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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter XX

March from Wood Mountain—Springs frozen—Willow Bunch— Dangerous descent—Alkali Lake—No water—Big bluffs—A huge camp-fire—Intense cold—Sufferings—Frostbites—An accident—The mirage—New riding-school—The cowboy troop—1887—A blizzard—Drills—Blood Indians—Crees—An Indian march—"Kinneekinick"—Indian religion—Handshaking—Pipe of peace—Squaws—A Sioux lady—" Medicine Police fired on by Piegans—Kootenay Indians—Shuswaps.

OUR stumpy, broad-shouldered, little bugler threw an extra amount of cheerfulness into his task when he sent the notes of reveille ringing through the grey tents in the early morning starlight; and after stables, I saddled my trooper, regimentally numbered 999, but familiarly known as "Bosco." The waggons were loaded with bedding and rations and camping outfit only, as our kits were to follow in charge of some civilian freighters, who had brought out the winter's supplies. Bosco was a pretty chestnut broncho, and in excellent form. His only fault, if it can be called such, was his exceedingly tender mouth.

At seven o'clock the advance-guard trotted off up the opposite slope, and away along the level of the valley in front. We were to take a new route to Regina, by Willow Bunch. The air was chilly, and leaden clouds hung over the scene at first, but by and by the sun broke through. It was my misfortune to be on rearguard, which, although it is supposed to be the post of honour on the line of march, is a vexatious position with such a small body of men. Waggons were continually halting, one teamster in particular always having something to fix up. The trail at first led through the Hay Field, a long, wide valley, with magnificent hills on either side. The ranche men had put up two large stacks of hay here. This vale was four miles in length and one mile broad. The blood coursed wildly through the veins this bracing morning; the bridles jingled merrily, arms glittere3 in the sunshine, and the air was laden with the healthy ozone of the prairies. Our hospital sergeant accompanied us on rear-guard. He was mounted on a broncho which was not accustomed to his rider wearing a sword, and every time this weapon of the luckless " poultice major struck Baldy's side, he was anxious to take an extensive tour of the surrounding district. Our disciple of AEsculapius was not accustomed to equine exercise, and this added considerably to the hilarity of the proceedings.

At noon we reached a deep ravine, in which were some springs. These were frozen, and the stream which ran down the narrow gorge in the mountains was a solid mass of ice. We halted on a species of natural terrace, while above to the right a gigantic peak reared its scarped sides of brown. It was a difficult and dangerous task to lead our horses down the face of the precipice to the watering-place by a zigzag path through tangled brake, and over fallen boulders ; the poor beasts went sliding and slipping in all directions, though the broncho is very surefooted. The camp-kettles, too, had to be filled, and carried up this wall-like steep. After some warm tea and bacon, we resumed our march, which for the remainder of the day continued along the summit of a lofty plateau, commanding a wide view of a lonely plain, with here and there a frozen lake glistening in the distance. It was dark when we reached the edge of the cliff overhanging the half-breed settlement of Willow Bunch. We trusted to the instinct of our horses to keep this awful trail. One swerve to the right would have sent horse and rider*crashing to the bottom of the abyss. However, we reached the valley in safety, and could see the yellow lights twinkling in the few log shanties. We had made a march of forty-five miles. We went rattling and clattering through the scattered village, and camped on a level space near a creek at the further end. Soon the camp fires shed their ruddy glare on the dark line of waggons and array of tents, while fur-clad figures grouped around the blazef or led horses to their different stations. Sentries were posted, and after supper we were not long in seeking what comfort the hard ground provided, beneath the blankets.

Daybreak showed us a long, flat plain, stretching for miles from the foot of the mountains, which rose like a mighty wall. Bushes sprang from the seams in the slopes, and huts nestled at the foot or peeped out from amid the leafless branches, like chalets in an Alpine scene. After a hasty breakfast, we were off once more, steering north.

It was a brilliant day for the late autumn, and songs and yarns beguiled the tedium of the march. We halted in a rocky ravine at the head of a frozen sheet of water for our noonday meal. In the afternoon, the trail wound along over the everlasting prairie. For miles ahead you could see the light brown line. We camped at night near an ice-covered pond, the waters of which were alkali, fit neither for man nor beast. Some springs at a little distance were frozen, and the horses were unable to procure a drink. We melted ice in our camp kettles for tea. The stars shone brilliantly over the scene, but the sounds of the camp only made the surrounding solitude more apparent.

On the next day the sky was leaden, and a cold wind swept over the plains. We could obtain no water at noon. In the afternoon we met a cowboy returning to the ranche at Wood Mountain from Regina. The veil of dusk was falling when we reached the Big Bluffs on the Moosejaw Creek, and in a grove of tall poplars we pitched our camp. In one spot we managed to procure water for the horses, cutting a hole in the ice. The poor animals had not had a drink for thirty-six hours. We demolished the rations of tea, bacon, and biscuit, and the sentry was posted over the camp. Down in a sheltered hollow in the creek, where the grass grown slopes were clad with light timber, we made a blazing fire of dried trees. The night was most intensely cold, and there was no comfort in the tents. We all took seats around the small amphitheatre, and whiled away the hours before watch-setting with songs and jokes. When a cry for more wood was raised, axes would be plied, and a huge bush would be sent crashing into the centre beneath. It was a picturesque sight. The brilliant firelight shed its reflection on scarlet jackets and fur coats, and illumined the worn faces with a strange Rembrandt tint. Some were smoking, and all swelled the loud chorus of many a stirring camp song.

In the cold darkness of the following morning we rose with the prospect of reaching Regina before nightfall. It was Sunday, and we had thirty-two miles of dead level prairie before us. It was sheltered here in the bluff, but when we moved out in the grey dawn, the north wind met us in all its fierceness. There was nothing for it but to face the music as bravely as one could. Buffalo overcoats, mufflers, and moccasins were no shield against it. Every now and again it was necessary to dismount and lead our troopers, in order to keep from freezing to death in the saddle. We were soon frostbitten. The thermometer to-day showed ten degrees below zero (420 of frost), and this temperature with such a wind was equal to double in a calm. Long icicles hung like heavy pendants from our moustaches, and adorned our poor horses' nostrils. I can recall the day's march even now, and the weary longing for it to end. I never, during my whole term of service, felt the cold so much. Not even during our memorable march to Prince Albert, for that was my first winter. The oldest soldier in the Mounted Police was riding alongside of me. He had penetrated this wilderness in 1874, with the first batch of redcoats, when they crossed the desert to Fort Macleod. There were no settlers at all then, and the buffalo, and Blackfeet, and Crees roamed at will over these plains. Jack was generally the cheeriest comrade in camp or on the march, full of songs and old-time stories. The Force had become his home, and the prairie seemed his native heath. But to-day, he was moody and silent. He turned to me once, and said bitterly, " No one knows what us poor beggars have to suffer!"

In this weird life of exile there is no blazoned scroll of honour. All is done as simple duty, far from the plaudits of the world, and hardships become the common incidents of your daily life. They are taken as a matter of course, and made light of when past. To wear a scarlet coat out here is not to flaunt it before the wondering gaze of lovely women, to the entrancing strains of martial music !

When about fifteen miles from Regina, after we had tramped on foot for some distance, the order was given to mount. My horse was restive, and I was in a hurry. I suppose in my haste I must have pulled upon his mouth, but my hands were numb and I neglected to twist a lock of his mane around my thumb. But, as I had one foot in the stirrup, swinging, and the other off the ground in the act of springing into the saddle, he reared full upon his haunches, and fell back over upon me. He was given slightly to rearing, but never to this extent before. Luckily, a hollow in the trail where I lay helped to break his weight upon my thighs and the lower region of my body. I heard the bugler ask, "Is he dead?" and the others were soon around me. When they helped me up, I could barely stand. I may be very thankful that I am here to record the fact. It is a miracle that the horn of the saddle did not crash through my ribs and still the beating of my heart for ever. The sergeant-major wished to send a man forward to the main body to stop a waggon, but I requested the other fellows to hoist me into the saddle again, which they did, and I rode on in agony. We halted at a deserted farm, eight miles from Regina, and enjoyed some steaming hot coffee, made by our cooks. There was a wonderful display of mirage today. When we were yet twenty miles from the city, a huge windmill rose before us in the sky. This was for the purpose of pumping water, and was attached to a grain warehouse in the town. Yet there it was, magnified and lifted into the heavens, while the houses were invisible.

On resuming our march, I was so very stiff that I was at last compelled to mount a waggon and recline upon a pile of rolled bedding. The care and kindness of my brother troopers on this occasion I shall always remember with gratitude. It was a depressing scene all round. The sky to begin with was of ashen hue; scattered over the prairie at intervals stood houses, bleak and abandoned. There had been no harvest at all this season. In the middle of the great plain stood Regina. To the left, the tower and roof of the fine new riding-school rose above every other building.

This structure was 224 feet in length and 123 feet in width. It was erected at a cost of thirty thousand dollars, and was entirely of wood. The aspect of the barracks was entirely altered, as all through the preceding summer the work of building had been going on. We could see the brave old Union Jack floating gaily from the flagstaff. We skirted the town by the reservoir—a large sheet of water formed by a dam upon the Wascana Creek. A huge stone building stood in solitary grandeur to the south of the city. This was the future gaol. Number one sentry was pacing the sidewalk as usual when we entered barracks, and turned out the guard; we received and paid the proper compliments. Regina is a pretty hackneyed subject now, so I shall briefly jot down the salient features of our sojourn in winter-quarters till we turned |out again in the following spring. The new barracks were a decided improvement upon the old, each block being self-contained, with lavatories and bath-rooms, and splendid mess-rooms, attached by covered corridors. Every room was large, and lighted by lofty windows, and heated by hot air pipes. How pale our new chums of the depot looked, in contrast to our faces bronzed and lined with exposure to wind and sun. On the morning after our arrival we were treated to a howling snowstorm, and in a brief time the whole prairie was wrapped in its white sheet of virgin snow, which remained until the next spring. In consequence of this our kits, which had been left to the tender mercies of the civilian teamsters, did not arrive until the following week. Such dilapidated-looking scarecrows as we, after a summer's work on the prairie, were hardly fit to be seen amid the smartness and routine of Regina. We found discipline in Regina to be extraordinarily strict, and the riding-school was utilized to its full extent. Our new adjutant had been in the 3rd Hussars, and our rough-riding sergeant in the 9th Lancers. This latter humorist hailed us as "the cowboy troop," owing to our seat in the saddle having been adapted to the exigences of long rides daily on the prairie. Moreover, the red book distinctly states that a Mounted Infantryman should be allowed to adopt that seat which suits him best; it is impossible to sit in a stiff regulation manner out here. Ex-cavalrymen who have been out on the plains acknowledge it, but this genius of the manage had not left the barrack square since he landed. Drills and rides, rides and drills, was the everlasting programme for the winter. Long service men and recruits were kept hammering away with strict impartiality.

In the early part of December our troop was given a banquet by the buxom proprietress of the Windsor Hotel. Everything went off splendidly. Every night, by the commissioner's permission, a sleigh left barracks for town at 6.30 and returned at 9. We thus were saved a walk of five miles in our jaunts to the metropolis. What merry parties there were on the return journey ; songs would be sung all the way to barracks —the great plain lying white as burnished silver under the splendour of the moonlight.

On the 20th of December I was promoted to the rank of corporal, a slight step which carried no mean weight of responsibility in this corps. On New Year's Eve "B" troop gave a ball which was the event of the season; and 1886 was sent away to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne."

1887.—January 29th, the worst blizzard ever known to have visited the Territory since the advent of settle-incnt swept across the plains. It continued for forty-eight hours, and the Canadian Pacific train—called the Pacific "express" on the lucus a non lacendo principle, —was unable to pass Regina. There were many deaths and casualties. On this occasion the thermometer registered minus 37° and the wind blew a hurricane, whirling the ice powder in a deathly density. This penetrates through every crevice, and covers beds and furniture with a robe of white.

Spring struggled into existence in 1887 after many a skirmish with the retreating winter. Muddy ponds, half ice and half water, stood with frothy surface all around the barracks, and caused much strong language on the score of polished boots prematurely spoiled ; for we were incessantly at work, practising vedette duty and scouting. We had field movements and sham fights on the prairie, and lectures on tactics in the drill-hall attached to the riding-school. Squads were formed also for instruction in signalling.

The Blood Indians have a magnificent reserve on the fertile banks of the Belly and St. Mary Rivers, far away in the extreme south-west corner of the Territories, in Alberta. They are a race splendid in physique, and the strongest in numbers of any of the Blackfeet nation. The number of the tribe, as laid down upon the police map, is 2240. A number of their young braves, anxious to distinguish themselves and tired of being kept upon their reserve, made a dash upon Medicine Hat. This is fully 120 miles from the St. Mary River, and numerous rugged couldes lie between. And it must be understood that no Indian is permitted to leave his reserve without a pass signed by the agent, and this is not given unless some valid reason is assigned. Another group of feathered and painted warriors made a razzia on the South Piegans in Montana, and lifted a considerable number of horses from the latter tribe. In consequence of these disturbances, reinforcements were sent to Fort Macleod.

At the end of April a sergeant and nine men of our troop were sent to Buffalo Lake, a pretty sheet of water north of Moosejaw, to intercept and turn back several lodges of Crees, who were reported to have left Pieapot's reserve. Our men discovered the deserters in a wooded ravine, and escorted them on their homeward journey. It is tedious and unpleasant work doing guard over travelling redskins, who are worse than Government mules for obstinacy. They will only move when they choose, and will only proceed a certain distance at their own pace. They throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of progress, and you are not allowed to use force, except on rare occasions. If you have not waggons to hold them, you cannot help yourself. It was once my misfortune to form one of an escort over thirteen Assiniboines, horse-thieves ; they were anything but agreeable com-pagnons de voyage. You must never so far forget yourself as to go to leeward of them if you can help it. All their petty prejudices have to be considered. An Indian considers it the deepest disgrace to be deprived of his long hair. Consequently there is a very strict order against cutting the streaming locks of Indian prisoners, although they are thickets for the shelter of a certain species of live stock. I have accompanied various small groups of the aborigines, but it has never been my fortune to witness the march of an entire tribe. The following description of the movement of Poundmaker's people during the rebellion is taken from the Montreal Star:—

"As the (captured transport) train approached the Indian camp, squaws and toddling papooses poured out from every teepe, and advanced with cheers of joy to greet the returning braves. The females, at sight of the prisoners, were especially boisterous, and shouted to the braves to put them to death. (Through the jeering, howling, yelling mass, the frightened drivers were hustled, every moment expecting to be struck down from behind. Finally they were conducted to a ravine close to the camp, and after receiving a parting shout from the ugly squaws, they were left to their own reflections. A strong guard surrounded them, precluding all possibility of escape. The Indians held a formal council to discuss the propriety of shooting the teamsters, but decided not to do so. Shortly afterwards Poundmaker put in an appearance in the ravine. After shaking hands with each man in turn, the redoubtable chief assured them, through a half-breed interpreter, that their lives would be spared. He added that he was aware there was a Manitou above, and that he could not permit them to be slain without cause. Poundmaker then left, and shortly afterwards the Indians struck camp. Teepe poles were thrown down in a twinkling by the squaws, who, assisted by the young boys and girls, rapidly packed everything away in carts and waggons already in line for the start. Bucks lolled around, whiffing 'Kinneekinick' from long-stemmed pipes, or attending to the trappings of their horses, while youngsters, scarcely able to crawl about drove in the cattle. Finally a start was made, and preceded by twenty five or thirty scouts riding a mile ahead, the disorganized mob moved eastwards on their way to reinforce Riel. Instead of proceeding in column, the Indians moved along in extended order, leaving a trail behind them over two miles wide. First came about three hundred and sixty war-painted braves, mounted on wiry ponies, or on the more powerful animals stolen in the early raids. Next came Red River carts, waggons, and every other variety of vehicle ever manufactured. Each was loaded with plunder or teepe poles, while perched on top were seated old men, armed with bows and arrows. Behind followed a chaotic mass of waggons and carts, surrounded by lowing cattle and little boys on foot. Other Indian lads added to the grotesqueness of the scene, and, mounted on young colts, kept up to the moving outfit. Further in rear, at distance of half a mile, came other herds of cattle, while bringing up the whole came another herd of horses. Young girls and squaws were mounted, several of the females riding along on oxen. In this manner the followers of Poundmaker covered three miles an hour with ease."

While I am writing on the subject of Indians I may as well mention a few details, in parenthesis, which have been suggested by the foregoing. "Kinneekinick," is the dried bark of the red-willow, which is chopped up into small pieces and mixed with tobacco. Some white men affect to like it, but to my palate it is tasteless. The Indian worships two Manitous: the Good Spirit, and the Evil Spirit. He holds the Manichean doctrine that both are equally powerful. The evil god is to be propitiated. The Great Spirit is all good. He even ministers to your appetites, and he dwells in lonely lakes, in silent forests, and in weirdly-shaped rocks.

The Indian is very fond of shaking hands with white men. If one solitary redskin meets twenty police, he must shake hands with every individual. When the pipe of peace is smoked, it is strict etiquette to pass it with the right hand. It is not at all a pleasant ceremony, but it is not much more disgusting than the loving cup at Guildhall banquets. A squaw very soon loses the bloom and freshness of youth, and becomes wrinkled and aged. They are very coquettish damsels. One of our scouts married a Sioux, and brought her to Regina, She was not long in taking to oriental vanities, and shone forth in all the splendour of high-heeled boots silk costume, dress improver, and an immense hat of brilliant plumage. She also affected English, " as she is spoke," with horrifying effect upon her white sisters, as she indulged freely in several camp expressions which are not considered parliamentary in polite society.

Every Indian carries his "medicine" or charm about his person. For this he retires into the wilderness, where the Manitou reveals to him what it must be. It may be a piece of deerskin, or a pebble, or a twig. Whatever it is, is known to him alone, and henceforth it becomes a part of his life. If he is unlucky in his undertakings, it is "bad medicine."

On April 27th, a party of police, under Sergeant Spicer, were fired on by either Bloods or Piegans, in the Cypress Hills, and some freighters received a shower of bullets on the 29th near Kipp's Coulde, a considerable distance from the former place. The Blackfeet were also restless. Crowfoot, the chief of the Blackfeet, is a very loyal and truthful man, but he confessed himself unable to restrain the roving propensities of his young braves.

The Kootenay Indians, in British Columbia, had been attracting some attention, and Major Steele was ordered to move into their country with " D " troop. There are the Upper and Lower Kootenays and Shuswaps among the Rockies, near the frontier of the United States. The Upper Kootenays have their reserve on the north side of St. Mary's River, and at Tobacco Plains. The Lower Kootenays dwell on the Lower Kootenay River, near the Kootenay Lake. The Shuswaps occupy a Reserve at the Columbia Lakes. The Upper Kootenays and Shuswaps are horse Indians, the Lower Kootenays use canoes. The British Columbian whites in this district had been thrown into a state of alarm during the preceding winter by the action of Isadore, head chief of the Upper Kootenays. He had forcibly released from gaol an Indian, named Kapla, who had been arrested by Provincial Commissioner Anderson.

On the arrival of "D" Troop, there was no further trouble, and special commissioners were sent to inquire into the Indian grievances. Major Steele in his report says:—" The Indians here are more industrious and moral than any in the north-west, except perhaps, the Mountain Stonies."

On the 1st of May we were still in Regina, and the weather was gloriously bright and warm. The authorities seemed to be holding "B" Troop in readiness, in case anything of consequence occurred in the west. Mounted parades, drills, and carbine practice, filled up the day-time, and at night we played cricket or walked to town.

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