BACK TO THE RANCH -- OUR PEACEFUL DAYS -- DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HOMESTEADER AND THE RANCHER -- TERRIFIC RAIN -- HORSEBACK ADVENTURE -- THE "SHORT GRASS" COUNTRY -- THE PRAIRIE FIRE -- TEXAS LONGHORNS -- ROUND-UP OUTFITS -- REVOLVER THAT KILLED A MAN -- KILLING OF ARMSTRONG -- A TREMENDOUS STROLL -- COMING OF THE GREY WOLVES.
I spent three happy, peaceful years at the Prince Albert convent. My sister had married during my absence and, due to my mother's ill-health, I was called home.
On looking back, it seems to me that the daily round of life at the Ranch was well ordered. There was more real happiness in it than I realized at the time. We worked hard at our allotted tasks but found time too, for recreation. There was little of the drudgery of life on the wheat farms, that seemed so soon to stamp out the youth and brightness in many of the pioneer women.
In the wheat region, where the struggling pioneers were trying to learn the secrets of the Prairie soil, the shack of the homesteader was often a lonely landmark on a stretch of plain as flat and expressionless as a deal board, relieved only by the half-mile strips of black ploughing which lay like mourning borders to a drab and melancholy landscape. The soil of the most desirable homesteads was a sticky, adhesive clay which, when it rained, mired the feet of man and beast. Cleanliness, either out or indoors, was almost impossible. If it did not rain there were hot winds and no crops; if it did, the vast clouds of mosquitoes and the everlasting mud made life miserable.
Winter on these homesteads must have been dreadful. The land lay paralyzed under the numbing pressure of the frost and the storms swept down upon the unsheltered buildings, confining the inmates almost as surely as prison bars. Those homesteaders who eventually won their way to success after years of slow and deadly struggle with a hard climate and unfamiliar conditions must have been of indomitable courage. There was no pomp or clangour of battle to sustain their spirit; it was drudgery, constant, sordid and deadening.
The rancher's life was quite different. Usually, the buildings were pleasantly situated in valleys where there were trees and shelter and water. Much of the outdoor work was done on horseback at considerable speed and, except at haying time, the labour was not of a nature to exhaust every physical and mental faculty. The ranchers became adept in the craft of the range rider, which for years had the savour of romance and adventure. The pioneer farmer plodded wearily in at nightfall from his long and dirty furrow, himself and his team caked with the dust of the soil, a tired and uninspiring figure. The range rider rode up to the ranch house on a fine horse, handsomely caparisoned and, dismounting, walked in with spurs clanking, a picturesque cavalier in the habiliments of his kind. His work took him far afield, and he had little of the diffidence of the man whose life was limited to the prairie farm. Then, too, ranching in the early days was much more profitable than farming, and those engaging in it were able to afford some of the comforts and amenities of life. Of course, it required a greater initial outlay, and thus many of the pioneers, who had little except their stout hearts and strong arms, were barred from it.
My days on the Ranch were fully occupied. It was a tradition to be up early, and often during the summer months, I felt the stirring of the fresh airs of the dawn and saw the high buttes emerging from the night shadows. At that hour the cows would move in the corral, a saddle horse stamp in its stall, a rooster crow in haste as if ashamed of being late to salute the light, and the music of the water running down the hillside channels was never so clear as in the hours when the day was shaking away the shadows of the night.
There was breakfast to get and the cows to milk, but the men usually did the milking, and the kettle was always singing on the stove before I came downstairs.
After breakfast the men saddled up and rode off to the Plains, or "hitched up" wagons and drove down the trail to engage in the work of the day. Father would go to his beloved garden, where he planted and dug and nursed his plants or mended the irrigation ditches. We seemed to shut in from all intrusion. Mail reached us once a month and, during the bad weather of winter, we were sometimes longer in hearing from the outside world.
Mid-day dinner was a considerable meal with lots of work connected with it. Healthy men could dispose of astonishing quantities of food, after hours of work outside. When the dishes were washed and the house tidied I usually had some of the afternoon left to myself, which I occupied in sewing or mending, or wandering about the hills, and exploring delightful little woodland nooks among the trees. When the dogs barked we knew visitors were coming and their arrival was invariably a source of pleasure. Sometimes this round was varied by a drive to Willow Bunch and perhaps once a season to the frontier towns of Regina or Moose Jaw.
Busy with these quiet occupations, our days slipped imperceptibly by. We came to remember the years by their manifestations. Last season was the time of the hot winds or the open winter; the one before was notable for its terrific thunder showers when there was an abundance of hay and all the creeks and sloughs were brimming.
Once we experienced what must have been a cloud burst. It was a hot day in August. The sun, from a fleckless sky, threw scorching rays upon the earth and an unusual condition in the prairie country the density of the atmosphere during the forenoon made respiration difficult. After mid-day, the wind fell away and there was a fiery breathlessness about everything. Towards three o'clock a black cloud came out of the south and advanced across the sky so rapidly that it appeared to be propelled by an unseen and powerful force, although at first, no wind reached us. Far away, there were lightning flashes and the thunder muttered.
As the dark shadow spread, a chill air ruffled the prairie grass and then died away, giving place to a stillness unnatural and expectant. A bird piped a sustained note from a thicket and a rooster crowed defiantly at the sky. Every sound, even our voices, took on an extraordinary clearness. A blast of wind came surging down the hillside, sending the treetops in the ravine tossing wildly and scattering all the lighter farmyard litter. The hens, like agitated old women, with their feathers blown about their bodies, scurried for shelter and a couple of cows chewing the cud at the corral bars paused in their ruminations and displayed signs of bovine apprehension.
The wind went as suddenly as it had come. It was succeeded by a lightning flash that cracked across the heavens in a blaze of illumination. There was a cannonade of thunder that seemed to split our ears.
Then it commenced to rain; at first in wide-spaced heavy splashes, increasing soon to a veritable cascade, until there were no apparent intervals between the heavy drops and it was coming down in one unbroken torrent. It beat upon the roof like musketry, and we could scarcely hear ourselves speak. I never saw such rain. In what seemed a short time the living water was pouring down the valley sides. Every creek or channel bed was foaming and hollow spaces were full and brimming over. So tremendous was the downpour that when it was at its height it entirely shut off our vision from the stables and corrals less than a hundred yards away.
Such rain could not continue, and in the course of perhaps an hour, it commenced to moderate but was followed by a fall of hailstones that for size exceeded anything I have ever seen or heard about. They were not real hailstones, but rounded lumps of ice that thundered against the roof like flung stones.
The storm cloud passed over the valley to the northeast, leaving a clear sky with the sun shining. But our familiar surroundings seemed almost blotted out by the waters which it had poured down during its passage. The valley took on the appearance of a lake.
We kept open house and there was a constant stream of visitors. Often we sat down twenty at mid-day dinner, and as my mother's infirmity increased, most of the housekeeping fell into my hands. I was young and strong and shirked no task. I sewed and washed, baked and cooked, and enjoyed every moment of it.
But most of all I delighted in riding. There were, of course, plenty of saddle horses on the ranch, and my brother Pascal sent to Cheyenne for a handsome side saddle for me. Every moment I could spare I was galloping about the valley and was soon able to ride any of the broken horses on the place, and some that were not very well broken.
One day when I was visiting my brother's ranch the milk cows strayed away. The men were just riding off on some urgent ranch business, and I said, that if one of them would saddle a horse for me I would go and look for them. The horse picked for me was an awkward, half-broken brute, but it went well enough at first.
I found the cows four or five miles from the ranch, and when I was crossing a small creek to gather them up, my horse showed a disposition to drink and I slackened the reins to enable him to get his head down. A jackrabbit startled him; the reins were jerked from my hand and he commenced to run and "buck" frantically. I could not keep my seat and tried to leap to the ground but my skirt caught on the pommel of the saddle and there I was hanging head down, being dragged over the prairie. The horse tried to get rid of me by kicking violently. I was too close, however, to get the force of the blows and, feeling my skirt giving way, I reached up and tore the band and fell clear of the saddle. I was on my feet in a moment and made a grab for the dangling reins but just missed them and the horse, after aiming a vicious kick at me which I managed to avoid, galloped off across the prairie. I was bruised and shaken, but I was not going back without the cows. My clothes were pretty well destroyed, but I fixed myself up as well as I could with the remnants and proceeded to drive the cows home on foot. I got them started all right, although they displayed some signs of perturbation at my appearance. When they saw the torn magenta petticoat, which was my chief covering, it seemed to offend their sense of bovine propriety, and I had quite a job getting them to the ranch.
The country was all open range and the livestock wandered far and wide, although attempts were made to keep them within a reasonable distance. In summer they frequented the valley and bottoms and required little or no attention. In winter they drifted before the storms until they found shelter in the coulees and, if the snow was deep, riders would be following them to pick up weaklings or to render help if they became snowbound in ravine or coulee or suffered other mishaps. But even in winter, they were usually well able to look after themselves.
Although we were little more than a hundred miles south of Regina, our winter climate was much milder. The snow was seldom deep, and we seemed to get the tail of the "chinooks", those soft winter winds that, roaring eastward from the Pacific through the rocky gorges of the Mountains, sometimes sweep the southern prairies bare of snow in a few hours.
Cattle in such a country do not seem to be much bothered by cold weather if they have a wide range and can get to the grass. During all the time my father was on the Ranch, we never had a winter loss that amounted to much. The only animals stabled in winter were the workhorses, the saddle ponies, the milk cows and any weak cattle picked up on the range.
Ours was a grass country. The grass was to the rancher what wheat was to the Prairie farmer or corn to the tiller of the rich acres of the American middle west; but the short, thick buffalo grass that covered our rolling ranges was far more durable. It survived winter's rigours and the parching hot winds of a drought-stricken summer. It was the quest for the "short grass" of the northern ranges that brought the great cattle herds from Texas and Indian Territory more than a thousand miles along the old Chisholm Trail. It had sustained the vast herds of buffalo which, before the coming of the white man, had from time immemorial roamed the Plains, and the beef produced from it was in keen demand on the American markets. Indeed, in later years when my brother Pascal was shipping overseas, the steers from our ranges took equal place on the Liverpool marts with the corn-fed products of Kansas and Iowa. The grass of our ranges, little subject to the vagaries of changing seasons, had one deadly enemy, the prairie fire and to protect it from that element, particularly in the fall of the year, the greatest of care had to be taken. There were various methods employed in fighting the flames, such as starting backfires that would deprive the main conflagration of fuel on which to feed. The ranch buildings were usually protected by ploughed guards and were seldom in danger. When a long line of fire threatened the range, a method that had been learned from the stockmen from south of the Line was often effective. The nearest cattle beast would be shot down and split open and part of its carcass dragged over the fire by lariats attached to the saddles of two riders, one on each side of the flame. The freshly killed animal was understood to be an exceedingly efficient fire extinguisher.
About 1896, we began to notice "Texas Longhorns" on our range. It was still the time of the "Trail Herds" which the southern ranchers, seeking the "short grass" of Wyoming and. Montana, brought from Oklahoma and Texas, and some of their strays occasionally found their way to our pastures. They were lanky brutes with wide branching horns and as active as antelope. It was not always safe to go among range cattle on foot. Father was never a horseman his early life in Quebec had not run to Mexican saddles or belled spurs 'but our cattle were so accustomed to him that he was able to walk among them without danger.
One day a bunch was feeding in the valley flats and he walked out to take a look at them. One of these long-horned brutes had drifted in from somewhere and commenced to make hostile demonstrations. When father was still at a distance it "tossed its beamed frontlet to the sky" and surveyed with belligerent air the two-legged intruder who was advancing with such composure. Then it came clear of the other cattle and charged directly at him. Father was taken by surprise. He was well out on the flat, far from a possible refuge, and not even armed with a stick. This alarming looking brute was displaying a burst of speed; there was not the slightest use in running away.
He was a powerful man and had never retreated from either man or beast, and did not propose to begin now. He picked up a large stone. The beast came right on, head down and tail in the air. Father could not afford to take any chance on having his one missile miss its mark and he waited until it was almost upon him. Then with all his strength, he hurled the heavy stone at its forehead. The missile struck fair; the animal gave a bawl of surprise and pain and then lurched to the ground, breaking one of its longhorns in the fall.
These Texas cattle became quite common on our range and were usually gathered in by the round-up outfits from Montana, which for several years combed the country. They were part of a herd of some twenty thousand cattle which the "N-Bar-N" Ranch had trailed from Texas to Montana. I think it was one of the last big herds that came up the old "Chisholm Trail".
There was one big "round-up" outfit from across the Line that came to our place twice a year, once in early summer, to gather and brand the calves, and again in the fall to pick up the beef that had strayed north of the line. There were three brands represented in this "round-up" the "U up and down", the "Diamond" and the "N-Bar-N". They camped on the flats below our house and worked out from there. Their presence enlivened the place. The camp wagons, the horse herd, the men on horseback, the bunches of cattle coming in with riders on their flanks, the roping and branding, all made a stirring scene of colour and movement.
The riders themselves were as characteristic of the old West as anything in the pages of Owen Wister or Stewart Edward White. They seemed to take pride in dressing their parts. They all wore the soft high "Stetsons" of black or grey, supposed to be the badge of cattlemen from the Rio Grande to the Saskatchewan, and coloured handkerchiefs knotted to keep the mosquitoes from their necks and dust from 'their throats. Some wore fringed leather "chaps", often handsomely worked and ornamented, and their high-heeled boots gave them a curious mincing gait when they walked, which was seldom. Nearly all of them were girdled with broad belts, the loops of which were filled with gleaming brass shells for the revolvers that hung in open scabbards on the right hip.
They never bothered us at the house; their foreman saw that they kept strictly to their camp, although I often listened to them at night singing around the fires the doleful ditties which have been associated with American cowboys from the earliest days.
We became friendly with the captain of the "Round-Up" a man named Armstrong, the foreman of the "U up and down" outfit. He was tall and fair, with a long, drooping moustache. He was quiet in his manner, but he ruled his wild company of cowboys with a strong hand and they respected him. He might rebuke them himself, but would allow no one else to do so, and often protected them from the result of their folly.
He met his death in characteristic fashion. His outfit was holding a bunch of cattle near one of the Montana towns. There was bad blood at the time between the cattle ranchers and sheepmen, that occasionally flamed into a "range war". Most of the big ranches were held by the cattlemen, who hated the sheepmen and all their works. The bleating and baaing flocks were herded' over the range and destroyed everything in their path. The grass that escaped their cropping was trampled down by their feet. Whenever a flock passed they left devastation behind. As a matter of fact a great deal of. the Montana range was public domain, and the sheepmen had as much right to it as the cattle ranchers. The cowboys certainly made things unpleasant for the unfortunate shepherds, scattering their flocks and sometimes "shooting up" the herders.
One of Armstrong's "cowhands" was wanted by the authorities, whether for some offence against the sheepmen or not I cannot tell. It was a fair bet that when the cowboys came to a Montana town most of them, including the wanted man, would eventually end up in front of a bar, and an ambush was prepared. In due time the riders arrived in a cloud of dust. Armstrong, followed by his men, clanked into the bar and called for drinks. The "wanted" man was in the crowd. The Sheriff or his Deputy, I am not sure which was sheltered behind a barrel. He called upon the cowboy to give himself up. Armstrong, who considered himself the protector of his men, wheeled. He made no attempt to reach for a gun, but came about with his thumbs stuck in his belt, a favourite attitude of his. Instantly, from his place of vantage, the Sheriff, or whoever he was, turned loose on him with a double-barrelled shotgun and he fell riddled with buckshot.
In those days it was practically impossible to obtain a verdict in Montana against anyone accused of a shooting, and nothing was then done about it. Armstrong, however, had friends who carried on the feud, and within a year or so the man who killed him was shot down in his turn, and the score was even.
On looking back now, I realize that I had a remarkable opportunity to see at close range indeed, live a part of it something of the old life of the Plains, that today exists only in tradition or on the pictured screen. I knew many of the range riders and although some of them were reputed to be gunfighters and were invariably armed, in their relations with us they were always thoughtful, considerate and polite.
There was one man from across the Line who sometimes came to the Ranch. It was rumoured that he had killed a man in Montana, but we did not believe it. Once when he was remaining for dinner, he unbuckled his belt and placed it on a table. There was a pearl-handled revolver in the scabbard and I picked it up remarking: "What a beautiful gun!"
"Yes," he replied, "That is the gun with which I shot E--." Needless to say, I quickly dropped it.
One day a cowboy rode up to the house and asked if he might stay the night. No one was ever turned away and of course, he was made welcome.
My father required another rider and give him employment. He was "Dutch Henry", who afterwards joined a gang of outlaws and whose name became notorious in the south country. He was a splendid horseman and one of the best men who ever worked for us. When he was there the wood-box was never empty and the water pails always full. I wish to do him the justice of stating here that, despite his later unenviable exploits and reputation, he was always, when with us, capable, polite and considerate. His one peculiarity was that I never saw him without his belted revolver.
About 1893, some new families moved into the district at least they were settled within a radius of fifty miles, and anyone as close as that was considered a neighbour. My brother Pascal and his wife were then living close at hand ; a circle of relatives and friends was gradually formed and we were by no means as lonely as our remote situation might have indicated.
About that time my brother Pascal made a journey on foot that was a remarkable tribute to his husbandly devotion. He had "trailed" a band of broncos to Manitoba where he traded them for cattle. Early in the fall, he sent the cattle he had gathered on the Manitoba farms on the long trail to his ranch in charge of his men and, anxious to see his wife after several months' absence, took the train to Regina. Arriving there, he found old Jack Henderson (the man who hanged Louis Riel) starting with several wagon loads of freight for the Mounted Police Post at Wood Mountain, and he arranged to travel south with him.
Towards the evening of the first day, they met a party of Sioux Indians and Pascal enquired of a squaw about the people of Willow Bunch. She said most of them were well, but with a rather perverted sense of humour, added that his wife was dangerously ill. Pascal, of course, was nearly distracted at such tidings, which it never occurred to him to doubt. The horses drawing the wagons were tired after a long day's journey and could then travel no farther. There was no settlement in the surrounding countryside where he could obtain a mount. All he could do was to push ahead on foot. So, fortifying himself with some supper, he struck across the hills to cover the sixty-odd miles that lay between him and home. He walked all night. By daylight, his feet in his riding boots were galled and sore. Halting only a few minutes to eat a little from his package of food and wash it down with a drink from a spring, he went on again with limping footsteps.
That evening his wife, who was as well as ever she had been in her life, had washed the supper dishes and gone outside to throw away the dishwater when she observed what seemed to be an old, decrepit man seated on a stone not far away. To see any strangers at all in that lonely country was unusual, and she walked towards him. As she advanced, he rose and hobbled in her direction, presenting an appearance of utter weariness and dejection. He was carrying his boots in his hand and placing his stockinged feet gingerly on the ground. Imagine her surprise when she recognized her husband who had made that incredible walk to reach what, he supposed, was her bed of sickness. What he would have done to the Sioux Squaw, had he caught her at that time, may be left to the imagination.
About the time of the arrival of the Texas cattle on our range some other four-footed visitors of an unwelcome character put in an appearance. The stock began to show up mauled and suffering from wounds of such virulent nature that they were usually fatal. Later, carcasses, not only of beef animals but of well-grown horses, were found. Coyotes were surprised picking the bones, but the actual killing could not have been done by these jackals of the prairies. Some big beast of prey was taking toll of our herds.
My father thought it might be a mountain lion strayed from some distant region, and others were inclined to attribute the damage to bears. It was scarcely credible, however, that mountain lions would travel several hundred miles just to feed on our stock, and a bear, no matter how ferocious, would have difficulty in killing such active animals as young horses and two-year-old steers.
One day my brother Joe was out in the "Bad Lands" looking for strayed horses when he saw in the distance what looked like five colts on the sunny side of a hill. He made a long detour and came upon them from behind. He had never seen wolves before but had no difficulty in recognizing these animals as the largest of the species. They were sunning themselves on the slope, likely after a kill. He felt for the six-shooter he usually carried and
remembered with dismay that he had left his belt with gun and shells hung up on a harness peg in the stable, but uncoiling his lariat he bore down on them like a whirlwind.
The wolves broke away in five different directions, making for the shelter of bush and ravine, but Joe succeeded in getting between one of them and a poplar bluff and headed it out on the valley flat. There was nearly a mile of clear running before it could reach the mouth of a ravine that gaped darkly on the far side.
Given level country, a good horse can run down a wolf, and Joe's was one of the best. He came hard on the track of the brute, but he had ridden far that day and his horse was not very fresh. Nevertheless, he gained on his quarry and when close to the ravine reached throwing distance. He cast the loop and with spur and rein threw his horse into the "snubbing" leap. The circling noose flew true but the wolf with incredible activity leapt through it and escaped to the ravine. However, the mystery of the cattle-killing was solved. Big buffalo wolves were the marauders.
In the old days those animals were common on the Plains, following the buffalo herds and picking up stragglers. There is little doubt that they were of the same breed as the timberwolves of the northern forest, grown powerful and heavy from the ease with which they obtained a plentiful supply of meat. They did not have the pointed muzzle and lean body of their woodland relatives but were massively built with broad heads, heavy and powerful brutes. When the buffalo disappeared they betook themselves to other scenes and, for a time, there was not a wolf to be found on the Canadian Prairies. Then, when the cattle herds began to be trailed northward, they followed them and thus came back to the old buffalo grounds.
Cattle suffered severely from their depredations, and the Government of the North West Territories offered a substantial bounty for each grey wolf killed. But even so, there were not many of them upon which the bounty was paid. They were exceedingly clever and seldom seen. They had the instinct of the plain's creatures to keep off the skyline while in a hostile country. They were said never to feed on carrion, but to kill every time they had a meal. The range rider might come upon a steer freshly pulled down at dawn in one location, and another at nightfall thirty miles away.
When things got too bad, my brother Pascal went to Regina and purchased a pack of Scottish stag hounds which, after a while, harried the wolves pretty well off our range.
One day Joe and an English lad named Symes were at work about the corrals. Joe looked across the valley and, seeing two moving specks on the hillside, said, "I believe there are two wolves. Take the dogs and give them a run for their money."
Symes, fresh from the Old Country, was ready for any adventure. There was a pony in the corral and leaping on it bareback, he galloped off followed by the huge dogs. The distant specks were wolves, and when they saw the man on horseback was after them in earnest, they separated and departed at high speed.
Crossing the valley with its long grass, the hounds could not see the wolves, but when they came out of the meadow and reached the hillside, old Jumbo, the "boss" of the pack, caught sight of one of them disappearing over the brow of the hill. Heading the other dogs, he darted after the quarry in long galloping bounds that made Symes and his pony seem to be standing still. It was useless for the wolf to stick out its tail and lie down to its running; these great dogs could run two feet to its one, and when Symes reached the bench, wolf and dogs were mixed in a tangled fighting heap.
The wolf was a savage fighter, and the hounds could not master him. Again and again, he pulled himself clear of his assailants and kept them at a distance with slashing cuts from his teeth. Several of the dogs were torn and wounded, and it began to look as if the wolf might get away.
Symes sat on his horse surveying the conflict. He had neither a gun nor rope, and there was not a stone to be seen. Then he remembered he had a clasp knife in his pocket one of those many-bladed contraptions which people in the Old Country give as parting gifts to friends going to the "Colonies". The young man dismounted and with his knife open advanced carefully. The dogs had the wolf almost down, but on the approach of Symes, by a tremendous effort, it cast them aside and sprang at him. Staunch old Jumbo hurled himself at the wolf and by pure weight bore it down. Symes ran in and stabbed the brute several times with his ridiculous weapon. This attack seemed to weaken it and the dogs worried it to death.
Presently Symes returned to the Ranch, leading his horse, with the dead wolf draped across its back and attended by the limping and bleeding hounds.
"Great Glory !" said Joe. "How in the heck did you slay that brute?"
"Oh!" rejoined Symes, with a fine air of indifference, "there was nothing to it; I just stuck it with my jackknife."
One day I had rather a ludicrous experience with a coyote. I was walking along the trail leading to Pascal's ranch and on surmounting a knoll met a coyote trotting towards me. A herd of cattle was feeding on the flat below and it had its head turned back over its shoulder watching them. I had to stick out my feet to prevent it from running into me. When it realized my presence it made a tremendous leap to one side and disappeared down the hill.
As settlement increased in the south country the big wolves retreated to the "Bad Lands" where, among the tumbled hills, the deep ravines and cutbanks, they made the lair from which they occasionally emerged to raid the herds of the ranchers. The evidence of their presence became more infrequent as time went on.
One solitary old dog-wolf lingered in the district long after his kindred had sought other hunting grounds. He ranged over a large area always leaving half-consumed carcasses to mark his passage. He devoted particular attention to the flocks of a Metis who had a large sheep ranch in the Willow Bunch district. He was seldom seen, but sometimes a traveller would arrive at Willow Bunch or Wood Mountain declaring that he had caught a glimpse of the "father of all wolves" crossing the shoulder of a hill at nightfall, or disappearing into a ravine. Tracks were found so large that it was scarcely credible they could have been made by a member of the wolf family.
It was as late as the years of the First Great War that the sheep rancher brought a pair of beautiful Highland collies to his ranch. They were silken-haired aristocrats whose ancestors had won many a blue ribbon on the bench and at Scottish sheepdog trials, and they were as intelligent as they were handsome.
The male dog was accidentally killed and the female left widowed and for a while, disconsolate.
Nothing had been heard of the big wolf for some time and the sheepman began to hope he was either dead or had left the country. Then in the spring some of the ranch folk once more heard the wolf cry among the hills. It was not the habit of the big wolves to make much noise. They went about their occasions, silent and formidable. It was left to their little cousins, the coyotes, to fracture the still nights with their horrid chorus. Now, however, at a certain dark hour, the long howling cry of the old wolf dominated the other night sounds. The coyotes stilled their yelping; the ranch dogs that had been howling defiance at them slunk silently to their lairs in the hay and the sheep cowered in shed and corral.
Only the collie seemed undisturbed. At the sound of the wolf cry, she left her bed in an empty horse-stall and lay down in a patch of moonlight, apparently oblivious of that wild serenade. Then she walked off into the bush, returning with the first streaks of dawn.
For a while thereafter there was no more deep-throated calling from the hills. The collie went listlessly about her work and one morning her master discovered she had brought a sturdy brood of wolf whelps into the world.
Once again that summer, a ranch hand whose duties caused him to be up and about during the hours of darkness, heard the wolf call and, as if in answer to an imperative summons, the collie with her whelps, then strong enough to follow her with waddling steps, came from her place in the stable and disappeared among the trees. Work then claimed the man's attention and for the time he forgot the incident. Before turning in at daybreak he had the curiosity to look in the stable and found her sleeping peacefully with the pups close to her side.
The young cubs grew big and strong and had all the wolf appearance. They were not troublesome but appeared to have no desire for friendly relations with man or beast. Indeed, when quite young, they became independent of their mother. When fall came they spent most of the day sleeping among the hay, waking up at dusk and sallying forth to hunt rabbits and other bush things in the ravines. Unlike the domestic dogs, they gave no tongue when on the trail of "jack" or "cottontail" and were efficient in their hunting methods. This was harmless enough, but as they were big and growing, the Rancher thought it well to be on the safe side before they developed more dangerous tendencies, and had them killed. For a while the collie was disconsolate, but a new mate of her species being brought to the ranch, she appeared to forget her latest bereavement, and the next summer she had a new litter of puppies that showed no indications of the wolf breed. One day when the youngsters were well enough grown to follow her about she was passing through the trees near the ranch buildings when she met the old wolf face to face. Without any preliminaries, he killed her and then destroyed every one of the puppies.
After that the old wolf commenced to harry the ranch that had harboured her relentlessly. He was never seen, but corrals and sheds were entered and ravaged. The great tracks indicated the identity of the killer.
The Rancher made up his mind he would be preyed upon no longer. He was a hunter and the descendant of generations of hunters, and surely there was no wolf, however formidable, that could pit its craft against him and get away with it.
There was a small corral where some lambs were penned that had been visited. This enclosure was in plain sight of the door of the house and within shotgun range. The Metis got out his ten-bore double barrel, thrust in two buckshot cartridges and commenced to keep watch. He sat in the dark, just inside the partly opened door, a position that enabled him to keep the corral under observation.
The first two nights he had a fruitless vigil, but during the dark hours of the third, he was aware of some movement. It was not that there was any sound, rather a subtle sense of a menacing presence. Sleep and cold and weariness fell away from him, and he looked out, alert and watchful, his weapon ready. The moon moved from the shadow of a murky cloud and he saw a huge shape come slowly and silently around the corral and approach the bars. The distance was short, the mark fair and the thunderous discharge smote the night like a great hammer beat. He could see that the wolf was down and, standing by the door, he poured the contents of the other barrel into the prostrate body.
There had been so many tales of the exploits of the old wolf, and almost devilish powers attributed to it that, even when it had been shot down, he did not care particularly to investigate further during the hours of darkness. So he closed and bolted the door and telling his wife, who had been awakened by the firing, that at last, he had killed the big wolf, he went to bed.
When daylight came there was no sign of the dead animal. There was blood in the snow and some of the buckshot besprinkled the corral posts. A trail was picked up going up the hill, and some of the footsteps had blood in them.
This was intolerable. Something would have to be done about a brute that could intercept a double charge of buckshot at less than sixty yards, and then, after apparently being killed, trot off as if nothing had happened. There was something almost supernatural about it.
Accordingly an armed and mounted party was organized and rode hard on the tracks left in the snow. The trail led straight to the wild and broken country of the "Bad Lands". But even the elements seemed to favour the wolf. It had commenced to snow, the wind was rising and the tracks drifting in.
As night was falling, a keen-eyed Metis espied the indomitable old warrior breasting a hill. The gloom was interfering with visibility and the storm increasing. Several of the hunters dismounted and opened fire. Some of them declared they had registered hits, but if so, the wolf gave no sign. He neither looked back nor increased his speed just moved onward doggedly until he disappeared in the gathering storm and darkness. Next day the hunt was resumed, but the drifting snow had obscured all tracks and it had to be abandoned. But the big wolf of the "Bad Lands" was seen no more in the south country.