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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XXXI
Back to the fort—Prepare for permanent establishment of mission—Send despatches to Mounted Police at Fort Macleod—First Protestant church parade of Mounted Police—Taken ill suddenly—Make trying journey for help.


Finishing our itinerary, and once more with our folk in the little fort at the foot of the great mountains, we busied ourselves in taking out timber, and in whip-sawing lumber, and in making shingles, and preparing for the permanent establishment of our mission down in the valley in due time. Up here on the big hill, in the timber, we had built the fort and erected a temporary church and a schoolhouse, and now the Government had come upon the scene; that is, the police were one hundred, and fifty miles south of us and two hundred and twenty-five miles north of us, and there was peace in a measure; but as yet we were careful and constantly on the watch. However, God willing, we would make the attempt to move to the valley during the coming summer. In the meanwhile, the winter was strong, and the snow in this section was very deep, and the whiskey traders were taking advantage of the condition of the police as to horses and equipment, and the trade was going on vigorously at Sheep Creek and High River and away down the Bow.

Presently some wounded Indians were brought in, and there was plenty of evidence of whiskey and crime in the camps. As I had given the boys a fair chance in my December trip, I now felt in duty bound to act against them, which I did by collecting evidence and securing affidavits, and then I despatched .these with a white man and an Indian guide, by way of the mountain trails, to the officer in command at Fort Macleod. However, as very stormy weather came and the snow deepened, my party, after being away three nights, returned, having failed. Then a brave, plucky Stoney Indian volunteered to take my despatches through, and I having cautioned him to avoid all white men en route, and to be sure on arrival to find the officer in command and deliver the package to him direct, my Stoney started. In due time he returned with letters from the colonel, acknowledging my despatch and evidence, and assuring me of action at once in the case, also complimenting me on my messenger, Benjamin, this being his name. He acted most prudently and wisely, and not until he was sure of the chief man did he give up his charge. Several guards and officers, as well as other white men, had done their best to find out his errand and secure the letters he carried; but Ben was neither to be bought nor coaxed, nor yet frightened. He would do what John: had told him to do, and the result was that my despatch went straight to the colonel in command, and the colonel sent out Major Crozier, and be made a haul near Pine Coulee. There was a general stampede right through the depth of winter for the country beyond the line, and there were very many breathings of threatenings and slaughter against us who had informed. For the time being, these men had forgotten the large measure of grace we had given them.

Early in March my brother and I made the journey to Macleod, and found the police settled in their new quarters and making the best of the wild and crude conditions they were placed in. Quite a village had sprung up outside the fort, and here the frontier and wild West were typified in earnest Bull-whackers, and mule-punchers, and wolfers, and former desperadoes, and whiskey smugglers were here in strong evidence, and gambling and drinking went on in a modified form, even as before, but the natives were being protected and crime was almost extinct. Most certainly a new day, had dawned. The country was fortunate in having a man like Col. Macleod at the helm in those early times. He was no extremist, and fully believed in giving every man fair play. Several seizures had been made and outfits confiscated.
The boys had miscalculated, and were caught; but a goodly number got away into the South country with their trade and stock.

While on this visit, I held the first Protestant service in the history of this part of the country. The police paraded, and the largest room in the barracks was crowded. I preached to this congregation from the words contained in Gideon's battle- cry, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon ""Man in association with God."

I do not know now just how I handled my subject; but many a time since, someone who was there that Sabbath morning in March, 1875, has spoken to me concerning the significance of that service, and quoted my text, and said, "We will never forget the occasion." After our last rebellion, in 1885, some fourteen years after this first service, I preached from the same text to a congregation in the town of Macleod, under very different conditions, and a goodly number of the police were present, these being led by my old friend, Col. Steele, now of Strathcona Horse and South African fame.

Early Monday morning, before many were stirring, we started from the fort for our Northern home. We had crossed the Old Man's and the Willow Creek, and were rolling steadily over the plain. I was leading one horse and driving the other in my buckboard, and David, having bought two in Macleod, was now leading three behind his rig. Suddenly I took severe pains and cramps. Wondering what had happened to me, I thought, as the pain increased, "I will ask David to go ahead and let me follow," when, on looking around, I was startled at not seeing him on the seat of his buckboard. I pulled up, and when his horse came up to me, I found that he had slipped down out of the seat into the bottom of the rig. When I shouted out, "What is the matter?" I heard a groan, and presently a voice asking me, "How did you feel when you took the smallpox? " Here 'was my brother in the same condition as myself, only worse; but when I proposed to return to the fort he was strongly opposed to it, and when I told him that I was in pain, and had been for the last hour, he said we must have taken poison. Certainly it seemed so.

However, we determined to go on; and thus we crossed that bleak plain, until we came to where we had "cached" some wood, at a place called "The Leavings," some thirty miles from Macleod. Here, after I had unhitched both horses and gathered the wood and made a fire, and fixed a place beside it, I helped David out of his rig, and then boiled the kettle, and made some tea, and got some food out; but neither of us could eat or drink, so I emptied out the kettle, caught up the horses, and harnessed and fixed up the lead ones. Then, making up a bed in the rig, I got David back into it, and again we started homeward.

All this time I was suffering, but the fact that my brother was worse spurred me up to action. Yet there were times when I had to fairly grit my teeth and pull in all my will-power to keep the trail and see that David's horses came on behind me. Fortunately, we both had taken good horses with us. I had "Little Bob" and "Favorite," both already well known to my readers. Every little while I would shout back to my brother, and when he let me know he was still alive, I would push on around the drifts and bad places on the prairie, and then wonder how we were going to pass the coming night, which was now near at hand. We did not have a tent, and had very little wood, and the nearest good camping ground, without our going a long way out of our trail, was High River. I was seriously considering driving on all night when, in the dark of the evening, I saw a flash of light, and was glad, and told David about it.

After some miles we came to where some white men were camped for the night; but as we came up, they knew us, and put their fire out, and, as they had a covered wagon, they climbed into it and would not speak to us. The night was cold, and here we were, on the bleak plain and both sick, one very badly so.

However, I concluded to stop right there, and so I pulled up our two buckboards to make as much shelter as possible, and then made a little lee spot by hanging a canvas on the wheels of the buckboard, and made up our bed on the frozen ground beside this. When all was ready, I got David out of the rig and into the bed, and tucking him in, proceeded to look after our horses as well as I could, and then crawled in beside him, and there we lay through the long night. Here were some men of our own kind beside us, but because they blamed us for bringing in the police, they were now sulking and spiteful and, for aught we knew, dangerous.

We were both armed, and, in the state we were at the time, also dangerous, if they attempted to rouse us in any way. I very well remember how I felt between the spasms of pain that night, and almost wished at times for a row; and then a sense of condemnation would come over me, and I would ask for forgiveness, and, for a little while at any rate, be most repentant. David fought with pain all night, and at times would stiffen out and greatly alarm me, but I could do no more than keep the clothes on him and wait for morning. With the first break of day our sulky, silent neighbors pulled out without making a fire. They were determined to give us no help, if possible. From under the robes I watched them away, and then I got up and went to look for our horses. I found our original four some distance away, but the newly bought pair were not with them. When I came back and told David, he said, "Never mind; let them go; let us start on if you can." There was no wood to make a fire with, and neither of us desired either drink or meat; so I harnessed up, and again fixing up a bed for David in the bottom of his buckboard, on we went. Keeping up a good, quick step into High River shortly after noon, we drove right across and into the shelter of the woods, and camped.

When I had built up a big fire, I got David down beside it, and thus the rest of the day and night passed. We were both now in a raging fever, but during that night David mended some, and I, in turn, got worse, and when morning came I was not able to move.

There we lay, David, by desperate effort, keeping up the fire. On our way out, we had found two men, old acquaintances of mine, on Sheep Creek, and now David said, "We must go on that far; possibly these men may have some medicine." I was passive, and did not feel like stirring, but my brother was insistent. Haying harnessed up, he fixed a bed on the floor of the buckboard for me and practically lifted me into it, and we drove across the stretch to the Valley of the Sheep, only twelve or fourteen miles, to where these men were a few days since. The misery and pain were awful, and every little while David would stop to see if I was living.

In the waning of the day we came to the shack. This time we were welcomed and kindly treated. One of them said he had some medicine, given to him by the doctor on the Boundary Commission the year before. Hunting this up, I found amongst it some jalap and calomel, and gave some to David and took a good dose myself. After two days I felt the first inclination since we had started from Fort Macleod for some nourishment. David had been gaining in these two days, and was now glad to hear me ask for broth. One of our hosts went out and dug out the shoulder of a buffalo from a snowdrift, where he had cached it, and this being fine fresh meat, he sliced some off it with his axe, and very soon had it in the pot and boiling over the chimney fire. I will never forget that broth nor those men. Every little while that night and all the next day I sipped the buffalo meat broth. These men had left farmstead homes in Western Ontario long years since, and had drifted across the Southern plains into the gold fields of California in the early days. After nineteen years on the Pacific slope they came across the mountains to Edmonton and did some mining on the Saskatchewan.

During the spring of 1871, I met them a day's journey east of Edmonton, on their way to visit once more the land of their birth. They had now spent twenty years from home, and there had come a hungering for the scenes of their childhood. As I rode westward that early spring day in '71, I thought of those men, and pictured their arrival back at the old homestead, and now, as I had opportunity, I questioned them about this, and they laughingly told me of their great disappointment. They had forgotten, in their life of constant change and wild experiences, that changes would also take place in the woods of older Canada, and when, after the long ride from where I had met them on horseback, and tedious journey by rail and stage coach, behold, all was changed. Hardly anyone knew them, many were dead, and a profound feeling of melancholy came upon them.

Said one, in relating the incident to me, We came to Jack's old home first, and he got down and said, 'So long; will see you soon,' and I went on to my home that was, but now had passed into other hands. When, three days later, we met, I said to Jack, 'Well, when will you be ready to go back West?' He looked at me in the most woeful manner, and answered, 'I was ready three days ago,' and we hurried away, and here we are."

Poor fellows! Within a few months both were victims of tragic ends. One was shot out of his saddle coming through the mountains on the old Kootenay trail, west of Macleod, and the other was drowned, also out of his saddle, while attempting to cross some horses opposite Fort Saskatchewan, a few miles from where I had met them in 1871. At the time of our narrative these men treated my brother and myself most kindly, and now, after spending some days and nights with them in their little shack, we said "Good-bye," and drove on.


 


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