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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XIII
Bear's Hill—Breaking trails—On short rations—Begin slow march to mountains—Misery delights in company—Spend night in Indian lodge.


We spent our first Sunday at the point of Bear's Hill. We were breaking trail at every step. I had one flat sled, and I put my little bay into it and let him follow me, while I went ahead on snowshoes. For miles during every drive I gave the party the benefit of three trampings of my snowshoes. Going on, I picked the trail, making this as straight as possible, and when miles ahead, would retrace my steps until I met the first sled, arid, turning, would again tramp snow, and when it was time I prepared our lunch or night camp, so far as I could, before the rest came up. Under these circumstances, the journey was long and the work hard.

Sunday was a welcome change and rest for both men and horses. I say change, for you must make things a little more comfortable for two nights and a day than you would for just part of one night. Then the enormous amount of wood you must cut and carry in to keep up the big campfire. Lazy people could never pioneer. They would die in a short time.

Here we were, a little party of five souls (for David had brought an Indian from Edmonton to help drive his sleds), in the sublimest sort of isolation from our fellow-men, fifty miles of deep snow to Edmonton, and one hundred and seventy-five miles to the little fort in the foothills. No trail to anywhere, for the wind had speedily filled up the faint one we made yesterday; and yet, we read and sang and laughed and joked and ate and drank and were happy. It was a long, hard week from the point of Bear's Hill to the centre of a bluff of timber near where the town of Bowden is now situated.. In this bluff we were forced to take shelter about noon of Saturday because of a wild storm of wind and snow, during the strength of which you could not see ten feet ahead, and all trace of track, though just made, was gone immediately.

Since the middle of the week we were on short commons, and now all our food was gone. I had a few pounds of mashed potatoes which mother was sending to my wife and children; but of these I said not a word, considering that they were sacred for the purpose for which sent, and now this heavy storm was driving us to shelter. If it would only let up, so that we might hunt, to find, if possible, some food. And so it proved, for about the middle of the afternoon the clouds lifted and the clear, crisp cold came down, and David set rabbit snares, and I put on the snowshoes and tramped out to the last point of timber, hoping to find a buffalo or some prairie chicken. Though I went far and looked sharp, I did not flush one bird, nor yet see the fresh track of any animal.

Away out on a mound commanding a vast stretch I stood and watched the sun go behind the great mountains, and felt, under the circumstances, like parodying and saying, "Not a chick to be seen, not a cow to be found, as I look about over this desolate ground."

And then drawing a long sigh, which came almost unconsciously, I turned my face campward. One likes to make a kill to replenish the larder and afford a change when travelling, but now it was a case of starvation, and we had the mother and child, and even one chicken would have made me to rejoice and be glad. However, there were none, and in gloom of heart, and stomach, as also of night, I tramped towards our transient home. David and his man had gathered a huge pile of wood, for if we must starve, at any rate, while we could, we would keep warm. David had also visited his snares, but as yet not a rabbit had gone into them.

The long, cold January night settled down around us, but we kept the big fire blazing cheerfully, and were full of optimism if not of food.

My brother and wife were of the true pioneering breed. "Theirs not to whine and cry." Little Baby Georgie laughed and played herself to sleep. Mr. Jim, the Indian, was sparkling with repartee and wit.

To-morrow was the Sabbath, and before we laid us down to sleep we had settled that if David caught any rabbits in his snares we would not travel on the Lord's Day. With dawn, the big fire was again burning strongly, and David went to look at his snares, and we watched for his coming. Sure enough, he had two fine big rabbits, and as we had no compunctions as to eating things strangled, we settled down to the rations of two rabbits for a party of five. Many a time we men had picked the bones of two rabbits each of an evening around the campfire; but now it would be one-fifth of two for the next long hours. We boiled one for the first half of the day, and drank the broth, and did likewise for the second half of the day, and in the evening David again visited his snares, but there were no rabbits caught. We burnt up a big lot of wood during those cold Sabbath hours, but our horses had only to paw and eat, as against pawing and pulling and wading and struggling through the deep snow and deeper drifts of the other days. Thus they rested. So did we, for change is rest. During the evening David surprised us by digging up out of one of his sleds a small can of golden syrup. This made Georgie clap her hands and everybody smile, for it meant taffy. He soon had the syrup in the frying pan, and we each enjoyed our share of the rich taffy which he made. It was not much, but it cheered us up and helped fill the aching void. For this was the fourth day of less than small rations and hard travel and very cold weather.

Monday morning David lifted his snares without any rabbits, and we began our slow march south to the mountains. We nooned and let the horses paw and eat for a short while, and then struck out across a wide plain. Here the horses and sleds came slowly. There were so many drifts to break through, and I went on far ahead and came back, and turned again and went far ahead; and now, as the sun went down and we were aiming for the last point of timber on our course, I thought I saw a faint smoke cloud rest upon it. I then eagerly pressed on to reconnoitre before it got too dark. Going nearer, I saw that this was quite a large camp, and presently I was very glad to make them out as Stoneys. Then I went in, and found they were, like ourselves, out of provisions, but that buffalo were seen yesterday, and the hunters of the camp were out since early this morning and might be in at any moment. I told them we would come on and lodge with them for the night. The chief's wife said her lodge would be ready for us, and I set out to retrace my steps and meet my party. I went a long way, and cheered them up with tidings of friends and the prospect of buffalo.

It was late when we came into the camp and were settled at last in the chief's lodge. This was my sister's first experience of the kind, to pass the night in an Indian lodge. "Oh, how awful!" But to us, who had done so very many times, and with grateful hearts shared in the hospitality of these Indians, it was a pleasant change from the real out-of-door camp, and saved us a lot of hard work.

However, though it was late, there were as yet no tidings of the hunters, and we, in common with several hundred men and women and children, talked and exchanged news and looked into the fire and tried to forget that we had stomachs.

Presently there came to the ear the neighing of horses, and the barking of dogs; and here were the hunters; and in a few minutes my friend Jacob entered his tent and greeted us with a glad welcome. A small piece of meat was also handed in, and we were told that was all. Our hostess very soon had this small piece of meat cut up into many smaller pieces, and the whole into the kettle and on the boil in short order, and in double-quick time each one of the visitors and family shared in this light repast. If there is any truth in the old saw, "Misery delights in company," then it was amply fulfilled that night, for in every lodge in the camp we were guests in, a multitude was in the same box with us. However, the news the chief brought was cheering. Buffalo were going into the mountains between us and our destination; so we might starve and sleep now and hope much for to-morrow. Jacob said he would move his camp in the morning in our direction, and it was arranged that we travel together for the day, and look for food before or at our next camp. He said they had killed but one buffalo that day. The ground was rough and the snow deep, and only one horse in the party caught up to the herd3 and his rider was able to kill only one animal, a little portion of which we had supped on. My saddle horse had carried my saddle and brought up the rear in our company all the way from Edmonton, so I told David that as he would have the Indian camp with him for the day I would take my horse and go ahead and look for buffalo. With this understanding we stretched our feet to the fire and slept.

As there was no breakfast to prepare, the whole camp was soon on the march the next morning. In company with a half a dozen Indians, I left on the hunt about daylight. Some time before noon we sighted a band of bulls, and rode as near as we could before starting them; but now they were off, and we raced after them. My mount was a little white fellow, "Wah-be" by name, and he went at his work in grand style. The trip to Edmonton and the privilege of merely carrying the saddle and having the full benefit of our trail as we made it, as also to stop and paw 'and nip as he chose for all these days coming up, had trained him right down to fitness. My, my, what a race through the snow and drifts until we were dead on the trail of the flying nerd! Soon Wa-be and his rider were ahead of the rest; indeed, had so distanced them they did not kill out of this bunch. Now we were in the thick snow cloud which came from the heels of these ponderous brutes as they raced for life, and, wiping the snow from my face and eyes after I had emerged from the cloud, I looked them over and saw two splendid animals at the head of the bunch. Speaking to Wa-be, I pushed him after them along the top of a ridge.

We fairly flew through the snow, and as I felt my noble little horse under me I thought, barring accidents, I will kill those two fine fellows. And now came my chance, and I shot the first one, and he swerved and fell, and I heard the exultant cry of the Indians as they saw him drop. But now we were on the slope of the hill, and, like a cannon ball, down its side went the herd. But Wa-be hung to them, and my heart was up in my breast with the thought, "If you fall, my fine horse, where will you and I land?"

But, no, sir; down we went, and immediately at the foot I got my next chance, and fired, and this time my shot was more fatal than the last, for over went the monster and slid along on his side in the deep snow for some yards, so strong was the impetus of the race. 11"a-be and I flew past our game, but speedily held up, both quite satisfied with our good fortune. Riding back up the hill, already there were a half a dozen of my Indian friends around the first bull, and soon plenty of wood and willows were gathered. They fixed a seat for me, unsaddled my horse, rubbed him down, and in their own language lauding both the horse and his rider. Soon a small party of both footmen and horsemen were around each bull, and in an incredibly short time many roasts were on the a-boun-askes, or roasting sticks, around the fire. With long willow forks the rich and delicate and nicely broiled parts were passed to me. Away in the eastern distance we could see the moving camp taking its course; but already, from our fire smoke on the hill and below, they would know we had made a kill. As the day went by several more were killed, so that the whole camp had plenty. It is now, as I write, the beginning of 1910, and that horse and race and hunger and feast were in conjunction in the beginning of 1874; but the whole scene is as fresh as if it had occurred this morning. Wa-be, the hero of that cold winter's morning, and Jacob, my noble friend, and many other splendid fellows have gone on; and if it is, as the Blackfoot believes, that the good horse, as also the good man, will be together again in "the Happy Hunting Grounds," well, then . At any rate, the joy and thrill of that race is with me still.

Again we spend the night in the Indian lodge; but how different. Several thousands of pounds of fine meat have been brought in and stomachs are full and hearts very grateful. Those who always have been around the corner from a provision and grocery store, or have never lived away from the rattle of the delivery wagon, who have always with the day had their three or more meals therein, it would be impossible for them to appreciate the effect of food on humanity. Only the hunter and nomad can truly know this.

Early the next morning we held a service in the open. The thermometer was away down, and common sense said, "Be brief," and we were. Then we parted with our Stoney friends and pursued our journey straight for the Bow River Valley, which, as we approached it, had less snow, and allowed me to doff my snowshoes, and we travelled faster, and thus we reached home and friends the evening of the second day from the Indian camp.


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