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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XXV
Up in the foothills—Visit the fort—What might have been.


The Stoneys and Wood Crees could generally live anywhere, but the true plainsman would starve if the buffalo upon which he depended were not forthcoming. We might meet a horse-stealing war party, but we hoped not. On, across the Sheep Creek and many other creeks. When we had crossed the Elbow, and come to the shack entitled the Old Mission, we found the priest absent, but the two noted would-be priests, Elixie and John LaRue, in possession. Though with us it was only Friday, yet with these gentlemen it was Sunday, and Elixie had his flag flying, and was celebrating mass in his way. Our coming to these eccentrics at this time was a heaven-send to them. Both were ardent smokers and tea-drinkers, but they had neither tobacco nor tea. I supplied them with some of both these articles, and they gave me their individual and united blessings. When I told them about the boundary line, Elixie said that was just as he had arranged it. He had stood on the divide just south of Chief Mountain, and, waving his hands southward, he had said to the Long Knives, "You can have that and we will keep this to the north." He was very glad to know that both countries had thus strictly kept to his arrangement of the division of the Great West.

While Elixie was talking to me, John LaRue stood back, and every little while, with a look of profound sadness, would catch my eye, and significantly tap his head indicating that his friend was away off. Poor fellows, we left them much encouraged with the gifts of tobacco and tea, and went on.

And now we were well up in the foothills, between the Elbow and the Bow rivers, and Tom suggested to me that I ride on and leave him to camp for one night alone. I looked at him and felt this was kind, and evidenced a lot of pluck in this man. I said, "Thank you, Tom; I will do so; and I will hope to meet you at the Bow River in the morning. Wait for me at the crossing," and away I went on the gallop, to know in a few hours what had taken place at home.

Soon I was at the summit of the great hill commanding the beautiful Bow Valley for many miles, and eagerly scanning the landscape for the sign of humanity, but saw none. Solitude reigned. Away across and on up into the hills I had left our people and the little fort which was our home. Would I find all well, or would I find a ruin, and nothing else? Thus I communed with myself, and urged my horse down into and on across the valley to the ford. Noting that this was possible though rather high, in I spurred my horse, and presently was taking the straightest, as also the best-hidden, way to the fort, and came in sight of this without as yet seeing a soul.

There was the fort; but were there any people in it? However, riding into the square, here they were, alive and well, and with a silent "God be thanked," I alighted from my horse amongst my own people. They were hoping and longing, but not expecting me for some time to come, and my sudden arrival was doubly welcome, and, as it turned out, none too soon, for I had scarcely been home two hours when a party of the toughs of the Blackfoot camp rode up, and I can tell you they were surprised to find me at home. When I threw open the door and confronted them, it was as if they had seen a spirit. They expected that I was still in the distant South. "Ah-he-yah! John!" I saw they were greatly taken aback. They had come for mischief, that was plain, but now they were disconcerted; but how long this mood might last was the question. They hung on to their horses and held their arms ready, and I, to gain time, palavered and kept wondering what the next move might be. We were but few; they were strong; and presently they might awake to our weakness and suddenly act. I talked to those wild fellows, and hoped and prayed for deliverance, and even then it was coming, for quietly and without any one of us noting their approach, suddenly several young Stoneys were beside me.

Oh, how glad I was, and in my heart praised God and took courage.

"How are you? Where do you come from?"

They answered, "Close by."

"How many lodges?" and the answer came again, "Three times ten."

I took care to make the Blackfeet understand these answers, and they responded by at once becoming ardent lovers of peace and kindly intentions. But it made me fairly sick at heart to think of what might have been.

Once more we had passed a crisis in the affairs of the little company in the fort on the hill.

Early next day I got rid of the party of Blackfeet, and then started down to the river to meet Tom. I was there just in time to catch him and help to raise the stuff in the carts and bring these across the ford, which was always a dangerous spot.


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