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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XIII
Fall In with a party of "plain hunters "—Marvellous resources of this great country—A "hunting breed" —Astounding ignorance—Visit a Church of England mission—Have my first square meal of bread and butter in two years—Archdeacon Cochrane—Unexpected sympathy with rebellion and slavery - Through the White Horse Plains—Baptiste's recklessness and its punishment—Reach our destination —Present my letter of introduction to Governor McTavish- Purchasing supplies—"Hudson's Bay blankets"—Old Fort Garry, St. Boniface, Winnipeg, St. John's, Kildonan—A "degenerate" Scot—An eloquent Indian preacher—Baptiste succumbs to his old enemy—Prepare for our return journey.


THE next day Baptiste and I went ahead. We were now three-quarters of the way down, our horses had picked up well, and I wanted to hurry on so as to get through my business as quickly as possible, and give more time to the homeward trip, when we would have heavy loads. The first night we camped with a large party of plain hunters, on their way out for a summer hunt. These men were from all over the Red River settlement, from the White Horse plains, and Portage hi Prairie. Their encampment was like a good-sized village. They must have had five hundred or more carts, besides many waggons. Then this number would be very much augmented from Fort Ellice and other points eastward.

Looking on one of these parties, and remembering that two such parties went out on the plains after buffalo every summer for the purpose of making dried provision; that some of these would make fall and winter forays for fresh meat; that this same thing was going on in the Saskatchewan country among the same class of people, and that from Texas to the North Saskatchewan many Indian tribes were living on the buffalo, winter and summer ;—I say, that if one thought of all this, he would begin to have some small conception of the extent and numbers of the buffalo. Moreover, if he continued to think, he would wake up to the appreciation of a country that could in its crude and wilderness condition maintain such countless and enormous supplies of food, and that of the choicest kind.

These were the men who owned the rich portions of Manitoba, the Portage plains, and the banks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers; but what cared they for rich homesteads so long as buffalo could be found within five or six hundred miles? These owners of the best wheat fields in the world very often started out to the plains and were willing to take their chance of a very risky mode of life, forsooth, because they came of a hunting breed, and "blood is thicker than water," and environment stamps itself deep upon the race. In going through the camps, eager as I was for eastern news, I could find none. What signified it to these men that the greatest of civil wars was then raging on the continent beside them? What thought they, or what did they know of the fact that they were on the eve of a great national and political change, and that the old life would soon have to give way to a new order of things? Their teachers either had not sought to enlighten them, or had failed to make them comprehend, if they did desire to do so. No wonder that in their ignorance they were led astray in 1869-70, and again in 1885. They could talk about horses and buffalo, and battle with the Sioux and B1ackfet, and count their beads and mutter prayers, but apparently were sublimely ignorant of all things else. Alas! that this should have been the case, for these men were and are full of fine traits of character. Kind, hospitable, chivalrous, brave, I have ever found them. Surely scores of years of preaching should have done something better for them.

We jogged along, Baptiste and I, across the Little Saskatchewan, and by the two crossings of the White Mud, and coming to the third crossing in the evening, found a Church of England mission with the Rev. Mr. George in charge. Mrs. George was very kind, and for the first time in two years I had a square meal of bread and butter. Oh! how good it was! I had to fairly curb my appetite. Next morning Mrs. George gave us a fresh loaf of bread and some butter for our lunch that day. But do you think we could wait until noon? We had not gone a mile from her hospitable home when I said, "Baptiste, don't you think we could carry that bread and butter somewhere else very much better than on that pack-horse?" "Oh, yes, Mr. John," was his expressive answer. We thereupon alighted, took the tempting loaf from the pack, ate it with eager relish, and then went on quite satisfied.

We rode through the Portage, finding at that time but two white men settled there. As I had a letter for Archdeacon Cochrane, we called for a few minutes on that venerable prelate. I found him quite an old man. That day he seemed somewhat discouraged, for he asked me if I did not think these people (meaning the mixed bloods among whom he was laboring) must first be civilized before they could be Christianized. I ventured to say that I thought Christianity was the main factor in real civilization. Then he asked me what my opinion was of the war in the States, and I told him that I knew very little about it, and had seen very few papers—none whatever for some months. Then lie said he was in sympathy with the South. At this I was astonished, but did not venture to say anything, for he was an old man, and I but a boy. I wondered as I rode away how a gentleman of his age and experience and education and calling could hold such views as to be in sympathy with rebellion and slavery. There must be something in this I do not understand, thought I. But if there was any good reason for such a position I have never yet come across it.

That night we camped with a brother-in-law of Peter's, living at the High Bluff, who received us kindly. The next day, continuing our journey, we jogged along the north bank of the Assiniboine, around the Big Bend, and through the White Horse Plains. As we were passing a house Baptiste said, "Mr. John, my friends used to live here; stop a minute and let me see." So we approached the house and found that the woman of this place was Baptiste's cousin, and though many years had elapsed since they had met, the recognition was mutual and joyous. As the day was extremely warm, this woman offered us some nice cold milk, of which I, remembering I had not had any for some years, drank very sparingly, but my man Baptiste indulged in it recklessly.

Mounting our horses, we resumed the chronic jog, and had not gone many miles when I heard a groan, and looking back, saw Baptiste with his hand pressing his stomach, and looking woefully dismal.

"What is the matter?" I enquired.

"Oh! Mr. John, I am sore," was the woeful answer.

"I thought so," said I. You should not have drunk so much milk; you deserve to be sore."

In the evening we came to the farm of Mr. Gowler, to whom I had letters from both father and Mr. Woolsey, and whose home I hoped to make my headquarters while doing my business and gathering my stock and loads for the West. Riding into the yard, we found the old farmer had just finished churning, and was enjoying a bowl of fresh buttermilk. He kindly offered me some. I declined with thanks, but said my man was very fond of milk. Mr. Gowler at once gave him a big bowl of it, and Baptiste dare not refuse. His code of etiquette would not allow him to decline, and, though in misery, he nevertheless drank it. Like many another simple person, he was the slave of social rule.

Mr. Gowler had come out in the Hudson's Bay Company's service, by way of Hudson's Bay. In due time he had gone free, and settled on the Assiniboine, a few miles west of Fore Garry, and at this time had the largest farm in the Red River settlement. He was an English Wesleyan Methodist in the Old Country, and though he had allied himself to the Anglican Church when he came out here, yet he retained a warm feeling toward those of his early persuasion. Thus Mr. Woolsey and father had met him, and thus I had come to him to arrange for a camp, a pasture and a home while in the settlement, all of which Mr. Gowler heartily welcomed me to, and in such a way that I was at home at once. The next day I rode in to the Fort, and presented my letters of introduction and credit to Governor McTavish, who said he would help me in any way he could, inviting me at the same time to take my meals, when in the vicinity, with him and his officers. I also became acquainted with his nephew, John McTavish, who was at that time Chief Accountant, and who rendered me many kindnesses during my stay in the settlement.

I had no trouble about the year's supplies for the missions, as these had all been requisitioned for, as usual, early in the year. My business was the arranging of transport. I must secure carts and harness and oxen, and, as the several plain-hunting parties had recently started out, I had some difficulty in finding enough for my needs. But after some days' hunting around, I secured all I wanted; had bought my oxen, fine big fellows, paying on an average 7 (about $35) apiece; also four quiet much cows, for which I paid from $15 to $18 each, thinking as I bought them how much they would be welcomed by our people at yonder mission. I also bought ten sacks of flour, paying 1 12s. per sack of ninety-six pounds, and 2s. for the sack. Add to this the freight to Victoria, and the first cost there of each sack would be $18.50. I gave five sacks to each mission, which, allowing a sack for the men of each party en route, would give the missions four sacks of flour for the year. This would be a wonderful advance on any previous experience in the bread line at either of those places. I bought, too, a promising colt, descendant of "Fire Away," a very famous horse the Hudson's Bay Company had imported from the Old Country. For this three-year-old colt I paid 14, or $70 of our money. I handled, in making my purchases, the first "Hudson's Bay blankets" I had ever seen. These were large 5s. and 5 notes, issued by the Company, and which I drew from them on father's order.

In the course of my business I was in Old Fort Garry a number of times. I saw St. Boniface, then a very small place, just across the river, and the home of Bishop Tache. I was in and out of the five or six houses which then formed the nucleus of the little village called Winnipeg. I rode frequently through the parish of St. John's, passing the house of Bishop Anderson, the Anglican head of Rupert's Land. I went down into Kildonan and spent a night in the home of the Rev. Dr. Black, who was one of father's dear friends. I also met there the Rev. Mr. Nisbet, who later on founded the mission work at Prince Albert. I visited some of the original Scotch settlers, and was looked upon by the elders as a degenerate, because, as they expressed it, "She couldna spoket the Gaelic." I spent two Sundays in this settlement, hearing Dr. Black the first Sunday, and remember thinking that his fine Gospel sermon was "broad" in more senses than one. The next Sabbath I worshipped with the Anglicans, and heard the Rev. Henry Cochrane preach an eloquent and inspiring sermon, and was glad that a genuine native had reached such a position. I have often felt sorry that the men who were instrumental in raising him to this height of development did not themselves keep ahead sufficiently in example, as well as in precept, but by their failure caused their weaker brother to offend, and later on to fall terribly from his high estate.

It has taken many centuries of progressive development to give a very small percentage of the stronger races of men the will power and ability to understand and observe the meaning of the word temperance. it is a very small sacrifice (if it may be called such), yet an essential factor with missionaries in their work with the pagan races, that they themselves be through and through transparent and consistent, or else to these will come the greater condemnation. But, not to further moralize, I will go back to the loading of my carts and the gathering of my stock, preparatory to my journey westward.

My man Baptiste had found his old associates and whiskey too much for him, and forgetting wife and children on the Saskatchewan, had disappeared. I could not give the time to looking for him, but hired instead one of Mr. Gowler's sons, Oliver by name, and as I was still short of help, was very glad that I came across a gentleman by the name of Connor, and his son, a young man about my age, who were desirous of making the trip to the Saskatchewan. As they had but one cart between them, I secured the son to drive carts for me. My party was also joined by a Scotchman who was desirous of crossing the mountains to British Columbia, and who, finding that we were starting westward, asked permission to travel with us. He also had but one cart. When we started, as the Whitefish Lake party had horses pulling their carts and would travel faster (especially in hot weather) than we could, I let them go on ahead of us. Our party was composed of Mr. Connor and the Scotchman, my two men and myself—five in all.


 


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