Bird-life—Fireflies--Prairie fires—A surprised broncho—Sioux
Indians—Indian treaties—Reserves—Agents—A Sioux beauty —Sweet grass—A
lonely view—Thunderstorms—Hay-Spear grass—Winchester carbines—A mail
through the summer a number of pretty birds filled the woods round the
creek. I am not much of an ornithologist, and therefore cannot describe
all ; but the catbird could be heard mewing among the branches, and the
meadow lark seen soaring aloft. Myriads of fireflies in the hot nights
of July sparkled like a rain of diamonds in the hollow in front of the
prairie fires came so dangerously near that we were compelled to send
and warn the ranchemen at the six-mile coulee, in order that we might
make a combined effort to fight the flames. There was such an amount of
dry undergrowth around our post, that the old fort would most assuredly
have been burnt.
cowboys struck their camp and arrived with their band of horses and
waggons in the evening, just as our herd was being driven through the
creek, and the bugle was sounding "Stables."
possessed one notorious broncho, known as " Sheep," who would
never—well, hardly ever—permit himself to be tied up at night. He was as
wily as a fox, though his meditative eye and classic profile gave him
the guileless aspect of an ancient ewe. Hence his pastoral title. He was
particularly cute this evening when it was most necessary that he should
not be at large, and probably cause a stampede.
guess I'll fix him," said one of our allies.
a few moments a lariat flew spinning through the air, and "Sheep" found
himself fast in the noose, and lying on the ground. His astonishment was
painful, and he spent a restless night in trying to work out the
prairie fire rolled away to the south, and left us undisturbed.
White Bull and his nomad band of Sioux camped on the slopes above the
creek to the west of us, and remained for some time. The Sioux are
refugees from the United States. In their own language, they are the
When this immense territory was purchased from the Hudson Bay Company,
and taken over by the Government, treaties were made with the various
Indian tribes, and certain areas of land set apart for their especial
use, known as reserves. The negotiation and ratification of these
important contracts extended over a number of years, as the noble red
man is no mean diplomat. The basis of these treaties, in addition to the
reserve of land, is an annual payment of five dollars a year to every
man, woman, and child in the various tribes, with an additional sum for
the chiefs and councillors. This money is paid annually in the autumn.
The representatives of the Government are escorted by mounted police.
The entire North-West is divided into Indian districts, each of which is
under the supervision of an agent, who again is responsible to the
Indian Department at Regina, controlled by the Commissioner of Indian
Farm instructors are also stationed on the reserves, to teach the
redskins husbandry. Many inducements are held out to industrious
Indians, but the hereditary taint is too strong to permit of many taking
advantage of this. The untutored noblemen look down upon work as
degrading, and leave it to the squaws. Owing to the scarcity of game,
rations are issued periodically upon all the reserves.
any Indian wishes to resign his treaty, he can do so on the
recommendation of the agent that he is able to maintain himself. He then
receives a patent for 640 acres of land, which he may select upon any
portion of the reserve.
These Sioux visitors of ours used to receive any food that might be left
from our table, and nightly would they hold a "pow-wow," when tom-toms
of bull hide would be beaten and flowery speeches delivered around the
fire. I can't say much for the charms of Indian music. It is rather
suggestive of the soft, sad cooing of the midnight cat. The Sioux women
are, as a rule, virtuous, which is more than can be said of their
sisters in other tribes. One young squaw (they are all squaws, married
or single) in White Bull's camp was exceedingly pretty, with great
wondering dark eyes. She was attired in garments worked wonderfully with
beads of every colour. Her crimson trousers and moccasins were a marvel,
and her dusky arms were adorned with silver bangles of barbaric size,
and a necklace of strange shells, gathered on the prairie, hung around
her neck. She had earrings in her tiny ears, and her firebag was richly
fringed and embroidered. I wished to secure this as a curiosity, but my
efforts were in vain.
These Indians made us several articles from a species of scented grass
known as sweet grass. The Sweet Grass Hills take their name from it.
am afraid I have harped too much for the patience of my readers on the
utter loneliness of these regions.
this sense of solitude is so overpowering, it towers above all other
feelings. You experienced this in its fullest intensity if you climbed
to the summit of any of the hills above the camp. There, far away below,
nestled the white rows of tents, the grey haystack, and the brown
buildings of the fort. The silvery waters of the creek could be seen
winding through the valley of withered grass. All around rose terrace
upon terrace of rounded hills, silent as though no foot had trod their
slopes since the Creation. Not a sound to break the stillness of the
noonday heat; not a moving figure to attract the eye. The burning
furnace of the quivering atmosphere was stifling, and the horizon was
dimmed by a Cuyp-like haze.
of the enterprise of trade, I may just mention that a Regina storekeeper
planted an agent in a small tent at Wood Mountain, who dispensed
sardines at seventy-five cents a tin, while a cake of soap, worth
twopence in England, was sold for thirty cents. A half-breed supplied us
with milk at ten cents per quart.
Thunderstorms burst upon us in August, in all the terrific grandeur of
pent-up fury. A rain of fire literally poured down from heaven in
continuous streams, with streaks of chain lightning. The rattle overhead
was terrific, and simultaneous with every flash.
hay used as forage at this post was simply the long grass which grew in
rank luxuriance round the sleughs. It was coarse, and filled with the
spear grass, which possesses a needle-like point upon a stem * of wiry
texture, curled in corkscrew shape. It is impossible to rear sheep where
it grows, as it worms its way into their flesh.
During the latter part of August and in the beginning of September we
were put through a course of mounted infantry drill, and we also fired
the regulation amount of ammunition in the annual target practice. The
Winchester repeating carbine has been pronounced a failure. The sighting
of these weapons is lamentably deficient in accuracy, even at 100 yards,
and the limit of their range is 500 yards. The trajectory also is very
much higher than any other military arm. The initial velocity is 1234
feet per second. At 1000 yards the remaining velocity is 610 feet.
During the summer of 1886 a very impudent and extraordinary attack was
made, single-handed, upon the Prince Albert mail. This involved some
duty in searching the country for the daring "road agent," who was
supposed to have made for that convenient refuge, Montana. As this was
the first attempt at highway robbery in the Territories, it created a
considerable amount of excitement, and all sorts of ridiculous stories
were set afloat. One report stated that six masked men had committed the
crime, and of course it was at once assumed they were American
desperadoes from the Missouri. The facts, briefly, were these. It was
the work of one man, who, in addition to robbing the mail, had "gone
through" a party of five the same morning. When the mists were rolling
away from the woodlands, they were awakened in their tent by the firing
of a couple of shots outside. They were ordered out singly, and with the
exception of two, tied up, one by one. This expert imitator of Dick
Turpin then searched Mr. Swanston, a wealthy merchant of Prince Albert,
evidently expecting to find a large sum of money upon him. Disappointed,
he demanded the valuables and dollars of the other members of the party,
and on receiving it he rode off, to treat the mail stage in the same
was a lovely afternoon, as the light waggon, with its team of four black
bronchos, came bowling along the dusty trail. Suddenly a figure appeared
from a thick grove of poplars and stopped
presenting a double-barrelled shot-gun. The passengers were peremptorily
told to descend. They were all bound with cords, with the exception of
one, who was detailed to attend to the horses. It seems astounding, that
the passengers should have submitted to these arbitrary proceedings
without making any show of resistance. Taking a knife for the purpose,
the robber cut open the mail bags, abstracted all the registered
letters, and, leaving all such articles as watches, he disappeared into
the bush. The next day the driver of the mail going South found a
package of opened registered letters on the trail, near the scene of the
robbery. They contained cheques and vouchers, other than cash. He must
have secured 260/. He took nothing belonging to the passengers, although
he knew that one of them had 200 dollars in his possession. No attempt
was made to disguise himself, and he evidently knew the country and the
August the 18th Hart, the mail driver, called at the barracks and
reported having seen the highwayman —a man named Garnett—in Prince
Albert. He was at once arrested. In October he was tried at Regina, and
received a sentence of fourteen years. When in the guard-room at the
latter place, he confided to a fellow prisoner where he had hidden the
booty. The money was buried in a can, on the south side of the South
Saskatchewan, not far from the Hudson Bay Crossing. It was only by
accident that one of our sergeants afterwards learnt this from a
half-breed woman, but by this time Smith, the released prisoner who had
secured the spoil, had escaped across the frontier.
genuine cyclone came sweeping down upon us at Wood Mountain in
September, whirling the mess-tent from its moorings in the square and
hanging it, like Macbeth's banners, "on the outward walls" of the fort.
These storms are not so prevalent in the western parts of the
Territories as they are in Dakota, where settlers are obliged to take
refuge in their cellars.
the following morning that restless spirit, "Sheep," performed the
unusual circus feat of bolting clean through a bell-tent;—rather a
startling manoeuvre to the two occupants who happened to be under their
blankets. Luckily they were not hurt.
summer gently passed into autumn, and nothing beyond the usual routine
of patrol duty disturbed the monotony of our life. This fall was famous
for a splendid Indian summer, the glory of this prairie land, when a
holy calm seems to lie upon hill, and wood, and stream. Four successive
Sundays were perfect days. Then, with one fell swoop, came the
advance-guard of winter. Ice settled in the early part of November on
the creek and marsh, and long strings of wild fowl were daily seen and
nightly heard, flying south. We had no stoves in the tents, and our
sufferings from cold became keen. A small detachment were to be left in
exile here, during the coming winter, with a couple of men at Willow
Bunch. We now spent our time in huddling—contrary to orders—round the
cook-house fire, and in hazarding surmises as to the time when we should
receive the glad marching orders for Regina. They came suddenly, as
usual, on the 17th of November, and we were to move at dawn on the
following morning. Universal peace and good will seemed to be
established in the hearty bustle and confusion which ensued. Every one
was thankful to get away from this dull and spiritless existence. We had
not seen the face of a white woman for seven months.