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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XIV
We start for home—A stubborn cow—Difficulties of transport—Indignant travellers—Novel method of breaking a horse—Secure provisions at Fort Ellice - Lose one of our cows—I turn detective—Dried meat and fresh cream as a delicacy.


I THINK it was about the last of June or the first of July that we rolled out of Mr. Gowler's farmyard on the trail leading across the plains. The first day or two we had considerable trouble with our cattle. One cow was determined to go back, so I caught her and tied her behind a cart to which was attached a ponderous ox. She rebelled at this, and threw herself down, but the ox kept on as if the weight dragging behind was a small matter. Coming to a shallow creek in which there were some sharp stones on the bottom, the cow, finding the action of being dragged over these too much, jumped to her feet, and after that led on as we wished. Very soon all broke in to the routine of the journey in good shape, and we had very little trouble after the first week with any of our loose stock. Let one of those ironless carts squeak, and the cows were up and alongside with all the alacrity of a soldier answering the bugle note.

There had been considerable rain, and for the first three weeks after we started it rained very heavily at times. As there was not a tent in the party, we each got under a cart, and while the rain came perpendicularly we were passably dry; but the mosquitoes were sometimes awfully annoying. The copious rains made the roads very heavy in places, but we came along as far as the second crossing of the White Mud without having to move loads. Here we were forced to raft everything, which means a long delay, as also a great amount of labor. I made a raft of cart wheels, and pulling this to and fro with ropes we ferried our goods and chattels over. Having let the Indians go on, my party as now constituted was altogether "tenderfoot" in its make up, though with me my two years on the Saskatchewan modified this. As it was, I had all the planning and also a large portion of the work to do. To unload your carts and make your rafts, and ferry over by piecemeal your loads and harness and cart- boxes and whole travelling outfit; to watch your stock in the meantime, and that closely, or else lose hours or even days in hunting for them; to keep your stuff from the wet from above as well as beneath, and in doing so get more or less wet yourself; to make smudges to save your cattle and horses from being eaten alive by "bull-dogs" [A name given to a species of black fly common on the prairies, and significant of their ferocity and persistency in attack.] and mosquitoes; to fight these exceedingly energetic denizens of the air the while you are trying to do this work I have just enumerated,—I say that if you have ever been, or ever will be, in such a case, you will have an idea of summer transport across bridge- less and ferryless streams in a new country.

Having passed the second, we went on to the third crossing of the "White Mud," and like the man with the two daughters whom he called Kate and Duplicate, we simply duplicated the last crossing here, only that it was "the same and more of it." The creeks had been very small on our way down, but now seeing them so full after the heavy rains, and giving us so much trouble to cross, I began to apprehend some difficulty at the Little Saskatchewan, for this was a river, and rapid at that. However, we stopped short of this one morning for breakfast, and while the boys were making a fire I walked on to the river, and was delighted to note that while it was muddy and swift, it was still fordable. This I knew without trying, as I had taken its measure on my way down. Just then, as I stood for a moment on its bank before returning to my camp, two tavellers on horseback, with a pack-horse, came down the hill on the other side. They looked at the stream, and at once pronounced it unfordable; then, without stopping to ask me, got off their horses, and unsaddling and unpacking, took out their axe and went for some timber to make a raft. I thought I would have some fun with them, so waited until they had carried up some logs for the raft. Then as they stood on the bank resting for a little, I walked down into the stream and across to them. As I had estimated at first glance, there was no more than twenty or twenty-four inches of water. These travellers looked astonished, and seemed indignant that I had not told them. "Why did you not toll us the river was fordable?" said one. "Why did you not ask me?" I answered. Then one blamed the other who was acting as guide, and told him he ought to have known better than to let them make such fools of themselves. Here I spoke up and said, "Well, as it is fordable, you had bettor saddle up and come across and have some breakfast with us." But right here my reader will note the difference in men. One takes notice of the country he passes through, and hopes to recognize it when next he comes this way; another says he knows it all, and acts as this guide did.

Fording the Little Saskatchewan, we continued our journey. One day we stopped for noon on the shore of Shoal Lake, and here while our stock were resting I made an experiment. We had brought with us from the mission a fine strong mare about seven years of age, which had never been broken to either drive or ride, and was very wild. She would follow the carts and stay with our horses, that was all. My plan was to take her out into the lake and break her there. We made a corral with the carts, and I lassoed the mare, and haltering her, stripped off my clothes and swam out into the lake with her, then quietly slipped on her back. She gave a plunge or two, but only succeeded in ducking herself, and then settled down to straight swimming. After a while I headed her for the shore, but as soon as she got squarely on the bottom she began to buck, so I headed her out again into the lake, and presently I could take her out on the beach and canter up and down as nicely as with an old saddle-horse. Then I dressed, and putting a saddle-pad on, rode her all the afternoon. Rolling on as well as we could, heeding but little the mud and mosquitoes and pelting rains, in good time we reached the Assiniboine. We were two days rafting that stream, and the large part of another in doubling and portaging up the big sand hill which forms the north bank of the Assiniboine at this point.

Leaving my party in camp on the bank of the Qu'Appelle, I forded this stream and rode over to Fort Ellice, hoping to secure some dried meat or pemmican, as we were living now entirely on flour and milk, and I wanted to use the flour as little as possible. On my way through the woods which thickly covered the hill between the Qu'Appelle and Fort Ellice, I met four white men on foot, carrying new flint-lock guns. The guns and their appearance branded them as belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, and being "green hands," as all the newly received employees were called, 1 enquired of them where they were going. One of them answered, "The Lord knows, for we don't." My next question was," What are you looking for?" and they answered in chorus, "Our supper." "Why," said I," are there no provisions in the Fort? ""None," they answered; "we were given these guns and some shot and powder, and told to hunt for our suppers." This was poor encouragement for me in my quest for provisions. I had noticed that the leader, while he had a new gun on his shoulder, did not have any flint in the dog-head. "Well, my friend," I said, "you will never kill your supper with that gun you carry." "Why," he asked, "what is the matter?" I pointed out to him what the matter was, and then all began to look at their guns, and I went on, for about the most dangerous place you can be in is where a number of tenderfeet are handling guns.

I confess I was disappointed about the provisions, and felt that it would be too bad to have to use up the little flour I was taking home, for it was three hundred miles to the next Fort on our way. However, being young and of a sanguine turn of mind, I galloped on to the Fort, and again called on Mrs. McKay, who corroborated what the men said, telling me that the Fort was in sore straits for food; but that she expected soon to hear from Mr. McKay, who had gone on to the plains. Fortunately for me, while we were talking a party drove into the Fort with several cart- loads of provisions, and thus I secured both pemmican and dried meat, and those poor "green hands" did not go supperless to bed that night. My two men and I went breadless to bed instead, and for many subsequent nights also, for I was determined to save the flour for mother and the others at home.

Steadily we pushed our way westward, some days, when cool and cloudy, making good time, then, when it was hot, going more leisurely. Travelling early and late, we would keep at the long trail. Then an axle would break, and this would bring us up standing. Sometimes a dowel-pin snapped, or a felloe split, and mending and lashing still we rolled toward the setting sun. Once we lost one of our cows, and I had to retrace our way some miles in looking for her. The country we were passing through was dotted with dense brush, and as the "bull-dogs" were bad, the cow had gone into a clump of trees to rid herself, if possible, of her enemies, whose name truly was legion. Now, to gallop back farther on the trail would in all probability be futile in finding the cow. So I went to work on the detective plan, and first sought for a clue. This I got from Oliver and Jim, my men, who were positive as to when they had seen the cow last. So I went back on one side of the road, carefully watching for the track, and coming to the spot where the boys had seen the truant last, I then crossed the road, and keenly looked for a track on the back trail, but found none. I was now pretty sure that the cow was between me and the carts, and on the other side of the road from that I had come on. So, keeping a little way out from the road, I followed up the carts, and by-and-bye came to the track of the cow. She had turned out from the trail and gone into a thicket, and I had to leave my horse at its edge to follow her track into it; but keeping on the trail, I at last found her, almost enveloped in the foliage, and in the shadiest spot she could find.

The next morning, while the others were supping their tea or drinking the new milk, I took some dried meat, and with this skimmed and ate the cream on the milk in the pail I had hung under the cart the night before. Dried meat and fresh cream might not be a "dainty dish" for an epicure, but then one must not forget the exquisite relish we had around us in our perfect freedom of out-door life; in our solid beds, wet or dry, on the bosom of "mother earth," under the carts; the pure atmosphere, the beautiful sunrise and sunset, the lovely undulating, park-like country we were travelling through, giving us constant change of scene; the many gems of lakes and lakelets we skirted, the superb health we generally enjoyed—each and all of these were the best of tonics, and under such conditions even hard grease pemmican was good.


 


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