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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XVII
At Fort Shaw—Life in Montana—Treatment of Indians—In Whoopup country— Meet strange character.


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 faces homeward.

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 community.

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 fortress.

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 horses."

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 being.

"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 your name."

"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 Gospel preacher.

"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 answered.

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 whiskey."

"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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