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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter VIII
Provisions diminishing—A buffalo hunt organized—Oxen and Red River carts—Our "buffalo runners"—Meet with Maskepetoon— Maskepetoon shakes hands with his son's murderer—An Indian's strange vow— Instance of Indian watchfulness—"Who-Talks-Past-All-Things"—Come upon the buffalo—An exciting charge—Ki-you-ken-os races the buffalo—Peter's exciting adventure—Buffalo dainties—Return home —War parties—Indian curiosity—Starving Young Bull's "dedication feast "—Missionary labors.


DRIED meat and pemmican, with fowl and fish now and then, make very good food, but when you have no vegetables or flour to give variety, you are apt to become tired of them. Our garden on the new land had done very well, but it was a mere bite for the many mouths it had to fill. Our own party was large, and then every little while starving Indians and passing travellers would call, and these must be fed. There was no Hudson's Bay post nearer than Edmonton and no stores. The new mission, already in its first season, had become the house of refuge for quite a number, both red and white.

As near as I can remember, it was about the first of October that we organized our party for the plains. To do this there was a lot of work to be done in preparation—horses to hunt up, carts to mend, old axles to replace with new ones, harness to fix. We had one waggon. The rest of our vehicles were of the old Red River pattern, wood through and through, that screamed as it rolled. Some of these wanted new felloes, and others new spokes; another had a broken shaft. Then when all was ready we had the river to cross, and our only means of ferriage was a small skiff. This involved many trips, and when all the carts and our one waggon were over, then came the work of swimming our stock across. With the horses we had but little difficulty, but the oxen were loath to take the water, and we had to lead them over one by one. Then when all were across and hitched up, we had the big hill to pull up; for while the north bank of the Saskatchewan at this point has a naturally easy approach, the south bank is almost perpendicular. Even to-day, notwithstanding considerable grading, it is a bad hill, but at the time I write of we had to double up our teams to take a light cart to the summit.

Mr. Woolsey remained in charge of the mission. Father was captain of the hunting party, with Erasmus second in command. The rest of us were teamsters, or guards, or privates, as the need might be. On the second day out we met the vanguard of Maskepetoon's camp on their way to the mission. From them we learned the glad news that we might expect to find buffalo about the fifth day out, or possibly sooner.

Our rate of travel was governed by the oxen, but as we started very early and travelled late, we could cover a long distance in a day. In going out I drove the waggon and went ahead. Our "runners" ran and fed beside us as we travelled. Father and Peter were in the saddle, and drove up the loose stock, or were anywhere on the line of march as need might require.

The buffalo runners need especial mention. There was Peter's horse, a handsome little roan, full of spirit, and yet gentle and easy to manage. Then there was old "Ki-you-ken-os," a big bay that had evidently been stolen from the Americans to the south and had been brought into Edmonton by a Blackfoot, after whom the horse was named. Later on he had come into Mr. Woolsey's hands, and thus we had him with us. He was a fine animal, but altogether too impetuous and strong-mouthed to make a good buffalo horse. I saw him run away with father one day, and although father was an exceptionally strong man, he had to let him go; he could not stop him, pull as he might. Then there was my saddle-horse, "The Scarred Thigh," as the Indians called him, because a mad bull had torn him with his horn. A fine little sorrel he was, and an Al buffalo horse. These we seldom touched on the journey, except to give them a short run by way of exercise and to keep them in wind.

About the middle of the afternoon of the second day out, we met Maskepetoon himself. He was delighted to again see father, and said he would send some of his young men with us to help in the hunt, as also to help guard our camp and party. For this purpose the old gentleman got into my waggon and rode with me a mile or two, to where the Indians were that he wanted to send with us. As we drove on, we kept meeting Indians, and Maskepetoon told me who they were, and introduced me to several. Presently I saw an old man, of singular appearance, approaching, and I said to Maskepetoon, "Who is that?" But he, when he saw who it was, did not reply, but turned the other way, which I thought strange. The old man came up to my side of the waggon, and said: "I am glad to see you, young white man." So we shook hands; and he made as if he would shake hands with the man beside me, for I knew he did not recognize Maskepetoon, not expecting to see him in my waggon, and going this way. The chief still kept his face turned away. I saw, however, that after shaking my hand, the old man would also shake hands with my companion, so I nudged Maskepetoon and said, "This man wants to shake hands with you." Then the chief, as if jerking himself from under a weight or strain, turned and gave his hand to the old fellow, who, on recognizing him grasped his hand and uttered the Indian form of thanksgiving, doing this in solemn earnest.

It was some time before Maskepetoon spoke to me again: "John, that man killed my son, and I have often longed to kill him; but because I have wanted to embrace the Christian religion, I have with great effort kept from avenging my son's murder. I have never spoken to him or shaken hands with him until now. Meeting your father and sitting beside you has softened my heart, and now I have given him my hand. It was a hard thing to do, but it is done, and he need fear no longer so far as I am concerned."

Later on, I found out that the man we saw and Maskepetoon's son had gone across the mountains to trade horses from the Kootenays, and on the return trip the old man had killed his companion, and given out that he had been attacked by other Indians; but afterwards it was found out that he had done the foul deed himself. No wonder my friend felt strongly. Any man would in such a case. Rundle and Woolsey and Steinhauer had not preached in vain, when such evidence of the lodgment of the Gospel seed was so distinctly apparent.

Presently we came to the Indians Maskepetoon was in search of. He sent four with us— his son Joseph, his nephew Jack, a Blood man, and a Swamptree—fine fellows every one of them. Joseph was big, solid and staid—a man you could depend on. Jack was small, quick and wild—fond of war and given to excess. It was a long time before he gave up horse-stealing and polygamy. The Blood and the Swamptree were both typical wood and plain Indians, pagans still, but instinctively kind and well disposed. I had met all four several times during the previous year. They all had great respect for father, and would with alacrity seek to anticipate his wish while with us. The Blood man was under vows to his "familiar spirit," or "the one he dreams of," and one of the injunctions laid upon him was to give a whoop every little while, a very peculiar semi-peace, semi-war whoop. He said to me, in confidence, "John, you do not mind me, but I dare not make my whoop before your father. That is why I go away from camp now and then. I must whoop; it would choke me, kill me, if I did not." I told him to "whoop it up." I saw no harm in it, and the poor fellow was comforted.

As a sample of the trained watchfulness of the men, I must relate an incident that occurred on our journey. The Swamptree was riding in the waggon with father and myself. On the fourth day out we were passing through bluffs of timber, thickly dotting the prairie, when suddenly I saw the Swamptree string his bow and throw an arrow into position in a flash. So quickly did he do this that I was startled, and exclaimed, "What do you see back there?" The answer, "Men!" came in a quiet tone, almost a whisper. "Where?" I asked. "At that point of bushes is one," said he. Looking to where he indicated I caught the glint of an eye, and telling father, our guns were soon brought to bear on the crouching Indian, who, seeing he was discovered, rose, with his hand up. Our friend recognized him as a Cree, and behind him stood a noted character who went by the name of "Who-Talks-Past-All-Things." He had French blood, was a Roman Catholic, and spent most of his time around the Roman Catholic missions. He sometimes imagined himself to be the Pope, and very often officiated among the Indians as priest. He had come out this time with a team and waggon from the Roman Catholic mission at Big Lake for a load of fresh meat, and was now returning. He and his companion were camped for dinner on the other side of the bluff of timber. They had heard us coming, and were bound to make sure who we were before showing themselves.

They told us of buffalo, and we went on gladly; but as we were now outside of the Wood Oree camps we kept a sharp lookout for enemies, and a constant guard at night. The next day—the fifth out from the mission—we sighted buffalo, in "bunches" or bands, about noon. We had been seeing a few all morning, mostly bulls, but we were after cow meat, and about noon saw several bunches not far from us. The country was of a very rolling nature, and about half and half prairie and brush. Jack and Joseph and Peter and I saddled and made ready to run. Peter took Ki-you-ken-os and putting a big curb-bit in his mouth, I heard him say to the horse, "I will be bound to hold you with this." The rest of our party stayed with the carts.

We charged at the buffalo as they were running down the slope of a hill towards an opening between two dense thickets of timber. The last I saw of Peter was when two bands of buffalo were meeting in their mad rush for this opening, and old Ki-you-ken-os seemed deter- ruined to take the gap before them. Peter had his gun stuck in his belt, had hold of the double reins from the big curb-bit with both hands, and was pulling with all his might, mouth wide open, and eyes bulging out; but the old horse did not seem to heed either Peter or his bit—lie was running the buffalo a race for yonder gap. Peter and his horse were on the centre line of three converging forces: two bands of buffalo, perhaps two hundred in each, and Peter and his wild horse. I fully expected to see some buffalo killed by the collision, which was inevitable. I was terribly anxious for Peter. In a few moments the two herds came against each other. A moment later the horse and his rider were in the centre of the confused mass, and then all I could see was buffalo stampeding, and old Ki-you-ken-os leaping over and run- fling amongst the wild herd, which was now tightly jamming its way through the narrow prairie lane. Then dust and distance hid the scene from me.

This was my second run after buffalo. My first shot was a miss, and loading again I fired, only to miss again. I blamed badger-holes and brush and dust, but lack of experience was what did it. I had killed in my first race, but did not in my second. My horse was good, my gun, though single shot, was sure. It was my fault, and I felt it keenly. Peter also did not kill in that race—indeed, he was thankful, as was I, that he was not killed; but Joseph and Jack made up for it, and we were busy all the rest of the evening butchering and hauling in to where we camped for the night.

We were now in the short day and long night season, which in these northern latitudes is especially marked. Moreover the nights were cold, and we must have a big camp-fire. So we got well down between the bluffs, in order that the glare of our fire would be hidden as much as possible, and arranged our carts around the camp so that these would act as a kind of barricade in case of attack. Tying our oxen up to ruminate on the grass they had eaten this day, and fall back on the fat they had made during the summer, we tethered our horses close, and alternating on guard over them, the balance busied themselves around the camp, putting away the meat and cooking supper.

This latter process took hours to get through with, for everybody had his choice bit to roast. The cook for the evening would have a whole side of ribs swinging before the fire, and when these were cooked the ribs were parted along the whole length, and each man took one. When he had picked it clean he either turned his attention to his own independent roast, or took another rib. One had brought the head in, though generally when you took the tongue out you left the head for the wolves. Another had two or three fathoms of entrails, which he cleaned with fire, and then roasted, and cutting them up in lengths, passed these around to his friends. Another had a large piece of the stomach or tripe, which he also cleaned with fire, and relished as a favorite morsel. Still another was cracking marrow bones, and eating the marrow. Thus supper was prolonged far beyond the usual time. When those whose turn it was to sleep felt it was bed-time, we would sing a hymn, and father lead in prayer, then the bed-making began. With old hands this commenced by piling saddles and camp equipment, or logs of wood, behind the head and on each side of where you were going to sleep, for experience had taught these wary fellows that many a bullet and arrow had been stopped, or made to glance off, by such simple precautions. Fresh guards set, the rest lay down with clothes and moccasins on, so as to be ready to jump at any time, having carefully looked to arms before doing so.

The next day we finished loading up and started homewards, but had not gone far when one of the oxen, with his heavily loaded cart, ran foul of our waggon and broke one of its axles. Fortunately there were some birch trees about a couple of miles from us, and father and one of the Indians rode over, and brought two sticks capable of being made into axles. An accident of this kind under ordinary circumstances would be a small thing, but with our lack of tools it meant something to fit a waggon axle. However, Peter and father fixed it up, and on we went, travelling early and late, which, by the way, is no light work, but sometimes exceedingly hard on flesh and blood. To start out from your camp-fire long before daylight on a cold, frosty morning, and perhaps have to break the new-made ice on some creek by jump-. ing into it yourself in order to lead your carts safely across, and then to go on wet as well as cold—I say again, that this was felt to be very hard work by some of our party. Nevertheless, doing it, and keeping at it, we were back at the Saskatchewan on the thirteenth day from the start. Then we had to unload and take everything over in a small skiff, reload again and haul up to our staging, which at this season was a better place to keep the meat than in a store-house.

A great change had come over the place since we left. Hundreds of lodges now dotted the valley, and Mr. Woolsey and Maskepetoon had been very busy keeping the camp in order. A great many Plain Crees were here mixed up with our quieter Wood Crees, and war parties were coming and going all the time. Mother and my sisters, though among Indians for many years— in fact, the girls had spent all their lives among them—had never seen anything like this before. Men and women would crowd around the little temporary mission house, and in full savage costume, and with faces painted in divers colors, peer into the windows, and darken the door, and look with the greatest curiosity on the white woman and her children.

Paganism was rife. Conjuring and gambling were going on night and day. Dance feasts, and dog feasts, and wolf feasts, and new lodge dedication feasts were everyday occurrences. I was invited to join in one of the latter, by a Plain Cree, a warrior and a polygamist, and a dandy of the first circle, who had taken a fancy for me. His name was peculiar, and he, being a sleek and fine-looking fellow, most certainly belied it. "The Starving Young Bull" was the gentleman who honored me with an invitation to be present at the dedication feast of his new lodge, now about finished; and these new lodges were gorgeous things in their way. The twenty or more buffalo skins had been dressed soft and white as possible and then cut into shape by some pattern carried in the brain of one of the older women; then at a bee of women, where also a feast was provided, the skins were sewn together with the sinews of the buffalo, and when the new tent, tasseled with the tail of the same animal, was fully set, then the artist friends, or the proprietor himself, went to work to paint upon its outside walls the achievements of the warrior and hunter—scenes of plunder, blood, etc., military prowess, medicinal lore—so that in approaching a tent you could read the degree and dignity of the man you were about to visit.

I accepted Mr. Starving Young Bull's kind invitation, and was on hand at the time he had indicated. "Just as the day is departing," was the hour he fixed. There may have been forty or more guests. We sat in a ring around the tent. Each man had before him his own dish, which he had brought with him, and when these had been heaped up with buffalo dainties and dried berries, four old conjurers, who sat at the head of the tent, each dressed in accord with the instructions of the "spirit of his dream," now began the dedication service. First the oldest conjurer took the big medicine pipe, with the long stem. This had been previously filled, and as he solemnly held it in both hands, another with his knife placed a live coal on the contents of the pipe. This done, the old man pulled at it until it was fairly alight, and then held the stem heavenwards, at the same time muttering what to us were unintelligible sounds. Next he pointed the stem to the earth, then slowly moved it around with the sun, and taking another whiff or two, passed it to his fellow-conjurers, who each in turn took long pulls at the big pipe. After this the four took their sacred rattles and began to sing and incant, keeping time with the rattles. Then they all began to speak in an unknown language, or as it is literally translated, "using a different language." When through with this, the old man in the language of the people (which I could understand) offered up a prayer—or rather expressed a wish—"that this tent might be blessed; that "its occupants might be prospered; that the "owner, in his going out and coming in, whether for hunting or war, might be successful; that the kettles of the women of this tent might "always boil with plenty; that the pipe of the "owner might always be full;" all of which was responded to by the guests. Then we devoted ourselves to the feast, eating much or little as we chose, and taking home with us what we did not eat.

In the midst of all these old institutions and rites, which these people had been bred in for centuries, our missionaries were hard at work, sowing the seeds of a brighter and better faith. Meetings and councils followed each other in quick succession, and early and late father and Mr. Woolsey were busy preaching the Gospel of Christianity and civilization to these men to whom they had been sent. In all this they were nobly backed by Maskepetoon, and such men as Stephen, and his son Joseph, Thomas Woolsey—a fine fellow, to whom Mr. Woolsey had given his name—and others who had already experienced the religion of the Lord Jesus, and were going on to know more of it.


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