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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter V
Mr. Woolsey's ministrations—An exciting foot-race— Building operations—Gardening—Stolen buffalo tongues—Addled duck eggs as a relish—A lesson in cooking—A lucky shot—Precautions against hostile Indians.


WITH the opening spring Indians began to come in from the plains, and for several weeks we had hundreds of lodges beside us. Mr. Woolsey was kept busy holding meetings, attending councils, visiting the sick, acting as doctor and surgeon, magistrate and judge; for who else had these people to come to but the missionary? A number of them had accepted Christianity, but the majority were still pagan, and these were full of curiosity as to the missionary and his work, and keenly watching every move of the "praying man" and his party. The preacher may preach ever so good, but he himself is to these people the exponent of what he preaches, and they judge the Gospel he presents by himself. If he fails to measure up in manliness and liberality and general manhood, then they think there is no more use in listening to his teaching. Very early in my experience it was borne in upon me that the missionary, to obtain influence on the people, must be fitted to lead in all matters. If short of this, their estimate of him would be low, and their respect proportionately small, and thus his work would be sadly handicapped all through.

While Mr. Woolsey was constantly at work among the people, the rest of us were fencing and planting a field, whipsawing lumber, taking out timber up the river, and rafting it down to the mission, also building a house, and in many ways giving object lessons of industry and settled life to this nomadic and restless people.

It was at this time that I got a name for myself by winning a race. The Indians had challenged two white men to run against two of their people. The race was to be run from Mr. Woolsey's tent to and around another tent that stood out on the plain, and back home again—a distance in all of rather more than two-thirds of a mile. I was asked to be one of the champions of the white men, and a man by the name of McLean was selected as the other. Men, women, and children in crowds came to see the race, and Mr. Woolsey seemed as interested as any. The two Indians came forth gorgeous in breech-cloth and paint. My partner lightened his costume, but I ran as I worked.

At a signal we were away, and with ease I was soon ahead. When I turned the tent, I saw that the race was ours, for my partner was the first man to meet me, and he was a long distance ahead of the Indians. When within three hundred yards of the goal, a crack runner sprang out from before me. He had been lying in the grass, with his dressed buffalo-skin over him, and springing up he let the skin fall from his naked body, then sped away, with the intention of measuring his speed with mine. I had my race already won, and needed not to run this fellow, but his saucy action nettled me to chase him, and I soon came up and passed him easily, coming in about fifty yards ahead.

Thus I had gained two races, testing both wind and speed. That race opened my way to many a lodge, and to the heart of many a friend in subsequent years. It was the best introduction I could have had to those hundreds of aborigines, among whom I was to live and work for years.

A few weeks sufficed to consume all the provisions the Indians had brought with them, and a very large part of ours also; so the tents were furled, and the people recrossed the Saskatchewan, and, ascending the steep hill, disappeared from our view for another period, during which they would seek the buffalo away out on the plains.

We went on with our work of planting this centre of Christian civilization. Though we had visits from small bands, coming and going all summer, the larger camps did not return until the autumn. All this time we were living in skin lodges. Mr. Woolsey aimed at putting up a large house, in the old-fashioned Hudson's Bay type—a frame of timber, with grooved posts in which tenoned logs were fitted into ten-foot spans—and as all the work of sawing and planing had to be done by hand, the progress was slow. My idea was to face long timber, and put up a solid blockhouse, which could be clone so much more easily and quickly, and would be stronger in the end; but I was overruled, so we went on more slowly with the big house, and were smoked and sweltered in the tents all summer. However, taking out timber and rafting it down the river took up a lot of my time.

Then there was our garden to weed and hoe. One day when I was at this, we dined on buffalo tongue. Quite a number of these had been boiled to be eaten cold, and as our sleigh dogs were always foraging, it was necessary to put all food up on the stagings, or else the dogs would take it. As soon as I was through dinner I went back to my hoeing and weeding, but looking over at the tent, I saw Mr. Woolsey leaving it, and thought he must have forgotten to put those tongues away. As our variety was not great, I did not want the dogs to have these, so I ran over to the tent just in time to save them. I thought it would be well to make Mr. Woolsey more careful in the future; so, putting away the tongues, I scattered the dishes around the tent, and left things generally upset, as if a dozen dogs had been there, and then went back to my work, keeping a sharp watch on the tent.

When Mr. Woolsey came back he went into the tent, and very soon came out again shaking his fist at the dogs. Presently he shouted to me, "John, the miserable dogs have stolen all our tongues!"

"That is too bad," said I; "did you not put them away?"

"No, I neglected to," he answered. "I shall thrash every one of these thieving dogs."

Of course I did not expect him to do this, but at any rate I did not want to see him touch Draffan, my old leader, so I ran over to the tent, and could not help but laugh when I saw Mr. Woolsey catch one of the dogs, and, turning to me, say, "This old Pembina was actually licking his lips when I came back to the tent. I all but caught him in the act of stealing the tongues."

I can see old Pembina as he stood there looking very sheepish and guilty. Mr. Woolsey stood with one hand grasping the string, and with the other uplifted, holding in it a small riding whip; but just as he was about to bring it down, the expected relenting came, and he said, as he untied the dog, "Poor fellow, it was my fault, anyway." I let him worry over the thought that the tongues were gone until evening, when I brought them out, and Mr. Woolsey, being an Englishman, was glad they were saved for future use.

Our principal food that summer was pemmican, or dried meat. We had neither flour nor vegetables, but sometimes, for a change, lived on ducks, and again varied our diet with duck eggs. We would boil the large stock ducks whole, and each person would take one, so that the individual occupying the head of the table was put to no trouble in carving. Each man in his own style did his own carving, and picked the bones clean at that. Then, another time, we would sit down to boiled duck eggs, many a dozen of these before us, and in all stages of incubation. While the older hands seemed to relish these, it took some time for me to learn that an egg slightly addled is very much improved in taste.

Our horses often gave us a lot of trouble, because of the extent of their range, and many a long ride I had looking them up. On one of these expeditions I was accompanied by an Indian boy, and, having struck the track, we kept on through the thickets and around lakes and swamps, till, after a while, we became very hungry. As we had no gun with us, the question arose, how were we to procure anything for food? My boy suggested hunting for eggs. I replied, "We cannot eat them raw." "We will cook them," he answered. So we unsaddled and haltered our horses, and, stripping off our clothes, waded out into the rushes and grasses of the little lake we were then beside. We soon found some eggs, and while I made the fire, my companion proceeded with what, to me, was a new mode of cooking eggs. He took the bark off a young poplar, and of this made a long tube, tying or hooping it with willow-bark; then he stopped up one end with mud from the lake shore, and, as the hollow of the tube was about the diameter of the largest egg we had, he very soon had it full of eggs. Stopping up the other end also with mud, he moved the embers from the centre of the fire, laid the tube in the hot earth, covered it over with ashes and coals, and in a few minutes we had a deliciously-cooked lunch of wild duck eggs. I had learned another lesson in culinary science.

On another horse-hunt we found the track late in the day, and, following it up, saw that we must either go back to the mission for the night, or camp without provisions or blankets. The latter we could stand, as it was summer, but the former was harder to bear. While we were discussing what to do, we heard the calling of sand-hill cranes, and presently saw five flying at a distance from us. Watching them, we saw them light on the point of a hill about half a mile off. Laughingly, I said to my boy in Indian phraseology, "I will make sacrifice of a ball." So I got my gun-worm, drew the shot from my old flintlock gun, and dropped a ball in its place; and as there was no chance of a nearer approach to the cranes, I sighted one from where I stood, then elevated my gun, and fired. As we watched, we saw the bird fall over, and my boy jumped on his horse and went for our game. We then continued on the track as long as we could see it, and, as night drew on, pitched our camp beside some water, and made the crane serve us for both supper and breakfast. I might try a shot under the same conditions a hundred times more, and miss every time, but that one lucky hit secured to us a timely repast. and enabled us to continue on the trail of our horses, which we found about noon the next day.

We had to have lumber to make anything like a home for semi-civilized men and women to dwell in. In my humble judgment, the hardest labor of a physical kind one could engage in is dog-driving, and the next to that "whipsawing" lumber. I have had to engage in all manner of work necessary to the establishing of a settlement in new countries, but found nothing harder than these. I had plenty of the former last winter, and now occasionally try the latter, and, in the hot days of summer, find it desperately hard work.

In the midst of our building and manufacture of timber and lumber, rafting and hauling, fencing and planting, weeding and hoeing, every little while there would come in from the plains rumors of horse-stealing and scalp-taking. The southern Indians were coming north, and the northern Indians going south; and although we did not expect an attack, owing to our being so far north, and also because the Indian camps were between us and our enemies, nevertheless we felt it prudent to keep a sharp lookout, and conceal our horses as much as possible by keeping them some distance from where we lived. All this caused considerable riding and work and worry, and thus we were kept busy late and early.


 


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