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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter VI
Clamoring for our blood—Learn some Blackfoot—Leave Blackfoot camp—Down the Bow Valley—Doctor loses his teeth.


It was now well on in September, and the nights were growing long; so we sat around the buffalo- chip fire in the lodge, and as I had an interpreter in one of the young Blackfeet, the chief and myself talked on into the night. When we did lie down, I could not sleep because of strange noises, peculiar drum notes, distinct night calls in and around the camp, and away in the distance the howling of bands of big buffalo wolves, and the shrill barking of coyotes and the answering barkings and howlings of the myriads of dogs in camp, our sublime isolation from all help except the supernatural and my own sense of responsibility. The morning came, and I had not slept. Here were men who clamored for our blood; they had very strong reason to hate the white race. They came out of centuries of war with men of a kind. It was not the individual, but the portion of the race he came from, they warred upon. The white man had even recently insulted and injured and debauched and acted as the inveterate savage towards their people. Just now they were smarting because of wrongs perpetrated by white men. Was there any difference in white men? That was the question. And because these men beside us were reasonable, therefore we were alive; therefore our scalps were still on our heads. All this I knew, and almost wondered when the day came and the sun again gilded and glorified the fair earth. It was a break in the current of thought to look in on our gentlemen who had slept under the wagon. The bloody drip, drip was much in evidence, and the lesson was humbly accepted by the doctor. There was no more hesitation on his part when breakfast was announced; but then he was anxious that someone should go out and keep guard over his bed and belongings in the wagon; so I intimated as much to the chief, who sent out his general servant, a big, fat, greasy fellow, who, in order to take good care of the doctor bed, got into it, and went off to sleep in his turn.

Thus we found him after breakfast and morning prayers in the chief's camp. This was surely out of the frying-pan into the fire. However this just about finished the nonsense on the part of our doctor for this time.

From my young Blackfoot friend I learned that there was a Cree woman in the camp. She had been captured in one of their war expeditions, and had been adopted by the tribe, and I asked him to hunt her up and bring her to me, which he did. I found she spoke her mother tongue perfectly, and was equally as capable in Blackfoot. I asked her if she would interpret for me in a service, and, after some coaxing, she consented. I then told father and the doctor, and we arranged with the chief for a gathering in the centre of the camp. Willie and myself, with father helping us, 'sang in Cree. The doctor led in prayer in English, and I followed in Cree, and I then talked to these strange people through my interpretess. She did well, and felt the message herself, as I was led to enlarge on the blessings accruing to all men because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the part of our audience there was the finest decorum; chiefs, braves, warriors, hunters, women and children gave most reverent attention. Perhaps, in the lives of most of these people, this was the first service of the kind they had been present at. Some in that gathering that day were, in visage and appearance, not very reassuring as to what might happen before we were done with them; but our chief and his people were strongly about us, and it looked as if he wanted the whole camp to feel we were under his protection. All this was hopeful.

Thus the Sabbath passed. I cultivated the chief and my young friend. I learned quite a vocabulary of the Blackfoot language, and taught my teacher some Cree.

In the evening the chief asked me if lie might say something to me in the interests of his people. I told him, on behalf of our party, we would gladly listen. Then he sent out for his leading men, and soon the lodge was full of strapping, big and fine- looking Indians, each and every one of these carrying himself with dignity and as a gentleman. I often asked myself, Who taught these wandering people the art of bearing themselves with grace and perfection in style and manner, there being nothing clumsy or embarrassed about them? The chief's plaint was that, within recent years, white men coming in from the Long Knife country had brought in firewater; that this had done much harm to the Blackfeet and Bloods and Piegans and others; that these white men were bad and cruel; that many Indians had been killed by them; that his people had been desolated and impoverished and made ten-fold more wicked than they had been by these white men and their firewater. Could not something be done to stop this traffic? Could we, his guests, not do something for his people and this country?

I interpreted all this, and father told me to tell the chief and his people that he was glad to hear them on this question, and to assure the chief that he and all associated with him would do all in their power to effect a change in this country; that, in the North, where we came from, rumors of a sad condition in the South had come to us; but now that the chief had told him the facts lie would stir himself. Moreover, we were now on our way to see for ourselves, and to reach the Missouri and return, having made all enquiries as to what was going on. Father further told the chief that his son was coming out to live in this Southern country, and to do all he could to help all men for the better. The chief answered, "It makes me glad to hear these words."

Thus the Sabbath evening was spent in the Blackfoot lodge. We were beginning to have confidence in this man. We were breathing more freely, and on all faces a better expression was observed. Of course, the critical time would come to-morrow morning, when we would desire to move on. However, I slept that night, and again the morning dawned.

This time, all our people slept in the lodge. As to our horses and equipment, I had given no thought. "Life is more than meat."

Breakfast and prayers over in the chief's lodge, the chief looked at me, and I nodded, and he sent some orders out, and presently our horses were brought up, looking well after the rest; and as we loaded and harnessed and saddled I noticed a corresponding stir in camp. Horses were being saddled; men in full war equipment were mounting, but around us were closing in the chief and my young friend who spoke some Cree, and many others, and with a motion from the chief I drove out of camp, and behind us, and around us, came the chief and his party. I noticed many others rush out a little way, but soon turn back.

The determined front of our friends said to these, "No, you will not do as you wish."

Steadily westward and southerly we went at a good trot, father and the chief at the head of our mounted escort.

For some eight or ten miles we thus travelled; then the chief rode back and said to me, "Now, John, travel far to-day and watch well to-night," and, with a warm clasp of the hand, he returned to Ii is camp with his troop.

We did as he said, travelled far and watched well. That day's journey brought us to the verge of the foothills, and the next morning took us over some of these and down into the valley of the Bow, where the town of Cochrane is now situated.

During this morning, while ahead of our party looking out a route, I shot one of the biggest and fattest antelope I had ever seen. (If I had only thought to have preserved its head and neck!) He had a splendid pair of antlers, and altogether was a magnificent creature, as he stood and faced me some two hundred yards distant. Just as we attempted to cross the creek which conies out of the canyon, and at the spot where we desired to noon, we broke both of our whiffletrees, and while I was improvising fresh ones, the doctor and father got out their fishing tackle, and soon each of them came in with a fine string of trout.

The doctor was enthusiastic over the foothill country. It appealed to his Highland blood, even as it did to my own, and surely these magnificent hills and glorious valleys would stir any man's blood. Here was grass and water and rich soil, running brooks and bubbling springs and majestic river, and on every hand wealth and beauty.

We rolled up the valley of the Bow in the afternoon, and as far as the Ghost, and camped, and the next day rode up to the crossing, or what was known as the principal ford, and which spot later became the Morley Mission and Settlement.

We prospected for the site of the new mission. We gazed at the mountains in their majestic glory, and rode back to our camp and had a late dinner. In the meantime, a lone family of Mountain Stoneys had come to our camp. They were delighted to meet us, and I was glad to secure one of them as guide south as far as High River.

During the afternoon we tried for more fish; and while I was on one side of the Ghost, Doctor Taylor took the other, and we were doing very well, but presently a shout from the doctor drew my attention. "Brother John, come across and help me to find my teeth!" This made me laugh. Nevertheless, I mounted, forded the stream, and, fastening my horse, helped in the search. It seems the doctor, in his angler's excitement, had put some fishing tackle and also his set of teeth into the same pocket, and, forgetting all about the latter, had pulled out the tackle, and must unconsciously have pulled out the teeth, and these must have fallen into the swift-running water of the Ghost. It was a great loss on such a trip. We were a thousand miles or more from any dentist, and our diet was almost altogether meat. The matter was serious, and we searched accordingly. Father, noticing our peculiar movements, came and joined in the hunt; but, alas, no teeth could we find, and evening coming on, we were forced to give up the search. It was serious, and it was comical, and even the doctor, under the spell of the mountains, took the humorous view of his mishap.


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