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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter XII
A peace mission to Rocky Mountain House—A Dutchman for travelling companion—Call at Pigeon Lake Mission —Difficult travel—An obstinate pack-train boss —A Blackfoot scalawag—At the Mountain Fort—Interview with Indian chiefs—Homeward bound—A runaway couple—Receive word of my wife's death—Hastening homeward—A new breech-loader—A mission established at Edmonton—Father's narrow escape from drowning— We lose our buckboard—Floating down the Saskatchewan.

TOWARDS the end of March a courier came from Edmonton to father, and after he and Hardisty had been closeted together for some time, father came over to me and asked me to undertake another mission in the interests of peace. Certain events had transpired at the Rocky Mountain House, and the Chief Factor feared that another rebellion was brewing, for, as he reasoned, the same influences had been at work up there as were moving in the Red River Settlement. Would I go and size up the situation, and forestall any mischief that might threaten? The Hudson's Bay Company would bear all the expense, and my mission must be kept religiously secret. The Chief Factor was exceedingly anxious I should undertake this work, and now with Hardisty and father urging I could not but give my consent. That same night I started for Edmonton, and being delayed by thaw, did not reach there until the second morning at daybreak; but the watchful Factor was up to meet me. Most of the day we were together in his private office, and as night came on I left the fort with an order in my pocket, authorizing me to take and use for my purpose any men, horses, dogs or material of the Hudson's Bay Company's I might come across or need to further my object.

Leaving Edmonton I had incidentally as my companion a Dutchman who was going as far as Pigeon Lake. His name was Myers, but "Dutchman" was all he got anywhere in the North-West, just as I, with all my titles and degrees, got nothing but "John." Soon after we started, and early in the night, it began to rain, which stopped our dog travel for some hours. We camped on Rabbit Knoll, slept for a while, and then about two a.m. assayed another start. Progress was slow, but we kept on until sunrise, and now the thaw was general, and we perforce made camp and slept. All day the thaw went on, and I saw that if there came no change my dog travel for the season was near at an end. Fortunately, however, it grew colder toward evening, and by nine o'clock we were able to resume our journey. On we went at a splendid step as the night grew colder, and by the break of day were at the humble mission home of Pigeon Lake. The Rev. Peter Campbell was away on a trip, but Mrs. Campbell and her brother Matthew (Kinwoskwanase, or "The Tall Man," as the Indians called him) I found at home, and they welcomed me gladly, and with these and a few Indians and half-breeds about the place I spent the Sabbath. Short services and rest as much as possible were the order of the day. Here I found two Indian boys who wanted to go west to the Mountain Fort and who asked if they might accompany me. They were about fifteen and sixteen years of age, and as I had plenty of provisions and wanted company, I said, "Why, yes, come along; but you know you must travel if you go with me." At this they laughed and promised to keep up. Our course was the full length of Pigeon Lake, and as I knew that with good ice no men could keep up with my dogs for that distance, I sent the boys on early in the evening, and as I had been the bearer of some mail matter to this isolated point I said to Matthew, "You can sit up and read while I sleep, and at midnight to the minute" (we had no alarm clocks) "you will wake me and I will start." All of which was done, and by one a.m. I was gliding across the smooth ice of this beautiful lake at a high rate of speed. Reaching the other shore I found that the snow was gone, and I had to pick up my sleigh and load and carry them across many ponds of water, wading in these up to the knees and deeper at times.

Long before daylight I came upon my boys fast asleep, and remembering that these lads had not eaten anything but poor fish for some weeks, and had come a good run, I said, "We will boil the kettle and have our first breakfast," and soon the fire glowed against the surrounding darkness, and we were munching rich back fat and good dried meat, To the boys this was as a foretaste of heaven, and I was pleased to observe their appetites, which evidently betokened vigorous health. Then away on the run we went, the boys now helping me in turn across the water-stretches, and I wondering how long at this rate, with rivers bursting and waters flowing, we would be in reaching the Mountain Fort, my first objective point. By sunrise we were on the bank of the Battle River, and to my great satisfaction I saw some men and horses moving there. Good-bye to dog travel for this spring, thought I, and on down across the valley we ran to the river, on the ice of which the spring overflow was rushing rapidly, but as we were already well soaked and did not mind further wetting, it was the work of a minute to unharness dogs and carry sled and harness and load across.

Asking for the man in charge of this pack- train, for such this little gathering of men and horses proved to be, a young French half-breed was pointed out to me. Accosting him I said, "I want you to let me have two good horses and one pack-saddle and one riding-saddle." "I won't do it," was the prompt answer 1 got to my humble request. However, I soon impressed on this master of the pack-train that if I needed I would take him and his whole train, and leave all his packs piled up on the banks of the river for the time being, and he then quite willingly gave me the two horses and saddles, and in an incredibly short time my willing boys (for I saw they were immensely tickled at my handling of this pack-train boss) had the horses saddled and one packed, and I had hung my little oaken sled on the limb of a spruce and put my dog harness in the pack; and now with delighted dogs bounding around me as I rode, and the two boys running behind the pack-horse, we pursued our journey. We crossed the Blind Man, passed the Three Butes, crossed the Medicine Lodge, and when we camped that night I complimented my boys on their run. I verily believe I was the most tired of the three, for this was my first ride of any length in some months.

We were up and away early next morning, and all day pushing westward, climbing the continent, part of the time in full view of the glorious mountains, the views of which from the summits of some big ranges of hills we crossed were tremendously grand and inspiring. Evening approaching, we turned aside into hiding and camped, for we were now in the way of the southern tribes. Unless some one stumbled upon us here or had closely followed our trail, we would not be discovered. Next morning bright and early we were off again, and as we came out into the converging of trails from the south, presently from what seemed nowhere there came a loud "Ha-he-ya," etc., with all the notes of the gamut. Then came in view a Blackfoot and one I had seen before. His name was Mokoyooinuhkan, or "The Running Wolf," and a noted rascal he was. So far as we could see he was alone and on foot. The horse we were packing had, I suppose, been hammered on the head at some time, for if you approached him from any side he would turn quickly and attempt to kick; and when presently the Blackfoot said to me, "I am tired; let me ride on your pack," I readily acquiesced, never expecting the horse would let him on. But in a flash he had the horse by the head, and speaking some strange words flung himself on to the pack, and on we went with our new companion singing a war- song in a strong contralto. Many a horse had this same fellow stolen, and many a life had he taken, but we were now near the Mountain Fort and had no fear on his account.

Reaching the fort I found that the Mountain Stoneys had but recently gone south along the mountains. Making some inquiries I made up my mind to follow these Stoneys, as amongst them I knew I would find some sharp fellow who would doubtless know all I was seeking to know, and either corroborate or dissipate the Chief Factor's fears or suspicions. The gentleman in charge of the post furnished me with several horses and an old Stoney as guide, and leaving my boy companions, we recrossed the Saskatchewan and made for the trail of these mountain people, and keeping at it camped a long way on the trail that night. Of course, I was quietly sounding everybody I met, and gleaning from these all that I could which concerned my special business.

The next morning we crossed the Red Deer and came up to our friends, who were on the move, and thence went on with them, as also we did the next day, and spent the rest of the week and the Sabbath in their camp. During my sojourn with these hardy aborigines I had services morning and evening and practically all day Sunday. I interviewed most of the old men and chiefs, and with a farewell service on the Monday morning left their camp to return to the Mountain Fort. In the interval the thaw had gone on, and now the Red Deer was a wild stream; but my old and true friend Mark had volunteered to come that far with us, and he did the exploring and took the risk, and in good time we were across; then with another warm handshake with faithful Mark we started north, on the way meeting a runaway couple, the maiden turning out to be the step-daughter of my guide. The old man, however, merely gave them his blessing, and I added to this, "Be true to one another, and when some missionary comes along, be married by him." I am glad to say these young people took my advice, and were married in good time and have lived exemplary Christian lives. The youth was the son of Bear's Paw, a Stoney chief.

Reaching the Mountain Fort, I found one of my boys still there and quite willing to accompany me back; and being furnished with fresh horses and plenty of provisions by the gentleman in charge, Capt. Hacklin, my boy and self recrossed the big river, now open and fordable, and started on our return journey towards Edmonton. The lowland streams were full, and we were often wet, and as our horses were thin we of necessity had to travel slowly; but we reached the south side of the Saskatchewan at Edmonton on the morning of the fourth day. Here we found the ice still intact but shaky. Here also we met some of the head men and chiefs from the Hand Hills, who had come into Edmonton and were now returning. They were delighted to renew our acquaintance, and old Sweet Grass was profuse in his compliments on my work of going up and down amongst the people. "You have done us great good, my grandchild; you will have the smile of the Good Spirit; you have the blessing of this old man at any rate." I told them of buffalo travelling eastward towards their camps, which was indeed good news to them. Crossing on the ice as by the skin of our teeth, and by good fortune having only one horse break through, but in such a manner that he was got out all right, we again entered the fort.

The Chief Factor welcomed me back, provided me with hot and cold water, towels and a comfortable room, and said, "When you are ready, John, come up to my office." In a little while I went up to the office, but as I was going through the fort yard I saw two young fellows ride in from Victoria. I merely nodded to them and went on up to the Factor's private office, and we had but sat down to talk when a clerk knocked at the door and handed in a packet. "Excuse me, John," said the Factor, and he opened the packet, and taking out some letters read one. Noting his face change color, I wondered at what was disturbing him. Opening another he read that, and then turning to me said," John, I know you are a Christian man. You want all the help you can have now, for I must tell you that your wife is dead, and was buried at Victoria the day before yesterday." I had left her in the bloom of health when starting on this trip, and now she was dead and buried! To me now on my way home, exultant with the successful accomplishment of my mission, and looking forward to resuming my journey in the morning, the shock was almost overwhelming. The good old Factor kindly left me to myself, and I returned to my room and fought it out with my own sorrow. Then a profound longing came over me to reach home as soon as I possibly could. The Factor expected this, and coming to my room he said, "Those other matters can stand just now, John, and I will arrange for your journey at once." We took two horses out of the mill service, for at that time Edmonton had a horse-power mill, and in a little while my boy and self were on our way east.

A spring storm had come, and a foot or more of snow was on the ground. Though our horses were big and strong, the deep snow with the partially thawed-out ground beneath made pro- gress slow and heavy; but all this was as nothing to my sore heart and the heavy burden laid on my life's experience. We camped between the Sturgeon and Deep Creek, we crossed the Sturgeon, which was much swollen, by zig-zagging on the ice, and during the night our horses, which we had hobbled, having disappeared, my boy John ran back to the river and came to me, with eyes fairly starting from his head, to say that the horses had been drowned. I ran with him to the crossing, and very soon ascertained that our horses had not come this way; we found them on our way back to camp. It was clearly an hallucination that possessed this bright, honest boy when he thought he saw those horses drowned in the river.

The next day, when east of Sucker Creek, we camped to the right of a camp of travellers going our way. After passing them a mile or so I heard a rush behind me, and up galloped a big French half-breed, Abram Salway, with a fresh horse, and literally pulling me from the big clumsy, jaded animal I was riding, and putting my saddle on his splendid, easy-going saddle-beast, he renewed my life and made me almost forget my sorrow by the spontaneous kindness and cheer of his act. On now at trot and canter for the balance of the journey to Victoria, where mother and sisters and my own little girls welcomed me and did all they could to comfort and console. Six years of companionship and mutual experiences in life had been ours; many hardships had we shared, many pleasures as well, and now the faithful wife and mother had gone on. The Indians at White Fish and at Victoria and Pigeon Lake mourned her loss, for to them she had ever been kind and sympathizing, and many of the women loved her. This was now the third time that I had gone away bidding my loved ones, sisters and wife farewell for a time. In each case they were then, to human eyes, strong and well, and yet in each case I had come home to stand by their newly-rounded graves. Without question this was hard to bear, and yet we did not mourn as those who have no hope.

When I reached home I found. father and Mr. Hardisty away at White Fish Lake attending a quarterly meeting. In a few days they returned, and as spring was now upon us and the fowl were in from the south, they planned a couple of days' shooting at Egg Lake. Seldom in my life had I gone out for the specific purpose of sport; the most of my hunting was done in actual work and incidental with such. I alone was the possessor of a breech-loading shotgun, the first of the kind to come into the country. It was a revelation to every one of us. Hitherto the flint and percussion locks were the best weapons we owned, but here was something wonderful, and while I was ordinarily a fairly good shot, now I gathered in the birds rapidly and got no credit for it—it was the gun. We made stands from which to watch the flight of the birds. Hardisty and old Samuel Whitford, who was an expert at calling geese and wavey5, were out at the point, while I was stationed farther in. Soon along came a fine flock of waveys, and while my friends were much nearer to the birds, I shot right over their heads and dropped a couple almost into their stand; then, reloading while old Samuel called the birds around, again I met the flock before my friends thought of shooting, and dropped a brace. At this old Samuel dropped his gun in amazement and exclaimed, "Wah-woh," with strong significance. He could not realize how any one could reload in so short a time, and suggested that we move farther apart. I cheerfully told him the whole world was before him. We had with us several of the natives as well as Messrs. Hardisty and Tait and father, all genial souls, and the whole trip was cheery and helpfuL Our bag was a large one, and I was ahead —but it was the gun!

During the spring of 1871 it was determined to establish a mission at Edmonton. For years this post had been on the Minutes of Conference, but up to this time there had been no manifestation of a church in that vicinity. Father went to begin the work, and I was left in charge at Victoria. He had again to start from the bottom, but the Hudson's Bay Company's employees and the few English-speaking half-breeds in the vicinity, with quite a number to come and settle beside the Mission, took hold, and the new cause was started. At Victoria we had good congregations, with country work up and down the settlement and out north some ten miles, as also visiting wandering Indian camps within reasonable distance. At this time it was very fortunate that the buffalo were quite numerous on the big plains. The Indians were contented and were also kept busy by their presence, which went far to make them forget the trouble and discontent of the past year. Thousands of bags of pemmican and bales of dried meat were made, and the material for new lodges and clothing and moccasins and robes secured, all of which was helpful to both missionaries and people.

About midsummer father came down to take mother up to Edmonton, and in company with House and Whitford he and mother started up the north side with some carts and a buckboard well loaded, for they were now moving to their home. My little brother George and myself left some three days later, and soon saw by the condition of the roads and creeks that we would overhaul our parents long before they reached Edmonton. Creeks ordinarily small were now swollen rivers, and my young brother was frightened more than once as we forded them. Approaching Sucker Creek as evening came on, we saw that our people had recently left there, and we also saw that the stream was very dangerous. Its fall is at all times rapid, and now the volume of water coming down was fearful to look upon; and I, having neither axe nor canvas nor hides, and fearful for my companion's sake, had about made up my mind to camp and wait until the waters had subsided, when I heard a shout. Answering this I found it was father's party, which had barely succeeded in reaching the summit of the opposite bank and were encamped there. "Hold on! we have made a canoe, and will bring it down!" was shouted to us, and in a little while father and his men were on the other bank in a skin canoe which they had made of two buffalo hides. As the stream was narrow, the method employed was #i qtnne to a small light line and fling it across, and with this draw over a stronger line, which in turn pulled the canoe, another line being fastened to the other end of the canoe. Paddles in such a current and with such a craft would be of little use. But this time there were two lines, and with one of these one of our horses was pulled or helped through the current of this most turbulent stream. Even with the aid of this line the horse went down as if he had been flung from a height. Then my brother and the saddles went over, and I pulled the canoe back with the two lines attached to it. Our second horse was helped across, and then I was pulled over, and we were all on the same side. I congratulated father on making thirty miles in three days, and he said I could not do any better myself, "for," said he, "no man living has worked harder than Harry and Philip and myself since we left Victoria; and more than this, we have run some risks." And when we were up the hill and around the campfire I found that they had run some risks and that father had well-nigh lost his life. For eleven years he had been fording this creek, but when he and his party came to its brink this time they found it was under the influence of a cloud-burst or some abnormal storm, for it was wild and dangerous-looking. The depth did not appear very great, and father, unloading the buckboard, attempted to drive across. He had Little Bob No. 1 in the shafts, but no sooner had horse and rig struck the current than it hurled them down and rolled them over and over—horse, buckboard and driver. Mother and the two men beheld a strange and to them awful sight; father was somehow so mixed up in the scrape as not to be able to swim away from horse or rig. Under projecting trees, in amongst floating debris, at times disappearing altogether, he was swept down the raging torrent, and, beholding the turmoil of trees and logs and the mixing up of horse and rig, the anxious and terrified spectators felt it would be almost too much to expect father to come out alive. However, he did succeed finally in biting himself loose from the reins, which somehow had become twisted around his arm, and being a powerful swimmer he struck for the shore, and after much struggling succeeded in reaching the same bank he had started from. Far down the stream, and scarcely stopping to take breath, he joined the others in running after the horse and rig in the hope that the current might bring these in near enough to save either horse or buckboard. But now the bed of the river was widening and eddies were forming, and presently, to their joy and astonishment, they saw Bob in one of the eddies on the far side of the river, swimming into the shore, where he found bottom at the foot of a precipice. He seemed spent, but looking around and seeing father he gave a neigh which seemed to say, "Here I am, what is left of me," and father shouted across the noisy current, "Stand still, Bob; rest easy, old fellow, and we will save you yet," and Bob answered, "I'll do what I can." Noble fellow, in many a hard place he had already proved true, and again he was to do so. Father ran back up the stream, and jumping on the back of a fine large horse called Jack, plunged in turn into the river, and though the current at once took the big strong brute off his legs, yet, being free from the impedimenta of rig and harness, he soon made the other side, and galloping down to the place where Bob was barely holding his own, and seeming to fully realize that if he moved the current would again have him and the rig at its mercy, father soon had him by the head and pulled him in, and, making fast the rig to a bush with one of the reins, unfastened Bob and landed him at last. Then there was joy on both banks of this lusty stream. After this our friends played no more with this current, but went to work to make a canoe and manufacture lines out of raw hide which they had with them as cart covers. They had but barely finished crossing when they perceived our approach and came to our help, and right glad were they to have our assistance for the rest of the trip to Edmonton.

On the morrow we floundered through and across many little streams and sloughs, and at the Vermilion, because of the snapping of the lines, had the misfortune to lose our buckboard. I ran down across points through dense forest, but was unable to stop its course as it was swept out into the big river. This was 'a serious loss, and a great present discomfort to mother, who now had to mount a saddle for the rest of the way. We bridged Deep Creek, crossed over the Sturgeon, and then, being only twenty-three miles from Edmonton, I took Little Bob and galloped him in, and borrowing a harness and rig drove back fast to meet mother, and thus gave her the last ten miles in comparative comfort, for by this time she was very weary of the saddle.

I found at Edmonton a grist belonging to our school-teacher at Victoria, Mr. McKenzie, and as there was no let-up to the rain and floods, I concluded to leave our horses and buy a skiff, load McKenzie's grist into it, and float down stream, all of which was easily done. An ox and cart from mill to boat, and the strong current of the Saskatchewan did the rest. Leaving Edmonton at four p.m. we (for my little brother accompanied me) made home at Victoria at nine a.m. next day. All night while we slept the skiff went whirling on and around and down this mighty river, traversing a country, now wilderness, but evidently destined some day to swarm with humanity—at any rate, this I thought that day as I lay back with my book on sacks of bran and barley flour.


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