On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter XXXV
established—Mounted Police in control of situation—Meet Chief
"Bear's Paw"—Good news from the hill fort—Home again.
It was on this trip our
experience, as on others through this same country, to camp for the night on
the banks of a stream whose waters ran into the Gulf of Mexico, and then
moving on over the divide in the early morn, take breakfast beside another
stream whose waters ran into the Hudson's Bay. Now we were once more in
Canadian territory and had only two hundred miles of our journey to make
between us and home. However, the rivers were many which intervened, and
their currents were strong, and there was much risk at every crossing, both
to life and property. The St. Mary's, the Belly, the Kootenay, the Old Man's
and Willow Creek and High River, and Sheep Creek, and the Elbow, and then
the Big Bow, and when across that, "home." Between these streams were many
smaller ones, which would give more or less anxiety and trouble, and for
some weeks we could constantly sing, "One more river to cross," and press
No wonder the cost of the
simplest necessity or small luxury in those days was great, and with most
frontiersmen the latter were absolutely cut out of their lives. And the
years passed, and what is common to-day did not come in at any time into the
homes of the real pioneer. To make the paths and blaze the trails was
doubtless a great honor, but it meant also great sacrifice.
When we had passed Fort
Macleod on our way we began to feel safer; the police were behind us. They
represented the British Government. This was much to us. Naturally, the
nearer we came to our home the more we thought about it. The Mounted Police
had come; the Government was here, but the nearest representation thereof
was one hundred and fifty miles across wild country to where we had left
those few people in that distant mountain fort.
From the day we bade them
good-bye we had not heard a word. It is true there had seemed to come to us
across the spaces telepathic messages, and we were momentarily comforted;
but there was nothing tangible, and we were anxious, very anxious. What
might have happened gave us great concern at times. Then we would shake
these feelings off and be ashamed of our fears; but still they came.
We crossed High River and
Sheep Creek miles above where now the towns of High River and Okotoks are
situated. South of Mosquito Creek we came in with a. party of Kootenays who,
on finding out that I was "John," were much relieved, and said that they
knew all about us from the Stoneys, who often visited their country. "John"
was all right, and we were thankful to know the face, Sheep Creek was
fierce, but we found a pretty good 'crossing, and, by dint of great care and
taking the whole day to it, we found ourselves and party safe on the north
side of the stream. As if in direct answer to my thought, of which I had not
made mention to a soul, Kenny came to me with the 'proposition that he now
thought we were sufficiently north and comparatively safe, and Tom, who had
been our night watch, could take my team, and thus let me loose to go on in
the morning, and, if ,possible reach home.
This arrangement I eagerly
jumped at. My saddle horses had been running in the loose herd most of the
time, and were fat and fresh. I made ready that night' for an early start,
and remembered the apples I had packed away in my wagon; but when I opened
the small box in which I had them packed five were rotten, and the remaining
two were going that way fast. These I carefully packed in my canteens, and,
the morning coming, bade my party good-bye 'and rode on. "Bob" and "Favorite"
were splendid saddle horses, and I made good time, but I did not see a soul
until I was within some ten miles 'south of the Bow River; then I rode into
a hand of Mountain Stoneys, under Chief Bear's Paw. These fairly took me by
storm with the warmth of their welcome. They had always been my friends from
our first acquaintance, but to-day men, women and children, everybody,
almost embarrassed me with the expression of their delight because of my
appearance amongst them. Being curious, I made enquiry of Bear's Paw, and he
told me that in the South country it was currently reported that I was to be
killed on this trip; that white men had solemnly sworn to avenge themselves
on me for my part in driving them out of this country with their whiskey
He told me that some white
men be had met in the Pincher Creek country asked him if he had said
good-bye to John when he saw him last, "For," said these white men, "you
will never see him alive again in this world. The white men south of the
line are pledged to kill him if he goes into that country."
This had made the Stoneys very anxious, and they had talked about it, and
prayed for me night and morning in their lodges and camps; and now to-day,
behold, here I was in the flesh, and all right, and with them once more. "Of
course we are all glad, my friend, and we are thanking the Great Spirit for
your safe return to us." I had not seen this camp since last autumn, but to
know that they thus thought of me and my work was a great joy and profound
encouragement at this time.
From the chief I learned that
twenty nights since all was well at the little fort in the hill. A runner
had come to his camp with news of our people. At that time all was safe, and
it was reported that my old friend, Jacob Great Stoney, was in the vicinity
and was acting as their bodyguard. These were good tidings, and I breathed
freer, and shortly giving these people an account of our trip and the news
of the world in general, we sang a hymn of thanksgiving, and I offered
prayer, and with a young Stoney accompanying me, we went on.
The chief had said, "The Bow
is high. Jonas will go with you home." Jonas was the little boy I speak of
in "Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe," who, on the banks of the Battle River in
1863, had never seen wheat flour. Now he was a strong, brave young fellow,
and had already won a name for pluck and daring in war and hunt. He jumped
on the back of little "Bob," and away we went, with the blessings of these
mountain people. Coming to the Bow, we found the summer freshets strong, and
it looked dangerous. Jonas said, "Give me everything you do not want to get
wet," and he took my rifle and revolver and ammunition and outside clothing,
and tying these with his shirt and leggings and moccasins, made a neat
bundle, which he solidly fastened upon his back, and, mounting Bob, in he
went, and I followed on Favorite. At once our horses lost bottom, and down
we swept, but all the while making headway across, and in good time reached
the northern bank.
I had now ridden some sixty
miles and swam the Bow, and the three miles up into the foothills to our
fort were as nothing, and in the early evening we were home. The sublime joy
of meeting with wife and children and the few people who were with them
cannot be expressed. Ordinary meetings are more or less joyous and grievous,
but to come home and find all well during the times of the great isolation
of early days were seasons of wonderful rejoicing. As usual, Mrs. McDougall
had a lot to tell about the fidelity of the Stoneys who had remained in the
vicinity. Jacob had sent them, and himself came in and kept informed as to
their welfare. Of course the police were within one hundred and fifty miles,
but their presence was new to this whole country, and it remained to be seen
how the native population would take them. If we, as missionary pioneers,
had been successful in making the tribes understand British prestige, then a
few policemen would he sufficient. We were hoping, but the risk was great.
In the meanwhile, and during
the last two months, things were going all right on this side of the line.
The next day, which was a
very warm one, I made the attempt to cross back to meet my men, but as there
had come a fresh rush of cold waters from the glacial beds of the mountains,
my horse and myself had barely plunged out into the current when I found my
whole frame becoming cramped, and I had barely enough strength left to turn
my horse back to the north shore and come out alive. I often feel that this
was one of the many narrow escapes I have had from sudden death. My wife had
ridden down thus far, and 'sat on her horse and watched this episode, and
now, jumping from her seat, received me as one back from the jaws of death.
We concluded to hunt up a
little punt which was up the river cached somewhere in the brush, and,
having found this, I saw that it must be caulked and pitched before it could
be used. This necessitated going back up to the fort, and it was not until
the next day that I made the crossing and rode out to meet my party. The
third day later we were down at the bank with our loads and stock, and with
now "only one more river to cross." However, this was a big one, and it was
full and fierce in its rushing current.
We had decided that we would
at this time move down to the open valley, and hoped to be able to erect
buildings sufficient to house Ourselves and store our supplies in before
winter should come on. With this in view, all our people came down from the
fort on the big hill, and we went into camp on the north side of the Bow
River, and after some most strenuous days of hard work had crossed all our
stock and goods and supplies and carted them lip to the vicinity of where we
intended to build our permanent home.
While away on this trip there
had been sent to my aid as lay assistant, a Mr. Inkster, who was a native of
the Red River Settlement, and whose mother tongue was Cree, but he also was
a good English speaker, and a splendid mechanic as well.
Behold us, then, in July of
1875, beginning to plant a mission settlement in the Valley of the Bow. It
is now a little more than two years since we selected this spot as both
central and strategic for our purpose.
Since then we have travelled
many thousands of miles, and opened up a fresh base of supplies, and by
diligence kept our larder full of fresh buffalo meat and dried and cured
provisions from the same animals. At intervals, we had built a fort for
safety, and alongside of this .a temporary church and schoolhouse, and made
ready a lot of material in timber, lumber and shingles for our new, and, as
we trusted, permanent buildings. Only the pioneer can appreciate the amount
of labor there is in making lumber and dressing the same by hand, as also in
making shingles in the same way; and besides this we had been as the
forerunner of the Government in preparing the way for the Mounted Police.
This had taken a good part of the season of 1874; and now, on the strength
of there being three police stations organized in this Western country,
namely, Forts Macleod, Walsh and Saskatchewan, and the nearest of these
being about one hundred and fifty miles from us, we dared to risk our
mission and lives out in the open country.
We knew that we were taking
big chances, but our trust was in the Almighty, and our hope was that the
conduct of the police would command the respect of the native population,
and that, from now on, we should have good government, and peace should
And now, having brought the
readers of my books of narrative from 1842 into the midsummer of 1875, I
will, rest for a time, and hope to resume the story of the opening up of
this greater West at some future day.
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