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
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.