Saddle, Sled and
Snowshoe Chapter IV
Trip to Whitefish Lake—Mr.
Woolsey as a dog-driver— Rolling down a side hill—Another trip to
Edmonton—Mr. 0. B. as a passenger—Perils of travel by ice—Narrow
escape of Mr. 0. B.—A fraud exposed —Profanity punished—Arrival at
Edmonton—Milton and Cheadle—Return to Victoria.
SOME time in March, Mr.
Woolsey, wishing to confer with his brother missionary, Mr. Steinhauer,
concluded to go to Whitefish Lake, and to take the Steinhauer girls home at
the same time. He, moreover, determined to take the train of dogs Neils had
been driving, and drive himself; but as there had been no direct traffic
from where we were to Whitefish Lake, and as the snow was yet quite deep, we
planned to take our provision trail out south until we would come near to
the point where our road converged with one which came from Whitefish Lake
to the plains. This meant travelling more than twice the distance for the
sake of a good road, but even this paid us when compared with making a new
road through a forest country in the month of March, when the snow was deep.
We were about two and a half days making the trip, travelling about 130
miles, but, burdened as Ephraim and I were with three passengers, "the
longest way round proved the shortest way home."
Mr. Woolsey was not a good
dog-driver. He could not run, or even walk at any quick pace, so he had to
sit wedged into his cariole, from start to finish, between camps, while I
kept his train on the road ahead of mine; for if he upset— which he, often
did—he could not right himself, and I had to run ahead and fix him up. His
dogs very soon got to know that their driver was a fixture on the sled, and
also that I was away behind the next train and could not very well get at
them because of the narrow road, and the great depth of snow on either side
of it. However, things reached a climax when we were passing through a
hilly, rolling country on the third morning of our trip. Those dogs would
not even run down hill fast enough to keep the sleigh on its bottom, and I
had to run forward and right Mr. Woolsey and his cariole a number of times.
Presently, coming to a side hill, Mr. Woolsey, in his sled, rolled over and
over, like a log, to the foot of the slope.
There, fast in the cariole,
and wedged in the snow, lay the missionary. The lazy dogs had gently
accommodated themselves to the rolling of the sled, and also lay at the foot
of the hill, seemingly quite content to rest for awhile.
Now, thought I, is my chance,
and without touching Mr. Woolsey or his sled, I went at those dogs, and in a
very short time put the fear of death into them, so that when I spoke to
them afterwards they jumped. Then I unravelled them and straightened them
out, and rescuing Mr. Woolsey from his uncomfortable position, I spoke the
word, and the very much quickened dogs sprang into their collars as if they
meant it, and after this we made better tune.
Mr. and Mrs. Steinhauer were
delighted to have their daughters home, and also glad to have a visit from
our party. We spent two very pleasant days with these worthy people, who
were missionaries of the true type. Going back I hitched my own dogs to Mr.
Woolsey's cariole, and thus kept him right side up with much less trouble,
and also made better time back to Smoking Lake.
With the approach of spring
we prepared to move down to the river. We put up a couple of stagings, also
a couple of buffalo-skin lodges, in one of which Mr. Woolsey and Mr. 0. B.
took up their abode, while the rest of our party kept on the road, bringing
down from the old place our goods and chattels, lumber and timber, etc. As
the days grew warmer, we who were handling dogs had to travel most of the
time in the night, as then the snow and track were frozen. While the snow
lasted we slept and rested during the warm hours of the day, and in the cool
of the morning and evening, and all night long, we kept at work transporting
our materials to the site of the new mission. The last of the season is a
hard time for the dog- driver. The night-work, the glare or reflection of
the snow, both by sun and moonlight; the subsidence of the snow on either
side of the road, causing constant upsetting of sleds; the melting of the
snow, making your feet wet and sloppy almost all the time; then the pulling,
and pushing, and lifting, and walking, and running,—these were the
inevitable experiences. Indeed, one had to be tough and hardy and willing,
or he would never succeed as a traveller and tripper in the "great lone
land" in those days.
The snow had almost
disappeared, and the first geese and ducks were beginning to arrive, when
suddenly one evening Mr. Steinhauer and Peter Erasmus turned up, en route to
Edmonton; and Mr. Woolsey took me to one side and said, "John, I am about
tired of Mr. O. B. Could you not take him to Edmonton and leave him there.
You might join this party now going there."
In a very few hours I was
ready, and the same night we started on the ice, intending to keep the river
to Edmonton. The night was clear and cold, and for some time the travelling
was good; but near daylight, when about thirty miles on our way, we met an
overflow flood coming down on top of the ice. There must have been from
sixteen to eighteen inches of water, creating quite a current, and as we
were on the wrong side of the river it behoved us to cross as soon as
possible, and go into camp. There was a thick scum of sharp float ice on the
top of the flood, about half an inch thick. When I drove my dogs into the
overflow they had almost to swim, and the cariole, notwithstanding I was
steadying it, would float and wobble in the current. Unfortunately, as the
cold water began to soak into the sled, and reached my passenger, Mr. 0. B.,
he blamed me for it, and presently began to curse me roundly, declaring I
was doing it On purpose. All this time I was wading in the water and keeping
the sled from upsetting; but when he continued his profanity I couldn't
stand it any longer, so just dumped him right out into the overflow and went
on. However, when I looked back and saw the old fellow staggering through
the water, and fending his legs with his cane from the sharp ice, I returned
and helped him ashore, but told him I would not stand any more swearing.
We then climbed the bank on
the north side, and had to remain there for two days till the waters
subsided. About eight o'clock the second night the ice was nearly dry, and
frozen sufficiently for us to make a fresh start. We proceeded up the river,
picking our way with great care, for there were now many holes in the ice,
caused by the swift currents which had been above as well as beneath for the
last two days. My passenger never slept, but sat there watching those holes,
and dreading to pass near them, constantly afraid of drowning—in fact, I
never travelled with anyone so much in dread of death as he was.
Morning found us away above
Sturgeon River, and as the indications pointed to a speedy "break up," we
determined to push on. Presently we came to a place where the banks were
steep and the river open on either side. The ice, though still intact in the
middle, was submerged by a volume of water running nearly crossways in the
river. Some of our party began to talk of turning back, but as we were now
within twenty-five miles of Edmonton, I was loath to return with my old
passenger, so concluded to risk the submerged ice-bridge before us. I told
Mr. O. B. to get out of the cariole; then I fastened two lines to the sled,
took hold of one myself, and gave him the other, telling him to hang on for
dear life if he should break through. I then drove my dogs in. Away they
went across, we following at the end of the lines, stepping as lightly as we
could, and as the dogs got out on the strong ice they pulled us after them.
Having crossed, I set to work
to wring out the blankets and robes in the cariole, Mr. O. B. looking on. At
the bottom there was a parchment robe—that is, an undressed hide. This I
said, I would not take any further, as it was comparatively useless anyway,
but now, soaked and heavy, it was an actual encumbrance.
"You will take it along,"
said Mr. O. B.
"No, I will not," said I; but
as there was good ice as far as I could see ahead, I told him to go on, and
that I would overtake him as soon as I was through fixing the things in the
sled. Reluctantly he started, and by-and-by when I came to the hide I found
it so heavy that I did as I said I would, and pitched it into the stream.
When I came up with Mr. 0. B., instead of stepping into the cariole, he
turned up everything to look for the hide, and, not finding it, began to
rave at me, using the foulest and most blasphemous language.
I merely looked at him and
said, "Get in, or I will leave you here." He saw I was in earnest, and got
into the sled in no good humor, and on we drove; but as I ran behind I was
planning some punishment for the old sinner, who had posed as such a saint
while with Mr. Woolsey.
Very soon everything came as
if ready to hand for my purpose. As we were skirting the bank we came to a
place where the ice sloped to the current, and just there the water was both
deep and rapid. Here I took a firm grip of the lines from the back of the
cariole, and watching for the best place, shouted to the dogs to increase
their speed. Then I gave a stern, quick "Chuh I" which made the leader jump
close to the edge of the current, and as the sled went swinging down the
sloping ice, I again shouted "Whoa!" and down in their tracks dropped my
dogs. Out into the current, over the edge of the ice, slid the rear end of
the cariole. Mr. O. B. saw he dare not jump out, for the ice would have
broken, and he would have gone under into the strong current. There he sat,
his eyes bulging out with fear as he cried, "For God's sake, John, what are
you going to do?" while I stood holding the line, which, if I slackened,
would let him into the rapid water, from which there seemed to be no earthly
means of rescue.
After a while I said, "Well,
Mr. O. B., are you ready now to apologize for, and take back the foul
language you, without reason, heaped on me a little while since?" And Mr. O.
B., in most abject tones and terms, did make ample apology. Then slackening
the line a little, I let the sled flop up and down in the current, and
finally accepted his apology on condition that he would behave himself in
the future. My dogs quickly pulled him out of his peril, and on we went.
Presently we were joined by Mr. Steinhauer and Peter, who had gone across a
point, they having light sleds, which enabled them to make their way for a
short distance on the bare ground.
We reached Edmonton that
evening, and I was glad to transfer my charge to some one else's care. I was
not particular who took him, for, like Mr. Woolsey, I was tired of the old
The Chief Factor said to me
that evening, "So you brought Mr. O. B. to Edmonton. You will have to pay
ten shillings for every day he remains in the Fort."
"Excuse me, sir," I answered,
"I brought him to the foot of the hill, down at the landing, and left him
there. If he comes into the Fort I am not responsible."
Shortly after this Lord
Milton and Dr. Cheadle came along en route across the mountains, and Mr. O.
B. joined their party. If any one should desire more of his history, these
gentlemen wrote a book descriptive of their journey, and in this our hero
appears. I am done with him, for the. present at any rate.
Spring was now open, the snow
nearly gone, and we had to make our way back from Edmonton as best we could.
I cached the cariole, hired a horse, packed him with my dog harness,
blankets, and food, and thus reached Victoria, which father had designated
as the name of the new mission. My dogs, having worked faithfully for many
months, and having travelled some thousands of miles, sometimes under most
trying circumstances, were now entering upon their summer vacation. How they
gambolled and ran and hunted as they journeyed. homeward!
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