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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter VI

Leave Hoodoo—Manitchinass Hill—A splendid view—Our Christmas dinner—Batoche—The South Saskatchewan—Duck Lake—Fort Carlton.

The light from the rising sun was darting through the feathery sprays of birch and aspen as we bid adieu to Hoodoo. It was a tearless farewell. The name of this spot is suggestive of the soft, sad cooing of the wood-pigeon, but the recollection of its torments conjures up language of a very unparliamentary character. I remember how keenly I felt the hardship of being unable to smoke this morning. It was cold, but it was a morning filled with a golden gleam that flooded lake and bush and plain. Away to the north-east the snowy contour of the Birch Hills merged into the pale blue of the cloudless sky. The air was still, as though nature herself was dead. A solemn hush lay on brake, and stream, on mountain and on lake. The snow lay mysterious in its whiteness, smooth and in places ribbed like the hard sea-sand. I can never forget the view this day from the summit of the Manitchinass Hill; a limitless plain with round groves of trees, fading away into the viewless distance. There it lay spread out in all its vast majesty, like an ice-bound ocean with myriads upon myriads of rounded islands. And through this, the dark line of the South Saskatchewan wound its length. What a sense of measureless immensity steals upon the senses in such a scene ! This day—Christmas—we made our noon camp upon the bosom of a romantic lake. Its circular surface lay wrapt in virgin snow, in a bowl-like hollow. Giant-rocks stood sentinel around its margin. Above these, tall trees, with heavy boughs of dark green, spread their gloom, adding a picturesque contrast to the dazzling whiteness all around. There was of course no roast beef or plum-pudding to send up their savoury odour before us on this festive occasion. The usual stereotyped regulation bacon was hauled from its bag, in a frozen block. Scattered members of our party went along the shores with axes, and brought sturdy boughs of dried pine to add to the fire, which was sending its blue smoke-wreaths up on high. A square-cut hole was made alongside, and, as the clear water bubbled through the crystal sides, camp kettles were quickly filled. As we were standing around our crackling faggots, suddenly a sleigh and pair of horses appeared, which dashed wildly down the opposite incline and glided along the frozen level. Another sleigh followed immediately after the first. The brown buffalo coats with brass buttons, the black sealskin caps with yellow busby-bags soon showed the men to be police. A wild cheer rang through the forest aisles in welcome and was echoed back from rock and bank. Down sprang the drivers and stamped their feet as they reported to our commander. Who would care to stand stiffly at "attention" in such a cold as this  The magic of the telegraph wire had told the garrison in far-off Fort Carlton of our approach, and the commanding officer had sent on these sleighs to our assistance. Questions were rapidly asked and answered, news exchanged, and yarns spun. No doubt the two stalwart drivers (one has since died of malaria) missed the warmth of the mess-room at Carlton and the rich Christmas fare provided there to-day; but they laughed heartily as they joined us in drinking our strong tea, and munching our tasteless biscuit

Cooking utensils, plates, and cups were rattled into the dirty sack, and chucked into the sleigh. The two Fort Carlton men were sent ahead to Batoche, having relieved us of some of our heavy baggage. Then, with spirits revived, we emerged from the basin of the lake upon the high ground to the north, and sped on through a dense growth of tangled bush. Poplar, willow, and birch hemmed in the narrow trail. The sky became clouded and leaden hued, as we went down the gentle slopes, among the woods that shroud the approaches to the south branch of that noble river that flows through 1300 miles of prairie, forest, swamps, and rushing rapids into Lake Winnipeg. Behind a screen of leafless twigs peeped a few half-breed huts, as we neared Batoche. As this Metis settlement has been rendered famous by being the birthplace of Riel's second rebellion, which culminated in General Middleton's three days' fight against the rebels at this very spot, I shall have something to say about it further on. Scattered houses are half hidden in trees above the river. Some are built of frame, and others of log. Many are dingy, others are resplendent in paint. There is a Catholic church here, and the residence of M. Batoche is a many-windowed house painted a pale green. The nucleus of the settlement consists of a cluster, where stand the blacksmith's shop, post office, and hotel of Philippe Garnot. This gentleman, a dark, pale-faced person with straight hair, was subsequently sentenced to seven years' Government hospitality, for having acted as secretary to Louis Riel. Our horses were led into his stable, and we carried our bedding into this uninviting hostelry. Our sergeant had been stationed at Batoche during the previous summer, to shadow Riel, who had commenced his inflammatory tactics even then. Many of these half-breeds had served under his greasy banner, before, at Fort Garry. The inhabitants of this place are all French Canadians and " breeds." It was like being in some old-world Norman village, listening to their quaint jargon. They use the same antique phrases introduced into the wilds by their forefathers, who came out in the service of La Compagnie de la Nouvelle France. As this was the holiday season, the officer very kindly sent word that we were to be provided with everything we wished for, at his expense. Monsieur Garnot's cuisine was not of the Brillat Savarin type. We were fain to be content with steak and rice pudding.

At night, the carpenter of this village commune came to pay a visit of ceremony to our host, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like unto him. He was refulgent in lavender trousers, and brilliant scarlet scarf. Had it not been for the dingy moccasins, he was fitted to adorn the Closerie de Lilas on a gala night. It seemed such a pitiful waste of sweetness on the desert air of these regions. A loft with bare-peaked roof formed our dormitory, and upon the boarded floor of this we laid out our blankets. Philippe and his confrere were indulging in the usual warmth of Gallic argument underneath, and this roaring cataract of patois did not soothe us into repose. "Sacre—monjoo!" yelled out an irate peeler from Cork, "will you dry up down there?" And the stream of talk below was forthwith dammed.

Next morning we harnessed up, after breakfast, and soon looked down from the lofty bank upon the broad band of the majestic river. The sides of the South Saskatchewan here rise abruptly, clothed with a rich growth of timber. At this time there was a steel cable stretched from shore to shore for the use of the summer ferry. It was destroyed during the rebellion. I should think the width of the stream is about 200 yards. Little did we dream how many were to lose their lives at this very place before another winter, and how the hurtling missiles of the field-piece were to crash through the leafy screen of the primeval forest. Far away in the country of the Blackfeet, among the rolling foot-hills at the base of the Rocky Mountains, flow the Bow and Belly Rivers; and at the confluence of their waters, near to Grassy Lake, they become the mighty river which joins its sister at the Forks, about thirty miles east from Prince Albert, and about 800 miles from its southern source. From the Forks, the combined waters flow through dense forest and cedar swamps to Cedar Lake, and thence, dashing by the Grand Rapids, into Lake Winnipeg. During the bustle of landing at Quebec, beset on every side by touts of every description, I found a pamphlet thrust into my hand, by a clerical-looking man in seedy dress. This paperbacked volume professed to show the glorious future which awaited any one who took up land near the South Saskatchewan, under the aegis of the Temperance Colonization Company. There was even an illustration of Saskatoon ; above the title of "A NorthWest City." Tall chimneys were emitting volumes of smoke, there were wharves stocked with merchandise; and huge steamers, such as adorn the Levies at New Orleans, were taking in cargo. Subsequently I found Saskatoon to consist of six houses at intervals, and a store. It is near the Sioux reserve under White Cap, about sixty miles south of Batoche. Flat-bottomed steam barges, drawing two feet of water, can make one journey down the South Branch in the season. White Cap did penance for taking up arms during the rebellion, along with the other red gentry. Having crossed the river in our sleighs, we mounted the steep ascent, and passed Walter's and Baker's store, where Riel made his first "requisition." The renowned Gabriel Dumont, Riel's lieutenant nominally, had a saloon at this time at Batoche,—a small, low-roofed log erection plastered with mud. In this smoky den French billiards were played, nauseous hop-beer imbibed, and much violent sedition talked by the half-breed habitues. Gabriel escaped, after the fight at Batoche, and for some time placed his talents at the disposal of Buffalo Bill, who exhibited him.

Undulating ground, studded with clumps of trees, met our eyes on all sides as we drove along. About five miles north of Batoche we skirted the edge of Duck Lake. Here was shed the first blood during the rebellion, in March, 1885. This pretty sheet of water is about seven miles in length, and upon the southern shore was the trading-post of Messrs Hughes. The mail station and telegraph office were both in the same cluster of white-washed log buildings. Mr. Tompkins, the telegraph clerk here, became a captive of Monsieur Riel's bow and spear; and inhabited a foul cellar in noisome darkness, for a couple of months. A snake fence ran along the side of the trail, behind it a few ponies were pawing away among the snow for food.

The reserves of Beardy and One Arrow—both Crees of the plains—circled around the northern end of the lake. One Arrow was sent into seclusion after his capture in June, 1885. Old Beardy, however, with the crafty duplicity of the guileless dusky, managed cleverly to bamboozle General Middleton, and got off very cheaply by having his medal taken from him. The latter old sinner now has the entire reserve ; but the number of his tribe is reduced to 143. One Arrow, in a wondrous blanket and head-dress of fox-skin, the ears of which stood up fantastically, shouted a welcome to us as we sped rapidly along. He gesticulated with the appearance of much glee, and yelled out, " How ! How ! most effusively. His squaw, or one of them, was alongside. Dense bush once more enshrouded us after passing the reserve. We were now nearing Fort Carlton, and, on gaining the edge of the valley, we met two sleighs, one containing the captain, the sergeant-major occupying the other. Fort Carlton is (or was, for it no longer exists) situated on a flat open space on the right bank of the North Saskatchewan. The further side rises in gently rounded hills of marvellous fertility and beauty. But the fort is surrounded on all sides by densely wooded heights, down whose precipitous slopes a narrow trail wound round its zigzag way. It was, at one time, a highly important post of the Hudson Bay Company. It then stood in the heart of the Cree and Blackfoot war country. The strategic position was execrable ; it did not require the teaching of after-events to prove this. Why the Dominion Government paid a fabulous sum to garrison it with red-coats, is another of those perplexing problems which no fellow can understand. We rattled down the break-neck road merrily ; through the great wide gateway of the fort into the square. The notes of the bugle rang out the very moment we turned the corner, and all hands bundled out on a general fatigue, to look after our horses and baggage. Each one of us was summarily hurried off into the mess-room. This was a long, wide, low-ceilinged apartment, cosy and warm, its clean, whitewashed walls decorated with trophies of arms. What a feed we sat down to enjoy at the long table, with its snowy cloth ! roast pork and green peas! The Hudson Bay stores are now generally provided with many luxuries, as well as goods of the best English manufacture. There is a discount of twenty per cent, generously conceded to the police. We then were given plum pudding ad libitum, with "lashings" of tea and milk! Our mental grace, after this meal, was a spontaneous doxology.

The call for "Evening Stables" sounded at half-past four. The long string of horses—about sixty— were led down to the North Saskatchewan to water. It was a long cold walk in the starlight, with a lantern flashing here and there, and a keen breeze coming sweeping down the frozen reaches of the river.

Now, before our arrival, great and glad tidings had gone forth among the dusky neighbours of the red-coated "Samogoniss," the name by which we were known among the Crees. It had been told in cabin and in teepe, that on this night a dance was to be given at the fort ; and, at the appointed hour, Cree Indians and Metis, male and female, came trooping into the mess-room, from which the tables had been cleared. We were in all the splendour of scarlet tunics, shining boots, and burnished spurs. Our officers, in all the bravery of mess uniform, sat upon chairs at the head of the room. The two ladies whom we had escorted, also occupied seats in the place of honour; and were the only white women present. Two dark-skinned Metis fiddlers provided the music. The programme was limited to the Red River Jig. How wildly excited grew the swarthy dancers, as the discordant notes of the rasping violin followed each other quicker and quicker! How they whooped, as they pounded the floor in their moccasined feet! How passionately in earnest they appeared as they bobbed about opposite to each other! And when one of the vis-d-vis became exhausted, another enthusiast was at once ready to spring into the gap. Gallons of tea and coffee were handed out from the troop kitchen over the refreshment counter; and there was an endless supply of cigarettes, provided by the hosts, and indulged in by both sexes without distinction. Mountains of pies and piles of sugary sweetmeats were passed around. The squaws and half-breed women, four deep, were squatted upon the floor. You would hand a dusky beauty a plate of cake, and you vainly imagined the native lady would pass it on to the detachment in her rear. Pas si bete! With one fell sweep the contents were deposited in the maiden's lap and then she, with a gleam of her pearly teeth, handed . you the vessel back.

At eleven o'clock my eyes refused to keep open any longer, in spite of all the seductions of music, dancing, and swarthy beauty. So I quietly mounted the stairs to the barrack-room and went off to bed. In the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal' " I was awakened by a stout voice underneath, singing—

"Patsey go moind the infant,
Patsey go moind the choild;
Go cover him wid yer overcoat,
For fear he should go woild,"

with a rich accent that brought forth memories of the mountains of Connemara; and to this Hibernian refrain regarding connubial duties, -I tumbled off to sleep again. The unwelcome sound of reveilli broke in upon my slumbers at half-past six in the morning, and at seven we were all out in the starlight, on the icy square, answering to the roll-call. Then to stables, marched in sections, and dismissed to our duties of cleaning out the stalls and grooming. All this is no joke with the thermometer right away below zero, and the iron bands on the handle of shovel and manure-fork burning your finger tips. A big rush at once followed upon "dismiss" sounding, to the lavatory, where basins and hot water were secured by the first arrivals. Fish and game, in the shape of prairie chicken, beef and pork, preserves and pies were the delicacies that met my astonished eyes at breakfast. Of course around such a place as Carlton a great many supplies for the larder were secured by the fowling-piece and rifle ; and the Indians brought in fish and ptarmigan, which they traded for tobacco and tea. But in all my service I never saw things done to such perfection as in the D troop mess at Carlton. This being Saturday morning, there was cleaning out of barrack-rooms at 8.30, and a general fatigue at 9. I was told off to "buck" wood; which mysterious occupation consists simply in sawing up cordwood, with a bucksaw, into lengths adjustable to the size of the stove. After mid-day stables we had the afternoon to ourselves. Some indulged in the luxury of a novel, lying upon their beds; others went out shooting; while a few passed away the time among some Indian teepes in the bush.

The revelation was now made public that, of the whole party who had volunteered at Regina to proceed to Prince Albert, only the officer's servant and myself were really destined for that settlement. The remainder were to strengthen the Carlton contingent. Our friend Riel had been holding Home Rule meetings of an effervescing type at Batoche; and, as it was feared he might cause some trouble, it was deemed advisable to have a strong force in hand ready for any emergency. I have reason to believe that strong representations were sent to headquarters as to the expediency of arresting this hero of Red River notoriety. Carlton is fifty miles from Prince Albert, and the latter place is forty-five miles from Batoche. A distance of only ten miles intervened between Batoche and Carlton. My comrades accepted their new lot with stoical indifference. Duty was very light here. They could go out and shoot in the snow-clad woods, and enjoy the half-breed dances in the adobe houses around. These " breeds," as we called them, are truly a light-hearted, volatile race. What stories do they tell of the old happy hunting days, when the mighty buffalo roamed these wilds in countless herds.

There are two species of the class. Both are descended from the Indian on the maternal side, but their paternal descent springs from two different stems. The Scotch half-breeds inherit the loyalty and type of feature and clan names of the hardy highlanders and Orkneymen who embraced a life of terrible exile, far from their native glens, in the pay of the Honourable Company of Merchant Adventurers tradingfrom Englandinto Hudson Bay. The Metis claim their male ancestry from the gallant Frenchmen and habitans of Lower Canada, who intrepidly penetrated into these remote regions when La Compagnie de la Nouvelle France was formed, to bring back the rich furs of mink and marten and beaver for the beauties who graced the terraces of Versailles. The latter organization received its death-blow when the thunder of Wolfe's guns was heard on the Heights of Abraham. The North-West Fur Company then took its place, but was merged in the Hudson Bay Company after 1815. And the latter, ruled this immense tract with the powers of a paternal despot.

Much card-playing went on among the men at Carlton. Here, in this lonely fort, amid all the rigours of a long northern winter, a vast frozen wilderness between them and civilization, is it to be wondered at that the excitement of gambling held sway ? Wrapped up in furs, with moccasins on feet, the hardy troopers took their horses a short exercise ride daily, among the bluffs of slender birch and poplar which overhung the steep banks of the river. And the great Saskatchewan, wrapt in its white robe of winter, lay slumbering in the icy stillness ; while the wan sunlight shone on forest and lakelet and solemn plain. All nature was silent, save when the twitter of the snow-birds, or the whirr of the prarie chicken broke the mysterious hush.

Sunday the 28th shone with the splendour of turquoise sky, glittering landscape, and glorious sun. It was intensely cold when we pulled out for Prince Albert at two o'clock in the afternoon. The verandah and gables and quaint windows of the brightly painted officers' quarters, with the feathery bush climbing the slopes behind, resembled some pretty Alpine scene with its old-world chalet. Our officer and his wife reclined amid a pile of buffalo robes in a double sleigh. I perched myself beside the driver, while another sleigh carried the servant and baggage. A corporal, proceeding to Prince Albert on leave, brought up the rear in a jumper. How I envied that blue-eyed, light-haired non-com.! His time would expire in the following September, and he would hie him back to his native island, where the Atlantic surge beats against the Outer Hebrides. A sorrowful sigh escaped me as I thought of the five dreary years ahead !

The sun sank in matchless magnificence, and night overshadowed us, before we reached "The Pines." This is the very frontier of settlement. Away beyond, to the north, begins the mighty sub-arctic forest, studded here and there with gem-like lakes, their waters clear as those of some fabled spring. It is the home of the sullen Chipweyan and the bear. At very rare intervals stand the remote forts of the H.B. Co.

Our drive through this moonlit, winding aisle was dreary, the weird shadows of the black trunks were cast across the trail, and in the gruesome recesses the snow was drifted thickly into heaps, overhung by the black pall of the interlacing boughs. The uneven road, covered with stumps, caused the sleigh to roll and pitch, like a boat on the dancing waves, and the crunching of the snow beneath the runners was the only sound that startled the everlasting stillness. The buffalo robes were powerless to prevent the weary, painful aching in one's knees. At length, on emerging from this sepulchral chiaroscuro into the brilliant reflection of the moonbeams on the open, we espied a solitary half-breed shack upon our right. Here we inquired which was the correct trail to Cameron's, as the Glasgow Scotsman was named at whose house we were to put up for the night.

In the course of an hour's travel by lofty bluffs, we halted beside a comfortable-looking homestead, surrounded by outbuildings, and shadowed by an immense haystack. Everything here was clean and neat, in striking contrast to that which we had hitherto seen on our line of march. A lamp shed its mellow rays over a white tablecloth laden with good things, and a soft carpet covered the floor. A well-polished stove sent defiance to the outer air. The "best bedroom" was at the disposal of Mr. and Mrs. M., Mac--, the corporal, and I lay down our blankets on a carpeted landing, and slept the sleep of the just, after a good-night pipe in the kitchen.

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