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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XIX
Muh-ka-chees, or "the Fox"—An Indian "dude "—A strange story—How the Fox was transformed—Mr. The-Camp-is-Moving as a magician.


"MUH-KA-CHEES," or "the Fox," was another particular friend of ours, but one who clung to his old faith. He was quite a wag in his way and created a hearty laugh around our camp-fire by describing an imaginary scene, in which he was to have settled down beside the mission and gone into farming and stock-raising, but the crowd around us would go on in the old way, hunting and trapping. He would become wealthy, adopt the white man's mode of life, dress, etc. This would go on, and one day it would be reported that the York boats with their crews were coming up the river from their long and slavish trip to the Coast, the men in harness and working like beasts of burden as they were. He would drop his work for a bit, and dress up in a neat cut coat and white shirt, and with hat cocked on one side just a little, and tobacco rolled like a stick in his mouth, with cane in hand, he would walk down to the river bank, and as the boats came up he would carelessly look over at his old companions, still in their primitive costume and slaving for others, while he was independent, and then holding the rolled tobacco between two fingers and turning on his heel he would say, "Only a lot of savages, anyway," and then go back to his comfortable home. The point in the joke was that of the crowd the Fox himself was the least likely to change in a hurry. He was said to be able to transform himself in case of necessity into a fox; that is, the "spirit of his dream "—the power to whom he was under vow—had given him assurance that in his hour of extremity this spirit would come to his help, and enable him to thus change his visible appearance—the man Fox would become the animal fox in shape. This, it was told me, had actually taken place, and an eye-witness thus describes the circumstance:

"The Fox and four others of us started out in the late autumn to steal horses or take scalps from the Blackfeet. The Fox was our leader and conjurer. He was ever and anon to look into the unknown and determine our course and movements. We left our camps between the Battle River and the North Saskatchewan, and travelled south for several days. We crossed the Red Deer below the big canyon, and keeping on came to the track of a large camp of Blackfeet travelling southerly. Now we began to move with extreme caution, and when south of Service Berry Creek I went on alone to scout, as the tracks were fresh, my companions re- mailing hidden while I was away. After a long, stealthy run I came in sight of the camp of the enemy, and taking stock of it and its locality, I went back to my companions, thinking to inspire them with great enthusiasm because of what I had seen; but though I sang the war song as I approached them, they did not stir, and I saw a gloom was upon the party.

"Then the Fox spoke up and said, 'I am sorry, but it is no use; we must return from here. The Spirit has informed me that it would be utter ruin for us to advance. We must retrace our steps.' I was loath to do this. I wanted horses, and I upbraided Fox with deceiving us; but he was determined, as he said, to follow the guidance of the one he dreamt of, and finally I reluctantly joined my comrades, who had already started on the back trail. Sullenly and in quiet we moved northward. Presently the Fox began to limp, and finally sat down, saying, 'There is something in my knee; see if you can find a thorn or a splinter.' We could not find any such thing, and yet his knee was swollen and inflamed, and soon he could not put his foot to the ground. He said to us repeatedly, 'Leave me, let me die alone.' But we would not listen to that. I made him a crutch, and we moved on slowly, very slowly. We helped him from time to time, but his leg grew worse, and was terribly swollen. And now winter came upon us, and snow and cold increased. When we reached the Red Deer it was frozen out on both sides, and the channel was full of float ice. I said, 'I will cross first and have a fire ready for you.' So I stripped, forded the river, and made a camp on the north side in a clump of spruce. When this was ready, I shouted to my companions to come across. They took a long pole, and put the Fox in the centre, and all holding on to the pole waded abreast through the current and float ice, and thus brought our lame conjurer over. The snow was now deep and we were out of provisions. The next morning my brother and myself went to hunt for game, and we had not gone far when we saw tracks in the snow, which turned out to be those of buffalo. I succeeded in killing two, and our party packed all of the meat into our camp, and we busied ourselves in cutting up and drying this meat for our journey.

"In the meantime the Fox's leg was growing worse, and he implored us to abandon him, but we could not do this. Then I fixed a strap of buffalo-hide to go across his shoulder, and fastening this to two crutches, we made another start. Climbing the steep banks of the Red Deer, and with many stops, we continued our way homeward. Our course was along the Buffalo Lake. One day we heard shooting in the distance, and scouting for the cause, found that the Sarcee camp was right in our way. This was very disappointing, as it compelled us to make a big detour to avoid this camp and its many hunters. Very slowly and stealthily we travelled among our enemies. There was no chance to steal horses, as the snow was too deep and our party too weak. They could track us at once, and then, situated as we were, our scalps would certainly be theirs. Several times we were nearly discovered, but the weather being cold and stormy, and at times misty, favored us, and we had got about opposite the camp one day when my brother filled a pipe, and handing it to the Fox, said to him: 'Here, smoke that and call upon your source of help, for you need this now, as we are likely to be tracked or seen at any time.' So the Fox smoked the pipe, and said, 'Well, leave me here alone and hurry on to yonder woods. Do not look back, but wait for me when you reach the woods.'

We left him and ran across the plain. I was ahead and did not look back, but as we ran all of a sudden I heard my brother cry out, 'Alas! alas! I have injured the Fox,' and without looking back, I said, 'What is it?' And my brother told me that he had looked back and seen the Fox coming on the dead run after us, but while he looked he saw him fall, as if struck down, and then he knew he had broken the charm or influence by his disobedience.

"When we reached the woods we waited, and after a long time the Fox crawled up and at once charged us with looking back. 'I was coming on nicely when you looked back and spoiled me by your foolish curiosity.' My brother confessed at once that it was he who had done this, but said he was prompted to do so, as he thought we had left our friend alone, and our enemies might come upon him at any time. After this the Fox got worse, and his foot and all of his leg was fearfully swollen; and yet I could not find any sight of a healing or gathering of matter. After days of slow progress the weather became milder, and in some spots on the hills the snow went off. One day we came out upon the valley which is called, 'Where the buffalo hunters meet in running,' and we sat down on the hill above the valley. Here, I thought, I will try the Fox, and see if there is anything in his boasted association with the spirits. So I filled a pipe, and lighting it, said to him, 'Here, smoke this, and listen to me. You brought us out on this trip, you promised us horses, you led us to depend on your spiritual power; you have deceived us in every way, and for many days you have been a burden to us. Many times our lives have been in danger because of you. Why continue this any longer? Why not invoke the help you profess to be able to call to your aid? Do this now.' Then the Fox said, 'Your words are true, and you should have left me to die long ago, but you would not. I have been a burden and a danger to you. I will do as you say; possibly I may be heard.'

"Baring his back, he said, 'Here, paint a fox on my back with this yellow earth. Let my head represent his head, let his forelegs go down on to my arms, and his hind legs on to my thighs. Make my head and back yellow, then take some powder and wet it, and darken the lower parts of his limbs and tail, and my nose and mouth, and take a little white earth and tip the tail.' I and my companions did as he told us. Then he said, 'Cross the valley, climb the hill; just over its brow wait for me, but mind, as you cross the valley and climb the hill, do not look back—remember that.' Then he held the pipe on high, and began to chant his invocation song, and thus we left him; nor did we look back as we ran across the valley, in which the buffalo were standing on both sides of us like a black wall. Climbing the hill, we went over its brow, and made a circle so as to command our track, and there waited. We were intensely anxious. By-and-bye we saw a stir among the buffalo in the valley, and then we discerned a small object coming on our track. It looked in the distance like a kit fox, then, when nearer, it appeared like an ordinary red fox. On it came at the gallop, and, keeping our track, climbed the hill, and was soon on its brow, and presently opposite to us. We were now in full view; then it saw us, and the Fox himself rose up, saying, 'Ah, you caught me in my other self.'

"We did not say anything, we were so astonished. The Fox walked over to us as if there were nothing the matter with him. His leg, which had been big and swollen, was now down to its usual size. He pulled down his legging and said to me, 'Here, lance this, and I will be all right.' Sure enough, there was a bag of matter on his knee, but the swelling was gone. So I took an arrow, sharpened the point, bound it around with string a little distance from the point, and with this lanced his knee, from which the matter poured forth. Then I made a ring of twisted grass, bound this over the wound, and we continued our journey. The Fox delayed us no more, and in a few days was entirely recovered."

Though well-nigh forty years have passed since the above experience, three out of the five actors are still living, and they say they must believe what they saw and felt.

Another of our friends was called "The-Camp-is-Moving." He would shake his powder-horn and it would never empty. Like the widow's cruse of oil, it would replenish. It was said he had but to sing and shake his horn, and powder came at his bidding.

Once "Mr. The-Camp-is-Moving" came to me at Pigeon Lake and begged for some shot. "You know," said he, "I am all right as to powder," giving his powder-horn a significant shake; and I ventured to say that it might be easier to make shot than powder, that if I could make powder I would try making shot also. "Ah, my grandchild," said the old man, "we must not be presuming. I am thankful it is given to me to make powder." After that what could I do but give him some shot. This same old man had a fashion of dying, or going into a trance, and to bring him out of this his brother conjurers had to gather to his tent, and bringing their drums and rattles, sing his own songs, which after a time would result in the old man's coming back to earth, when he would have wonderful things to tell his people. These men I have mentioned, and others widely differing from us in creed, were yet friendly and kind in their attitude to the members of our mission party.


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