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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XI
Visited by the Wood Stoneys—"Muddy Bull"—A noble Indian couple—Remarkable shooting—Tom and I have our first and only disagreement—A race with loaded dog-sleds—Chased by a wounded buffalo bull—My swiftest foot-race—Building a palisade around our mission-house—Bringing in seed potatoes.


DURING the winter of 1864 a camp of about forty lodges of Wood Stoneys came to the mission from the north, and stopping with us for a couple of days, pitched across to hunt for buffalo for a while. These people frequented the wooded country to the north of the Saskatchewan, and were known as "wood hunters." Moose and elk, deer and bear, and all manner of fur-bearing animals in this country were their legitimate prey, but occasionally they made a raid on the buffalo. They were great gamblers and polygamists, and generally a pretty wild lot. They spoke the same language as the Mountain Stoneys, with some shades of difference, mostly dialectical. These people had been gone about a month across into the buffalo country, when they sent us word to come for provisions. We went, and found them in a thicket of timber, among rolling lulls, near Birch Lake, south-east of the mission about seventy-five miles. From them we secured four splendid loads of dried provisions and grease; but we had a time of it in getting out of those hills with our heavily-loaded sleds—many a pull and many a lift before we came to anything like a decent road.

I want to introduce right here "The Muddy Bull," a gentleman I became acquainted with some time in January, 1864. When I say "gentleman," I mean it in its literal sense. He was one of "nature's noblemen." We came across him on one of our trips, and made arrangements with him to become our hunter. While we were hauling in meat, he and his family followed the buffalo, and he killed and hauled in and staged near his camp. Thus we lost no time in securing the meat, and very soon had a fine pile in our store-house. While we were hauling in we made his lodge our home. His wife was a natural lady, and I have often thought "Muddy Bull" and his wife gave as fine an example of married life, as it should be, as I ever saw. When I first knew these people, they were not nominal Christians, had not been married (though they had a fine family of children), had never been baptized; but for all that they were really good people.

Later on father had the pleasure of marrying them, and of baptizing and receiving them into the Church. I had no doubt about their growth in grace, for I saw this take place. But the question which often puzzled me was, "When were they converted?" for it always seemed as if they were already converted when I first met them. Noah and Barbara became their Christian names. "Muddy Bull," as I shall still call him—for at the time of which I write he was not baptized—was a splendid hunter. He had made a study of the instincts of the animals within his range. Soon after the time of our first meeting he killed seven buffaloes within fifty feet square of ground, and that with an old pot-metal flint-lock gun, muzzle loading and single barrelled at that. I have seen him with the same gun, and with his horse at full gallop over a rough country, knock three buffaloes down, one after the other, almost as fast as an ordinary hunter would with a Winchester. Then the quality of the animals spoke the true hunter. Many men could kill, but not many could pick as "Muddy Bull" could. No wonder that, having found him, we retained him as our hunter for several years.

It was while we were hauling meat home that Tom and I had our first and only disagreement. We had been bosom companions, had slept together and eaten together, had undergone all manner of hardship side by side; but one morning, before daylight, in driving out to where our loads were, Tom took offence at something, and right then and there challenged me and my dogs to race him and his dogs. I protested that we could do it anyway—I was stronger and swifter than he, and my dogs were better.

"No, sir; you must prove it," was his answer. So we arranged each to load a cow, meat and head and tripe. The animals we were after were about half a mile apart. We were to see each other load, then come out to the road at a place twelve miles from home, and at a given word race the twelve miles in.
We loaded and came out to the rendezvous arranged. There we boiled our kettle and ate our lunch in silence, then hitched up the dogs.

I said, "Tom, are you ready?" He answered, "Yes!" The next word was a simultaneous "Marse!" and off we went. My dogs were ahead. I took the road and let them go at their own pace for a couple of miles. I did not even take off my coat, but ran along behind the dogs. Presently we came to a bit of plain, perhaps a quarter of a mile long, with bush at either end. As I reached the farther end, and was about to disappear in the woods, I cast a look behind, and saw that Tom was just about emerging on the plain at the other end. I saw I was already a long way ahead, but now my blood was up, and pulling off my coat I stuck it in the head of the sled, then made a jump for a small dry poplar, and with a terrific yell broke this against a tree. My dogs bounded away as if there were no load behind them, and we went flying through the woods and across bits of prairie. All of a sudden I met a procession of old women, each with several dogs attached to travois following her. They had gone in to the mission with loads of provisions to cache in our store-house for use in the spring when the various camps would move in from the plains for a time. As the old ladies stood there effectually blocking the way, I shouted to them as I ran, "Grandmothers I all of you give me the road, I am running a race!" It was amusing to see the quick response of the old women. Those dogs and travois were pitched into the snow in short order, and as I flew past them, thanking them as I flew, I could hear the words come after me: "May you win! may you win, my grandchild!"

I was thankful that I had passed the old ladies so quickly and so easily, and could not help but speculate as to how my friend behind might find them. Reaching the big hill, I threw my load over on its side, and let it drag down like a log, then at the foot of the hill righted it up, and dashed on across the river, and up to the store-house. I then unharnessed my dogs, unloaded the sled, put away both harness and sled, went over to the house, washed and changed, and still there was no sign of my competitor.

Days after I learned from Peter that when Tom met the old women, they stood in long line, women and dogs and travois, as if petrified, and quietly waited for him to break a road around them, through the deep snow. This had delayed him, and also worried his dogs considerably. Tom, like many another man, had brought on the trial, and later on saw his own presumption, and was sorry for it. He and I never spoke of the race, until he was going away for good, some two months later, when he mentioned it, and asked me to forgive him. I told him I had nothing to forgive, and we parted the best of friends. I have often thought of him, and hoped he would continue to be the same manly, honorable fellow he always was while with us.

Father did not take very kindly to dog-driving, but occasionally he made a trip. "Muddy Bull" sent us word that the meat of four animals was staged at a certain place, about forty miles from the mission. Peter was busy at something else, so father took his train and went with Tom and me for the meat. We camped by the stage, had our supper, and then went to work to load our sleds. This was always careful work. There was no mere pitching things upon the dog-sled. You must load plumb and square with the centre of your narrow sled, and then lash securely, or there would be no end of trouble en route.

We had loaded our sleds, and all was ready for a start in the morning, when father overheard Tom and me saying that if he were not with us, we would start now.

"What is that? Don't let me hinder you, young men," said father, and hitching up, we started home, reaching there about two hours after midnight; but I think father did not feel like repeating the dose—for some time, at any rate. He was past the age when men feel capable of such work right along. However, he and Peter and I made another short trip with dog teams, across the White Mud River, in search of the white clay from which the river took its name. This clay was useful in whitening chimneys and walls, and made even a log-house look far more respectable. We found the clay deposit, and then as we tracked buffalo going northward, we concluded to camp and have a hunt. Tying up our dogs, we started out on snowshoes, each one taking a different direction. The snow was very deep. In the woods it was heavy, but on the plains, where it was better packed, one could make much faster time. Presently I heard a shot, and going to where the sound came from, I saw Peter standing at a little distance from a huge bull. The animal evidently was badly hit, and had settled himself into a bed in the deep snow. I went over to where Peter stood, and taking my snowshoes off, stuck them into the snow, and then walked up towards the head of the bull, never dreaming that the huge brute would again stand up. He was a magnificent animal, with fine horns, long shaggy beard, and very black woolly mane and neck. Thinking that he was dying, I stood admiring his beauty and powerful frame, when, without a moment's warning, he sprang at me— sprang something like the clay pigeon does when the trap is pulled—and I bounded from before him for my life. Down the slope, across a valley, up the opposite hill, I flew, nor did I even look back until I stood on the summit of the knoll. Then I saw the bull going back, and again settling himself in the same snowy bed. Gathering up my courage, I approached him more cautiously and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. When I saw my flying tracks in the snow I could hardly believe that I had made such leaps and bounds. Peter said he "never saw anything like it," and probably he never had.

For some time we had two men sawing out lumber at the old place beyond Smoking Lake, and at intervals we made flying trips out there for this lumber. For instance, if we reached home on Friday night, instead of starting back on Saturday to the plains, we would go out to the lumber shanty, thirty-five miles distant, and loading up, reach home with our loads of lumber the same evening. This would give us Sunday at home, which, though not happening often, was always a delight.

Now, as the spring was drawing on, and the snow beginning to melt, we rushed this lumber out, and in doing so had to travel for the most part at night, as the snow would be too soft for dogs in the day. Besides this, we took out a large number of tamarac logs, to make a strong, high picket around the mission house. Father saw that this was prudent to do, from what our experience had been in the fall, when the large camps came in around us. Then the Indians to the south, the hereditary enemies of those we were amongst, would very soon know—if they did not now know—of our settlement. Already stolen horses and scalps had been brought into the camp beside the mission, and it would follow inevitably that the avenger would come along later. A large, strong palisade would command respect from the lawless around home, and be great help from enemies who might come from a distance.

In the meantime, Larsen and father, and in fact everybody who had an odd hour to spare, had gone on with the work on the mission house. As we had no stoves, it was thought necessary to build two immense chimneys in the house, one at each end. This took time and heavy labor. Then the drying and dressing of the lumber for floors and ceilings and partitions was tedious work, as anyone knows who ever had anything to do with "whip-sawed" lumber. You could hardly give away such boards in these days of saw-mills and planing machines, but our party had to straighten and plane and groove and tongue and bead, all by hand, and out of very poor material.

All were looking forward to the finishing of the new house, and none more than my mother. For seven months she had been obliged to put up with the crowded conditions of our comparatively small one-roomed log building. Thirteen of us called it home, ate there when we were at the mission, and nearly all slept there. All the cooking, washing, and other household work was done in this little place. Then strangers would come in for a night as they travelled to and fro. True, there were not many of these, and their coming was a welcome change, even if the house, already much crowded, became more so for the time being. Indians, too, would visit the missionary, and these must be welcomed to his home, or they would go away with a very low estimate of the faith he came to propagate; and of course upon mother came the brunt of the discomfort. No wonder she was looking ardently for the finishing of the new home.

Father worked hard—indeed all did—but there were so many things to do, so many hundreds of miles to travel, so many mouths to feed, such crude material to work with, such economy to conserve, that we could not rush things, though we seemed to be rushing them all the time.

The last trip of the season we made with dog-sled was to bring some seed potatoes from Whitefish Lake. We had deferred this on account of frost, but now were caught by heat. The snow melted before we were half way home, and we had to take poles and push behind those loads for long, weary miles before we struck the river, when we had the ice for the rest of the way home. Peter, Tom and I brought about twenty bushels between us, and by the time we got them to Victoria those potatoes were worth a great deal, for they had cost us many a push and tug and pull to get them through sound-and safe.


 


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