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
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
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
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
"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
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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