Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Father of St. Kilda
Chapter VII - History of the Settlement - First Impressions - Characteristics of the People


Two years after the death and victory ot General Wolfe at Quebec in 1763, Canada was ceded by the French to the English under the Treaty of Paris, and the French-Canadians became, nominally at least, Englishmen. While Quebec was still being ruled from Paris, a brave Frenchman with a strong taste for rough travel and exploration penetrated as far as Lake Winnipeg and the Red River in 1732. This dauntless and persevering man followed up his first journey by another expedition which opened up to him a species of ranchman’s paradise hitherto unknown to a white man— a level plain of one thousand miles by five hundred, watered by the two great Saskatchewan rivers, and literally covered with wild cattle, quietly feeding on its nutritious grass. The glowing account which he brought back soon aroused the eager interest and enterprise of his wealthier countrymen, and the small trading parties which had hitherto dealt in furs with the Indians on the east main coast resolved themselves into one great combination called the “North-West Company of Montreal” in 1783. This soon became a powerful organisation, employing six thousand men and spreading its sphere of labour from Montreal to the Pacific. It was a formidable opponent to my Company, which had its headquarters in far-off London and depended on the difficult and uncertain Hudson’s Straits for its communication with the shores of the Bay, from which it had not yet penetrated inland more than a few miles. It knew nothing whatever of the Frenchman’s great discovery of a herd that would .supply all the cities of the world with fresh meat for generations, and which was wandering free on the prairie with no owner, no master, no caretaker, not even a “herd loon.” Great success and peace, however, seldom go hand in hand for any length of time. Discord arose in the North-West camp, resulting in the founding of another association called the “X. Y. Company.” With this company, I may note by the way, came the first white bride from Lower Canada in 1806, Marie A. Lasimonier. When 1 went out she was still living at St. Boniface, the only baptised woman in the entire country. Two days after her arrival she stood godmother to no fewer than one hundred French half-breed babies, and she is known to all the young folks as “Ma Marraine” — “my godmother.” Her life story was indeed a stirring one, and included many a thrilling experience of fires, floods, and hair-breadth escapes from Indians, and famous adventures in a buffalo stampede, as well as experiences at the Battle of Seven Oaks.

But to return—quarrels and jealousies soon broke out between the agents of these two rival companies, so lately one, and this state of things naturally afforded an opportunity to my Company to develop its own resources and extend its scope while the others were engaged in the fray. As usual, however, an excessive amount of Scotch caution was shown, and the forward steps were not made till early in 1800. In connection with this development it became necessary to have the Company’s rights distinctly and legally defined. By a charter granted by Charles II. in 1669, the Company had been incorporated and endowed with certain rights and privileges. Its territory, therein described as Rupert’s Land, consisted of the whole region drained by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. Such phraseology of course was merely the result of insufficient geographical knowledge, for much of the water that flows into the Bay comes from far into the heart of the northern United States. With a view to more precise delimitation, the charter was laid before such eminent lawyers as Erskine, Romilly, Scarlett, and Mansfield, and to test the validity of its ownership my Company in 1811 sold to the Earl of Selkirk a vast tract of land, including the ground upon which at this time stands the colony of the Red River Settlement. The price paid has never been disclosed. Probably it was nil—merely a test case. The Earl received full proprietary rights, and on him lay the heavy burden of extinguishing the red man’s title to his country. A convenient means of doing so lay to his hand. As it happened, just at this time a compulsory eviction of the poorer tenantry from the Highland estates of the Duchess of Sutherland was going on. Many of these cottar families had lived — or vegetated—on the land from time immemorial, and the victims of what appeared an unnecessarily harsh mode of procedure were thus compelled to seek new homes. Lord Selkirk visited the parish of Kildonan, where most of the evictions had taken place, and found a ready response to his suggestion of emigration. Within a year from that time a little colony, bearing the well-loved name of Kildonan, had established itself right in the heart of this great continent, far from the tyranny that had desolated the Kildonan at home. They had a hard time of it at first, and were well-nigh as long in the wilderness as the children of Israel. Not all at once did they enter upon the goodness of a land “ flowing with milk and honey,” nor did quails fall from heaven, ready roasted or otherwise, into the mouths of the multitude during these trying years—years of privations so terrible, borne in a manner so heroic that I dare not describe them lest I should be accused of—let us say—patriotism ! They had neither Moses nor Aaron with them through it all, “yet did they not take up the tabernacle of Mcloch and the star of your God Remphar,” but clung with the tenai. ity of their dour race to their own Presbyterian worship. And as a reward, it was not only Caleb and Joshua who saw the promised land, for when I visited them in 1859 I found them living in happiness and contentment !n as well-ordered a parish as exists on this planet, ministered to in spiritual things after their own hearts, with no rent, no taxes, no masters, no Duchesses, I had almost said no equals, since all were superiors, Calebs and Joshuas every one. Her Grace might well have marvelled, had she seen them, at the wonderful power and goodness of God :n bringing to naught the works of earthly tyrants. For surely some special Providence watched over this little flock, preserving them alive through the Arctic cold, through the spite of rival traders, and the enmity of savage tribes. Two rival fur-trading companies were ready to pay the Indians any price for their complete extermination, and these unfortunately did not want much incentive, having taken a notion that these strangers were digging up the bones of their ancestors and raising crops nourished by their marrow. Disastrous floods and plagues of locusts drove them from point to point, but the Indians were their worst foes, and burned their huts to ashes over their heads, killing several of the settlers. The effect of all this was to force them further and further inland and southward, into a more fertile region, where their final settlement might be altogether prosperous.

“Indians are very amiable at a distance,” said one of these settlers to me, “but I defy the Apostles themselves to live near them in those clays and be sure of a to-morrow.”

“If anybody could live near them surely it must have been yourselves,” I said, adding, with some design of testing my worthy Caleb’s general information: “You must have felt like Lord Byron towards his mother” (a subject much in my mind just then).

“Who was he, boy?” asked my friend, adding characteristically, “What did he do?” “The relations between mother and son,” I replied learnedly, “were of such a nature that he refused to go to the funeral of her that brought him into the world, and as soon as the coffin was outside the door he put on his gloves and began to fight.”

“Not to fight, but to dance would have been our choice at their burials,” he replied laconically.

Yet notwithstanding these discouragements the colony was reinforced by another party of emigrants from the Sutherland estates, and a flying visit from their benefactor, Lord Selkirk, set things on a better footing and inaugurated a brighter time. He arranged a treaty of land with the Indians, by whom he was known as the “Silver Chief.” For the consideration of two hundred pounds of tobacco a year the Indian was to cede to him the land from the river bank to “ the greatest distance at which a horse on the level prairie could be distinctly seen or daylight seen under his belly between his legs.” This document was signed b}r five chiefs and five whites. I give the chiefs’ names in full:—Pequis; Onckidoat, Premier; Mache-Wheseab, Le Sonnant; Kayajieske-binoa, L’Homme Noir; Machkadewikonair, La Robe Noire.

The first-named was the only one still surviving on my arrival. He then resided in the vicinity of the fort. He was a little man, now ninety-three years of age and totally blind, with a great voice and a gift of fluent speech, and was always easily persuaded to tell bloodcurdling stories of the past. He had been a friend to the early colony, was quite the Sir Wilfrid Lawson of the district, being a great temperance advocate, though his own eldest son, the “ crown prince,” was frozen to death while resting by the wayside after a little too much of the spirit distilled from molasses. [A fuller account of this chief will be found in a letter of mine to the Canadian Gazette, which is printed in the Appendix (A).]

On 19th June, 1816, a fatal skirmish took place at Seven Oaks between the rival companies, at which Semple, the Governor of my Company, and twenty men were killed. Happily the various companies amalgamated in 1821, and peace reigned. Whether Lord Selkirk’s investment was merely a test sale or not, it is certainly the case that the Company repurchased the entire tract from his heirs for the round sum of ^84,000. Sir George Simpson was appointed Governor of the coalition in 1821, a post he filled with dignity and still retained in 1859. Lower Fort Garry, as I found it in 1859, certainly showed outward signs of future prosperity, however misty its past history might have been. As I climbed to the top of the high river bank I found before me the Stone Fort, so called because its houses and loopholed wall were actually built of stone, and in this were unique in my Company’s vast domain. Its buildings were shops and stores, with dwelling-houses for the Company’s officers and servants. The whole fort was arranged in the form of a parallelogram surrounded by a wall twelve feet high. At each of the four corners was a bastion pierced for guns, like the turrets of the old Scottish embattled castles. As for the tiers of loopholes for musketry which pierced the walls, one wondered whether in case of a siege they would be of more advantage to assailants or defenders. There was one cannon in the fort which looked as old as Mons Meg at Edinburgh Castle, and might have been constructed at the same time by blacksmith Brawny McKinn. At that time the fort was the station at which, during the summer, boat brigades were outfitted for Fort York or other posts inland. Besides, a very large farm had been brought under cultivation in the immediate vicinity. The task of surveying this farm in acres was my test service for the Company. The experiment in agriculture proved most encouraging, and the harvest was everything that could be desired. The golden-tinted wheat, the plump round barley, the capital potatoes and turnips, soon showed the fertile capabilities of the Red River Valley.

The residents in the fort formed a very lively community by themselves. They had regular hours for the dispatch of business, and afterwards, to beguile the tedium of the long sub-Arctic nights, they met together for a few hours’ jollification, when old Scottish songs were sung in voices cracked and sharpened by the cold northern blasts. Materially assisted by French Cognac, Scotch whisky and Old Jamaica, the fun was kept up merrily till some slipped down and retired into a long and peaceful slumber. At these carousals a pint of liquor per head was the allowance; and I, a boy of seventeen, was included among the “heads.” Many a prayer I uttered, fighting against a temptation almost beyond human power to resist, so far from home, so young, and so alone.

The fort stood in the middle of a two-mile reservation on the river bank. Outside of this limit many of the Company’s retired servants had settled, each on the plot of land given him to work and live upon. Among them, too, there were boisterous evenings, for which the fort supplied the material without stint, though in the form of Demerara rum, a coarser beverage than it reserved for its own potations. Superannuation, as Lamb says, sits upon a man in a curious mixture of pleasant ease and irksome ennui. Human nature is terribly lazy—probably laziness is included in “original sin"—but never more so than when a man attempts agriculture after having lived like an Indian for forty or fifty years in the inhospitable far North. My emporium was crowded every day with customers ready to purchase goods for cash, or to barter with their furs and agricultural produce. A record of all articles sold was entered in a sales book.

The currency was sterling, and consisted chiefly of promissory notes issued by my Company, redeemable by bills of exchange granted at sixty days’ sight on the Governor and the Committee of the Company in London. These bore a high premium in the United States. The notes were of two denominations, one pound and five shillings. Besides the notes there was a good deal of English gold and silver in circulation. Even in that remote isolation unexpected evidences of civilisation occasionally met my eyes. At my landing upon the river bank I saw an old Englishman engaged in the proud avocation of collector of customs for the colony. In this exalted capacity he resided here during a certain portion of the year to watch the boats passing in and out and to make certain clearances of a primitive character, the total being £2,000, of which my Company paid about £700. There was no better authority not only on the colony, but on the country, than this aged and respected collector of customs. To him everybody who wanted information had recourse. He told me he came to the country in 1813, and to the then very small and young Scotch colony in 1824 after an abrupt dismissal from the service. He had married two native wives, and had a family of twenty-two children. He was a sort of universal factotum, and acted by turns as catechist, schoolmaster, precentor, farmer, clerk to the Council of Assiniboia, and occasionally when required as administerer of oaths, besides the business already referred to.

The fort, notwithstanding its exceptionally solid limestone construction and its loopholed wall of warlike bastions, used as magazines for the storage of miscellaneous articles, was only a subordinate post. Upper Fort Garry, twenty miles up stream, near the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, was the headquarters of the district. There lay the central point of the Northern Department, and there the Governor of the Territory resided. Our head officer there was a truly excellent man, who had been long in the service of the Company, and had been appointed Governor of Assiniboia the year before, in recognition of his character and worth. A cart trail old as the Pyramids of Egypt ran parallel with the river between these two forts. Travelling on horseback was the only mode of locomotion, except the famous “Red River cart,” made wholly of wood, and the only home manufacture in the colony worthy of special notice. What the birch-bark canoe was in the North, this marvellous native conveyance was here. To construct it, only an axe, saw, drawknife, and screw auger were needed, and it carried one thousand pounds for as many miles. It is designed specially to traverse such enormous stretches of prairie as lie between the fort and the Rocky Mountains.

On the whole, I soon made up my mind that the place was but a bit of the ruder civilisation thrown haphazard into the wilds. One half of the daily sales in my shop consisted of strong drink, and as colder weather and Christmas festivities drew near it amounted to about two-thirds. Probably to those of the Company’s servants who had spent their lives in boats among the Indians in the far North this might seem a paradise regained. Well, whether paradise or no, the place certainly had many unique features. Its very isolation gave it a strong individuality, and it undoubtedly had a unique and peculiar organisation.

Its population consisted of four principal elements :—first, the descendants of the early French traders, or voyageurs, who intermarried with the Indians and were the progenitors of the Metis or Bois-brules. These were settled on both banks of the river from

St. Boniface to the United States boundary, and, although quite without education, were well-mannered and kind and obliging to those who treated them as friends. The second element, akin to the first, was provided by the descendants of the Company’s servants, mostly Scotsmen from Orkney and the other islands who also had married native wives. These were the English-speaking half-breeds, and lived on the lower banks of the Red and Assinnoine Rivers. They appeared to me more docile than the others, and hospitable to a fault. The third element was the Sutherland, Kildonan, and Selkirk colony, who lived in the parish of that name, and were in easy circumstances. The warm, hospitable instincts of their race still lingered in their Scottish bosoms. The fourth group were the Swampy Indians, who had somehow managed to make their way up from the Bay, and settle between Lower Fort Garry and Lake Winnipeg. They too were polite and kind in disposition. Three forms of religion were taught among them: Roman Catholic (Bishop Tache), Episcopalian (Bishop Anderson), and Presbyterian (Rev. John Black). Altogether they numbered about 13,000, of whom 5,500 were French half-breeds.

I might have included as a fifth element a native Indian population of two or three thousand. There were two distinct groups of these, the Ojibway and the Salteaux, ruled over by five chiefs. Both were of course nomadic, but the latter claimed and lived upon the lower part of the river and on Lake Winnipeg, while the former claimed the upper part of the river and the Red Lake, which belongs to the United States, and is separated from British territory only by the precise but intangible boundary line of a parallel of latitude 49. They used to meet in summer at our forts and bask in the sun for months. Their hunting grounds were situated on both territories, and they were often involved in serious hostilities, and not only against each other. They constituted a nondescript and somewhat dangerous class of barbarians, who when pressed by the United States troops sometimes took shelter among our Indians, and, as the population was unarmed, these gatherings of wild, painted tribes caused not a little uneasiness and alarm. The sale of liquor to these Indians was prohibited under penalties of from £5 to £10 for each offence, but notwithstanding this their half-breed kinsmen generally procured all they wanted for them, and the red man of the plains might often be seen lying drunk on the river bank. All attempts to stop such doings proved utterly futile; and drunkenness and disorder, leading to many brawls and stabb1'ng affrays, were all too common.

To save us all, red and white alike, from ourselves, there were no less than ten Roman Catholic, eight Church of England, and four Presbyterian places of worship within the legally defined limits of the colony.

Two Roman Catholic priests arrived in 1818 as pioneers, followed in 1820 by the Rev. J. West, under whose doctrine the Scotch colony worshipped. In my time Drs. Tache and Anderson and the Rev. John Black were the clergymen in charge of the three denominations.

Altogether the community offered a curious mixture of races and languages surely never equalled since the building of Babel and the confusion of tongues. There seemed but little prospect of this heterogeneous collection of humanity, with its various traditions, instincts, temperaments, and beliefs, being brought into line with Christianity. Some of the ceremonies observed by the natives seemed far enough away from both civilisation and religion. One of these, the autumn Dog Feast, was celebrated near the fort in an enclosure of twenty feet square, fenced in with branches of trees, two openings being left for entrance and exit. The ceremony occupied three or four days, during which the enclosures were crowded with savages, sitting side by side to enjoy the sweet canine tit-bit. In the centre were erected two upright poles with large stones at their bases, both coloured red with the blood of the dog sacrifice. After the dead dogs had lain exposed on the stones a short time, the medicine-man began certain ceremonies, unfolding many curious prescriptions of his own from the “sacred bag” meantime to encourage his company, after which the dogs were cut up and served round, each choosing the portion he meant to devour. What would the irate vegetarian say to the man before me holding the tail of the repulsive sacrifice by both hands and savagely picking between the joints with a set of beautiful white teeth, licking the fat from his .lips like honey from the honeycomb, another holding the head and placing the ear between his teeth, cutting it off by the skull, and the whole disappearing down the gulf of the savage’s throat, while a third was busy digging out the eyes and the brain, to eat along with the harder portion of the lean leg? An uncouth and repulsive sight it was, and seemed to me a contused conglomeration of rites, destitute of any meaning or purpose, only possibly to supply a raison d’etre for conjurer and medicine-man. The special object of their office was the solemn act of communion with the dark spirits. To keep it from dying out they initiated novices into the mysteries of their fraternity by a fast of ten days’ duration, and to keep the novice awake while he is dying by inches, the “medicine drum ” does daily service. Besides paying the price of initiation, the candidate must be a man known to the adepts as eligible, and especially gifted with the power of secret-keeping. I have heard it said that Christian ex-conjurers have been known to express an opinion that they had possessed a certain power when pagans which they lost after their baptism.

I give this for what it may be worth. The “medicine-man’s” mixtures of roots were unmistakably highly poisonous, and possessed medicinal virtue. Permanent contortion of the features, the wholesale growth of unnatural hair over the whole surface of the body, the eruption of black blotches on the black skin, and, last, but not least, the causing of abortion in females, are among the effects of their drugs. They have even a theory of sex, and as males are always preferred to females, the latter being accounted burdensome, they diet the mothers with roots and what not.

Many amusing anecdotes were current in the colony of errors made by some of its less educated officers. One sent home for a cloak as a gift for his wife, which, however, appeared in the form of a timepiece. A “clock” had been ordered. On another occasion the Governor, in disallowing an item, told his secretary to “put nothing,” when, in lieu of the twenty articles desired, two hundred came with the ship.

Our officials, when they wished to become Benedicts, often married Indian girls. Many, however, did not care to do so, and would petition the Company to select wives for them and send them out by the next boat. Their wishes were, as a rule, complied with, and the selection was nearly always satisfactory. Among the archives of the Company are found receipts from factors running thus: “Received per Lapwing ]n.r\c Goody, as per invoice, in good trim”; and “Received per Osprey Matilda Timpins, returned per Lapwing as not being in accordance with description contained in invoice.”

One of the unfortunate characteristics of the settlers in the district was the custom of marrying at an excessively early age, with the result that unhappy unions and all their attendant evils were too common. Wilful young people were too often encouraged in their folly by their elders, and it seemed difficult to suggest any remedy for the regrettable state of things that resulted. There seemed no choice but to leave society to work out its own salvation as soon as it recognised its error.

Among the natives women held a position of equality with men, and even received considerable attention from them, sharing their amusements everywhere. Men and women were always seen together. A woman could be or do anything. Social intercourse between the sexes was absolutely unfettered. Boys and girls, youths and maidens, mixed freely. Love-matches were the rule, and I have often seen dusky faces illuminated by “love light.” The young people chose each other, and either of them might take the initiative plunge. Preliminaries being settled, the prospective bridegroom sent a friend to the prospective bride’s father, informing him of his wish to marry the child daughter. Consent followed almost as a matter of course, and the bridegroom then sent a present of a bottle of rum to the bride’s father, and the bargain was fully recognised. An auspicious day was chosen for the marriage, and copious potations being the custom, the festival lasted for weeks on a stretch, with “fiddling and dancing and serving the devil.” For that time at least “they toil not, neither do they spin,” but spend day after day and night after night in a paradise of brawls.

That the native ladies were as a rule attractive, a personal reminiscence will abundantly prove. It is a difficult thing to say just where boyhood and manhood part. There is no strict line of demarcation. But in my own case, and I fancy in most cases, it is marked by the suddenly developed feeling of reverence for womanhood. When a woman ceases to be regarded with carelessness, and the idea of woman in its pomp of loveliness and purity dawns upon the young mind, boyhood has ended for ever, and the gravity of manhood, with all its woes and cares, and all its self-sufiicing and self-respecting views and instincts, has commenced. I remember the day—gtn November, 1859—when this spring was touched !n my humble self. It was a superb summer day, and I was busy behind the counter of my little store. By-and-by the door opened, and three native ladies came 'n. They made themselves very much at home, coming inside the counter as they pleased, the better to examine our new stock of goods, I myself not escaping their keen scrutiny, as part and parcel of the stuff imported from another world. Up and down stairs they flitted, enjoying themselves immensely, chattering gaily in Cree, Salteaux, English, anything. One of the trio, a shade darker in skin than the others, but with exquisite black eyes and the features of a Grecian statue, asked me very politely to go upstairs with her, as she had found a pair of gloves she would like. Soon, amid much innocent laughter and gaiety, I was fitting a glove on her little hand. Heavens ! what a spirit of joy radiated from her eyes ! She was dressed in deep mourning, but there was no trace of gloom in her gay explanation, “I am two-thirds Scotch, you know, and my grandfather is not long dead.” I must have looked my admiration too openly, for she blushed suddenly. Evanescent as the colour was, it was enough, and I realised that she was a woman. 1 never beheld her face again. She went to the Canadas and never returned. But she had opened a new chapter of existence for me, and life was a graver thing thereafter.

Indeed, I saw much to admire in these halfbreed folk as a race. They had much ingenuity, resolution, tolerance, hospitality, discretion, and various other qualities not over-rife on this planet. But as to ethical or intellectual virtue, the habit of right choice in moral or mental questions, the query of the philosophers lies still before us unanswered, Can these things be taught?

After some skirmishes between autumn and winter, snow and frost laid hold of the ground sufficiently to enable the annual northern packet to leave the fort for the northern districts. The first stretch was three hundred and fifty miles over the Lee on Lake Winnipeg to Norway House. The party set out on 10th December, and the means of transit were in the first place sledges, drawn by splendid dogs, and in the second snowshoes. These sledges (of Indian design) were drawn by four dogs to each, and carried a burden of six to seven hundred pounds. With such a load they travelled forty miles a day. The dogs, whose career, poor things, would end tragically at the next autumn dog feast, were yoked in fitting harness, set with little bells, which cheered the flagged spirits of the voyagers with their merry jingle. They traversed the frozen lake in eight days, running at a quick jog-trot from long before daybreak until dusk, when a frozen whitefish, about two pounds in weight, was thrown to each dog and devoured with a voracity only equalled by the devourer’s devourer next year. At the end of the first stage the packet was overhauled and repacked, one portion for the Bay, the other for the Saskatchewan and the far-off Mackenzie districts. For this new sets of packet-bearers travelled eastward, westward, and northward, while the first stage party returned to the fort with the packet from the Bay. Not till the end of the following February did the packet-bearers from west and north reach us overland by Fort Carlton, on the great Saskatchewan River. As for news from the outside world, that was as impossible for us, at least at this season, as from the planet Jupiter.

By the time the first party returned Christmas festivities were in full swing, and dances and entertainments were the order of the day. Not a glance had I to spare, however, for any such, my spare time being all devoted to study, especially to the study of the Indian language. For instruction in this I employed a young half-breed, undertaking to pay him a pint and a half of Demerara rum per week, worth about 4s. 6d., by means of which he might start a ball or dance. All he aimed at was “to make a start,” trusting to other young men to do the same and finish up the quantum. Judging from the amount consumed, the inhabitants must have been positively drenched in liquor.

Amid the festivities a sad and sensational piece of news reached us. The Company had recently established a freighting post some two hundred miles away on United States territory, and had called it Georgetown, in compliment to its governor. The post was in charge of a Scotch half-breed, who had obtained leave to visit the settlement for three very special purposes, viz., in the first place, to share in his native country’s Christmas festivities; in the second, to enjoy a chat with and to console his aged Indian mother ; and last, but not least, to marry and take one of his country’s daughters back with him to his semi-civilised post, in the neighbourhood of that savage warrior “Sitting Bull,” the Sioux Indian chief, on the plains of Minnesota. The bride-elect was likewise a Scotch half-breed, and, to make the tragedy the more touching, it was said that it was a love-match. They had known each other from childhood, and were in the same social position. He had served at many posts in the North, was a first-rate traveller, accustomed from early boyhood to such work. Though intensely attached to las lady-love, he would not marry till he was sure of a commission as trader in the service, a distinction which he was to receive in the early spring. From my fort dogs and men were sent on to meet him and bring him into the colony, but he was too impatient to wait for these, and started over the uninhabited waste prairie with mules and a waggon, a means of conveyance quite inconsistent with the severity of the cold—fifty degrees of frost. But his strong constitution and the object of bis visit made him rash. About fifty miles from our post at Pembina, on the boundary line, he found his party had run short of provisions, and he then volunteered to start to this post alone, with the intention of sending back assistance. He thought of reaching the post at the end of the first day’s travel, but found it impossible and had to take shelter i;i the snow. The succeeding morning he resumed his journey, but alas! in the wrong direction: During the second night he kept running in a circle to preserve the circulation ; but hope appears to have finally deserted him, and having hung a portion of his clothing on a tree to attract the attention of any passers-by, he lay down, and was found with one hand on his heart and the other containing a compass, frozen to death. A severe snowstorm had raged during the nights he had spent on that waste plain fighting for dear life, the thermometer having fallen to forty-five degrees below zero ; while a searching north wind blew mercilessly over the lonely waste, carrying the spirit of the lost traveller into the gloom. At the open mouth of the grave the bride, her petite figure clad in the deepest mourning, was the cynosure of all eyes. Poor thing, it was too much for her, and she was carried away more dead than alive, having only one desire, that of being placed with her lover in the cold frozen grave. My young heart bled for her, and, hidden behind the crowd, found relief in a flood of boyish tears. One more event, and this year of my initiation is closed. The first newspaper ever published in the country was established on 28th December and called “The Nor’-Wester,” the project being carried out by two enterprising Canadians named Buckingham and Caldwell, who had had some experience in connection with the Press in Ontario. The two-sheeted infant appeared once a fortnight, and cost three dollars per annum; its reading matter was dear at three cents.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus