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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 this."

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 possess it.

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 right."

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 for you,

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 them.

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 unreasonable.

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 buffalo.

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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