Towards the end -of the week
we were in the glorious foothills. For the first time in our lives we came
into contact with the mountain pine, or Douglas fir tree. The Indians had
named this region the Munuhchaban, meaning in English, "The place one takes
bows from." The outside wood of the young fir is the most elastic and
toughest timber in this western country.
As we rode over these
foothill summits, and across these ample and shapely valleys, our ancestral
blood was stirred and our pulse-beats quickened, and often did we say, one
to the other, "This is immense." The great West was opening to our
appreciative eyes and minds wonderful possibilities.
Following up the beautiful
Bow Valley until we were within some fifteen miles of the mountains, we
camped on the bank of a small creek, and as yet we had not seen a single
human being other than those of our own party. As we were making camp,
however, father, who had climbed the hill, came back with the word that
someone was riding fast and furiously towards us. This proved to be one of
our Mountain Stoneys. He said their camp was across the Bow, and over at the
foot of the big range of hills which hemmed in this valley on the south
side. He told us his people would be delighted to welcome us to their camp.
Although it was now late, and we had journeyed far, we packed and saddled up
and started with our newly found friend, who took us to the ford on the Big
Bow, and across the valley, and then excused himself and rode on among the
hills as fast as his horse could jump. In good time, in the dusk of the
evening, we came in sight of the camp, a veritable moving village, the home
of the most nomadic of all peoples in America. To my eye, there could be
very little more fitting of its kind than an Indian camp, nestling among the
valleys, with a background of beautiful foothills, and these, in turn,
buttressed by lofty ranges of majestic and imperial mountains. Here the
child of nature was at home in nature's lap.
The offspring of this wild,
unfettered life of many centuries, held up thus on his mother's breasts,
turned one's thoughts to the future and to these magnificent foothill and
mountain breasts, surcharged and bursting full with the rich and richer milk
of incomputable wealth for the generations yet unborn. The present owners of
this great domain were thoughtlessly, carelessly, living on the surface.
Like the butterfly flitting from plant to plant, so these men roamed and
camped and dreamed not of mines and means which were above and beneath them
on every hand. They never thought of nor speculated upon the magnificent
array of mighty power within their sight and sound, and in the centre of
which they were living all the time. They worried not because of stacks or
stooks, nor yet "stocks." They lost neither appetite nor sleep because of
marts or merchants. They heard not the clank and clink of multiple
machinery, and much less the roar and rush of transcontinentals. None of
these things moved them, for truly it had not entered into their life, nor
come as yet into their thought. Sufficient for them was the fact that the
sun shone, the waters ran, the dew and rain fell, and mother earth responded
gloriously with forest and grass and shrub and fruit. Here the buffalo
grazed and grew fat; among these woods the moose and elk browsed and took on
in season most exquisite meat; all species of deer and all fur- bearing
animals lived and thrived; the creeks and rivers and lakes moved with fish;
the seasons followed the one the other in regular succession; life, full and
natural, was all around them and above and beneath. So they were amply
satisfied. As one of their philosophers put it one day within my hearing,
"The Great Father Spirit not only let down from heaven the splendid vessels
of His creation, but He also, with wisdom and blessing, filled them as
well." Thus He provided for His beloved children, the red men of mountain
and forest and plain.
The man who had found us and
galloped on had roused the camp. The Chief Praying Man is coming. John is
with him. Father and son are here." The two chiefs, Bear's Paw and Cheneka,
sent forth the word, "Come out, all ye people, and let us welcome these
praying men," and presently we were saluted by every flintlock in the camp,
and on every hand came shouts of gratitude because of our arrival, "Ambuhwastage!"
and a solid grip of the hand from both men and women, and thus we were
escorted to Bear's Paw's lodge, where we were to make our home. As the day
was now about gone, we held a short service in the open, and soon all was
quiet. The great mountain sentinels were above and the big foothills around
us, and the wiry, agile and brave warriors, in their turn, were silently at
their posts, guarding us as we tried to sleep. For me this was not now
possible. Somewhere in this vicinity I was to establish a mission.
Long years in the past the
Hudson's Bay 'Company had withdrawn from this part. They had found the land
and its people altogether too dangerous; and now, because of traders and
wolfers and wild adventurers who were coming in from the south, across the
line, and introducing western ruffianism and extreme barbarism, conditions
were worse than ever. We had war, and whiskey, and wildness to face on every
hand. So much depended on these mountain people in whose midst we now were.
If we could grip their sympathies, and have their friendship, then they
would be as our bodyguard in this new enterprise.
Already we had learned that
these people were distinct in type—quick, impetuous, nervous, full of
surprises. Like the torrents and avalanches in the mountains, so these men
were moved and stirred, and the problem was before us. Some men had said,
"You will be killed, or else back into the North, before the year is out";
others shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads, and looked at us as
if for the last time. However, our Chairman was determined, and the sanction
of the Board had been given, and I was commissioned to make the attempt; and
here we were, prospecting the country and its people.
What would the morning bring
These questions were to me
weighty and puzzling as I lay there that night in the early spring of 1873.
It is all very well to have someone say to you, "Cast your burden on
Providence," but we had been trained to feel the weight of our own burden,
and just now this seemed to be heavy. However, I did ask for strength, and
tact, and wisdom, and was much comforted in so doing.
The next day, after a
wonderful morning service, wherein father seemed to catch the inspiration of
this majestic environment, and told the old, old story with a marvellous
eloquence, we saddled up, and, on fresh horses, provided by the Indians,
rode up the valley, our escort being the chiefs and head men of the tribe.
We followed the buffalo trails, and went through Douglas pine forests,
across valleys and over hills, where, at every turn, the scenes were
striking and altogether beautiful. Then we had, as the ever-present great
background, the mountains.
During the morning, at the
request of Bear's Paw, I tried his horse after the buffalo, and killed one.
Then we went on to the Kananaskis, and lunched beside its rushing current on
pemmican and dried meat. Then we rode nearer the mountains, and forded the
Bow, and came down on the north side to the site of the Bow Fort, long since
abandoned by the Hudson's Bay Company, and now in evidence only because of
the chimney piles of ancient debris. This section of the country was too
much in the path of the war parties, and too many distinct tribes were
constituent to this part of the great West; so the Honorable Company retired
altogether from the field. All day our guides had pointed out the scenes of
murder and massacre, and told us of most pitiful conditions which had been
the common experience not long since, when the fearful smallpox epidemic
devastated this whole country in 1870-1 —how camp called to camp across the
swollen currents of the Bow, and every call told of the increasing dead.
"And who brought in this loathsome disease and spread it amongst the tribes?
Why, the white man, of course. He wants this country. Disease will kill
faster than bullets." We were brought up against these difficult problems
and prejudices, and our work would be to establish government, and bring
about peace, and eradicate prejudice, and show these different peoples that
there is righteousness among men, and that the Gospel is the real and only
present and eternal salvation. Thus we thought and planned, as we rode on
down the valley and again forded the Bow. In the evening of this eventful
day we again reached camp, and were privileged to hold another most
interesting service with these wild mountain people. Warriors and hunters
they were because of their environment, surely the bravest and most expert
hunters of all the aboriginal peoples in this wide Dominion.
On the morrow we moved with
the camp into the South country. Our course ran along between ranges of
lofty foothills, and the mountains every few rods gave a new scene. To
father and myself all this was most exhilarating. Never before had we come
so close to the mountains. Notwithstanding our most nomadic lives, never
before had we camped amongst the wonderful foothills. Exquisite scenes of
prairie and forest and hill and mountain were all about us. We rode and
looked. We looked and rode, and felt the inspiration of such marvellous
grandeur. Then the climate was full of bracing effect. The atmosphere was
surcharged with ozone. Thus we travelled with this moving town. of God's
wandering children, who, throughout the ages, had seldom spent more than
three nights in one spot.
Our programme while with the
camp was, first, early morning service; then down came the lodges, and soon
we were on the trail, and, with a short rest at noon, we travelled until
evening, and held another service.
In the meanwhile the hunters
were out on either hand, and buffalo and deer and elk and bear were being
brought into camp as we moved, or when we stopped for the night.
Holding services, giving
lectures, travelling and hunting, interviewing and being interviewed,
studying these new humanities, thus we moved south into the upper High River
country, and Sunday came, and we spent the whole day in one continuous
The day was gloriously fine.
The scene was one great cathedral, and the valley echoed with songs of
praise to the Great Creator. Some were baptized, some were married, all were
eager for instruction, and the people were greatly strengthened in their
stand for righteousness and temperance and peace.
Monday morning we held
another big gathering, and, with the benediction, said ,good-bye, the
Chairman assuring these mountain nomads that John, God willing, would be
back with them before winter and remain with them as their missionary.
Thus we parted, they to move
on south and meet their allies, the Kootenays, and in due time come roaming
north again. Setting our faces by a new i3oute northward, recrossing the
many rivers and streams, we forded the Bow near where the town of Cochrane
is now situated. From thence we skirted the Dog Pond along the eastern bank,
and, crossing the Little Red Deer, came out on the Big Red Deer above the
mouth of the Medicine Lodge.
At the crossing of the Big
Red we got a good soaking, as the river had risen, and we were glad to gain
the woods, and, making a big fire, enjoy a general dry-up. Then we went up
the west bank of the Medicine looking for a ford, but found none, and
decided to build a raft. Swimming our horses, we crossed on the raft and
struck north and over the divide to the Blind Man's. Here we found a ford,
then kept on up the valley to the big range of hills from whence the stream
As we rode these many miles,
we saw in prophetic vision the settling up of this wonderful country—
schoolhouse and church, village and homestead, presently the iron horse, and
then the mine and factory. We, father and son, saw this coming. As sure as
God had made such a world, so we felt certain it would be peopled. I well
remember father saying to me, as we rode up the beautiful valley of the
Blind Nan, "You and I alone to-day, but we are the forerunners of the
millions who are coming." On over a big ridge we rode, and then down the
long slope to Battle Lake, which is the head of the Battle River. Father and
myself had been here in 1863.
Ten years had come and gone,
and still no change. Here was the wilderness primeval. That day we came upon
a camp of semi-Wood and semi-Mountain Stoneys, who greeted us warmly, and
whose welcome was most hearty. It was Saturday night. We had evening
service, and remained with them until the afternoon of Sunday. Then we
continued our journey over another big divide, and came out at the
north-west end of Pigeon Lake, and, coasting around this, reached our
mission station, where a glad welcome awaited us. In this vast isolation and
loneliness, our arrival caused great joy.