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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XVI
A raft of carts—The raft swept away—Succeed in recovering it—Getting our stock over—The emotionless Scot unbends—Our horses wander away—Track them up—Arrive at Canton—Crossing the North Saskatchewan—Homes for the millions—Fall in with father and Peter—Am sent home for fresh horses— An exhilarating gallop—Home again.


THE next morning we pulled our carts as far up the river as there was beach to move on, and then, crossing over several times, got the remainder of our freight, harness and camping outfit across. In the meantime we were making a raft of the carts. We took the wheels off and fastened them to the boxes, then tied the whole together, and as I purchased a long rope in the settlement, my plan was to fasten one end of this to the raft and carefully coiling up the rest, take a third man into the canoe to pay it out while we would paddle for the shore as fast as possible. Arrived there, we would jump out, and with the rope gently warp our raft to the shore. But that current was strong and treacherous, and when we, after a fearful struggle, did succeed in jumping ashore, to my dismay at the first strain the rope broke, and away with the rush of current went our raft of carts.

There was just one spot, about a mile down, where we could land those carts. If we missed that the current would sweep them to the other side of the river, and on into a series of rapids below. To jump into the canoe, to chase that raft, to hitch to it, and then to paddle for the shore as we went at a furious rate on that swirling, seething, boiling torrent was our instant action. How we worked! How I watched that one spot where it was possible for us to land! How I calculated the time when I would pay out line, and once more try to warp our raft in! How as by a miracle we did make the one spot, and held our raft, and, securing it, sat down on the shore and rested, and were thankful!.

But our difficulties were not yet all mastered. At a glance I saw we had heavy work before us to take those carts out of the spot where we landed. A steep, almost perpendicular bank, covered with brush, must be climbed at the outset, and then a road of some two or three miles made in order to reach the spot where our goods were. Though I saw all this, yet as I lay there with the carts on the home side of the river at my feet, I felt profoundly thankful.

The first thing to be done was to take the carts out of the water and put them together, then, by wading and tracking and pulling and pushing, to take the heavy skin canoe up stream, and again cross, as our stock were still on the south side. Here came the tug of war, for those cattle were afraid of the wide stream and the strong current. We drove them up and started them in at the spot where the flow of water struck for the other side, but all in vain; they kept coming back on us. We shouted and waded in after them. Many times we gave them a fresh send-off. Finally we towed one over after the canoe, and rushed the balance in after this one, but they went back on us again. We took another,' and still the rest would not follow; but we gave them no peace, and finally, after hours of the hardest kind of work, they struck out and swam across, some of them going a long distance down stream. Eventually all crossed, and at a late hour on Tuesday evening we were camped—goods and carts and stock and men—on the north side of the South Branch, and as yet no one drowned!

To say we were thankful is to say but little. Why, even the seemingly emotionless Scot of our party unbent that evening and became quite funny. But we also were very tired, and to add to this, in my case, the soles of my feet were badly cut with the sharp stones, and the fine sand had got into the wounds, causing me intense pain. The next morning my feet were badly swollen, and only with great difficulty could I put them to the ground, so I depended on Oliver and Jim to hunt up the stock. After being hours away they returned and reported the most of our horses lost. There was no other resource but to soak my swollen feet and moccasins in the river, and start out to look for them. By taking a big circle from the river, I finally found their track, and running or walking or crawling, as occasion required, I followed them up, my progress depending on the nature of the soil and the grass. Sometimes I was obliged to go on my hands and knees, in order to detect the faint tracks left by those unshod horses.

After hours of such tracking and of closest scanning of the track, I came to the summit of a hill, and was exceedingly fortunate in catching a glimpse of my horses disappearing over the brow of a hill in the distance. My seeing them as I did saved me hours of tracking, and enabled me to catch up on them fast, for I did not stop my race until I reached the spot where they had disappeared from view. Then, as they were not in sight, I began my tracking again, and very soon came to the truants in a swamp. I caught one, and jumping on bare-back, made those horses fairly fly back to the river, where I was gladly welcomed by my companions, who had become anxious at my long absence.

Working on into the night that evening, we succeeded in climbing the hill, and camped about three miles from the river. The next day we reached Canton and the North Saskatchewan. Here we had a wider river to cross, but were fortunate in securing the loan of a boat which, although it was old and very leaky, yet enabled us to cross a cart and its load at each trip. Our cattle, too, did not give us so much trouble as at the South Branch. We were not quite two days in crossing. Here we had a long, high hill to double up with our loads, but finally were on the top of it, and on the home side of the two big Saskatchewans. I was a very glad man in consequence. The hundreds of miles yet to travel, the many smaller rivers and streams yet to cross, seemed as nothing to what we had passed; and we were all pleased that the backbone of the trip was now broken.

Two years before this, father and I had ridden up this hill on our first trip to the plains. No change had taken place since then. Here were the thousands of homesteads and countless acres of rich grass and soil, verily homes for the millions; but as yet the units of men were not here, doubtless because there was a Providence in all this, and the time had not come for settlement.

The same afternoon that we left the north side of the river, I came across an Indian who took a strong fancy to the horse I was riding, the one I had broken in in the lake, and which, though a fine animal, had caused me a deal of trouble, and had no doubt taken the lead in going so far a few days before. As the Indian had a stout grey horse which he said was good in the harness, we agreed to "swap even;" so, dismounting, we changed our saddles from one horse to the other, and each went his own way satisfied. My grey pony proved himself first- class in the cart.

Early and late we rolled westward, across wide valleys and over great ranges of hills, from whose summits we looked out upon magnificent stretches of country, which made my companions, beholding it for the first time, open their eyes and exclaim in wonder at the wealth of soil and great variety of scenery on every hand.

Travelling for days we reached and passed the rendezvous of the threatening Jackfish Lake Indians, and I was glad to note that there were no fresh tracks in the vicinity. They were either out on the plains after buffalo or in the north hunting moose. As we had a very small party I had felt anxious about these people and was thankful for their absence. However, the next day our number was strengthened by unexpectedly meeting father and Peter. Father had come to Fort Pitt on missionary work, and in doing so had met Ka-kake, who had told him that I could not be very many days behind; so he had come on, and thus we met, which was a source of profound satisfaction to me. Father and Peter were a host in themselves, and as we were now getting farther into the country where tribal war was rife and war parties from the south frequent, to have our little party so handsomely reinforced was a comfort and joy to us.

Father was pleased with my purchases of cattle, and complimented me on the condition of the stock all round. He thought we could now afford to push them, as they would have plenty of time to fatten for winter after we reached the mission. From daylight until dark, therefore, stopping only to feed, we kept at it and made good time. The old landmarks of the bridle .path across the continent—Red Deer Hill, Frenchman's Butte, Fort Pitt, Two Hills, Moose Creek, the Dog Rump, Egg Lake—each in turn was left behind.

Camping on the home side of the latter one evening, father said to me, "John, you may gallop on to the mission in the morning and see your mother and sisters; and if you can find them, bring us some fresh horses." We were now about fifty miles or more from the new mission, and had reached the limit of wheel- tracks on the north side of the Saskatchewan, so that our party would have to make the trail the rest of the way through a new country with more or less bush.

Early the next morning found me astride of my little sorrel—the one the Indians had named "The Scarred Thigh," because he had once been tossed by a mad buffalo----and away we went on the steady jump. After a time, thinking I might be riding my horse too fast, looking at my watch I said to the sorrel, "We will trot for half an hour, and canter the other half;" but though I tried this several times, we would invariably be on the dead canter before the thirty minutes for trotting had nearly expired. So finally, as the little sorrel seemed ready for it and eager to go, I let him out. What a gallop we had that day! Soon we were past Saddle Lake, and had reached the summit of the Snake Hill. Every spot near the trail was now familiar to me, for I had walked and ran, and pulled and pushed, and frozen and starved between Saddle Lake and Victoria; but on this occasion my whole being was thrilled with the pleasant anticipation of seeing my loved ones. Possessed of a profound sense of gratitude for the mercies of the long trip now so nearly over; with a strong, springy, willing horse under me, a clear sky above, lovely landscapes on every hand, every foot of soil under my horse's feet full of great possibilities, an exhilarating atmosphere striking my face, filling my nostrils, inflating my lungs at every jump, it is no wonder that morning's ride is indelibly impressed on my memory. I thoroughly enjoyed it; and so far as I knew this was righteous joy, which methinks will live forever. I had a bit of dried meat with me, which I ate as I rode. About ten o'clock I stopped to grass my horse. Throwing the saddle down I turned him loose at the end of my lariat, and tying the end of this to my arm, flung myself on the grass and slept.

If I had not been so much of a tenderfoot as I still was, I would not have fastened my horse to myself, for in doing so I was running great risks of being killed. Of this, however, I did not then think, but slept on, and presently waking with a start, saddled up and started into a lope once more. When fairly under way, looking at my watch, I saw we had not spent a full half hour at our resting and feeding-place. Then I apologized to the sorrel, but he kept on the steady canter all the same, and before noon we were at the mission, joyfully welcomed by mother and friends. Fifty miles before dinner, and both horse and rider as ready for work as ever, and I may be pardoned in saying "that was a horse, and this was a man."


 


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