On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter XIX Scouting - Wonderful instinct of
It was at this time that I
did a piece of scouting which I have always been proud of. While busy with
our improvised ferry, we left our cart oxen in charge of a boy, and he
startled us by coming in and stating that they were lost. We sent out
another, but he did not find them. Then David offered a handsome reward, and
the half-breeds who had been following us from Whoopup searched the country,
but did not find the cattle.
Several days elapsed, and as
we had now got the bulk of our freight over to the north side, I thought it
was time to look after those oxen. Late in the evening, I took the boy and
had him show me the exact spot where he had seen our oxen last. I marked
this, and we returned to camp. With daylight next morning I was off on foot,
and began my search. I circled around the spot, coming back to where I
started from, and then enlarged my circle. I kept this up all that long
morning, until about eleven o'clock, when I discovered a clue, and made sure
that this was the track of the missing stock.
It was very dim, and would
disappear; but having determined to my satisfaction that this was indeed the
track of our work oxen, I marked the spot with some buffalo chips and ran
away hack to the camp. I took one of the brightest boys in our party, and we
saddled up, and, taking two days' provisions, rode out to continue the
search. I took the boy to where I found the clue and put him on it, and told
him to track up, but never leave it, not for a foot.
I said to him, "You see
yonder ridge, some miles away. Well, I am going there quickly, and if you
see me make a sign, Jump on your horse and come as fast as you can to me."
Then I rode on the strong
gallop to the ridge, and again took up the search. This I did at right
angles from the direction the cattle were taking on the last clue. I led my
horse, and walked slowly, carefully scanning everything that might indicate
the track of an ox. Thus I went backwards and forwards across the line of
what I thought was their direction, and, after a long 'search, I found the
track. Jumping on my horse, I swung him to and fro several time, and saw my
boy catch the signal and mount his horse and come at the gallop towards me.
Then I again alighted and
took up the trail. This was at times very indistinct. Heavy rains had
fallen, and days and nights had intervened, and the trace was faint. When my
boy came lip, i put him on this later clue, 'and repeated my solemn
injunction about staying with it, and told him to look for a signal from the
next distant ridge. We had now made several miles in a short time on the
track of the cattle,
Rushing my horse across some
more miles, I again dismounted and searched diligently, and in good time
found the track again. I now signalled my boy, who came up on the jump. I,
reiterating my emphatic orders, was away for the next vantage ground, and
again was successful, and brought my boy up. Thus we went on until I had
tracked the oxen down to the river many miles from our camp, and across a
channel on to an island, and up and down this island, and again across
another channel on to another island. I began to fear that they had taken
the main stream, and now would be far on their way north.
Tracking in and out of the
dense brush of this second island, I presently walked right on to one of the
big fellows, and my heart gave a leap of satisfaction. Here they were, the
whole bunch of them. I ran them out back to the next island, got my horse
and rushed them through the first island and across on to the south shore,
and started them on the home stretch for our camp. I had gone some distance
when my boy came in sight. Religiously, he had been keeping the track. As
soon as he saw us, he galloped over, and we were happy. We had beaten the
half-breeds on their native ground. We had, the two-fold satisfaction. We
had the cattle, and we had found them where the others, who should have been
better than us, had given them up.
On the morning of our
departure they had said to David, my brother, "It is useless for John to go
to hunt those cattle. They are far now. We could not find them."
However, David said, "John is
different. He may bring the oxen."
As we came in sight, in the
twilight of the evening of the same day as we had gone out, our whole camp
cheered us, and the natives again said, "John's medicine is strong."
Another incident I came
across that day of the cattle hunt was of special interest, showing how
Nature had endowed animal life with the most wonderful instinct. As I rode
on the search, I startled a mother antelope from her maternal bed, and she
dropped her young at my feet. Immediately the little kid sought cover,
crawling into the thickest bunch of grass, and hiding as much as possible,
and from thence watching me with its great big eyes. This little animal was
not one minute born when it was already full of the strongest instinct. I
thought this was wonderful, and I marked the spot, and planned to pick this
little fellow up and take him back to camp with me; that is, if my cattle
hunt would permit of this.
Finding the cattle as I did,
we drove them back almost as they had come, and: this took us near to the
spot where I had seen the antelope. I told my boy to drive on, and I rode
over to look for my young friend. But when I came near the spot, the dam
sprang up and jumped away, and, to my utter amazement, the little kid sprang
to her side, and on they bounded with remarkable speed. I did not run them,
for I was so taken aback with this most wonderful provision of Providence
and this manifestation of sublime instinct.
I said to them, as I rode on
after the oxen, "You deserve to live and remain as you are."
I suppose that from three to
four hours had elapsed since this little kid was born; and now it pranced
away like a race horse. Here was instantaneous and wonderful instinct, and
also quick coming to strength and speed.
After days of very hard work
and anxious watching (for all this time we were subject to an attack or the
sudden coming upon us of a wild, reckless war party), we were now on the
north side of the Bow River, and the thought that this was the home side of
our tedious trip made everybody glad.
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