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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter II

Extent of the North-West Territory—Regina—The barracks—An expedition—Quarters and comrades.

The North-West Territories consist of the provisional districts of Assiniboia, Alberta, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan. The territory extends from the boundary of Manitoba on the east, to the summit of the Rocky Mountains on the west, and from the 49th parallel of north latitude on the south, to the North Pole. The area of this immense region is two million six hundred and sixty-five thousand (2,665,000) square miles. The total area of the whole of the remaining portion of Canada is only 885,207 square miles The total area of Europe is 3,900,000 square miles. The capital of the whole of the North-West Territory is Regina. When I say that, in 1884, the chief city of this region only contained 1000 inhabitants, I may convey some dim idea to the minds of my readers, of the surrounding desolation.

There is a station in the town at Regina for a couple of the police ; a telephone wire connecting it with the barracks, which are two miles and a half distant to the west. A corporal and one man are quartered here, whose principal duty is to meet the various trains and despatch the various telegrams, verbally, to the barracks, as they arrive. They also do a considerable amount of shopping for the officers, who transmit orders by telephone. This building is a frame cottage of two rooms, with a species of loft upstairs.

We found the corporal meeting the train upon our arrival; and we followed him across to his shanty. He was not in a very pleasant humour—qava sans dire. So we went .over to one of the hotels, to see if we could secure quarters until breakfast. His errand was fruitless. The "Assiniboia Agricultural Society"—save the mark ! —was to hold its inaugural show upon the following day, and each hostelry was full. We sat down in a couple of arm-chairs with adamantine seats, by the stove in the police office, where we nodded in uneasy slumber till day-break. I was thoroughly weary ; and thanked Heaven I was not some tender chicken, fresh from home, for the first time just taking flight,

"In busy camps the art to learn Of evil natures, hard and stern."

Any homesick youth would have fairly broken down at the dismal scene; all around outside lay a great muddy expanse, with pools of water, while a soaking rain fell from a leaden sky. A few unpainted wooden houses opposite, bearing dingy sign-boards, formed Broad Street, as it is known now. A few more erections of the band-box style of architecture, at right angles to the former, comprised the present South Railway Street. These houses all stood in open order, with dismal spaces of clay, and puddles intervening. The great prairie stretched away, far as the eye could reach, flat and cheerless like a ghostly sea, the railway lines and telegraph poles running to a vanishing point, far, far in the distance. A Cree squaw, with painted vermilion cheeks, gaudy blanket drawn over her unkempt head, and bedraggled crimson leggings, was standing at the corner of the Pacific Hotel, looking utterly forlorn, though dull apathy was written on her sullen countenance. Her tepee was visible across the railway track. These dusky beauties are periodically ordered back to their reserves ; only to reappear again as soon as they fancy the official storm has blown over. It is one of the evils which follow civilization.

We crossed over to the hotel, a big, slate-coloured, wooden-frame building. The solemnity which perennially reigns in a North-West hotel is beyond all words. Long-faced men sit silent around the stove, only varying the grim monotony by an occasional expectoration of tobacco juice. Sometimes they may break out, and engage in the congenial pastime of "swapping lies." The bar dedicated to teetotalism (cider is sold and hop beer) makes a ghastly attempt at conviviality and jocoseness, by having an array of bottles of coloured water and cold tea marshalled upon a series of shelves and labelled, "Old Tom," "Fine Old Rye," Hennessy's "Silver Star," or "Best Jamaica." With what hideous humour do these tantalizing legends taunt the thirsty tenderfoot from "down East."

We performed our ablutions in a tin basin, set upon a rickety chair in the narrow entrance passage, and wiped ourselves upon an antique towel, which seemed to have been recently fished out of the nearest slough. While we were at breakfast, the chief Pieapot drove past the window in a buckboard. This contumacious redskin wore a fur cap adorned with feathers; his face had been cast in the usual mould which nature uses to produce the Cree; high cheekbones, flat nose, and small, cunning eyes set closely together. After our meal, comprising tough beefsteak and turbid coffee, we sauntered back to the police quarters. The corporal, after much growling, telephoned to barracks, "Constable -and a recruit, here. Send down a team."

Then he went, snarling, to the hotel to breakfast. We lounged about, and smoked the matutinal pipe, till a transport waggon drove up to the door. It was a four-wheeled vehicle, painted ordnance blue, drawn by a couple of fine greys. We took up our position on a seat behind the driver, gathered up M-'s baggage at the

railway depot, and set off through the "streets" of the capital. Through ponds we dashed, splashed from head to foot; over hills whence we enjoyed an uninterrupted view through bedroom windows ; and down into hollows where we were completely hidden. And this the chief city of a territory nearly two-thirds the size of the whole of Europe!

On our voyage through the town, labouring heavily, we were hailed by a staff-sergeant at Tinning and Hoskin's store. This belaced gentleman wanted a lift, so we waited for him. What a great deal of future benefit I missed, in not knowing, at the time, that he had previously been a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery at a certain northern watering-place, where I had lived. There are many repetitions in real life of Longfellow's Atchafalaya. Just a question or two, given and answered, and we should have become fast friends. I knew his colonel well. I was not aware of this till long afterwards. On driving across the railway line, we met the adjutant, a tall, fine-looking man with a long, yellow moustache, mounted upon a sorrel charger. Here, it was a case of " Eyes right!" We now caught sight of the barracks in the distance; the houses clustering like those of a village, with red roofs. The glorious old rag was flying bravely from a flagstaff, and figures on horseback were moving about upon the open ground. One compact body was engaged in field movements, while a few in single file were in the manege There was no covered-in riding-school then. We crossed the Wascana Creek, but it was dry. On the maps it is shown as a river; but only contains running water for about a fortnight, when the snow melts. Some of the Regina "boomsters" had been recently extolling the many glories of this mysterious stream, which annually vanishes in the summer heat. A savage wit thereupon burst forth in verse, in the columns of the Winnipeg Sun, regarding this exaggerated ditch, saying he had beheld all the mighty torrents of the world—

uBut of all the famous rivers which our orb terrestrial owns, Stands first the Great Wascana, which they term the Pile of Bones; Stands first the Great Wascana, fair river of the plains, Which bathes august Regina where Viceroy Dewdney reigns.

Wascana, in the Cree language signifies, Pile of Bones. The Hon. Edgar Dewdney was the late Lieut.-Governor of the Territory.

The barracks are built entirely of wood, and are not enclosed, but stand in the centre of the endless plain. They are laid out in the form of a square, about half a mile to the north of the railway line. Scattered around, outside the cantonment, are a few small frame houses, the quarters of the married men or of civilians who obtain employment from the police. All around the inside of the square runs a side-walk of planks, raised a little above the ground, a sort of causeway in fact. The four sides of the barracks correspond with the four cardinal points of the compass. Each block of buildings is at some little distance from the other, to minimize, if possible, the danger in case of fire. New barracks have been erected since, but in 1884 they were merely temporary, portable structures. The corps only consisted of 500 men, as I have said, and only the permanent staff and recruits occupied headquarters. In those days you entered the barracks at the south-east corner, and, on turning to the left, the first block was the officers' mess. You then passed, in succession, the orderly room and commissioner's office, guard-room, recreation-rooms, sergeant's mess, sergeant-major's quarters and mess-room, and kitchen at the end. The flagstaff stood in front of the guard-room. This completed the south side. The whole of the west side consisted of six frame huts, at intervals, each supposed to afford accommodation for eleven troopers. At the north-west corner was a large barrack-room for twenty-men, with the sergeant's quarters attached. Upon the north side there were offices for the armourer-sergeant and saddler, with a couple of two-storied houses for married officers, and the residence of the principal medical officer. Officers' quarters occupied the remainder of the square. At the rear of the men's quarters was an additional space formed by the five troop stables to the west; blacksmith's shop and waggon-shed on the south, and coal-shed and bakehouse to the north. There was also a lavatory and bath-room behind the men's rooms. The hospital and quartermaster's store were out on the prairie to the north. And all around lay the flat expanse without tree, or bush, or mound to break the uniform monotony! On clear da)-s, away to the southwest, might be seen sometimes the dim, low outline of the Dirt Hills, where grow the trees with a loathsome, putrid smell. The Indians have a name for the wood, which is hardly fit to bear translation here. Sometimes also, to the east, lifted in air by the mirage, could be discerned a ghostlike line of bush, which clusters like an oasis upon the slopes of the Qu'Appelle. These islands of foliage are the remains of a once mighty forest, reaching south from the Saskatchewan, through the former serried ranks of which the fire-king has ploughed his way.

On our arrival, the square was dotted with the usual figures peculiar to barrack life. Men in fatigue-dress were loafing around the doorways, and smart orderlies and non-coms. were hurrying to and fro. There was an extra amount of bustle on this occasion, as an expedition of ioo men were under orders to start for Battleford, a distant post at the confluence of the Battle River with the Saskatchewan. The small column was to take a nine-pounder brass field-piece with them, and, in consequence, all sorts of absurd rumours—the produce of imaginative minds—were floating about. The Indians had risen in the Eagle Hills, said one. Another had certain intelligence that the half-breeds had organized a razzia on the Hudson Bay post at Fort Pitt. These canards, I afterwards discovered, were of periodical birth, and were set flying upon very flimsy provocation.

My companion from Winnipeg was warned for this enterprise, as soon as we descended from our chariot. I was taken at once by the orderly sergeant, to the commissioner's office. Colonel Irvine was seated at his table, glancing over my papers, which had been forwarded by mail. He was a slight man, with a keen, grey eye, and reddish beard closely trimmed. His father had been A.D.C. to Lord Gosford, when the latter was Governor-General. He himself had served in the expeditionary force to the Red River. He was one of the most thorough gentlemen whom I have ever had the honour to serve under. After replying to a few brief questions, I was sworn in, and dismissed, having been ordered to report to the sergeant-major.

I found this stalwart specimen of the dragoon in his quarters. He had been formerly in the 2nd Life Guards. He directed me to proceed to No. 8 Barrack-Room, telling me to remain there till further orders. In the afternoon, he said, I should receive a supply of blankets. I was then shown to the large barrack-room at the corner of the square. Every one here was busily engaged in preparing for departure on the mcrrow. Uniforms were being brushed up; headropes, helmets, and gauntlets pipeclayed; spurs burnished, and boots polished. There was to be a general parade in the afternoon." I wrote a couple of letters, amid the horrid din, to relatives who probably did not care a rap about my whereabouts. The agony of epistolary composition was materially intensified by the clattering row; but, en la gtierra como en la gnerra. Only I don't suppose that the booted and moustachioed hidalgo of Alva or the Emperor Charles who gave birth to the above remark ever troubled himself to write from noisy camp or wine-shop.

The kindness of my newly acquired comrades was excessive. I had at least six different offers of paper and stamps.

It was a cold raw day as we went down to the mess-room, when " dinner-up" sounded. This was a large room with a number of tables in rows, a corporal being at the head of each. One of them beckoned me to his table. He was a very nice fellow, and had at one time, been adjutant of an infantry regiment, and had served in South Africa. I found there were several in the ranks who had held commissions at home. We had a very good dinner of roast beef, potatoes, abundance of bread and tea. Tea is always the drink which accompanies dinner. After dinner I returned to the big barrack-room, after visiting the smaller. In one of the latter, I met a man who had been in the 60th Rifles on the Red River Expedition, with Wolseley. While sitting smoking by the stove, there entered a blase individual in civilian dress with a long drooping moustache, who languidly deposited himself on a bed, and proceeded to roll up a cigarette. Then with a drawl, suggestive of Pall Mall, he uttered the following sentiment:—There's nothing very lively and entertaining about those stables. He had joined on the previous day, and was now doing duty as stable orderly or stable guard ; and having been relieved for his dinner, had come in to take a rest. He looked very much as if he had been born tired. In the Imperial service the stable guards have their meals taken to them, and eat them generally seated on a stable bucket.

The dreaded inspection parade, mounted and dismounted, took place at 3 p.m. The men looked very smart in scarlet tunics with pipe-clayed haversacks and white helmets, the spikes and chin-scales gleaming. A new button had just been issued, bearing a buffalo head surmounted by a crown, and a label with the letters N.W.M.P. Canada. The old buttons only bore a crown. A good number of the men on parade were simply recruits ; for, as the authorities were short of men, they were obliged to take every one available. I was assured that, had there been time for me to have received my kit, I should have been included in the gathering. I was subsequently thankful I was not; though I was destined to take part in far harder duty. One Hibernian was in great glee. " Shure! I've only been up foive days an' I'm on active service already!" He was called Active Service ever after; and he very soon learnt that was the normal condition of life out here. No swaggering about town, in these parts, with a girl on your arm.

We had "supper" at 6 p.m., after evening stables. This meal consisted of tea, bread, and cold meat. The Government rations are generally sufficient to provide meat three times a day. Your appetite becomes voracious out in the North-West. There was much desultory talk at night in the room ;—the usual causcrie of the caserne. The General Orders were read by the orderly sergeant when he called the roll at watch-setting. I found myself "regimentally numbered 1094, posted to 'B' Troop, and taken on the strength of the force." "First Post" sounded at 9.30, "Last Post " at 10, and " Lights Out" at 10.15 p.m. The cook of the sergeants' mess occupied the next bed to mine. He had been to town, and was somewhat convivial, having discovered a particular brand of cider. In fact the sergeant-major had tackled him regarding his condition on his return, and he had replied, "It's a verra remarkable thing, sergeant-major, that a mon canna' get a wee whiff o' a cigar wi'oot bein' told he's drunk."

He was a strange character, and the son of a Scottish divine. He had seen a good deal of service in the "Forty Twas." He kept me awake by confidentially declaring every now and again, in a stage-whisper, that, on the party marching out in the morning, I would "jeest see an arrmed mob!" He was evidently a "wee thing squiffy."

The once familiar sound of the trumpet, or rather bugle here, under the windows announced reveille at 6 a.m. I did not turn out to stables this morning. Stables are short in the Mounted Police. There is none of that "perpetual grind"—as Lord Wolseley styles it—which characterizes that duty in the Service at home. On the return of the others there were blankets and bedding rolled up in waterproof sheets and pitched into the waggons. The party marched out at 8.30, to the station, proceeding by special train west to Swift Current. From this place would lie before them a toilsome march of more than 200 miles by trail through uninhabited country and across the Eagle Hills to Battleford. They would cross the South Saskatchewan en route, a feat which actually occupied them two days. It was a miserable day of sleet and cold; and, when the rear-guard had gone out of the barracks, I was at once pounced upon and ordered to do " stable orderly." The barracks were almost deserted, and every available unit was utilized. The duties I had to perform were to keep the stables clean, watch the horses, fill the nosebags noon and evening, and remain at the stables till relieved by the night guard. Luckily, there were not many horses left.

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