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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XV
Hear from Edmonton—Prepare for long trip—Again rolling south.


In March we heard from Edmonton. My brother had gone south to the Conrad establishment, on Sheep Creek. This was the only post that did not traffic in whiskey; but, alongside of this, were several of the other sort. Here we learned that a party of white men had gone south, and that they had left one of their number in an Indian camp north of the Bow, and that this man was used up with snow-blindness, and also because of the hardship of the trip. Moreover, David learned that this man's destination was our fort, and that he had letters for our company.

The next day after I heard this I set out to look up this lone white man and these letters and tidings from headquarters and loved ones. I was very fortunate in my quest, for I had not gone more than about twelve or fifteen miles when I saw two men and one horse in the distance coming towards me. Here was the stranger, a huge man, seated on top of his belongings, which, in turn, were packed on the back of a small white pony. The owner of the horse, a Blackfoot Indian, was trudging behind, driving his horse ahead of him. I think there was joy in that white man's heart when he beheld my face, or rather when he heard my voice. He was sick and sore and almost blind; a great big man, but not of the kind to stand the hardships of a severe winter trip in this country.

My experience has made it plain to me that only men of certain builds and temperaments can stand the roughing of frontier life. A giant on the street and in the railway car, or on the farm, may be a fearful burden to his party during a frontier winter trip. If I was going to find the North Pole, I would be very careful in the selection of the men of my party. This man, if you put him on the back of a good horse, or gave him a seat in a stage coach or railway car, was a good traveller and a fine fellow; but let the horse play out, or the stage break down, or the train stop, then he was done. The true pioneer is the man who goes on, no matter what happens.

I very soon had the stranger friend up on the back of my strong horse, and as I ran and jogged beside him, I got the news of the North country and heard about my people at Edmonton. I also learned his history. A fellow-Canadian, he had gone to the Pacific Coast by the southern route; had been in the mines of British Columbia; had come over the mountains by the Yellowhead Pass to Edmonton; had got acquainted with father, and thought the world of him; had letters with him, and money, for me; had joined this party which was going to Fort Benton, but played out and was left in the Indian camp. He had come in contact, as he thought, with a famous Catholic priest, one of the most liberal-minded and large-hearted he had ever come across; had left his horse and saddle and some of his stuff with the priest to be sent in later. And now I was anxious as to who this worthy and large-hearted priest might be. I had not heard of any such person. I knew of a noted renegade who sometimes posed as a priest, and among the Black- feet had given himself the name of "The Trinity," "Na-oks-ka-ta-pe." A man who, while educated and at times most intelligent, was at other times very eccentric, and because of this type of semi- insanity, the Indians 'suffered him and lodged him and let him live. They had no respect for the man, called him "The Forked Tongue," and when describing a noted liar said he was just the same as "No-oks-ka-ta-pe."

I enquired of Spencer, my new friend, the name of this priest. I mentioned the names of several I knew. No; none of these.

Then I mentioned the name of the eccentric. "Yes; oh, yes; that is it; it was the Rev. Father LaRue."

Then I laughed and told him that LaRue was not a priest; that he was called sometimes "the bogus priest," and it was both humorous and pathetic to see Spencer when all this dawned upon him.

He lifted his hands and ejaculated, "Suffering humanity!" This was a new expression to me, but I thought it very appropriate. "Suffering humanity," the victims forever of cuning and rascally humanity. This was another, but not an isolated case by any means.

Then, as we journeyed up the valley, Spencer on my horse, and I tramping mother earth, h told me how LaRue had affected the great missionary; how he had travelled, in the course of his wonderful work, in Africa and in South America, and bow he had with him in the Indian lodge copies of the Christian Guardian and Methodist Magazine, and other Protestant publications. (I knew this, for I had sent LaRue, on his own request, a bundle of reading matter such as I could pick up.) Therefore, Spencer had thought him the big, broadminded priest. It was humorous to listen to Spencer, for, as all this deception dawned upon him, lie would every little while utter this new phrase to me, "Suffering humanity," and I could very well understand the accentuation, which was now most ominous for poor LaRue if Spencer ever got his hands upon him.

Our letters and instructions were most satisfactory, and we began making preparations for the annual trip for supplies. This time ours was to Fort Benton; and while this was only half the distance to Fort Garry, it was very much more dangerous. Then there was the care of the people left at home. On this score we had to depend in large measure on the Stoneys. They became our home guard. Especially was this true of Jacob and his following. It was a very great blessing to have some of these warriors and scouts, with the training of the centuries, on our side, and a grand, noble man like Jacob to stand by you whatever came. The two Mrs. McDougalls had all faith in Jacob and his people. It meant something to prepare for one of these long trips. Carts, wagons, harness, provisions, all to be got ready; men to outfit; stock to look up; winter's trade to pack; ammunition, guns, tents, kitchen outfits, for several different messes; necessary tools for mending carts and putting in new axles, etc. Very far different all this from stepping over to the freight shed offices and paying your bill.

However, by the 6th of April, 1874, we had made all necessary preparations and said good-bye, and were again rolling south. This time we desired to pick and make as good and straight a trail as we could find from our fort to the upper end of the wooded bluff on High River. There had been wandering through the Saskatchewan and in this part of the country a native mixed-blood, partly French, mostly Cree, Elixie by name, or, as he was called by the Indians, "A-gin-a-wa-we-turn," which, translated, "Passes All, Making a Noise as He Goes." This man was religiously crazy. At times lie was an ordinary priest, self-ordained and set apart specially; at other times he was the Pope himself; and sometimes he told the people that he was greater than the Pope of Rome. When he could, he dressed as a priest. He was a good hunter, and followed the buffalo out into this southern country, and had built a shanty up on the Elbow, some thirty miles south of our fort. Sometimes he lived in this shack, but generally was wandering alone. So far as I knew, Elixie was a good-hearted eccentric. During this winter an Irish Roman Catholic priest had come out from Edmonton, with a lay brother, and these were living in Elixie's shack on the Elbow River. LaRue, the bogus priest, had given Spencer an order on this mission, as he called it, for Spencer's horse and saddle and belongings left in camp, and which LaRue had promised to send in to this place.

Our line of travel passed some miles to the east of where the priest was living, and I took LaRue's order and rode over to hunt up this mission. In due time, I saw the lone building, and at first thought it must be abandoned. The snow was deep all around, tmd no trails either in or out; but, as I approached nearer, I saw one person, and soon made him out to be the Irish priest, Father Scollin. He was entirely alone. There had not been anyone else about for months, and, their provisions running short, the lay brother had gone out to look for the camps. The Rev. Mr. Scollin was overjoyed to have me call. When I told him my business, and showed him the order given to Spencer by LaRue, he said as he read it, "The scoundrel," referring to LaRue and to the order. The answer was truly typical. "Barring your presence, I wouldn't give a spit for it. There is no horse here, nor anything else from LaRue."

Of course, I had expected this, but making sure would settle Spencer's mind for the present. Mr. Scollin insisted on brewing a cup of tea, and we sat and chatted for a little, and I rode away, leaving him to his loneliness. Some men can stand being alone, but this one I had just left would soon go off his balance under such conditions. Then there would have been three of a kind afloat in this new country.


 


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