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
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
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
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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