While we were busy day and
night rushing things, there came on a three days' storm of cold rain and a
little snow. During this Spencer's cattle and our cows got away, and when
the storm cleared, while we went at the work of ferrying, Spencer and one of
our boys hunted the missing cattle; but after two days' search they came
back without them. I volunteered to try my hand and let Spencer take my
place with the crossing. I took two boys with me, and we rode carefully up
the Bow, and then up the High River to the trail going south, then along
that to Mosquito Creek, where we camped for the night. Then, in the early
morning, we went down this to its junction with the Little Bow. We had
carefully scouted all this big circle, and had made three distinct lines of
observation. We felt sure the cattle had not gone west; but now, when almost
at the junction of the Mosquito and Little Bow, we came upon their tracks,
and were disappointed to note that they had passed this point early in the
storm, and were travelling fast and evidently making for their home range.
However, I determined to
follow their tracks for a few miles, hoping that they might have stopped in
some sheltered spot. We had not ridden more than ten or twelve miles on the
tracks of the cattle when we saw Indians, and very soon they had seen us.
While we could not tell the size of their camp, still we knew there must be
a considerable number of them, for those we saw were making signals.
I stopped my party of two
boys and self on the top of a hill commanding all sides, and, with a good
deal of internal feeling, awaited the outcome of this meeting. Very shortly,
ten times our number came dashing over the hills towards us. My boys were
the children of the hereditary foes of these men now charging upon us.
Moreover, we were in that part of the country where every Indian had very
good reason to hate the white man. Then there was no earthly law for us to
fall back upon. I can tell you, my readers, it was a solemn time for the
boys and myself as we watched the swift- approaching crowd of plainsmen
coming down upon us. Fortunately, the Indian who first had discovered our
vicinity had come on in advance of the rest, and now he stopped across the
valley, on the brow of the hill, and waited for the others; but I called
across to him and told him to come over.
For a little he hesitated;
then he mustered up courage, and, with his ready-cocked revolver in hand, he
dashed up the hill to us, and at once recognizing me, said, "John," at which
I nodded, and we gripped hands. I remembered his face as that of one I had
seen the previous summer. He now charged back across the valley to meet the
oncoming crowd, and as these approached, he harangued them.
I could not make out what he
said altogether, but heard my name, "John," and "our friend," and was glad
to hear these words and to be introduced by the young warrior as a friend.
Soon we were surrounded by a
wild crowd, and, as I looked into their faces, I very soon knew that, with
the exception of the first-comer, these were strangers to me. All alighted
and gathered around us. My friend stood a little way back from the crowd.
Not a word was said. Then, as myself and my two boys were sitting on the
prairie, all but my friend sat down, and I was quite conscious of
conflicting emotions surging in the minds of these men.
We were lawful prey. "Kill
them and divide horses and saddles and bridles and guns and revolvers. These
Crees are our enemies. This white man, notwithstanding what that fellow
says, is a white man. They are all the same We should kill them when we
Then they appealed to their
better nature: "This is John. He is our friend. These boys are under his
Right here these men were in
a quandary, and we, with them, sat in solemn silence. Presently, the oldest
man in the crowd got out his big stone pipe. He had the stem stuck in his
belt, and he blew through this and attached it to the pipe, and then
proceeded to mix a little tobacco with a lot of kinnikinic. When he was
ready, I handed him a match, and when he had the pipe fully alight he passed
it to me; but as I never smoked, I passed it on, and slowly the pipe went
around the circle.
My friend stood like a
statue, with his revolver in hand, watching the whole scene. Several times
the pipe went around, my boys and self the only ones who did not smoke. Then
a sturdy-looking fellow began to speak, never once looking our way. He
harangued in Blackfoot, and after what seemed a long time to me, and I knew
as much longer to my boys, he ceased, and the crowd gave assent to what he
had said. Then, in rather good Cree, he turned to me and asked me if I was
John. When I answered yes, he told me he was a Sarcee, and that these people
were mostly Piegans. He said his name was "Little Drum." He had seen my
father, "the God man," at Edmonton, and had met my brother-in-law, the Red
Head, or, as the Blackfeet called him, "Me-ko-cho-to-quon." He was glad that
this young man recognized me. He said men's hearts were bad, but to-day we
would have peace.
Then I told the crowd,
through him, our business, and why we were there; and they said those cattle
would now be across the Belly River, for they had seen the tracks farther
south several nights since. Then I said we would not follow these cattle any
further just now, but go back to our camp. They inquired as to any chance of
trade if they rode over to our camp. I said my brother was always open to
trade for robes or horses, and they said they would go back to their lodges
and get their trade and fresh horses, and ride with us. My friend watched
them away, and motioned me the other way. I gripped his hand and looked into
his eyes, and with my boys, one on each side, we rode northward.
Once more the Lord had helped
us. A kind word, a smile, a little courteous act, and I had won this young
fellow, and he, after months have passed, becomes our deliverer. Surely it
pays to be thoroughly humanitarian and thus believe in all men.
We rode away in silence, and
with a studiously dignified step; but when we had gone behind the hill we
let our horses out. I told my boys to keep right up beside me and my horse
would regulate the pace. Neck to neck, we galloped on. I made up my mind
that few if any of those fellows would catch up to us before we would reach
our camp. My boys were light riders, and I was well mounted, and we went for
miles and miles on the steady gallop, straight for our distant party.
As neither we nor the horses
had eaten since early morning, it was necessary that we halt somewhere.
Coming out on to the trail we had made a few days previously, we presently
reached our old encampment, and, dismounting, jerked our saddles off and let
our horses roll and feed, while we hurriedly boiled our kettle and drank
some tea, and munched some dried meat and watched the way we had come. Soon
we saw a number of Indians on the jump after us. These I steadily kept my
eyes on, and we, watering our horses, saddled up and again took the steady,
hard gallop. The Indians were so eager to come up to us that they left one
another straggled along the plain. This was just what I had hoped. I felt
sure that if we got them strung out, our pace would keep them so. This would
be all the safer for us.
My mount, who made the step,
had come to me in a peculiar manner. Mrs. McDougall had suffered very much
with some of her teeth, and there was no dentist nearer than the little
village of Winnipeg, and we had not even a pair of forceps. When in Benton I
made diligent enquiry for such, but none of the stores had any for sale, and
my only chance was the army surgeon stationed at the military post.
Plucking up courage, I went
to this august person, and he said, "No, sir; I have no forceps for sale. Do
you want to buy a horse?"
I said, "No, sir," in my
turn, and was much cast down in failing to find what I so much wanted.
However, every time I came across the army doctor I put my case, and always
met the same answer, "Do you want to buy a horse?"
As I was innocent of
civilized ways, and my understanding dense, I did not catch on to what he
meant; and yet, I did want the instruments.
Finally, I again went over to
the fort and hunted up the doctor in his den, and asked him to tell me what
he meant by always turning me off with the question, "Do you want to buy a
Then he showed me a set of
dental instruments, some twelve in number, neatly done up in a leather case;
and he told me he had a horse in the stable, and that if I bought that horse
he would give me this set, complete, in the bargain.
I grabbed the set and put
them under my arm, and said, "What do you want for that horse?"
He answered, "Sixty dollars."
(Our money was at that time worth sixteen per cent. more than theirs.)
I immediately said, "Come,
let us go and see that horse." Reaching the stable, here was the plump
little bay, which I untied and led out, and, paying the army doctor the
$60.00, thus became the owner of my present mount, and also the happy
possessor of the set of instruments, and in this way became the first
amateur dentist in all Alberta. I have sometimes wondered if those
instruments did not belong to Uncle Sam. At my rate, with them I have
relieved many a poor sufferer.
To-day the bay was doing
splendidly. It was a good thirty miles from where we lunched to the river,
and the sun was dropping fast. Only one Indian came up to us. He had two
horses, and, by changing and riding hard, caught up.
"Ha, ha, John; you are riding
hard," he would say, and I would point to the sun and say, "The river is
"John, your horse medicine is
strong." And I thought of Uncle Sam's corn and feed and smiled, and said,
We never stayed a moment. I
knew we could not take these horses across the river that night. They would
he too warm. But what are horses, compared with life? I wanted these boys
and myself across that river before dark, if I could bring it to pass. On we
went, neck to neck, nose square with nose, my boys and our horses. There was
no stop down nor up. Smooth or hilly, with a steady, swinging gallop, we
continued our course. After a while the Sarcee who had come up dropped
behind; and yet we kept our pace steady and regular, and, with the sun just
setting, we were on the brow of the hill, looking down into the valley of
the Big River. As I had hoped, we were seen almost at once by our party from
the other side. We could see them stretching the long line and tracking the
crude, heavy craft up against the 'strong current, preparing to bring it
across for us.
Reaching the river bank, we
tethered our horses and took our saddles over with us, and were thankful
when we were once more a united force. Spencer was glad to see us back safe.
"Never mind the cattle," was what he said.
The Indians came up, but not
until late, and they remained on the south side of the river until morning,
when they came across, and David traded with them. Then they recrossed and
went away back to their camp, where they told that "John had the best horse
medicine in the country. He could make a horse run all day."