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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XXII
Another buffalo hunt—Visit Maskepetoon's camp—The old chief's plucky deed—Arrival of a peace party from the Blackfeet—A "peace dance"—Buffalo in plenty—Our mysterious visitor—A party of Black- feet come upon us—Watching and praying—Arrive home with well-loaded sleds—Christmas festivities.


THERE had been no attempt to make a fishery that fall, and as our stock of meat was now growing small, father thought I had better go out to the plains and see how things were among the Indians, and if possible bring in a supply of meat. Accordingly, very soon after coming from Pigeon Lake, I arranged a party for this purpose. Old Joseph, whom the reader will have become familiar with, and a young Indian named "Tommy" went with me. We had four trains of dogs, the Indians one each while I had two, for I was taking "Maple" and her pups for their first "business" trip. James Connor also came with us on his own account.

The third day out we came to Maskepetoon's camp, and found the Indians full of another of the old Chief's plucky deeds. During the late fall and early winter, the Blackfeet had become exceedingly troublesome. They were continually harassing the Wood Cree camp, until at last Maskepetoon determined to go with a party to the Blackfeet camp to arrange, if possible, a temporary peace which might last over the winter months, and thus give the Crees an opportunity to make robes and provisions for trade and home use. As winter advanced the buffalo had come north rapidly, and the Blackfeet tribes had of necessity to follow them. Fearful destitution had been the result to some of the large camps. They had eaten their dogs and begun upon their horses before they reached the south fringe of the large herds that were moving north into the rich and well-sheltered areas of the Saskatchewan country.

It was well known in Maskepetoon's camp that the Blackfeet were in strength not more than one hundred miles south, and that the Bloods and Piegans were within easy distance beyond them; but Maskepetoon had great faith in his record with these people, and at the head of a small party he set out to patch up a peace, even if it should be but short-lived. While on this expedition his little party was charged upon by a strong body of Blackfeet who were coming north on the war-path. Such was their number and the vigor and dash of their charge that, as they drew near, Maskepetoon's little company fled, all but himself and his grandson, a boy some fifteen or sixteen years of age. These alone stood the wild onslaught of their enemies. The veteran chief and the noble boy of like heroic blood stood like statues "when all but they had fled." Maskepetoon calmly put his hand in his bosom and took out his Cree Testament, and then coolly fixing on his glasses, opened and began to read. The grandson, in relating to us the incident afterwards, said, "There was no tremor in his voice; it was as if grandfather was reading to us in the quiet of his own tent."

In the meantime the Blackfeet came on apace, and hoping to take their victims alive, refrained from* firing a gun or speeding an arrow. Then they saw the majestic old man, indifferent to them, engaged in looking into something he held in his hand: "What manner of man is this?" "What is he doing?" "What is that he is holding in his hands?" They had seen flint-lock guns, and flint and steel-shod arrows, and battle-axes and scalping knives in men's hands under similar circumstances, but they had never beheld a New Testament. Thunderstruck they paused in the midst of their wild rush, and stared in utter astonishment. Presently the elders amongst them said to one another in whispers, "It is Mon-e-guh-ba-now" (the Young Chief), and then they began to shout, " Mon-e-guh-ba-now! " and this grand old man (for, blessed be the Lord, no nation or place has a monopoly of the qualities of true manhood) quietly looked up and in response to their shout, replied, "Yes, I am Mon-e-guh-ba-now." Then they rushed upon him with joy, and their leader, embracing him, said: "Our hearts are glad to make peace with you, Mon-e-guh-ba-now. You are a brave man. I am proud and glad to be the leader of a party that meets you thus. What is that you hold in your hand?" Maskepetoon told him that it was the word of the "Great Spirit," and the Blackfoot warrior said, "That explains your conduct. It is His will that we should meet as brothers to-day." And there on the snow-covered plain, these men, who by heredity and life-long habit were deadly enemies, smoked and talked and planned for peace. It was arranged that each party should return to their own people, and that if the Black-feet desired peace they should send an embassy to the Cree camp; Maskepetoon giving his word as a guarantee for the safety of those who might be sent on this embassage.

This had occurred a few days before our arrival in camp, and the Blackfeet were looked for at any time. Sure enough, we were hardly settled in Muddy Bull's hospitable lodge, when a scout reached camp, and announced that a party of Blackfeet were in sight. This threw the camp into a state of great excitement, and speculation was rife as to whether Maskepetoon would be able to make good his promise of safety. There were hundreds in that camp who lusted and thirsted for the blood of these men; many a boy or girl who had lost a father or mother or both; many a woman who had lost lover or husband; many parents who had lost their children at the hands of the people represented by these men who were now approaching camp. Many of these felt down in their hearts that this would be a fine opportunity to slake some of their thirst for revenge. Maskepetoon knew this full well. He at once sent his son out to meet the embassy, and attend them into camp, and in the meantime arranged his trusted men all through the camp to be ready to forestall any outbreak of frenzied hate.

I ran out to see the incoming of the Blackfeet. Young Maskepetoon had arranged an escort. These men were on horseback, and ranged on either side of the Blackfeet, who were on foot. The latter were seven in number, big, fine- looking fellows, but one could see that they were under a heavy strain, and that it needed all their will power to nerve them up to the occasion. With regular and solemn step, in single file, they came, and as they walked they sang what I supposed was intended for a peace song. Young Maskepetoon took them straight to his father's lodge, and at once it was arranged to hold a reception meeting and a "peace dance."

It was now evening, and at supper I enquired of old Joseph what he thought of my attending this dance. He said he was not going himself, but he thought Maskepetoon would like to have me there, and that I had better go and see for myself, so as to learn all I could about the Indians, for only in this way would I get to understand them. Accordingly, when the drums beat to announce the dance, I went, and was given a seat between Maskepetoon and the Blackfeet. Two large lodges had been put together to make room, but the main body of the company looked on from the outside.

After a few short speeches the dancing began. Four men drummed and sang, and an Indian sprang into the ring, between the fire and the guests, leaped, jumped and whooped with great spirit, and presently gave his blanket to one of the Blackfeet. Then another did likewise, except that he varied the gift. This time it was his beaded shot-pouch and powder-horn, and strings also. Each one, it would seem, had his own peculiar dance. Then another would leap into the ring with several articles, and as he danced to the strong singing and vigorous drumming of the orchestra, he would give to a Blackfoot his contributions to this peace meeting. Then the drummers ceased for a little and the conductor shouted out: "The Sloping Bank is strong for peace. He had but one blanket, and he has given that." "The Red Sky Bird means what he says. He had but one gun, and he has given that." And again the leader tapped his drum, and the orchestra burst forth, and another and another dancer took the floor. Then a couple of young fellows, in fantastic costume, gave us the "buffalo dance," and did some tall jumping, such as would have pleased one of those "highly cultured audiences" in one of our eastern cities.

Presently my friend Mr. Starving Young Bull (the gentleman who had honored me with an invitation to the dedication feast in his new lodge), took the floor. He was no small man, this Mr. Starving Young Bull. He had several new blankets on his shoulders, and a brand-new flint-lock gun in his hand, and as he danced and whooped and kept time to the furious drumming, he gave his gun to one of the Blackfeet as he whirled past him, and again gave one of the new blankets to another, and so on until he had spent all his gifts and strength and sat down
,
naked and tired, while the chief singer shouted out his name, and said, "The Starving Young Bull is a great man. He dances well and long. He goes in for peace strongly. He has given all his blankets and is naked; he has given his one gun, and is without arms himself," and the crowd sent up a chorus of applause which my friend drank in and was pleased, as many another man has been when the crowd cheered.

The Blackfeet also in turn danced, and gave presents of what they had, and thus the peace dance went on. Long before it ended, however, I had slipped away to our camp and retired to rest, as we had travelled some distance that day and expected to travel farther on the morrow. We had heard of buffalo coming in from the south-east, and the Indians were waiting for them to pass on to the north, when they hoped to build pounds, and thus slaughter them wholesale. We promised to go around the head of the approaching herds, and not interfere with the projected plan. This would give us a longer trip, but it was the right thing to do.

The next day we travelled through a wild storm, and camped in the rolling hills, which in that part of the country are seemingly without number. The next day the storm still raged, but on we travelled, and about noon came upon the buffalo. Killing a couple, we camped, and waited for a lull in the weather, which came that night. Next morning (Saturday) the sky was clear and the weather cold and crisp, but Tommy and I succeeded in killing enough buffalo to load and furnish provisions for men and dogs. That afternoon I made a chance shot, and killed a fine cow at a very long range with my smoothbore gun. She fell dead in her tracks, and when we butchered the animal, we failed to find where the ball had struck; but later, when Joseph was arranging the head to roast by our camp fire, he found that my ball had entered the ear.

We moved camp into a bluff of timber about the centre of our "kill," and while Joseph and Jim made camp and chopped and carried wood, Tommy and I hauled in the meat, which work kept us busy until near midnight. Then we had to stage it up and freeze it into shape for our narrow dog-sleds, as also in the interim keep it away from the dogs. Fortunately there was fine moonlight to aid us in our labor. Joseph worked like a good fellow at packing in logs to our woodpile, until the stars told him it was midnight and Sunday morning had begun. The night was one of keen cold, and the crisp snow creaked as the buffalo, either in herds or singly, passed to the windward of our camp. Scores of wolves and coyotes barked and howled around us. Every little while our dogs would make a short rush at some of these that ventured too near, and yet we were so tired that not buffalo nor wolves nor the possibility of strange Indians being near, nor yet the severe cold of our open camp, upon which gusts of wintry wind ever and anon played, could deter us from sleeping on into the clear frosty Sabbath morning which all too soon came upon us.

We made up our fire, cooked our food, sang some hymns, joined in prayer, with old Joseph leading, then thawed some meat and cut it up into morsels to feed our dogs. Alternately toasting or freezing as we sat or stood before that big camp-fire, which in turn we replenished and stirred and poked, we passed the morning hours. About noon the wind again blew up into a storm, and soon clouds of snow were swirling in every direction. We, in the comparative shelter of our carefully picked camp, were congratulating ourselves on the storm, for would it not cover our tracks, which diverged and converged to and from our temporary home for miles on every side, and had been as a big "give away" to any roaming band of hostile men. We were rather glad to hear the soughing and gusting of the wild winds, for there seemed to come with these a strange sense of security which was comforting. But alas for merely human calculation, even then the wily Black feet were closing in on us. We were just sitting down to our dinner when, with a weird, strange chanting song there came in out of the storm into the shelter of the camp a tall, wild-looking Blackfoot. We knew he was not alone. We knew that even then each one of us was covered by the gun or shod-arrow of his companions. Right across from us, beside our camp-fire, this strange Indian, without looking at us, sang on. I looked at my companions. Tommy was pale; Jim was white. Like myself, each was grasping his gun with one hand. I could not see myself, but I could feel my heart-beats, and it seemed as if my hair was lifting under my cap. It was a great stimulator to turn to Joseph, who was coolly eating his dinner. Not a muscle changed. Not the faintest appearance of a change of blood showed in his face. Like the stolid philosopher he was, he continued his meal.

The Blackfoot, having finished his song, made a short speech. Not a word all this time was uttered on our side. In silence (save for the sound of Joseph crunching his meat) we sat,— verily, for three in the party it was a solemn time. Then our visitor, having finished his harangue, disappeared as he came, and I said to Joseph, who understood the language, "What did he say?" Old Joseph swallowed a mouthful of meat, cleared his throat, and said: "He says there are many of them; their hearts arc for peace, and they will come into our camp."

Presently they did come, some forty in all. Ten to one they stood around us, and I told them, through Joseph, about their friends we had met in Maskepetoon's camp, and how they had been treated; that the people in the north were all for peace; that it was our work to teach all men that peace and brotherhood was the right thing; that if they wished to camp beside us, we would share our meat with them; that the reason we were not travelling was this was the "God day," and we did not travel or hunt on that day; that the Indians who were with me were the near friends of Mon-e-guh-banow, and that Mon-e-guh-ba-now was my personal friend. Then the leader spoke up and said: "We also are for peace. We will camp beside you for to-night. We will not eat your meat. My young men will kill for us. We are glad to hear what you have to say about peace." Then he spoke to his following, and one went out into the storm, and the others went to work clearing away the snow and carrying in wood, and presently they had a big camp arranged within a few feet of ours.

In the meantime, through Joseph, I was holding intercourse with the two or three older ones who sat beside our fire. Soon their hunter came in, and six or seven followed him out. In an incredibly short time back they came loaded, and the whole crowd was in a short while busy roasting and eating the rich buffalo meat.

While all this was going on I could not help but reason as to why these men acted as they now did. A few months since, and they would have killed us. A few months hence, and they would do the same. Now the hard winter, the northerly trend of the buffalo, Maskepetoon's brave act—all this might and certainly did influence them; but so many do not think that far ahead of or around their present. Are these men moodish? Is this a peace mood? Are human passions subject to cycles? Is this the dip or the arch in the cycle influencing these men even against themselves to seek peace? How easily they could have killed us just now; forty to four, and fully half of these bigger than any of us. Do they want our guns and clothes, our blankets and ammunition? For less than this they have planned and killed many times ere this. What prevents them now? Is the hand of the Lord upon them? Has He a work for us to do? Are we immortal till that work is done, as this affects our present being? Ah! how fast one can think under pressure of circumstances.

I watched those men. I tried to look beyond the paint and the feathers and the manner of their actions. I mentally photographed them, in groups and individually, and thus the long hours dragged on, as the Sabbath evening had lost its rest for us. Then one of them, who had stuck close to our camp for hours, suddenly revealed the fact that he could speak Cree well. I was glad then that none of us had said anything that might in any way reflect on these men, for undoubtedly he had watched for this. After he had spoken I questioned him and answered his questioning until late at night.

When the Blackfeet began to stretch around the camp-fire, we did the same; but with the exception of Joseph (who snored) none of our company slept. At midnight we were astir, and harnessing our dogs, we took the meat down from our staging, and loaded our sleds, all the time watching our strange companions. There were three of us, in our party of four, who certainly in the letter carried out the first part of the injunction, "Watch and pray." Perhaps our prayer that night took the shape of constant watching.

We ate and watched, we lay down and watched; we got up and ate, harnessed our dogs, loaded our sleds, and prepared to start, watching all the time. The Blackfeet stirred as soon as we did, and about two hours and a half after midnight we each took our own course. Ours was straight for yonder northern mission. Our friends went I knew not whither.

With heavy loads we had to pick our way through the many hills. I sent Tommy ahead, my own veteran train was second in the line, then the pups. Joseph came after me with his and Tommy's trains, and Jim brought up the rear. Many an upset the alternately hard and soft drifts caused us, and very often Joseph and I had to strain in righting those heavy loads of frozen meat. The first two days we had no road, and our progress was slow. Then we struck a hunting trail from Maskepetoon's camp. This helped us, and following it we made better time. Then we left it and again went across country, leaving the camp to our left and coming out on the trail leading to the mission. We camped for the last night about forty-five miles from home. Starting out from this about two in the morning, we left Jim in the camp, and the last I saw of him for that trip was, as I drove my team away into the darkness he was running around catching his dogs. Before dark we were at the mission, and Jim came in sometime the next day.

Our arrival was hailed with satisfaction, for we brought with us meat, and this told of buffalo being within reach. Then the reports we brought of the Indians we had met were gratifying. Father and mother were delighted to hear about Maskepetoon and how he brought about peace, for the present at least. Then to have our little party together again, especially as Christmas was near, was extremely pleasing.

Our community at this time was made up of the mission party, the Hudson's Bay Company's postmaster and some employees, Mr. Connor and his son Jim. Besides these there were always some Indians camping near, coming and going. Peter had kept at the saw, and the lumber-pile was growing. Larsen was busy all the time making necessary furniture, and preparing material for the church which we hoped to build in the coming spring.

Thus the holidays came upon us in 1864 on the banks of the big Saskatchewan, far from the busy haunts of men, cut off from mails and telegrams and newspapers and a thousand other things men hold dear; yet in our isolation and frequent discomfort and privation we were happy. As father would now and then tell us, we were "path-finders" for multitudes to follow; we were foundation builders of empire; we were forerunners of a Christian civilization destined to hallow and bless many homes, and we were exalted with the dignity and honor of our position, and humbly thanked God for it.

Christmas found us all well, and our service, and the dinner and the games and drives which followed, though unique, were full of pleasant excitement. We had no organ or choir, but we all sang. We had no church, but the log shanty was as the vestibule of heaven. Our preacher was not robed in broadcloth, nor yet was he graced with linen collar, but his speech came with unction and power, and had in it the charm of a natural eloquence which stirred our hearts and stimulated our minds, and made us see before us grand ideals, towards which we felt we would fain strive.

We had no roast beef nor pumpkin pie, nor plates of tempting fruit, but we had buffalo boss and tongue, and beaver tail, and moose nose, and wild cat, and prairie chicken, and rabbits, and backfats, and pemmican. We were fairly lost in the variety of this one-class food. We had no flashing cutters nor gaudily harnessed horses, but we had fast and strong dog teams, and we improvised carioles and had some wild driving over hill and dale. We ran foot races and snowshoe and dog-train races. We played football and made this part of the Saskatchewan valley ring with our shouting and fun. Mr. Steinhauer came over and joined us on New Year's Day, and entered into the sports with all the ardor of youth. In the intervening days we made short trips for saw-logs and lumber, and helped to haul home hay and wood. In this way we combined pleasure and profit, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.


 


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