AN IMPORTANT EVENT IN MY LIFE -- THE POWER OF ORATORY -- MAJOR MONTGOMERY, A FORTY-NINER -- A FINE OLD METIS -- HOW TOM HOURIE CARRIED DESPATCHES -- SURRENDER OF LOUIS RIEL -- THREE TIMES IN JAIL -- OUR MARRIAGE -- MacLEOD IN THE DAYS OF THE OPEN RANGE -- THE FOOTHILL INDIANS -- FIRST EXPEDITION OF THE MOUNTED POLICE -- THE YOUNG R. B. BENNETT -- A NIGHT OF HURRICANE -- LONE MAN AND SOME OF HIS ADVENTURES -- LARIAT AND REVOLVER -- A STREET BATTLE -- LIFE IN A "COW" TOWN.
The last day of the century marked a momentous event in my life, for I then became formally engaged to the young editor. I had been brought up a Roman Catholic, but my fiance, Mr Hamilton, and his people were Protestants. No member of my family was ever married outside the pale of our Church or race, and at first, I had some qualms. However, he swept aside all my objections. One of his arguments was that the Scots and French in the days of the Stuarts had close relations, and most of the Scottish Queens were of Royal French blood. It was not as if he had been a mere Englishman. Then perhaps my arguments might have had some weight.
I ventured to remark that there might be exceptions in the case of Royalty and he instantly replied that he might not be a king although he added, as a modest afterthought, that at one time the Hamiltons in Scotland had been pretty close to the Throne but that I was a good enough queen for him.
After several decades of married life, I have concluded that my husband has few of the characteristics popularly ascribed to his race. Thrifty he certainly was not; whisky intrigued him only slightly; he abominated haggis and had only one Scottish vice, his affection for the bagpipes.
That winter in Regina I saw a good deal of Nicholas Flood Davin. He had always been a friend of my father, but "Zack", as my young man was known to all and sundry, was employed on Mr Davin's newspaper.
A provincial election had been held in Manitoba that winter, I think it was in November and Mr Davin had been campaigning there. The Manitoba Conservatives had suffered a long eclipse, but this time, under the leadership of Hugh John Macdonald, the son of the old Chief, they were hopeful of victory. Sir Charles Tupper, although then approaching eighty, had been taking part in the campaign,
and he left Winnipeg for Regina with Mr Davin on election day before the result was known. The train arrived early in the morning and Zack met them at the station with telegrams announcing the Conservative victory. Sir Charles turned to Mr Davin and said: "What did I tell you? This is a fine omen for the coming Federal battle." As it turned out, he was not a very good prophet.
Sir Charles remained in Regina to rest for a few days before taking up a western speaking tour. The opportunity was too good to miss, and a call went out for a Conservative rally. The meeting was held one wintry afternoon in the queer old clapboarded building on Scarth Street that served as Town Hall. The Conservatives, encouraged by the victory in Manitoba, came out in force. They saw in their veteran leader, the man who had been foremost amongst the coterie surrounding Sir John Macdonald. The Liberals of Ontario origin came because, despite his politics, Sir Charles was one of the Confederation Fathers; and the Hall was crowded. In addition to Sir Charles, Mr Haultain, then Territorial Premier, and Mr Davin were to speak.
I went to the meeting with Mrs Hamilton who, like all the family, was an ardent Conservative. Members of our sex did not then usually go to political gatherings. It was scarcely considered respectable, but my future mother-in-law cared little for form or convention.
Premier Haultain opened the meeting with a short speech of about twenty minutes, which seemed to me a model of verbal construction and lucidity. He concluded by consigning the Liberals to the "Limbo of unredeemed pledges".
Sir Charles who, despite his years, was vigorous and aggressive, was the next speaker, and he scathingly denounced the Ottawa administration and all its works. He spoke for nearly two hours and may have been a little tedious. When he finished, he was given a good round of applause, and the people commenced to leave the Hall. It was late in the afternoon of a gloomy winter's day. The night was creeping in, the lights had not been turned on, the stove was burning low, and the draughty old building was cold and uncomfortable. People were putting on overcoats and wraps, and there was the shuffling and movement of departure. But Mr Davin had not spoken. He had not shown his Leader what he could do with these, his own people. He walked to the front of the platform and, waving his arms, commenced to speak. I do not remember how he opened. Indeed, I do not think many of his hearers were at first very clear as to what he was talking about; but his appearance, his gestures and the fine resonant quality of his voice, which rose above the bustle of departure, compelled attention. People "stopped in their tracks", some with their greatcoats half on, and listened. In a moment they were back in their seats, shaking the weathered old rafters with their cheers. After a little while, I recognized that he was arraigned the Laurier Government for dilatoriness in sending contingents to the South African War, and then I caught an arresting phrase. He said: "As I stand by the Citadel at Halifax and hear the gun fired at evening, it seems to me as if it were the August and Imperial Mother, stretching her arms about her children, saying: 'Rest in peace; no danger shall assail you'."
I never witnessed a more perfect example of the effect of an orator upon an audience. He was at home in his own place, among people with whom he was familiar, but on that occasion, he swayed them with his own emotion and roused them to a perfect frenzy of patriotic enthusiasm. Even political opponents were compelled to render him unwilling tribute. He spoke for about fifteen minutes and when he concluded, the roar of acclamation that went up indicated how he had moved those who heard him.
Another person whom I came to know well that winter was Major Montgomery, who had been the Chairman of Sir Charles Tupper's meeting. He lived in a comfortable house that was then on the outskirts of the town. He had been the Registrar of Land Titles for the district but, being a pronounced Conservative, was retired from his position after the defeat of that party in 1896 and, at the time of which I speak, he was occupied only with his private interests in Regina, which were quite extensive. Miss Lafleur, his housekeeper, was Catholic and French-Canadian, and I frequently visited her. The Major, then approaching eighty, liked to see young people.
He was a picturesque figure of an ancient, with white hair and beard of the texture of spun silk. He was always beautifully dressed in clothes of a bygone fashion that seemed to add to his dignity, and he had fine and courtly manners.
The old gentleman had lived a full and vivid life, and sometimes when in the mood, he liked to speak of his adventures. Many a time I have sat in one of the deep leather chairs in his cosy sitting-room and listened to his tales of personal adventure, very moderately told.
He was born, I think, in Merrickville in Ontario, and was qualifying for the legal profession when news came of the discovery of gold in California. He abandoned law books and studies and joined a party of argonauts who took the California Trail of '49 across the plains and over the mountains.
The journey was full of hardship. Much of it was across a wild and unknown region. The way was beset by savage Indian tribes and sometimes by lawless white men scarcely less cruel and predatory than the Indians themselves. The members of the expedition suffered under the scorching heat of the arid plains were blown upon by the icy blasts of the Mountains, and often starvation and sickness were familiar attendants. At last, weary, gaunt and haggard, they reached their journey's end, and a season of rest in a lush California valley soon restored them to health and confidence.
Major Montgomery prospered at the goldfields and, after some years, found himself in possession of a modest fortune. He then began to think of returning to far-away Ontario.
He had wound up his business in California preparatory to returning to Canada when word came that the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico was a prisoner not far from the American boundary, and in danger of his life. The young man from Ontario conceived the romantic idea of making a dash into Mexico and rescuing the Emperor. He gathered together a company of kindred spirits and, well-armed and equipped, they set out on their adventure.
All went well until they approached the frontier. There they met a party of French officers who had remained in the country with Maximilian. After his capture, they had managed to escape into American territory but brought word that the Emperor himself had already fallen before the bullets of a firing squad. The officers had escaped with their lives, and that was about all. They had neither money nor supplies and were in a miserable state. The Major took them under his care, conducting them to San Francisco, where he furnished them with the means to return to France.
During their association a warm friendship sprang up between the young Canadian and the French nobleman who was the leader of the party, and correspondence was kept up for many years. Major Montgomery showed me a beautifully engraved invitation he had received to the wedding of his French friend in Paris.
While he was in San Francisco Major Montgomery obtained news of a heavily armed vessel fitted out by some Fenians that had recently left port, allegedly to raid the coast of British Columbia. If one romantic enterprise had petered out, there was another ready to his hand, and he chartered, provisioned and armed a ship, and proceeded after the raiders. A quick run was made to Victoria, B.C., and so formidable was his armament that the Fenians abandoned their enterprise. At least they never carried out their purpose, and the Major used to say with a laugh, that he might as well have the credit as anyone else of having saved Vancouver Island from the piratical attentions of these disaffected gentry.
The Major owned a great deal of property in Regina which, during the nineties, was of doubtful value. As age encroached he set his house in order and made a will providing for several relatives. Between the making of his will and the time of his death, Regina real estate greatly increased in value, and when he died there was a handsome surplus over the amount for which he had made provision. Under ordinary circumstances, this residue would have reverted to his next of kin, but someone discovered he had been born out of wedlock and, not being married, had no legal heirs. Accordingly, all of his estate for which provision was not made in his will reverted to the Crown.
In a previous chapter I have spoken of Peter Hourie, the veteran Interpreter of the Indian Department. He was a friend of Zack and I came to know him quite well that winter. He was born in the old Stone Fort on the Red River, probably about the second quarter of last century, the son of an Orkney servant of the Hudson's Bay Company and a native woman. To the last day of his life, when he used the English tongue, he spoke it with the accent of the Orkney Islanders.
As a young man he was in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company and was selected as one of the party to accompany Dr Rae on the expedition to the Arctic that resulted in the discovery of the fate of the Franklin Expedition. When Dr Rae's party was only a few days out, Peter seriously injured his foot while chopping in the bush, and had to be left behind.
He was a trusted employee of William MacKay when that gentleman ruled the southern prairies from Fort Ellice. In 1864, he was sent to pick a location for a Hudson's Bay post on the Qu'Appelle Lake which would be convenient to the western buffalo grounds. He chose a beautiful spot on the level flats between the Echo and Mission Lakes. There he erected the buildings of Fort Qu'Appelle, which for the next quarter of a century was to be the chief establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company in the prairie region.
During the Rebellion of 1885, Peter was appointed official interpreter to General Middleton and accompanied his field Force on the march from Qu'Appelle to the North Saskatchewan. When Middleton was in the vicinity of Humboldt, he was anxious to get dispatches through to Colonel Irvine who, with a considerable body of Mounted Police, was then in Prince Albert. But the Rebels were reported to be holding the river fords and it did not seem possible to get a messenger through their lines. He spoke of his difficulties to Peter, who said: "I think, Sir, my son Tom can make it."
Middleton demanded to see the lad, and Tom, who was about six and a half feet high and broad in proportion, put in an appearance.
"Well, young man," said the rather diminutive General. "Do you think you can carry dispatches for me to Prince Albert?"
"I think so, Sir," replied Tom, modestly, "if you give me a good horse."
"That goes without saying: it will take a good horse to carry you," rejoined Middleton, surveying the gigantic proportions of the young man with admiration.
Accordingly Tom Hourie, well-armed and mounted, started on his dangerous mission. During the forenoon of the second day, he rode into a large camp of Rebels who were holding the neck of a peninsula of considerable extent formed by a bend of the Saskatchewan River. He was at once halted by the insurgents, most of whom knew him:
"Why!" they said, "it's Tom Hourie. What are you doing here, Tom? We thought maybe you were with the soldiers."
"No!" said Tom, dismounting as if among friends. "I heard there had been a fight at Duck Lake and some of my cousins had been shot by the Police. I am going to see about it."
He was hospitably entertained, and after dinner saddled up and continued on his way. Some of the Rebels had misgivings about allowing him to proceed, but they knew that the ford was impassable owing to the River being swollen by the spring freshet and still carrying ice in its flood.
Not long after his departure, Gabriel Dumont, Riel's fiery lieutenant, rode into camp and dismounting from his sweating horse said: "Have you seen Tom Hourie? He is carrying dispatches for the soldiers."
When he learned that Tom had been in camp and was allowed to proceed he sent a mounted party in hot pursuit.
In the meantime Tom had reached the River and, as the Rebels figured, found the crossing apparently impassable. He dismounted and endeavoured to think of some way out of the trap into which he had fallen. The Saskatchewan was sweeping past him cumbered with cakes of ice, logs and debris of the forest. No horse could stem the current under such conditions.
While thus cogitating, Tom cast a backward look along the way he had come and saw a party of horsemen emerge from the trees about a mile away and gallop in his direction. It was a time for quick action. He unsaddled his horse, turned it loose, stripped himself to his underclothes and, placing his dispatches in his revolver holster, which he strapped around his neck, plunged into the icy flood. When his pursuers reached the bank, they saw him land on the far shore and pause for a moment to make a gesture of defiance in their direction. That night he delivered the dispatches to Colonel Irvine at Prince Albert.
No one ever knew how Tom Hourie made that perilous passage, perhaps himself least of all. To those familiar with the country it seemed an impossible achievement. I discussed this adventure with him, but all he could say was that the water was deadly cold and he thought he was drowning when he felt his feet on the bottom and realized he was on the far side. He said some current must have swept him across the river. He never fully recovered from that dreadful experience, his lungs apparently having been affected by the immersion. He was present at the battle of Batoche and, after the defeat of the Rebels, while on scouting duty in company with a man named Armstrong, encountered Louis Riel, and brought him to Middleton's camp. In 1897, with Norman Campbell of Regina, he went to the Yukon. He died there about 1909 and his funeral was attended by almost the entire population of Dawson City.
Peter Hourie, owing to his influence with the native people and his knowledge of their language, rendered great service to General Middleton during the campaign of 1885. When the attack was being made upon Batoche, Middleton conceived the idea that the enemy might listen to a parley and instructed Peter to call to them in their own tongue. Dauntlessly the old interpreter reared his tall form to its height and in a great voice called upon the Rebels to lay down their weapons. Immediately the firing ceased and in the ensuing stillness men could be heard crying out one to the other from rifle pits: "Who is that," they said, "who speaks to us in our own language?"
Then a voice cried: "It's Chey-way-canabecees;" (Little Mosquito Hawk, the name by which Hourie was known to the native people) "shoot the traitor."
He had just time to take cover when a hail of bullets came in his direction, and the battle was resumed.
When the Indian Treaties were being negotiated, Peter Hourie invariably acted as interpreter and to his influence with the natives much of the success of the negotiations must be credited.
Following the Rebellion, he was appointed Chief Interpreter of the Indian Department with headquarters at Regina. In that position, he took part in many historic Indian conferences with officials of the Canadian Government. He was for many years a feature of Regina life, a fine example of the official of the native blood.
I saw a good deal of the Trants that winter, Indeed, Mrs Trant, a dear old white-haired English lady, was kind enough to chaperon me to some of the larger dances that took place in Regina. Her husband, William Trant, was a remarkable old gentleman who had lived a spectacular life. He was a native of Leeds and, despite a long life spent amid cosmopolitan surroundings, the accents of his native Yorkshire never quite left his tongue. As a young man he had considerable journalistic experience in England and was one of the correspondents selected to accompany King Edward VII when, as Prince of Wales, he made a journey to India. He remained there for some time engaging in newspaper work.
Returning to Europe he was attached to the German army during the Franco-Prussian campaign as a war correspondent for an English newspaper. He was one of the first outsiders to enter Paris at the collapse of the Commune and had a narrow escape from being shot as a spy, He was being led off to execution when he was recognized by one of the German officers who demanded and secured his release.
After a somewhat stormy journalistic career, during which his radical propensities caused him some trouble, he assisted in promoting an English settlement in the North West that was situated at a place called Cotham, north of Broadview. He brought out his family and took up a homestead along with the other settlers.
No one could have been more unsuited to pioneer life on the prairie than this philosophic radical, as he liked to call himself. He soon wearied of feeding pigs and hens and entering into disputes with his neighbours. He was of rather irascible disposition and conditions in a lonely settlement, many miles from the railway, were scarcely calculated to soothe his asperities.
He was charged with an infraction of one of the Territorial Ordinances, and appearing before a local Justice of the Peace, was fined a small amount. He challenged the competence of the court and refused to pay. The Magistrate did not know how to enforce his sentence, but at last, issued an ultimatum that if he persisted in his attitude he would be committed to jail for contempt of court.
Thereupon Mr Trant commenced the publication in the Regina Standard of a series of articles entitled "Three Times in Jail". The first time he had been in durance vile was for a part he had taken in the activities of Michael Davitt and some of the other Irish agitators; the second, when he was in Paris, and the third of the series was to be written in the Regina Jail.
The articles were well written and attracted attention. Those who had prosecuted him were aghast at the hornet's nest they had stirred up. Finally, proceedings were dropped. However, he had had enough of pioneering, and he moved into Regina where he secured employment for a time with Nicholas Flood Davin on the Leader.
When Mr Trant was at least sixty he entered upon the study of law, passed his examinations and commenced practice at the Bar. He was for several years Police Magistrate in Regina and afterwards Archivist for the Province of Saskatchewan.
In the spring of 1900 I went to visit Mr and Mrs Hamilton in the Qu'Appelle Valley. They had a big farm about five miles west of Lumsden, where their house and buildings overlooked the broad flats of the Valley which furnished almost unlimited pasturage for cattle, while considerable acreage on the fertile southern bench was cultivated to grain. That summer, however, they were not living there. The farm was in charge of a married couple, while Zack's parents lived in a small place in a beautiful situation between the villages of Lumsden and Craven.
They had saddle horses and I was able to indulge my love for riding, and I galloped all about the Valley with Zack's youngest brother, a lad of about fourteen.
About that time an opportunity occurred for Zack to take charge of the Gazette at MacLeod in southern Alberta, during the Dominion Election then impending, and he went there to look over the situation. He found it satisfactory and arranged to move at once. In the meantime, I was to make what preparations were necessary and he would return in about a month when we would be married.
We were married in the afternoon of June 18 and left that day for MacLeod. MacLeod was a typical western cow town. It was situated on a stony beach by the banks of the Old Man's River in plain sight of the Rockies. It consisted of a straggling main street of dingy, weather-boarded buildings which housed the stores, hotels and other business establishments. Back from this thoroughfare were the homes of the citizens, some of them commodious and comfortable; for like most places supported by the cattle industry, MacLeod was prosperous in a modest way.
It seemed to me there were a plethora of hotels. There was one on almost every corner and all did a flourishing business. It was the day of the bars, and every hotel had one of these adjuncts where thirty or forty cow ponies were usually to be seen standing with drooping heads and dejected air by platform or sidewalk in the vicinity; and the natural deduction was that their riders were inside washing the prairie dust from their throats with copious draughts of Scotch or Rye. Wagons were constantly clattering over the stony street; freighting outfits drawn by several span of horses or mules plodded in from the Missouri covered with the dust of a hundred miles; cowboys in their picturesque garb were coming and going, while parties of Blackfeet of fine physique, invariably well mounted, added a wild touch to the scene.
I soon found that MacLeod was one of the windiest places in the whole wide and windy West. All the breezes and gales that gathered in the mountains seemed to concentrate in the Crow's Nest Pass, which lay directly to the westward, and then pour their volume out as through a funnel upon the adjacent country. I have seen small stones and pebbles fly about the streets under the impetus of one of these hurricanes. Indeed, there were legends of people suffering broken legs from big stones rolled about by the gale.
Accustomed as I was to a range country, the region looked to me like a stockman's paradise. The plains rolled up in long mounting ridges; rapid rivers rushed down from their glacier-fed sources in the Mountains and spread out in places to water deep and fertile valleys, while buffalo and bunch grass furnished abundant and nutritious grazing. To the northwest, the foothill range of the Porcupines, cut and slashed by a watercourse and wooded ravine, raised their rounded summits in imitation of their gigantic neighbours the Rockies, which frowned down upon a wide expanse of rolling country. I had never before been in the shadow of the high hills, and they fascinated me.
MacLeod was founded in 1874 by the contingent of the North-West Mounted Police that travelled across the plains from Emerson in Manitoba during the summer of that year. It was for a time the headquarters of the Force and was named after Colonel James MacLeod, one of the early Commissioners of the Force.
Until the advent of the Police, little was known of the region. Vast herds of buffalo roamed the ranges; elk emerged from valley and ravine to browse upon the hillsides of the Porcupines; antelope drifted across the plains; beavers built their dams on creek and rivulet; the grizzly bear made his den in the deep ravines of the foothills; bighorn mountain sheep came down from their native crags to feed at dawn upon the bunchgrass of the eastern slope of the Rockies; and every river and swift-running creek was alive with lusty trout.
Truly, it was a region rich in every natural thing prized by an Indian people, and for centuries the Blackfeet held it inviolate from hostile invader. Even the Hudson's Bay Company, so successful in its dealings with the other Indian tribes, never secured a foothold in the territory of these formidable natives. Once there had been an establishment near the present site of Calgary, but the incessant hostility of the Blackfeet caused it to be abandoned.
The Blackfeet have long been regarded as the aristocrats of the plains' people. Physically they are superior to the other Indians. Many of the men stand six feet and are broad and well proportioned. The women are tall and strong and some of them quite comely, although they tend to corpulency on passing their first maturity. The Blackfeet are fine horsemen and, in later years, some of them have out-ridden the professional cowboys at stampede and rodeo. Certain of their chiefs, such as Crowfoot, Red Crow and Old Sun were born leaders and natural diplomats.
No record of the coming of the Blackfeet to the foothill country exists, but they are unquestionably of Algonquin ancestry and therefore of the same original stock as the Crees and Saulteaux of the Saskatchewan with whom they were constantly at war until the seventies of last century. They have been so long separated from the parent stock of this great Indian family that their language, although bearing unmistakable evidence of Algonquin origin, is not understood by Cree or Saulteaux.
The Blackfeet were divided into three branches; the Blackfeet proper, the Bloods and the Piegans which, with the Sarcees, formed the Blackfoot Confederacy. The alliance with the Sarcees is remarkable since the latter Indians have an entirely different racial and lingual origin. Most Indian authorities identify them with the Chipewyans. They speak a language among themselves said to be understood by the Apaches of New Mexico and Arizona. Few Blackfeet can speak the Sarcee tongue, but nearly all the Sarcees can talk Blackfoot.
Considerable mystery surrounds the arrival of the Sarcees on the plains, but they were there at the time of the earliest explorers. They seem always to have been on the best of terms with the Blackfeet, learning from them to be good horsemen and adepts in plains craft. In appearance they have little resemblance to other prairie Indians, being broad-faced, rather stout and squat in build.
During the late sixties, when American settlement began to ascend the Missouri, some traders sought to establish themselves in the Blackfoot country. It was a dangerous business. These Indians were known to be resentful of the presence of strangers. Undeterred, these frontiersmen succeeded in making a lodgment in the very heart of the Indian country on the Canadian side. They came in large armed parties and built posts surrounded by high palisades, which they defended by cannon dragged across the plains.
The frontiersmen of that period were often wild and lawless, and this foothill country, far away from the reach of any constituted authority, made a tolerably secure refuge for outlaws and freebooters. They gathered at the trading posts and committed many acts of violence against the Indians.
Many of the traders seem also to have been exceedingly unscrupulous. A vile alcoholic concoction known locally as forty rod was used for trade purposes; the Blackfeet were plundered of their furs and horses; the men were shot down when murder could be done with safety, and the women carried off and ravished. Scenes of wild debauchery took place at some of the trading posts, and it is little wonder that a bitter hatred was engendered among the Blackfeet against the whole white race. To put an end to those conditions was one of the chief reasons for the formation of the North-West Mounted Police.
Surely the first expedition of the main body of the Force to the Blackfoot territory in 1874 was as foolhardy an enterprise as was ever attempted within the boundaries of Canada. The fighting force was small and burdened with all kinds of impediments, such as cows, spare horses, a wagon train of supplies, mowing machines and other implements. Their destination lay more than seven hundred miles beyond the fences of the crude civilization of the Red River, and the last two hundred miles was through the territory of one of the most independent and warlike of the Indian tribes. That it succeeded was due to the remarkable judgment of the officers and the indomitable quality of the men.
Relations were early established with the Indians and, when the chiefs discovered that the Redcoats had come as protectors instead of oppressors, they received them with friendship. The Head Chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy was Crowfoot, an Indian of remarkable character and dignity, who at once saw the advantage of the protection afforded against the persecution and exactions of the American whisky traders. He allied with Colonel MacLeod, at first Assistant Commissioner and afterwards Commissioner of the Force, and until the day of his death was a staunch upholder of the law of the British.
One of our first contacts in MacLeod was Harry Nash, who had been for some years Indian Agent at the Piegans. Whilst in that position he narrowly escaped a strange accident. An Indian murderer named Charcoal was to expiate his crime on the scaffold. He had been hunted and harried by the Police all over the country and when he was eventually captured, his legs were so swollen from many winters riding that he had practically lost their use. This man, during the term of his outlawry, became something of a hero among the Indians, and the authorities decided that some of them should have the opportunity of witnessing the retribution meted out to a murderer. Accordingly, Mr Nash was instructed to bring in some of the Piegans and see that they had good ringside seats at the execution. He was placing them in a position below the scaffold platform when the trap was unexpectedly sprung. The condemned man, owing to his inability to stand, was hanged sitting in a chair, and as he came through the trap he just missed alighting upon Mr Nash's head.
Nash had been a top sergeant in the Mounted Police and was one of the escorts of the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada, when he made his journey across the plains in 1881. He had been in Battleford during the Rebellion and then earned a reputation for daring and courage.
After a week or so we "hung our crane" in a house of our own and once more I was back at housekeeping.
There was plenty of activity in MacLeod that summer. The Federal election campaign was in full swing and the youthful R. B. Bennett had entered the arena to try conclusions with the redoubtable Frank Oliver for the Albert seat. In addition to looking after the Gazette, which of course was Conservative, my husband did much political work for Mr Bennett.
The ranching country was Conservative. The cattlemen and their retainers could be relied upon to support the candidature of Mr Bennett. In the country south of the Bow, only Lethbridge, with its considerable coal mining population, and the Mormon district of Cardston could be placed in the Liberal category.
Frank Oliver, Mr Bennett's opponent, was one of the earliest pioneers and had been in Edmonton since the late seventies. He was one of the first elected members of the old North-West Council, and his vigorous advocacy of the rights of the settlers, both in the House and through the columns of the Edmonton Bulletin, of which he was editor and proprietor, had won him strong support in the region north of the Bow River. He was the sitting member in the House of Commons and that gave him a considerable advantage during the period of Liberal dominance.
R. B. Bennett was then in his thirtieth year, full of oratory and patriotic fervour. He had sat for West Calgary in the Territorial Legislature and had attracted a great deal of attention by the hurricane nature of his declamation, his facility in debate and his industry and initiative. He was tall and slim, appearing even younger than his years. He had a high forehead from which he kept the hair brushed back and that contributed to an intellectual appearance that he certainly possessed. In those days of riding boots and soft stetsons, he gave the impression of being immaculately tailored. He believed in his country, the Conservative Party and his own star, and was able to convey the faith that was in him to others. When addressing an audience, information poured from him, and his points were backed by shrewd logic and sound argument. He spoke at tremendous speed and was the despair of every reporter. Those familiar with his measured utterances of later years could never realize the spontaneous rapidity of his oratory when he first entered political life. He must have known every definition in the dictionary and words, ideas, declamation, criticism and arraignment followed each other with the impetuosity of a mountain torrent. In addition to these rather remarkable attributes, he was an excellent lawyer, understood the country and could meet almost any member of the human race on common ground. He fraternized with the cowboy who rode the range, and would not have hesitated a single moment to stand before kings or "greet the embarrassed gods". He had one characteristic rather remarkable in that place and period, he never touched alcoholic drink in any shape or form.
During the election campaign, a big meeting in Mr Bennett's interest was held at Lethbridge. My husband and some other Conservatives in MacLeod arranged for a special engine and a couple of coaches to take a number of Bennett partisans there to attend it.
The MacLeod folk were a jovial lot, always eager for any adventure that promised excitement and fun, so there was no difficulty in obtaining the necessary quota of passengers. Mr Bennett was in his usual fighting form, and the meeting was a success. There had been some differences among Mr Bennett's local supporters, and he arranged to accompany the party back to MacLeod to make adjustments. Zack had intended to remain in Lethbridge overnight but decided to return with Mr Bennett.
During the interval between the conclusion of the meeting and the hour set for the starting of the train, most of the MacLeod contingent visited the bars with which the place abounded, and drank success to the Conservative Party in general, Mr Bennett in particular, and confusion to everything that bore the name of Liberal. Consequently, when the train was ready, it was an exceedingly convivial throng that piled into the coaches. They were in a condition that would have rendered them oblivious to the presence of the Prime Minister of Canada or the King of England himself, and Mr Bennett and my husband took refuge in the caboose with the train crew.
It was a fearful night. The wind came leaping and shouting out of the Crow's Nest Pass and the whole country seemed to cower under its buffetings. There was at that time one of the longest trestle bridges in the whole country over the river and its approaches a little west of Lethbridge. As the train fought its way slowly across this structure, it appeared as if the wind would pluck it bodily off the rails and cast it into the river. Mr Bennett and my husband both confessed to some tremors during the passage, but the MacLeod Conservatives were like Tam o' Shanter: "The Storm outside might roar and wrastle Tam didna mind the storm a whustle."
The bridge eventually was crossed in safety and the train "bucked" its way over the prairie into the gale that every moment seemed increasing in violence.
There was little if any settlement between Lethbridge and MacLeod. Somewhere about Fort Kipp, where there were the ruins of one of the old posts of the whisky traders, the din from the coaches rose above the sound of the storm. An empty bottle was hurled through the glass of one of the windows, and Mr Bennett decided to leave his refuge in the Caboose to see if his presence would not calm his hilarious supporters. When he came out on the platform, a gust of wind caught his hat and whirled it away into the darkness. As he entered the vestibule, he remarked: "I am sorry to lose that hat; it has an inscribed silver plate in it that I received at college."
A member of the MacLeod party who heard him instantly pulled the bell cord; brakes were applied and the train came to a shuddering stop. A brakesman appeared with his lantern and, accompanied by Mr Bennett and Zack, disembarked to search for the missing headgear. When they got clear of the train, the wind assailed them with incredible violence and the blown gravel from the surface of the prairie stung like hail. They stumblingly pursued their quest and, strange to relate, discovered the hat which, weighed down by the silver plate, had come to rest in the lee of a ditch.
When they returned to the train they were greeted by no sounds of conviviality. The light filtered dimly through the dusty windows and with a clearer way through the broken pane, but everything was as quiet as a church.
"Whatever has happened!" said Mr Bennett. "Our MacLeod friends must have gone to sleep."
But investigation revealed that there was not a soul left in the coaches. The trainmen in the caboose and engine cab had not observed their departure, and any noise they might have made was drowned by the storm. Something had to be done. All the lanterns were requisitioned and Mr Bennett, the train crew and my husband, started out to look for them.
It was a somewhat arduous round-up. The Conservatives were found stumbling along in the direction in which they thought MacLeod lay and shepherded back to the train. When the stop was made, the passengers came to the conclusion they had reached the MacLeod station that then was about two miles from the town and they piled out. The lack of the usual buildings did not seem to worry them, perhaps they figured they could not see them in the darkness and after looking around for the conveyance usually on hand to convey passengers from the train and not finding it, decided they would walk home and set out to do it.
I shall never forget that night. Miss Thomas, a friend from Regina, who had come to visit me, was in the house with me. I had already experienced some samples of the strength of the breeze in that portion of the country, but on that occasion, the father of all winds was abroad. The house rocked in the gale, gravel and small stones assailed the walls in volleys. It seemed as if the darkness cloaked a legion of demons which rode the wind, shouting, crying and bursting into mad, gigantic laughter. We could scarcely hear ourselves speak. There was no use going to bed; sleep was out of the question and we sat, apprehensive, by the fire.
About two o'clock in the morning we heard the ting-a-ling of the doorbell. The storm had made us fearful and we jumped like nervous cats. We debated if we should answer the summons, which was being repeated with insistence.
At last Miss Thomas got up and said: "Come along; a ring is honest anyway," and we proceeded with caution to the door. It was bolted at the top. The ringing had stopped and the lower part of the door was bulging in, indicating that someone outside was trying to force it, and we pushed with all our might to keep the intruder out. Presently the pressure eased up but, breathless and frightened, we still kept pushing. Then Miss Thomas exclaimed: "Oh Heavens! The dining-room window is being opened."
We rushed there, and sure enough, whoever was outside had succeeded in raising it some inches. We were about to exert all our strength in forcing it down when, during a lull, we heard my husband call out imploringly: "For God's sake, let me in out of this so-and-so storm."
I have heard many fanciful tales of the Crow's Nest Pass gales, but after that night I can well believe every one of them.
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Another of our neighbours in MacLeod was Dick Steele, a brother of Colonel Sir Sam Steele of Strathcona's Horse and South African fame. He was a sturdy old veteran who had been one of the early members of the North-West Mounted Police. His wife was a motherly native woman, to whom I was indebted for much kindness. I needed some help in the house, and Mrs Steele got me a Cree girl as a domestic. This young woman could speak English and was a good worker. She answered to the name of Ellen Johnson.
We had never known any Indian bearing the name of Johnson and interrogated her as to her relatives. She was obviously of the pureblood but insisted her father was Sam Johnson, adding with some pride that she was a granddaughter of Big Bear, who had achieved notoriety owing to the part his Indians had played in the Frog Lake Massacre and the attack on Fort Pitt in 1885. Later we found out she was the daughter of Lone Man, one of the most daring Indians who took the warpath in 1885, whose wife was a daughter of Big Bear.
About 1884 Lone Man, who was an adventurous character, had been on a foraging expedition in Montana and succeeded in acquiring a grey racehorse, which he brought back with him to the North Saskatchewan.
After the massacre at Frog Lake, the members of Big Bear's band laid siege to Fort Pitt which, in addition to housing employees of the Hudson's Bay Co., was garrisoned by a detachment of the Mounted Police under Inspector Dickens, a son of the novelist. When the Indians were gathered around the Fort threatening an attack, W. F. MacLean, the Hudson's Bay officer in charge, very pluckily went out in an attempt to induce them to cease hostilities.
Before the arrival of the hostile Indians, a scouting party had been sent out from the Fort. It consisted of Constables Cowan and Loasby and Harry Quinn, the nephew of the Indian Agent murdered at Frog Lake. Mr MacLean was holding a council with the Indians and was having some success when the scouts returned.
At the sight of the Indians, Quinn turned his horse and galloped off to take shelter in the trees along the River, but the two Mounties made a determined effort to reach the Fort by galloping through the mob of Indians that surrounded Mr MacLean. Fire was at once opened on them but they succeeded in passing through the throng. Cowan's horse, alarmed by the firing, stopped in its tracks and commenced to buck frantically. Cowan reached the ground somehow and ran in the direction of the Fort. Encumbered with jackboots and equipment, he was no match for the moccasined Indians and was overtaken and shot down.
Loasby seemed to have a good chance of reaching safety, although closely pursued by Lone Man on the grey racer when his horse was staggered by a bullet. Lone Man was too close to stop, and the Mountie, the Indian and the two horses went down in a heap. Loasby was out of the scrimmage first and, rising to his feet, made a rush for the gate of the Fort. Very coolly Lone Man picked himself up and, going down on one knee, took careful aim at the running Redcoat. The rifle cracked and Loasby fell. Seeing their comrade down, the Mounties in the Fort, who had hitherto held their fire for fear of injuring Loasby, assailed Lone Man with a volley. Not a bullet hit him and he sank into the grass and disappeared. But he was an indomitable fellow and not to be robbed of the trophies of his bow and spear. Wriggling snake-like through the grass he succeeded in reaching the fallen Mountie. Believing him dead he removed his cartridge belt and revolver and crawled back. He had not retreated very far when Loasby came to himself and staggering to his feet, succeeded in reaching the Fort before Lone Man had sufficiently recovered from his astonishment to take another shot at him.
At the close of the Rebellion, when endeavouring to make his escape from the Saskatchewan country, Lone Man was suspected of having assisted in the killing of a ferryman. This was never brought home to him. Later when in the vicinity of Edmonton he was recognized, arrested and confined in the Police guardroom. He made his escape but was recaptured after a struggle. He was sentenced to a long term in the penitentiary.
After the expiration of his sentence he turned up at Pincher Creek in Alberta, where he lived for many years under the name of Sam Johnson.
Our Ellen Johnson was not altogether a success as a domestic, which is perhaps not to be wondered at when the fighting qualities of her ancestors are taken into consideration.
In 1934 Constable Loasby, who was so badly wounded at Fort Pitt, called upon us in Regina and we discussed with him many of the details of those stirring times. He carried as mementoes the two bullets that had been removed from his body after his encounter with Lone Man. He was then a fine sturdy veteran bearing his years gallantly and an excellent type of the men who in the early days constituted the North-West Mounted Police.
But in discussing the family history of Miss Johnson's relatives I have wandered miles away from MacLeod on the banks of the Old Man's River.
Loasby told me in 1934 that when Lone Man was sentenced to prison, he asked the Judge to arrange that his hair should not be cut. The Judge coldly informed him that he had no control over the tonsorial arrangements at the Penitentiary. The Indian then said, indicating Loasby who had borne witness against him, "If I had known the Smawginis (Mounted Policeman) was still alive when I took his revolver and belt from him, he would not be here today to help to send me to prison."
One afternoon, my friend Miss Thomas and I went downtown on a shopping expedition. The Slide-out "Round-up" was in the vicinity, and many horsemen were riding about the streets. Our attention was attracted to the neighbourhood of the Town Station of the Mounted Police, where there seemed to be some commotion. Corporal Dooley, a plump and good-natured Irishman, who was on town duty, was entering the door of his quarters with some precipitation, being urged thereto by a young cowboy, Joe Gallagher, who was galloping after him swinging a lariat. Just as Dooley reached the door Joe took a cast. The Mountie ducked but the loop caught the pillbox forage cap which the members of the Force then wore, jerking it from his head.
It seems this lad had been creating a disturbance, and Dooley placed him under arrest. While the prisoner was being escorted to the station, he suddenly broke away and, in almost a single bound, was on the back of a cow pony standing untied by the sidewalk. The Mountie telephoned the Barracks for reinforcements. In the meantime, the cowboy, master of the situation, amused himself by racing about the main street.
Presently two redcoats were seen riding from the Barracks to render aid and encouragement to Dooley. When Joe sighted them, he gave a whoop of delight and started in their direction swinging his rope. He neatly picked the leading Mountie from his horse. The Redcoat was on his feet in a moment, running at the top of his speed to prevent the rope being tightened about him. His comrade produced his revolver and opened fire upon the cowboy, who was halted long enough to enable the captive to cast off the loop. Then ensued a unique battle in the streets of MacLeod. Gallagher, armed with his rope, was having rather the best of it, while the two Mounties were squibbling away with their revolvers without doing much damage.
The streets were almost cleared of people before we realized what was going on. The bullets were beating a rat-tat, tat against the wooden buildings near where we were passing, and we betook ourselves from the vicinity with all the expedition at our command.
The good folks of MacLeod were extracting a great deal of enjoyment from the show. They left the streets clear for the contestants, but crowded at upper windows, while some daring souls even mounted the roofs of buildings to get a better view of the proceedings. Some ladies pursued the ancient avocation of Rahab of Jericho in a row of houses at the far end of the Main Street, and as the battle surged in their direction, they cried encouragement to the doughty Joe from door and window.
More reinforcements were sent for, but before they arrived, a Piegan Scout of the Mounted Police came loping into town. The cowboy had profound contempt for the pistol practice of the recruits, but with the arrival of the Indian, he realized real danger. The Scout had a Winchester in the scabbard under his stirrup, which he disengaged and dismounting, prepared for action. Accordingly, the cowboy shouted to the Mounties, "just you wait here till I ride out to the ranch for a gun. Then I will show youse fellers how to shoot."
Then he wheeled his horse and, plunging into the river, swam across to the far bank where he disappeared among the trees. When he had sobered up he surrendered to justice. His lawyer argued that he had been grievously provoked by the Mounties firing upon him and, as their actions had by no means been in accordance with the approved traditions of the Force, Joe escaped with a nominal penalty.
At that time, the ranks of the North-West Mounted Police were seriously depleted owing to the enlistment of many of the experienced men in Strathcona's Horse and the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, and in some cases duties were being done by young recruits that otherwise would have been performed by seasoned and experienced men of the Force. A couple of old-time Mounties would have made short work of the cowboy on the rampage.
MacLeod depended for its existence on the stockmen and their retainers, and the citizens were tolerant of the escapades of the range riders. Once when there was a race meeting on, and the hotels were taxed to capacity, the manager of one of the big ranches brought a party of his guests to the MacLeod House for dinner. One of them was his sister-in-law, a society lady of Montreal. There was a great clatter of dishes and the waitresses were hurrying from table to table giving what service they could. The young lady in question was making signals to the girl who attended the table of her party, and in the bustle was not successful. A cowboy at an adjoining table endeavoured to second her efforts by striking his cup with his knife, but with no better result. Then leaning over in her direction he remarked confidentially: "Never mind, Miss; I'll bring her."
He thereupon produced a large revolver from his person and fired an exceedingly noisy shot into the ceiling. He succeeded in attracting the attention, not only of the waitress but of everyone in the room, causing considerable embarrassment to the young lady to whom he desired merely to show some politeness.
Scarcely had the echo of the shot died away when an irate individual, in scanty attire, appeared at the door of the dining-room, displaying the handle of some crockery utensil and demanding who the blankety-blank had shot his shaving mug to pieces in an upper room when he was peacefully engaged in removing his whiskers.
Zack spent the day of the Federal Election in Cardston, and I am afraid it was rather a discouraging one for him. There were only a few votes cast for Mr Bennett in the whole district.
The morning after the election, he rode back to MacLeod, tired and considerably dispirited. When he learned that the Dominion had gone Liberal, all he said was: "God help poor Canada."