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Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie
Chapter XX
My brother a "ready-made pioneer"—Hunting rabbits— Two roasted rabbits per man for supper—I find my friend, Firing Stony, in a flourishing condition— Poisoning wolves—A good morning's sport—I secure a wolf, two foxes and a mink—Firing Stony poisons his best dog—I enjoy a meal of bear's ribs—I meet with a severe accident—Samson treats me to a memorable feast.

This was my brother's first trip to Pigeon Lake. He had never been seen so far west in his life before. To him, as to myself, this big country was a constant revelation. After staying with us a few days, he returned alone to Victoria. Had he not been by nature and instinct a "ready-made pioneer," I should have hesitated to let him thus return alone, but in his case I felt no fear.

And now my man and I settled down to taking out timber and whip-sawing lumber. Nor was this our only occupation, for we had nets to mend and clean and fish to catch; and to chop and chisel through the ice and set a net in the dead of a northern winter was not an easy or comfortable task. Rabbits, fortunately, were numerous about us at this time, and gave pleasing variety to our table fare. Taking our dogs and sleds, we would go out a few miles to where the nature of the country was favorable for these "jumping bits of food" for men and wildcats. Choosing a suitable spot for our camp we would fasten our dogs, and each go his own way and kill as many rabbits as he could before dark. Then returning laden to camp, we would gather a good supply of wood for our fire and settle ourselves for the night. As the fire grew strong we would stick each of us a rabbit on an improvised spit, and when these were roasted have supper. Then we cleaned our guns and fed our dogs, and by and by roasted another rabbit apiece and made our second supper. Even then we were not too well satisfied! Two rabbits of an evening per man may seem rather much to him who all his life has had his fresh meat, butter and bacon and beans and bread, and many other foods at each meal. But Twill here place it on record that two rabbits straight in one evening, in the face of violent exercise and the all out-doors dining and living room we were in, did but barely satisfy the pangs of hunger for a short time.

About the last of February something impelled me to make a trip out south-eastward of the lake. Taking Francis with me, we packed our sled with fish enough to provide for our dogs and ourselves for four or five days, and started. We took turns in going ahead on snowshoes, and as our dogs were fresh we made good time. Early the second day we came to a solitary lodge of Indians, and entering it found it was the home of Mr. Firing Stony, of whom I already have spoken in this book. He and his family were in a starving state, and they told us of others farther on similarly situated, whom they had seen some ten days before. We gave them some of our fish and told them to make all haste towards the lake, and then we pushed on. But, after two days' search, failing to find any more lodges, we turned back and again came to Firing Stony's camp. They had moved a short distance nearer the lake, but being exceedingly weak, could move only slowly. Firing Stony had tracked deer and hunted them for two days, but had failed to kill any, and now his large family was entirely without food. We had only two small fish left. These I gave to the mother to prepare, and we made our meal of them that night. Early next morning, taking Firing Stony with us, we set off for the lake, bidding the family follow us as fast as they could. I confess that I was never very much good at anything like vigorous exercise taken on an empty stomach, and while these thirty miles were long and difficult to Francis and myself, they must have been a very heavy strain upon our half-famished companion. He was plucky, though, and kept up well. Early in the afternoon we reached the Mission, and very soon my wife was preparing a good meal of such food as we had.

We were hungry, but our guest was famishing and had to be carefully fed, especially after such a run through the deep snow. Towards evening he said lie was all right, and would return to meet his family. So we loaded him with fish and told him to rest by the way, and we would come on the morrow and help him and his family into the Mission. To witness this man's intense interest in those dependent upon him, to see that he was willing to sacrifice himself, if necessary, on their behalf, was very stimulating to our optimism for the future of this people. In this man, notwithstanding the centuries of vice and ignorance, the germ of divinity was quite apparent.

The next evening we had the entire family in camp beside us, and our women were doing what they could to relieve their necessities. In a few days the little ones and their elders began to look like different people. What was mere existence to us was to them a feast.

During the early part of the season the wolves had killed several of the horses and colts of the Indians, so on one of my trips I secured a small vial of strychnine, and used it with deadly effect. By the middle of March I had poisoned twenty-eight wolves and several foxes, and with these was able to buy a few articles of clothing and two small sacks of barley meal. My plan was to put a little poison into a small cube of wildcat fat, which is very soft and melts with little heat. Then I would chop up some fish and scatter them around where 1 had placed the baits. I handled the poison very carefully, as I did not want to kill any clogs with it, and moreover, the natives had a prejudice against using it. Late in the evening I would drive with my dogs several miles to the end of the lake, and there place the baits, and next morning, before daylight, I would be making across the ice as fast as my dogs could carry me, gathering up the results in wolves or foxes, or untouched baits, with which I came home. In this way I ran but little risk of poisoning any other than the animals I was after.

One day I had quite a run of good luck. The evening before I had noticed the tracks of a fox near home, and as I did not want to place poison so near the house, I set a small one-springed trap at the place. In the morning, on my way to where the baits were placed, I noticed that the little trap, to which I had fastened a short stick, had been dragged out on the lake. Farther on I again crossed the trail of the dragged trap, now striking for the shore. Continuing my course, I came to the baits, and found a big grey wolf and a red fox stiff and stark. Lashing these on my sled, I gathered up the unused bait, and returning drove to the spot where my trap had been pulled into the woods. Here I tied the dogs, put on my snowshoes, and started on the trail. I had not gone far when I found the stick which had been attached to the trap, and said to myself, "Now then for a long chase, for that trap is small and the chain attached is also small and short." But presently I came to where the heavy snow had bent a thick bush over, making a sort of den, into which my trap had been dragged. Picking up a stick I shoved it into the den. Immediately I heard the jingle of the chain of the trap, and before I could withdraw the stick a large fox jumped past me and made for the forest as fast as he could go.

I saw that he was a fine fellow, beautifully marked. I saw also that he had the trap on one of his front feet, and, determined not to lose my quarry, I pushed after him as fast as I could. For the first hour or two, aided by the thick brush and the rabbit-paths, he kept ahead of me, but towards noon I chased him out into a more open country, where the snow was deep and loose, and here I saw plainly I was gaining ground. Presently I saw the snow flying ahead of me, and rushing in caught the fellow digging out an old burrow which was covered with snow, and had not been used that winter at least, but which must have been an old lair of his, as he had made straight for it. My first grip was at his tail, and the white tip of this came off in my hand. The next catch I had him by one of his hind legs, and then I paused and thought what I should do. If I pulled him out, he would doubtless bite me. I felt about in the snow and was fortunate in securing a small stick. And now I pulled Mr. Fox out, and tapped his nose for him so effectually that he was stunned, and then I killed him.

Throwing the fox over my shoulder, I struck out straight for home. The sharp chase in the keen air had given me a rousing appetite, but before getting my dinner I thought I would bring in some fish to thaw, in order to have them ready to feed my dogs when I brought them home. As I entered the fish-house I heard something stir, and giving the pile of frozen fish a shake, saw a mink rush out of the pile and make for a small hole in the roof. Hurriedly grasping a fish-stick, I ran to meet him, and as he ,jumped from the roof I caught him and killed him. Thus I had as the result of one morning's sport a big wolf, a red fox, a cross fox, and a mink, which as things went in those days was a straight run of good luck.

One evening Mr. Firing Stony came to me and said, "I wish you would give me a bait or two and let me try my luck with them. My snares and traps are of no use." I answered, "You are too careless; you would poison somebody." But he pressed for them, so I gave him three baits and he went away happy. But as soon as he saw the sparks flying out of my chimney the next morning, which was long before daylight, he came in laughing and said, You knew better than I, for, just as you told me, I have poisoned my best dog. There she was, lying stiff dead when I made the fire just now." "Well," I said, "I did not want to give you those baits." "I know," he answered, "and I was careful, but that dog was a notorious thief."

Not long after this Firing Stony invited inc to his tent, and as I approached the spot I became aware through my olfactory nerves that he had made a successful hunt at last, for certainly something that smelled good was boiling in that kettle. Before I really knew what it was, a thrill of joy went through my whole being. Right here I want the reader to know that I am not more epicurean than most humanity; but when you are always hungry for change of fare, or for food itself, you become very susceptible to the smell of good food cooking.

You are welcome," said mine host, and I answered, "What strange thing have you been about?" His wife answered, "He has gone and found a bear." Sure enough, presently there were dished up to me some delicious bear ribs. I ate what I could and took the rest home with me, as this was an Indian custom and exceedingly convenient at times. I will never in this life while memory lasts forget how delicious that fat bear-meat was.

It came out that my friend was tracking a moose, and in doing so came upon a bear's den and succeeded in killing the old one and two cubs. Next morning, taking my dogs, we went and brought in the rest of the meat, I getting half of it as my share, and the following day started early to intercept and follow up if possible the trail of the moose. But after hours of heavy snowshoeing and wading and crawling, we found that some wolves had run the moose away from us. Tired and disappointed, we reached home late that night.

About the end of March Indians began to straggle in, bringing little or no provisions, but glad to fall back with us on the food supply of the lake. It was about this time, when Francis and I were rushing the whip-sawing, that one day the boxing came off in my hands and the back of the saw split my nose and lips, cut my chin, and pretty nearly knocked my front teeth down my throat. Fortunately we had a supply of sticking plaster, and while I held the parts together in turn my wife deftly fastened them with the plaster. I was unable either to speak or to masticate my food for several days, and was forced to subsist on sucker broth. But I could continue my work at the sawing, and my wounds closed and healed in an extraordinarily short time, demonstrating the fact that after all what we called hard fare was really health producing.

I was but nicely over my painful wounds when Samson came in. His tent was hardly in place when I was invited over to have a meal with him. I had felt hungry all that winter, but the last few days of fish broth had intensified that feeling. Now here was what seemed to me a feast for a king—the tongue and boss of a fat buffalo, some pounded meat and marrow- fat, and the ham of a porcupine. Many a sumptuous repast have I since enjoyed in palatial homes, many a dining-car meal have I partaken of since that meal in my friend Samson's lodge, but of none of these have I such pleasant recollections as of this in the skin lodge, spread on newly cut spruce brush and served in homely style. Nevertheless, as Samson related his winter's experiences, and I listened and ate, this latter was done sparingly, for there were others to be thought of, and to these also such a spread would come as a heaven-send.


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