It was now about the end of
November, and winter in 1874 came early and strong; and listen as we
constantly did, there was as yet no word from the Mounted Police. Had they
turned back to the Red River? Were they wiped out as they marched? We were
growing anxious. The whiskey traders were flourishing, and bolder than ever.
Indians were being killed, and killing each other. Some awful orgies had
taken place not very far from our vicinity. How long was this to last?
In the meantime, we went on
with our preparation for permanent buildings, and the saw and axe and song
made the woods ring on the higher hills near our fort. In December, rumors
began to come in of a strange arrival on the Old Man's River. It was said,
"Men were being hung over there; that there were not sufficient trees on the
island to hold the people that were being hung by these strange men who had
come fresh upon the scene."
Runners came in to find out
what we knew, and as the camps were becoming excited, I concluded to make
the trip south and ascertain at first-hand the facts in the case. Spencer,
who had come back from locating his cattle on their old range, and now was
wintering with us, volunteered to accompany me, and we set out on horseback,
with a pack animal carrying our camp equipment and provisions.
As soon as we left the Bow
Valley we found the snow deep and travel slow. Corning to the Elbow at the
Catholic mission, we were gladly welcomed by all the white people found
there. These consisted of the Rev. Mr. Scollin and the famous John LaRue and
a trader who was an old friend of ours, Sam Livingstone by name, who had
left the North country and come south after the buffalo trade. The reason of
our special welcome was that a crowd of very much excited Blackfeet and
Bloods were camped in the vicinity, and these were showing signs of
The rumors from the South
were so alarming the Indians reasoned that their time was short here below,
and said, "We may as well go in and kill and rob these white men, and have
as good a time as we can while we have a change." Coming as we did sort of
broke up the spell, and very soon we were in council with the leading men
among the Indians, who were delighted because of our proposed trip, and
said, "John was brave," and wished us a "Bon voyaqe" in their fashion, and
told me they would await with patience and great interest our coming back
That night I saw history
repeating itself, and, as of old, the criminal taking refuge in the
sanctuary. Spencer had not seen John LaRue since the former had passed
himself on him as the Very Rev. Father LaRue, the much-travelled and most
philanthropic of missionaries, and under this guise had done him out of his
horse and belongings. LaRue, hearing of my arrival, came in to where I was
being interviewed byhe Indians in the trader's room, and made aiuis.over me.
He was turning to Spencer when Specer recognized him, and pulled his
revolver. LaRue bolted into the dark, and I gripped Spencer and told him
this would not do at this time. We were all running the risk of our lives,
and a fuss might make a general row.
Later on in the evening I
went over to call on the Priest Scollin, and found that, up at the head of
the one-roomed building, there was the little altar, curtained off, and when
I asked Father Scolun where LaRue was, he significantly pointed to the
altar. John LaRue had literally taken refuge in the sanctuary, doubtless
forgetting that, to men of this day, and especially to one like Spencer,
this would not save him were it not for other influences.
Starting out the next
morning, we made slow progress, and the snow deepened, and the storm of wind
and cold came on, and, do the best we could that night, our camp was one of
the most miserable of my very many hard experiences. That very night the lay
brother who was the one companion of Father Scollin was frozen to death.
This we learned later, but because of our own experience at the time, were
Travelling on, we made Sheep
Creek for the next night, and found a couple of white men domiciled in the
old trading post. These men were also trading, but we saw no signs of
whiskey. What I did notice was that their pile of robes was altogether out
of proportion to any goods or stock in sight. However, we bunked in with
them for the night, and went on our way the next morning. Such was the depth
of snow it took us all the next day to make High River, where we camped in
the brush. As I was in a hurry, we started out from this camp some time
about midnight, and when daylight came were on the ridge, looking down upon
Mosquito Creek. The snow was deep, and, of necessity, progress was slow.
Here we saw several herds of
buffalo, and almost simultaneous with sighting the buffalo, we saw a party
of Indians come out of the hill and dash at them.
Notwithstanding the intense
cold of the night and the still colder period of the early morning, and the
monotonous progress we had made, we could not but stop on the hill's summit
for the moment and watch this scene of natural beauty and genuine primitive
life. The clouds and lower atmosphere had passed off, and the clean, cold,
crisp, snow-covered crust of mother earth and the heavens above were in
complete harmony. White and blue were here in rich measure. The big wealthy
plain at our feet, stretching in every direction, and gently undulating even
as the ocean's surface when in calmer moods. Yonder, the bolder foothills,
with their blending of altitude and timber and plains in graceful shapings,
placed as fitting approaches to the greater glory and majestic proportions
of the wonderful mountains beyond.
And now the sun touched the
distant peaks, and covered, in quick movement, as with a gorgeous garment,
the mighty picture. And as we gazed and worshipped, here at our feet were
the cattle of God, unbranded, and wild and free; but even as we looked out
upon them came the natural children of the Great Father, and the chase
began. As the killing would be right in the line of our travel, it became us
to wait a bit and watch the hunt. Out from the scattered crowd of men and
women who had braved the cold of the early morning came the hunters proper.
There may have been from twenty- five to thirty in the little dark spot that
moved quickly on the big expanse of solemn white. Presently the herds
bunched up and started on the run, and the race began, and the little dot of
humanity and horse flesh and blood scattered after them. Most of the killing
was done with arrows, and only a shot or two detonated through the keen,
frosty air. Very, soon little small black dots could be seen here and
yonder, indicating the dying and dead victims of the run.
Wondering how these people
might receive us, and who they were, we struck straight through their kill,
and as we approached they gathered up and intercepted us. At once several
recognized me, "Hah, John!" "Es-koon-a-ta-pi, John"; and they expressed
great pleasure at my going south to ascertain what had come to pass. They
had heard strange rumors, but now John would bring the news, and they would
know the truth. They pressed upon us some tit-bits of their kill, and, with
their good wishes, we went on.