On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter XX
Nearing our fort—Mosquitoes worst
I ever saw—Brother's wife gives birth to daughter.
Only the Ghost River and some
small creeks were now between us and our hilltop fort. In the heavy work of
crossing, my brother had bruised his hand, and for some days he had taken
charge of the cooking in camp, with his one hand in a sling; but this hand
was steadily growing worse, and looked serious. So I suggested his leaving
us and striking for home, where he might have more attention than we could
give him in camp. He accordingly left us for the long ride, which, at any
rate, as straight as he could go, would be some eighty miles. This was a
severe strain on him, as he was in constant pain; but he made it, and thus
got relief, and also brought to our anxious people the first news they would
have of us and our steady approach. We reloaded and started up the north
bank of the Bow.
The mosquitoes were as I had
never seen them on the plains, and I began to learn that, in the presence or
even distant vicinity of the great herds of buffalo, there were no
mosquitoes, nor yet much of any kind of insect life; but now, in the absence
of the great herd, these abounded, greatly to our misery and that of our
stock. Then, as I reasoned, I saw the day coming when man, with cultivation
and the ranging of his domestic stock, would take the place of the great
herds, and do even more, and the mosquito would pass out, having fulfilled
his mission in Nature's economy.
On we rolled, and, keeping
out, took the Nose Creek, away up from where Calgary now is situated, and
kept north to catch on to our hunting trail, and on this went westward.
Thus, in due time, with many hitches—axles breaking, dowel pins snapping,
collar traces and chains breaking, wagons sinking to the hubs, and many
unloadings in consequence—presently we drove up to the fort, and the first
trading trip from the North-West across the line to the head of navigation
on the Missouri River was an accomplished fact in the history of this new
country. We found our folk well, but provisions low, and our arrival with
some flour and canned goods was opportune. They had experienced several
scares from strange Indians, mostly Blackfeet, but Jacob had not gone very
far, and every little while had sent in some of his party to look after
However, we were now a
reunited crowd, and all thankful. Moreover, we now had a valuable helper
added to our ranks, in the arrival of Mr. Kenneth McKenzie, the son of the
well-known Kenneth McKenzie, of Burnside, Manitoba. My good sister- in-law
was a McKenzie, and the coming of her brother was most welcome. Kenny was
one of those all-round fellows who are immensely valuable in any country.
The very next day after our
arrival from the South, an Indian rode in on the gallop and told us that
father and mother and Sister Nellie were coining up the valley, and would
soon be with us. This was truly good news, and I hurriedly threw the saddle
on my horse and rode out to meet them. Sure enough, there they were. Events
were now crowding in, for that very night my brother's wife gave birth to a
daughter, this infant being the first white child born in all the country
between the North Saskatchewan and the Missouri River. It seemed we were
taking on strength daily. Here were the mother and child, five hundred miles
from the nearest army surgeon in the United States and a thousand miles from
the nearest doctor in Canada, possible to us, and, strange to say, both were
doing exceedingly well.
Father was now arranging to
go East and take mother with him. This would be mother's first return to
Eastern Canada, and more than fourteen years would have elapsed since she
had bade her friends and relations farewell.
Father wanted to see
something of the mountains, and we took him into them by way of the "Wee-di-go
Pass." Jacob was our guide, and we rode over to the Valley of the Ghost, and
followed that up, and then struck into the mountains to the Wee-di-go Lake,
now rechristened the Minnewakan, or Spirit Water. Then, returning to our
fort, we made another trip up the Bow, as far as where Banff now is
Father was delighted with
these glimpses of the glorious Rockies, and his big, patriotic heart was
full of prophetic vision as to the greatness of this wonderful country.
Thus we spent a few days
together. All too soon time was up, and father and mother and their little
party started north again. My brother accompanied them to Edmonton, from
whence they would take the long journey across the plains to revisit older
We had, up to this time, and
since we arrived from the South, brought between forty and fifty lodges of
Stoneys and Crees with us, and the question of provisions became important.
We therefore organized a summer hunt, and, making ready, struck straight out
eastward on to the plains. We had very little food for the size of our camp,
and belts were being shortened on all sides as we travelled out.
One morning I left the camp
about daylight and rode out in advance for many miles. After some hours of
steady gallop I stopped on the summit of a ridge of little hills, and,
peering into the distance, thought I saw buffalo. After scanning the country
all around, I took the saddle from my horse to rest and cool him, and when
my eyes became familiar to the distance I could make out many bands of the
much-desired game. All of this was exceedingly satisfactory, and spoke to
the comforting and satisfying of the hungry crowd behind me.
Having rested my horse and
feasted my eyes on the herds in the distance, I saddled up and rode back to
my party. These had made a long forenoon march, and were now, as I came in
sight, resting on the east bank of the Nose Creek. I rode in, and one of my
boys took my horse. The Indian woman who was my housekeeper on the trip
motioned me to the shade she had improvised, where the cloth was spread and
my lunch ready. I sat down and partook of the food and drank the refreshing
cup of tea, and not a soul had as yet asked me a question as to what I had
seen or the news I might have gleaned in my long ride.
When I was through, and the
woman had removed the dishes and cloth, then Jacob, the chief, came over and
said, "Well, my friend, 'what have you to say?"
I answered, "I have seen much
food, but not until late to-morrow can we reach it, unless the herds come in
Then he rose and told the
people the good news, and soon the whole camp was on the quick march out.
That evening I was much
reminded of the quails in the wilderness. We camped beside a small lake,
which proved to be literally swarming with moulting ducks, and hundreds of
these were caught and killed without firing a shot. Our camp feasted on duck
for the evening and the morning of that time.
The next day was very wet. A
heavy downpour of rain had set in. Bulls were reported near, and Jacob said
the people were anxious for meat; so we made ready and ran in the rain.
Just as we were about to
charge, an Indian who was a comparative stranger to me, rode up and said,
"John, we have not yet prayed." I answered, "Have you not? I have already."
Just then I let my horse out,
and the race became absorbing. We killed several bulls of fine quality, and
the camp was satisfied for the time being. In the evening of that day I sent
for the Indian who had spoken about prayer and explained to him my ideas
concerning the same. I told him that I believed prayer included my constant
conduct and my care of my horse and guns, and all details of what was
essential right here and now. He opened his eyes and began to comprehend
that prayer was life in the full sense. He had thought, with many others,
that it was a mere act.
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