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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XII
Mr. Woolsey's farewell visit to Edmonton—Preparing for a trip to Fort Garry—Indians gathering into our valley—Fight between Crees and Blackfeet---The "strain of possible tragedy"—I start for. Fort Garry .—Joined by Ka-kako—Sabbath observance—A camp of Saulteau—An excited Indian—I dilate on the numbers and resources of the white man—We pass Duck Lake—A boar hunt—"Loaded for War"—A contest in athletics - Whip-poor-wills -Pancakes and maple syrup—Pass the site of Birtle—My first and only difference with Ka-kake.


EARLY in April I took Mr. Woolsey and my sister Georgina to Edmonton. Mr. Woolsey' expected to return east during the summer, and was to make his farewell visit. My sister was invited by the Chief Factor's lady, Mrs. Christie, to spend some time with her. We travelled on horseback with pack-horses. We were .three days on the trip up, and I was two coming home, after safely delivering my passengers at Edmonton.

Soon after I came back father startled me by saying he 'wanted me to go to Fort Garry to bring out the supplies for the two missions; Whitefish Lake and Victoria. He said that the Hudson's Bay Company had notified all missionaries that their ranport was needed for their own business, and uggested that the missionaries make their own arrangements- for obtaining supplies. Therefore he wanted me to go down and purchase and bring up what was needed for the Methodist missions on the Saskatchewan. I was to take horses and men from both missions, and also purchase some cattle down there to bring up for work and for dairy purposes. Thus I found my work cut out for me for several months ahead, and I immediately commenced making preparations.

The Indians had now begun to come in in large bands, and very soon our valley wasful1 of life. Men, both wild and partially civilized, surrounded the place, though a large number of the former, instead of coming in with the camp, had gone the other way, seeking for scalps and horses, and, if successful, would be drifting in later on. Already that spring there had been a big fight between a party from our camp and the Blackfeet. The Crees were surrounded and kept for two nights and nearly two days in the pits they had dug with their knives. The Blackfeet were ten times their number, and kept them well under cover, but did not muster courage sufficient to rush in, or the Crees would have been cleaned out in short order. As it was, several were killed. Of two I knew, one was killed and the other shot in the breast, but recovered as by a miracle.

Father and Peter would now be on a continuous strain of work for the next six weeks, planting, hoeing, teaching, preaching, healing, counselling, civilizing and Christianizing. Night and day, constant watchfulness and care would be required. A very little thing might make a very big row. Life and death were in the balance, and the missionary had to be a man of fine tact and quick judgment as well as a man of prayer. The turbulent element was sometimes in the majority, for large numbers of Plain Crees had come in with the quieter Wood Indians. Saucy, proud, arrogant, lawless fellows they were, every one of them, yet, withal, courteous and kind if one only took them the right way; and to be able to do this we were studying all the time.

Mother and my young sisters moved in and out among these painted and war-bedizened crowds, all unconscious of their danger, and it was well it was so; but father and myself, and others also, felt the strain of possible tragedy. Maskepetoon when at the mission was a tower of strength, and a great source of comfort; but there were a number of jealous factions even in his own camp, and born chief that he was, he often found them very hard to control. This was the first attempt by any Church to establish a mission among these people, and under such circumstances, we put our trust in Providence— but kept our powder dry.

It was with an anxious yet sanguine mind that, during the last days of April, 1864, I left parents and mission party behind and started eastward for Fort Garry. I had with me a French half-breed, Baptiste by name, and we were to be joined by the men and horses from Mr. Steinhauer's mission some fifty or sixty miles farther east. We had a pack-horse to carry our food and bedding, and were in the saddle ourselves—that is, we had two Indian pads, as the Mexican saddle had not yet made its appearance so far north.

The second day we were joined by our comrades from Whitefish Lake, my friend Ka-kake being one of the number. They had a cart with them. Our party now was complete, and consisted of five men and fifteen horses. As it was early in the season, and our horses had come through a pretty hard winter with considerable work, and consequently were somewhat run down, we travelled slowly, averaging about thirty miles per day. Our provision was pemmican, but we supplemented this as we travelled with ducks, geese, and chickens. Yet, notwithstanding all our efforts to procure variety of diet, many a meal was hard grease pemmican straight.

We travelled only the six days, faithfully and rigidly observing the Sabbath, which told in the manifest improvement in the condition of our stock. We had prayer morning and night, my men taking turn in conducting worship. On Sunday we rested and sang a number of hymns, and as we were speaking Cree all the time, I was constantly improving myself in the language, and learning the idioms and traditions of the people amongst whom it would seem my lot was to be cast.

We passed Fort Pitt, and continuing down the north side came to Jackfish Lake, where we found the camp of Salteaux that frequented this lake feasting on the carcases of a great herd of buffalo that had been drowned in the lake the previous winter. Too many had got together in some stampede across the ice and had broken through and were drowned; and now that the ice was off the lake, the carcases were drifting ashore. These improvident people were glad to get the meat. They offered us some, and though Ka-kake took it out of deference to their kindness, he watched his opportunity and threw it away. Some. of the younger men came to our camp that night, and as Ka-kake was a sort of kinsman of theirs, he undertook to show them the folly of their course in some lawless acts which they were charged with perpetrating (for these fellows had a hard name). One of them, after listening to Kakake's talk, began to speak quite excitedly, and said: "You seem to make much ado about our taking some plunder and demanding tribute of parties passing through our country. What will you think when we really do something, for we are disposed to organize and take these Hudson's Bay forts, and drive all the white men out of this country; then you will have something to talk about!"

Just here I thought it was my turn to join in the conversation, and quietly snatching a handful of blades of grass, I picked the shortest and smallest one of these and held it in my other hand, then looking at the excited Indian I said: "My friend, I have listened to you; now listen to me. Look at this handful of grass in my hand: These are many and big and strong, and this little one in my other hand is small and weak and alone. This little weak, lone grass represents the white man as he now is in this country. There are a few traders and a few missionaries, but they are as this little grass in strength and number, as you look at them; but if you hurt them in any wise, as you say you will, this bunch of many and strong grasses I hold in my hand represents the multitude your own conduct would bring into this country to avenge them. You say you can easily wipe out the white men now in this country—have you thought that they have the guns and the ammunition and the real strength? Can you or any of your people make guns or ammunition? Then why talk so foolishly and thoughtlessly?"

Ka-kake in his own way strongly endorsed what I said. Then I began to tell those fellows something about civilization and the numbers and resources of the white man, and they opened their eyes at what I had to say. I wound up by telling them that though the white man was so numerous and strong, yet he did not want to take their country from them by force; but when the time came the Government would treat with the Indians for their country and their rights; that the missionaries were in the country sent by the "good white men" to prepare the Indians for a peaceful transition into a better condition than they now were in. "For instance," said I, "you people had plenty of buffalo near you last winter, and now you are living on rotten, drowned meat, and yet you are men. There is something wrong, and if you will only listen, and put away evil thoughts and bad talk, such as you gave us just now, we will show you something better." All of which Ka-kake strongly corroborated, and when the Salteaux went away he turned to me and thanked me for the way I had spoken to that man and his party. Said he, "It will do them good; they will think about it." At the same time we tethered our horses and guarded them well.

Crossing the North Saskatchewan at Canton by means of a small skiff and swimming our horses over, then passing Duck Lake, where I had hunted ducks two years before, and which, twenty years hence, was to become the scene of the first real outbreak, under Riel, in 1885, we crossed the south branch, . where Batoche some years later settled and gave his name to the place. The next day we had a bear hunt, but did not get the bear, as the brush was too dense, and we had no dog. We killed several antelope, and (it seemed to me) ate them up in no time.

Crossing the alkali plains we journeyed through the Touchwood Hills. Here we had another bear hunt; and this time Ka-kake killed the bear, and we put him, great big fellow that he was, into our cart to take him on to camp. Then followed a lively time with Vie hitherto very quiet old horse that was pulling the cart, for suddenly he seemed to find out what he was hauling, and attempted to run away. Failing in that he then tried to kick the cart to pieces, and in many ways showed his objections to the load. He might, if he had travelled in the East, have heard the phrase, "being loaded for b'ar," but if he had, he most emphatically drew the distinction between that and being loaded with bear. However, we got him to camp at last, and very carefully took him out of the shafts before we let him see the bear. Thus antelope steak and bear's ribs, with fowl occasionally, and eggs of more or less ancient date now and then, varied the monotony of the everlasting. pemmican.

We caught up to a party from Lac-la-biche going the same way. They were French half- breeds on their way into Red River with their furs. We found them first-rate travelling companions, and fully enjoyed their company. At one of our evening encampments, one party challenged the other to a contest in athletic sports, and we beat them badly, my man Baptiste leaving their best man easily in a footrace. He said to me, "Mr. John, I will run fust; if he leave me, then you will run." "All right, Baptiste," said I; but there was no need for my running, as Baptiste won the race for us. Of this I was very glad, for he also was a French mixed blood, and of themselves. Then, in jumping and throwing the stone we were far ahead, and my men were greatly pleased at our victory. I confess to feeling well pleased myself, for I delighted in these things at that time.

Continuing our journey, we left these people to come on more slowly. We crossed Pheasant Plains and the Cut Arm Creek, and camped one evening on the high bank of the Qu'Appelle River, beside a spring. In the evening shade, as we were sitting beside our camp-fire, suddenly I heard a cry which thrilled through my whole being: "Whip-poor-will!" "Whip-poor-will 1" came echoing through the woods and up the valley, and in a moment I was among the scenes of my childhood, paddling a birch canoe along the shores of the great lakes, rioting among the beech and maple woods of old Ontario. For years I had not heard a whip-poor-will, and now the once familiar sounds brought with them a feeling of home-sickness.

The next afternoon Ka-kake and I, leaving our companions to cross the Assiniboine above the mouth of the Qu'Appelle, detoured by way of Fort Ellice, and here also I had another memorable experience. Mrs. MacKay, the wife of the gentleman in charge of the Fort, very kindly invited me to have supper with them. As we would have plenty of time to rejoin our party afterwards, I gladly accepted, and what should be on the table but pancakes and maple syrup! I had not tasted maple syrup for four years, had not had a slice of bread for two years, had not even tasted anything cooked from flour for some time. No wonder I can never forget those cakes and syrup! Verily the memory of them is still sweet to my taste. Not that I am an epicure—by no means—but these were things I had been accustomed to, almost bred on, all my life previous to coming to the North-West.

We rejoined our companions at Bird Tail Creek, camping on the spot where now the town of Birtle stands. This was Saturday night, and during that Sunday camp on the bank of Bird Tail Creek I had my first and only difference with Ka-kake. Some hunters on the way out by Fort Ellice camped beside us, and from these Ka-kake learned that friends of his were camped about twenty miles farther on. About the middle of the afternoon, he and the two Indians from Whitefish Lake began to catch their horses, and make as if they were going to start. I asked what they meant, and Ka-kake told me that they were going on, and would wait for us in the morning. I said he might go on if he chose, but I would not consent to his taking the horses belonging to Mr. Steinhauer, as these were in my charge, and I did not intend to have them travel on Sunday. He was firm, but I was firmer; and finally Ka-kake turned the horses loose and gave it up.

I do not think I would be so hard now that more than thirty years intervene and my outlook is broader, and my thought more liberal; nevertheless, I believed I was right at the time, and therefore acted as I did.


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