On Western Trails in the Early
Seventies Chapter VII
Ford the Bow River—Blackfoot
method of catching eagles— Dry Rat shoots ducks on the Sabbath—Reach
Fort Kipp— Country without Government—Cross the 49th parallel.
Early the next morning we
took leave of our Stoney friends, and, with a twin son called William, we
retraced our trail as far as the present Cochrane and then made a crossing
of the Bow. The river was deep at this point for safe fording. However, we
blocked up the wagon box as high as the standard would permit, and securely
lashed this to the axle, and then put everything into the wagon sheet we
could, and wrapping this up, also fastened this securely within the box,
and, with the doctor on horseback among the rest of our party, I drove the
wagon through. It was touch and go. The wagon lifted several times with the
current, but my team was good, and presently we were over and most thankful.
Since then, and after settlement came in, I can recall a large number of men
and teams drowned in attempting what we successfully accomplished at this
time. These mountain streams are always dangerous.
As for hundreds of miles we
had come, so now we were travelling across country without a trail. This is
hard on horses and rig, and most tiresome to men as well. But somebody has
to do it. There have to be trail-makers and pathfinders; thus the world is
explored, and in due time man begins his mission of subjection. On across
the country, where now the Springbank settlement dwells in prosperity, we
forded the Elbow, and in turn, Fish and Pine Creeks, and camped for the
second night in the forks of Sheep Creek, on the south branch.
Here we found a small party
of Blackfeet, hunting for eagles for the adornment of war dresses, the tail
feathers especially commanding a high price among these people. They caught
the eagles by making pits, in which the hunter secreted himself, and his
associate covered the mouth of the pit with sticks and grass, and laid
pieces of fresh meat thereon; the eagle, alighting to gorge himself, was
quietly seized from beneath, and, being pulled down, was strangled.
Our guide, William, could
speak Blackfoot quite well, and thus we communicated with these wanderers.
Here, the next morning, 'William left us to return to his people, and, by
his direction, we reached High River by noon, driving over the hills and
through what is now known as the Lineham country. After crossing High River,
we came upon a faint trail, which had been made by the whiskey smugglers and
wolfers, and on this we travelled over to Mosquito Creek.
This was now Saturday
evening. No man in our party had been in this country previously; it was all
new. We were most carefully guarding our camp and stock. The Dried Rat was
one of the guard that night.
Shortly after daylight Sunday
morning we were startled by a shot close to camp. Jumping out with my gun
and pistol to find out what this meant, I saw Dried Rat coming up from the
creek with both hands full of ducks.
I said to him, "What did you
shoot for? Don't you know this is God's day?"
He looked dumbfounded, and
said he did not know. I told him we did not hunt or travel or work on this
day, except in dire necessity.
He said, "I will know after
There he stood, with the two
strings of ducks, and we looked at each other, and he said, "What will I do
with these?" I told him that he had better pick and clean them, for to throw
them away now would be a greater sin than to kill them.
We steadily kept on the track
of this wagon From Edmonton to where we were we had met Indians five
times—twice in large camps, once in a few lodges, and twice the individual
lodge. We had, with our circuitous route, travelled some four hundred miles
and better, and everywhere it was good country, fully capable of bearing a
dense population. If we had travelled in a direct line from Edmonton to this
point on Mosquito Creek, we would have made it in about 250 miles, but I
very much question if we would have seen a single human being. Sparse
population and a great, big, wealthy land waiting for humanity to come and
We spent a quiet Sunday,
horses and men resting, the latter in turn. On Monday morning we were away
early and following the dim trail southward into the unknown. Our step was
the steady jog, on past what we knew later as Pine Coulee, over to where the
Willow Creek comes out of the Porcupine Hills. Later, we crossed this creek,
and kept on down its west side and crossed the Old Man's, where the first
Fort Macleod was built. Here we found a fresh track of a wagon, not many
days old, and on the fiat a little lower down we came upon the scene of a
recent fight, several dead horses, which had been shot, revealing the tale
of a skirmish.
We steadily kept on the track
of this wagon trail, and towards the evening of the day came in sight of a
fort down on the bottom, at the junction of the Old Man's River with the
Belly River. This turned out to be Fort Kipp.
Here we met the first white
men we had seen since leaving Edmonton, and, with one exception, they were a
wild-looking lot, all but this one being more or less under the stimulus of
alcohol, and all heavily armed. The fort was a strong wooden structure, and,
with provisions and water, could, with a few resolute men, hold off a large
body of Indians armed, as most of these were at this time, with the bow and
arrow and old flintlock guns, only a very few as yet being in possession of
repeating rifles and fixed ammunition.
To these men occupying this
fort we were "curios." Missionaries, "men who would neither drink nor trade
in whiskey! "Well, I'll be!" They studied us even as we did them.
The doctor and father and Mr.
Snider were kept busy entertaining the crowd, and Willie and Dry Rat looked
after the horses; I did what I could to find out what was between us and the
Missouri River, which was our objective point.
In this I was very much
helped by the one sober man. He courteously and intelligently gave me
pointers, and I drew a rough sketch of the course and watering-places as he
described to me the country ahead of us. The cook or chef of this fort was a
Spaniard. He was especially kind to our party.
After supper, the horses
having been looked after and the gates closed, Doctor Taylor gave them a
talk on "The Land of the Bible," and we sang some hymns, and father led in
prayer. Tears stood in some eyes, and all observed the best decorum, and as
one of them said, "It was the best thing he had been at in many years." Some
of these men had seen better days. Others of them had grown up on the
western frontier. A religious service was to them all a new experience. The
Doctors description of the "The Land of the Bible" caught their ears, and
they were intensely interested.
In the morning most of these
men decreed to accompany us to Whoopup. This was the next fort en route to
Fort Benton. It was very evident that among these men life was very cheap;
to kill one another was thought little of, and to kill an Indian was a
meritorious act. This kept coming out inadvertently in the conversation.
This was the creed of the Great West across the line, and these men had
brought this creed over into our country; and who was there to say them nay?
We had no government; we had no one in authority; truly, just now "might was
On to Whoopup, across the
Belly at Fort Kipp, and up the big hill, and out across the wide upland, and
with our wild, uproarious, heavily armed escort whooping and yelling and
cursing, we drove and rode and wondered what might come next.
After a few miles it was a
relief to have these men dash ahead and leave us to come on at our steady
step. Whoopup was before us, and we wondered as to our reception.
Presently we looked down upon
the junction of the St. Mary's and the Belly rivers, two deep valleys, quite
well timbered with fine bottom lands of prairie intersecting. The scene was
rather picturesque, but the crowd we might meet down there was causing
somewhat of a tremor in our minds. However, here was the fort, strongly
built of cotton- wood and poplar logs, and further down was another post.
Whoopup itself belonged to Healy & Hamilton, and the other post to a Mr.
Weatherwax, or, as the boys called him, "Old Waxy," and when we came in
contact with him we thought he was well named—cool, calculating, polished,
using the finest of English, crafty. "Yes, gentlemen, we are glad to see you
travelling through our country. We wish you most heartily a bon voyage."
Here the Spaniard insisted on
presenting us with several cans of fruit; and I might say this was our first
introduction to such goods. In the North these were not known. Here there
was a Mr. Waxter, otherwise "Dutch Fred," who took me to one side and
impressed me with the thought that I would but have to mention his name,
Fred Waxter, and this would be for myself and party an "open sesame" to all
social and financial circles in Montana. "Yes, sir, you just bet your bottom
dollar on that fact."
I thanked Mr. Waxter, and we
acknowledged the present of the Spaniard with profound gratitude, and we
shook hands repeatedly with our friend, Mr. Weatherwax, and, crossing the
St. Mary's, proceeded to lunch on its southern bank. Here we struck out into
the upland regions of sparse water privileges.
In Whoopup I had again come
across my old friend, Gladstone. It was ten or eleven years since we were on
the Saskatchewan together. I modestly enquired about him of a much-armed
denizen of Whoopup. "Gladstone be -------; you mean Old Glad, -------. Come
here." And my friend shifted his rifle to time other hand, and linked the
released one into my arm and hurried me across the square of the fort to the
blacksmith shop, where, in dust and sweat and grime, here was Old Glad. "I
say, Glad ------! Looky here, you blind old fool! Here is a gentleman asking
My guide had a very full
vocabulary of a certain kind. "Glad" let up on the bellows and looked at me,
and for a little did not recognize his old friend. Then, "Is it you, John?"
and at once he gripped me with both bands, and introduced me to the crowd
which had gathered as the Rev. John MacDougall, from the far North, and we
shook hands all around most formally.
I then excused myself,
telling Gladstone I hoped to have more time on my return trip.
We were seated on mother
earth at our lunch on the banks of the St. Mary's, and had just opened some
of the fruit cans presented to us by our friend, the Spaniard, when suddenly
there fell upon our ears the most fearful whooping and yelling, with
shooting at intervals, and as the noise was evidently approaching us we
seized our weapons and waited.
Around the woods came a troop
of horsemen, a wilder, swearing, whooping lot seldom could be seen. They
were after us for some reason, that was plain; and they were evidently wild
with whiskey. Right into the river they plunged, and never let up until they
had surrounded our party. I can tell you I was glad to see "Glad" among
It had come to pass that
almost immediately after we left Whoopup a party had come in from the
northeast. These had been fighting with the Indians, and one man was brought
in all "shot up." Then the rumor had got out that a doctor had just passed
through; so this party gathered up to come after the doctor, "Glad" had come
along fearful that these wild fellows might do something rash. We had a time
explaining to them the difference between medicine and divinity. Dr. Taylor
and father had their hands full in this crowd, some of whom were most
Here was where I first met
Mr. Davis, who later became the first representative for Alberta in the
Dominion House. There he was, and of the wildest type. After a while Davis
took sides with Glad, and they gave us up and' returned; and we hustled the
harness and the saddles on our horses, and set out to put the miles between
us and them. From here, in spots, we had a clearly defined trail. Then at
times all this would spread out and become almost lost in the bigness and
wildness of this tremendous country. We made good time, and, thanks to the
very accurate information given to me by the man at Fort Kipp, we found the
watering- places, though, in one instance, we had to keep the buffalo away
in order to have the water for our stock and selves. We saw great herds of
It was in this country that I
drove a bunch of cows at full speed alongside of our party, and, when
opposite the wagon, shot a three-year-old heifer, the meat of which Dr.
Taylor pronounced "the best in the world." Certainly it was good, and we
took the most of it with us. And why should this not be the best of meat? No
damp stables, or cellars under barns; no chance for tuberculosis in the life
of these herds, out in the draught- less open, feeding on God's own pasture,
the centuries having adapted the best and most nutritious grasses as the
product of the soils and this climate; verily, this wild meat was the best
we ever ate.
Presently, we were across the
yet undefined, unsurveyed line, the 49th parallel. Somewhere here it must
run, and for a few miles we were in doubt as to where we "were at"; then we
could feel sure that we were in Uncle Sam's country.
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