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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XX
Nearing our fort—Mosquitoes worst I ever saw—Brother's wife gives birth to daughter.

Only the Ghost River and some small creeks were now between us and our hilltop fort. In the heavy work of crossing, my brother had bruised his hand, and for some days he had taken charge of the cooking in camp, with his one hand in a sling; but this hand was steadily growing worse, and looked serious. So I suggested his leaving us and striking for home, where he might have more attention than we could give him in camp. He accordingly left us for the long ride, which, at any rate, as straight as he could go, would be some eighty miles. This was a severe strain on him, as he was in constant pain; but he made it, and thus got relief, and also brought to our anxious people the first news they would have of us and our steady approach. We reloaded and started up the north bank of the Bow.

The mosquitoes were as I had never seen them on the plains, and I began to learn that, in the presence or even distant vicinity of the great herds of buffalo, there were no mosquitoes, nor yet much of any kind of insect life; but now, in the absence of the great herd, these abounded, greatly to our misery and that of our stock. Then, as I reasoned, I saw the day coming when man, with cultivation and the ranging of his domestic stock, would take the place of the great herds, and do even more, and the mosquito would pass out, having fulfilled his mission in Nature's economy.

On we rolled, and, keeping out, took the Nose Creek, away up from where Calgary now is situated, and kept north to catch on to our hunting trail, and on this went westward. Thus, in due time, with many hitches—axles breaking, dowel pins snapping, collar traces and chains breaking, wagons sinking to the hubs, and many unloadings in consequence—presently we drove up to the fort, and the first trading trip from the North-West across the line to the head of navigation on the Missouri River was an accomplished fact in the history of this new country. We found our folk well, but provisions low, and our arrival with some flour and canned goods was opportune. They had experienced several scares from strange Indians, mostly Blackfeet, but Jacob had not gone very far, and every little while had sent in some of his party to look after things.

However, we were now a reunited crowd, and all thankful. Moreover, we now had a valuable helper added to our ranks, in the arrival of Mr. Kenneth McKenzie, the son of the well-known Kenneth McKenzie, of Burnside, Manitoba. My good sister- in-law was a McKenzie, and the coming of her brother was most welcome. Kenny was one of those all-round fellows who are immensely valuable in any country.

The very next day after our arrival from the South, an Indian rode in on the gallop and told us that father and mother and Sister Nellie were coining up the valley, and would soon be with us. This was truly good news, and I hurriedly threw the saddle on my horse and rode out to meet them. Sure enough, there they were. Events were now crowding in, for that very night my brother's wife gave birth to a daughter, this infant being the first white child born in all the country between the North Saskatchewan and the Missouri River. It seemed we were taking on strength daily. Here were the mother and child, five hundred miles from the nearest army surgeon in the United States and a thousand miles from the nearest doctor in Canada, possible to us, and, strange to say, both were doing exceedingly well.

Father was now arranging to go East and take mother with him. This would be mother's first return to Eastern Canada, and more than fourteen years would have elapsed since she had bade her friends and relations farewell.

Father wanted to see something of the mountains, and we took him into them by way of the "Wee-di-go Pass." Jacob was our guide, and we rode over to the Valley of the Ghost, and followed that up, and then struck into the mountains to the Wee-di-go Lake, now rechristened the Minnewakan, or Spirit Water. Then, returning to our fort, we made another trip up the Bow, as far as where Banff now is situated.

Father was delighted with these glimpses of the glorious Rockies, and his big, patriotic heart was full of prophetic vision as to the greatness of this wonderful country.

Thus we spent a few days together. All too soon time was up, and father and mother and their little party started north again. My brother accompanied them to Edmonton, from whence they would take the long journey across the plains to revisit older Canada.

We had, up to this time, and since we arrived from the South, brought between forty and fifty lodges of Stoneys and Crees with us, and the question of provisions became important. We therefore organized a summer hunt, and, making ready, struck straight out eastward on to the plains. We had very little food for the size of our camp, and belts were being shortened on all sides as we travelled out.

One morning I left the camp about daylight and rode out in advance for many miles. After some hours of steady gallop I stopped on the summit of a ridge of little hills, and, peering into the distance, thought I saw buffalo. After scanning the country all around, I took the saddle from my horse to rest and cool him, and when my eyes became familiar to the distance I could make out many bands of the much-desired game. All of this was exceedingly satisfactory, and spoke to the comforting and satisfying of the hungry crowd behind me.

Having rested my horse and feasted my eyes on the herds in the distance, I saddled up and rode back to my party. These had made a long forenoon march, and were now, as I came in sight, resting on the east bank of the Nose Creek. I rode in, and one of my boys took my horse. The Indian woman who was my housekeeper on the trip motioned me to the shade she had improvised, where the cloth was spread and my lunch ready. I sat down and partook of the food and drank the refreshing cup of tea, and not a soul had as yet asked me a question as to what I had seen or the news I might have gleaned in my long ride.

When I was through, and the woman had removed the dishes and cloth, then Jacob, the chief, came over and said, "Well, my friend, 'what have you to say?"

I answered, "I have seen much food, but not until late to-morrow can we reach it, unless the herds come in to-night."

Then he rose and told the people the good news, and soon the whole camp was on the quick march out.

That evening I was much reminded of the quails in the wilderness. We camped beside a small lake, which proved to be literally swarming with moulting ducks, and hundreds of these were caught and killed without firing a shot. Our camp feasted on duck for the evening and the morning of that time.

The next day was very wet. A heavy downpour of rain had set in. Bulls were reported near, and Jacob said the people were anxious for meat; so we made ready and ran in the rain.

Just as we were about to charge, an Indian who was a comparative stranger to me, rode up and said, "John, we have not yet prayed." I answered, "Have you not? I have already."

Just then I let my horse out, and the race became absorbing. We killed several bulls of fine quality, and the camp was satisfied for the time being. In the evening of that day I sent for the Indian who had spoken about prayer and explained to him my ideas concerning the same. I told him that I believed prayer included my constant conduct and my care of my horse and guns, and all details of what was essential right here and now. He opened his eyes and began to comprehend that prayer was life in the full sense. He had thought, with many others, that it was a mere act.


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