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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XIV
Reach our fort—Magnificent buffalo hunt—Narrow escape for my life—Saved by a log—Stamping out whiskey trade - Urge Hudson's Bay Co. to extend operations.


3

It was sublime joy to find all well in our fort. The nearer we approached it the more anxious did we always become. This time all was well, and we were profoundly thankful. Number one Mrs. McDougall was overjoyed to welcome Number two Mrs. McDougall. These two white women were the only specimens of the kind in an immense area, say some six hundred miles by one thousand miles in extent. Noble, plucky, brave, heroic daughters of this race, and wives and companions to their husbands, as also mothers to their children they have proved themselves to be, and there is not much more than this within the gift of Providence for any woman to boast herself of. My men had done well in looking after our stock and in taking out timber and manufacturing lumber with the whipsaw, for of course we hoped in due time to move down into the valley and erect permanent buildings. However, our larder, which was pretty full when we went away, was now nearly empty; indeed, Mrs. McDougall had determined, if we did not turn up soon, to send Donald after meat. But we had come, and very soon we had fresh horses in and a party organized, and once more were off to hunt up the buffalo. The third day out we struck them early in the day, and in a little while the hunters among us were scattered after them. Fresh snow had fallen for quite a depth, making running somewhat difficult for both buffalo and horses.

I killed two good cows, and, straightening them for skinning, rode over to my men and told one of them to make ready two sleds that we might go and butcher my kill and bring them in. While he was harnessing the horses I caught up my little horse Solomon. The reader will remember that I had bought this cayuse from a Jew in Benton. This was the first time Solomon was to be ridden since I bought him. His back had been galled, and I positively forbade anyone using him until this was healed. For this trip I had brought him along as a saddle pony, wherewith to spare my runners. I now threw the saddle on Solomon, and, my man being ready, I rode off ahead straight to where my two cows were lying.

We had not gone a half a mile from the start, and were still in full view of camp when over the hill there came a nice little herd of cows and young buffalo. Ah, thought I, what a shame I am not on one of the runners. My, what a chance to miss!

Thus I was lamenting, when I perceived a marvellous change come over Solomon. He gathered himself under me, and tossed his head and snorted like a warhorse. His little ears moved back and forward, and many things in his action seemed to say, "What are you lamenting about? Just try me." So I did try him, and away we went through the loose snow at a splendid pace.

And now, as we approached the flying herd, I saw a hunch at its head which made my mouth water. There, all gathered together, and running as one, were six magnificent fat cows; and again I wished for one of my runners; and again Solomon seemed to answer back, "We are here. Don't you worry."

Straight right into the herd we dashed, and very soon we were through the snow cloud, and my little Jew horse was surprising me at every jump. Now we split the herd; now we were making for the six cows at the head of the run, and Solomon acted as if he knew good meat as well as I did, and, putting those sharp ears back, he made straight for the game. I now began to feel confidence in my mount, so I dropped the reins and got ready to do my part.

Presently we were near enough for the first shot, and I took the best in my judgment, and down she dropped. In went another cartridge, and Solomon was there, and down went the second cow; and thus it continued until the six fat animals were stretched in their snow beds, which they made with the impetus of the run. Shouts of admiration came from the men at the sleds and from my own man. "Hurrah for Solomon!" And now we had eight instead of two cows to skin and cut up and haul in to camp. This kept my portion of our little party busy late on into the night, but that day's hunt went a good way towards loading us with meat. And Solomon, why, he went right up in value within an hour of the 'fine race we had made. I was offered two much larger horses for him, but just then I could not let him go. He had won my admiration with his splendid quality.

It was on this trip that my brother killed two buffalo at one shot. Up to this time to do this was most unusual, but now we were coming into stronger-shooting guns. When we were fully loaded and on the home stretch I left the party and rode on to the fort. All this time, when away from home, we were most anxious as to what might happen there. The country was so large, the people absolutely without law, and terrible possibilities would come flashing into one's thoughts, and when we could, either David or myself would fly for home. This time I again found all well. Our heavily loaded sleds did not come in until three days later.

In the meantime, I had one of the many narrow escapes with my life which, all through the years, have been frequent in my frontier experience. I determined to build a temporary church, and place it just outside of our fort; for, as I now saw, it would be impossible to move out into more open country for another year or two. So I took my axe and climbed the hill, and began to cut down and measure off good-sized dry spruce, which would give me a building about 20x30 inside. I was alone and making good progress, when my tree, in falling, dislodged another I had not noticed, which was leaning towards me. This tree began to fall first. I, watching the other, did not see it at once. Then when I did, it was coming so fast I could not move out of the way. Had it not been for a log which lay across its path I suppose I would have been killed right there. As it was, it knocked me flat and helpless for a time, and when I came to and saw how near death I had been I felt a strange shock run through my whole system. The dead log had saved me from being crushed to a jelly. I did not cut any more logs that day, and was very thankful to be able to go to work the next morning.

When my men came in, and the meat was put away in our storehouse, the first thing we did was to haul out these logs and build this temporary church, and thus have a place of gathering for ourselves and the wandering people who came to us from time to time. Having finished the church, we went on taking out timber, and kept the whipsaw going, making lumber for future use. While we were thus occupied during the first months of 1874, south of us and within one day's journey from our fort several whiskey mills were vigorously at work, demoralizing and decimating the plains tribes, and this continued right through to the boundary line. Scores of thousands of buffalo robes and hundreds of thousands of wolf and fox skins and most of the best horses the Indians had were taken south into Montana, and the chief article of barter for these was alcohol. In this traffic very many Indians were killed, and also quite a number of white men. Within a few miles of us, that winter of 1873-4, forty-two able-bodied men were the victims among themselves, all slain in the drunken rows. These were Blackfeet. Just a little south of us the Spanish cook I mentioned earlier in' the book was killed by Dutch Fred, who also was my loud friend. There was no law but might. Some terrible scenes occurred when whole camps went on the spree, as was frequently the case, shooting, stabbing, killing, freezing, dying.

Thus these atrocious debauches were continuing all that winter not far from us. Mothers lost their children. These were either frozen to death or devoured by the myriad dogs of the camp. The birth-rate decreased and the poor red man was in a fair way towards extinction just because some men, coming out of Christian countries, and themselves the evolution of Christian civilization, were now ruled by lust and greed. Canada's fair name was at this time in this section of the country in jeopardy.

We were making reports and representing conditions to our Government, and were constantly looking for some action, and trusting it would come soon. In the meantime, we were doing what we could to draw off the trade from these whiskey men. My brother had quite an outfit, and I made several reports to the Hudson's Bay Co., hoping that they would extend their operations and establish once more out in this southern country. Our Stoneys, in the face of this sore temptation, were doing splendidly, and keeping themselves like men. It was marvelous how these neophyte Christians withstood the blandishments of the whiskey men. Their noble conduct was a very great encouragement to us; even the wild portion kept away from the firewater, and were in this strong stand a constant wonder to the plains tribes.


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