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
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
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
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
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
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
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