On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter III
Push on to Edmonton—Down the
Shskatchewan—Call at Fort Ellis.
The next morning father
pushed on to Edmonton, and we made preparations to follow, as it was my plan
to leave my family at Edmonton while I was away on my long journeys.
Moreover, Edmonton would be the better place to make our start from in the
autumn for the Bow River country. We had explored the south land. We had
covered hundreds of miles of new territory, and both the Chairman :and
myself had determined that with the knowledge we now had the Bow River
Valley was the proper place, and, for our work, the strategic centre. In
these few weeks of travel, we had beheld a new Empire, and a most glorious
portion of this great West.
And now behold us, like the
pilgrims of old, moving, bag and baggage, from Pigeon Lake, en route to
Edmonton, wife and sister and my children on horseback, camp equipage and
luggage in carts (in those days we were unencumbered with furniture),
wending our way through the woods and across the swamps and muskegs and
streams towards the lone metropolis of the greater West. We had with us a
sworn friend of mine, Jacob Big Stoney, who was to accompany me across the
plains to the banks of the Red, where the now city of Winnipeg was in germ,
in the little village just north of old Fort Garry. To Jacob and his people
this was a great undertaking, to go down the Saskatchewan Valley, to cross
over w the Assiniboine, and follow this to its junction with the Red; to
travel through the land of the Wood and Plain Cree, and Salteaux; to come
into contact with the Dakota Sioux, who had fled into this territory after
the Minnesota massacre of 1862; to view the beginning of the human tide,
which was now on the banks Of the Red, but which would ultimately cover the
whole land. This was a much-discussed matter, and, with solemn mien, Jacob's
people committed Jacob to my care. But between this man Jacob and myself
there had grown up a wonderful confidence. A child of the woods, a son of
the mountains, coming out of a natural school, richly endowed with native
graces, truly my friend Jacob was a man to be loved and greatly admired,
perfect in stature, and handsome in countenance and form, an athlete in
constant training, a mighty hunter, and now, by the grace of God, a. humble
Christian. This was the friend who was to be my companion for the coming
months. He would teach me, verily, as I would try to teach him. Around many
campfires we would study each other, and the very distinct environments we
had come from.
days brought us to Edmonton, and, crossing the river, we were at the post.
To make a crossing of a big river in 1873 in the North-West meant something.
There were no Government bridges, and there were no licensed wire-rope
ferries. By dint of much wading and splashing and shouting, and often many
disappointments, you urged your stock to take the current. Repeatedly the
cattle would turn and come back to the same shore. Again and again the
effort must be made. You would start them in a little higher up or lower
down; you would think you had now caught the right sweep of current, and
once more they would be off. Then you would breathe freely and rest your
lungs for a moment; but, alas, back they would turn, and all must again be
gone over. Meanwhile, the day was passing quickly; and when, by dint of much
hard work and exposure, your stock would be across, then you would take your
carts and wagons to pieces and load them on the skiff or boat or scow.
Finally, pulling or tracking this boat away upstream, and then pulling oar
or sweep with all your might, you would reach the further shore. This would
have to be repeated over and over again until all were across.
The pioneer of to-day is a misnomer. There is no
pioneering to-day. Then life was strenuous. Now it is luxurious. Having
reached Edmonton, we began to make ready for the long trip to Fort Garry.
Good-bye for months to wife and children and parents and friends, and Jacob
and I were off, I in a buckboard, on the tail of which all our camp
equipment was lashed, and my companion on horseback.
Away we rode at a steady jog. We left Edmonton
Friday evening, and made Victoria Saturday night. We spent Sunday in my
brother's home, and took part in the services of the day. English and
French, mixed bloods and Indian's, all were hungry for the Gospel in the
mother tongue. God had given us this rare privilege, and this was our
bright and early, we were away, following down the north side of the great
Saskatchewan, sometimes in full view of its majestic bend, more frequently
miles in the interior. Everywhere we were travelling through a prepared
We passed the
White Mud, Vermilion, Saddle Lake, Egg Lake, the Dog Romp, Moose Creek, and
Frog Lake. We rolled up through and between the Two Hills; ever and anon we
looked over a world of beauty and infinite possibility. We were carrying the
packet from the Great West. We called at Fort Pitt and picked up more mail;
we rushed on under the Frenchmen's Butte; we crossed the Red Deer and Turtle
Rivers; we skirted the White Earth and Jackfish Lakes.
We rolled past in sight of the great springs
where, it is said, whole bands of buffalo have disappeared and again emerged
in mysterious ways. Such is tradition. We passed the Bear's Padd1ing Lake.
We climbed the Thick Wood Hills, and surmounting these looked down on the
Red Berry and Fort Canton country. We came out on the Saskatchewan opposite
the old Fort, swam our horses and ferried our buckboard and belongings,
called at the Fort for more mail, and an interchange of news, and passed on
by Duck Lake and camped Saturday evening on the north bank of the South
Saskatchewan. To the men who moved and travelled as we did in those early
days, the coming of the Sabbath was most welcome. We could sublimely
appreciate the rest. When you start with daylight, and travel until the dusk
of the evening, never losing a minute around camp or on the road, always
studying your horses, and keeping them at the regular gait up hill and down
dale, cooking your meals, oiling your rig, perhaps mending your harness and
fastening the bolts of your vehicle, and press on without stop for six days,
then, if you are at all reasonable, and have any of the principle of
gratitude in your makeup, you naturally praise God for the Sabbath.
We rested, man and beast, and took on strength
for the days that were coming; then early Monday morning we found one of our
horses drowned in a swamp, in which he had thrown himself with the hobble,
but we did not stop to mourn. He was but one of the many lost, stolen and
used up in the constant rush of continuous travel.
On across the big river we went, and then stuck
to the trail for the Red River and Old Fort Garry. We called at Fort Ellis
and took some more mail for the East. We caught up to some travellers, who
said they would accompany us into the settlement, but the next morning we
left them asleep.
camped Saturday night with some others, but they left us Sunday morning. We
kept the Sabbath, and we passed the party on Tuesday morning, our horses
fresh and theirs jaded and losing flesh fast. We made the record trip
without any relay of horses from Edmonton to Fort Garry, doing the distance
in less than fourteen days. On the way down, I translated the hymn "Nearer
My God to Thee" and have since heard the aborigines of an immense area
singing the same in many a mission church and around many a camp fire.
Nearing Fort Garry and Winnipeg, my companion
began to open his eyes. Here were more people than he had ever seen, more
buildings than he had ever dreamed of. Little Grace Church was to him an
immense sanctuary. Into his life, all this came as a wonderful revelation.
Even for this I had brought him from his mountain and forest home.
The General Secretary, the Rev. Laughlin Taylor,
D.D., was not on hand. He had gone down Lake Winnipeg to Norway House and
beyond. He might return at any time, or it might be weeks of waiting;
accordingly we settled down to take care of our horses, and to do any work
that might come to hand and be ready.
Winnipeg in 1873 was beginning. A few of the
hardier and more speculative of our Canadian people were coming in.
Everything was crude, the West and the East slowly coming together. The
ironless cart and flashy buggy were standing or rolling side by side. The
tenderfoot and the native to the manner born fraternised on the muddy street
of this germ of a coming city.
Among these old-timers and the day's
new-corners, Jacob and I mingled and studied during the days of our waiting.
Then the "Big" man came, and we hurriedly made ready to recross the great
plain. Our manner of travel was in this wise: I drove ahead with a regular
prairie wagon, half springs and long box. Dr. Taylor came next in a
buckboard, then our loose horses, then Jacob, driving a buckboard. To the
doctor the plains were a new experience; to Jacob, the four-wheeled rig was
also something entirely new. The doctor would let his horse follow after me,
and his wheels drop into the deep cart ruts, constantly running the risk of
being thrown out, and Jacob would seek to avoid this rut and drop into that
one, notwithstanding my warnings. It was most amusing to see both the East
and West jolting along as if all things were in a state of disjointment.
Nevertheless, we made good time, averaging about fifty miles a day, which,
for our heavier equipment, was doing well, but very hard work for our
traveller. A little French priest, recently out from Paris, whom father met
on the plain, remarked: "Oh, yes, Mista McDugal, vera fine countree, but
plenty mesare." And even so our venerable General Secretary found things. An
extra splash of rich mud, a few millions of ravenously hungry mosquitoes, an
onslaught of bulldogs, the long weary miles of persistent and strenuously
constant travel from dawn to dark—truly this was hard on flesh and blood.
At times the doctor was
silent for hours. A bounding antelope, a glorious landscape, a lovely lake,
gemmed and dotted with all manner of wild fowl, all this was vain. What had
he done to have this premature purgatory thus thrust upon him? Then there
came times when the mood would change. "Say, Brother John, is this not most
beautiful? Ali, what a wonderful country." "Look, Brother John, did you ever
see anything grander than that, stretching away yonder for miles." Very
seldom do we find men of an equipoise, men whose judgments abnormal
conditions will not move. Surely these will multiply, else the race will
were two distinct types of manhood, and often I amused and educated myself
as I drove along at the head of our little caravan, in studying these unique
characters, with whom I was thus brought into contact. How often it was
borne in upon me that our civilization as it is called does not produce the
gentleman, and even the higher influence of Christianity must struggle with
our race for centuries to make real men and women.
On we rode, and as we again carried the packet
for the Great West, were welcome visitors for the moment at the Hudson's Bay
At Fort Ellis Dr.
Taylor and Chief Factor McDonald got out of our ken and away into the
Gaelic. From thence I took a new route and kept the south side of the
Qu'Appelle until we had gone west of the Broken Arm, on to the south branch,
on to Fort Carleton, and once more across the North Saskatchewan, and
presently we were north of Fort Pitt, and I camped my party near Onion Lake,
then started in with the packet for the Fort.
On my way I looked for the Hudson's Bay horse
guard, as I wanted a fresh mount into the Fort and back. Presently I saw the
band of horses and the lodge of the guard.
On riding up, I found that the guard was away
and his wife and daughter did not know me. However, I was persistent in
asking for the best saddle horse in the bunch, and soon I saw that these
women were beginning to believe I was not fraudulent. Then the mother asked
me if I was the man who had taken a white woman through this country lat
winter, and I pleaded guilty at once to the charge of having done so. Then
all suspicion was allayed, and she told her daughter to catch up the "White
Face," and soon I was astride the fine, fresh horse, and on a straight
gallop for the Fort. Imagine my surprise when riding into the gate to find
my father and the Rev. Peter Campbell, who had come on this far to meet the
General Secretary, and to help me escort him up the valley of the
Saskatchewan. Soon my packet was delivered, and my friends had harnessed up
and were ready, and we went north to my companions, where there was a joyous
meeting of old friends. As the day was not all spent, we made a long drive
that evening, and when around the camp fire, because of increased numbers,
there was much more life than usual.
Early and late we rolled on, into what Dr.
Taylor now called this "most wonderful and unlimited country," weeks of
travel and still more beyond. When we reached Saddle Lake, Dr. Taylor and
father and myself left the rest of the party to move on to the White Mud
River on the main trail. We went north to White Fish Lake. We were now on
horseback, and this was a long ride for the doctor. Reaching the mission, we
found it about deserted.
The missionary and his people were out on the
plains following the great herds. However, we found Benjamin Sinclair, the
lay brother, who was assistant to the first Protestant missionary to the
Great West, the Rev. Robert Rundle. Ben had come up into the Saskatchewan in
the early days; had been at Pigeon Lake and Lac Labiche, and now was settled
beside this mission. He was an all-round sort of a man. He could build a
boat or a house or make a dog-sled or a pair of snowshoes. He was an
agriculturist. It was right here, at this northern lake, that Ben sowed one
keg of barley and reaped and cleaned up eighty kegs from the one. He had
grown wheat also, and several kinds of vegetables, thus in the forties and
fifties, demonstrating that in this north-western portion of great Canada
all this was possible. Then he was a first- class hunter of moose, elk, all
sorts of deer, buffalo and bear. He was most renowned in all this. Moreover,
he was a great trapper of beaver, marten, otter, fisher, lynx, mink,
muskrat; in all these, Ben was hard to beat. He was also a remarkable
preacher, and a splendid syllabic scholar. Few men knew their Bible like
this man, who had never gone to school, pardon the paradox, but had been in
school all his life. Our doctor was greatly interested in this man.
We spent the day visiting the mission and the
few people at home, but spent most of the time with Ben Sinclair. One such
man rescued and saved and lifted was a big success for the efforts of a
missionary society in one generation. But right here, we were in association
with another great success. The absent missionary, the Rev. Henry Steinhauer,
whose work was all around us, and which we were now inspecting, is a most
glorious sample of the regenerating power of the gospel. Right out of the
brush camp and birch bark lodge, right out of confirmed old-time faiths, as
old as the generations of men, and at one leap and by one big bound he is
across the wide chasm of the centuries, and stands out before all the world,
a new man 'a scholar, a practical civilizer, a Christian gentleman, a man
consecrated to God and humanity. Henry Steinhauer and Benjamin Sinclair are
miracles of redeeming grace. We could not stay but a night and part of a
day. This is a big country, and as yet we were without wings. "Good-bye,
Ben," and we swung into the saddle and took the dim trail through the woods,
across country to the rendezvous with our party.
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