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On Western Trails in the Early Seventies
Chapter XXIII
Cross the Ghost River—Deliver message to Stoneys—Arrange with head chief "Bear's Paw" to accompany me— Big drunk among Indians—Interview Chief "Crowfoot."

Monday, refreshed and recuperated, we rolled on south, and camped within some seventy-five miles of our home. Early the next morning I left my party and drove on, telling them to come as fast as they could, consistent with loaded carts. Late in the day I crossed the Ghost, and darkness was upon the scene before I began to climb the long hill up to the little fort on the summit, and was overjoyed to find all well.

Old Whip-Cracker, "Pah-quas-ta-kun," had told Mrs. McDougall that John was coming. "He had sung his song, and had gone into his trance, and his spirit had met me, and our journey was prospering, and in two nights John would be home."

What a welcome one received in those days of isolation and very possible disaster. Everybody would rejoice. It was as if the lost was found. My men turned up on the third day, and in the meantime I had met the Stoneys and delivered to them the message from the Government, and arranged with the head chief, Bear's Paw, to accompany me on my journey to the plains tribes. I wanted to strengthen the peace between these people. I also secured a first-class interpreter in one Lazarus, a Stoney, who spoke Blackfoot and Cree and Stoney equally well.

We organized our party, and taking fresh horses, started out on the work of preparing the way for the incoming Government. The Stoneys and Crees had received our message with genuine gladness. It now remained to find out the state of mind of the Blackfeet and Bloods and Piegans and Sarcees. Starting out on this trip, our party consisted of the Stoney chief, Bear's Paw, interpreter Lazarus Peacemaker, and my two white men, Spencer and Robinson, and self, five in number. I had a small Union Jack on a short pole fastened to my lead cart, and, with this flaunting in the breeze, and with the dignity of our mission inspiring our hearts, we rolled out from the mountains and down the slopes of the continent on to the great plains.

When we approached "the shoal across the river," as the Indians called what has now become the Blackfoot Crossing, we came upon fresh tracks of Indians, and also saw there were some white men camped across the river. We had: hardly got into camp ourselves on the north side when down over the hill came a lot of riders, who told us that Chiefs Crowfoot and Old Sun were encamped over on the "A-che-mans," or "Provision Bag," which is a valley away up the Crowfoot Creek, and almost due north of where we now were camped. He told us that the men across the river were Long Knife whiskey traders, and they were now going across to trade some firewater.

I thought I would run the risk of requesting these traders to refrain from giving out whiskey for a day or so in order that I might have the Indians sober and able to understand my message from the Government to them. I accordingly wrote a note, requesting the gentlemen over the river to stay the outflow of stimulants for a wee bit, and telling them that I had a message from the Canadian Government, and desired a sober time, if possible. But by the way these Indians were supplied when they returned to our side of the river, and the little kegs they carried, and the noisy time we had with them that night, I judged that my humble request was not even considered by my white men brethren. They seemed to give more whiskey than ever to the Indians, and it consequently was a very lively night. Drunken and brutal and lawless white men across the river, and drunken and lawless and wild Indians all about us and our little camp—and there were hundreds more of these wild Indians within from ten to twelve miles—and with all this there came a tremendous downpour of rain, in which we were on guard all night..

When daylight came, as there were still some of the Indians with us, but now sobering up, I sent word by them to Crowfoot that I would be in his camp during that day to give him and his people a message from the "Queen Mother" and her Government in Canada. We found the camp some twelve miles north, in a fine grass country, and did not wonder that the buffalo frequented the spot which was so full of rich pasture and so well watered. Now the valley was occupied by the united camps of these big chiefs, Crowfoot and Old Sun. The Crees gave the Blackfoot name, Sa-po-max-eka, the full translation, "The Crow Indian Who Makes the Big Track." This man ranked as supreme in the councils of these tribes, and I was exceedingly anxious as to what his attitude might be towards the commission I represented in his camp.

When we came there, a very big drunk was going on in some parts of it, but near Crowfoot's lodge all was quiet. Speedily we were ushered into the great man's presence and received by him most courteously. He told me that he knew my brother-in-law, Bed Head, or Hardisty, well, and was his friend, and he would like to be my friend also. I answered I was glad to hear this. Then I told him I had a message for himself and his people, and that if he would call the minor chiefs and head men together I would produce my commission and tell them my message.

In a short time the big lodge was full of chiefs and leading men. Through my interpreter, I told them of the coming of the mounted force across the plains, and the purpose of their coming. Tribal war was to be suppressed, and whiskey trading and horse stealing and all crimes were to be done away with. I exalted British justice, and made much of the equality of men in the eyes of the law, and most keenly and patiently those men listened to my story.

When I was done, Crowfoot took my hand and placed it on his heart, and said, "My brother, your words make me glad. I listened to them not only with my ears, but with my heart also. In the coming of the Long Knives, with their firewater and their quick-shooting guns, we are weak, and our people have been wofully slain and impoverished. You say this will be stopped. We are glad to have it stopped. We want peace. What you tell us about this strong power, which will govern with good law and treat the Indian the same as the white man, makes us glad to hear. My brother, I believe you, and am thankful." Old Sun and all the rest present gave assent to what Crowfoot had spoken.

I told them I would give them tobacco to smoke, and, as they smoked, they would remember my words, and prepare their hearts for the great, good change now near at hand. Moreover, I would give them some tea and sugar to drink, and, as they drank, they would think of the great Mother Queen and the Government of Canada, and all the people I represented, as their friends and brethren, and at this they loudly acclaimed.

I found that still further north, on to the Red Deer, there were two more camps, and after finishing with Crowfoot and this camp we continued our journey towards these. Outside the camp we had some trouble shaking off some drunken Indians; but finally, with tact and patience, got away on our journey towards the North and the Red Deer River country.

We camped in the hills, and watched our stock closely, and then the next day travelled on to the camps we were in search of. Here we found a more turbulent crowd of Indians. They had no firm hand like that of Crowfoot. However, we delivered our mission, and thoroughly prepared them, by explanation and exhortation, for the coming of government and law, as would be represented by the mounted force now on its way in.

"When would this force be here?"

Ah, that was a question I could not answer definitely. I said, "Some time before winter."


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