On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter XVII
At Fort Shaw—Life in
Montana—Treatment of Indians—In Whoopup country— Meet strange
In due time we were out on
the Sun River, and at Fort Shaw, the frontier military depot of Northern
Montana. Here our native boys and men first saw military drill and dress,
and heard bands discoursing sweet and stirring music. Their eyes and minds
expressed wonder and great astonishment. We had thought of going on to
Helena to exchange our pelts and make our purchases, but found that it would
be more to our interest to turn down to Fort Benton, where, in due time, we
went into camp and began our trade and barter. Here we put in a very busy
week. I was the only one of our party who had ever seen Benton, and that but
once, for a day and two nights last autumn. Then it was in a storm, and we
did not 'see much of this wild west show. Here was a small adobe fort, with
a company of regulars of the cavalry of the American army. Here were saloons
and gambling dens galore, and out of all proportion to the size of the
place. These served the floating population of bull-whackers and
mule-punchers and the smugglers and wolfers and promiscuous Indian fighters,
for it would seem that this was the chief occupation of the general public
in and around Fort Benton at this time. The white man could do anything he
chose to do—kill and steal and drink and gamble and enter into all kinds of
debauchery. He could load himself down with arms, pistols, knives, rifles,
etc., and swagger in and out of town and the United States army at these
outposts would look on and let him do his worst; but an Indian could not
avenge an insult. He could not turn upon the white man who took his wife or
daughter, or defrauded him in' trade, and whose conduct was generally that
of abuse and constant insult to all his manhood. No, no; let an Indian but
turn, and it was, "Bring out the troops; call in the settlers and wild
adventurers," and "Down with the Injuns! Wipe them out, root and branch!" Of
course, there were some few exceptions, even in 1874; but soon these kept
their thought to themselves, and the wildest thing in this big country at
this time was the ordinary white man. As to anything like religion, there
seemed to be no thought of this at any one of these frontier outposts or
settlements. You may be sure we of the North, unaccustomed as we were to
such life and thought, did not find this climate congenial, and we made
haste to make our purchases and load up our carts and wagons and turn our
I am sure that with everyone
in our party there was a sense of relief when we pulled away from this
seething scene of awful blasphemy, drunkenness and vice, and, to my mind,
the worst condition was the positive unfairness of the thought of the white
Going back, we took the lower
trail; the grass was now starting nicely, and our stock were doing well. We
forded the Teton and rafted the Marias, and in due time had recrossed the
49th parallel, and were back in Canada again. This part of our country was
without law, and as yet we were not beholden to any earthly government; and
I am sorry to say that most of the few white men who were now in this
southern portion did not even acknowledge the Divine government.
As we approached the Whoopup
country, we planned to cross the Belly River below the junction of the St.
Mary's, and near where now is situated the town of Lethbridge. In so doing,
we would take the waters of the St. Mary's and Belly and Kootenay, and Old
Man's rivers in one big crossing, and it behooved us, if possible, to find
some means of transport. If the Whoopup people had a boat, and would let us
have it, this would be a wonderful help to us.
In order to solve this
question, I rode on in advance of my party, and, fording the St. Mary's at
considerable risk, found myself approaching the gate of this whiskey
I had hardly entered, and was
dismounting from my horse, when I was seized by somebody, and a loud "How
do, pardner?" sounded in my ear.
Turning to face this
stranger, I saw at once he was well on in liquor, and his whole visage was
indicative of a profound spree. He was fully armed, moreover, and, changing
his rifle from right to left hand, he linked the former into my arm and
jerked me along to an open door, across the square of the fort, and, almost
before I knew it, we were standing together up against the counter of the
bar. This counter was made of two huge cottonwood logs, the one on top of
the other, and the upper side of the topmost log faced smooth. One might
pound on such a counter with tremendous emphasis, and there would not be the
slightest jar. My new friend immediately called for the drinks, and, while I
protested I was not dry, still he cursed me and ordered the stuff. The
bartender put two tin pans, all battered and rusted, on the log, and
proceeded to pour some liquor into them. I thanked my friend, and refused
his drink; whereat he cursed me up and down, and presently compromised by
drinking both his and my shares, which seemed for the time to put a quietus
on him, for which I was thankful.
In the meanwhile I asked of
the gentlemanly bartender, who, by the way, seemed to be the only sober
person about the place, as to a skiff or boat, and explained our situation.
Yes, they had a small skiff. If I would wait a minute he would ask the
proprietor as to the loan of it. I thanked him, and away he went; and now
the room was the scene of some wild shooting. One of the company had said,
"Let us shoot for the drinks, boys," and bang went his pistol. Going across
the room, he put the blank shell into the hole his bullet had made in the
log of the wall and then the shooting began on both sides of me, and on both
sides of where I stood the bullets sang past into the wall. I confess I was
glad when the barkeeper hove in sight and told me we could have the boat,
for which I thanked him. Just then a big fellow sprang into the room with a
long, bare knife in his hand. This he stuck into the log counter with a.
savage thrust, and, with terrible oaths, said the place was becoming
altogether too tame. Said he. "I would like just now to be ripping up
somebody." Then he saw me, and noticed I was a stranger. Certainly he was a
wild- looking fellow. All the evidences of a prolonged drunk were on him.
His shirt was open at the breast and sleeveless, and he looked as if the
next moment he would take the delirium tremens—wild, haggard, blear-eyed and
swollen-faced. Looking at me. he said. "Who are you?"
I replied. "A traveller."
He cursed me, and again asked
where I belonged. I told him my home was in the North. He cursed the North
and all that dwelt therein, but said I might help him to recover his horses,
which he claimed had been stolen by someone in the North. I said, "Give me
the description or the brands, and I will do what I can to look up your
He then, with most awful
curses, denounced brands and descriptions, and, turning to me and
brandishing his big knife, shouted, "What I want is the life of the man who
stole my horses! Bring me his head. that I may kick it across this fort, and
1 will give you five hundred dollars in gold in your hand"
And thus he raged; and I
pressed him for color and size and brand of horses; and now I saw my chance
to get out of this foul room, and in my turn, linked my arm into the big
fellow's, and he came out with me. When we got out into the open once more I
felt a great sense of relief, and also a new feeling of pluck came into my
"Come, now," I said, "tell me
about these horses." Again he got wild, and wanted only the heads of the men
to kick across the fort yard.
"Oh, pshaw," said I, "you
would not kill a man for a few cayuses."
Then he got mad at me, and
brandished his knife in my face, and he said he had killed men for less than
that, and could do it again.
Here I interjected, "Tell me
"My name," said he, "is Bill
Hart, or Hardy Bill, the wildest man you ever struck."
"No, no," I answered, "Mr.
Hart, you are not the wildest man I ever struck."
Then he got wild at me, and
said "Who are you to talk to me like this?" And I told him I was a humble
"What," said this poor,
blear-eyed, crazed-with-drink-and-foul-associations creature, "what! Are you
a preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?"
"Yes, I want to be," I
Then it seemed to dawn on
him. "Are you the Reverend John the boys talk about?"
"Yes," I answered.
Then he stepped back and
dropped his knife, and looked all broken up, and said, "Forgive me, Reverend
John. I am sorry I acted to you as I have, You know it's the whiskey?"
"Yes," I said, "it's the
"Why," said this big fellow,
"my mother was one of those 'old Zion singers.' You know what I mean?"
"Yes, Mr. Hart, I know what
that means," I answered. "And, my dear fellow, your mother's prayers will
yet catch you up. Come, now, do try and be a man for mother's sake." We
gripped hands on that, and just then a still bigger man rushed at me and
gripped me with great joy.
This was Torn Favel, alias
Queveden, alias Kinwas-qua-nace, or "The Tall One," as the Indians called
him. He was quite a noted character, a big medicine-man, a conjurer, and was
possessed of occult powers, so 'twas said. At any rate, he was a giant of a
man, and just now, like all the rest, was more or less under the influence
of whiskey. I had known him for some years, sometimes as a friend and
sometimes otherwise. Just now he was friendly and wanted to embrace me.
"Why, John, my friend, I am
so glad to see you. I want you, right here and right off, to marry my
daughter to a fellow here," and I was pulled away over into a corner of the
fort, where the bride and groom were. And now all the boys, including Mr.
Hart, or Hardy Bill, gathered in to see the fun.
I found the groom and bride
more sober than the rest, and I questioned them until I was satisfied it was
all right for me to marry, as the old man said, "Right here and right now,"
without license or permit.
Forsooth, there was no one to
grant the license. It was something to have these people ask for Christian
marriage, and this was my unexpected opportunity to hold a service in
Whoopup. Soon the bare room was full of wild, strange-looking characters,
and, to my joy, amongst them came my old friend, Gladstone. I called for
quiet. I told every man to take his hat off. I then called the couple up
before me. I then talked to this crowd as God gave me utterance, and in
solemn reverence these men stood. I sang a verse or two, and as I was about
to speak to the man and woman, the giant father spoke up, and, with
tremendous emphasis, said, "Now, John, marry them strong, so that no man can
part them. Marry them, John, right up before God. Marry them strong." I went
on with the ceremony, and then sang the Doxology and dismissed our strange
audience. I then shook hands all round, and for a spell we had quiet and
were free from blasphemy.
My old friend, Glad, said he
would bring the skiff down to where we wanted to make our crossing. I
mounted my horse, and rode over the flat and again forded the St. Mary's,
and was glad indeed when I was safe from its raging current, for the water
was rising rapidly, and I foresaw hard work for our whole party on the big
river. Gladstone brought with him a friend and the skiff, and all the days
of our crossing these two men acted as a sort of bodyguard over our party. I
knew they were anxious about their own crowd, and therefore they remained
with us until we had freighted our stuff over. This took us several days.
The river was high, and the current like that of a millrace, and the boat
small. It took a long time and very hard work to make one trip, and we had
very many trips to make.
It was almost midsummer, and
the days were long, but from dawn until dark we labored, and when all our
freight was over then came the carts and wagons, piece by piece; and when
all this was done, we had a terrible time making our stock take the river.
All this while some of our
party had to be on guard over our goods and stock. When we were through we
returned the boat, with thanks, and, loading up, climbed the big hill and
went on our way to the next river. Our course was this time also below the
junctions of the many streams which flow into the Bow from the south side.
We made for a point about ten miles below the mouth of the High River.
Spencer had put his money into twenty-five Texan steers, and David and I had
each bought a couple of cows, with their calves, and Spencer drove these
cattle behind our caravan as we journeyed. From Whoopup, as far as the Bow,
we had the Favels and some other half-breeds travelling with us. Coming to
the Bow River,. we made a skin canoe, using three large buffalo hides, and
again the strenuous labor was gone through of making a crossing. The Bow was
a larger and stronger stream than the Belly.
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