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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter XXI

Wet weather—A sudden order—Off to the Souris— Mud—A caboose—Broadview—A big spill of whisky—Moosomin—The Big Pipestone valley—Indians on the trail—Travoies—A lovely camp — Cannington — Moose Mountain — Game — Carlyle—Indian deserters—The sun dance—Initiation of braves—The Souris—Alameda—The frontier.

I HAVE, I think, mentioned before the suddenness with which movements are decided upon in the N.W.M.P. It was known in May that Major Jarvis and the troop headquarters were to occupy their former station at Wood Mountain. I was detailed to accompany a subaltern officer, who was to command the Moose Mountain district, and the extreme eastern section of the frontier-line.

The morning of Friday, May 13th, broke under a leaden sky, and torrents of rain were falling, as reveille rang across the gloomy square. At breakfast in the mess-room, every one was glum, for we were tired of the perpetual grind of riding-school, drill, parades, stables, and guards, and longed once more for the comparative freedom of duty away out on the plains. We sipped our coffee, and ate our eggs and hash almost in silence, while the rain splashed in the stable-yard without. One corporal wished to wager ten, twenty, or fifty dollars that we should not move out of barracks for another month. As he was vociferating his infallibility of prediction, an officer entered, and we immediately sprang to attention. Beckoning to me, he said,—

"Have your party ready in half an hour to march down to the station, the waggons loaded, and everything complete, parade mounted in the square. The train will be at Regina in half an hour."

This sort of thing must be expected, but no one seems ever to be ready for such an emergency. Brown has his washing out, Jones is up at the hospital, while Robinson is off on pass. I hastened to look up my men, and a nice flutter and hurry there was in the barrack-rooms. The horses had to be saddled, the two transport waggons were to be loaded with supplies of all kinds, including camp equipment; the men to dress in marching order, pack up their kits, roll up their bedding, be in the saddle, on the square, and down at the railway station, all in the brief space of one half-hour ! Any one who knows the amount of a mounted policeman's kit, will appreciate the difficulty. Luckily, the Wood Mountain party were not to leave until the following day, so our comrades came to the front with cheerful alacrity, and willing hands, to help us. Each of us had five different attendants busied in various ways. One was engaged in fixing up a man's accoutrements, another had hurried off to saddle up his horse, a third was employed in rolling up bedding, while a fourth was ramming his kit into its proper receptacle. I was supposed to possess the miraculous properties of Sir Boyle Roche's famous bird, for, in addition to performing all the above duties for myself, I was to watch the loading of the waggons, and check every article off on form No. 12,070, or some such figure. The circumlocution fiend is triumphant in this branch of the Canadian service, and there is a form to be filled in at every turn, in triplicate. At length, with soddened cloak and pulpy helmet, I was at liberty to splash through the lake in front ofthe stables, and mount my trooper, Chocolate George. This was a fine-looking animal, and one of the few remaining Ontario horses. He was always on the dance. A series of musical rides had taken*place in the school since the establishment of the band at headquarters, and this species of dissipation seemed to have imbued him with a frantic desire to excel as a circus horse. Consequently, his chief happiness was in attempting some new ornamental move. If I took him out for exercise alone to town, he must needs "passage" up the street. Fortunately, every one was on parade in time. The major gave us a very short inspection, saying curtly, "March them off, Mr. McGibbon."

We went out of the square at the trot, and away over the soaked and sloppy prairie at the gallop. We were bespattered with mud from head to foot, and the pipeclay from our white helmets came down in a Niagara of dirty water. Our gauntlets were saturated. It was a foretaste of the coming summer's wet. On entering the town, we observed the two box-cars, which were to receive our horses and waggons, standing on the line. These were to be attached to the freight, or luggage-train by which we were to travel to Moosomin. The loading of these cars was not by any means a labour of love in all the rain and mud. We had to take off our juicy gauntlets, and "wire in." The cincha—as the woven horse-hair girth is termed on a Californian saddle—upon one of the saddle horses, slipped back, and he, in consequence, commenced a vigorous course of buck-jumping, and did not cease throwing his heels to heaven until he had sent the saddle flying into a convenient pond, whence it was dragged in anything but a regulation condition. The waggons had all to be taken to pieces, and the component parts and contents lifted into the car. The slimy mud was upon everything. Then the harness and saddlery was piled in. After this the horses had to be marched up the railed-in "shoot," into their compartment. The bronchos went up readily enough, but the Canadian horses seemed to regard it as a species of cunning trap to be obstinately avoided.

But after much tugging in front, and persistent walloping behind, we got them safely housed, and as soon as the doors were fastened, the train made its appearance in the distance, steaming slowly over~ the level prairie. We were a rough-looking lot, streaked with dirt, and plastered with mud. The inspector handed me the men's tickets, which I distributed, and when the train came alongside the platform, we all entered the conductor's caboose. This is a house upon wheels, and is very comfortable. At one end is a cooking-stove and cupboards, and a table. There is an elevated platform where the conductor and brakesman sit when on duty, they can see ahead through small windows above the roof. The body of the car is furnished with cushioned seats along the sides. There was a small lavatory also, where we gladly performed our much-needed ablutions. We carried towels and soap in our haversacks. The private car of the superintendent of the line was also hooked to this freight train, and the officer was invited therein. As we neared Qu'Appelle, he came out and informed me that the above official had kindly consented to allow of a delay of half an hour at this station (formerly Troy), so that the men might have dinner. I was to see to this, for which he gave me the requisite funds, and I had also to take care that the allotted time was not exceeded. On our arrival, a good repast was ready for us at the Queen's Hotel, the conductor having telegraphed ahead. We created some excitement in the quiet village, and many "citizens" asked me if the Indians had broken out anywhere. On our return we made ourselves cosy, and smoked and sang, while the rain pattered against the blurred and streaming windows. Broadview was reached at six o'clock in the evening. The surrounding landscape was almost under water, while the rain continued to pour down with a steady persistency. We here discovered that we should be unable to proceed until the following morning. Our cars were shunted, and we watered and fed our chargers. One man entered the car, and the buckets of water and forage were handed up to him. This is a risky proceeding with strange horses, as they are simply packed loose in the caravan, head to tail. Rooms were engaged for our party, and we took our meals in the refreshment-room. The Pacific express came clanging into the station, and fresh arrivals from England stared wonderingly at us, as we stalked about in rusty spurs, muddy boots, bedraggled cloaks, and dingy helmets. All liquor permits, for the entire Territory are cancelled here, and a good deal of illicit stuff is captured and spilled. An excursion party of Ontario farmers were somewhat astonished at this station in '88, when 700 dollars' worth of whisky was emptied out before their eyes. Broadview is 264 miles west of Winnipeg, and is in the centre of a fairly good farming country. According to the pamphlets, it is a well-laid-out town, and I have no doubt it is—on paper. There are three or four stores, and a handful of houses, which are prettily situated at the head of Wood Lake, and the C.P.R. have workshops here. We set off for Moosomin, on the morning of the 14th at seven o'clock, and passed through a level country sprinkled with birch and poplar bluffs, and drew up at Moosomin at half-past ten. After unloading the cars, putting together the waggons, and taking our horses to water, we went to the hotel for dinner. Lovely clumps of trees, with lakelets gleaming through the foliage, all round this town. There are churches and stores in abundance, and the growth of timber gives Moosomin an advantage over other prairie towns, and saves it from the generally unfinished appearance which distinguishes these rising cities. It is 219 miles west of Winnipeg. We marched out at two in the afternoon, amidst an enthusiastic group of the inhabitants. The corporal in charge of the detachment here had kindly volunteered to saddle Chocolate George for me, while I was engaged in looking after the purchase of some supplies, and this I acquiesced in to my subsequent discomfiture. The trail led through a finely wooded and well settled country. Good frame-houses, neat and brightly painted, characterized all the farms we passed. Lady Cathcart's crofter colony is situated out here. All this air of snug prosperity seemed strange to me, accustomed as I had been to life in the wilderness. This is the most thriving grain-farming country in the Territory, and is conterminous with the western boundary of the province of Manitoba.

My trooper had been in the most exuberant spirits since starting, and in order to allow some of his superfluous joyousness to evaporate, as I was with the advance guard, I gave him his head and myself a little practice in the sword exercise. As I was bending over to a low guard, my saddle turned completely round, and off I went like a bolt from a catapult! My face was almost bare of skin, and I am afraid I was not very grateful for my brother non-commissioned officer's laxity in fixing up my saddle-girth.

Reaching the edge of the lofty cliffs that stand above the Big Pipestone Creek, we made a careful descent into the broad valley, by the rugged trail of stones and yellow mud that turned and twisted among the hanging bushes.

We pitched camp for the night by the side of the swollen stream as the sun was setting.

We were to proceed to the prairie settlement at Carlyle, about eighty miles south of Moosomin, and to pick up a sergeant and five constables, who had been stationed at that outpost during the winter. Thence our march would lie in a south-easterly direction, and a camp was to be established on the Souris, where it crosses the frontier into Dakota. Leaving a detachment at this spot, the officer was to move westward with the rest of his command, following the boundary-line, and set up his head-quarters upon Long Creek, a sluggish stream that winds through the plains to the north of the Missouri Coteau. Our camp upon the Pipestone nestled in a most romantic scene. The towering heights were robed in shaggy woods; and white farm-houses with roofs of red, or brown, peeped out from among the foliage. The vale was cultivated and laid out in fields with snake fences. Our horses were picketed by long ropes attached to iron pins by a ring. These pins were shaped like corkscrews, so that you could wind them into any ground. A broncho, when startled, is apt to draw the straight style of picket-pin. If a horse persistently drags his fastening from the ground, your best plan is to attach the rope to a hopple around one of his fore-feet; as a rule it is fixed around the neck by a loop. A couple of men were told off to look after the horses, dividing the night into two watches. Then the blankets were spread in the tents; and only loud snores, or the puffs of a pipe were heard from beneath the canvas.

A cold and cloudy morning, with occasional showers of snow, ushered in the 15th. We often grumble and growl, in this tight little island of ours, at the fickleness of that arch coquette, spring; but her smiles are never to be depended upon in any climate. Even in the Riviera, a day of genial warmth may be followed by one on which the hideous mistral sends you shivering home. Evidences of prosperity and good farming lay on every side during the first period of the day. But any degree of success, out here in the north-west, is only to be attained by stern determination, and rugged perseverance. The life of a pioneer is lonely and disheartening at first. And let him not hope to win a fortune from the soil. If he make a living, he should rest content. This is, emphatically, a hard land to dwell in; and existence is a struggle. Want of rain may paralyze his efforts one season ; and a blighting frost in August may shatter his hopes the next. And for any one to stake his hopes on grain alone, is utter folly; but if he goes in for mixed farming, he may succeed. The scenery through which we were passing was park-like and dotted with lovely groves of white oak. We entered a bleaker stretch about noon, and lit a fire, on the edge of the little Pipestone, to cook our bacon and boil our water. The surroundings were very bare, and a searching breeze swept down the slopes. The horses were picketed in different places where the feed was good ; and we rigged up a shelter by hanging horse-blankets from the waggons, to windward, behind which we lay upon the grass and smoked or slept. As we were riding down into the hollow, before we halted, I noticed the tops of some teepes peeping above a few bushes upon the opposite hills. I mentioned this casually to the inspector, but he made no reply, as it was not a startling incident. We rested about two hours, and when we resumed our march, these nomad dwellings had disappeared. When we had proceeded a few miles upon the trail, which was now dry and dusty, we came upon a band of Indians moving in extended order across the prairie. They seemed to increase their pace on our approach; but we merely exchanged the usual salutation of "How! How Koola!" and went ahead. Away in front a young brave and a pretty squaw were walking together, evidently bound by that one touch of nature which makes the whole world akin. A few Red River carts contained blankets and sprawling youngsters in rags of gaudy hues. Some pack-horses carried bundles of teepe-poles. The men were mounted, while the women trudged on foot. This is the noble red-man's way. He rides on horseback while the patient squaw shuffles alongside with her papoose strapped to a board behind, like a knapsack. Comic-looking objects are these same papooses, peeping from their dirty swaddling clothes with little black bead-like eyes. A few sick were borne on travoies; which consist of two long poles crossed and attached to the neck of a horse; while the other two ends drag on the ground. Between these two sticks behind the animal's tail a blanket is slung, and in this uncomfortable couch the invalid reclines. It is truly a case of the survival of the fittest.

Towards evening we again entered a lovely country magnificent in rolling woodlands, with the blue range of the Moose Mountains rising behind. We camped in a beautiful glade, with a velvety carpet of bright green ; in the centre sparkled a tiny lake, its limpid waters were tinged with the hues of a blushing rose by the long lines of crimson light flashed from the setting sun. It was a glorious evening, though cold, but we were well sheltered here. The white tents made a picture against the vivid emerald of the boughs, clad in their freshest tints. The birds sang among the leafy branches ; and the gophers scampered off, sitting on their haunches with drooping paws and arch look for one brief moment before making a sudden dive into their burrows. The horses rolled upon the sward, and munched the grass, and the grey smoke of our fire curled up into the magic sunset. I told off the picquet, and after some welcome tea, entered my tent, unrolled my blankets on the clean springy turf and lit the soothing pipe. No one knows the comfort of that good-night pipe, who has not experienced the worry of a trying march, harassed by the weight of responsibility. For be it understood, if anything goes wrong, the full torrent of official wrath falls on the shoulders of the non-com. At this place we were one mile and a half from Cannington, a flourishing English settlement. It is essentially a moneyed, aristocratic colony; in fact the village is a model one. There is a mill, a pretty church, and an excellent hotel, well-furnished, and possessing a most courteous host. It has also a club, a school, and town-hall. Captain Pierce, formerly of the Royal Artillery, is the moving spirit, and holds 2000 acres of land. Things are carried out to such perfection that there is a surpliced choir, and everything has a flavour of home. Flocks of Cotswold and Leicester sheep roam over the green slopes of this undulating country.

When winding our way over an excellent trail through thickets, vocal with the music of birds, it did not need a very strong imagination to make one fancy we were moving through some fine old park in merry England. A flourishing homestead stood on a gentle rise, with barns, and byres, and folds. Sheep and cattle clustered round the out-buildings, some plethoric ducks waddled down to a pond, poultry cackled round the doors, and a group of chubby children gazed in awe as the red-coated soldiers went jingling by. After passing this glimpse of comfort, so painfully suggestive of the dear land across the sea, we faced once more the desolate plains, with lonely, ugly log shanties standing in hideous solitude here and there. A line of bush fringed the base of the Moose Mountains which rose to the right. This range is beautifully varied with wood and water; and there are three Indian reserves in its recesses. The inhabitants are Assiniboines under the three chiefs, Pheasant Rump, Ocean Man, and White Bear. The total population amounts to 311. Elk, deer, partridge, and rabbits are fairly plentiful as yet, the lakes swarm with wild fowl and fish, while prairie chicken and snipe abound on the plains. The view here across the prairie shows a line of thick bush to the left, and in front the everlasting level stretches as far as the eye can reach, till it blends with the horizon.

We arrived at Carlyle about mid-day, and could see the familiar scarlet on some figures moving amongthefew houses while we were some distance off. These were the men of the winter detachment, and they were extremely glad to see us. They occupied a barrack-room attached to the hotel, and took their meals at the table d'hote at Government 'expense. We pitched our row of tents some short way from the village. Carlyle is situated in the centre of a vast flat plain, as 1 have stated, and is the centre of a fairly settled region. I have seen more buildings around a farm-house at home, and yet this bantam hamlet is styled a city. It consists of three or four dwelling-houses, a general store, a blacksmith's shop, and the hotel. One of the houses was built of stone and fancifully decorated. The population were clamouring for railway accommodation; this might be given by the extension of the southern branch of the Canadian Pacific from Deloraine. The only markets for the settlers were at Virden or Moosomin; and the cost of transport to these places was more than the value of the produce. It was mail day at Carlyle, and the place was thronged with people who had come in for their weekly supply of letters and newspapers, which arrive by stage from Moosomin.

There was also a civil trial proceeding, which seemed to excite some interest. The court of justice was an empty log-house, and tobacco-juice was freely squirted on the floor by the mob of settlers who crowded around in patched and seedy garments of homespun. These pioneers often flutter about in rags, and every one wears a battered slouch hat. After a wash and a shave in the barrack-room, the sergeant and I proceeded downstairs to dinner. On regarding my features in a mirror, I found that I resembled a Tonga Islander in full fig, or an urchin after an interview with an irate cat. My face was a mass of scrapes and scratches from my tumble. The morning of the 17th was spent in an inspection of the Carlyle detachment by our commanding officer, in fixing up stores and equipment, and in making arrangements for the ensuing summer. The merchant at Carlyle had obtained the contract for furnishing us with provisions. We were to receive half a ration extra, daily, per man, all through the season's campaign. This would give each individual, per diem 2½ lbs. beef, lbs. bread, 11 lbs. potatoes, and other things in proportion,—an exceedingly liberal allowance,—and I will venture to say no other troops in the world receive so much. Any surplus, at the end of each month, we were at liberty to exchange for luxuries we fancied.

One of the Moosomin detachment came galloping into camp this afternoon, bearing a telegram for our officer, to the effect that nine families of Indians had left the Crooked Lakes Reserves, and that, if we came across them, we were to escort them back. These reserves are four in number, and lie along the right bank of the Qu'Appelle River, which widens into two lakes, bearing the above name, at this point. The chief, Mosquito, holds sway over 136 Indians on the west side. Next comes O'Soup,—a name suggestive of an Irish King—with 345 redskins; and the nine families had deserted from his patriarchal jurisdiction. Alongside the former rules Kakewistahaw, over 170 souls. The reserve of Kakeesheway is to the east, with a population of 427.

It was at once surmised that the parties wanted were those Indians whom we had passed near the Little Pipestone ; and men were at once despatched to watch the various trails. On the 18th, one of the constables returned with, the intelligence that he and his comrade had run the Indians to earth on the trail in the mountain. He had left his companion to hold them there, and had himself ridden in, "with hoof of speed," to report the matter. A party of us were at once ordered off with waggons; but when we conducted the captives to the interpreter's house, on Pheasant Rump's reserve, we found them to be Sioux from Oak Lake, in Manitoba, on their way to the Assiniboine camp at Indian Head, for the annual Sun Dance. We allowed them to proceed on their journey, which they did with much hilarity. The Sioux are not a long-faced race by any means, but are rather jovial and pleasant fellows. One of White Bull's braves used to invariably greet me with the most comic grin, and hearty hand shake ;—a contrast to the frigid hautetir of the dignified savage of romance.

The Sun Dance is a mighty festival, attended with many barbarous ceremonies. A large council lodge is erected, fully 100 feet in diameter. The sides are formed of poles, with boughs of trees interlaced. The roof is constructed in the same manner with strong cross beams. In this place all the tribe and their visitors assemble; the medicine-men are in full uniform, wearing many charms; and the chiefs, councillors, and braves are in all the glory of paint and feathers. The squaws are seated on the ground. Those of the young bucks, who are to be initiated as braves, are stripped of all clothing except a breech-clout. Two parallel incisions are made with a knife in the neighbourhood of each breast, and through the muscles of the chest, thus laid bare, thongs of raw hide are passed. The other ends of these are attached to the beams above. The tom-toms are beaten, there is a wild shouting, the medicine-men vociferate invocations to the Manitou, and a species of fierce frenzy—epidemic in such scenes as these—seizes upon all. The candidate dances in ferocious ecstasy at the extremity of his bonds, and if the sinews of the chest give way and he has borne the torture well, he is forthwith saluted as a brave. If, however, the lariat should break, then it is very "bad medicine " indeed for the unlucky youth. Sometimes the incisions are made in the back. I have seen Indians point to the cicatrices with a glow of pride. They are the badges of their manhood.

On Sunday, May 22nd, our arrangements being completed and our men all gathered together, we resumed our march to the south. A detachment of one corporal and one man who had been stationed at a settler's on the Souris during the winter, were to join us en route. After leaving Carlyle, we had nothing but the prairie before us, with here and there a few scattered homesteads, looking gaunt and depressing amid their bare surroundings. We made a halt at noon by the side of a reed-fringed sleugh. At sunset we reached Alameda, dusty and tired. We had ridden the entire thirty miles at a walk. We were leg-weary and thirsty at the finish. It was this officer's fad to travel at a snail's pace. He had a pleasant theory that a horse was of more value than a man, and he once had the politeness to express this idea aloud before all his command. Unfortunately for the truth of his remark, all men were not of the same value as himself. I found tonight that a thoughtful teamster had brought a keg of cider in his vehicle, and I enjoyed a hearty draught.

Alameda, in spite of its flowery title, consists of a few log shanties stuck here and there about the prairie above the valley of the Souris. There is a frame store, and post-office. The Souris River rises near the Yellow Grass Marsh, south of Regina. It flows in a south-easterly direction at first, to within six miles of the American frontier, thence its course winds away northward to Alameda, where it takes a semicircular curve and enters Dakota. Once in American territory it becomes the Mouse River. After forming the letter U, it sweeps into Manitoba and joins the Assiniboine, not very far from Brandon.

We forded this stream, which brawls and babbles over a pebbly bottom at Alameda. Oak, ash, poplar, elm, and a species of bastard maple ramble over the slopes that run up to the prairie. A fringe of oaks lay between the river and our camp, which soon nestled in a secluded hollow. Caio Moreau, a half-breed and ex-interpreter to the police, was hunting and trapping in the valley. He reported that Gabriel Dumont was among the Metis in the Turtle Mountain district of Dakota, endeavouring to incite them to make a raid into Canada.

The morning of the 23rd was lovely, the river prattled gaily, the dew sparkled on the grass, the birds trilled out their orisons, and a thousand pleasant perfumes floated in the air. We struck camp, and climbed the southern boundary of the valley, on our way to cross the Ox Bow. This is the name given to the stretch of prairie between the two arms of the river, from the peculiar form taken by the windings of the Souris. It is a sparsely settled region. Those who have pitched upon this spot hail for the most part from that abode of pine-trees, rocks, and bears, Manitoulin Island, on Lake Huron. They have chosen the lesser of two evils.

In. the distance, to the south-west, we could see the hazy contour of the low hills—the Grand Coteau du Missouri—blending with the sky. Nearer still rose the lofty ridge of the solitary Hill of the Murdered Scout. A march of five hours brought us to the Souris again at the point where it enters American territory. The trail led through a gully into a lovely vale, still and hushed. Oak and elm trees of vigorous growth spread their shade in dense clusters by the river's side, or stood in pleasant groves in the rich, tall meadow-grass that grew in fragrant richness up to the foot of the hills. It was a charming scene, tinged with the gilding of a summer's afternoon. The trail which was formerly made by the Frontier Delimitation Commission crosses the Souris at this point by a dangerous ford just upon the boundary. This line follows the 49th parallel of north latitude, and is marked by mounds at intervals of half a mile. There was some difficulty in finding a comfortable spot upon which to make our permanent camp for the summer. The commanding officer left it to my judgment, as I was to be in charge, and I pitched upon a small level terrace with the slopes of the valley behind, and about 200 yards from the river in front.

On the morning of the 24th of May, the officer, sergeant, and party set off for Long Creek, and I was left in undisturbed possession of my outpost.

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