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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter II
A foraging expedition—Our hungry camp—A welcome feast—Dogs, sleds and buffalo bull in a tangle—In a Wood Cree encampment—Chief Child, Maskepetoon and Ka-kake—Indian hospitality

ABOUT the middle of January we started for the plains to find the Indians, and, if possible, secure provisions and fresh meat from them. William and Neils, with horses and sleds, preceded us some days. Williston and I in the meantime went for the last load of fish, then we followed our men out to the great plains. In those days travelling with horses was tedious. You had to give the animals time to forage in the snow, or they would not stand the trip. From forty to sixty miles per day would be ordinary progress for dogs and drivers, but from ten to twenty would be enough for horses in the deep snow and cold of winter; thus it came to pass that, although William and Neils had preceded us some days, nevertheless we camped with them our second night out, close beside an old buffalo pound which had been built by the Indians, It was said by the old Indians that if you took the wood of a pound for your camp-fire, a storm would be the result; and as we did take of the wood that night, a storm came sure enough, and William's horses were far away next morning. As we had but little provisions, Williston and I did not wait, but leaving the most of our little stock of dried meat with the horse party, we went on in the storm, and keeping at it all day, made a considerable distance in a south-easterly direction, where we hoped to fall in with Indians or buffaloes, or possibly a party bent on the same errand as ourselves from the sister mission at Whitefish Lake.

That night both men and dogs ate sparingly, for the simple reason that we did not have any more to eat. In these northern latitudes a night in January in the snow with plenty of food is, under the best of circumstances, a hardship; but when both tired men and faithful dogs are on "short commons" the gloom seems darker, the cold keener, the loneliness greater than usual. At any rate, that is how Williston and I felt the night I refer to. The problem was clear on the blackboard before us as we sat and vainly tried to think it out, for there was very little talking round our camp-fire that night. The known quantities were: an immense stretch of unfamiliar country before us; deep, loose snow everywhere around us; our food all gone; both of us in a large measure "tenderfeet." The unknown: Where were the friendly Indians and the buffaloes, and where was food to be found? But being tired and young we went to sleep, and with the morning star were waiting for the daylight in a more hopeful condition of mind.

Driving on in the drifting snow, about 10 a.m. we came upon a fresh track of dog-sleds going in our direction. This, then, must be the party from Whitefish Lake. The thought put new life both into us and our dogs. Closely watching the trail, which was being drifted over very fast by the loose snow, we hurried on, and soon came to where these people had camped the night before. Pushing on, we came up to them about the middle of the afternoon. They turned out to be Peter Erasmus and some Indians from Whitefish Lake Mission; but, alas for our hopes of food, like ourselves they were without provisions. However, we drove on as fast as we could, and had the supreme satisfaction of killing a buffalo cow just before sundown that same evening. Very soon the animal was butchered and on our sleds, and finding a suitable clump of timber, we camped for the night. Making a good large camp-fire, very soon we were roasting and boiling and eating buffalo meat, to the great content of our inner man. What a contrast our camp this night to that of the previous one! Then, hunger and loneliness and considerable anxiety; now, feasting and anecdote and joke and fun. Our dogs, also, were in better spirits.

There was one drawback—we had no salt. My companion Williston had left what little we had in one of our camps. He pretended he did not care for salt, and he and the others laughed at me because I longed for it so much. The fresh meat was good, but "Oh, if I only had some salt!" was an oft-repeated expression from my lips. Later we fell in with old Ben Sinclair, who sympathized with me very much, and rummaging in the dirty, grimy sack in which he carried his tobacco and moccasins and mending material, he at last brought up a tiny bit of salt tied up in the corner of a small rag, saying: "My wife Magened, he very good woman, he put that there; you may have it;" and thankful I was for the few grains of salt. As Williston had lost ours, and had laughed at me for mourning over the loss, and especially as the few grains old Ben gave me would not admit of it, I did not offer him a share, but made my little portion last for the rest of that journey.

Six hungry, hard-travelled men and twenty- four hungrier and also harder- travelled dogs left very little of that buffalo cow (though a big and fat animal) to carry out of the camp. Supper, or several suppers, for six men and twenty-four dogs, and then breakfast for six men, and the cow was about gone; but now we had pretty good hope of finding more. This we did as we journeyed on, and at the end of two days' travel we sighted the smoke of a large camp of Indians.

Nothing special had happened during those two days, except that once our dogs and an old buffalo bull got badly tangled up, and we had to kill the bull to unravel the tangle. It happened in this wise: We started the bull, and he galloped off, almost on our course, so we let our dogs run after him, and the huge, clumsy fellow took straight across a frozen lake, and coming upon some glare ice just as the dogs came up to him, he slipped and fell, and the dogs and sleds went sliding in all around him. Thus the six trains got tangled up all around the old fellow, who snorted and shook his head, and kicked, but could not get up. We had to kill him to release our dogs and sleds.

The camp we came to had about two hundred lodges, mostly Wood Crees. They were glad to see us, and welcomed us right hospitably. We went into Chief Child's tent, and made our home there for the short time we were in the camp; but we may be said to have boarded all over this temporary village, for I think I must have had a dozen suppers in as many different tents the first evening of our arrival; and I could not by any means accept all the invitations I had showered upon me. While eating a titbit of buffalo in one tent, and giving all the items of news from the north I knew, and asking and answering questions, behold 1 another messenger would come in, and tell me he had been sent to take me to another big man's lodge —and thus, until midnight, I went from tent to tent, sampling the culinary art of my Indian friends, and imparting and receiving information. I had a long chat with the grand old chief, Maskepetoon; renewed my acquaintance with the sharp-eyed and wiry hunter and warrior, Ka-kake, and made friends with a bright, fine-looking young man who had recently come from a war expedition. He had been shot right through his body, just missing the spine, and was now convalescing. My new friend, some four or five years after our first meeting, gave up tribal war and paganism, and heartily embraced Christianity. He became as the right hand of the missionary, and to-day is head man at Saddle Lake.

Without recognizing the fact, I was now fairly in the field as a pioneer, and taking my first lessons in the university of God as a student in a great new land. Running after a dog-train all day, partaking of many suppers, talking more or less all the time until midnight, then to bed—thus the first night was spent in camp.

Next morning we traded our loads of provisions—calfskin bags of pounded meat, cakes of hard tallow, bladders of marrow-fat, bales of dried meat, and buffalo tongues. In a short time Williston and I had all we could pack on our sleds, or at any rate all our dogs could haul home. And now it required some skill and planning to load our sleds. To pack and wrap and lash securely as a permanent load for home, some four hundred pounds of tongues and cakes and bladders of grease and bags of pounded meat, on a small toboggan, some eight feet by one foot in size; then on the top of this to tie- our own and our dogs' provisions for the return journey, also axe, and kettle, and change of duffels and moccasins; and in the meantime answer a thousand questions that men and women and children who, as they looked on or helped, kept plying us with, took some time and patient work; but by evening we were ready to make an early start next day.

In the meantime the hunters had been away killing and bringing in meat and robes. With the opening light, and all day long, the women had been busy scraping hides and dressing robes and leather, pounding meat, rendering tallow, chopping bones wherewith to make what was termed "marrow-fat," bringing in wood, besides sewing garments and making and mending moccasins. Only the men who had just come home from a war party, or those who came in the day before with a lot of meat and a number of hides, were now the loungers, resting from the heavy fatigues of the chase or war. The whole scene was a study of life under new phases, and as I worked and talked I was taking it all in and adapting language and idiom and thought to my new surroundings.

Another long evening of many invitations and many suppers, also of continuous catechism and questionings, then a few hours' sleep, during which the temperature has become fearfully cold, and with early morn we are catching our dogs, who are now rested, and with what food we gave them and that which they have stolen have perceptibly fattened.

Our Whitefish Lake friends are ready also, and we make a start. Our loads are high and heavy. Many an upset takes place. To right the load, to hold it back going down hill, to push up the steep hills, to run and walk all the time, to take our turn in breaking the trail (for we are going as straight as possible for home, and will not strike our out-bound trail for many miles, then only to find it drifted over)—all this soon takes the romance out of winter tripping with dogs; but we plod on and camp some thirty-five or forty miles from the Indian camp. The already tired drivers must work hard at making camp and cutting and packing wood before this day's work is done; then supper and rest, and prayer and bed, and long before daylight next morning we are away, and by pushing on make from forty to fifty miles our second day.

That night we sent a message back to the Indian camp. The message was about buffaloes, of which we had seen quite a number of herds that afternoon. The messenger was a dog. Peter Erasmus had bought a very fine- looking dog from an old woman, and I incidentally heard her, as she was catching the dog, say to him: "This is now the sixth time I have sold you, and you came home five times. I expect you will do so again." And sure enough the big fine-looking fellow turned out a fraud. Peter was tired of him, and was about to let him go, when I suggested using him to tell the Indians about the buffaloes we had seen; so a message in syllabics was written and fastened to the dog's neck, and he was let loose. He very soon left our camp, and, as I found out later, was in the Indian camp when the people began to stir next morning. We let him go about eight o'clock at night, and before daylight next morning he had made the two days' journey traversed by us. As an Indian would say, "The old woman's medicine is strong!"

There were six very weary men in our camp that night, thirty-three years ago. Floundering through the snow for two long days, pushing and righting and holding back those heavy sleds, whipping up lazy dogs, etc., chopping and carrying wood, shovelling snow—well, we wanted our supper. But after supper, what a change! Joke and repartee, incident and story followed, and while the wolves howled and the wind whistled and the cold intensified, with our big blazing fire we were, in measure, happy. Three of the six have been dead many years; the other three, though aging fast, are now and then camping as of old, still vigorous and hale.

During the next morning's tramp we separated, each party taking the direct course for home. That afternoon we met William and Neils, who had been all this time finding their horses, which strayed away the night of the storm, when we camped together by the old pound. Surely the spirit of the old structure had been avenged because of our burning some of it, for the storm had come, the horses had been lost, and our men had been in a condition of semi-starvation for some days. We told them where they could find buffaloes and the Indian camp, gave them some provisions and drove on. Having the track, we made the old pound the same evening, and, nothing daunted, proceeded to make fire-. wood of its walls. To our camp there came that night the tall young Indian Pakan, who is now the chief of the Whitefish and Saddle Lake Reserves. He seemed to resent the desecration of the pound, but our supper and company and the news of buffaloes made him forget this for the time. He and two or three others were camped not far off, on their way out to the plains.

Two long days more, with the road very heavy, and sometimes almost no road at all, brought us late the second night to our shack, where Mr. Woolsey and Mr. O. B. were delighted to greet us once more. They had been lonely and were anxious about us,


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