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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter II
Up the Dow Valley—Visit Bear Paw's Lodge—Move into South Country—Cross the Big Red.


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 forth?

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 gathering.

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 heads.

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.


 


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