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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XI
Determine to build—Sawpits erected—Finish our fort—Kept alert all night by Blackfeet—Start for Edmonton—Old buffalo trails our bridle path.


It was now late in November. We wanted shelter and as much safety as possible. We knew that the nearer the woods we were the safer we should be from the plains Indians. After riding a goodly number of miles, we came back to camp, determined to pull up into the hills on the north side, and build on the bank of a beautiful little spring lake. Here we would be in the timber, and still on the edge of the plains. Tuesday morning we guided our company up from the valley and camped upon the spot, where it was very doubtful in the minds of many of our friends that we should be able to hold out for very long. Our Stoney friends camped in our vicinity for a few days, and we were kept busy with these in counsel and meetings. We hoped that they would become our firm allies, and eventually, through them, we would gain influence over the other tribes.

In the meantime we laid out our fort, and apportioned to each one their part therein. I took for my men and self two sides of the square, my brother one 'side, and the people who came with us the other. All hands went to work at once to build their portion—solid walls on the outside and small parchment windows, and all doors on the inside.

By Tuesday evening foundations were laid, and the next day sawpits were erected and building and making lumber by whipsaw were going on with a rush. As stoves were not in vogue at the time, we had to build chimneys. I was the sole owner of a cook-stove, and this was my first. Thirteen years in the North-West without a stove!

I built the chimney in our own quarters, and was glad, when finished, to find it a great success. We levelled the ground in the kitchen end of our house and put the cook-stove up there, and we floored the other half of the big room with the new sawn lumber, and partitioned that part about two-thirds of the way across, and did all this so that, on the following Tuesday, just one week from our camping on the spot, Mrs. McDougall moved in from the smoky lodge into our new home at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. She then held the distinguished honor of being the only white woman in all this big region.

During the first week some Blackfeet came to us. They would not have dared to do this if they did not rely on our influence to keep the peace between them and the Stoneys; and in this we were somewhat encouraged, for it showed what these people thought. However, it took some tact and diplomacy to keep things quiet. To work hard all day and be on the alert all night; to feel that at any moment the war whoop may sound is a state and condition that is hard on the nerves and makes one wish for a change.

At the end of two weeks our fort was finished, and all our folk safely housed inside its walls. The majority of the Stoneys had gone south, and more of another band had come in from the North. These were of my friend Jacob's band. By this time our larder was well-nigh empty. Our pemmican and fresh buffalo meat did not last long, for we were a people practically of one diet, and now, with our fort built, we could divide our forces, and half of these go out on to the plains for meat.

While we were building our fort, our horses were being guarded between us and the mountains. These were now brought in, and we selected those we wanted and sent the others back; and away we went in search of food and to look up the wandering herds. Our third day out we came to buffalo, and were fortunate in finding cows at once, and the kill began.

We took a circle to the north, and came to the point of timber near the Lone Pine, east of where the town of Olds now is situated. It was here I had a double fall. I charged a bunch of cows and calves and came up to them splendidly. The snow was pretty general, and in places in deep drifts. I had shot, a cow, and was pressing my horse after another, when he lost his feet in a badger hole, and fell, and sent me head first into a snowdrift. When I scrambled up and out of this and got my face and eyes free from the snow, my horse was getting on to his feet also; but where was my gun? Hurriedly looking around, I saw a hole in the drift which looked as if my gun might have gone in there; so I began a vigorous kicking in the snow, and after a considerable search my feet struck the gun. This I grabbed, and, jumping on to my horse, sent him after the herd. These were now quite a distance away; but my horse was a splendid fellow, and, while he was rushing after our game, I was taking the snow out of my gun. To do this, I had to take the cleaning-rods out of the gun stock and screw them together, and then with this work the snow out of the barrel. All this had to be done with bare hands, and the temperature was away down below zero.

Having cleaned my gun, I now drove after the buffalo, and, coming up, shot one, and, pumping in another cartridge, was about to shoot again, when, for the second time, away went my horse's legs from under him; this time it was not on a soft bed of snow, but on the summit of a small hill on the prairie, and hard-frozen, upon which we fell, and I went bounding on for several yards before I reached the end of the momentum of the fall.

When we got up, my horse and I, from that tumble, we looked at each other, and mutually concluded we would not run any more buffalo for that day. We were both stiff and sore, and by the time I had the meat of my two cows into camp that night I was both sick and tired. When we were fully loaded, we were about forty miles from our home, and my brother suggested that I go on to the fort. We had the two Englishmen with us, and one of them signified his desire to go on with me. We nooned with the party and then left them. I felt anxious about Ghost River, and kept the old standard gait up in order, if possible, to cross it before dark; but my companion hung on behind, and notwithstanding all my mild or wild exhortations, began to show signs of playing out, and I could not rush on and leave him; so it was long after dark when we came to the Ghost, and, with some extra trouble and considerable danger, got across through its ice and currents. Then up the dark valley for six miles; then back into the big foothills for another three miles; and oh, how that weak-willed sinner of a white man worried me. Twice I lost him in the valley, and again, after a lot of anxiety and hunting, found the fellow. At last I lost patience and drove him, horse and man, before me, and for a little time he went up through the thick darkness of the valley at a tremendous speed. Then my heart softened, and I slowed up out of pity for the tenderfoot, and again, when within a quarter of a mile from the fort, I had to gallop back and rouse up this sluggish degenerate. I knew very well there would be no sleep for me if I was not sure of his arrival. Thus, really, it was pure selfishness on my part which made me so solicitous about my fellow; and I am afraid that this is after all at the bottom of a good many of our apparently good and philanthropic actions.

With these loads of meat in our storehouses, and with our fort in good shape, we felt easier for the present, and were thankful.

All this time some straggling Indians had been camped in our vicinity. Some had been sick, and while I was away on the hunt Mrs. McDougall looked after my patients. One of these was the wife of an eccentric, who went by the long name of "Who Follows on the Trail," or "Now-wa-yema-shees." This woman had been sick for a long time, but our treatment seemed to fit, and she was now convalescing fast. As the camp to which this family belonged had gone south some time -since, this family started to live out the name of the head thereof, and follow on the trail. They had but two horses in the party, and when some three or four days south the Blackfeet ran these off; and now Mr. "Who Follows on the Trail" was strapped, or, as he would describe himself, "was like a moulting duck." However, he did not sit down and weep; nay, verily, he moved by dint of heavy packing his wife and children and their belongings into a hidden spot nearer the mountains, and then set off alone to interview the Blackfeet. This he did to the tune of twelve horses, and, running these up to the mountains, picked up his family and went on his way rejoicing. 'Coming up to the large camp, old Bear's Paw, the chief, enquired of the trailer: "How is this? You had but two horses when we left you? Where did you find the other ten?" Then Mr. "Who Follows on the Trail" told the chief what had come to pass, and how he had retaliated. The chief said: "As they stole your horses in the first place, you can pick two out of the bunch to replace yours, and I will send the ten back to the Black- feet." Here was evidence of Christian teaching, and even the Blackfeet wondered at such conduct on the part of these Indians who had been their lifelong enemies.

And now Christmas was upon us, and we took dinner with Mrs. McDougall and our children, and in the afternoon my brother and self started for Edmonton. We had not heard from there since leaving, and we felt sure that Edmonton had not heard anything about us, and no doubt there was considerable anxiety as to our enterprise. The Chairman had said, "Report as soon as you can." And now we were en route for the North to report in person, also to attend an informal district meeting. Good-bye to the little colony in the fort at the foot of the great mountains. Good-bye to wife and children, 'and we were off. This time we travelled by a new route through the hills. Old buffalo trails were our bridle paths, and through spots and scenes wonderfully picturesque and intensely suggestive these instinctive engineers of nature led us on.


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