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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XXVI
Tribes begin to gather—Hudson's Bay Co. decide to establish a fort—Make friends with Indians—My brother returns from Fort Benton—Buffalo abound.


And now, as autumn approached, the tribes began to gather. Every day for two months we had our hands full with these distinct people. We had six. languages, all radically different from the others, and all going at once around us. Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegans and Sarcees from the plains, altogether depending on the buffalo; Wood Crees and Wood Stoneys, who, because they could live independent of the plains, and were more individual in character, generally despised the plains tribes. We had the Mountain Stoneys, who frequented both mountain and plain, but took on type mostly from the foothills and mountains, which made them to feel that they were at the top in pluck and ability to hunt and to fight. And truly, this was their record, for, from the data at hand, for the last one hundred years this had been written in the history of this country. On the white man's side, we had at this time our mission party, and my brother David, and his interests as trader and adventurer. And now, after hard work on my part in making reports, and by personal appeal, the Hudson's Bay Company was once more daring to come out and establish a fort beside us. It was my strong desire to draw off the trade from the whiskey men to the south, and we were greatly cheered by the coming of Postmaster John Bunn, as representing the Hudson's Bay Company.

At this time there was not a bona-fide settler south of the North Saskatchewan. We were there by ourselves, a few English-speaking men and women amongst thousands of natives, and these speaking different languages, and out of the long past still at enmity and in a condition of war with each other.

Under these circumstances it was a serious problem to keep the peace. In each camp were those who desired it; but the crowd who did not care, and the crowd who had personal grievances to be adjusted and revenge to be gratified, these kept our friends and myself on the move. We had to be on guard day and night. Many a time I was called upon to pass judgment between parties of the same tribe, and often between those of distinct nationality. Horses and women were, almost in every case, the reason given for the trouble.

I made it a rule to listen to the quality of evidence rather than the quantity thereof; but to arbitrate or give judgment with all parties before you fully armed, and their several constituencies behind them ready to fight, made me feel somewhat nervous. However, we knew we were preparing the people for government, which we now hoped would soon come upon the scene. In the meantime, "John's" ruling prevailed, at any rate in the vicinity of our fort.

If some of my readers had looked in on some of our Sunday morning or evening services, they would have thought the whole affair most unique. All manner of costumes, feathers and paint, porcupine quills and beads, buckskin and buffalo leather, ermine and robes, and, mixed up amongst all this, many colors and many-typed congregation, were the earnest few who were as the leaven, working for peace and righteousness.

Every day we were gaining ground and making friends. Among the Blackfeet, we won over Bull Elk, and Eagle Ribs, and Bear's Child, and Big Plume, and Old Sun, and we had already, as previously narrated, gained the confidence of Crowfoot, the head chief; and now these men counted us as of themselves. Then, among the Bloods, we had won over Rainy Chief, and Iron Pipe, and these prominent Bloods looked upon John and his brother, "the man with the tooth out," as, of white men, the best fellows they had ever met. Then, among the Sarcees, there was great big Bull Head, who claimed me as a brother, and, as I have told you in my last book, held me as prisoner in his camp until we got acquainted. Among the Stoneys, there were Bear's Paw, and Cheneka, and Jacob. These were the chiefs of the Mountain and Wood Stoneys, and were as our own brethren; and thus our work went on with great encouragement.

While the Indians were with us in large numbers, my time was altogether taken up with them, counsel, service, medicine, law, judgment, making peace, and lecturing to crowds on government and civilization, on invention and education, and the effect of Christianity on the nations of humanity. Thus our work was constant, and only when these tribes struck their lodges and moved away did there come any respite and chance to rest, and opportunity to relax nerve and strain.

It was at this time that my brother, returning from Fort Benton, brought into our room two chairs, and presenting one of them to Mrs. McDougall, gave the other to me. I had spent more than fourteen years in the great North-West, but was now, for the first time, the happy possessor of a factory-made chair. Certainly we were coming up, and civilization was advancing towards our big wilderness. When opportunity served, I found myself sitting in that chair, and, consciously and unconsciously, my hand would slip down over its smooth, varnished surface, and I felt the thrill of luxury tingle through my veins.

By the 1st of November, most of the plainsmen had gone down the Bow and out on to the plains. Some of the Stoneys had scattered in every direction into the mountains and Northland, and we, with the hunters of the camps left with us, went on a fresh meat hunt. We found buffalo within fifty miles of home, and we had some very exciting chases after them. Chief Cheneka was my constant companion on this hunt, and I felt this was my opportunity of cementing a bond of friendship with this influential old man, who touched both Crees and Stoneys. The country we ran in was full of badger holes, and the loose snow being from eight to twelve inches in depth, made them very hard to see. Many a tumble was accomplished, and of all our party who ran I think I was the only one to escape a fall on that trip. Horse at full .speed, and in a flash he was on his head, rolling or sliding over and along the frozen and snow-covered surface of mother earth; and the man, oh, where was he? His gun was often difficult to find, and when neck and limb escaped, and when horse and man came together again, many a hearty laugh was experienced by both victims as well as onlookers.

On this trip the buffalo were in prime condition, and I got my name up with the Indians for killing fat animals. In a short time we were loaded to the full, wagons piled with fine meat, and carts, notwithstanding faithful greasing, creaked and groaned as we travelled homeward. This time David went ahead, and I remained with our transport. There were three white men outfits in our party—mine, David's and the Hudson's Bay Company's—and quite a number of Indians; and thus, on wagon and cart and many pack-horses, we were taking home many thousands of pounds of meat; and yet we knew that this was but a temporary supply, and that, in order to spare our dried provisions and the little flour we had freighted from Fort Benton, we would in a few weeks have to take to the hunt again and again. The spring and early summer would need all the cured food we had at our command.


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