Early the next morning we
were gladly out of the shack into the storm, and kept on up the Teton to
where we had struck its hospitable wood and grass some days previously. Here
we camped, as it would have been folly to rush out on to the high plateau
north of us in such weather as this. By this time the drifts were deep, and
the air crisp and cold. With this storm strongly on, and the snow deepening,
and the drifts piling up, it seemed a long way to Edmonton. However, we
gathered wood and kept our fire big and brisk, and cooked our bannocks (for
we had secured flour in Benton), and boiled or roasted our buffalo meat, and
watched our horses, and guarded our camp, and told stories, and sang our
hymns, and offered our prayer and praise, and laughed at the storm and
In the early morning of the
next day we pushed out into these as if they were friends, rather than foes;
find, after all, they are our friends, "stormy wind fulfilling His word." On
slowly, over the long upland divide between the Teton and the Marias rivers,
and out across the country, facing the picturesque Rocky Springs country.
Here we again found buffalo,
and I ran and killed a very fine cow, the meat of which we piled into our
wagon for our journey. Nooning at the spot where we killed the cow, I
harnessed lip a pair of bronchos. One of these we had brought with us from
the North, and the other I had bought at Benton from a Jew, and, because of
this, I named my purchase "Solomon." "Solomon" and "Besho" were wild in the
harness, and cut up a lot; but I ran them around to accustom them to the new
experience, and, w'hen ready, put them over the tongue, and father and I
climbed into the wagon, and I let them go. As we had all out-of-doors to
move in, and as long as we kept northward, what mattered the speed?
For the first few miles the
pace was terrific; badger holes and dust pans and coulees were passed in
quick succession, and it was some time before we got our bronchos down to a
steady travelling trot. Here the herds of buffalo had smashed up the drifts
of snow and helped us in that much across the plain. During this afternoon
we came to dense masses of these wild cattle. They lined up to let us pass
through, so it seemed. As we drove through them I saw several buffalo oxen,
huge brutes, towering up above the others, and, as usual, in fine condition.
It was a great sight, and we forgot the keen cold and early snowstorm in
looking upon these tens of thousands of God's unbranded cattle.
We were now approaching the
high lands between the Alkali Flat and the Milk River. Here, across the
summit, we were again into snow, deep and hard to travel through, and we
turned out the brorichos to put in a heavier team to pull through this. I
now took to the saddle, and telling father to look out for a sign from me,
and to come straight to it if I made one, I then rode off ahead to look for
a battleground which I had been told about, where the Grovaunts and Piegans
had fought during this past summer. I knew that in all probability lodge
poles and picket pins would be in evidence in such a place, as these Indians
in their stampede and hurry would leave these behind them; and even so I
found the spot, and was glad, for the night promised to be a cold one, and
we wanted fire and heat to cook by as well as to warm us and our camp.
I found that here there had
been a big fight. There were evidences of many lodges, and many dead horses
were lying about; but here were the picket pins and lodge poles and travois
which had been abandoned, and which I now proceeded to gather; and before my
party came in sight upon the distant ridge, I had a good fire on, and this
they saw and came straight to, down the long slope and across the Milk
We camped upon the scene of
the battle, and were thankful, not that men fought and killed, but for the
fuel they had left, and which now, in this storm, came so opportunely for
The next day there came a
change of weather, and by noon we were well out of the drifts, and across
the great divide between the Missouri and the Saskatchewan. We were now on
the northern slope of the continent, and as the country soon dried up from
the effects of the storm, we rolled homeward fast. Again we were at Whoopup,
and found things quieter—not so many wolfers and wild men about. Here we
found the victim of the recent fight, breathing through holes in his back.
Father did what he could for him, and knelt for a moment in prayer by his
couch, and on we went, for the season was late and the distance far.
It was Saturday, and we were
looking forward to a quiet Sunday on Willow Creek; but when we came in sight
of the Old Man's Valley, what should we see but a large camp of Indians,
several hundred lodges. These proved to be Bloods. It was goodbye to rest
and tranquility, as we must now nerve up, and watch and work in the presence
of continuous danger until we could, if possible, move on from these people.
In a very short time we were surrounded by a crowd of mounted men, heavily
armed; indeed, these were the best-armed Indians I had yet seen.
I told them we would ford the
Old Man's and Willow Creek and camp and spend two nights in this vicinity,
and they escorted us to our camp, and remained until dark, taking stock of
us and our arms and general outfit. They saw we were distinct from the white
men they had met of recent years, and they seemed to appreciate the
difference. Promising to come back "A-pin-a-koos" (to-morrow), we were left
to double-guard our camp and wait and watch, and the morning came, and our
stock and we were still intact.
What a long, weary day that
was! I have driven many miles, and spoken four times in a day, but the
strain of that Sunday on the bank of the Willow is with me yet. A change of
mood, an incident that might happen at any time, and we, with our little
company, would be as nothing before this multitude. All day our camp was the
scene of many comings and goings. They would come singly and in crowds, and
we did what we could to communicate with them, and instil confidence, if
possible; but we were sorely in need of an interpreter. Father left me to
handle these wild fellows, and I expended all my Blackfoot and pantomime and
sign language, and also learned a great deal more, and was a glad man when,
late at night the last one had gone, and, it being my turn, I retired.
Someone else was on duty, and I was weary in both mind and body, and soon
went to sleep. In a very short time i was awakened by a noise near by, and
catching up my gun, jumped out, to find that our guard, Mr. Snider and
Willie, had a prisoner. They had caught him in the very act of attempting to
steal father's big horse, Jack. The prisoner was just about naked, and of
course he expected to die. However, we gave him a good scare, and I put him
under the wagon and told him if he moved we would shoot him. Again I tried
to rest, and it was now midnight and fine moonlight; so I determined to
strike out, and, if fortunate, be far away by daylight. Rousing up those who
were asleep, we made ready without making any noise. When about to start we
gave our prisoner his freedom. He was astonished and overwhelmed, and
expressed his gratitude, and said, "If it had been any other men, either
white men or red men, they would have killed me." He gave his whip and
lariat to us, and vowed he would never steal any more horses.
Now we were away, and driving
straight for the North country. When morning came we were a long distance
from the Blood Indian camp. Nevertheless, that did not hinder us from
keeping a good watch on our rear. We were not following any trail, and were
away east of our course when coming south. During the day I ran and killed
another splendid cow, and we took all of the meat and camped near the Bow
River. This we crossed the next day, a little west of where the town of
Gleichen is now situated. This crossing was rather risky, but, with extra
precaution, we got through without accident. Travelling north and south in
Alberta one can always sing, "Many more rivers to cross."
Pulling out up the valley of
the Bow at this point, there is a sharp, peculiarly shaped hill, and quite a
landmark, called by the Crees "The stone across" ("A-kam-a-se-ne"). I had
heard of it from warriors and travellers, but now saw it for the first time;
and here I gave father, who was sitting with me in the wagon, a proof of the
wonderful vision Nature had endowed me with. We were still a long way from
the hill when I saw an Indian crawling to the summit. I watched him until I
saw him stretched on the highest peak, and said to father, "Do you see that
"Well, there is an Indian
stretched on its summit, watching us. If he is alone, lie will show himself
to us by and by. If he is but a scout of a party, then we must be ready."
I then passed the word to our
people to gradually close up, and for every man to hold himself in
readiness. Father had so often experienced the far- reaching power of my
natural eyesight that he had no doubt whatever. However, there were some in
our party who could not understand why John should know of the vicinity of
men, and they asked themselves, Was it supernatural?
Why, yes, of course, even as
all endowment is supernatural.
Presently, when we had passed
the base of the hill, we heard the clear, harmonious voice of a full- lunged
warrior singing a peace song.
"At he is alone," said I to
father, "and he will come up to us," and presently out from behind another
hill came our friend. He was a fine-looking fellow, in full plainsman's
costume, and he sat his horse as to the manner born, and he continued his
song until he came to us. He said his party was moving south farther east;
that they had been to Edmonton; that when he saw us he knew we were not Long
Knives. His name was Eagle Ribs (Pe-to-pe-kis), quite a renowned war chief.
I told him that I was coming right out at once to the mountains on the Bow
River, and would hope to see him during the winter which was approaching.
He took a great fancy to my
rifle, and I said, "You bring me a good horse when I come out, and I will
let you have this rifle."
He smiled and answered,
"Remember, you have said it, and that rifle is mine." And so it was some few
months later, for he came in with the horse, and got his gun.
But, more than this, I had
another new friend at court, and this was most important to us. We parted
from Eagle Ribs in mutual confidence. On to the Big Red Deer, where a
labyrinth of ravines blocked our course, and we had to swing up its south
bank and look for a crossing.
Leaving my party in the early
morning of the day, they to keep out along the ridge above the ravines, I
rode away in search of a crossing. This meant three requisite&—an approach,
a ford and a departure.
All day I kept up the stream,
saw deer and antelope and buffalo, but as we had plenty of meat I did not
molest them. Moreover, I had left my rifle, and was only armed with my big
Smith & Wesson revolver, 42-calibre.
I saw some of the most
picturesque spots along the valley one could imagine. Riding on a buffalo
trail, I came to a cut bank, and the trail wound in and out on the edge of a
precipice, strange, weird formations; and as I could not see any distance
before me, presently I was astonished to meet a procession of great bulls.
The leader, a huge monster, stood, even as I and my horse stood, and we
looked at each other. Must I retrace my way to the last flat? I was loath to
do this. Finally, I gave a great shout, which the canyon echoed, and the
long stream of bulls scrambled around in their tracks and retraced their
steps, and I rode at the rear of the procession and admired their courtesy,
and took stock of their size and hugeness, and was thankful that they did
not know their strength.
On we went, buffalo and man,
until we came to the bend of the river, where there was room, and my
concessive friends scampered up the prairie flat and I rode on looking for a
ford. It was evening before I found what I wanted, that is, a possible route
on both sides of the river, and a ford which, while deep, had a smooth
bottom and quiet current. Thankful for my find, I took the long climb up the
south bank and out on to the big plateau.
Where was my party? The sun
was low, and the night promised to be a cold one.
I rode to the highest ground
and surveyed the scene. Not a soul in sight. As the air was quiet, I fired a
shot, and listened, but no answer came. However, my shot started a buck
antelope, and he cantered straight for me. Leaving my horse on the hill, I
ran to meet the antelope. When next we saw each other we were about 150
yards apart. I wanted a response to my shot if any of my party should hear
it; but if I could secure the buck also I was nothing loath to do so.
Accordingly, I took aim, and my first ball killed him; but there he stood,
and I fired all the remaining cartridges out of my revolver, and still he
stood, with head up, staring at me. I then refilled my gun and approached my
game slowly. I drew near, watching the buck, but all the while listening for
an answer to my shots. However, none came; and now I was close upon the fine
fellow, who stood as a thing of life before me, and yet was dead. I held my
gun ready, but as I reached out my hand to grasp him by the antlers, he
shook and fell. Three of my bullets had gone right through his vitals. The
first shot had killed him, but, standing straight to me, he was braced and
did not fall. I ran back to my horse and brought him to my kill. Then I
opened the antelope, and took out the paunch and entrails and placed him to
bleed, then covered him with a big silk handkerchief I had over my shoulder,
weighting this down with some stones.
I then mounted my horse and
rode on, anxiously looking for my party. Thus darkness came upon the scene,
and I looked and listened, and not until late did I see the glimmer of a
fire in the distance. This might be my party or prove to be my enemies.
Carefully I scouted towards the place, and came to a deep ravine. Going down
into this, I followed it up in the darkness to the firelight. This proved to
be our party, and once again we were delighted to be reunited, and all were
glad to hear of my success. The next morning we made the south shore of the
river for noon, picking up the antelope en route. After lunch we bolstered
up the box of our wagon, and in due time were across the Red Deer.
What a wonderful land of
river and soil and rich grass and beautiful landscapes! Some countries,
after hundreds of years of settlement, are not as favored in readiness and
beauty and progress as this great big land we have been travelling through
for the last thirteen years already is. Millions of acres and unlimited
Thus we thought and thus we
conferred, as we climbed to the rich upland and moved on into the great
North. We crossed the Tail Creek near its inflow from Buffalo Lake. We kept
the west side of the lake, and also that of the Red Deer Lake, and now were
in familiar ground for me. I had feasted and fasted and ridden and walked in
many directions through this region. I had hunted owls and rabbits and ducks
and chicken and geese and swan and deer and elk and moose and bear and
buffalo and beaver and muskrat, and lived on a meat and fowl diet straight,
without sauce other than hunger. I had held meetings in lodges, and on the
hills, and in the valleys. Why, this was a part of my big parish which, in
its bigness, I had never been able to compass, though forever moving and
constantly on the road. And here we were again, rushing through, for our
step was quick and steady and persistent. We were moving rapidly.
Here my friend, The Dried
Rat, left us to seek his own people. He gripped my hand when parting, and
He said, "I will never forget
either your kindness nor yet your counsel and prayers, John; from now on I
am a different man. May the Great Spirit bless you, my friend."
Thus this faithful fellow
parted with us.
Presently we were at one of
the lower crossings of the Battle River, and in due time at the Peace Hills,
and then on to Edmonton. When we came in sight of the old fort, the flag
went up. There was general rejoicing. They had been looking for us for days.
All manner of rumors had come. "We were killed." My brother David, who had
come on up to Edmonton in order to move out with me to the mountains, was
now organizing a party to go and seek us. But here we were, and the fort and
settlement were glad. Father and the rest of our party were now at the end
of their journey, but mine would now really begin.