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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter I
White Buffalo, the Hero of the Plains
In Which is Described the Land Wherein His People Dwelt.

We open our story in the early morning days of the last century. Of the white race only the intrepid adventurer having landed upon the shores of Hudson's Bay, and ascending the great water system tributary to it, was found in that immense extent of country, drained on the one slope by the Wa-pe-sew (or, in the English, Swan River) and on the other by the Amisk-O-Seepe, known in the latter days of the century as the Assiniboine. These big areas were at that time sparsely peopled by a portion of the Cree nation, These Na-he-ya-wuk, The Fit People, roamed from the Missouri River to the Arctic, and from the Columbia to the Labrador. Throughout all this immense land they spread themselves in feats of war and hunting. Absolutely nomads, calling no place home, calling every place home, even as a living paradox, these men did live and move and have being. In the time of our story a branch of this big aboriginal nation claimed as their special possession the upland ranges of the two water systems, the Swan and the Beaver. The chief of the tribe, Wa-Pe-Moostooch, or White Buffalo, was a semi-wood, semi-plain Indian. In this duality, as the hunter of the forest, the moose and elk and cariboo, and all woodland game were his natural prey, and when the white man appeared, he by virtue of his environment became the great trapper, the successful hunter. On the other side of his life he was the plainsman, and at fitting periods he gathered his people and led them out to the great plain, and feasted them upon the choice portions of the wild cattle, which then, in countless numbers, cropped the western pastures. In all this life White Buffalo and his tribe developed strong qualities, which made them the most desired ally, and fur, and hunting, constituency of the trader who had come amongst them. The reader will note that we have given White Buffalo a dual capacity. The real woodsman would be strange upon the plain, and the real plainsman would be equally strange in the woods, and thus between these people, though belonging to the same nation, and speaking dialects of the same language, the line of distinction was strongly marked. But our chief, White Buffalo, and his people, inasmuch as they roamed the land wherein the forest and plain were forever at war. and each was penetrating into the domain of the other, took on themselves the double character, and became adepts in the life of these two wonderfully distinct conditions.

At one season of the year White Buffalo moved his people northward, and dispersed them in the timber land, and over the great ranges of densely wooded hills; where the fur-bearing animals did breed; where the mink made the little pools of many creeks to fairly churn with their gambolings and with their number; where the otter looked and dove and landed the choicest fish; where the beaver dammed the stream and re-dammed the stream lower down or above as his colonizing instinct sent him forth, and almost from mouth to source of many creeks one standing beside the bubbling water of this dam could in the stillness of the day distinguish the falling and splashing of the water of the other dams; for the beaver were all throughout this country in endless multitudes. Then where the spruce and jack pine forests grew, and out where the larch and birch and aspen flourished, the marten played among the trees, and sprang from branch to branch, and romped with their young, even as the domestic cat does with her kittens.

Amidst these woods the Ojake (the Fisher) made his way. He also was in rich number, and wandering over the hills and through the valleys the black, the brown and cinnamon bear did turn the logs and feasted upon the grubs, and scratched open the ant-hills, and extending their mouths and stretching out their tongues, and blinking their eyes, did glory in the thought that presently myriad ants would cover these tongues, and the wily bear would lick in and repeat the act and smack his lips so long as there were ants to gather on his tongue. Then when the strawberries began to ripen, he sought the crimson beds and feasted to his fill. Then in turn came the rich, luscious raspberry, and while the morning dew was heavy on the bushes, the bear would leisurely wend his way, picking as he travelled, thus these bears did feast and fatten in these natural gardens.

Later the Me-sas-quit or blueberry tree would groan with its load of purple, juicy fruit, and now the bear was feasting sumptuously, and waxing strong and making ready for its winter lair, and thousands of its kind were doing likewise on the hillside slope, and in the rich valleys, and depths of the dark forest, and out upon the edges of the great plain.

Once in a while, and at long intervals, the great Mis-ta-ya, the grizzly, becoming dissatisfied with his fellows, and taking a pique towards all the grizzly kind, and even to the altitudes and foothill districts, and mountain canyons, wherein his ancestors had lived and flourished throughout the centuries, this individual grizzly would start down the slopes of the continent, and crossing the great plains, and sometimes following the windings of the big rivers which flow from the mountains easterly, he would suddenly appear even as an apparition in the lowland districts of which we are writing,,. Then these far-away kin, the black, and the brown, and the cinnamon, would give him respectful obeisence from the distance, and ambling away, would say:

"And now behold, we have seen our king!" The moose with his great ears would listen to the grizzly's heavy stepping and running to leeward would scent this new life, and lifting his head would say to himself:

"Strange, passing strange, my dam never told me of this one!" And the elk would see him, and gathering his following, would say:

"Behold, my children, and keep at a distance from this monster who has suddenly come amongst us!"

Only such a man as White Buffalo, and those of his kind, would dare with bow and quiver, and later with old flintlock, to waylay and try to kill the huge brute. Around camp fires, and in the lodges of these people strange tales were told of his great ferocity, and of his kingliness among all the beasts of this great western land, and yet, being men, they risked, and even like our hero, they conquered, for, hanging in his lodge were the claws and tusks of the mighty grizzly White Buffalo had slain.

Another of the fur-bearing animals was the lynx. These also periodically abounded, coming in great numbers, and again almost disappearing. When the rabbits were in the ascendency and continuing to multiply, then the lynx came also, and when the rabbit was waning and mysteriously vanishing, and millions seemed to pass away, in like proportion the lynx also disappeared. This animal served two purposes—its fur was clothing or trade, its meat was food—for after all what was the lynx, or the wildcat, as it was commonly called, but squirrel, or chicken, or rabbit, or deer, served up in another form, for all these were its common prey.

Sometimes a single lodge of Indian hunters snared and shot hundreds of these crafty creatures in a single season. Then one must not forget the muskrat, who also was periodical, even like the rabbit and lynx, coming and going in the great multitude. For two or three years the country would swarm with muskrats. Every pond, lake and marsh would be dotted with the habitations of these industrious little animals. Then the period of declension would arrive, and one might travel for days and hardly ever see a muskrat. Thus these little fur-bearing animals, the lynx and rabbit and muskrat, were both food and clothing and trade, and right here we will note that these, the lynx, the muskrat, the rabbit, especially the latter two, were interchangeable in their recurrence. When the rabbits were plentiful, the rats were few; when the rats were all over the land in great multitudes, rabbits were scarce. As the believing aboriginal would say:

"The Great Spirit has wisely arranged."

In addition to what we have enumerated there came into this country in periodical migration numerous herds of buffalo. If men now living, even as we write, can call up in memory the fact of their having seen millions of buffalo, what must the numbers of these great herds have been in the early parts of the last century? From the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of Great Slave Lake, throughout all the north and south and the central portion of this great continent, these tremendous herds wandered. Every few months a huge portion of a big herd would wend its way into the land of our story, pawing the ground, making countless dust pans, trampling the earth, making trails which remain innumerable even in our day; making the plains tremble with their roaring, and moving on into the north, they would take their course crossing the Qu'Appelle; ascending the Assiniboine on both banks, they would penetrate over the heights of land, and swarming down the valley of the Swan would continue their course until they had left Thunder Hill away in the south, and found themselves on the shores of the Great Lakes. These migrations sometimes took place in the autumn, but more frequently in the winter.

Strange it seemed to the ordinary mind that the buffalo went north in the winter rather than south, and the colder the winter, the farther north the buffalo would go. These huge animals fairly took possession of the country when the spirit of migration moved them in its direction. They pathed the forest; they cleaned the plains of their rich grass, they drank up the surplus water, and were it not that the land in which they roamed was so boundless, depletion, destruction and death would have been the unavoidable consequence.

And yet, notwithstanding that this country did abound in all that we have described, in its munificence of food and fur-bearing life, and notwithstanding that alongside with these great resources, the lakes and rivers were teeming with fish, yet nevertheless the aboriginal man had his periods of starvation. Sore and dire famine would cover the land in localities. The moose, where were they? The elk seemed to disappear. Rabbits became scarce. With them the lynx were rare, and the buffalo remained out oil plains, and were unreachable to men situate as these Indians were in the beginning of the last century.
Contemporaneous with these conditions tribal war was constant. Spring and fall men everywhere were active on the war-path. The Cree and Salteaux gathered up their hosts and went south and west, seeking their hereditary foes, the Sioux and Blackfeet and Bloods and Piegans and Sarcees, who in their turn came northward and eastward hunting their enemies, the Crees and Salteaux. Scalps and slaves and plunder and glory were the ambitions of the people. To start from the Swan River and to travel south and west onto the plains bordering on the Missouri, or up to the foot- hills of Montana, or into what is now Southern Alberta, would be the experience of many all belonging to the tribe of White Buffalo.

Just about this time, or a little previous, horses became a strong factor and incentive on these war expeditions. From the beginning of the Spanish conquest in America, the horse had thrived on this western hemisphere, and gradually worked its way northward until of the time we write quite a few of the horse kind were north of the forty-ninth parallel, and wherever they were seen and their qualities known, men coveted them, and sought after them eagerly. It became a passion with the red man to desire to own horses. If taking the scalp of your enemy was meritorious, how much greater the glory to take his horses! This wonderful animal that would carry the hunter or warrior on his back, and from which vantage place even the white bison might he killed; this long-legged Mistatim, or big dog, who could carry as much as ten ordinary dogs, why it was great glory to bring him from the plains of Missouri, even to the plains of the Assiniboine and the Swan. As late as in the sixties and early seventies, it was common to say:

"Bringing them in" and not "stealing" horses.

The gossip between the lodges never spoke of ''stealing" horses—he "brought them in," "they ran them in." "Did you see that bunch of horses? He just now brought them home."

No imputation of theft was thought of. It was a meritorial act. Such feats of cunning, and skill, and acts of daring as were accomplished in running off another man's horses, were lauded and placed the actor away above par among his fellows. To have brought many scalps home made the warrior wonderfully conspicuous, and repeatedly to return from the land of the enemy with bands of horses gave the hero prominence and respect among his fellows.


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