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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West

It is quite a fashionable trip in the tourist season now, to travel from Montreal to Vancouver via the Canadian Pacific Railway ; to gaze at the glaciers of the Rockies and the peaks of the Selkirk range ; and perhaps take a run across the Sound to the very English-looking city of Victoria. The majority journey by the beaten track, and their scope of vision is limited by the plate-glass windows of a cosy saloon carriage, or the carved verandah of some Western caravanserai. Many are keen observers and pleasant raconteurs of what has actually come within their field of view ; while others, from certain motives, suffer strongly from a self-inflicted strabismus. These former are mostly personal friends of the Governor-General of Canada, while very many more are temporary guests of the mighty potentates who control the destinies of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The tribe of journalistic. globe-trotters are special favourites, so long as, by vivid word-painting and artistic pencil, they set forth the wondrous glories of the great North-West.

These chosen of the gods are billeted in luxurious Pulman cars ; the perfect service of the dining-car causes all outward things to be suffused with a rosy light, and unbounded courtesy meets them at every turn. There are even bath-rooms on these trains, and whenever the illustrious stranger pleases to alight at any of the mushroom prairie cities, every official connected with the immense bureaucracy which governs the North-West Territory hastens to do him honour, and act as h\s cicerone. So, after having been transported across these limitless plains in palaces on bogies, and having been feted at every halting-place en route, they hie them back and add their testimony to the magnificence of the country. No one blames their public-spirited gratitude; but they have seen nothing of what lies behind the scenes, and they really know nothing of the vast stretch of wild and lonesome land beyond. For, from the 49th parallel of latitude to the great sub-Arctic forest on the left bank of the North Saskatchewan, ranges a terra incognita only cut by the ribbon-like line of settlement along the track of the C.P.R. Of this, I declare emphatically, these birds of passage have no knowledge. As well might some social Puritan go into a theatre for the first time ; and, having sat through a play in a private box, set up thereafter as an infallible critic of the drama, and an authority on the mysteries of the coulisses. A man may go to Bombay in a P. and O. steamer, and yet know nothing of Madagascar. Yet many of these invited travellers, after their arrowy flight, send forth their impressions of the unknown with as much dogmatic assertion as the Supreme Pontiff has, when dispensing an encyclical urbi et orbi.

I do not think that any one, since Butler wrote his "Great Lone Land" has thrown light on the hidden phases of existence in this vast abode of desolation. The mounted police have been organized since his solitary expedition. Indeed he recommended their formation. Therefore I presume to make a new departure and take my indulgent readers away from the world's highway, into strange tracts and scenes of Western life. I shall follow no systematic plan, but simply, in the order they befell, present the things I saw.

They are but the random recollections of a soldier, who had little or no opportunity of taking notes, when in weary bivouac under the comfortless summer's heat, or in icy winter camp. And if the tablets of my memory in places grow but dim, I may call in the aid of other authorities, always being careful to acknowledge my indebtedness.

The Indian teepee; the scattered tents of the mounted police; or, perhaps, the log-house or sod shanty of some adventurous pioneer, are the only vestiges of human life out in these mighty solitudes. There is the hush of an eternal silence hanging over the far-stretching plains. In early summer, for a brief space, the prairie is green, with shooting threads of gold, and scarlet, and blue, while the odour of wolf-willow and wild-rose floats through the clear air. But, by-and-by, the sun gains power, and scorches, and withers, with a furnace heat ; and through the shimmering haze the grass lies grey and dead. And, under the merciless glare, a great silence broods over all. Is it a wonder that the lonely savage hears the voice of the Manitou in every breath of air in this weird, still desert? No tree nor bush relieves the aching eye; there is nothing but the dim, fading ring of the horizon 'all around. It is truly a strange, haunting silence;—a hush that may be felt. In winter it is more awful still, covered with one unbroken mantle of pure white; and stream and sleugh, pond and lake, are locked in the stern grasp of ice. The starved coyote prowls through the wilderness, and the howling, deathly blizzard revels in demon riot. No buffalo roam these mighty pastures now, a few deer and prairie chicken, and wild duck are all the game

There is a terrible monotony and sameness in the aspect of this "Great American Desert," as the old maps styled it. You may blindfold a man in places, and take him to another spot 100 miles away; when, on removing his bandage, I would wager he would think he had simply travelled round to his starting-point. But I shall have plenty of opportunity in the course of my narrative to illustrate the scenery through which we pass.

I left Liverpool in the month of April, 1884, by the Dominion Liner Sarnia; with no very definite idea as to where my zigzag wanderings would end. On board, there were the usual samples of migratory bipeds, of the human species, that one comes across on an out-going Atlantic steamer.

I heard a good deal regarding Manitoba and the North-West from my compagnons de voyage, a few of whom were going out as "premiumed pupils" to farmers. They occasionally produced some extraordinary agreement, which they afterwards found not to be worth the paper upon which it was written, in spite of the penny receipt stamp. I will give the subsequent history of some of these amateur husbandmen, for which I can vouch. I think it will be interesting, and may act as a warning to the gullible. In these pages I shall abstain from all comment when possible, merely stating facts, leaving others to draw the moral.

One was an ex-sergeant of the 9th Lancers, just back from India, after completing his term of service. When he arrived at the rendezvous, Brandon Hills, Manitoba, he was given a potato-shed in which to sleep, by the bucolic professor to whom he was consigned. He forthwith returned to his native county of Banff, sadder and wiser. I believe he, in his righteous wrath, fell foul of the advertising genius who had induced him to emigrate, and the demand for pupils suddenly ceased.

Another example—son of an ex-colonel of the line, joined the mounted police' shortly after I did. When I left, he was bugler in A troop.

A third (who displayed most wisdom) went at once from Montreal by a rapid train through the state of Vermont to New York ; and having succeeded in catching that Guion greyhound, the Alaska, made a bee-line to Liverpool again.

Two more, with money and brains in an inverse ratio, were pounced upon by the Manitoba representative of "the firm" as very convenient pigeons to pluck, and domesticated with his own saintly family. He was a minister of the gospel, I regret to say. The last time I saw them, they were driving commissariat teams with General Middleton's column, when he relieved us at Prince Albert during the rebellion of 1885.

There was also a son of a Northumbrian vicar, whom I know; he obtained uncongenial employment, near Winnipeg, hoeing potatoes at fifty cents per diem.

At night, when we of the second class gathered together for our tabak-parlement, I had the wonders of the promised land so hammered into me (by these gentlemen who had never been there) that I determined to explore this " wheat-growing oasis" myself. It was here also that I heard first tidings of the corps in which I was afterwards destined to have the honour to serve.

At length, travelling by way of Toronto, Owen Sound, on and across the big lakes by the magnificent new AIgoma to Port Arthur, I reached Brandon in the middle of May. I hired myself to a farmer, seven miles south-east of the city in the most fertile part of the province. After a few months' trial of the practical teaching of the delights of Virgil's Georgics, I found that the pursuit of husbandry was much too slow for inc. So I left the log shanty in the Brandon Hills, one sunny afternoon about the end of August, and betook myself to town.

A day or two afterwards, I was wandering along Rosser Avenue, when I suddenly saw approaching the lithe figure of a scarlet-clad warrior. A cavalry forage cap " on three hairs," two gold-lace chevrons on the arm, a pair of dark-blue riding pants with yellow stripes, long boots faultlessly clean, burnished spurs, a silver-mounted whip and white gauntlets, completed his dress. There was no mistaking the lounging swing and swagger of the " regular.'" Now, I have a tolerable acquaintance with the Army List, and an average knowledge of the distribution of her Majesty's forces. So I could not make him out. My highly intelligent " boss" out at the farm had informed me, in answer to my inquiries, that the mounted police, in the territories, were clad in " anything and a slouch hat," and he also confided to me that he guessed they were " hard seeds." It was not till later, that the Manitoba Government had to ask for the services of these "Hard seeds" to clear their province of horse-thieves, when desperadoes were brandishing revolvers in the streets of Deloraine. This smart cavalryman was quite a conundrum to me. Having served in a cavalry corps at home, my heart warmed to him at once, and I crossed over, saying with Western freedom, "Excuse me, old man, what regiment do you belong to?"

"I belong to the North-West Mounted Police," replied the corporal, smiling.

There was very little either of the half-breed or the "hard seed" about him ; and, after some talk, we entered the Grand View Hotel—the best in the city— where he was staying, and over some liquid refreshment exchanged experiences. He was a very gentlemanly fellow, and at one time had held a commission in a Lincolnshire volunteer corps. He was enjoying the mild pleasures of Brandon, on a few days' leave. There is no freemasonry in the world equal to that which exists among soldiers. We were soon immersed in a long talk over " the service," and it ended in my forming the resolution to proceed to Winnipeg, and, if possible, become one of "The Riders of the Plains."

I had experienced quite enough of clod-breaking. I had broken thirteen acres of virgin prairie with a team of curse-compelling oxen (a newly coined Homeric epithet); I had harrowed and rolled, I had planted potatoes, and made hay; I had hoed wild buckwheat till my spine was bent; and had voted it a fraud. It was "not my forte," I was not cut out for a horny handed husbandman, and, having made up my mind to take a turn at soldiering again, I went down to Winnipeg to try my luck.

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