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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XX
New surroundings - Plain Indians - Strange costumes - Glorious gallops - Father and party arrive.

HERE I was to remain till father came across the plains, which might be any day now, as we had taken a long time to come up the river.

My surroundings were now entirely different from anything heretofore in my life. The country was different, the food was different, and the Indians were distinctly different from all I had previously met. Their costume, or rather lack of any often, their highly painted faces and feathered and gew-gaw bedecked heads, their long plaits or loosely flowing hair, their gaudy blankets or fantastically painted buffalo robes, their ponies and saddles and buffalo hide and hair lines, their sinew-mounted and snakeskin- covered bows and shod arrows, their lodges and travois, both for horses and dogs—all these things were new to me. I was among a new people, and in a new land I had plenty to do in taking in my new surroundings.

Previously canoe and dog-train had been our means of transport; now horses took the place of canoes. This was a big grass country. Horses and ponies were at a premium here.

The gentlemen of the Hudson's Bay Company were exceedingly kind to Inc. Mr. P. Tait, who was in charge of the fort, lent me horses, and I took glorious rides out on the prairie.

Some of us arranged a party to go and meet those we expected to be now near by on the long trail from Red River to this point. Some Hudson's Bay clerks and myself formed the party. Several horses had been driven into the yard, but I was not on the ground when they came, and when I got there all were taken but one, which seemed to me unfit to ride any distance. Just then Mr. Tait came along and whispered, "Take him, and when you reach the horse-guard, who is not far from here on your road, tell him to catch my horse Badger for you." I thanked him, and saddled the "old plug," and off we rode. Many a joke I took because of my sorry steed; but I could very well stand it all, for I had quietly asked the Indian boy if he knew the horse "Badger," and his eyes glistened as he said, "I think I do; he is one of the best saddle horses around here." So I was patiently waiting my turn; and it came, for we soon reached the horse-guard, and I told him what Mr. Tait had said. He took his lariat and went and caught a beautiful bay, "fat and slick," and handsome as a picture. I saddled him and came up to my companions on the jump, and astonished them with the magnificence of my mount. Now I was the envied of the party, and proud I was as my horse frisked and jumped and played under me.

Ah, those first gallops on the plains! I will never forget them. They seemed to put new blood in me, and I felt even then how easy it would be for me to cast in my lot with such a life in such a land as this. We galloped past Duck Lake, which long years after became the scene of the first actual outbreak in the rebellion in 1885. We rode down to the north bank of the south Saskatchewan, and camped there without any bedding; and waiting part of the next day, finally turned back without any sign of our friends, and went into a grand duck hunt on the way back to Canton, which we reached late in the evening.

At this time the old fort and the plain around was a busy scene—our crews from the boats, hunters from the plains, parties of Indians in to trade, the air full of stories about the southern Indians and the tribal wars to and fro, scalps taken and horses stolen, the herds of buffalo said to be within a hundred miles from the fort, or less than two days out. Buffalo-skin lodges and canvas tents dotted the plain in every direction. Horse-races and foot-races were common occurrences. I championed older Canada against Indians, half-breeds and Hudson's Bay officials and employees, and in the foot-racing and jumping—high, long, and hop, step and jump —"cleaned out the crowd" and made a name for myself and country, and amid such doings spent fifteen days, when father and his party came up and we moved on.

Father told me that the first two days in the saddle had been trying times with him. The everlasting jog of the all-day journey made him feel so stiff and sore the first night that he was hardly able to mount his horse the next day. But after three or four days this wore off, and the trip had been to him not only a pleasant one, but a revelation as to the resources and beauty of our own country. "Why," said father, "every mile we came is abundantly fit for settlement, and the day will come when it will be taken up and developed."


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