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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XVI
Cross the Elbow—What is good for John is good for you—Cross High River—Meet genuine son of Erin—Strike for upper trail along the mountains—Arrive at Plegan agency


Crossing the Elbow, and making our trail as straight as we could with our, as yet, limited knowledge of the country, we met some of our mountain Stoneys travelling northward. Chief Cheneka was with them.
He said he wanted to ask me some questions. Had I been in the South country, on Sheep Creek or on High River, this winter?"

I answered "No"; that all my travel until now, since I had seen him last November, had been north of the Bow River.

Then the old man's face brightened up, and, turning to his party, which had gathered up beside us on the hill, he said, "It is false. John has not been south to these trading posts. Those were lies that the white men told us."

Then the chief explained that some of his young men had gone in to trade ammunition and tobacco, and the white men had offered them firewater, but the young fellows refused it. Then the white men asked their reason for thus refusing this good stuff, and they had answered, "Our missionary, John, told us not to touch it, and we like him and want to listen to what he says."

Then the white men laughed, and said, "That is the way with John; he likes it, and drinks it himself, but he does not want you to have it. He is afraid of you if you drank too much. Why, he was here this winter, and' got wild drunk himself, and we had to put him to bed. What is good for John should be good for you."

The chief said this somewhat staggered the young men; but they concluded to not take any at that time, and wait until they saw me, and make sure. The chief said he told them he thought it was a lie; but now he was pleased to have me tell him it was false, and to know I had not been to these trading posts.

I was much encouraged to come across this confidence in my people, and also to find such staying power of will among these wild young fellows in the Stoney camp. I was also much incensed at those whiskey traders; but what could you expect? The traffic makes the men, or rather, unmakes them.

Besides Spencer, we had with us the two Englishmen who had wintered with us on the Bow. A sorry lot were these two men. For months they had lived in the same room and had not spoken to each other. They had the one chimney, but would not use it at the same time; had come to blows before the Indians, and I had to threaten to most unmercifully thrash both of them if they did not keep from disgracing us before the natives. Now they were going south with us. One had his own cart and horse; the other was dead broke, and my brother and self were freighting and feeding the useless fellow out of the country.

When we started we placed him in our own mess, but he was so filthy we sent him to the cart drivers, our native boys and men, and in a few days a deputation of these waited on us to ask that this white man be banished from their mess - "He is so dirty and so lousy," this was their plaint. So we were forced to put this white man to cook and eat alone for the rest of the journey south. Both David and I were sorry and ashamed to do with this man as he compelled us to do by his conduct.

After crossing High River we came in contact with another type of a white man, a genuine son of Erin. He came into our camp with his rifle in his hand and big revolver hanging to his belt. "Be yees travelling into Montana? Could yees take me along wid you? I came this far wid some frogaters. They shook me here, bejabers. I had enough of them meself." We made it clear to our friend that we were a strictly temperance party, and if he stood by us on this ground, and also would take his turn on guard, he might come along, all of which he gladly consented to, and proved himself a real good fellow. One day, in a burst of confidence, he told me of his strict upbringing in the Holy Catholic faith, and that he accepted it all, purgatory and every-thing else, bejabers. He assured me, however, that he had already passed through purgatory. I interjected that I thought that this was subsequent to death, and he was now beside me very much alive.

But no, said my new theological instructor, "Youse can go through here, and now I have already sure."

I said, "In what way have you passed through purgatory?"

"Why," said he, "did I not spend the winter in Edmonton, and there was neither bread nor whiskey; and the Lord Himself would not be after asking any poor sinner to do more than that."

I did not dispute my friend's opinion, but thought that if he was right, then I had also gone through purgatory.

We crossed the Willow Creek and Old Man's River, near where Macleod is now situated, and then, instead of going by Whoopup, we struck for what became the upper trail along the mountains. This, by scouting on far ahead, and then signalling back, we shortened up considerably. Here we were able, in one short drive, to cross the Great Divide between Hudson's Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. We slept beside the waters of the Northern ocean, and in the early morning drive had gone over the ridge and breakfasted by the waters of the Southern sea.

Ever and anon we killed buffalo for food. It was up on this summit land that I had to alight from my horse and drive him before me in order to keep him from kicking the buffalo calves which were following us into camp. If we had been wise in our generation we should now have a large buffalo ranch, but to keep the pot boiling and one's scalp on one's head kept us pretty busy at this time. So we let this opportunity, as many others, go by without using it.

As an evidence of the grass and climate, let me say that we had left Edmonton in the North in November of the fall, and our oxen pulled in carts all the way out to where we built our fort. Then we worked them off and on hauling timber and firewood all winter; and now we had left on this trip on the 6th of April, and here we are, two hundred miles or more on our way south, and these same oxen working in carts every day but Sunday, and we making from twenty-five to thirty miles a day through new country, sometimes without trails, which is always harder on stock, and our cattle in good fix, and all this time without a bite of anything other than the natural grasses of Alberta and Montana. We had had some spring storms, but the general run of weather had been most favorable. Such sunrises and sunsets as we had seen on this trip were indescribably glorious. Old Sol and his various constituencies seem to know how to make the most of the great settings the foothills and the mountains give them. We repeatedly saw the heavens and earth meet in one gorgeous scene of emblazoned glory.

Some mornings as we travelled were as an all day benediction of God's grace and goodness to man and beast, and the sunsets were to us as the vesper hymn of this universe.

On, south into Montana, at this time a great wild region, as yet unpeopled, but already known as a wonderful mineral and pastural land. Presently its agricultural qualities would be brought out, and this big, unoccupied space would teem with humanity. It was the United States then taking in the population; but soon it would be our turn, and then we would have the benefit of their experience.

After crossing several tributaries of the great Missouri, and climbing and again descending the fine tablelands between these paralleling streams, on the Teton we found the Piegan agency. Here, in looking about, we came to the conclusion that it was no wonder that Uncle Sam was constantly having trouble with his native wards. The Government and the Indians were, both of them, looked upon by the ordinary Government employee as legitimate prey.


 


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