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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter XXIII

Off 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 coal-fields—Goodbye.

It 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.

On 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 the plateau.

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.

Our 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.

At 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 thatch.

We 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.


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.

In 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 miles.

By rail.......10,461
By water.......900
With horses......3,620
On foot, snowshoes. 200

Total  15,181

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 Moosomin.

But 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.

A 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 cache 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.

So 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.

In 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.

The 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!

As 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.

I 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.

You 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.

We 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.

Our 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 gathering storm.

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.


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.

"It 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 little expenditure.

"Commissioner Htrchmer, considering this such an important district, has a detachment of police stationed here. Corporal Donkin and Constable Stewart represent the red-coats.

"At 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.


The 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.

In 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.

In 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.

And 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.


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