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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XXXII
Reach home again—Major Walsh establishes Mounted Police post In Cypress Hills—Meet strange frontiersman— Montana rattlesnakes—One law for Indian and another law for white man.


From Sheep Creek to the upper valley of the Elbow, the snow was deep, and it took us all day to make this distance. I well remember how I felt in my weakness when, approaching the river, I saw it was a raging flood of rushing water and ice; and oh, what a relief when my splendid beast, Favorite, trotted up from following, and passed me, and then walked right in and breasted the current and tested the ice for us. On she went, as if endowed with perfect instinct, and having safely crossed, stood on the farther bank, and, looking back, neighed over to us, as much as to say, "Come on; it is all right." Little Bob pricked up his ears and pulled me across. "Was not that splendidly done?" said David, as he came up, and we drove on and camped with our old friend, Sam Livingstone, for the night. This was at the Old Mission, on the Elbow.

The next day we reached home, and no men were more glad than we for the rest and comfort of the same. The trip had been a hard one, and now we must make ready for another, and this time it was our annual journey for supplies. This necessitated a whole lot of preparations, re-making and mending of carts, and wagons, and harness. All of these had to be overhauled and fixed up as best we could with our crude appliances. Then there were men and boys to look up and engage for the trip, also all possible arrangements to be made for the comfort and safety of those we would leave behind. The man who to-day has the commercial agent or the railroad to deal with has not the faintest perception of the worry and real hard work, and oftentimes distressing hardship, of the pioneer. Here were many rivers without ferries, and in this country, along the base of the Rocky Mountains, all of these during the midsummer period at their highest, every one of them like rushing torrents, the slope of the whole land making this obvious. Then there was the unsettled condition of the tribes across the border. These were always in turmoil, and the white men over there were not much more law- abiding than the natives. On our side of the line, this would be our first season of the trial of government. We were all anxious. As to our own little community, my brother's wife had not been well for some time, and we decided to take her East for the change. My wife took the little ten months-old babe in charge and was herself once more and for the next six months the only white woman south of Edmonton in all this land.

We left during the last of April and travelled steadily southward as fast as our stock would permit. At High River we came in with a large camp of Blackfeet, and with them found one of the horses we had lost some twenty-five miles south of this during our March trip. They were most friendly, and seemed to enjoy the change that had come. They looked upon myself as being one of the factors in bringing this about, and were grateful. Reaching Macleod, we found Major Walsh starting out with a detachment of police to establish a post in the Cypress Hills, and near the boundary. This would make the third police station in the farther West.

We passed through the village with our brigade just as this party moved out to build and occupy what was afterwards known for a number of years as Fort Walsh. The Cypress Hills had been the scene of a large amount of crime, and a shameful massacre had taken place recently at that point. A gang of white men, toughs, had turned loose with their improved arms on a lot of almost defenceless Indians. However, this move to-day would put a stop to any such work, and ruffianism would from now on take a back seat in our North-West territory.

This time we went straight out from Macleod on a new trail, and, keeping at it, in a few days were across the line. Coming to the Marias River, we were glad to find a scow ferry in working order, by means of which we made an easy crossing. We were here reminded of the necessity of constant watchfulness, as a bunch of horses had been run off the night previous, and the avenging pursuers had just now started on the trail as we arrived upon the scene. Thus far, by ceaseless vigilance, we had kept our stock intact, but were on guard night and day, which, with continuous travel, makes hard work.

In clue time we found ourselves nearing the Missouri River, in the vicinity of Fort Benton, and scouting ahead to look for the best place for a camp, both for stock and business. When some miles in advance of my party I was dashed at by a solitary horseman, who came down upon me at full speed. As he was heavily armed, I did not know for a minute what his intentions might be, but his first shout, in strong nasal and frontier English, relieved my mind of an attack.

"Hello! Be you the Rev. John from the North?" and I, answering in the affirmative, back came the explanation: "Well, I am d----- glad to catch you!"

i now saw my new friend was a typical south-of-the line frontiersman; costume, weapons, manner, all filled the bill. "You are really and truly a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I want no humbug, I'll be d---- if I do! No, sir, you bet. I want the help of an honest preacher down at my shack. Yes, I do. My woman and me have lived together some time. We have three kids, d---d fine ones they are. Say, Elder, I want you to come to our shack and splice Betsy and me, and pour some water on the kids heads. I want all this done sure and strong, and no fooling, you bet. Can you canter down and do this job for us?"

I enquired particulars as to this man's name, and where his shack was situated, and made an engagement for the next afternoon, and we gripped hands on this, and my friend dashed on his way.

Coming to the steep bank of the Missouri, I noticed a covered wagon standing near the brow of the hill, and, cantering up to this, I aroused the man in charge, who crept up out of the covered box, and, in answer to my query, said this was the nearest spot to town where grass and water could be had.

My next question was, "What about snakes?" We had killed a number of rattlesnakes on the trip, and these seemed to be multiplying as we came south.

"Snakes," this man said, as he cursed them up and down, "did not cut in anyway." He "didn't give a cent for all the snakes," and this he emphasized with many oaths. By this time he had climbed down out of the wagon, and now stood near me as I sat on my horse.

Just then I saw an enormous rattler crawl out from the shade of the wagon and move towards the heels of this man. In the meanwhile I told him I was afraid of snakes, as we were not accustomed to them in our country, but perhaps our fears were groundless. And now, as the big rattler came near the loud, blasphemous fellow, I quietly said, "What about that chap at your heels?" and when he quickly turned to look, he gave a loud scream, and, in a twinkling, was up in the wagon, and as pale as the proverbial ghost is said to be. I then got off my horse and killed the snake, and felt, as I had often experienced in the past, that the loud, noisy blasphemer is generally a coward at heart. As it proved, there were numbers of rattlesnakes almost everywhere in this part of Montana; nevertheless, we went into camp, and began our exchange and barter and purchase of supplies for the year with the merchants of Fort Benton.

The next afternoon I went, as per my engagement, to the shack of the hardy frontiersman, and was met this time with a real welcome. He was now assured of my quality, he having made some enquiries and found out that I was genuine. He introduced "his woman and kids" with pride, and very soon I had married this white man to this Indian woman and baptized their three children, all of which 'seemed to give great satisfaction to the whole family, the father every little while expressing himself in strong language, "You bet," and I left with the smiles and blessings of the inmates of the shack, for, as this man 'said, "Preachers of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ are mighty scarce around these 'ere parts, you bet." He was "d---d glad to strike one." Sure enough, the Gospel preacher was scarce in Montana at this time. Miners, merchants, ranchers, soldiers, cowboys, mule-punchers, bull-whackers, wolfers, gamblers, murderers, thieves, whiskey smugglers and traders were strongly in evidence, but the church and schoolhouse and the Sabbath in observance were not to be found. The time was wild, and the life full of license.

For many years, south of the 49th parallel, there had been what seemed to be a distinct law for the white men as against the Indian. The latter might fight and kill and plunder each other as they pleased, and the white man could kill and plunder and debase the Indian; but let the Indian turn against the white man, and then the strength of military organization and the weight of the white man was set against the Indian. It was race against race and tribe against tribe, and all this created a perfectly lawless condition. A small war party committed some depredation, and the United States army, if they could come up with the Indians, massacred a whole encampment, regardless of the fact that hundreds in it were absolutely innocent in the case.

All over this Western country, south of the line, it was a meritorious act in white-men circles to kill Indians. Frontier military posts were established for the protection of the white man, and for his aggrandizement, and not for the establishing of law and order among men. The Indian was not a man. He was a "buck." The Indian woman was not a woman. She was a "bitch," or a "squaw." True democracy did not exist. The doctrine, "All men are equal," was a farce, and all this proves what a strange, illogical paradox man is. This condition was strongly in evidence at Fort Benton at the time I write of.


 


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