Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

In the days of the Red River Rebellion
Chapter VI
The "fall hunt"—A brutal murder—My horse poisoned— "This is the way to do it!"—Father's abbreviated musket,—Samson's dash and skill as a buffalo runner—Bob and I do some scouting—The silence of Nature's solitude —A hair-raising adventure—I make new acquaintances.

THE summer of 1869 was noted as the driest we had ever experienced in that northern country. Gardens and crops suffered in consequence, and it soon became apparent that we must take another trip to the plains for provisions. Most of the Indians, the regular nomads, had not come into the settlements, but had remained out in the border country waiting for our reinforcements, and watching also for the buffalo to come farther north, as was their habit at this season; for, contrary to outside ideas, the trend of the great herds was northward and westward during autumn and winter, and southward and eastward during spring, and summer. Father and I decided to accompany these parties, and to join in the "fall hunt." We also decided to leave our families at home, trusting to Providence and the people who remained to care for them. I took my wife and children over to White Fish Lake, and it was here that our third daughter was born—Augusta, or "Gussie," as she was named by her good grandfather, Rev. H. B. Steinhauer.

Let no one imagine for a moment that there was little labor in arranging for the fall hunt, for I can assure him that to make preparations for such an expedition entailed an endless amount of worry and hard work. To say nothing about those who were dependent upon us, and for whom we must furnish and plan, there were carts and harness to be mended, horses to be sought in great unfenced pastures, and, when found, to be carefully guarded that they might be neither stolen nor lost before the start is made. Then came the crossing of the big river, and very glad we all were when we began to roll out upon the trail, which for the first hundred miles was becoming clearly defined.

We had not gone far when there occurred a brutal murder of a woman by her husband. The villain fled, but was said to be prowling around the camp, contriving to elude the avenger of blood, who silently but determinedly was upon his trail. This murderer was for the time being a source of fear and dread to all the women and children in camp, and there were very few unarmed stragglers in consequence. We rendezvoused at the edge of the big plain, near the Nose Hill, and began to feel the buffalo at once. Soon the work of provision-making was in full blast. This was now the season for the killing of cows, and the farrow animals were in great demand. The skill of the hunter lay in being able to choose and pick at great disadvantages, as well as to kill, and to do this quickly; for not only were the cows faster than the bulls, and harder on horses, but other hunters were after the fat animals as well as he, and he must be quick and sharp and wise in order to fill the bill now on.

It was at this time that the only case of clear spite on the part of an Indian towards myself took place. I had a splendid horse that I called Archie, a noted buffalo runner, but his hoofs had worn smooth with the autumn grasses, and I had him shod with copper clips, a common custom on the plains with the half-breed hunters, the heads of the nails acting as corks. When he was shod I saddled him up and rode out of camp a little way, and just then there came a young buffalo at full speed across the plain, followed by an Indian on a played-out horse a long way behind. I thought this a fine chance to try my horse with his new clips, so I cantered - up and, shouting to the Indian, "I will kill him for you," dashed in, and in a few jumps Archie brought me up with the young bull, which I bowled over with the first shot. Pulling up beside the carcase I was astonished to see my friend riding back into camp. I called after him, but he did not deign to look at me. I then rode after him and found him in his lodge, and told him that the buffalo was his; but he was sullen and said he did not want it, would not have it, so I got one of my boys and a cart and went for the animal.

The next morning Archie was almost dead; his legs and body were very much swollen, and his life and spirit all gone. You may depend upon it I was terribly put out, but as yet did not blame anyone. I went to consult "Old John," who was the best horse doctor in the camp. As soon as the old man saw the horse he said, "He is poisoned," and asked me what I had done. I told him of the shooting of the buffalo, and he at once said, "That fellow has done it." It took a lot of medicine and care and a year's absolute rest to bring Archie back to something like his natural condition, but he never fully recovered his speed. The Indians were indignant at this act of one of their number, and for a time ostracised the offender, but I never said a word to him on the subject, and always felt that perhaps I had been a little too "previous" in thus coming to his aid.

We moved on out to Sounding Lake, and had much success in gathering provisions. The Blackfeet and their allies were about us all this time, and it was only by ceaseless vigilance that we kept our lives and stock from them. While at Sounding Lake a number of our cart oxen strayed away, and as the country was freshly tracked up by the buffalo, we had great difficulty in finding them, We were away from camp several days hunting the truants, and succeeded in finding some of them, but it was not until the dead of the next winter that all were recovered. The loss of the oxen very much affected our progress, and in consequence we found that we could not keep up with the large camp. We concluded therefore to break off from this and travel leisurely northward, filling up our capacity of transport as we might find the buffalo. Moreover, our camp was almost too large for successful hunting; many of these people, careless of the future, considered themselves burdened when they had two weeks' provisions ahead, and could not have the patience to wait for those who were in earnest in their business of making store for the future. Another reason lay in the lawlessness of the large camp. No man had as yet, like Maskepetoon, come to the front to rule the disorderly element, and the spring and summer had been given so much to war-parties in revenge for his death that the younger men were hard to hold in check; so, thinking it better to separate than to quarrel, we left them and went our own way.

I must here describe what I saw and experienced one afternoon prior to our leaving the camp. Many buffalo were passing within sight, and we gathered at the call of the crier to run; but between us and them was exceedingly rough ground, and there was a division amongst our council and hunters. Some counselled that we should move camp and run to-morrow. "The ground is dangerous," they urged; "many will be hurt, and horses will be lamed, if not killed." Others were for running at once, and the dispute waxed loud and hot. As I sat on my horse listening to the argument and waiting for the outcome, a bold fellow suddenly gave a whoop of defiance and rushed his horse out on to the rough ground straight for the buffalo. Others quickly followed, and I with them. I was gently cantering my horse through and over the holes, waiting until I struck better ground, when a plain Indian brave, in full costume, dashed past me with a yell, shouting, "This is the way to do it, John!" I cried in response, "Go ahead, my friend!" when presently over went his horse, flinging the ambitious rider with his legs and arms sprawling between hillocks and lumps, and his head pillowed on one of them, facing me as I came on at a more sober pace. I could not resist giving a whoop or two in my turn, and as my horse almost jumped on to him I shouted into his face, " This is the way to do it!" and he answered hack, "That's true; you are wiser than I, John." Many a tumble I witnessed during the ride over that rough spot, probably about a mile across, and many a laugh I had as feathers and breech-cloth, bow and quiver and old flint-lock, paint and flesh and blood and horse went tumbling pell-mell around me. But my little Bob was sure and keen, and like a lot of finely adjusted springs, and without a stumble we reached the better ground. We soon turned up several fine cows, and I was skinning one of these when I heard the clatter of hoofs coming my way. Seizing my gun I jumped into the saddle, holding myself in readiness for another run if there should be any real good ones in the bunch. Soon over the hill at the foot of which I was came at breakneck speed some twenty-five cows, yearlings and calves, with a horseman right after them, whom I recognized to be father on old Besho, both horse and rider so keen on the hunt that they never saw me. Immediately I took stock of the bunch and saw there were no fat ones in it, so I alighted from my horse to continue my work, when bang went one shot and down dropped a cow dead, and again another bang and down went a second cow. Then a very proud hunter drew up, and, seeing me, said, "That's the way to do it, John," and appeared rather crestfallen when I answered, "Yes, if they were any good." However, I eulogized his shooting, which was really good considering that he had only the remnant of a double-barrelled shotgun, which the readers of "Path finding" will remember I burst and had to cut off, leaving the barrel only about eight inches long. With this father had, at a good range and while on the dead run, knocked down both cows, and he had laid them about fifty yards apart, all of which, barring the picking, was good work. Father never had the opportunity of learning to pick and choose while on the race as I had. Both Mr. Woolsey and father had made me the commissariat officer of the mission party, thus giving me great advantage in this respect.
We found that after leaving the large camp we numbered only some thirty lodges, and that when we reorganized our turn as guard came on in quick succession; but the advantage of quieter hunting and a more orderly camp suited our purpose for the time being very much better. We moved on eastward and north, making plenty of provisions and of the best quality. My friend Samson was with us as my constant companion. Several times I was with him when we brought large herds to camp, and our run was made near home, which gave everybody a chance and was much more secure than when we had to go far from our camp to hunt. I will never forget those wild rides beside my friend when, with a peculiar whoop and cry, he would start a herd, and then, watching the wind and lay of country, continue to manuvre them homewards. What a voice he had, and such magnetism in the cry and yell he would give. The heads of the rushing herds would submit and almost seem to jump at his bidding, and thus over hill and across valley we would swing at a wild gallop, our horses flecked with foam and yet as eager in the chase as ourselves. And when the camp would see us and come out to the run, we would dash in and kill as best we could. Thud we hunted, and worked between hunts in pounding meat, rendering fat, making pemmican, baling dried meat, or mending our wooden carts. To the missionaries also came the holding of meetings early and late, and constant personal intercourse with all we came in touch with. Indeed, there was no slack time in all this work, for it was foreign to father's nature to be still and wait for opportunity. He came of a venturesome and seeking race, and was always on the alert for work and the chance to further his aims. Soon our carts and vehicles began to creak with their loads, and we moved nearer home, finding that the buffalo had gone northward.

It was sometime during the last of September that our party crossed the Battle River at the mouth of the Iron Creek. We had been enjoying glorious weather, and this day was a perfect one. We stopped for noon at the junction of the streams. Both father and" Old John" requested me to ride on that afternoon as scout to the party. We were now approaching the routes of war-parties both east and west, and I was more at liberty than the rest of our men. Moreover, my saddle-horses were in better condition than theirs, for I was what you might call a light rider, more careful and easier in the seat than many. I suppose, too, they had some confidence in my ability, hence the request. Accordingly, I saddled up Little Bob No. 2, who really belonged to my brother-in-law, Mr. Hardisty, but on this trip was one of my saddle-ponies and runners. Away out of camp and on to the front we went, always keeping in view the scout's main idea, that is, to see all about him and never to be seen himself unless it be of service to his purpose to let his presence be known. It has always been my policy—I might say my nature—to make companions of those around me. It might be an old heathen conjurer or gambler or warrior—anybody; I never went into their previous history on suspicion, but generally at once gave them a large measure of confidence. And I did this with my horses and dogs when they were at all responsive, and thus there was a large degree of mutual understanding between us. My present Bob and self thoroughly understood each other. Many a long ride and also many a hard race had we together; for hundreds of miles we had jogged on the trail and off from it, and with only the lariat between us had slept—or rather I slept while Bob cropped grass and kept nose and ears and whole being alert. And then I had watched, and he in turn dropped on to the grass and, turning over on his side, slept the sleep of the equine just, or stood on three legs in turn resting and dosing in his way.

This autumn day was like Indian summer, the atmosphere quiet and still, and nature at rest. The summer's work was finished; forest and grass and herbage had fully grown and ripened, the last colorings had come to the great pastures for the season, the last and brightest tints were now on, in full glory. All this lay in gentle repose before me, and I ardently wished that man would turn from his evil ways so that there would be no necessity to constantly act and watch and listen as I was now doing. On up the coolie, sometimes on foot and again in the saddle, cantering across a hidden bit of 'plain or lowland, but watching, always watching, ground and horizon and copse and bush and bits of lawn-like prairie, then more open country. The flight of carrion birds and of crows and ravens is noted; the movements of wolves and coyotes, the action of buffalo, especially stragglers, who in ones and twos and more are here and yonder, and because of which you must be most careful, for these if once startled would give you straight away to some other scout, of whose vicinity you have been altogether ignorant but of whose near presence you are now most unpleasantly aware. Coming to a bare prairie ridge, you alight and spread your horse- blanket under the running pad which serves as saddle, and then, letting your horse graze at the end of the lariat, you stretch and gently wriggle and slide in advance of him across the slope and over the summit and down the other side until cover is reached; your horse coming slowly and nipping the close-cropped grass, and with the blanket spread over him and pad up on shoulders looking in the distance, or even not so far away, like a buffalo gently feeding as he travels. Bob and I thus scouted on until the sun was dropping in the western sky, and as yet had found no sign of human life; then away up on the edge of the brow of Iron Creek hill we held up, and I slipped the pad from my horse and sat down while he fed beside me and rested; that is, we stayed bodily in one place, but eye and ear and brain were all the time busy, for aside from our immediate purpose the scene was lovely, and both Bob and I were thankful that we were denizens of such a world as this.

Truly the heavens above and the earth beneath were most beautiful and satisfying to our senses. The sweep of the valley, the windings of the stream, the autumn tints, the unoccupied fields and farms and lawns and terraces of the future, the natural placing of the clumps of timber, the smell of the land both wholesome and rich, the wild cattle to be seen here and there feeding or moving lazily down to the creek for water, the long beards of the bulls swaying rhythmically to their ponderous tread; yonder a wolf or coyote slinking from clump to clump of bush, or indifferently seated on his haunches surveying the scene, even as we were—all this was before our vision, nor yet sign of any man with it. To our ears there came no articulate sound; a hush was upon all things. This was the time of day for quiet in nature, but in fancy we caught the rumble of waggons on well- travelled roads, the shriek of the locomotive, the hum of machinery, the lowing and bleating of herds and flocks, the tinkle of the cowbell, the ringing of the church and school bells. I could hear all these in anticipation, for verily the land before me was worthy and in good time it would come to its inheritance. Thus looking and listening a short time elapsed, and I said to Bob, "See here, old fellow, we must be moving," and he lifted his big eyes up to mine and answered, "I am ready, my dear John."

We were now several miles in advance of where our camp would be pitched for the night, and while I was saddling up I saw a nice little bunch of buffalo come out upon the brow of the hill across the valley. They were feeding peacefully, and I saw the most of them were cows and with few calves. There would be fat meat there. I also saw that the ground was very good, and the temptation to cross over and have a near look at them became strong. I scratched Bob's chin and neck, and he rubbed his nose on my shoulder; we looked into each other's eyes, and it was understood between us. Soon with His Highness at my heels I struck down into a coolie and made for the creek (only by chance would any one see us); then at the creek I mounted and forded and kept in the creek up to another gully, which climbed the hill and ran out near the herd, of which we wanted a close view. At the head of the coolie I left Bob down a few yards, and, crawling up, beheld a black- robed cow, sleek and clean and beautiful in the glossiness of her new coat, and I said, "I must kill that one, at any rate." I straightway went back to Bob and told him, and he said he would do his part. Of this I had no doubt, for the time was opportune and the ground fine, so I looked to my gun, which was a breech-loader of the old type. You swung open the breech like a barn-door, and inserted the cartridge, which, when you closed the breech, was cut by this action so that the powder ran into the nipple, and then you put on a big cap made like a plug hat, and thus your gun was loaded. This one was a strong shooter, and I had found it do good work all autumn. Next I saw that the powder was well down in the nipple, and felt for my cartridges in the pocket of my leather jacket; then tightening the girths and testing my stirrup straps, taking another more emphatic look all around, and giving Bob a pat and caress, I mounted and in a moment we were at full speed. Before the black-robed cow was far on the way she was down and dead, and we passed her with the impetus of our spurt. I picked out another cow, this time fairly shaking with fat, and I asked Bob and he said, "Just as you like," and she also was pressed and caught and killed.

The hunt had taken but a very few minutes, and the run was so quick that Bob was not a bit blown as I rode him back to the black cow after straightening out the fat one for skinning before we went, and all the while looking everywhere for some signs that we had been seen. Failing to perceive any of the latter, I settled down to skin the black cow for a head and tail robe, the season and quality of this one making it of special value as a bed or travelling robe. Before taking out my knife I unsaddled Bob, dropped the bit from his mouth, tied the end of the lariat to the leg of the cow, and said to him, "Now, eat all you can, but keep your eyes and ears and nose at work all the same, that is a good boy;" and he again assured me of his part. Then I felt for my cartridges and placed my rifle so that one of my moccasined feet would constantly grip it, and then I drew my knife and steel and began to skin the cow. This I did carefully, for I wanted the whole robe. All the afternoon we had not seen the fresh sign of a man, and undoubtedly there was none; but, as the sequel proved, we had come just short of a party when we turned to cross the valley. I had not been very long at work when Bob gave a sudden start and looked keenly across the valley. Sheathing the knife, I picked up my gun and walked over to him, but he began again to nip grass. Just then I saw a big wolf slip between the clumps of timber across the valley, and saying to Bob, "Is that all you saw, old fellow? why so much fuss over a wolf?" back to work I went with all precaution. But very soon Bob gave a jump and a decided snort, and I knew something was near, and again got ready and spoke to him; but at that instant there came the warwhoop from sixty or seventy throats, and in such volume and so near as to fairly curdle the blood in my veins. I looked, and up over the crest of the hill came the wild crew on the dead run. I saw their painted faces, saw the flint-locks pointing and bows strung with arrows in hand, and saw, too, it was no use to run, for they were too many and too close. Then I thought of family and parents, especially of father in the camp now near, and I pictured my bones bleaching on the plains; and then, while my old felt hat was moving or seeming to move on my head, I concluded the best way was to bluff, and accordingly I bluffed by standing up and steeling my knife, and then stooping to continue the skinning of the cow. It seemed a long time, though really but a minute or two, when they were all around me. Still I kept at work, momentarily expecting to

hear a gun go off or a flint-lock snap or a bow twang; but none coming, I straightened up. Knife in hand, gun gripped by my right foot, I now looked into the faces of those around me. In vain did I try to recognize any of them; they were strangers. Were they down-east Crees or Blackfeet? Which language should I use? Either might irritate them and bring matters to a climax. At last I could stand the strain no longer, so I spoke out in Cree, "What do you want?" and back in pure Plain Cree came the full accentuated "Nothing." Then I became bolder and ventured the query, "What did you run at me for in the way you did?" and now the spokesman answered, "Is this not our country, and can we not do what we like in it?" I said, "It is true, it is your country; but I am not your enemy. You could easily see that I was not a Blackfoot or 'outside man" (the term used by the Crees for those not of themselves or allies). "Furthermore," I said, "it might have been that when you rushed I could have begun to shoot." Then, picking up my gun, I continued, "You saw me just now kill these buffalo. If I had shot at you I might have shot more than once, and you, of course, would have killed me, and I several of you, and then what? Why, in your camp your parents and wives and sweethearts would have wept and mourned, and also my wife and family and parents and loved ones would have done the same for me; and more than this, the Great Spirit who made this beautiful country in which we meet, and who made you and me to be friends and brothers, would have been grieved and made sorry. I say, how foolish you were to risk all this by rashly running at me." Then the big fellow looked at me and asked, "Who are you to thus talk to us?" I told him where I came from, and who I was and my calling, and he then eagerly asked me if I was "John," and when I admitted this he took my hand and said, "I am thankful, John, that the Good Spirit did not permit us to kill you." Then turning to his following he said, "Shake hands, young men, with John; he is like one of ourselves; he is the Indians' friend. Come, John, let us sit down and you will tell us the news." So we sat down, and he asked me why I did not run when they charged. I told him that I knew very well that if I attempted to do so his young men would have shot me. I also told him that I came of a race of men who did not like to run from their foes. Then, he asked, "What do you want to do with these buffalo?" and I answered that I wanted the robe of this one, but that he and his party might have the meat of both. "Well," he said, the young men will skin it for you, and we will be thankful for some of the meat, but the young men can fix up a load for your horse out of it. And then, while a few worked at the buffalo, the chief and party sat around me and I gave them my news. First came the local happenings; then I took them gently afield to other lands, and brought them up at length to the old, old story.

The sun was now almost down and I was becoming anxious as to what they would do about my horse and self, when to my delight, at a sign from the chief, a couple of young fellows saddled my horse, and having completely wiped the blood from the hide, lifted it up on him, also some of the choice pieces of meat, as they very well know how to string these for the saddle. Then the chief rose up and taking my hand said, "Again I want to say that the Great Spirit was most kind to us and you, John, in preventing the spilling of man's blood to-day. Tell your party not to fear that we will attempt to steal their horses; we are going far to the Blackfeet" I in turn expressed my gratitude, and hoped that the time would come when he and his people would go to war no more, and so we parted. I rode down the valley to my party and was indeed thankful for life and opportunity. But when I told "Old John" and the rest of our party of the proximity of these fellows they put on a double guard for the night. I, however, enjoyed sound sleep, for I was very weary.

The next day, as the party moved on homeward, father and I took a pack-horse with us and went out across the creek, when he saw the camp of these fellows, which they evidently had left early in the morning. Going on I ran and killed two fine cows, and with our own saddle- horses and a pack-horse we brought most of the meat of these into camp that night. When running them, and just as I shot the first one and knocked her down, my horse also fell and threw me far forward, and as I held the gun, which was that day a double-barrelled shotgun, this struck the ground so hard as to break the ramrod keeper from the gun and smash the hardwood ramrod all to pieces. More than this, it jarred my hand and shoulders and dislocated my thumb. I was thrown near the cow, which now jumped up and started to run off, but as I got on to my knees I let her have the other barrel and down she dropped dead. Then I heard a "Well done!" from father, who sat his horse and held the pack animal while I ran, and who now came up to me. Then I noticed the condition of my hand, which was already much swollen. I hastily pulled my thumb back into joint, and fairly winced with the pain for some hours, nor did I get over the general shake-up for some days. My hand was tender for years as the result of that fall. However, I killed another cow, and, as stated, we brought the meat home to camp. Our carts, already well loaded, would still take a little more; moreover, our daily consumption was not a little.

It was well on into October when we were safe across the Saskatchewan, our provisions in storehouse, and we a thankful community. I then went over to White Fish Lake, where I found my wife and children all well, and bringing them to Victoria, commenced to fix up a home for the winter.


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus