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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter IV
At White Fish Lake—Spurious Civilization—Back to Edmonton—Buffalo Hunt.


It was afternoon and a glorious day when we skirted White Fish Lake, and from the hills looked upon this beautiful inland water stretch, and away across to the hills westward and northward, which rose majestic and timber-clad, gorgeous in their summer beauty.

We went to the north of Good Fish Lake, another reservoir of fine fresh water, even as the Lord did arrange things in wisdom and in love. We left its northern shore, and climbing the hill, took the old buffalo trail through the woods, alternating with beaver darn spots and open spaces covered with rich grass.

We jogged along to suit the pace to our venerable friend's infirmity, for it was plain he was very weary, and, unlike other men, he was letting himself go with his will, for, after all this is the large sum of the difference between men, one gives away, the other, by dint of sheer will power, gathers himself to resist and conquer. Hundreds of times we have been there. Hundreds of times we have watched other men as they struggled, and presently the spirit would dominate; but here to-day the steady jog was too much and we had to slow down. We should have made our party before dark, but the night found us many miles short, and in the big wilderness. There was nothing for it but to camp, and we had no camp equipment with us. For father and myself, this was as nothing. To go without supper and breakfast, to pass the night without blankets was but a change, but our doctor felt the hardship keenly. He was a spoiled child and grumbled and blamed and scolded. We made a pleasant campfire; we fixed him up a bed with saddle blankets and our coats; we did what we could, but he refused to be comforted.

Here was a sample of spurious civilization. We have met a lot of this in our time; too much coddling, too much comfort, too much false sympathy, and the result a misconception of life and its responsibility, and the further result is moral and physical degeneracy. No wonder the Lord has every little while to bring trouble upon a nation or people. They must war and fight and campaign and struggle and meet disease and calamity in order to be saved from inertia and destruction. I thought this that night as I gathered wood and kept the camp fire burning beside our sorely set upon and awfully persecuted fellow traveller.

With the dawn we were away, and at the slow pace of our friend it was nearly noon when we came up to our party and breakfast. Then with sunshine and food, the doctor came to his normal. Give me the men who, in the blackness of storm and long distance from the base of supplies, are normal and cheerful and gladly willing to do and be the best that is in them. However, we must be patient; humanity, even as Israel of old, is still in the wilderness, and yet we do verily believe that the Joshuas and Calebs are multiplying in human experience. We made Victoria in the afternoon, and as this was Saturday prepared to spend the Sabbath on this mission.

The doctor made his home with the missionary and his family in the mission house, and father and myself were welcomed in my brother's home, where his wife and my sister Nellie were delighted to have us.

To both father and myself, this was historic ground. In these days we do not wait for the centuries to make history; we are making it rapidly all the time. In 1862 I began work at this point; in 1863 Mr. Woolsey moved to this spot, and in the autumn of the same year, father came up from Norway house and took charge. We had witnessed some change; we had gone through many dangers and hardships and sorrows on and around this centre.

From here we had travelled out on many long trips to distant camps, thousands of miles by snowshoe and dog train, and thousands of miles by horse, mostly in the saddle. To us the contour of the hills, the curves of the stream and all things around were familiar, and, in association, sacred.

The doctor was pleased with the beauty of the spot and thankful to have accomplished as much of the long journey in safety.

On Sunday the doctor gave us one of his wonderful sermons in the morning, and to me came the privilege of preaching in the afternoon to the people in the tongue wherein they were born.

On Monday we moved on for Edmonton, and when within fifteen or eighteen miles of there, were pleasantly surprised to meet quite a company of friends who had come out to welcome us. They had a sumptuous meal ready when we drove up. My wife and sisters were with the party, and to these good people, shut out for months from the outside world, it was no small matter that we brought the mail, and it was a very great matter that we brought the General Secretary of the Missionary Society and a man of wide renown. Certainly Protestantism had never been thus officially represented in all the previous history of this country. Then there was the reunion with our loved ones. All this made the occasion full of profound interest.

Here were the Hudson's Bay officers, the Chief Factor and his lady, and some of the principal clerks and post masters, and others who had come out to welcome and escort back to Edmonton our party and the distinguished official we had with us. It was Tuesday evening when we reached the mission and Fort Edmonton. Here mother gave us our real home welcome. Since my departure in the early summer, the church had been finished and many other improvements had been accomplished around the mission. Father was forever busy, and the few residents of the Fort and new settlement were with him heartily in all his work.

We rested Wednesday, and then crossed the river, and travelled as fast as we could to Pigeon Lake. This time we took a buckboard two-thirds of the way in for the doctor's use, and I saw that the horse pulling it kept moving. This wonderfully helped matters, and early next day we reached the lake.

Here we spent but part of the day, as we were due back to Edmonton Saturday evening. The doctor looked upon the spot where Bundle had camped and Sinclair had worked, and where after a Iona interval I had been sent in and had passed through many strange experiences.

Here we left my companion for the better part of the summer, faithful Jacob, who now was the most widely travelled of all his people. He had beheld the red and the beginning of the white man's occupancy, and had many timings to tell to his wondering people. Back in the evening through the dense woods, where we had chopped and bridged and brushed this beginning of a highway, even to the spot where we had cached the buckboard. Then we camped, had supper and went to bed.

The next day, on into Edmonton, where we again ferried the big river, and then, though it was Saturday evening, we began to prepare for the real and dangerous part of our long trip out on to the big plains, and up to the mountains, and on south through the new country and across the line into Montana; even to Fort Benton, which we have heard of as the head of navigation on the Missouri. We did what we could Saturday evening towards this, and then rested, for we were to have two days, Sunday and Monday, at Edmonton.

As the reader will have noticed, the major part of life to the missionary in those days was spent on the trail. The country was big and the distances great, and travel as fast as you could, with either horse or dog, the limitations were large.

Sunday was a glorious day. The doctor was in the happiest of moods, and preached two wonderful sermons. The new church was dedicated. For the time it was a gorgeous and most comfortable building. It was my lot to preach in the afternoon to those who did not fully understand the English. This service was largely attended. Dr. Taylor was much interested in these Cree services, listening and watching everything in song and sermon as if he fully understood.

Monday was a busy day in preparation for our long trip. In the evening, the doctor lectured on Palestine. I had heard this lecture, "The Holy Land," in old Canada during the fifties, but it came fresh and vigorous from the veteran that night in Edmonton. In rich imagery, with rare descriptive power and with lofty eloquence, the doctor handled his subject., and there are men and women still living in this west country who speak with pleasant satisfaction because they were privileged to hear Dr. Taylor preach and lecture in 1873 at Edmonton.

It was afternoon on Tuesday before we were across the river and fairly on the southern trail. Everybody knew there was plenty of risk in such a trip, and those who went, as well as those who remained, could not help but feel anxious. Our party consisted of Dr. Taylor, my father, a Mr. I. Snider (a probationer) and Willie Whitford, father's man, a young English mixed blood and myself. By general consent and choice, I was made captain of the little party. We had one wagon, in which father and myself took turns In driving, with Dr. Taylor as our passenger. The rest of the party were on horseback. Our course was south-east, across Battle River, and east of Buffalo Lake. We were looking for the big camps, and also hoped to come across Mr. Steinhauer and his people.

Immediately on leaving Edmonton, we were constantly on guard. Horse thieves and scalp-takers might be expected anywhere or at any time in this country. Ceaseless vigilance was the order of our movement day and night as we travelled and camped. This was hard work, but we could not afford to take any chances. I think it was the evening of our fourth day out when we sighted our first buffalo. The doctor had made me promise to kill for him one of the first we might see. He and I were in the wagon at the time, so I gave him the reins and ran on ahead to stalk the bunch if possible. These were bulls, but as I ran up under cover and came near, I saw a young sharp-horned fellow, large and massive, and finely robed, and as they began to move I plumped him at long range, and as the herd galloped away I gave the same fellow another shot. I knew I had hit both times, for I heard the impact of the bullet and saw the start and cringe of the huge animal. As the buffalo disappeared around the bluff of timber I put in another cartridge and ran after in confidence of a kill, and here as I rounded the point of timber out on the plain lay my game.

I now ran out in sight of my party and made a signal, and then went over to the bull and straightened him up for skinning. Just then, with a shout and a yell, up came the doctor on horseback and claimed the buffalo as his. Presently he was standing on the back of the big brute, and shouting and waving his Glengarry cap and hurrahing for our valiant hunter.

Soon our party came up, and we proceeded to butcher the animal, for the meat was fine. The doctor took one of the horns, and also the battered bullet which had killed the animal, and which we found as we cut him up, as souvenirs of the hunt. Going on and camping and having some of the meat for supper, the doctor pronounced it the finest in the world. We told him to wait until we got among the cows, but he was enthusiastic over our first kill of the trip; indeed, everybody enjoyed the fresh meat, and marrow-bones and tit-bits were much in evidence around our campfire that night.

The next day we came across a camp of Crees, and as it was Saturday remained with them until Monday morning. They told us of a large gathering somewhere in the vicinity of the Hand Hills, but gave us no news concerning Mr. Steinhauer. We did what we could among these people.

All day Sunday we visited and held services. For the most part this camp still clung to the old faith, and Dr. Taylor was disgusted with their heathenism and manner of living. The head man invited our party to a meal in his lodge, but the doctor refused to accept. Father and myself and young Snider went and partook of this hospitality, but I could see the Indian was hurt because the great "praying man" had not come. The real democratic idea had not yet dawned upon the doctor's mind, and yet he had been preaching this Gospel for many years. To me it is passing strange that men will profess to be exponents of an idea and yet, themselves, by their actions, constantly reveal their unbelief in the same.

On Monday morning, as we drove away from this moving village, and in the quiet of our isolation from the rest of our party, I took it upon myself to show the doctor that such conduct on his part would hurt our cause, if he continued so to act, as we might come into contact with these people on this journey. He saw my point, and, like the man he was, when you got beyond his eccentric moods, he said I was right.


 


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