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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XIX
Scouting - Wonderful instinct of animal life

It was at this time that I did a piece of scouting which I have always been proud of. While busy with our improvised ferry, we left our cart oxen in charge of a boy, and he startled us by coming in and stating that they were lost. We sent out another, but he did not find them. Then David offered a handsome reward, and the half-breeds who had been following us from Whoopup searched the country, but did not find the cattle.

Several days elapsed, and as we had now got the bulk of our freight over to the north side, I thought it was time to look after those oxen. Late in the evening, I took the boy and had him show me the exact spot where he had seen our oxen last. I marked this, and we returned to camp. With daylight next morning I was off on foot, and began my search. I circled around the spot, coming back to where I started from, and then enlarged my circle. I kept this up all that long morning, until about eleven o'clock, when I discovered a clue, and made sure that this was the track of the missing stock.

It was very dim, and would disappear; but having determined to my satisfaction that this was indeed the track of our work oxen, I marked the spot with some buffalo chips and ran away hack to the camp. I took one of the brightest boys in our party, and we saddled up, and, taking two days' provisions, rode out to continue the search. I took the boy to where I found the clue and put him on it, and told him to track up, but never leave it, not for a foot.

I said to him, "You see yonder ridge, some miles away. Well, I am going there quickly, and if you see me make a sign, Jump on your horse and come as fast as you can to me."

Then I rode on the strong gallop to the ridge, and again took up the search. This I did at right angles from the direction the cattle were taking on the last clue. I led my horse, and walked slowly, carefully scanning everything that might indicate the track of an ox. Thus I went backwards and forwards across the line of what I thought was their direction, and, after a long 'search, I found the track. Jumping on my horse, I swung him to and fro several time, and saw my boy catch the signal and mount his horse and come at the gallop towards me.

Then I again alighted and took up the trail. This was at times very indistinct. Heavy rains had fallen, and days and nights had intervened, and the trace was faint. When my boy came lip, i put him on this later clue, 'and repeated my solemn injunction about staying with it, and told him to look for a signal from the next distant ridge. We had now made several miles in a short time on the track of the cattle,

Rushing my horse across some more miles, I again dismounted and searched diligently, and in good time found the track again. I now signalled my boy, who came up on the jump. I, reiterating my emphatic orders, was away for the next vantage ground, and again was successful, and brought my boy up. Thus we went on until I had tracked the oxen down to the river many miles from our camp, and across a channel on to an island, and up and down this island, and again across another channel on to another island. I began to fear that they had taken the main stream, and now would be far on their way north.

Tracking in and out of the dense brush of this second island, I presently walked right on to one of the big fellows, and my heart gave a leap of satisfaction. Here they were, the whole bunch of them. I ran them out back to the next island, got my horse and rushed them through the first island and across on to the south shore, and started them on the home stretch for our camp. I had gone some distance when my boy came in sight. Religiously, he had been keeping the track. As soon as he saw us, he galloped over, and we were happy. We had beaten the half-breeds on their native ground. We had, the two-fold satisfaction. We had the cattle, and we had found them where the others, who should have been better than us, had given them up.

On the morning of our departure they had said to David, my brother, "It is useless for John to go to hunt those cattle. They are far now. We could not find them."

However, David said, "John is different. He may bring the oxen."

As we came in sight, in the twilight of the evening of the same day as we had gone out, our whole camp cheered us, and the natives again said, "John's medicine is strong."

Another incident I came across that day of the cattle hunt was of special interest, showing how Nature had endowed animal life with the most wonderful instinct. As I rode on the search, I startled a mother antelope from her maternal bed, and she dropped her young at my feet. Immediately the little kid sought cover, crawling into the thickest bunch of grass, and hiding as much as possible, and from thence watching me with its great big eyes. This little animal was not one minute born when it was already full of the strongest instinct. I thought this was wonderful, and I marked the spot, and planned to pick this little fellow up and take him back to camp with me; that is, if my cattle hunt would permit of this.

Finding the cattle as I did, we drove them back almost as they had come, and: this took us near to the spot where I had seen the antelope. I told my boy to drive on, and I rode over to look for my young friend. But when I came near the spot, the dam sprang up and jumped away, and, to my utter amazement, the little kid sprang to her side, and on they bounded with remarkable speed. I did not run them, for I was so taken aback with this most wonderful provision of Providence and this manifestation of sublime instinct.

I said to them, as I rode on after the oxen, "You deserve to live and remain as you are."

I suppose that from three to four hours had elapsed since this little kid was born; and now it pranced away like a race horse. Here was instantaneous and wonderful instinct, and also quick coming to strength and speed.

After days of very hard work and anxious watching (for all this time we were subject to an attack or the sudden coming upon us of a wild, reckless war party), we were now on the north side of the Bow River, and the thought that this was the home side of our tedious trip made everybody glad.


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