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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter VII
Visiting Hudson's Bay posts—A lonely journey - I encounter a solitary traveller—Importation of liquor— Circulating a petition—An Irish priest's objections— Governor Archibald's proclamation—Prohibition in the Territories.


EARLY in the winter I made a trip to the Rocky Mountain House, visiting Stoney and Cree camps en route, and also finding a goodly number of people at the fort. These visits to the wandering camps and isolated Hudson's Bay posts were much appreciated; they were events in the life of the people. Many were the questions asked us. We never assumed knowledge that we did not possess; what we knew we told, and a large measure of confidence which became mutual was thus created. Both going and coining on this trip I called at Pigeon Lake. Reaching this point on the return journey, my Indian boy companion failed to show up. I was not surprised at this, however, for my hour of starting was three a.m., and at that hour a furious snow storm was raging. I did not even wake up the household of the missionary, but went out alone, and all day into deep snow and trackless roads my good dogs and self made our way to Edmonton. On our outward journey one of the dogs my boy was using had hurt his neck, and, the wound festering, we were obliged to leave the poor fellow to follow us up. On our arriving at Pigeon Lake the dog did not make an appearance, and the conclusion was that the wolves had caught him in his weak state and killed him. However, when we reached Edmonton, going out to feed my dogs, I was delighted to find this fellow with them, and took him with me the next morning. Here also I was doomed to a solitary journey. Again deep snow and no trail, but my noble fellows breasted it gallantly, and I followed on snowshoes. We camped east of Sturgeon River, in a dry clump of trees, and I unharnessed my dogs and began making my lonely camp. I say lonely, for I confess that I do not like to be altogether away from the rest of humanity. Down came the snow, the storm increasing with the night. The wind whistled and moaned and groaned and shrieked through the trees and woods, and one could imagine all sorts of sounds. I set to work vigorously clearing away snow and chopping wood and carrying it in for the night, and by and by had a good fire and a camp comfortable enough for the few hours I hoped to spend in it. I had fed my dogs and looked after poor Snap, the sick one, and a lonesome feeling was settling upon me when I heard something like "whack, whack," coming with the north wind to my ears. I listened keenly and thought I heard chopping, and said to myself, "Here is someone about to camp short of me," so I put my supper away, and placing the tea-kettle closer to the fire started on the run through the deep snow to stay the benighted traveller, if I could, and invite him to my camp. I was running eagerly in anticipation of company when I heard a strange sound like "crunch, crunch," and then like silent ghosts in the thick darkness a train, of dogs glided in and about my legs, almost tripping me up so quietly had they met me. If there were any bells on their harness the thickly falling snow had muffled them. I looked for some man to come in sight, but no one appeared, and as I stood and wondered, again came the strange "Crunch, crunch" sound, and I peered into the dark, stormy night and listened intently. This was becoming mysterious, and now I saw something that sent my heart into my throat, for surely here was "the giant of all the ages." Looming into view there came a strange big creature which broke through the bottom of the dog-sleigh road, as also the light new snow, and with stately, heavy steps approached. But by this time I was behind a clump of willows (one bound had brought me there), and thence I peered out to behold this wonderful creature that in colossal size so much surpassed anything I had ever seen. All at once it flashed upon my memory that I had overheard the storeman at Edmonton saying that they expected an ox up from Victoria, and I began to think this must be the ox; but whoever saw so tall an ox as this? Then I recognized the figure of a man (who, by time way, was a big fellow) riding on the ox, and saw he had a buffalo robe belted around him; and as he had given me a strange, queer fright I thought it was my turn to startle him, which I did by giving a quick, Sharp yell. This made the ox jump and throw the man into the snow, and then we recognized each other and were mutually glad, for he also was alone and had been reluctant to camp. The whacks I had, heard were of his whip coining down on the robe and the ox's ribs. We exchanged news, sang a hymn and had prayer together, went to sleep, and at three o'clock next morning each went his way, and by evening I had made home and was no more lonesome.

About this time free trade was importing more intoxicating liquors than usual, and some deeds of lawlessness and violence occurred. In consequence an agitation was begun at Victoria looking to a petition, the same to be forwarded to the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories (there being as yet no province of Manitoba), asking that the importation and traffic in intoxicants be stopped. The Hudson's Bay Company had discontinued their traffic in such in the interior for some years. Several meetings were held, the petition was drawn up, and I was asked to take it out to the camps and obtain the signatures of chiefs and leading men. The first large camp I came to was near Battle River, where I found the Indians in a state of excitement. They had had some fights with the Blackfeet and some horses had been stolen, and at the time of my visit they were exercising great care over both stock and camp. I remember saying to them that they were different from my people, for we would either make our enemies fight to the death or sue for peace, and if the latter it must be permanent. I further said, "You call this your country, but even now in the dead of winter you dare not sleep in quiet. No," said I, "not until a stronger power friendly to you comes upon the scene will you really own a bit of land and live at peace with other men." This gave me a text to explain the government of our country and English law and reserve life, and many of my audience expressed a longing for the coming of the same.

At the proper time I had all the chiefs and head men assemble, and read to them the petition; but while I was doing this, who should come in but the Irish priest, the Rev. Mr. Scollen, who asked me for the petition, and having read it wade a violent attack upon it. He wound up his harangue by telling the assembled Indians that it would be impudence and out of place for them to sign it, that the Government would not listen to any such arrangement, and that he hoped they would not make fools of themselves by having anything to do with it. This gave inc my opportunity and I took it. I explained the lawless and ungoverned condition of the country, and warned them that the cupidity of the reckless and bad white men would bring to pass here in our fair Saskatchewan what was now going on south of us near the border, and that this petition was to save trouble and life. In my turn I closed by hoping they would show their wisdom and prudence by signing this petition even to a man.

Then a leading Roman Catholic, an old man of wide influence, took the floor and backed me up strongly. He expressed pain and surprise at the stand that his priest had taken, and eulogized me as the true friend of the Indian, expressing the desire that his should be the first name on the petition from that camp. Down went his name, and all followed his example, whereupon the priest, calling us all fools, retired to his lodge.

The whole Indian and half-breed population, and indeed practically all the whites as well, joined with us, and Lieutenant-Governor Archibald gave us a proclamation which enacted total prohibition in our western country. And as this was the general feeling, the law was most religiously observed, so that for a time we had profound peace from the trouble and sorrow caused by intoxicating drink.


 


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