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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter V
Down the Red Deer—The Dry Rat—Surrounded by Blackfeet - Await developments.


We were travelling down the north bank of the Red Deer, straight for the Hand Hills. The next day we came in sight of these big hills, and later saw the big camp of the Northern and Mountain Crees. Here our arrival was a big event. Crowds gathered to listen to the great "praying man," or, as the literal translation of A-yuh-me-awe-ye-new is, "The man who talks with the Deity," and also, to the chairman of the Saskatchewan district, and by request, John was also called on to speak to these wanderers on the face of God's fair earth.

We found that they had recently several skirmishes with the Blackfeet, and they told us to keep our eyes open and to be forever on the watch and ready. They thought our trip a most dangerous one, but they said: "It may be the Great Spirit will give you favor with the wild tribes and wilder white .men you are sure to meet on your trip." We spent the evening and night and all the next day with this camp, but as yet had not heard anything about Mr. Steinhauer, and as the season was advanced we gave him up and decided to strike across the Red Deer and go up country to the mountains in the Bow Valley.

At the close of the first morning service a strange- looking creature, literally in sackcloth and ashes, so far as his environment made this possible, touched my shoulder and, drawing me aside, -said: "My brother, I am from away down country. I am utterly bereft; my wife and children all dead. I am wandering to forget my trouble. They tell me you are going into a far country. Will you let me accompany you? I have two horses. Will you let inc go with you?" I looked at the fellow and, sizing him up beneath his mourning rags, saw that he might be most useful to us and we might do him some good, and I said: "If you will promise me not to touch firewater while with us on this trip, and also to take your place on guard, night or day, with us, you can come." His face lit up with great joy as he took my hand and put it over his heart and said, "I pledge you to do even as you say." Thus we had one more in our party.

Feeling that our visit to this large camp had done something towards Christianity and the implanting of a confidence in the government of our country, we were grateful. We also felt that the General Secretary could not but understand in some measure the nature of this work in the larger sense, after such an experience.

Now we were face to face with the question, should we make a long detour to effect a crossing of the Red Deer, or make a bold attempt right here, without a trail, to in some way get down into this tremendous canyon, and, striking a ford there, hunt our way out to the uplands on the other side. Finally I found an Indian who said he thought he could take us down and across.

Behold us then, having said farewell to our Indian friends, winding in and out on a buffalo trail and gradually descending the canyon of the Red Deer. I will venture to say that seldom in the experience of wagon movements did one pass down what seemed the impossible as did ours at that time. However, after some thrilling experiences, we reached the bottom and, finding a ford, and by devious and intricate ways came out on the opposite heights. My friend, the doctor, began to think that I was an expert driver.

Having succeeded in this saving of many miles we now struck westward and set our faces towards the Rockies.

"What is the name of your new protégé?" said the doctor to me one day, and I asked my friend his name.

"Bak-o-shu-sk," came the answer.

"His name is 'The Dry Rat,'" was my translation to the Doctor.

"Oh, what a name!" was his exclamation.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dry Rat kept his place in our little company and was always ready and cheerful in the discharge of duty.

On we rode through this most wonderful country. We saw plenty of bulls, but did not stop for them. Saturday afternoon we came to some cows, and I ran them and killed a fine animal, and as we were striking up country we took the most of the meat into our wagon. When we nooned all the members of our party rejoiced in the rich quality of the meat. However, as we ate and watched our camp and stock we little dreamed that this meal came near being the last for us.

During the afternoon as we drove on our course without trail, suddenly we were surrounded by a wild-looking troop of Blackfeet. The doctor was with me in the wagon, and we were in the lead, and without warning, for the country was undulating, suddenly these Northern Ishmaelites were upon us, and it was plain that they meant mischief. We numbered six; they may have been anywhere from seventy-five to one hundred. However, as the Crees had said, "The Great Spirit might give us favor with these people." A young Blackfoot warrior recognized me and shouted "John," and I nodded to him, and he began explaining to the crowd who I was. He had been with the Sarcees during the summer of 1872, when we had the experiences which I relate in "The Red River Rebellion." The young fellow's name was "Ki-yo. kiih-nas." I well remembered his face, and he did mine also, and now he was pleading and explaining to his companions that we were the red man's friends. It was a case of "Cast your bread upon the waters." Here was the return for a small expenditure of courtesy and attention, and this, my friend, now becomes, under God, our deliverer. The chief of the largest faction in the camp of these men was here, and I will never forget his Blackfoot name, "O-nes-ta-e-o." He listened to the young man, and finally gave his assent, but said, "We will take these men into our camp"; and now, surrounded by wild cavalry, we were escorted into the Blackfoot town.

Both father and myself very well knew that it became us at this time to be exceedingly passive. The lives of our whole party depended on this.

Thus we rode into the large camp, and were stared at by the crowds as we drove behind the chief, through the lanes of lodges, on up to his own big lodge. Here we were asked to alight and dismount. An order was given for half of his lodge to be cleared out, and we were told to occupy it.

Accordingly, our bedding and baggage were placed in this, and we proceeded to occupy it, greatly to the disgust of Doctor Taylor, who already began to manifest his aversion to any contact with the natives. How in the wide world he ever got through Palestine and the East has always been a mystery to me after that trip with him in 1873. He was an embarrassing proposition, and right here were some of the very best mind-readers in the world. He at first refused to come into the lodge; then, when we finally persuaded him to enter, he positively refused to eat in the lodge with us, and declared lie would not sleep there; but as it was still early I thought many things might happen before either supper or bedtime came.

Fortunately for us, there were two or three of these Indians who had quite a knowledge of the Cree, and, through these, I could communicate with the chief and others. I told them that we did not intend to travel the next day, as it was God's day; and, as we had met them, we now could stay the two nights in their camp, and that our work made us the friends of all men; that the Great Spirit had commissioned us to preach peace to all men, and that we were now on our way to look up a site for a mission -station in this southern country, and that we were going on into the "Long Knife" country to see what could be done in the interests of all men and for purposes of peace.

Quite a number of the leading men had gathered into the chief's lodge, and listened to what we had to say with profound interest.

I also said, "As we are here to stay with you all day to-morrow, we will hope to tell you many things about where we came from, and why we are here, and what we purpose doing, if the Great Spirit helps us."

Of course, all this time I was merely presuming. The fact was apparent that we were their captives, and as to what this might mean to our party as yet we were altogether in the dark.

We left horses and harness and wagon entirely in the charge of the chief who led us in. We affected, if we did not altogether feel it, a sublime indifference as to selves and our property, for those of us who understood the situation knew that, so far as man was concerned, we were now altogether in the hands of these Blackfeet. Many a party like ours had disappeared. However, we were getting on famously, if the Doctor would only fall in line; and now the Blackfeet retired. We asked ourselves, "What comes next?" When behold, the kettles were brought in and supper was served, and the meat was delicious, even if it was cooked by Indians. To our satisfaction the doctor seemed to have forgotten his hastily made vow, and joined us in the meal. So far, so good.

As we ate, we discussed anything but present affairs. We ignored the fact that we were prisoners, and as yet under reserve judgment; also, that in this camp were two hostile factions. We were in the hands of one of these. What would they do in our case? However, we felt our cause was a just one, and this thought was wonderfully bracing. The chief beside us, whose face and actions I had been minutely studying ever since he said, in his quiet way, "We will take these men into our camp," had grown in my estimation. The deference paid him by those who had come in during the evening, and everything else, pointed to a strong, good friend, should he come out on our side.

We must await developments; and thus we sang our evening hymn in the Blackfoot lodge, and knelt in prayer in English and Cree, and committed ourselves into the hands of Him who, we believed, had sent us forth on this quest. Then, when we began to make arrangements for the night, the doctor was up again, and refused to sleep in the lodge. We told him it was cleaner and safer and more politic to do so; but, no, he was obstinate; and finally we compromised by Mr. Snider and the doctor making their bed under the wagon, and merely pulling the tent over this. Neither of them thought of the two or three hundred pounds of fresh meat killed that day, and now in that wagon; and I had enough of the Old Man in me to not mention that possibly this meat would drip, drip on them the long night through. However, what did a little blood matter anyway? We might, every one of us, be weltering in our own blood before morning.


 


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