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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter X
Casual visitors—The missionary a "medicine man " - "Hardy dogs and hardier men"—A buffalo hunt organized—"Make afire! I am freezing! "—I thaw out my companion—Chief Child—Father caught napping—Go with Mr. Woolsey to Edmonton—Encounter between Blackfeet and Stoneys—A "nightmare" scare—My passenger scorched—Rolling down hill—Translating hymns.

WITH the first approach of winter, the majority of the Indians re-crossed the Saskatchewan and pitched southward for buffalo. Some waited until the ice-bridge was formed, and a few went northward into the woods to trap and hunt for fur; but it rarely happened that there were no Indians about the place. Strangers, having heard that missionaries were settling on the river near the "Hairy Bag," (which was the old name for a valley just back of the mission house, given to it because it had been a favorite feeding-ground for buffalo) would come out of their way to camp for a day or two beside the new mission, and see for themselves what was going on and what was the purpose of such effort. Many a seed of truth found lodgment in the hearth of these wanderers, to bear rich fruit in soul-winfling in later days.

Then the missionary became noted as a "medicine man," able to help the divers diseased. Many of these were brought from afar that they might reap the benefit of his care. Then all the hungry and naked hunters, those out of luck, upon whom some spell had been cast (as they believed) so that their nets failed to catch, their guns missed fire, and their traps snapped, or their dead-falls fell without trapping anything—where else should these unfortunates go- for help and advice and comfort but to the CC praying man." And thus with our large party, and the very many other calls upon our commissariat, it kept some of us on the jump to gather provisions sufficient to "keep the pot boiling."

Already, because of the snow coming earlier, we had hauled most of our fish from the lake, fairly rushing things after we had the road broken. Generally two trips were made in three days, and now and then a trip a day. Away at two or three o'clock in the morning; forty miles out light, then lashing a hundred or more frozen whitefish on our narrow dog-sled, and home again the same evening with the load, yoked to hardy dogs and still hardier men. One such trip was enough for any weakling or faint-heart who might try it.

Owing to the great demands upon our larder, already referred to, early in December of this winter (1863) we found our supply of fresh meat nearly exhausted, and so determined to go out in search of a fresh supply. Already a good foot of snow was on the ground around Victoria, and there was more south and ease, where the Indians and buffalo were, but this did not stop us from starting out. The party consisted of father, Peter, Tom, a man named Johnson, and myself. We took both horses and dogs. The second day out we encountered intensely cold weather, and this decided us to strike eastward into the hills along the south of the chain of lakes. The third day we killed two bulls, and as the meat was very good, father told Tom and I to load our sleds and return to the mission, and to come right back again.

Off we started with our loads, but as we had a road to break across country our progress was slow. We had no snowshoes, and I had to wade ahead of the dogs, while Tom brought up the rear. That night was one of the coldest in my experience, and I know what cold means if any man does. Tom and I had each a small blanket. We made as good a camp as we could by clearing away the snow and putting down a lot of frozen willows. We kept up a good fire, but the heat did not seem to have any radiating power that night—an almost infinite wall of frosty atmosphere was pressing in on us from all sides. Putting our unlined capotes beneath and the two blankets over us, we tried to sleep, for we had travelled steadily and worked hard all the day. I went to sleep, but Tom shivered beside me, and presently woke me up by exclaiming: "John, for God's sake make a fire! I am freezing!" I hurried as fast as I could, and soon had a big blaze going. Then I got Tom up and held him close over the fire, rubbing and chafing, and turning him all the while, until the poor fellow was somewhat restored. Looking gratefully at me, he then noticed that I had neither coat nor mitts on. I had not felt the need of these, so startled and anxious was I because of my comrade's condition. We did not try to sleep any more that night, but busied ourselves in chopping and carrying logs for our fire, and religiously keeping this up.

With the first glimmer of day we were away, and steadily kept our weary wading through the deep, loose snow. About eight in the evening we came out on the trail leading to the mission, and would have been home by midnight, only that I had to make another fire about ten o'clock, and give Tom another thawing out to save his life. He was a slight, slim fellow, and the hitter cold seemed to go right through him; but he was a lad of real grit and true pluck.

Fortunately for Tom and I, it was between two and three o'clock Sunday morning when we reached the mission. This gave us the day's rest, otherwise we would have felt in duty bound to turn right around and go back to our party. Our people at home were glad to have the fresh meat, and though Mr. Woolsey had then spent eight years among the buffalo, he pronounced it "good cow's meat." We concluded thereupon that at any rate it was extra good "bull's meat," and were satisfied with our part of the work.

A little after midnight Tom and I set forth on our return. The cold was intense, but we were light, and running and riding we made a tremendous day of it, coming about noon to where we had parted from our friends. Following. them up we came to where they had found the trail of an Indian camp, and gone on it. Carrying on, we camped when night came, and as we had now a distinct trail, we left our camp in the night, and a little after daylight had the satisfaction of seeing the white smoke from many lodges rising high into the cold, clear air in the distance. This stimulated us, and within two tours we were in the camp and again with our friends. They had fallen in with a party of Indians from Whitefish Lake and north of it, and father and party were now in Chief Child's lodge. Both missionary and people had been having a good time together. These simple people, having been reached by the Gospel, and having accepted the truth, were never happier than when receiving an unexpected visit from a missionary. When the missionary delighted in his work and made himself as interesting as possible to the people, and spared no pains to make his visit profitable and educative, as father always did, then their satisfaction knew no bounds. With their teacher they all became optimistic, hopeful, and joyous.

Father told me that Chief Child, our host, had given him some of the finest meat he had ever eaten, and that our hostess knew how to cook buffalo meat to perfection. Now, as in my experience amongst buffalo-eating Indians was one year older than father's, I began to suspect that he had been caught napping, and had eaten what he would not have indulged in had he known; so I quietly enquired of Chief Child what he had fed father on. He replied, "We have no variety. He has had nothing but buffalo meat in my tent;" then, as if correcting himself, he added, "Perhaps it was the unborn calf meat he found so good." Just as I thought, said I to myself; now I have a good one on father! Later on, when he repeatedly spoke of Chief Child's hospitality, I mentioned this, and father opened his eyes, then quite philosophically said, "Can't help it—it was delicious anyway."

Father and party were about ready to start back when we reached the camp, having secured fine loads of both fresh and dried meats, so we loaded up and started for home. As we with the dog-trains could travel faster, and make longer distances than the horses, Peter and Tom and I went on, leaving lather and Johnson to come as they could. We were home, and had made another trip to the fishery and back, by the time they got in with their loads.

Mr. Woolsey was now ready to set out on the missionary tour to Edmonton, usually taken during the holidays. It had become an established custom for the officers and employees of the Hudson's Bay Company who desired to come to Edmonton on business or pleasure to do so at that time, and the missionary had then the opportunity of meeting people from the outposts as well as those resident in the Fort.

In accord with this purpose we left Victoria in time to reach Edmonton the day before Christmas. I drove the cariole as usual, and we had with us a newcomer, one "Billy" Smith, a man we had known at Norway House, and who had now, somehow or other, drifted into this upper country. Billy drove the baggage and "grub train." Simultaneous with our starting for Edmonton, father, Peter and the others also set out to procure, if possible, another load of meat, as there was no telling where the buffalo might be driven to in a short time.

We went by the south side, taking the route I had followed on my lone trip, and arrived at Edmonton on time. Remaining there during the holiday week, we started back the day after New Year's. While we were there a small party of Mountain Stoneys came in on a trade to the Fort. With these was Jonas, one of Rundle's converts, who understood Cree well, and Mr. Woolsey arranged wii him to return with us to Victoria, as father and he were very desirous of securing the translation of some hymns into Stoney. Thus our party was augmented by Jonas and a companion. The rest of this small party of Stoneys, on their return trip south, were attacked by the Blackfeet when about fifty miles from the Fort, and several were killed and wounded on both sides; but the Stoneys, though much outnumbered, eventually succeeded in driving their enemies away. It may be that Jonas saved his life that time by coming with our company.

Just as we were starting from Edmonton, Billy Smith was bitten in the hand by one of the dogs. The wound became very bad almost immediately, and grew worse as we proceeded. The weather was now very cold, and I had a lively time with a helpless man in my cariole, and another, almost as helpless, behind with the baggage train. When the Indians came up to camp they helped me, but they were generally a long way in the rear.

I shall never forget a scare Mr. Woolsey gave me on that trip. It was the next morning after leaving Edmonton. We had started early in the night, and I was running behind the cariole, holding the lines by which I kept it from upsetting. We had left the others far in the rear. Mr. Woolsey was fast asleep; myself and dogs were quietly pursuing the narrow trail, fringed here by dark rows of willows. The solitude was sublime. Suddenly from the earth beneath me, as it seemed, there came, unearthly in its sound, a most terrible cry. I dropped the line and leaped over a bunch of willows, feeling my cap lifting with the upward motion of my hair. My pulse almost ceased to beat. Then it flashed upon me it was Mr. Woolsey having the "nightmare." I was vexed with myself for being so startled, and vexed with him for committing so horrible a thing under such circumstances, and I have to confess it was no small shake that I gave that cariole, saying at the same time to Mr. Woolsey as he awoke, "Don't you do that again!" As he was feeling chilled I suggested that he alight and walk a bit, while I dashed on to make a fire; all of which we did, I having a big blazing fire on when Mr. Woolsey came up. I melted snow and boiled the kettle, and we had our second breakfast, though it was still a long time till daylight. The Indians did not come up at this spell, so we left some provisions beside the fire and went on. That was a very hard trip on all of us. Mr. Woolsey, wrap him as I would, seemed likely to freeze to death every little while. Smith's hand was growing worse, and he was in intense pain with it. I was in sore trouble with my passenger and my patient. Sometimes I had to roll Mr. Woolsey out of the cariole in order to get him on his feet and beside the fire. At times the condition of things was ludicrous in the extreme.

Before daylight the second morning—for we were two nights on the way—I was a long distance ahead of Billy, and was becoming anxious about him. I knew Mr. Woolsey was cold, so I stopped in the lee of a bluff of timber, and making a big fire put down some brush, and then pulled the cariole up to this, and half lifted, half rolled Mr. Woolsey out beside the fire, and finally got him on his feet. Then I turned to get the kettle, for I had taken this and the axe and some food from Bill's provision sled because he was always so far behind. Just then I smelled something burning, and there was Mr. Woolsey standing over the fire, fairly smoking. His coat sleeves were singed, and when he sat down his trousers burst asunder at the knees, and the rent almost reached from the bottom hem to the waist band.

We both laughed heartily. I could not help it, but Mr. Woolsey's "unmentionables" were certainly past mending. By-and-bye we came out upon our own provision trail, and I saw that father and party had passed on the day before; and now as we would make good time from this in to the mission, only twelve miles distant, I felt like waiting for Bill, so I said to Mr. Woolsey, "You had better walk on and warm up while I wait for our man, as the poor fellow wants all the encouragement he can get." With much bracing and lifting I got Mr. Woolsey to his feet, and expecting him to start on, busied myself with my dogs; when presently, looking up, I saw him walking out on the road to the plains. I shouted to him, "Where are you going?" And he answered back, "I am going homeward." I told him he was wrong, but he was stubborn in the thought that he was right, and I had to run after him, and fairly turn him around, and show him the track made by father and his party homewards, before I could convince him lie was wrong. This was now his ninth winter in the West, and still his organ of locality was so defective that he would lose himself in a ten-acre field. Kind, noble, good man that he was, yet it was impossible for him to adapt himself to a new country. He would always be dependent on others.

When Smith did come up, I encouraged him, telling him to pluck up—only twelve miles, and a passable road at that, then home, and nursing for him. Then I dashed after Mr. Woolsey, tucked him into the cariole, and in a short time was at the top of the very steep hill opposite the mission. Here I was in another box. I dare not go down with Mr. Woolsey in the cariole, yet the dogs saw home and were eager to jump over the brow, and dash down the precipice. I held them back, and called to my passenger to get out, which he essayed to do but could not. There was a coulee on one side of the road, and a brilliant idea struck .me. Deciding to bring the force of gravity to aid me in my dilemma, I upset the cariole on to the side of the coulee. Out rolled Mr. Woolsey, and he kept on rolling until he reached the bottom of the gully. This suppled him somewhat, and now, with the sides of the gully to help him, he rose to his feet. I waited to see him stand, and then, almost weak with internal mirth, for I did not want him to see me laughing, I followed my dogs over the hill and drove on to the house. After unharnessing my dogs, I went back to meet poor Billy, and help him down the hill.

Many a laugh Mr. Woolsey and I had afterwards over that trip, though at the time there were occasions when things looked serious. Poor Billy Smith had a terrible time with his hand. Inflammation set in, mortification threatened, and some of our party had to work day and night to save him. Jonas and his companion came in some hours after us, and for several days Peter and Jonas worked on the translation of some hymns into the Stoney language. Then Jonas, with such help as father and Mr. Woolsey could give him, and with a copy of these hymns in the syllabic characters in his bosom, set out on his three hundred mile tramp to his mountain home. Fortunately he missed any such mishap as that which his friends encountered on their return home, and reached his people in good time, and was able to teach others these Gospel hymns, for which he had travelled so far in the intense cold of a Northern winter.


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