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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 fraud.

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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