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In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter XIX
Welcome at Fort Pitt—Flat-sleds and snow-shoes - Norris and party arrive—A unique incident—On to Victoria— Sandy accompanies us—Order of march—Little Bob clear grit—A friendly French half-breed—Arrive at Victoria—David a proud father—A run to Edmonton and Pigeon Lake—A welcome visit from father— Christmas at Edmonton—Home at last—Unique bridal tour—My wife a heroine—Au revoir.

WE had spent two Sabbaths and seventeen travelling days between Forts Canton and Pitt —days and nights of extreme hardship. This was a bridal tour by no means lacking in the elements of romance. Here we were now in a Hudson's Bay fort and among friends, the gentleman in charge, Mr. McKay, and his two assistants, Philip Tait and John Sinclair, all old friends of mine, giving us a right hearty welcome. Moreover, they despatched two dog- trains to bring in our stuff from the cart, and then helped me rearrange my travelling equipment. I decided to leave my carts and waggon and take take in their place two horse toboggans or flat-sleds. On the front of one of these we made a carry-all for Mrs. McDougall. My friends also supplied me with a pair of snow-shoes, a most welcome gift; and in addition Mr. Tait lent me two fresh horses, as two of mine were nearly used up. The only difficulty was to find a man to accompany us to Victoria, for Neche could not go with us farther than this point. He had done his duty splendidly, and after settling with him we reluctantly bade him good-bye.

In the meantime Sunday came on, and I had the opportunity of holding two services with the people of the fort and some Indians in camp near by. On Sunday who should come in but Jack Norris and young Sandy, and here was our chance. Sandy wanted to go on, and Jack was willing that I should have him with me. Jack reported a "terrible time"; he had left. his party some sixty or seventy miles back, and had come on to obtain flat-sleds, having decided to abandon his carts until spring. He told us of a most pathetic incident that had happened on the way. One of their horses had played out, and, as I had done with Little Bob, they had turned him loose to follow. The faithful animal had done this up to the measure of his ability, but when he failed to come into the camp one night they went back in the morning to look for him, and found him actually standing with head to camp, frozen dead. I have seen and known of many a horse, worn out with hardship and hunger, lying down to die, but here was a case unique so far as I know—the poor beast erect on his legs, with head to storm and camp, and dead!

Such was Archie's condition that I had to leave him at the fort. One of the Hudson's Bay employees, knowing him by repute, offered me a good price for him, and I let him go; but Little Bob I could not leave, and I was fortunate in securing a keg of wheat from Mr. McKay to keep him alive. My old Brown and new Fort Pitt Brown were still to the front, fresh and strong, and with the two colts lent Inc by Mr. Tait, and with flat-sleds and snow-shoes and Sandy, I was quite hopeful as to the rest of the journey.

Bidding the hospitable friends at Fort Pitt a grateful adieu, we started for Victoria, our next objective point. Our line of march now was: Myself ahead on snow-shoes; Fort Pitt Brown following, pulling a long toboggan with Mrs. McDougall carefully wrapped in the coffin-like carry-all and a couple of trunks strapped on behind her; then Old Brown in another sleigh with our travelling kit and everything else lashed on to it, and Sandy and the two spare horses following, with Little Bob bringing up the rear. Thus we began our trackless journey through the deepening snow and strengthening winter. Of necessity our progress was slow. I went straight from point to point, making as few curves as possible. Sometimes after forging ahead a bit I retraced my steps and met Brown, and then doubled back, thus giving him the benefit for miles every day of my three tracks. Often as in the vigor of health and strength I took a run on the snow-shoes I heartily wished that my party could keep up with me for a few days and we would soon cover a long distance. But this was impossible at the time; there was nothing for it but heavy and continuous plodding. And Bob, brave fellow that he was, proved himself clear grit. Sometimes it would be nine o'clock when he would herald his approach with a neigh, and I would run out and give him a pat and a welcome, and feed him some of the wheat. Then at our noon spell, if he had not come up, I would hollow a small basin in the snow and put a few handfuls of grain in the track for him. Thus we journeyed on through storm and drift and bleak cold. All the while I could not resist the feeling of shame at my act in bringing that brave little woman from the east on such a journey; but never by hint or act did my good wife indicate that she regretted the sacrifice she had made.

On steadily we forged our way by Frog Lake and Moose Creek and the Dog Rump and Egg Lake. Poor horses, how their legs bled as the snow crusted. New Brown led the way all the time. Faithfully following behind my lead on snow-shoes, he climbed the drifts, broke them down and pulled his load, failing not either in flesh or spirit. A most wonderful horse was New Brown. The night before we reached Victoria we camped with a French half-breed family by the name of McGillis. This was a pleasant break in the journey, for their hospitality was genuine and natural. The women were all greatly interested in Mrs. McDougall; they thought she was a plucky girl to undertake such a journey, and made her blush by telling her she must have loved her husband very much to leave her people and come so far to this big, strange country. However, they said, "John was a good fellow." At any rate their shanty was warm, and it was no small relief not to have to make camp, nor to perform the pivotal act of turning around to the fire or from it every few minutes. Really it was a pleasant change, and we made up our beds on the floor and slept in peace—that is, it would have been peace if I could have forgotten my horses, bleeding and sore with the almost constant crust we had come through for days, and which had been especially bad to-day. Poor Bob was the worst. Thus far he had kept up, though sometimes coming in late, and always had announced his arrival with a cheerful neigh which said, "Still alive and hopeful!" But we had yet a long day under these conditions before we would reach Victoria, and I felt anxious as to how Bob would stand it. From my horses I fell to thinking about these people under whose humble roof we were camped. These were not settlers; no, no, only wintering. The head of the colony, Cuthbert McGillis, was a genuine type of the mingling of the two races, the careless, happy, plutocratic habitant with the nomadic Indian, the truly aboriginal man; a mixture of semi-civilization and absolute barbarism. A gigantic, curly-headed, splendid specimen of physical humanity he was, ever ready to fight anybody, but the friend of everybody. A life-long plainsman, a genuine buffalo eater, he is now away with the men of his party looking for meat one hundred and fifty miles west of here. We have been friends ever since we first met. His big, hearty ' John, my friend," rings in my ear as I write, and I often wonder that such men should ever have come to take the stand some of them did in 1870 and later. Certainly the trouble did not originate with themselves; of this my years of kindly intercourse and interdependence make me very sure. These are not the material out of which disloyalty comes as indigenous to the soil.

Early the next morning, with a hearty handshake all around from these native women and children, and a sincere "bon voyage," we are off to again take up our slow and solemn procession over the Snake Hills and through the Vermilion valley and across the White Mud Heights. The day is short, and it is dark ere we cross the White Mud River. My wife is beginning to think this road interminable and the North- West without end. In the latter thought she is about right so far as things terrestrial go, and the generations to come will still be turning up fresh resources and endless wealth in this wonderful land. On through the sombre, pine- shadowed trail leading by the Smoking Creek, and we strike the beautiful valley north of Victoria. Little Bob is on his last strength. Presently he comes to a stop, utterly fagged, and I gently coax and push him up the hill a little farther. But I see that it is no use; we must go on and then come back to his relief, and about 9 p.m. we bring up at my brother's house, where we are welcomed most heartily. Here I found my eldest little daughter, Flora, but was pained to find my good sister-in-law in terrible distress with an ulcerated breast. Within the last few weeks their first-born, a fine little girl, had come upon the scene, and now the young mother was undergoing one of those great sacrifices which ever and anon come to the motherhood of our humanity. David had been away on the plains hunting buffalo and grisly bears, and was caught in the same early storm we had been struggling through; but he was with a strong party and much nearer home, and he had but recently returned to find himself a father. A fonder or more attentive one I had never seen. The little tot had but to move or whimper and David was all alive, be it day or night. To him the responsibility of parenthood had come in full force, and I was proud to witness such affection and true manhood in my brother. After asking about us, the next question was as to our horses, and when I mentioned Bob standing on the trail about two miles back, David at once exclaimed, "We must go for him right off." But I said, "No, we will take him a bundle of hay and a little barley, and let him eat and gather strength, and he will come in himself." Sandy immediately volunteered to take the hay and barley back to Bob, and though wearied with the long day's tramp this willing fellow got out one of David's horses, hitched him to a sleigh, threw on a bundle of hay and some barley, and drove back to find Bob just where we had left him. Leaving him the feed he returned, and we anxiously awaited developments, meanwhile seeking to do what we could for our sick sister, who was delighted to have another sister come into her home for a time. While at breakfast the next morning we heard a loud neigh, as much as to say, "I am upon the scene once more," and there was Little Bob, head up and proud at having survived all the hardships and loss of blood and the cold and starvation he had come through. It is needless to say he was taken into a warm stable and looked after with all care; our whole family had an interest in that faithful little horse.

I concluded to leave my wife and horses at Victoria, take a train of dogs, and go on to Edmonton and Pigeon Lake. Mrs. McDougall required the rest, and she was needed in the home of my brother. Certainly, too, my horses needed a chance to mend and heal, for we still had another hundred and fifty miles ahead of us ere we should reach home. That afternoon I was off on the jump with a train of borrowed dogs, and camping alone for part of the night reached Edmonton early the next day. Father was well pleased but not wholly surprised to see me. "I knew you would come," were his words of greeting; others had given me up, but he had not. I spent a delightful evening and night between the Mission and the fort, where my brother-in-law, Richard Hardisty, was in charge, and went on to Pigeon Lake next day, where I found Donald with everything in order. I was welcomed most heartily by all the Indians and half-breeds in the vicinity, and held a number of services. Arranging with Donald for some changes in the little home, I returned to Edmonton, whence I was accompanied back to Victoria by my sister Libby. I was grieved to find my sister-in-law worse, and suggested that we at once send for father. This was agreed to, and a smart man and a train of first-class dogs were despatched to Edmonton for him. In an incredibly short time father was on the scene, and, I am glad to say, was instrumental in relieving and helping our patient.

After a day or so in company with father, we continued our journey westward, leaving Little Bob to David's skilled care, and with Fort Pitt Brown still fresh and fat and pulling his new mistress, we made good time to Edmonton. The weather continued cold and the snow was deepening all the while. There had been no such winter on the Saskatchewan in all my experience. At Edmonton we met some new arrivals, notably Donald Ross, who had come in by way of the Peace River, and being quite a singer and amateur elocutionist, was a great help in the social life of the place. We spent Christmas with the Edmonton folk, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest and fun of the holiday season in this far-away upland centre. Here was a small world in itself, isolated and alone. No mail, no telegraphs, only a few Hudson's Bay Company traders and missionaries and adventurers, and yet the Sabbath services and week-night entertainments of the winter of 1872-3 would do credit to many a larger place. Indeed, had these hardy pioneers not strained to keep up in those things which appeal to the mental and spiritual, there would have been a terrible lapsing into barbarism. Lectures and literary entertainments and concerts, as also a growing interest in church work, kept these men and women shoulder to shoulder with the best in any country. In all this father took the lead, and was much respected and reverenced by both the white and the red men.

Between Christmas and the New Year we pushed on to our own home, taking with us my two older girls, Flora and Ruth. Again we were facing the deep snow and extreme cold, and still Fort Pitt Brown was to the front, as strong and faithful as ever. Reaching Pigeon Lake without further adventure, we were at the end of our long journey. Two months and a half had elapsed since we left Portage la Prairie, and considerably over three months from our leaving eastern Canada. Long weary miles we had journeyed, with cold camps, deep snows, intense frosts and blinding snow-storms as accompaniments; but here we were at last, well and strong and thankful. And our people at the lake were also thankful. Donald and all the rest of the natives welcomed our coming, and soon the chimneys of our two-roomed shanty were belching forth sparks and smoke, and by New Year's eve we were comfortably domiciled. My wife had undergone great hardships. Perhaps there never had been just such another bridal trip as this we had come safely through. To start thoroughly prepared for a winter trip such as ours would be hard enough in all truth, but to be caught as we were, almost wholly unprepared, while yet six hundred miles intervened between us and our destination, added tenfold to the dangers and difficulties. Truly my little wife, who bravely endured all this without a murmur, deserves to be ranked among the heroines of frontier life.

And now the time has come to close my present narrative. In these pages the reader has accompanied me in my wanderings from the autumn of 1868 down to the eve of New Year's day, 1873. We have travelled together over new and strange fields, have witnessed many scenes in the wild life that in those days prevailed throughout our great western domain, and now for the time being I will say farewell, trusting ere long to resume the story of my early experiences on the mission fields of the Canadian West.

Yours faithfully,



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