On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter XXVIII
Make for Pine Creek—Cross the
Porcupine Hills—Indian's body cached In tree—Meet Col. Macleod of
Mounted Police—Police build fort—Government established without a
shot being fired—Reach home again.
We made our course for the
north end of Pine Creek, and in the evening of the day found some wood, and
had our first meal since the previous midnight. Hurrying with our supper, we
packed up and made over the spurs of the Porcupine Hills on buffalo trails,
which helped us very much. I ran ahead, and Spencer drove the horses after
me. It was rather cold to ride, and our horses had come through deep snow
and were tired.
It was after midnight when we
came out on the Willow Creek, where it debouches from the hills, and where
we hoped to find timber for camp purposes; but during the autumn and earlier
in the winter large camps of Indians had been in the vicinity, and all the
dry wood was used up. However, by dint of much effort, we found some small
willows, enough to boil our kettle and make a cup of hot coffee. In hunting
up wood, I wandered up the creek among some large cottonwood and poplar
trees, and in the dark night, feeling for what might be a dry limb, I took
hold of a frozen limb of a long, tall Indian. His friends had cached his
dead body in the forks of the tree. The body was wrapped in a hide of
buffalo leather, which was lashed around with green buffalo hide. This
frozen limb, stretching out in the dark, and seeming to be as a part of the
tree, gave me a queer sensation, and I strolled back to Spencer and felt
somewhat comforted when I found him. We cut some green willow, and cleaning
away the snow in the lee of some shrub, floored our camp with willows, and
then made our bed thereon. Then we cut a hole in the ice of the river, and,
hastily making up a small fire, succeeded in securing a hot cup of coffee,
and at once rolled into bed. We were tired; we had kept up the march for the
full twenty-four hours and better, under difficult travel in very cold
weather, and soon were asleep.
When I awoke it was coming
daylight, and as I had uncovered to look I felt the warming change of a
chinook. I put out my hand and felt the snow- bank beside me, and already it
was softening, and I shouted to my companion, "Chinook, old fellow; chinook!"
Gladly and quickly we were up, and set to work to gather some wood with
which to make our breakfast. In doing this I took Spencer up to where tile
tall Indian was hung in the forks of the tree. He looked at me and said,
"Did you see this last night" and when I said, "Yes," he answered, "Well, I
am glad you did not tell me."
All day we travelled in deep
snow, but this was slowly lessening because of the west wind blowing, as it
did, full and strong. We managed to boil our kettle at the cut bank on
Willow Creek. Already it was late in the evening of the day, and we went on
through the night. Coining down into Willow Creek, near its junction with
the Old Man's, we began to move carefully, for here somewhere we expected to
find either the police or the whiskey traders in force.
It was now after midnight,
and just as I thought of camping and waiting for daylight I saw a glint of
light and concluded to make for it. We found this was across the Old Man's
River, on what was known as the Island.
Reaching the place, we found
that the light came from a small shack, and we were very fortunate when, on
opening the door in answer to a clear "Come in," we found ourselves in the
presence of Col. Macleod, the officer in command of the Mounted Police. He
was making his home temporarily with Mr. Charles Conrad, who represented the
firm of I. G. Baker & Co., of Fort Benton and Montana. Charlie, with his
usual energy, had got up a store and warehouse, and had put up this little
shack to live in. And here we were, by good fortune, domiciled with these
men, who were at the top representing the Government of Canada and the
southern trade of this country, as this now lapped over from Montana. I, in
loyalty to the Hudson's Bay Company and English and Canadian trade, had done
what I could to inspire the Honorable Company; but it was unfortunate that
the Commissioner of the Hudson's Bay Company at this time was of the
non-enterprising type, and thus the live American firm of I. G. Baker & Co.
went in without opposition and gathered great wealth through our Government
opening up this Western country by the establishing of law and order. The
Government alone for many years was a large source of business and income
for this active firm, and as they did not deal and had not dealt in
intoxicating liquors of any kind, we could not but be in hearty sympathy
We were hospitably
entertained by Mr. Conrad, and Col. Macleod was very glad to meet me. He had
many things to talk about. I told him at once that I had not come to give
any information concerning anyone at this time, but to ascertain for myself
as to their arrival and what we might now depend upon. That, so far as this
trip was concerned, I gave the whiskey traders of the North every chance to
stop the traffic or get up and go out of the country; but if there came to
me direct evidence hereafter, now that I had come to find him and his police
with regularly constituted authority to carry out the law, why, then I would
lay information against anyone infringing upon the same.
The Colonel did me the honor
to confer with me as to past crimes. He said that already several cases had
been brought to his attention.
What would be the best way to
deal with these?
I gave it as my opinion that
he should start with a clean sheet. This country had been without law. It
was not what was past, but what would occur now and in the future, we had to
do with. I said that "Let by-gones be by-gones" would be my policy; but now,
make every man walk right up to the mark. Furthermore, I modestly
interjected, there should not be one law for the white man and another for
In all this the Colonel
heartily agreed. He said he thought this was fair and just, and would act
accordingly. I found the force a fine, hearty 1t of fellows, and on this
short trip became acquainted with a number of the officers and men. They
were busy building a fort out of the cottonwood and poplar timber of the
valley. Most of the men were living in tents, and the sharp weather and
storm we had come through had tried them sorely; but they were looking
forward to quarters, however crude, in good time. Their unacclimated horses
were dying. Their long trip across the plains, and too much red tape withal,
had been more than these horses could stand. To this extent the force was
sadly crippled. The men's clothing had worn out on the long march, and now
they were being dressed in buffalo leather pants and robe coats. However,
all hands were cheerful and hardy, and glad to have finally reached their
objective point for the present.
I could not help but think
that they might have come on the scene three months earlier, which would
have given them so much better season for building and preparing for the
winter. The distance they had come was not so great, but the manner of their
march delayed them. Too much of the military and too little of the practical
had with them caused delay, as in very many instances in the history of
campaigns. However, they were now here; of this we were sure, and
consequently thankful. The storm and deep snow had kept them from sending
out hunting parties, and the camp was down to bacon and hardtack; but this
would be remedied when buffalo could be secured, and also flour brought in
from Montana. Freight, that winter of 1874-5, was ranging from 8 to 12 cents
per pound between Fort Benton and Macleod. During the one day we spent with
the police, Col. Macleod said to me, "How far is it to the 49th parallel?"
After thinking a minute of the time I had taken to either walk or ride or
drive the distance, I told him that it was between 48 and 50 miles. Then the
Colonel took some observations, and, making his calculation, said to me,
"How did you know? Had you measured it?" I answered, "No, sir; but I have
travelled the trail so much, and have journeyed so many thousands of miles
that I can come pretty close in my estimates." Then he told me it was a
little more than 49 miles from where we were.
I renewed my acquaintance
with quite a number of the Whoopup fraternity, all of them very decent and
law-abiding citizens now, "you bet."
Thus, without a shot being
fired, government was established simultaneously at Edmonton in the North,
and at Macleod in the South. A mere handful of men, unused to this
wilderness life, "tenderfeet" for the most part, had come across the plains
of the southern North-West Territories, and another company had taken the
old trail up the Saskatchewan, and not a man had said them nay, just because
the whole country was tired of tribal war and constant lawlessness, and was
looking and longing for this change which was now brought about by the
advent of the representatives of government and order. I claim that the
missionary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had more to do with the peaceful
occupation of this immense land than any other man. He was the real
forerunner in this case. In buffalo and moose-skin lodges, in the centres of
great encampments, beside many campfires, during countless conversations as
thousands of miles across country were being traversed, he glorified the
law, he extolled order, he preached forever peace and loyalty to good
government, and thus the minds of the people were prepared and waiting for
this day we now beheld.
This was as we thought, as we
slept beside the Colonel that night in December of 1874, and thus we felt as
we rode forth the next morning to return and spread the news of the arrival
of the Mounted Police, and give the reason for their coming again and again
as opportunity occurred. That is, we would go on as we had in all the past
fourteen years and better of our lives in the far West, to emphasize
righteousness and liberty and equality of the race.
When we had taken stock of
our equipment at the cut bank that day we found our "grub-pile" to consist
of Chicago bacon and hardtack; and as we sat and munched this we were sorry
that we had not brought a rifle with us. We each carried big revolvers, but
the horses we were riding were not buffalo runners, and it seemed as if
there would be no change until we reached home.
However, as we were steadily
jogging northward that afternoon there came a fine band of buffalo out of
the hill, and as these rushed across our course, perhaps a half a mile ahead
of us, one of them suddenly dropped out of the race, having broken her leg.
I said to Spencer, "I will gallop up and take stock of this animal." As I
approached I saw that here was a very fine heifer, in splendid condition;
so, as she turned to fight me, I drew my revolver and shot her dead, and
Spencer coming up with the pack animal, we took on a fine lot of fresh meat.
Verily, we were now well provisioned for the trip home.
We planned to reach the Sheep
Creek trading post about daybreak. Accordingly, camping in the timber on
High River, we made our way through the deep snow, which at this point had
not been very much affected by the last chinook, and reaching Sheep Creek
long before daylight, we had to go down into a coulee and make a fire and
wait for daybreak. Then we moved in on to the traders; but while I noticed
that the robe pile had grown larger, and the goods on the shelf remained
about as before, still there was not even the smell of whiskey anywhere.
Their plan was not to allow any liquor to be used about the place. The
Indian must take it home to his camp, or they would not let him have it. All
this I found out later.
In due time we reached home.
The trip had taken longer than I had planned. The snow from south of High
River to within a few miles of the Bow was most unusually deep and very
heavy to travel through. I had previously been summoned in a most peremptory
manner by the "acting Chairman" to attend a district meeting at Edmonton on
January 1st, 1875.
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