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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter XIV

Troops homeward bound—Big Bear goes to Regina—Mutual Admiration Society—A good word for the police—Esprit de corps—Sioux teepes—Squaws bathing—Riel sentenced— Indian summer—The verge of the wilderness—Good-bye to Prince Albert—Batoche bush-fires—A pleasant camp—A chorus of coyotes.

during the week following the return of Colonel Irvine's force from Green Lake—when the summer sun was flooding with golden glory forest and prairie, when the flowers were rich in blue, and crimson, and purple, on the spreading carpet of green—the three returning columns of the troops, under the General, reached Prince Albert in steamers and barges, en route to Winnipeg and the East via Grand Rapids. The mounted corps proceeded by land. The men enjoyed a run around the town, and seemed in hilarious spirits, like schoolboys on the occasion of a "breaking up." In the barges lashed to the larger craft were many wounded, under awnings. They must have suffered untold torments from the mosquitoes. Big Bear was the focus of attraction, and our barracks were surrounded by a mob of excited soldiery. He was brought out for exercise, and seemed rather afraid at the unexpected amount of interest he was causing, as he shuffled along in his leg-irons, through the long lane of eager, sun-burnt faces. When the steamboats had taken a supply of wood, the flotilla moved off down the Saskatchewan.

The Winnipeg Field Battery marched to Qu'Appelle, and thence home by train. They were relieved by "B" battery of the regular Canadian Artillery. These men had fought beside the mounted police at Cut Knife, and consequently there was quite a spirit of camaraderie between us. In a few days, Big Bear and his companions were escorted down to Regina by picked men of "B" troop, Colonel Irvine and his staff leaving at the same time, in a drenching rain. Thus were we, once more, left to the dull routine of existence in that far-off settlement. All the "D" troop men were under canvas in front, of the barracks, where a powder-magazine was being erected.

There were great rejoicings all over Eastern Canada when "the boys" came marching home again. They were fited and feasted everywhere, from Moosomin to Cape Sable. Scrip and medals were at once voted to them by a grateful country. By this scrip, each man who had been under arms, west of Port Arthur on Lake Superior, was entitled to receive 160 acres of land in any part of the Dominion, where Government free grants were open. Of course, they were at liberty to sell this right, and many of them did so for a mere song. Speculators were on the qui-vive round every drinking-saloon, and the market was flooded with these military land-warrants. The Montreal Garrison Artillery were encamped on the south side of the railway, at Regina, for a period, and the arduous service endured by these warriors was to be driven to picnics, and to see a sun-dance by Pieapot's braves. They also received this reward, and their, manly bosoms were afterwards decorated with the silver symbol bestowed by her Majesty. But the mounted police, whose whole five years of service is one long campaign, who daily experience hardship in harrassing marches as a matter of course, and say no word of self- laudation, received—nothing! We were told that this was because we were regulars, and what we did was only in accordance with our terms of engagement. All over Canada a Mutual Admiration Society was established, to the exclusion of the police.

A writer in an Ontario paper, a civilian, did say a few good words for us exiles. He had ridden from Prince Albert to Carlton to meet the Green Lake column on its return. This is how he winds up his remarks :—

"Whether your readers may derive any information or amusement from this rambling account of an ordinary police fatigue we do not know, but we freely confess that the force stood a hundred per cent, higher in our estimation after this trip than before it. The matter of fact, rough and ready, silent but systematic manner in which these men grapple with the physical obstacles in the path of their duty in this frontier country is worthy of all admiration, and we feel certain that a closer acquaintance with the N.W.M.P. would only confirm this good opinion. We are glad to see their numbers increased, as we believe that from the experience of prairie life, which they of necessity acquire, they will always, in case of trouble, demonstrate their superiority over any ordinary troops which may be placed in the field. Officers and men alike live a hard life, a lonely life, a life in many cases almost as hard and lonely as that of Alexander Selkirk, and this sort of existence is dragged out by men, many of whom not long ago were the pets of society in this and other lands. Many a silent tongue in the ranks could tell a strange tale if it chose."

I returned to barracks on the 12th of August. After the middle of this month we enjoyed the most lovely weather, calm days and frosty nights. The days glided on in quietness, though occasional parties were despatched to arrest Indians found to have been implicated in the rebellion. The late campaign was a fruitful theme of discourse. I recollect, one fine evening, a certain non-com. was loudly bewailing the lack of esprit de corps.

"That is what is wanted,—esprit de corps," he emphatically announced, and several of his audience agreed with him. Then spoke a hitherto silent listener, in the shape of a native of the Carse of Gowrie.

"Then, why dinna they requiseetion for some, frae the quartermaster's store?"

Between the Hudson Bay post and barracks were a number of Sioux lodges, which were a nightly resort for a good many of our men. The interior of a teepe is not, by any means, an aesthetic abode. A fire of logs smoulders on the ground, in the centre, and the smoke makes its way through an aperture at the top. A blanket, swung in the form of a hammock, from one pole to another, holds the papoose, if there be one. There is no other furniture. These teepes are formed by a circle of poles, cut from spruce-trees, meeting at the top. Round these is fastened the outer covering of skins. Such is the lodge, or wigwam, of the mighty redman.

I think I have stated already, that the Saskatchewan here widens into a broad lake, with lovely islands, tree-fringed bays, and jutting promontories. One of these sequestered coves was the bathing-place of the squaws. It was great fun to watch their antics. They could swim like musk-rats, and seemed intensely fond of splashing each other, and indulging in all sorts of rough play. It must not be imagined that they capered about in the costume in which the Paphian Aphrodite is generally portrayed rising from the AEgean foam. Oh, no! The most fastidious British matron could not find fault with the skirts and bodices which they wore; as though they were at a well-conducted, old-fashioned, sea-side village over here. There was no impropriety about these copper-hued naiads, when disporting themselves. These civilized remnants of clothing were only used for this purpose. At other times they were dressed in the ordinary blanket, and beaded, crimson leggings. It was a decided comfort to know that these dusky beauties did bathe sometimes.

Some few Indian prisoners, who were known to have committed depredations during the rising, were brought in at this time. I shall never forget the delight of my old friend ofthe " forty-twas" when one particular redskin was carried to the guard-room. This brave had tried to throw a noose over him, when on patrol near Carlton. By-the-way, it is only in very cheap fiction that this operation is known as "lassoing," or "throwing a lasso." A genuine cowboy never uses the word, he always speaks of " roping " a steer, or horse. But "Deadwood Dick, the dismal desperado of Cut-throat Creek," uses the word "lasso" whenever he can.

The rebels had been tried and sentenced at Regina. Eleven Indians had been brought before Judge Rouleau, at Battleford, for murder, and were sentenced to death. Riel was to be hanged on the 18th of September, but as an appeal was made to the Privy Council, the execution did not take place until November 16th. As I was in Regina at the time, I shall speak of it in due course.

The Indian summer came in all its glory in September. It is much earlier here, in the north, and lasts for a month generally. A luminous mist floats over all; and everything seems bathed in the tranced calm of one long summer's evening. The hideous mosquito has received his quietus from the nightly frost. The poplars and birch-trees begin to change their worn green garments for all the splendour of their autumnal robes of russet, and bronze, and red. The roads are dry and hard, and over lake and bush, open space and mighty forest, over broad river and sere and yellow marsh, lies the quiet slumber of the fall. One splendid afternoon, a comrade and I sallied forth for a ramble over the ridge to the south-east. When we reached the summit, a scene lay spread beneath us beyond all words of mine. Prince Albert, to the left, nestled in its amphitheatre of copsewood; its white toy-like houses peeping out from amid their embroidery, and the great river rolling gently by, with gem-like islands on its gleaming breast. To the north and east stretched the primeval forest, all golden and olive; like a vast ocean of colour, its billows spread sleeping and dreamlike. Such a sight can never be forgotten. Here, on the south shore of the North Saskatchewan, settlement has an end. Beyond, as far as the desolation of the Coppermine and Great Mackenzie Rivers, beyond the fertile meadows of the Peace River Valley, beyond the wild Lac la Ronge, as far as the moss-clad beach and lichened rocks of the Arctic Ocean, stretches the unknown. Only a few earnest missionaries, and the hardy servants of the H.B. Co., the cunning Dog Rib, sullen Chipweyan, and diminutive Esquimaux people these remote solitudes. We stood, truly, on the verge of the everlasting wilderness—the extreme frontier of civilization! The Peace River doubtless in due time will supplant the Saskatchewan, for it is said to have a better climate, and the course of empire will roll further to northward and westward yet.

Glad tidings came to me, suddenly, upon the 21st of September. The officer whom I had accompanied to Prince Albert in the previous December was returning to Regina. On this day I received orders

to pack my baggage and hold myself in readiness to go along with him, and in the afternoon we pulled out. As it was not considered expedient, somehow, for our small party to wear scarlet, we adopted mufti, of a somewhat varied and antique fashion. The inspector, his wife and child, his servant, a teamster, and myself comprised the whole. We took two waggons; one of them on springs and covered in. In the body of this reclined Mrs.— and her baby, well wrapped in rugs, her husband handled the reins, while I sat alongside. The other vehicle carried our camp equipment, bedding and kit, cooking utensils, grub and forage, and a small "A" tent. We troopers were to sleep sub tegmine fagie or rather frigido Jove.

We made a call at the Hudson Bay store, where many delicacies, and a plentiful supply of tobacco, were purchased to cheer us on our trip. We continued up through the town by the river, passing an exercise party, in half-sections, under the sergeant-major. I may state, that the majority of the Ontario horses died off, after the Green Lake expedition ; thus demonstrating the superiority of the native-bred broncho, for these climates. A little further on we saw a squad of artillery-men, firing up the broad reaches of the river, with the Gatling. The store-keepers were standing at their doors, in their shirt-sleeves, looking half-asleep in the drowsy autumnal weather. It all looked pleasant now, the broad Saskatchewan and the russet woods. Often had I, on the long, weary, hot, summer days, cast wistful looks up this dusty trail, and wished I were going over it for the last time. And 0> terque, quaterqne beate, the day had come at length ! Away we rattled, past the pretty convent, past the white palace of the bishop, past many-coloured villas with wide verandahs; —away through the yellow corn-fields, and by the snake fences around St. Catherine's. Here the country opens out into wide parks, and grassy slopes, and tiny lakes amid tangled copse. Past Scott's farm—still as dilapidated-looking as it was on that April night when we pitched our camp here, and received the astounding order to return. Scott had been tried at Regina for complicity in the rising ; but had been acquitted. Away through denser bush now, and so to the forks of the road, where our scouts had their headquarters, in the little log-house. Just beyond, in a bay of the surrounding bluffs, a little distance from the trail, from amid the long, dry grass, the smoke of a camp-fire rose straight into the still air. A police waggon was standing near, the horses were picketed alongside, and three recumbent figures were waiting for the kettle to boil. One of them rose, and came forward as we halted. He saluted, and made his report. They were two constables who had been left in charge of stores at Snake Plains,—between Green Lake and Carlton,—on Colonel Irvine's return. A certain malcontent had deserted from "D" troop, at Prince Albert, in August, and had proceeded into the wilderness, under the dingy banner of Mother Smoke, and some redskins. Unfortunately, when his money and supplies had given out, he had been "rounded on" by his dusky pals, and delivered into the hands of these two. They were now bringing him in. He subsequently adorned the guardroom at Regina for six months. Our drive now soon brought us to the comfortable homestead of Mr. Cameron, where we had stayed before. His snug house had suffered at the hands of the Sioux; pictures and other cherished household gods had been wantonly hacked to pieces. We had a capital supper of eggs and beefsteak, and steaming souchong, and an enjoyable night's rest.

We were off again in the early dawn, the air keen but-bracing ; and now one could enjoy one's matutinal pipe, without the juice freezing in the stem. The air was impregnated with smoke from the burning bush. It was on fire on all sides, in some places quite near the trail; but fortunately there was not a breath of wind. The track soon meandered through the towering pines, sweet with the rare perfume of the woodlands. Half-breeds' farms here and there, stood in sheltered places. The shanties were plentifully plastered with adobe, and a general mosaic of dirt and disorder surrounded them. The trees were now shedding their leaves, and the slumber of the autumn .lay upon the brown earth. About ten o'clock, we drew near to the South Branch of the Saskatchewan, opposite St. Laurent. This place consists of a church, and a few Metis' houses, and is about ten miles from Batoche. Here Mac—the officer's servant—shot a prairie chicken through the head with his Winchester. He had been in the corps for five years, and was one of our best shots. Game was plentiful all along our route, and as we had a breech-loading fowling-piece as well as our rifles we were never without duck or chicken. The smoke near St. Laurent was stifling, though the scenery here was very pretty. These fires have spread onward from the great prairie with devouring flames, and have eaten their way into and ploughed wide spaces through the forests .of the north: hence the open glades, and curving bays of grass which line the outer edge of bluffs. Suddenly we came upon the crossing at Batoche. A cunningly devised rifle-pit stood upon the verge of the steep incline which led to the river, and a ruined store stood opposite. We camped for dinner upon a terrace above the gliding stream, overhung by many aspen-trees. Soon our camp-kettle was hung over the crackling faggots, and some savoury steaks were cooking in the pan. On this journey, we were not reduced to the bacon and biscuit of our winter's march. Now we had bread, and even condensed milk. There had previously been a wire cable stretched across here for the use of the ferry ; but it had been destroyed. After disposing of our meal, and washing our utensils, we commenced a vigorous chorus of shouts for our Charon, who made his appearance after some time on the opposite shore. This was no other than the former keeper of the mail station at Hoodoo. Riel had kept his proud soul in dire bondage, for about two months. He and his assistant brought the scow across with a pair of sweeps. It was a broad, flat-bottomed craft, with railings on either side and an inclined plane at both ends. As the current was rather strong, we were obliged to start from a point at some distance above our proposed landing. The ungainly looking object, took our whole transport on board at once, each one of us standing at the horses' heads. This is a dangerous proceeding, and frequent accidents occur. Everything in this unfettered country is done in a happy-go-lucky manner, and rivers are crossed in the most primitive fashion. We pushed out into the stream, and we swept gently over towards the opposite side, when a few strokes brought us to ground. One of the horses was very restive in landing, and the inspector got a wetting. The village of Batoche was deserted, and woe-begone, only two or three families remaining. The houses were battered and bruised with marks of war. On the open ground to the west of the houses, were the remains of Middleton's zareba. Scattered around were the rebel rifle-pits, which baffled a force of 800 men, supported by artillery, for four days. The ingenuity and care displayed in the construction of these pits astonished the general. They were completely masked and hidden by brushwood, stuck in the ground above them. At one of the houses, which contained inhabitants, we purchased some butter. The trail now led for some way along the edge of the rugged and shaggy heights that here line the course of the South Saskatchewan. It turns to the south about a mile beyond the cemetery. Away to the north, the great forest fires were rolling volumes of smoke into the air. We found also that the conflagration, was spreading from the west, on the southern side of the river.

We bowled along an even road through a pleasant, rolling country. What a terrible sense of haunted desolation fills this land ! It seems as though silence were a ghost, whose gruesome form is indefinably present everywhere.

A little before sunset we halted; a pretty little lake reposed in a willow-fringed hollow, and bluffs of birch and poplar reared their lines of shelter to the west. Long grass shrouded the ground down beside the water, and here the bronchos were picketed. We pitched the tent in a picturesque recess, among the feathery birch-trees ; and soon the blue smoke-wreaths curled up from our fire. We stretched out our limbs upon the ground which was smooth and hard : the big moon showed her silver globe above the dim contour of the distant hills. Prairie chicken and fried ham, and excellent tea made us feel at peace with all mankind, and jokes were cracked without reserve. Then I unrolled my blankets underneath the waggon, lit my beloved pipe and fell into a meditative reverie. There are two things for which one never loses a craving on the prairie—tea and tobacco. And in this case I speak with authority, in spite of any counterblast from the Rev. Stiggins and his anti-tobacco humbugs. Then came forth the visions of the gloaming, the dreams of far away; and the longing and the wild hope to see the old scenes once again. It must have been, I imagine, by the moon's position, about one o'clock in the morning, when I was suddenly awakened by the most unearthly row I ever heard. Evidently a Home Rule party of coyotes were holding an indignation meeting somewhere. First there was a peal of demon laughter, followed by a wild, despairing shriek, mingled with a howl from another portion of the orchestra. A series of sharp yelps—probably taking the place of our Hear! hear!—were now introduced, which were succeeded by another tumultuous burst of laughing. A grand finale of yells, shrieks, howls, barks, and screams of hilarity wound up the entertainment: it was evidently a great success. The cry of the coyote, breaking in upon the startled ear of night, as it invariably does, is about the most hideous I ever listened to. But this musical festival "banged Banagher," and came as a sort of "uncanny" surprise. The horses went on steadily munching their feed, the black shadows of the waggons lay upon the yellow grass ; and the air was calm and frosty. The lady in the tent was evidently alarmed, for I could hear a feeble voice saying something about "Indians," while the gruff voices of my comrades under the other waggon were giving vent to anything but prayers.

We turned out in the moonlight at 4 a.m., and to put some warmth in my veins, I grabbed a camp-kettle and ran to the sleugh for water. Mac had the fire ready, and we soon received the benefit of some hot coffee. Then the tent was struck and waggons packed, and away we went as the first pale streak of dawn gleamed over the Birch Hills.

Passing by some sedgy sleughs, 1 noticed, on the margin, the winter homes of the musk-rat, built of reeds and mud. He always puts up his little hut by the edge of the water, and projecting over it; so that he has an unfrozen space through which to dive beneath the ice. We went through fifteen miles of rolling prairie to-day, over whose hilly surface, blackened with fire, the ground-squirrels were disporting in thousands. It was bleak and bare, and the sky was laden with leaden clouds. Numbers of the sheets of water here are so impregnated with alkali as to be unfit for use. In the afternoon we saw a huge lake to the right, with wooded islands and large lagoons along its silent shores. We could not see the other side. Its desolate waters slumbered mournfully in appalling solitude. In a tall bluff, to the north of Humboldt, we drew up our waggons at night. Here we immersed one of our wheels in a pond to tighten the tire. As I had a new pair of long boots on my feet, it was unanimously voted that I should wade in to extricate it. So much for having decent boots.

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