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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter IX
Up the Teton—Blizzard continues—Buffalo hunts ---Across the divide—Into the North Country—Cross Tail Creek.


Early the next morning we were gladly out of the shack into the storm, and kept on up the Teton to where we had struck its hospitable wood and grass some days previously. Here we camped, as it would have been folly to rush out on to the high plateau north of us in such weather as this. By this time the drifts were deep, and the air crisp and cold. With this storm strongly on, and the snow deepening, and the drifts piling up, it seemed a long way to Edmonton. However, we gathered wood and kept our fire big and brisk, and cooked our bannocks (for we had secured flour in Benton), and boiled or roasted our buffalo meat, and watched our horses, and guarded our camp, and told stories, and sang our hymns, and offered our prayer and praise, and laughed at the storm and distance.

In the early morning of the next day we pushed out into these as if they were friends, rather than foes; find, after all, they are our friends, "stormy wind fulfilling His word." On slowly, over the long upland divide between the Teton and the Marias rivers, and out across the country, facing the picturesque Rocky Springs country.

Here we again found buffalo, and I ran and killed a very fine cow, the meat of which we piled into our wagon for our journey. Nooning at the spot where we killed the cow, I harnessed lip a pair of bronchos. One of these we had brought with us from the North, and the other I had bought at Benton from a Jew, and, because of this, I named my purchase "Solomon." "Solomon" and "Besho" were wild in the harness, and cut up a lot; but I ran them around to accustom them to the new experience, and, w'hen ready, put them over the tongue, and father and I climbed into the wagon, and I let them go. As we had all out-of-doors to move in, and as long as we kept northward, what mattered the speed?

For the first few miles the pace was terrific; badger holes and dust pans and coulees were passed in quick succession, and it was some time before we got our bronchos down to a steady travelling trot. Here the herds of buffalo had smashed up the drifts of snow and helped us in that much across the plain. During this afternoon we came to dense masses of these wild cattle. They lined up to let us pass through, so it seemed. As we drove through them I saw several buffalo oxen, huge brutes, towering up above the others, and, as usual, in fine condition. It was a great sight, and we forgot the keen cold and early snowstorm in looking upon these tens of thousands of God's unbranded cattle.

We were now approaching the high lands between the Alkali Flat and the Milk River. Here, across the summit, we were again into snow, deep and hard to travel through, and we turned out the brorichos to put in a heavier team to pull through this. I now took to the saddle, and telling father to look out for a sign from me, and to come straight to it if I made one, I then rode off ahead to look for a battleground which I had been told about, where the Grovaunts and Piegans had fought during this past summer. I knew that in all probability lodge poles and picket pins would be in evidence in such a place, as these Indians in their stampede and hurry would leave these behind them; and even so I found the spot, and was glad, for the night promised to be a cold one, and we wanted fire and heat to cook by as well as to warm us and our camp.

I found that here there had been a big fight. There were evidences of many lodges, and many dead horses were lying about; but here were the picket pins and lodge poles and travois which had been abandoned, and which I now proceeded to gather; and before my party came in sight upon the distant ridge, I had a good fire on, and this they saw and came straight to, down the long slope and across the Milk River.

We camped upon the scene of the battle, and were thankful, not that men fought and killed, but for the fuel they had left, and which now, in this storm, came so opportunely for our benefit.

The next day there came a change of weather, and by noon we were well out of the drifts, and across the great divide between the Missouri and the Saskatchewan. We were now on the northern slope of the continent, and as the country soon dried up from the effects of the storm, we rolled homeward fast. Again we were at Whoopup, and found things quieter—not so many wolfers and wild men about. Here we found the victim of the recent fight, breathing through holes in his back. Father did what he could for him, and knelt for a moment in prayer by his couch, and on we went, for the season was late and the distance far.

It was Saturday, and we were looking forward to a quiet Sunday on Willow Creek; but when we came in sight of the Old Man's Valley, what should we see but a large camp of Indians, several hundred lodges. These proved to be Bloods. It was goodbye to rest and tranquility, as we must now nerve up, and watch and work in the presence of continuous danger until we could, if possible, move on from these people. In a very short time we were surrounded by a crowd of mounted men, heavily armed; indeed, these were the best-armed Indians I had yet seen.

I told them we would ford the Old Man's and Willow Creek and camp and spend two nights in this vicinity, and they escorted us to our camp, and remained until dark, taking stock of us and our arms and general outfit. They saw we were distinct from the white men they had met of recent years, and they seemed to appreciate the difference. Promising to come back "A-pin-a-koos" (to-morrow), we were left to double-guard our camp and wait and watch, and the morning came, and our stock and we were still intact.

What a long, weary day that was! I have driven many miles, and spoken four times in a day, but the strain of that Sunday on the bank of the Willow is with me yet. A change of mood, an incident that might happen at any time, and we, with our little company, would be as nothing before this multitude. All day our camp was the scene of many comings and goings. They would come singly and in crowds, and we did what we could to communicate with them, and instil confidence, if possible; but we were sorely in need of an interpreter. Father left me to handle these wild fellows, and I expended all my Blackfoot and pantomime and sign language, and also learned a great deal more, and was a glad man when, late at night the last one had gone, and, it being my turn, I retired. Someone else was on duty, and I was weary in both mind and body, and soon went to sleep. In a very short time i was awakened by a noise near by, and catching up my gun, jumped out, to find that our guard, Mr. Snider and Willie, had a prisoner. They had caught him in the very act of attempting to steal father's big horse, Jack. The prisoner was just about naked, and of course he expected to die. However, we gave him a good scare, and I put him under the wagon and told him if he moved we would shoot him. Again I tried to rest, and it was now midnight and fine moonlight; so I determined to strike out, and, if fortunate, be far away by daylight. Rousing up those who were asleep, we made ready without making any noise. When about to start we gave our prisoner his freedom. He was astonished and overwhelmed, and expressed his gratitude, and said, "If it had been any other men, either white men or red men, they would have killed me." He gave his whip and lariat to us, and vowed he would never steal any more horses.

Now we were away, and driving straight for the North country. When morning came we were a long distance from the Blood Indian camp. Nevertheless, that did not hinder us from keeping a good watch on our rear. We were not following any trail, and were away east of our course when coming south. During the day I ran and killed another splendid cow, and we took all of the meat and camped near the Bow River. This we crossed the next day, a little west of where the town of Gleichen is now situated. This crossing was rather risky, but, with extra precaution, we got through without accident. Travelling north and south in Alberta one can always sing, "Many more rivers to cross."

Pulling out up the valley of the Bow at this point, there is a sharp, peculiarly shaped hill, and quite a landmark, called by the Crees "The stone across" ("A-kam-a-se-ne"). I had heard of it from warriors and travellers, but now saw it for the first time; and here I gave father, who was sitting with me in the wagon, a proof of the wonderful vision Nature had endowed me with. We were still a long way from the hill when I saw an Indian crawling to the summit. I watched him until I saw him stretched on the highest peak, and said to father, "Do you see that hill?"

"Yes."

"Well, there is an Indian stretched on its summit, watching us. If he is alone, lie will show himself to us by and by. If he is but a scout of a party, then we must be ready."

I then passed the word to our people to gradually close up, and for every man to hold himself in readiness. Father had so often experienced the far- reaching power of my natural eyesight that he had no doubt whatever. However, there were some in our party who could not understand why John should know of the vicinity of men, and they asked themselves, Was it supernatural?

Why, yes, of course, even as all endowment is supernatural.

Presently, when we had passed the base of the hill, we heard the clear, harmonious voice of a full- lunged warrior singing a peace song.

"At he is alone," said I to father, "and he will come up to us," and presently out from behind another hill came our friend. He was a fine-looking fellow, in full plainsman's costume, and he sat his horse as to the manner born, and he continued his song until he came to us. He said his party was moving south farther east; that they had been to Edmonton; that when he saw us he knew we were not Long Knives. His name was Eagle Ribs (Pe-to-pe-kis), quite a renowned war chief. I told him that I was coming right out at once to the mountains on the Bow River, and would hope to see him during the winter which was approaching.

He took a great fancy to my rifle, and I said, "You bring me a good horse when I come out, and I will let you have this rifle."

He smiled and answered, "Remember, you have said it, and that rifle is mine." And so it was some few months later, for he came in with the horse, and got his gun.

But, more than this, I had another new friend at court, and this was most important to us. We parted from Eagle Ribs in mutual confidence. On to the Big Red Deer, where a labyrinth of ravines blocked our course, and we had to swing up its south bank and look for a crossing.

Leaving my party in the early morning of the day, they to keep out along the ridge above the ravines, I rode away in search of a crossing. This meant three requisite&—an approach, a ford and a departure.

All day I kept up the stream, saw deer and antelope and buffalo, but as we had plenty of meat I did not molest them. Moreover, I had left my rifle, and was only armed with my big Smith & Wesson revolver, 42-calibre.

I saw some of the most picturesque spots along the valley one could imagine. Riding on a buffalo trail, I came to a cut bank, and the trail wound in and out on the edge of a precipice, strange, weird formations; and as I could not see any distance before me, presently I was astonished to meet a procession of great bulls. The leader, a huge monster, stood, even as I and my horse stood, and we looked at each other. Must I retrace my way to the last flat? I was loath to do this. Finally, I gave a great shout, which the canyon echoed, and the long stream of bulls scrambled around in their tracks and retraced their steps, and I rode at the rear of the procession and admired their courtesy, and took stock of their size and hugeness, and was thankful that they did not know their strength.

On we went, buffalo and man, until we came to the bend of the river, where there was room, and my concessive friends scampered up the prairie flat and I rode on looking for a ford. It was evening before I found what I wanted, that is, a possible route on both sides of the river, and a ford which, while deep, had a smooth bottom and quiet current. Thankful for my find, I took the long climb up the south bank and out on to the big plateau.

Where was my party? The sun was low, and the night promised to be a cold one.

I rode to the highest ground and surveyed the scene. Not a soul in sight. As the air was quiet, I fired a shot, and listened, but no answer came. However, my shot started a buck antelope, and he cantered straight for me. Leaving my horse on the hill, I ran to meet the antelope. When next we saw each other we were about 150 yards apart. I wanted a response to my shot if any of my party should hear it; but if I could secure the buck also I was nothing loath to do so. Accordingly, I took aim, and my first ball killed him; but there he stood, and I fired all the remaining cartridges out of my revolver, and still he stood, with head up, staring at me. I then refilled my gun and approached my game slowly. I drew near, watching the buck, but all the while listening for an answer to my shots. However, none came; and now I was close upon the fine fellow, who stood as a thing of life before me, and yet was dead. I held my gun ready, but as I reached out my hand to grasp him by the antlers, he shook and fell. Three of my bullets had gone right through his vitals. The first shot had killed him, but, standing straight to me, he was braced and did not fall. I ran back to my horse and brought him to my kill. Then I opened the antelope, and took out the paunch and entrails and placed him to bleed, then covered him with a big silk handkerchief I had over my shoulder, weighting this down with some stones.

I then mounted my horse and rode on, anxiously looking for my party. Thus darkness came upon the scene, and I looked and listened, and not until late did I see the glimmer of a fire in the distance. This might be my party or prove to be my enemies. Carefully I scouted towards the place, and came to a deep ravine. Going down into this, I followed it up in the darkness to the firelight. This proved to be our party, and once again we were delighted to be reunited, and all were glad to hear of my success. The next morning we made the south shore of the river for noon, picking up the antelope en route. After lunch we bolstered up the box of our wagon, and in due time were across the Red Deer.

What a wonderful land of river and soil and rich grass and beautiful landscapes! Some countries, after hundreds of years of settlement, are not as favored in readiness and beauty and progress as this great big land we have been travelling through for the last thirteen years already is. Millions of acres and unlimited possibilities!

Thus we thought and thus we conferred, as we climbed to the rich upland and moved on into the great North. We crossed the Tail Creek near its inflow from Buffalo Lake. We kept the west side of the lake, and also that of the Red Deer Lake, and now were in familiar ground for me. I had feasted and fasted and ridden and walked in many directions through this region. I had hunted owls and rabbits and ducks and chicken and geese and swan and deer and elk and moose and bear and buffalo and beaver and muskrat, and lived on a meat and fowl diet straight, without sauce other than hunger. I had held meetings in lodges, and on the hills, and in the valleys. Why, this was a part of my big parish which, in its bigness, I had never been able to compass, though forever moving and constantly on the road. And here we were again, rushing through, for our step was quick and steady and persistent. We were moving rapidly.

Here my friend, The Dried Rat, left us to seek his own people. He gripped my hand when parting, and thanked me.

He said, "I will never forget either your kindness nor yet your counsel and prayers, John; from now on I am a different man. May the Great Spirit bless you, my friend."

Thus this faithful fellow parted with us.

Presently we were at one of the lower crossings of the Battle River, and in due time at the Peace Hills, and then on to Edmonton. When we came in sight of the old fort, the flag went up. There was general rejoicing. They had been looking for us for days. All manner of rumors had come. "We were killed." My brother David, who had come on up to Edmonton in order to move out with me to the mountains, was now organizing a party to go and seek us. But here we were, and the fort and settlement were glad. Father and the rest of our party were now at the end of their journey, but mine would now really begin.


 


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