to Wood End—Hill of the Murdered Scout—Crees and Blackfeet—A storm—Long
Creek—A happy valley—Wild fruit—A Helena girl and culture—Patrols—Wild
horses—Wild hops— Prairie fire—Winter-quarters—The Souris
was a pleasant morning when
I bid good-bye to the Souris camp, and set
off for Wood End. In addition to the waggon there were two mounted
constables, the officer and his servant in a buckboard, and myself. In
this country it is necessary to travel with wheeled transport, as you
must carry all the requisites for camp-life. At noon we halted by a
sluggish creek at the base of the Hill of the Murdered Scout. The grass
was luxuriant in the hollow, and the heat was intense. In the days when
warfare raged between the redskin tribes upon the plains, an Indian
scout was killed here by the Sioux. Their country—the land of the
Dacotahs—lay to the south and east. To the north was the nation of the
Crees; and away to the west roved the restless hordes of the Blackfeet,
magnificent horsemen and daring warriors. The buffalo in countless herds
roamed the wild prairie from the Missouri to the Saskatchewan. He
furnished the red-man with robes to protect him from the winter cold,
and with skins for his teepe. The flesh was bruised, and dried in the
sun, and placed in bags, as pemmican.
When the pale faces came from the land of the rising sun, these children
of freedom found a ready market for the hide of the shaggy bison of the
plains. So he was hunted by whole armies of painted braves, who hovered
around the thundering phalanx, riding on flanks and rear and sending the
unerring arrow quivering in the giant's flesh. And this whole region was
one vast slaughterhouse. The squaws had many beads and gaudy blankets,
and the men obtained rifles and fire-water.
the summit of this lonely mountain which stands sentinel over the
engirdling plain, is seen the outline of a recumbent figure. It is the
natural contour of the hill, and probably from it has arisen the tale of
the murdered spy, for it is a peculiarity of the redskin mind to hitch
on a fable to any strange phenomenon of nature. In the evening we
reached the springs. These wells were called the "'74 springs;" they
were made by the mounted police in their celebrated march from Fort
Garry to the Rocky Mountains. The officer's tent was pitched at some
distance from ours, and our horses were picketed in different places on
About one o'clock in the morning a tornado, with thunder and lightning,
visited our exposed camp. The rain came down in bucketfuls, and there
was no more rest for us. We were compelled to rise and roll up our
blankets, and hold on to the pole and skirts of the tent to prevent it
being blown away. The level space outside was soon changed into a lake,
and at every flash we could see our poor horses standing in this sheet
of water with their backs humped up, and turned towards the pitiless
storm. Morning brought no improvement. Every inch of the horizon was
walled in with black masses of loaded clouds.
breakfast and dinner consisted of soaked biscuit, nothing else.
Everything was saturated with wet. There was no appearance of any break
at one o'clock; so it was decided we should resume our march. We struck
camp, loaded the waggon, and saddled our shivering horses, in the
downpour and terrible wind. We pushed on with bent head, over the black
plain, and down into the abyss through which rush the arrowy waters of
Short Creek. We luckily managed to ford the foaming torrent without any
accident. Great cliffs, gaunt and rugged, frowned down on the canyon, as
our little band climbed up the zigzag trail to the prairie on the other
side. The wilderness stretched before us ;—that desert of the sunset
land spreading to the we^t, where the snow-clad sierras lift their
summits through the clouds. A driving hailstorm, of stones like pebbles,
with awfully near lightning, nearly drove us from the saddle.
last, during a lull in the wild storm, we could see far beneath our
feet, on a lovely lawn, the tiny tents of the camp on Long Creek. There
is here a riven chasm as if the Great Prairie had been burst asunder,
and the deep waters of the creek flow through a belt of bush at the base
of this rugged fissure, here wide enough to leave swards of level grass.
In this happy valley is the station of Wood End. We went down a
breakneck declivity, and I was put up in the sergeant's tent. There was
a beaver dam at the bend, which made a magnificent pool for bathing, and
a wooden pier ran out towards the centre. There was a large square tent
for stores, and a mess-room with kitchen, built of poles, with a roof of
obtained fish from the creek, the patrols often brought in a supply of
venison, and for a time we enjoyed saskatoon berries in abundance, a
delicious fruit eaten with cream and sugar. Wild strawberries, too, are
plentiful on the prairie. Every day we were served with some sort of
pudding, and we always had beef three times a day. Of course, when out
on patrol we did not fare so well. When I arrived, the detachment was
engaged in putting up a sod house, thirty feet by eighteen feet, to be
occupied as a barrack-room. It was completed in August, and was a
welcome addition to our comfort in the autumn. It was constructed
entirely by our own labour, the Government only paying for doors and
windows and flooring. Fatigue duty is very heavy in the North-West
Mounted Police, as everything has to be undertaken by the men
themselves. A carpenter, blacksmith, baker, saddler, and tailor are
attached to each troop, and receive extra pay.
1800's OLD WEST SOD HOUSES
Life at this camp was very pleasant, though the wearing isolation was
sometimes trying. Here we were entirely out of the world, beyond the
outposts of Canadian settlement. Fort Buford was eighty miles away
across the frontier. The Northern Pacific were extending their line this
summer to Helena, in Montana. Numbers of settlers from the Territory
took their teams over, to secure the high wages paid in the work of
construction. On returning, they invariably attempted to smuggle some
stock across the boundary.
Society, among our neighbours over the way, was in a very crude state.
Tradition says that a Helena girl was once asked by a Boston young lady,
if they had any culture out West.
"Culture!" she replied, "you bet your variegated socks! We can sling
more culture to the square inch than they can in any camp in America.
Culture! Just loosen my corset, till I smile!"
There was no house to the west of Wood End nearer than Willow Bunch, a
distance of two hundred miles. A patrol was despatched weekly in this
direction, leaving camp every Monday, and returning on the following
Saturday. Buffalo Head, where we met the Willow Bunch party, was ninety
miles to the west, and we traversed a great desert of withered grass,
cactus plants, wild sage, and alkaline lakes. Our route followed the
boundary-line for fifteen miles, and then trended in a northerly
direction. The place of rendezvous was simply a buffalo skull placed
upon a pile of stones. We reached this spot on the Wednesday afternoon,
leaving it again on the Thursday morning. Those dreary marches, in all
weathers, were hideous in their monotony. We generally made our
camping-place about five in the evening, and pitched our tents by the
edge of some creek or sleugh. Then there was nothing to do but lie down,
and smoke, and dream of home, or read. There was no game to stalk on
these journeys. Sometimes we shot a deer, and in the fall we secured
plenty of duck and chicken. We used to picket the horses in front of the
tent, so that we could keep an eye upon them. I never bothered to post a
sentry over the camp. A band of wild horses used to haunt some low
hills, where we generally halted on our first night out. Thus the place
received the name ofthe "Wild Horse Buttes." Sometimes we tried to
disable one of these nomads by a bullet; but it was hopeless. They were
too many for us. When we heard that we should have to hand any captives
over to the Government, we gave up the chase. In these long rides my
party only once came across any human beings. These were a party of
trappers encamped at the second crossing of Long Creek, and they had
killed a quantity of beaver. A beaver skin is valued at three dollars,
but here they are not of such good quality as up in the north. The
nearer the south, the lighter in colour do they become.
August I sent in an application for my discharge by purchase. Only three
men per month were permitted to go by this method, and sometimes it was
necessary to wait for eighteen months, unless you possessed political
influence, and could work the ropes at Ottawa.
Many grew tired of waiting and took, what is vulgarly termed, French
leave. To procure your discharge by purchase, you must pay three dollars
for every unexpired month of your term of service.
This is a life as hard and lonely as that of a castaway, at times. It
seems to take the spirit out of you, and ages you before your time. My
readers will naturally imagine that men went in, vigorously, for all
sorts of sport. This is not so. There is no sport of a sufficiently
exciting character to be obtained. We occasionally indulged in a rifle
match, among ourselves. But gambling and card-playing, in the tents,
went on amain.
Colonel Herchmer inspected the detachment in September. He was brother
to the comniissToner, and held the post of assistant
commissioner. An excellent officer in every way, he was keenly alive to
the interests of the men under his command. He first came to the
North-West with the Red River Expedition. In connection with his duties
as assistant commissioner, in 1887 he travelled the following number of
On foot, snowshoes. 200
From the middle of the month of September till the end of October we had
superb weather for six weeks in succession, with very slight cold. A
magic glamour seemed to lie on all the land ; the glistening pride of
the sparkling creek, the hushed twitter of the birds, and the beauteous
tints of the leaves all bronzed and scarlet and olive filled in the
details of the landscape. Wild plums and cherries were plentiful in the
woods, and wild hops thick in every brake. These latter could have been
sold for eighty cents (three shillings and fourpence) per pound in
pleasant weather has an end, like everything else, and I was in charge
of the Buffalo Head patrol at the ending. On the Thursday night of our
return journey we went under our blankets with the cosy assurance of an
agreeable finish to our trip. On the morning as I gazed out, our dreams
had vanished. A blinding snowstorm was drifting over everything. There
was no help for it but to push on to our next camping-place. Breakfast
and dinner were out of the question, so we munched our soddened biscuit
in morose silence. I lay down under my blankets in the wet tent, on the
sloppy ground, supperless at five o'clock in the evening.
devastating prairie fire was raging when we started out on this patrol,
far away to the west. When we were camped at the third crossing on our
outward voyage, we were obliged to strike our tent at midnight, and ride
through it. We had been warned of its approach, by hearing its distant
roar, as we lay on the ground. It was a magnificent spectacle in the
dark. No pyrotechnic display could equal this effort of nature. The
reader must understand that the grass is short, and, in a calm, the fire
burns in a thin line of a few inches in width which you can step over.
It is like a row of advancing footlights, winding and twisting in a
dance of flickering tongues of flame. The hills of the Grand Coteau du
Missouri were on fire, and seemed like some fabled city of the gods,
illuminated with myriads of lamps, towering into heaven. When we had
passed through the luminous ring, the darkness in front was intense. At
our feet the ground was blackened, and charred, and the trail was lost.
The dust was sent flying by our horses' feet, and our faces in the
daylight would have fitted us to perform in the most select troupe of
nigger minstrels. To-night we had to trust implicitly to the instinct of
our horses, and we trotted along with a loose rein. After travelling for
twelve miles, they turned to the right suddenly where a sheet of water
lay shining under the stars. This was known as the Duck Pond, and was a
camping-place where we kept a
of wood. We were always obliged to carry firewood with us on patrol. We
soon had our canvas up once more, and after some hot coffee, took to our
hard couch again and the unfailing pipe.
the Indian summer wrapped in its regal robes had given way to the first
snap of the coming winter. We were anxiously awaiting the summons to
snug quarters. The creek rapidly became coated with ice, and some of us
enjoyed skating. Buffalo overcoats became a necessity. A rude shelter or
corral had been made of brushwood, and in this the horses were placed at
night. In the daytime they were allowed to roam at large upon the scanty
pasturage, for the prairie fire had not touched us here. The wild geese
had passed, flying overhead on their southern pilgrimage, and the
lonesome lament of the loon had wailed from the marshes. Mallard and
teal, frozen out, had sped to milder lands and water. What little
foliage there was had slowly fluttered earthward. The long sleep of
winter was falling slowly on this western land.
the latter part of November, marching orders came to our shivering
outpost. I was to be stationed at the house of a settler on the Souris
(in the region known as the Coal Fields) with one constable under me,
for the ensuing winter. A sergeant and four men were to be left at
Carlyle, two at Alameda, and a couple at Bois-curvis, the post-office on
the frontier south of Alameda. Many a camp-ditty and negro melody
sounded through the valley on the receipt of this joyful intelligence.
On the following morning, breakfast of strong coffee, meat, and bread
was hastily devoured by the light of candles stuck in forked sticks.
Many lanterns went flashing about in the struggling dawn.
"Tom, you've got my head-collar."
"Your head-collar be blowed! Don't I know my own number?"
"Has any one seen my head-rope?"
"Bill, lend me your hoof-pick."
"Stop that chewing the rag there!" sang out the voice of authority, "and
look sharp in saddling up."
Amid these amenities, the very horses on the lines were infected with
the spirit of unrest, as if they also knew that they were going to enjoy
the warmth of winter-quarters with clean bedding to lie upon. Men
carrying saddles on their shoulders were hastening to the horse-lines,
while others were pitching baggage and camp equipment into the waggons.
Then the detachments for Carlyle and Alameda moved away. After this the
main body destined for Regina, was formed up, and away went the fur-clad
cavalcade, in the amber morning light. My destination was only thirteen
miles distant on the Alameda trail, and my comrade and myself had been
ordered to wait for the settler's waggon which was to carry our
impedimenta to our new quarters. He arrived
about eleven o'clock, and I rode on ahead, telling S-to follow on in
rear in case of anything falling off. We had borrowed sundry articles of
furniture from the officer's hut.
sun was shining brightly as I cantered off. I had been given a new
mount, and Chocolate George now cut his capers in front of the
Inspector's buckboard. "Bummer," as my latest trooper was called, was a
little bay broncho with white points. He was a game little fellow, and
many a lonely winter's ride we had together over the plains. You could
rein him by the neck, or you could turn him in a circle with either leg.
If he were at full gallop he would stop if you dropped the reins. His
head was pretty as a deer's, and he was intelligent and docile to
perfection. He used to lift his foreleg the moment you asked him to
shake hands, and no distance, and no continued hard riding, would play
him out; after a rest he would start again as fresh as ever. Poor little
Bummer, where are you now ? Have you been cast" I wonder, and sold to
some sordid mossback ? Or has your brave little heart given way at last,
and do your bones bleach on those great dreary plains you knew so well,
and has your flesh formed food for the cowardly coyotes ? Wherever you
may be, Waes hael!
I rode along, the Souris—into which Long Creek empties two miles from
Wood End,—too large and rapid for the frost as yet, babbled and rushed
over its rocky bed. The air—so dry, and sparkling like champagne, on the
prairies—was mild to-day, yet bracing, as it often is in the fall. The
peaceful slumber of the dying year lay upon rock and valley. A haze of
filmy gold softly veiled the tranced scene. A covey of prairie chicken,
with startled whirr, flew into a clump of birch-trees. A solitary
prairie wolf (larger than the coyote) stole across the trail, and a
black-tailed deer bounded into the bushes. It was an exhilarating ride,
and I somehow felt as if I had never thoroughly appreciated the beauty
of these surroundings before. But the fall of the year is the only time
when life is enjoyable out here.
arrived at Hassard's at 1 p.m. and soon had Bummer stabled. The house
stood about two miles from the frontier line on the north side of the
Souris valley, and was posted like a vedette in advance of the army of
settlement. Here savagery and the wilderness began.
might now travel for many days and see no human life. The stable lay at
a little distance from the whitewashed house, and was also built of
logs, against a cut bank, so that the back of the place was of earth.
The roof consisted of hay which could be forked off for use in the
spring. There was also a haystack above the stable on the ground behind.
A deep coulee ran down from the edge of the plain to the Souris, which
took a bend at this point and wended its way through a broad, beautiful
valley, mantled with brushwood and timber. Seams of coal which here crop
to the surface were burning in places along the cliffs, the wreaths of
smoke curling up as from a line of miniature volcanoes. Here the prairie
is so flat, and the descent into the ravine so abrupt, that at the
distance of a mile or two a horseman would never suspect that there was
any depression in front of him. Straight ahead stretched the unbroken
plain, till in the distance the dim outline of the hills of the Missouri
Coteau ran along the sky-line. A few log buildings thatched with straw
or manure, stood a short distance from the dwelling-house, and did duty
as folds for the cattle and sheep. A few head of cattle and some ponies
and sheep grazed peacefully and roamed at large over the extensive
pasture, hundreds of thousands of square miles without a fence.
lived in a small barrack-room attached to the house, taking our meals
with the family, the Government paying one dollar a day for the
maintenance of each man and horse.
host and his family treated us with extreme kindness. We decorated our
room with photographs and books, and hung up our arms. We were snug all
winter. Headquarters was 300 miles off, Carlyle sixty miles. The
sergeant used to make monthly visits with our pay. It was our duty to
keep a general look-out for horse-thieves and contrabandists from Dakota
and Montana, and to collect duty—twenty per cent,
ad valorem—on all stock brought across the
line. The principal trails leading from the above territories converged
upon Short Creek. Alameda was thirty miles distant to the northeast, and
thither one of us had to ride weekly for the mail, over an uninhabited
plain. When the snow lay thick over all the prairie, obliterating every
familiar landmark, this was no light task. You were always liable to be
caught in a blizzard, which means almost certain death. If you are lost
on the plains, when snow is on the ground you can always retrace your
trail, if it
remains calm. But in a blizzard, or even a
breeze, you are done for, when you are "out of sight of land." It is so
very, very easy to get lost. Many a time, when I felt the wind rising,
has Bummer instinctively hurried on, struggling through crusted drifts,
to gain the low rise whence we could see the house. Sometimes he would
sink to his belly, and I had to dismount to let him extricate himself.
It was often a close race between my plucky little horse and the
Time glided away quietly without anything worthy of record, for the days
of the white desperado and the red-man are numbered. In the month of
April, 1888, „ after I had left the service, a notorious horse-thief,
named Mclntyre, was captured in the Cypress Hills with a band of fifty
stolen horses, which he had taken from Fort Shaw. He was sentenced to
fourteen years by Colonel Macleod, C.M.G. (formerly commanding N.W.M.P.),
for bringing stolen property into Canada.
Hassard's coal-mine was in the ravine in front of his house, and he
worked it himself with the assistance of a hired man. Their only
machinery were picks and ordinary felling axes. This coal was really as
good in quality as any I have seen, and it was sold to the settlers at
one dollar a ton. The Dominion Government receives a royalty of ten
cents on every ton excavated. The whole prairie, as far as Wood
Mountain, is traversed by beds of coal. The following article appeared
in the Regina
Leader in February, 1888. It shows that very
few are aware of the mineral wealth which lies hidden in these regions.
The fact of the matter is, the Government, being interested in the Gait
Mines at Lethbridge, do not care to develop the resources of the Souris.
"THE SOURIS COAL-FIELDS.
Valuable Facts about
these rich and Comparatively Unknown Mines. Perpetual Fires Burning.
(From an occasional correspondent.)
"Alameda, January 10th.
"Having paid a recent visit to the Souris River coalfields, I wish to
dissipate a little of the ignorance prevailing regarding these
comparatively little known regions. I never regretted more than at the
present moment that I have not the pen of a ready-writer, in order to
describe in full what I saw, but I shall endeavour to do as well as I
can. On coming across the prairie you suddenly reach the bank of a deep
ravine, all seamed and scarred, rugged and gaunt, red and brown with the
action of fire long ago. Down in this hollow, burrowed under the lofty
bank, Mr. H. Hassard is working his mine. The seam is eight feet in
thickness, and he has made his way inward about 100 feet. The 1 coal is
of excellent quality for domestic purposes, and though soft at first, is
now becoming firm and hard. It burns with a good heat, and is infinitely
superior to the Banff coal. (Banff is in the Rocky Mountains.) Mr.
Hassard has had a mining expert at his pit, and he pronounced the coal
to be Ailignite.
"Recently, I believe, the place has been all life and bustle with
settlers hauling away supplies of the black diamond. Some of them came
from as great a distance as eighty miles. There is no wood to speak of
from Turtle Mountain to the Cypress Hills, except a little, fast
disappearing, on the Souris River. The trail from Alameda to this place
has been cleared of stones, and farmers anticipate being able to haul
coal all winter.
"There is limestone in unlimited quantities all down the valley. Mr. H.
has a kiln, and sells lime at 20 c. per bushel.
seems to me that a thriving settlement will one day spring up around
this nucleus, for there is timber enough on the river to roof houses and
erect outbuildings with, and there is plenty of stone if it be worked.
Sand abounds in plenty.
"One thing, however, catches the eye, and that is an alarming
circumstance when considered in all its bearings. Fires are burning all
over this promising district, eating their insidious way into the bowels
of the earth, and consuming an immensity of coal, besides being
injurious and positively dangerous to the surface. Prairie fires have
frequently originated from this source. Considering how much fuss has
been made about these destructive agents, it seems astonishing the
Government does not take steps to have something done to remove at least
this one cause. I understand the matter was brought before the
North-West Council, with what result I am not aware.
"Another great consideration is that there is abundance of water along
the edge ofthe prairie, and the fires could easily be subdued with
"Commissioner Htrchmer, considering this such an important district, has
a detachment of police stationed here. Corporal Donkin and Constable
Stewart represent the red-coats.
one time I hear that settlers in this region were obliged to sleep under
arms in their stables at night. Owing to the system of patrols
originated by Commissioner Herchmer, and the establishment of winter
detachments, this undesirable state of things has happily passed away.
writer of the above, with true Western gush, has exaggerated matters
when he hints at coals being transported over the prairie in winter. The
idea is ridiculous. No one came, after the snow fell at Christmas. Major
Jarvis ordered me to send in a complete report on this district in
February, and I did so.
March, I was surprised by the advent of an officer, with a constable to
relieve me, bringing the welcome intelligence that the discharge which I
had applied for, during the preceding August, was lying ready for me at
headquarters. I returned with the officer in his sleigh, having handed
over everything in the shape of Government property to my successor. I
was suffering intense agonies from snow blindness, having for the three
previous days in succession been in the saddle on the prairie exposed to
the terrific glare of the reflected sun. We remained one day at Alameda
and I had applications of tea-leaves to my eyes. The pain was almost
beyond endurance at times. When we left for Moosomin, I had to be led to
the sleigh. We reached the latter place in three days from Alameda, and
proceeded to Regina by the morning of the ioth. A board of officers sat
on the 12th, "to verify and record the services, &c.," and in two hours
I had said good-bye to the North-West Mounted Police.
conclusion, I should like to express my thanks to the Comptroller of the
North-West Mounted Police for the blue-books containing the
Commissioner's reports for the years 1886 and 1887, and for the maps,
one of which accompanies this volume.
I must also mention the courtesy of the officials under the High
Commissioner for Canada, in London, who kindly obliged me with the loan
of certain works of reference from the library of the department.