We had crossed the Milk
River, and had for some time held in view the Sweet Grass Mountains. We had
passed the Rocky Springs, and had gone down the big Alkali Flat. We had
crossed the Marias River, and had struck out for where we hoped to find the
Pondura Springs, but we had gone a trifle too far west, and noon came and no
water. Being anxious as to our stock and ourselves, I rode on in advance of
my party and found the country through which we were passing entirely
Thus night fell suddenly; but
just before dark I thought I saw the tops of trees which, if so, would
denote water. I now began to retrace my way, but night was on me quickly,
and I rode and listened. I had seen a few bulls and quite a number of
antelope during the afternoon. As I rode back in the night, I looked and
listened, but the gallop of a bull, or the bound of an antelope, or the howl
of a wolf was all I could hear, and the night was thickening and the smell
of an approaching storm was becoming very apparent. I already felt the chill
of it; but I kept on, and suddenly checked up my horse because of the flash
of a light, which seemed to be right in front of me. This light, as I saw
it, seemed to come from the striking of flint with steel, and it might be a
war party resting for a little, and someone trying to light his pipe.
So I watched my horse that he
did not betray me, and let him move gently on. Again I saw a flash of light.
This made me more cautious; but presently I perceived that I was climbing a
slope, and now I knew that what I had seen were the flashings of a camp-fire
in the distance. These had deceived me; and now from the summit of the hill
I could plainly discern the fire.
Was this my party, or some
whiskey smuggler, or a war party of Indians?
This was the question I must
now solve. I rode on. By this time the approaching storm was chilling the
air. I was lightly clad, but did not mind this much. What was the fire
which, in the distance, was like a lone star in the thick darkness? Slowly
and carefully I approached. Here I started a few bulls; then I stampeded
some antelope, who, with a bleat, bounded away. Steadily on I went, now out
of sight in the valley, and by and by I began to discern men in the glare of
the faint fire of the buffalo chips. When I got near enough to distinguish
forms, I counted and watched, and the number tallied with my party. This
gave me more confidence, and I drew nearer; and as I was facing the rising
wind, I could now hear these men speaking, and soon I heard my father's
voice. Then I let my horse out, and soon was within the circle of the little
fire. How glad these men were to see me! The Dried Rat was delighted. I told
them that I thought I saw the tops of trees as it grew dark, and this made
us all hope for both wood and water on the morrow. But now the water of the
clouds was beginning to strike our cheeks, and soon it would be both rain
and snow, as indicated by the lowering of the temperature around us.
We put up tent in the lee of
the wagon. We drove the pins in firmly, and guyed and braced as we best
could, and, feeling that the bleak plain and storm would protect us from
prowling men, we turned in. However, as the storm grew stronger and the wind
became like a hurricane, I felt sure our tent would fall. Father and myself
conferred, and we made up our minds to let it come down, and stay where we
were, under the blankets, storm or no storm, until daybreak. I was sleeping
between father and Dr. Taylor, and I told the doctor to keep covered up and
stay quiet; but this he would not do, and as soon as the tent began to
collapse he got up. I very foolishly got out also, more to let the doctor
see we could not do better than let the tent come down on us. However, he
was stubborn, and said it could be made to stay up.
I did what I could; but,
seeing it was hopeless in the wind, which was now very violent, and as I was
getting wet through, I said, "Doctor, get under your blankets quick; I am
going to let this pole go in a minute."
Again lie was stubborn; so I
let go and jumped for my blankets, and the doctor saw lie must submit to the
inevitable. In the meantime, he got a good soaking, and, while I felt for
him, I could not but know it was his own fault, and I also was wet through
and chilled because of his stubbornness. The rest of the party had very
wisely remained under the bedding, where we all should have stayed.
When dawn came we were a cold
lot of men; but the doctor was not only cold, but also glum and silent.
Hurriedly we loaded up and made ready and started, the doctor and I in the
wagon, our course as straight as I could make it for where I had seen the
treetops last evening. On for miles, but not a word out of my
fellow-traveller. Silent and solemn he sat beside me all those leagues, and
while we had the wind behind us, nevertheless, it was cold. Sure enough,
here were the trees, and in due time we looked down upon the valley of the
Teton. Soon we were in shelter; very soon we had a great big-wood fire.
In a short time the kettles
were on, and the buffalo meat boiling. When the dinner was served, and the
fire had done its work, and while we were eating, the doctor opened his
mouth and said, "Brother John, I have dined on the stall-fed animals of Old
England; I have eaten the Blue Grass beef of Kentucky; I have partaken of
the meat which did feed on the shores of Galilee; but this meat which we are
now eating beats them all." This was a fact, and this was an evidence of the
stimulating force of meat and food.
That night we camped within
sound of a cowbell, and were cheered with its music. The next day we reached
Fort Benton. This was the head of navigation on the Missouri. Steamers came
this far (luring the high water season all the way from St. Louis; ;steam
brought freight here, a distance of over 3,000 miles, for three cents a
pound, and sometimes less, while we had to pay in the North ten cents for a
thousand miles. The difference was altogether in the manner of transport.
Benton was a typical
far-Western town in the seventies. Here was a small garrison of United
States troops, living in an adobe fort. The use of these troops was to chase
"Ingins." You might kill an Indian; so much the better. White men might kill
one another, which was often the case, and there was not much fuss made
about it. Drinking and gambling and wild life was here rampant and bold.
This was the centre of import trade for all the country west and north of
here, mining, ranching, furs, robes, etc. Bull-whackers and mule-punchers
and cowboys and general roustabouts were here in strong evidence. The big
firms who controlled the trade of Montana were I. G. Baker & Co. and T. C.
Power & Co.
In the former company were
the Conrad brothers, William, Charles and Howard. From all these business
men, during the years between 1873 and 1883, until the Canadian Pacific came
to us, we received the greatest kindness and uniform courtesy. These men
were the pioneers of trade and transport in Montana, and also what is now
Southern Alberta. As yet there were no schools nor churches. As a prominent
citizen said at that time in my hearing, "Religion and education are at a
very low ebb in this country." This was very apparent to us, for during the
parts of two days we spent in Fort Benton, I feel sure that I heard more
awful blasphemy and foul, obscene talk than I had in ten years on the
Saskatchewan; and yet all these men were they who had come out of what is
called civilization. If these were the only products of our modern progress,
then, for God's sake and humanity's also, give us barbarism. Every man was
armed; revolvers and knives and repeating rifles—all were on the person and
to hand. The revolting swagger of some of these "savages" was most
We soon found that this spot
would for some time become our base of supply. We could, by coming to
Benton, obtain our necessaries in a 900-mile trip, as against going to
Winnipeg or Fort Garry, which would mean from 1,800 to 2,000 miles of a
journey. True, coming this way we had more dangerous rivers and a much
wilder country to traverse; but the time saved would be to us the vital
point. here we were in touch with a stage line west to Helena, and on south
to Utah. There had been a telegraph line, but the buffalo had scratched down
the poles and carried the wire across the prairie.
It was at this place, on a
stormy morning, with a heavy snowfall on, we bade Dr. Taylor, our friend and
companion in many tribulations, as also in many pleasant experiences,
good-bye. As we struck the trail for the North country and home, he rolled
away in the Concord coach and four for the southern and western mountains,
to reach home by the Central Pacific. It was truly a wild day when we waved
our hands to the Doctor, as he leaned out of the coach window, he to
presently reach the railroad and the thronging centres of humanity, and we
to return to isolation and extreme pioneering life.
The wind blew the snow with
force right into our teeth, as we drove and rode northward over the bleak
uplands of Montana. That night we took shelter at a ranch on the Teton, and
the proprietor gave us a little 7x9 shack for the night. We had a small
chimney fire, and made ourselves as comfortable as. we could. During the
evening one of the men to whom the shack was no doubt allotted as a
sleeping-place came in and began to "redd up" a bit. Tie swept the little
room, and, gathering all the debris and dirt towards the chimney, sent it in
to burn. It seems that on the floor were quite a number of cartridges, and,
either through ignorance or intent, he sent these into the fireplace with
the accumulated dirt.
Presently the small room
became the scene of some excitement. Bang! and off went a cartridge, and
again another, which made the ashes and dirt fly. As we did not know how
many cartridges there were, the monotony of the evening was broken by our
watching for the explosions. This frontiersman was an exception in my
experience. He was inhospitable. Generally the frontier life made all who
came under its influence most hospitable and kind.