, my reader, it was a glorious sight for me. My anxiety was now over, but, independent of this, the scene was full of life and romance, history and tradition. Reaching the top of the hill and looking down upon this moving town of buffalo-skin lodges, with its circles of tents, its hundreds of carts and waggons, innumerable travois, and many hundreds of horses and cattle feeding in proximity, it seemed as though the ideal nomadic life of the long past was before me—Abraham and Isaac and Jacob with their flocks and herds; but this is even older, for the flocks and herds are still wild and free, and as yet belong to no individual. This is communal; the individual has not yet come in. It is our work to bring in the individual, and as I looked and thought, I saw even then that it would take time and great patience to make the change. The old was ingrained; it was in the blood many centuries before the source of all wisdom and prophecy had spoken, "Ye must be born again," and very slowly the quickest among men are learning the lesson, "Old things must pass away and all things become new." But we are now in camp amongst our friends, and one with them, and we adapt ourselves to existing conditions with the readiest of them.

Having found these people, the next thing was to bring our quota in, and we proceeded to do this by sending my old friend Samson out to meet them and escort the western section to this camp. It was decided by the council not to move until the Stoney camp was brought up. Samson was instructed to carry -greetings of welcome, to inform the chiefs and head men that the big camp would await their coming, that the scouts had brought in word of plenty of buffalo not far ahead, that the enemy had been sighted and also felt quite a number of times, and therefore as they approached this camp they must increase their vigilance. Knowing Samson as I did, I felt there was no need of my returning; he would find and bring in, of this I felt sure; therefore, being tired with worry and responsibility, I was glad to remain and rest. We had come far and had ridden hard, and it was not until the evening of the third day that our party came in sight, and was met and escorted in by a troop of light cavalry from the big camp. This crowd had come from one to two hundred miles from the north and west inclusive, and was composed of English, Scotch and French half-breeds, Wood and Plain Crees, and Mountain and Wood Stoneys. The Churches were represented by all the Protestant missions in the field, and one teacher, Mr. Snider, and the Roman Catholics by Mr. Scollen, an Irishman of the intense sort, to whom Britain was "Nazareth "—no good could possibly come out of her.

These people had converged at this spot from various points; some from the vicinity of Edmonton, sixty miles from Pigeon Lake and north; others from Victoria, one hundred and fifty miles north and east; others from White Fish Lake and vicinity, two hundred and ten miles north and east; and others from Lac la Biche, two hundred and fifty miles north and east. Then the Mountain Stoneys had come from all distances along the mountain, say, from one hundred to two hundred miles west and south of Pigeon Lake. To show what a country we came through, I am safe in saying that not one hundred of these many hundreds of miles had been opened by man. On and through Nature's own handiwork in the primeval solitudes we had rolled and dragged and ridden to this gathering of the tribes and clans, and all the land we each and every one had come over was suitable for the making of homes for humanity; soil, grass, water, timber, climate, especially endowed with properties for the breeding of a hardy, thrifty race of men. To-day we in this camp are thoroughly representative of its population. Verily this is the it lone land," and this is entirely a new venture, the bringing of these people thus together. We want to do them good in three direct ways—Christianizing, educating, civilizing. Some say civilize first, but our experience is that this is not nor yet can it be so great an agency for permanent civilization as Christianity, therefore we hope to begin on sure foundations. However, this whole scheme is sadly handicapped; we have no woods to shade us, we have no big tent to hold the hundreds, as would be possible later; we have no store of provisions, but must constantly move and hunt as we go, and more than a living for the present is a dire necessity; we must also and now make provision for the future, both for home use and for sale. Every one could readily see that no one matter could take up particular attention, but altogether must be worked as best we could. Storm and heat, hunger and thirst, hunting and war, paganism and contending Christianities, and all the rest heaped together, must be handled in hope that good might ensue.

We organized at once, appointed a captain and council and constables, made rules to govern our hunting and movements, chose our several guards, set every man in his place, and moved on out over the plains in a south-easterly direction. Soon we were on the skirts of the "big herd," and provision-making began in earnest. Every day had its troubles. Somebody broke the law, and his clan resented punishment or fine, and we as missionaries had our hands full to keep the peace. I was several times hauled out of my camp and bed to allay excitement among the Stoneys, who would not stand any nonsense, but were ready to fight at a moment's notice. Some Plain Cree fancied he recognized a horse amongst theirs which had been stolen from him (so he said), and wanted the horse or demanded pay for it. In vain the Stoney might prove that the horse in question was one of his own raising, or one he had bought across the mountains from the Kootenays; still the Cree brought his people to back his claim, and as this was not a matter for our captain or council, the missionary interested had to come in. However, we did get on without coming to any killing, and by and by our meetings began to have influence.

One day, as we were moving, some buffalo ran alongside of our trail, and a camp rule was flagrantly broken by some French half-breeds. There was general indignation, and at the noon spell the crier rode around camp calling upon all men to assemble in the centre of the noon camp to consider the trouble. As a matter of interest and on principle I went, and when the addresses were waxing warm one old French half-breed said, "And why is it that when we hold these councils these Protestant ministers are invited and our priest is not?" The old man was looking straight at me as he spoke, and I quietly answered, "My grandfather, I heard the crier of our camp calling upon men to come to this gathering. Perhaps those who have not considered themselves men have stayed away;" and the crowd, quick to see the point because of the manner of dress, answered with cheers and laughter, and we swung around the danger spot for the time. I had often heard the natives, Catholic and Protestant and pagan, curiously remarking upon the wearing habit of the priest, and I had wondered myself at such a costume. Even from childhood I have almost hated anything like ecclesiastical costuming. To my mind no man should be among and of the people as much as the priest or pastor, and even costume differentiates. God knows, we want individuality, but not the kind that comes of distinct costumes.

As often as we could we held religious services. We did not lecture or educate as much as I think we might have done to profit, therefore we did not reach all, but I suppose we were doing our best according to our light at the time. The Blackfeet were watching us closely, and this was quite natural, for the reprisals because of the treacherous murder of Maskepetoon had been rapid in succession all spring, and the enemy was now seeking his turn. Our people were watchful, and we did not fear direct attack, as the size of our camp would compel respect.

We had some big buffalo runs at this time, one of which was quite exciting. Perhaps there were between three and four hundred of us as we approached the buffalo that morning, when they were feeding on the ascending slope of a broad, gently rounded hill. The incline which we were approaching was dotted thickly with the buffalo. They seemed to be densely packed on the summit, beyond which we could not see. As we rode up the stragglers fell in on to the herd, and soon the top of the flat, oblong hill was black with them. We rode slowly, in a long line, our captain and officers a little in advance, and as we came near the summit the herd broke down the other side and the word was passed to charge. I was on a good horse, and with half a dozen others was soon in advance of the general line. The dust was thick as we rode on the dead race down the declivity. I did not know, nor do I think did many of our party, that at and along the foot of the hill there was a long narrow lake with precipitous banks. At this the advance buffalo balked and turned, and soon we were met by the returning herds dashing at full speed upon our line. The little company of riders I was with was now right in the centre of the meeting rush. Buffalo young and old all around us, and we squeezed and jammed in amongst them and compelled to run with them. I had steel stirrups, and I could hear the ring of them as they struck the horns or were struck in turn by the rushing, seething crowd of wild animals. To make things worse, the main line of hunters came up against the right angle turn of the herd, and presently arrows and balls came, it seemed to us, all around where we were. Not a shot was fired by any one of our small detachment. We looked for room, and room only; for the time we had too much buffalo! Bulls and cows, and yearlings and calves, and noise and wild swirl and gallop—I can never forget the scene, nor yet how mighty glad I was when the fiat along the lake became broader and we spread out more. Now we looked for our game, and began to kill. For about eight or ten minutes, or possibly less, myself and the few with me were having a lively time, and were thankful when we were well out of the scrape with life and limb intact.

Another day I was chasing a big fat bull, and so eager was I to kill this one that I took but little notice of what other bulls were doing. Presently my fellow got angry, put up his tail, lowered his head and turned on me. Just then I felt my horse cringing from the other side, and when I looked there was another bull that evidently had lost his temper also, for here he was close to my horse, head down, tail up, and about to toss us with his horns. With quick action I sent my heels into my horse's sides, and he, fine fellow that he was, spurted and shot out between the two wild bulls, each of whom, not knowing the action of the other, came head on with full speed. I held up my horse in time to see them meet. Both fell with the impetus of the compact; then with a roar one, recovering sooner than the other, dashed at his antagonist with double fury. For a time I witnessed a battle royal between the big fellows, and then closed the fight by shooting both.

Another day, after killing several buffalo and butchering them, and sending my loaded cart back to camp with the meat, I fell in with one Magnus House, one of our Victoria people, and we came across some more bulls. I ran and killed one of these, but as it was now evening we decided to butcher this animal and bring in the meat next morning. When we were about through, a thunder-storm came up, and the rain and lightning were terrific. My rifle had a strap on it, with which I was wont to carry it at times. I flung the strap over my shoulder and mounted my horse, but just then a violent clap of thunder burst near us, and the lightning knocked my horse flat to the ground. The butt of the rifle, which projected along my shoulder, seemed to catch some of the lightning, and this set fire to my hair and stunned me for a little. I remember reaching for my head with both hands, and, as it was raining hard, finding no difficulty in putting out the fire in my hair. Then there came an interval when I was unconscious, and again I remember Magnus asking, "John, John, are you hurt?" and I said I felt queer. Magnus again brought me to by asking what we should do, and I told him to go to camp and my horse would follow; but he said he did not know the way. I tried to tell him, and we started campwards. It was now very dark, and sometimes I knew I was on the horse and again I was off into a sort of dreamland, but after what seemed to be a long time, Magnus woke me up by saying he was lost. I now made a desperate effort to draw in my reasoning faculties, and after sometime came to a decision and started ahead, and going on by and by saw a light. Pointing this out, I said, ``That is our camp, Magnus; keep straight for it," and again I was back in the sleep into which the electricity had put me. What a relief to be behind and let the horse follow, and not to be compelled to think. When we did reach camp I went off to sleep at once, and for days felt a strange sensation coming over me. One of my train-dogs with us at the time also was affected, and ever afterwards ran for the house or camp at the sound of thunder. On the plains he would rush into the tent, and we would throw some robes over the poor fellow until the storm was over.

• At another time on this trip I killed a tremendous big bull, and did what I could to get him into position for skinning and butchering, but was unable to do so, and rode to the next mound to find someone to help me. However, there was no one in sight, and I came back and got the big fellow's head swung over, and my back under his shoulder, and with feet firmly fixed lifted his whole front in shape; but when it was done I found that my back was very much hurt. I became violently sick, and though I was at work in a few days it was more than a year before I got that kink out of my spine.

Meetings were held morning and evening and all day Sunday, when the weather permitted, and we all worked hard. The veterans, Mr. Steinhauer and father, and Mr. Campbell and myself as juniors, did what we could to stem the tide of old life and turn it into the new. Hard work it was, and very complex, and full of details which multiplied every day, almost every hour, as only the worker and his God know. Let me say a word as to the personnel of our company. First, there was the old chief Sayakemat, who for years always had quite a following, but was now since Maskepetoon's death looked upon as head chief. He was altogether of a distinct type from the former; in the main well-meaning, but in no way assertive. He was a polygamist, as many of the older men were at the time. He and father were good friends, and slowly the old man was developing a desire for Christianity. Of the younger men who were coming up there were Pakan and Samson and Ermine-skin. These men were meeting the changing times. They had all the past as a birthright, and up to middle life constant practice in the rites of paganism; but now Christianity and civilization and the dawn of changed conditions are upon them, and unlike the older people, to whom these changes came slowly, these men will have to take part in a cyclone of civilization. Our captain, old John Whitford, or, as he was most commonly called "Omacheesk" ("Prone to hunt"), was a genuine Plain man and guide. He had fought the Sioux and Black- feet, and, for one born in this land, travelled afar, even across the great mountains into Oregon and Washington territories; had lived among the Flatheads and Snake Indians and the Kootenays and Shuswhaps; had quite a history, and now as the captain of this present host is renowned as a guide of unerring instinct. Like all aboriginal men, he travelled without compass and yet went straight. Of this we had positive evidence, for a cloud of smoke came upon us and for several days the land was dark, and yet it was necessary for feed and water, and also because of the movement of buffalo, for our camp to travel a considerable distance. And as straight and steady as any true pilot "Old John" took us to good pasture and fresh water. Verily it was a dark time; our noon-day fires of buffalo chips were lurid and weird in their flaming, and no one felt like leaving camp. We kept our horses close and fast, and put on double guards, for these seemed as much needed by day as at night. While this dense smoke-cloud rested upon the land a big bunch of buffalo came careening right into camp, and for a time there was wild commotion. I seized my gun and was just in time to shoot one as it dashed between two tents. Fortunately none of our people were hurt in this stampede, but for a little while there was much noise and running to and fro.

After some weeks of hunting and provision- making, also a continuous effort on the part of the missionaries and teachers present to inspire desire for Christianity and civilization, and in so doing teach industry and economy and thrift, our large camp was split up by each section taking its own course homewards. This was not done until we were pretty well into the woods. That beautiful region which stretches from the South Branch in a semi-circle northward and westward even to the mountains, and which is the scene of the meeting of the plains and woods, and where each of these great factors compromise the one with the other, forms a belt of country two hundred miles wide and many hundreds of miles long. Here we have a scenic land of woods and prairies of natural planting, with lawns and terraces, avenues and parks, and hills and dales wherein the eye and sense may revel for hundreds of miles. How often when coming out of the north country and reaching this borderland have I rejoiced, and as frequently coming in from the bare plains have I felt glad to alight from my horse in the shade of a sweet smelling and full- leafed grove. Then I cut the wild rhubarb and roasted it, and ate to repletion of vegetable diet, which my meat-laden stomach craved, and was satisfied. How extremely of the earth and earthy we are at the best.

No doubt this gathering had done good. If it accomplished nothing else it had taken the self-conscious conceit out of a good many, for in isolation and dwelling with one class and kind, and in remotely small communities, man becomes heady; but such a gathering as we had organized had shown to many a poor soul that there were other people in this world beside themselves. Nor had all the preaching and praying and lecturing been in vain; the seed was sown, and would spring into fruition even after many days.

The Stoneys went westward, and as Mr. Campbell was now to be stationed at Pigeon Lake, and to be their missionary, I did not go with them, but went in with the Victoria settlement as per instructions from my Chairman. Never in all their history had these Mountain and Wood Stoneys gathered under such conditions, and now having learned some useful lessons they will pitch towards the setting sun until, near the mountains, they scatter into little camps to return to their wanderings for a season. The Lac la Biche, White Fish Lake, Good Fish and Saddle Lake people have the big Saskatchewan to cross, and when home their gardens to weed and hoe, and hay to make for the coming winter, and so have the Victorians. We are all well loaded with pemmican and dried meat, etc., but as the consumption of such food without any cereal mixture, and for the most of the year without any vegetable, is enormous, there must be another season hunt to prepare for the coming winter. Carts are creaking, waggons rattling, travois bending, and burdened and packed horses groaning as we severally set our faces homewards—that i, those of us who have homes just now. Personally we can sing,

``No foot of land do I possess,
No cottage in this 'wilderness."

Although the whole North-West is before us we have no land or home except our camp. The people we are now living for we are also living with, but we are happy and busy and learning.

Nothing extraordinary marked our homeward journey save the stealing of some of the horses of those who straggled from our camp. Steadily we travelled, and after days of pitching tents in the wilderness we came to our present Jordan, the glorious Saskatchewan, and crossed over to what has been to some of us a veritable Canaan. For the next few weeks we had a busy time with our missionary work, and also with making hay and looking after gardens. Swinging the scythe from sunrise to sunset is great exercise; the whole body is brought into action, and the general result in our case was very much more profitable and economic than the swinging of dumb-bells or Indian clubs. During this time the only break was a raid made by the Blackfeet, who succeeded in running off with a few horses, and for a little time one morning we were quite excited over the purpose of following them up and giving them a lesson; but finally, after some hurried preparations, it was decided to continue our work and let the horses and thieves get away for this time.

Farm waggons were very scarce in 1869 on the Saskatchewan. Father had one, and we were using it in haying. We were just about to start a fresh stack when father, who was on the ground, being annoyed at some bulldogs who were worrying the team, set fire to a little hay at some distance from the load, which I had just begun to throw off. A puff of wind suddenly caught some sparks from the fire and blew them on to the hay I had forked to the ground, and in a moment the whole thing was in flames. I held the reins and hastened to unhook the team, but my hands and arms were scorched and the horses' tails were burned before I got them loose; and, alas, in a few minutes, as if it had been so much paper, the waggon was gone, all save the ironwork, and we had perforce to resort to the old reliable Red River cart, the "chariot of the plains."


 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast