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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XXIV
Strike for Whoopup country—In the great pasture country— Meet Mr. Joseph Healey—Keep Union Jack floating on our wagon.


Finishing our work among these northern camps, we turned south, striking for the Whoopup country, for we wanted to give all men fair warning of the change that was coming. When we were some ten miles away, a young Indian I had met several times previously caught up to us where we were lunching, and seemed anxious that we hurry up and go on. Feeling that something was up, we hurried our horses into harness and under saddle, and just as we were about starting, a troop of wild fellows came charging out of the hills, and I soon saw that they meant mischief.

I told my men to be ready, and then I palavered with these newcomers, and got out some tobacco and told the leader to distribute same to his following, and we moved on. They dismounted and started in smoking, and we moved on and travelled into the night, stopping late only to change horses and make a cup of tea. While we were doing this, one noted horse-thief came up to us and wanted to travel in our company, but I told him his pony was too small and poor to keep up to our party. So we gave him a cup of tea and some tobacco and shook him off and continued our journey, and thus we kept on all night at a steady gait.

I wanted to put as long a distance between those last camps and ourselves as possible. When day broke we selected a good spot and went into camp. This was Sunday, and, resting in turn, we enjoyed the day as best we could.

Near evening we discovered a solitary Indian. We brought him into camp and kept him with us all night, and did not let him go until we were ready ourselves to start the other way, bright and early Monday morning. Then we made for the crossing on the Bow River, where I had found a ford the previous season. Here the water was at such a stage as to necessitate the raising of our loads and the steadying of each cart from the current as we crossed. And now we were in the great pasture country between the Bow and Belly and Old Man's rivers.

For centuries the countless herds had roamed and tramped the surface earth solid. Over this we rode and rolled at a good pace, and, crossing the little Bow away down, struck straight for Whoopup.

Crossing the Belly River, we drove up to the fort, and found the gate shut and very little sign of humanity around; but presently the gate opened to us and we entered. Mr. Joseph Healey was in charge, and had but one man with him at this time, The others were away interviewing the Boundary Commission, which was now about finishing the work of survey to the foot of the Rockies. Both countries interested had parties of engineers and troops working together and determining the 49th parallel from Red River to the mountains. These had been at work since 1872. Healey told us he expected the Whoopup contingent back at any minute, and invited us to make ourselves welcome in the fort. And as his one man was more or less under the influence, and himself pretty well braced, he set to work preparing a meal for our party.

"Unbuckle and lay off your armory for the moment, Parson John," was his kind injunction to myself, and while we were at lunch he discussed the situation from his standpoint.

"There was not much need for Government intervention in this country. He and his friends had been able to and could keep the rougher element out. For instance, there was So-and-So. He came in and was going to run things. He lies under the sod at Standoff. And there was So-and-So. He had aspirations, and we stretched him beside the other fellow. And there was So-and-So. He went wild, and we laid him out at Freezeout, and some more at Slideout. These bad men could not live in this country. We simply could not allow it. No, Parson John, we did not let any really bad men stay in this Whoopup region." Thus my friend did argue, and conclude that the Government's action was not needed.

However, I told him the Government was coming; and I read to him my instructions' He drew a long breath and gave a solemn sigh of resignation. We were still at our lunch when we heard a wild crowd approaching, whooping and yelling, and Healey said, "I guess the boys are coming home."

Sure enough, here they were; and as Joe opened the gate, in they dashed, more or less under the influence of alcohol. When they saw my carts and the little Union Jack, they blustered and swore, but did not pull it down. Some of them I had seen before, but many were strangers. They had just come from the biggest kind of a circus. Having supplied the men of the Boundary Commission with their whiskey, these fellows had thoroughly enjoyed the fist fights and general rows in the camp of the survey. They reported the survey finished for this section, and that the line struck the mountains immediately on the north side of Chief Mountain. They also reported that the last seen or heard of the Mounted Police was away east of Woody Mountain.

Said Mr. Davis, afterwards the first member from Alberta in the Dominion Parliament, "You are looking for the police? 'Well, I can tell you, there will be no Mounted Police in this country this year. You can just bet on that. I can tell you, Parson John, we will flood this country for one more year with whiskey."

I told him I could not help the delay, nor yet understand it; but my instructions were that the Canadian Government was now sending in a body of police, and had fully determined to establish law and order.

He said, "Well, when this is done we will drop into line and obey the law; but until then we will do as we please."

My instructions were to report to the commanding officer of the Mounted Police, if I should find him. However, this latest information relieved me of going any farther just now. I had seen the representative Indians of the mountains and the plains, and had also gone to the headquarters of the white men concerned; and now, through these, the whole country was officially informed of our Government, so I concluded I could very well feel I had done my part, and return as quickly as possible to our own fort and people.

Moreover, I knew my brother had gone on the second trip to Fort Benton, and the care of our families and dependents was at this time, under Providence, upon the Stoney Indians; and these were, in turn, dependent upon the food supplied. I therefore told my men to make ready and we would immediately turn our faces northward.

I think it was at this time that a big, blustering fellow came up and accosted me in this wise:

"--------", "--------", and you are the man who has written to the Eastern people and Government, telling all kinds of lies about us men who are trying to make a living in this country? Don't you know you will catch it for this? Don't you know that seventy white men between here and Benton have solemnly put their names to paper to see this thing through? I tell you, your game is up."

I looked him over, and said, in my turn, as he shook his fist in my face, and reached his hand around and gripped the handle of his revolver, "My dear sir, as you know, it is a question of truth or falsehood. If I have, as you say, lied about you and your friends and conditions in this country, there is no need for a fuss about it. Of itself it will fall through. But, let me tell you, if I have spoken the truth, it will not matter if seventy times seventy men solemnly put their names to paper, as against what I have said and done. I will prevail, because the truth, and the truth only, shall prevail."

Just here, unconsciously to me, another man was at my back. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Bully for you, Parson John, and it, I will stand by you."

I saw the first man slink back, and, turning to my new-found friend, beheld a different type of man. He was with these men, but not of them. We shook hands warmly on the grounds of eternal justice and sterling principle.

Spencer, who had come with us thus far, decided to go on to Sun River and find out about his cattle, but Robinson decided to return with me. I bade these wild frontiersmen good-bye, and, with our little Union Jack still proudly waving in the breeze, we re-forded the Belly River, and climbing up the big hill, journeyed out northward.

The next day I ran buffalo, and we took the meat of a fine cow for our food supply. Near High River my two Indians, who had shown the finest pluck and given me most devoted service, left us to join their people, whom they expected to find up along the foot of the mountain. Tom Robinson and myself were now alone, and our hope was that we would not meet any plains Indians for the rest of the way. In this we were strengthened by the absence of buffalo. These were still farther out on the plain, and in this much were a guarantee of the absence of large bands of Indians.


 


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