THE YOUNG ALASKANS IN THE ROCKIES
BY EMERSON HOUGH
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON MCMXIII
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY HARPER & BROTHERS
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER, 1913
I. ROB, JOHN, AND JESSE IN CAMP 9 II. AT THE FIRESIDE 18 III. HITTING THE TRAIL 28 IV. WESTWARD HO 48 V. HIGHER THAN THE ROCKIES 54 VI. THE ATHABASCA AT LAST 63 VII. CROSSING THE ATHABASCA 68 VII. IN HIGH ALTITUDES 78 IX. THE HEART OF THE MOUNTAINS 85 X. RAINBOW LAKE 91 XI. THE PASS 102 XII. THE WILDERNESS 116 XIII. AFTER THE WHITE GOATS 126 XIV. DOWN THE FRASER 144 XV. THE GREAT MOUNTAIN 156 XVI. AT THE TETE JAUNE CACHE 162 XVII. LEO THE GRIZZLY-HUNTER 172 XVIII. SOUTHWARD BOUND 180 XIX. ON THE CANOE RIVER 186 XX. CARIBOU IN CAMP 192 XXI. THE FIRST BEAR CAMP 198 XXII. THE YOUNG GRIZZLY-HUNTERS 215 XXIII. ONWARD BOUND 241 XXIV. THE BOAT ENCAMPMENT 247 XXV. HISTORY ON THE GROUND 263 XXVI. DOWN THE COLUMBIA 276 XXVII. ON THE RAPIDS 283 XXVIII. IN SIGHT OF SAFETY 295 XXIX. STORIES OF THE COLUMBIA 303 XXX. THE END OF THE TRAIL 315
A TRAPPER'S SHACK, STANDING AT THE EDGE OF THE BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAIN LAKE WHICH LAY GREEN AND MIRROR-LIKE, SURROUNDED ON ALL SIDES BY GREAT MOUNTAIN WALLS Frontispiece
ROB'S GOAT Facing p. 138
APPROACHING THE GRAND CANYON ON THE FRASER RIVER " 146
TOWERING ABOVE ALL AND DWARFING ALL RIVALRY THERE STOOD BEFORE THEM ONE GREAT, NOBLE WHITE-TOPPED PEAK—MT. ROBSON " 158
THE BIG BEND OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER " 248
THE COLUMBIA RIVER, ABOVE THE BOAT ENCAMPMENT " 252
ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER " 300
REVELSTOKE CANYON " 320
YOUNG ALASKANS IN THE ROCKIES
ROB, JOHN, AND JESSE IN CAMP
"Well, here we are, fellows," said Jesse Wilcox, as he threw down an armful of wood at the side of the camp-fire. "For my part, I believe this is going to be about the best trip we ever had."
"That's what I was telling Rob to-day," said John Hardy, setting down a pail of water near by. "But I hope I won't have to carry water up a bank a hundred feet high every night."
"We are not as far north this time as we were last summer," said Jesse, "but the country looks something the same."
"Yes," replied John, "but last year we were going east and farther away from home every day. Now we're going west to the Rockies and across them, getting closer to home all the time."
Rob McIntyre, the oldest of our friends who had made so many trips together in the wilderness, sat silent, as was often his custom, smiling out of his frank blue eyes at his companions.
"What do you think about it, Rob?" asked Jesse.
"I agree with you, Jess," replied Rob. "I've always wanted to get into this part of the Rocky Mountains. The Yellowhead Pass, over yonder, is the place I've always wanted to see. It's an old pass across the Rockies, but no one seems to know much about it."
"Besides," went on Jesse, "we ought to get plenty of game and good fishing."
"Surely we will, for this is a country that no one visits, although we are now on the trail of the old fur-traders who came here often enough more than a hundred years ago. On the high ridges in here you can see the old trail cut down a foot deep. And it was made in part by the feet of men, more than a hundred years ago."
"Besides," added John, "we can see where the engineers have gone ahead of us."
"Yes," said Rob, "they've pretty much followed the trail of the old fur-traders."
"Didn't they come by water a good way up here?" asked John.
Rob answered by pulling out of his pocket a long piece of heavy paper, a map which they three had worked over many days, laying out for themselves in advance the best they knew how the route which they were to follow and the distances between the main points of interest. "Now, look here," said he, "and you'll see that for once we are at a place where the old voyageurs had to leave their boats and take to the land. We're going to cross the Rockies at the head of the Athabasca River, but you see it runs away northeast from its source at first, at least one hundred miles north of Edmonton. That used to be called Fort Augustus in the old days, and the voyageurs went all the way up there from Montreal by canoe. Sometimes they followed the Saskatchewan from there. That brought them into the Rockies away south of here. They went over the Kootenai Plains there, and over the Howse Pass, which you know is between here and Banff."
"I know," said Jesse, eagerly. "Uncle Dick told us they used to go down the Blaeberry Creek to the Columbia River."
"Exactly; and there was a way they could go near the Wood River to the Columbia River. For instance, here on the map is a place near the head of the Big Bend of the Columbia. That's the old Boat Encampment, of which the old histories tell so much."
"You don't suppose we'll ever get there?" said John, doubtfully. "It looks a long ways off from here."
"Of course we will," said Rob, firmly. "When we've pushed up to the head of the Athabasca River and gone over the Yellowhead Pass it will all be downhill. We'll go fast when we hit the rivers running south. And we'll come in but a little way from the Boat Encampment, which was a rendezvous for all the old traders who crossed by the Saskatchewan trail below us. But, you see, we'll be taking a new way; and I agree with Jess that it will be about the best trip we ever had."
"Those old fur-traders were great fellows to travel, weren't they?" said Jesse, looking curiously at the deep-worn, ancient trail which ran close by their camp.
"Yes," said Rob, "they weren't afraid of anything. When they got to Fort Augustus they had three choices of routes west over the Rockies. They could go away north to the Peace River—old Sir Alexander McKenzie's trail, which we followed last summer; or they could go up the Saskatchewan the way David Thompson used to go to the Columbia River; or they could strike west by cart or pack-horse from Fort Augustus and cross this rolling country until they struck the Athabasca, and then follow up that to the Yellowhead Pass. I shouldn't wonder if old Jasper Hawse was one of the first trail-makers in here. But, as I was saying, those who came this route had to leave their boats at Edmonton. Here at Wolf Creek we are about one hundred and thirty miles west of there. For a long while they used to have a good wagon trail as far as Saint Anne, and, as you know, it has been pretty much like a road all the way out here."
"I like the narrow trail best," said John; "one made by feet and not wheels."
"Yes," went on Rob, "perhaps that's why we're so anxious to get on with this trip. The water does not leave any mark when you travel on it, but here is the trail of the old traders worn deep into the soil. A fellow can almost see them walking or riding along here, with their long rifles and their buckskin clothes."
"That's what I like about these trips Uncle Dick lays out sometimes," said Jesse. "A fellow sort of has to read about the country and the men who found it first."
"Yes," John assented, "reading about these old places makes you begin to see that there is quite a world besides the part of the world where we were born. It seems as though these old fellows in the past weren't making these trails just for themselves."
"Pshaw! I'll bet they just wanted furs, that was all," ventured Jesse. "But, anyhow, they found the paths, all right."
"The Indians found the paths ahead of the traders," said Rob. "I fancy the white men did not have such hard times learning which way to go. The Indians must have worked backward and forward across almost every pass in the mountains before the white men came. It makes me feel kind of strange to be here, just where the great-grandfathers of white people used to travel, and then to think that before their grandfathers were born this country was all old to the red men, who held it long before the white men came."
"Well," said John, who was of a practical turn of mind, "it's starting in pretty well. We've got some whitefish left that we caught at Lake Waubamun, and the grouse which we killed this afternoon will make up a good supper. I s'pose if we were the first to cross over we might have got antelope in here, or, anyhow, deer."
"I'm glad Uncle Dick is going along," said Jesse. "He went over with the first engineer party, so he knows about all the bad places. We certainly had muskeg enough yesterday and the day before. If it's any worse ahead than it is behind it's going to be pretty tough."
"Look yonder, fellows!" said Rob, suddenly rising and pointing to the westward.
They followed his gesture and for a moment stood silent with him.
"It's the Rockies!" said they, almost in unison.
The clouds had now broken away late in the afternoon, and for the first time they could see across the wide expanse of forest lands which stretched unbroken to the northward and westward, the low white line of the great backbone of the continent—the Rockies, land of mystery and adventure for bold souls since history began in this part of our continent. The boys stood silent for quite a while, absorbed in the vision of the distant hills and the thoughts which the sight awakened in their hearts.
"I'd like to take the trail again to-night," said Rob, as though to himself. "I can hardly wait."
"They're fine little old hills, aren't they?" said John. "I wish we could go farther toward them, every day. I want to get over to where the water starts west."
"Yes," added Jesse, "and see where old Yellowhead himself made his camp a hundred years ago."
"Well, Jess," said John, "you can go as Yellowhead, Junior, maybe, because your hair is sort of red, anyway. But I wonder where Uncle Dick and Moise have got to; they ought to be in by now, with the extra horses from the village."
"Trust Moise to be in on time for supper," said Rob. "Come on and let's get the rest of the wood for to-night."
They turned now toward the tasks of the camp, work with which they were familiar, Jesse carrying some more wood, and John, whose turn it was to bring in the water, starting once more down the steep slope to the little creek which lay below them. Rob, who had completed his portion of the camp labor, still stood silent, apparently forgetful of all about him, staring steadily at the low broken line of white which marked the summit of the Rockies and the head of the great Athabasca River which lay on beyond to the westward.
AT THE FIRESIDE
"Well, well, young men!" broke out a hearty voice, not long after our young friends had completed their evening's work and were seated near the fire. "How are you getting on? Are the mosquitoes pretty bad?"
"Hello, Uncle Dick!" answered John. "We thought it was about time for you to be coming up."
"And about mosquitoes," answered Jesse, brushing at his face, "I should say they were pretty bad for early spring."
"Well, I'm glad to be in for the day," remarked the tall, lean-looking man they all called Uncle Dick—the friend to whom they owed so many pleasant and adventurous journeys in out-of-the-way parts of the country. He was dressed as the men of the engineers usually were in the rough preliminary survey work. He wore a wide white hat, flannel shirt, loose woolen clothing, and high laced boots. His face was burned brown with the suns of many lands, but his blue eyes twinkled with a kindly light, which explained why all of these boys were so fond of him.
"Where's Moise?" asked Rob, after a time, assisting Uncle Dick at unsaddling his riding-pony.
"Just back on the trail a way," replied the older member of the party. "Stuck in the mud. Considerable muskeg in here, believe me."
Presently they could hear the voice of Moise, the remaining member of their party, who was to go along as cook and assistant with the pack-train. He was singing in a high voice some odd Indian tune, whose words may have been French; for Moise Richard, as all our readers will remember who followed the fortunes of our young adventurers in their trip along the Peace River, was a French half-breed, and a man good either with boats or horses.
"Hello, Moise!" cried the three companions, as he came into view, driving ahead of him the remainder of the pack-train. They pronounced his name as he did, "Mo-ees".
"Hello, young mans," exclaimed Moise, smiling as usual as he slipped out of his saddle. "How was you all, hein? I'll bet you was glad to see old Moise. You got hongree, what?"
"Certainly we are," replied John for all three. "We always are."
"That's the truth," laughed Uncle Dick. "Lucky we've got a couple of pack-horses apiece, and lucky the engineers have got some supplies cached over there in the Rockies."
"Well, some of those new horse, she was fool horse," said Moise. "She'll want to go back on his home, or run off on the bush. She's like any fool pack-horse, and don't want to do what he knows is right worth a cent, him."
"Well, never mind," said Uncle Dick, carelessly. "I imagine our train will be like all pack-trains, better when they get settled down to work. It's always a lot of trouble until they get straightened around and shaken down to the work."
"I'll goin' to put some bell on those old gray mare Betsy," said Moise. "Maybe those fool horse will follow him, Betsy. All the time six height hour, I've chase those fool horse where she'll break out and eat grass. They make more trouble for Moise than all his eleven, ten children up on Peace River."
"I don't believe your children are troubling you very much now, Moise," said Uncle Dick.
"No, my hooman, she'll know how to herd those childrens," said Moise, calmly. "S'pose those baby start out for eat grass, she'll told him, no, not do that, and he'll learn pretty soon. Now if a little baby can learn, why can't a three-year-old horse with white eye—I'm going to talk to that fool yellow horse, me, before long."
"Well," said Uncle Dick, "we'll get all the packs off now and finish the camp."
"Whoa, there!" called out Moise to the offending claybank cayuse which had caused him most of his trouble that afternoon. "Hol' still now, or Moise, she'll stick his foot in your eye."
But Uncle Dick only laughed at the threatening Moise, knowing that in his heart he was kindly. Indeed, he smoothed down the warm back of the cayuse with a gentle hand when he took off the pack. Soon all the packs were in a row on the ground, not far from the fire, each with a cover thrown over the saddle. Our three young companions helped put hobbles on the fore-legs of the horses, and soon all the horse band, twelve in number, were hopping away from the camp in search of grass and water. They found the latter in a little slough a short distance back on the trail, and did not attempt the steep descent to Wolf Creek.
The three young friends assisted in unpacking the animal which carried their tent and blankets. They had lashed on the cow-saddles of their own riding-horses the little war-bags or kit-bags of soft leather in which each boy carried his own toilet articles and little things for personal use. Their rifles and rods they also slung on their riding-saddles. Now, with the skill of long training, they put up their own tent, and spread down their own blanket beds, on the edge of which they placed their guns and rods, making pillows out of their folded sweaters. Soon they were helping Moise with his cooking at the fire and enjoying as usual their evening conversation with that cheerful friend.
It did not take Moise, old-timer as he was, very long to get his bannocks and tea ready, and to fry the whitefish and grouse which the boys now brought to him.
Uncle Dick looked at his watch after a time. "Forty minutes," said he.
"For what?" demanded Jesse.
"Well, it took us forty minutes to get off the packs and hobble the horses and get supper ready. That's too long—we ought to have it all done and supper over in that time. We'll have to do better than this when we get fully on the trail."
"What's the use in being in such a hurry?" demanded John, who was watching the frying-pan very closely.
"It's always a good thing to get the camp work done quickly mornings and evenings," replied the leader of the party. "We've got a long trip ahead, and I'd like to average twenty-five miles a day for a while, if I could. Maybe we'll have to content ourselves with fifteen miles a good many days. The best way is to get an early start and make a long drive, and an early camp. Then get your packs off as early as you can, and let your horses rest—that's always good doctrine."
"Well, one thing," said Jesse, "I hope the mosquitoes won't be any worse than they are now."
"Well," Uncle Dick replied, "when we get higher up the nights will get cool earlier, but we'll have mosquitoes all the way across, that's pretty sure. But you fellows mustn't mind a thing like that. We've all got our mosquito bars and tents, and very good ones too."
"No good for fight mosquito," said Moise, grinning. "He's too many."
"Oh, go on, Moise, they don't hurt you when they bite you," said John.
"Nor will they hurt you so badly after a time," Uncle Dick said to him. "You get used to it—at least, to some extent. But there is something in what Moise has told you—don't fight mosquitoes too hard, so that you get excited and nervous over it. Don't slap hard enough to kill a dog—just brush them off easy. Take your trouble as easy as you can on trail—that's good advice. This isn't feather-bed work, exactly; but then I don't call you boys tenderfeet, exactly, either. Now go and finish the beds up for the night before it gets too dark."
Jesse crawled into the back part of the tent and fished out three specially made nets, each of cheese-cloth sewed to a long strip of canvas perhaps six feet long and two and one-half feet wide. At each corner of this canvas a cord was sewed, so that it could be tied to a tent-pole, or to a safety-pin stuck in the top of the tent. Then the sides, which were long and full, could be tucked in at the edges of the bed, so that no mosquitoes could get in. Each boy had his own net for his own bed, so that, if he was careful in getting in under the net, he would be pretty sure of sleeping free from the mosquitoes, no matter how bad they were. Uncle Dick had a similar net for his own little shelter-tent. As for Moise, he had a head-net and a ragged piece of bar which he did not use half the time, thinking it rather beneath him to pay too much attention to the small nuisances.
"You'll better go to bed pretty soon, young mans," said Moise, speaking to his young friends after they had finished their supper. "If those fly bite me, he'll got sick of eating so much smoke, him. But those fly, he like to bite little boy." And he laughed heartily, as he saw the young companions continually brushing at their faces.
Uncle Dick drew apart from the camp at the time and went out to the edge of the bank, looking down at the water far below.
"You can bet that's a steep climb," commented John—"two hundred feet, I should think. And I don't see how we'll get the horses down there in the morning."
"At least one hundred and fifty feet," assented his uncle. "But I reckon we can get across it somehow, if the engineers can get a railroad and trains of cars over it—and that's what they're going to do next year. But, as I have told you, never worry until the time comes when you're on the trail. The troubles'll come along fast enough, perhaps, without our hurrying them up any. Take things easy—that's what gets engineers and horses and railroads across the Rockies."
"How long before we get to the Rockies, Uncle Dick?" inquired John, pointing to the west, where the clouds had now hidden the distant range from view.
"All in due time, all in due time, my son," replied the engineer, smiling down at him. "A good deal depends on how quickly we can make and break camp, and how many miles we can get done each day through muskeg and bush and over all sorts of trails and fords. For instance, if we lost half our horses in Wolf Creek here to-morrow, we might have to make quite a wait. But don't worry—just turn in before the mosquitoes get you."
HITTING THE TRAIL
"Look on the tent, fellows!" exclaimed Jesse, the first thing next morning, just as dawn was beginning to break. "It's almost solid mosquitoes!"
"About a million," said John, sitting up in his blankets. "All of them with cold feet, waiting for the sun to come up."
They were looking at the top of the tent, where in the folds of the netting a great cloud of mosquitoes had gathered in the effort to get through the cheese-cloth.
"Did any bite you in the night, Jesse?" asked Rob, from his bed.
"No, but I could hear them sing a good deal until I went to sleep."
"Well, come ahead; let's roll out," said Rob. "All those mosquitoes will come to life when it gets warm."
They kicked off the blankets, slipped into their clothing, and soon were out in the cool morning air. The spring night had been a dewy one, and all the shrubs and grasses were very wet.
"Hello there, young mans!" they heard a voice exclaim, and saw Moise's head thrust out from beneath his shelter. "You'll got up pretty early, no?"
"Well, we've got to be moving early," said Rob. "Anyway, we beat Uncle Dick up this morning."
"That's right," called out the voice of Uncle Dick, from his tent, "but the quicker we get started the quicker we'll get over Wolf Creek. Now you boys go over there where you hear the gray mare's bell and see if you can round up all the pack-train. You'll learn before long that half the campaign of a pack-train trip is hunting horses in the morning. But they'll stick close where the pea-vine is thick as it is here."
Our three young Alaskans were used to wet grass in the morning, and after the first plunge, which wet them to the skin, they did not mind the dew-covered herbage. Soon, shouting and running, they were rounding up the hobbled pack-horses, which, with the usual difficulty, they finally succeeded in driving up close to the camp, where by this time Moise had his fire going. The wilder of the horses they tied to trees near by, but some of the older ones stood unhitched with heads drooping in the chill morning air, as though unhappy, but resigned to their fate. Moise, as usual, rewarded old gray Betsy, the bell-mare, with a lump of sugar as she passed by. The others, with the strange instinct of pack-horses to follow a leader, grouped themselves near to the old white mare. The boys put the blankets over the backs of some of the horses while waiting for Moise to finish his breakfast.
"Grub pile!" sung out Moise, after a while; and soon, in the damp morning air, with white mist hanging over the low land about them, they were eating their morning meal.
"Tea for breakfast," said Rob, smiling. "Well, I suppose it's all right up here, but in our country we mostly have coffee."
"We'd have it here if we could get it good," said Uncle Dick; "but, you see, we're a good ways from home, and coffee doesn't keep as well as tea on the trail, besides being much bulkier."
"Now," said Jesse, his mouth full of bacon, "as soon as I get done breakfast I'm going to try that diamond hitch all over again. Moise says the one I did yesterday slipped on him."
"That's happened to many a good packer," said Uncle Dick. "Sometimes a pack gets snagged in the bush, or all sorts of other things may happen to it. They tell me that a mule will look at two trees and not try to go between them if it sees the pack won't squeeze through, but with some of these northern cayuses I think they try to see how many times they can crowd through between trees and scrape off their packs. But finish your breakfast, young men, and eat plenty, because we're going to have a long trip to-day."
After they had finished breakfast Rob led up the big roan Billy, which always went next to the gray lead-mare with the mare, and on which they usually packed their blankets and small tent. Billy stood quite calmly, but with his head and ears depressed, as though feeling very sad.
"Ready with those blanket packs now, boys," called Uncle Dick; and soon they had them alongside, each bed rolled in its canvas covering.
"Now up with the saddle, Rob."
Rob threw the sawbuck pack-saddle on top of the padded blanket.
"Cinch tight—that's half in packing, to have the saddle firm."
And, following Uncle Dick's instruction, Rob made the cinch as tight as he could.
"Now get on the off side," said Uncle Dick; "and Jesse, you watch us, how we work. You can all help if you want to.
"Are your sling-ropes all ready, Rob?" he inquired next. "Of course, you see, the sling-ropes simply act like baskets on each side the pack-saddle. They only support, and don't make fast.
"Now then, up with your side packs into your sling-ropes—so—that's all right. Then the top pack on over the saddle, fitting well between the two side packs. Shake them all down so to fit tight together. Now throw the canvas cover over the top, and see that nothing is where it will get busted when you cinch up.
"There, now, that's all right as far as it goes. Next we come to the one part of packing more important than anything else. It is the hitch which holds everything together. We're going to throw the diamond hitch now. Without that, folks couldn't have settled this western country or built railroads over the Rockies, maybe."
"Who first invented the diamond hitch, Uncle Dick?" queried Rob.
"Nobody knows, but it's Spanish, that's sure, and not Canadian. It got up this far north on both sides of the Rockies, brought by miners and packers of all colors and nationalities. Originally it came from Mexico, and it came there from Spain, and perhaps it came to Spain from northern Africa—who knows?—along with the cow-horse itself."
"But they don't always throw it the same way."
"No, there are several different throws of the diamond hitch, all of them good. The one I'll show you was showed me by an old cargador in California. Now watch carefully how it is done, for it is easier to see it than to tell about it.
"Now, here we have the long rope which makes the hitch. Some packers throw the loose end out over the back of the horse. We'll just let it point the other way—leave it tied to the horse's neck if you want.
"At the other end of the rope is our cinch-band, and the cinch-hook at the other end of the band or girth. It's made out of wood or horn sometimes. Now, Rob, I am going to pass the belly-band under the horse. Catch the hook when it comes through. Are you all right now?"
"Yes, I've got it," answered Rob.
"Very well—you're the off-side packer, for it takes two to pack a horse. Now watch closely, all of you, at what comes next. You see Rob has the hook in his hand and I have the rest of the rope in my hand. Now I double the rope and throw it over the top of the pack to Rob, and he hooks the bight of the doubled rope over the cinch-hook. Got that all right now?"
"Yes, sir," said Rob, "I've got it hooked. That's easy so far."
"Well, now it isn't going to be quite so easy. I've known lots of intelligent men who never could get this thing straight in their heads at all. Now watch how I pull this doubled rope toward me across the top of the pack. The long end, on the left, is free, and I tighten the right-hand leg of the rope. Now, you see I pass the left-hand leg under the right-hand in another long loop, or bight—this way, see. Now I can enlarge that loop by pulling some of the free end of the rope through, can't I? I leave it all loose, because we don't pull things up until we get the whole hitch thrown and set.
"Now I pull my big loose loop out toward the rear of the pack on my side. And I just twist the loop over, side for side, until you see it bind or twist in the middle on top the pack. That's the important thing. Now I run the right-hand side of my loop on the right-hand lower corner of my side pack. Then I carry it under the bottom of the side pack and around the lower corner in front. I just tighten it up a little, as I do this.
"Now, Rob, it's your turn. You take hold of the free end of the rope which I have tossed over to you. It runs from the twist on top of the pack to your left-hand lower corner, and under your side pack and up to me around your right-hand lower corner.
"Now you might say that your diamond is laid, and that you are ready to cinch up. The ropes will bind first where they cross on top, and tighten all the way back to the end of the cinch-hook on the off side. When everything is made fast, the last end of the rope—which, by the way, we will have to untie from our horse's neck—comes over, finishes the diamond hitch, and is made fast at my cinch-ring on the near side. We begin at the cinch-hook and finish at the cinch-ring, on the other side.
"Now then, we begin to cinch. I begin when you call 'cinch!' That means that you have put your foot into old Billy and pulled the first leg of the rope up right in the cinch-hook. I gather up your slack and I tighten it all the way around the corners of my pack and back over the top. It is now up to you to cinch again, with your foot in the pack, as I did here just a little. That tightens all the slack clear to your corners. Now when your rope comes back to me for the last tightening I haul it hard as I can and tie off at my cinch-ring. I use a knot which I can jerk loose easily if I want to tighten or loosen the pack on the trail. So, there you are, all set." And Uncle Dick slapped old Billy on the hip as he stood groaning in great pretense of suffering, at which old Billy walked forward a few steps and stood still, awaiting the next victim in the train.
"That's tight as a drum," said Jesse, pushing at the loaded packs.
"Humph, you mean that old Billy's tight as a drum," said Uncle Dick. "An old pack-horse will groan as though you were killing him, and will blow up like a horned toad. Then maybe a half-hour later on the trail all his ropes will be as loose as if he had lost a year's growth. We'll have to go over all these packs just before we start down that bank, or we may lose some of them. That's why we fastened the last end of the hitch with a loop easy to pull out.
"A good pack-master," said Uncle Dick, "is worth as much as a colonel in an army. He never has sore-backed horses, because he makes up his packs well and keeps them tight. A shifting, wabbling pack is bad for the horse. Why, you can pack almost anything on a horse—they even took pianos on slings between four pack-horses in some of the mountain mining-camps in Montana. And what do you suppose was the hardest thing the old pack-train men had to carry in those days?"
"I don't know," said Rob, curiously. "What was it?"
"Quicksilver. That made more sore backs than anything else. They carried it in flasks, and the jar or blow of the heavy liquid shifting from side to side was bad on the horses. Finally they used to nest these iron flasks in sideboards, which they could lash tight to the saddles. This kept the sloshing of the quicksilver from hurting the horses so much. Oh, they had all sorts of curious ways of packing curious things. But a good pack-train would carry almost anything, from a cook-stove to a chandelier, and not break either. They used different hitches, but the one I have showed you is about as simple and useful as any. Well, drive up the next horse now, Jess."
Thus, one after another, they finished loading up their pack-train; and, Moise having put his camp outfit and his personal equipment on the last horse, they stood ready for the trail.
"It'll be pretty bad getting down here," said Uncle Dick, "so I'll go ahead with old Betsy. All you others had better stay behind and drive the loose horses down over the bank. Don't let them break back on the trail. Are you ready? Just watch how I take it, and don't be afraid."
So saying, setting spurs to his saddle-pony and pulling on the lariat of old Betsy, Uncle Dick disappeared over the edge of the steep bank. His hardy little animal clapped its feet close together and almost slid down the long muddy incline. Old Betsy calmly followed, and by the time the first horse was at the bottom of the deep and narrow valley the boys with much shouting and urging had started others of the band down the incline also. Uncle Dick boldly plunged into the stream, which was not very wide or very deep at that time. By the time he was struggling up the opposite bank the last of the train, followed by the young trailers, was making its way down the first slope. One by one, the horses splashed methodically across the little stream and began the long and slow ascent up the farther side, a climb of more than a hundred and fifty feet, which Uncle Dick made easier by two or three zigzags, turning at points where little trees made it possible. So at last they all found themselves on the farther side of the steep Wolf Creek valley.
"Hurrah!" said John, pulling off his cap and waving it about his head as he rode up. "That was fine, wasn't it? I was a good deal scared about it, but we got through all right."
"And I call it mighty well done for you young men," said Uncle Dick, approvingly. "We've got every pack with us, and now we'll see if any of them need tightening up. We'll not have many crossings worse than this, I'm thinking. For two or three days we'll be among these steep valleys, where the rivers have cut regular troughs, mostly north and south. But I don't think there will be any worse muskeg than we've had already."
"Well," said Rob, "this wasn't nearly as bad as the Pembina crossing back yonder."
"No, that was three hundred feet down and a hundred yards of water. Lucky the water was low, or we'd be there yet. And, you may believe me, the engineers will have a considerable bridge to build before they get over that river and a lot of these others. If we were two months later we'd have to swim a lot of these streams, and that's something I don't want with a pack-train."
"Well," said John, "when are we going to eat lunch?"
They all laughed at John, who was always anxious about times and places for eating.
"We don't eat lunch, young man, until we get our breakfast settled, anyhow," said Uncle Dick.
"And where is the next bad crossing?" inquired Jesse.
"Ten or twelve miles ahead, I suppose," said Uncle Dick. "That's the McLeod River, and I confess I'll be happy when we get beyond it. The railway survey runs on this side, but the old trail crosses it and runs on the north side, and we have to follow the trail."
"Suppose we get to Moose Creek in two or three hour," said Moise. "Then in about one or two hour we come on the McLeod where we'll ford it. Then seven or height mile good trail, we'll come on those Big Eddy. Those was good place for camp to-night, s'pose we'll all get there and not any of us drowned."
"I don't think any of us'll drown, Moise," said Uncle Dick, quietly; "we're not going to take any chances unless we have to. Well, if you're all ready we might push on."
Uncle Dick now once more led the way, followed close by old Betsy, Billy following her close and next in order. The young claybank horse, which made Moise so much trouble, now undertook to usurp a place just back of Betsy instead of falling to the rear of the train where he belonged. But as he approached meek-looking old Billy, the latter laid back his ears and kicked violently at the claybank, hitting him in the shoulder a resounding thwack.
"Aha! you fool horse," said Moise to the offending claybank, "that's what you'll get for not know your place on the train. S'pose you got back now where you belong, eh?"
By this time the horses for the most part, however, were learning their places on the trail, and in a very few days later each horse had his own place, of which he was very jealous, resenting any attempt to take it away from him by vicious bites or kicks. How or why pack-horses regulate their own affairs in this way no one can tell, but our young friends had occasion to see it proved in their own travel.
Their trail now led through rather sharply rolling country, covered with poplar or jack-pine groves, with now and then a bit of soft bog at the foot of little valleys. At times from little heights of land they could get a glimpse of the wide flat country extending on either side, for the most part covered with dark forest growth. Not meeting any serious trouble with muskegs, they were all pretty well used to the trail by the time they had crossed Moose Creek.
"We won't stop here," said Uncle Dick. "Get up, Danny," and he urged his saddle-horse forward. "I want to see about that McLeod crossing."
It was afternoon, and in truth every one was a little tired when at length they came to the deep valley of the McLeod River, the next stream to run north into the Athabasca. They found the banks steep, more than one hundred feet to the narrow valley below; but, thanks to the earliness of the season, the river itself was not very deep, and the point of the ford was so well chosen by the old trail-makers that they got across the river without having to swim and scarcely wetting the packs. Uncle Dick was exceedingly glad of this, for he knew the sudden rises which come in all of these streams. "Now," he said, "we're all right, and it's good going to the Big Eddy—not more than eight miles, I think."
They found the trail easier here for a time, passing over grassy glades, where the horses very much wanted to stop to eat, but after a long and a rather hard day's drive they finally pulled up in the early evening at the double bend of the McLeod River, known as the Big Eddy.
"Now then, John," said Uncle Dick, as he swung off his saddle at the camping-place, "you hustle out your fishing-rod and go down there to the eddy and see if you can get us a trout for supper. The rest of us will take care of the camp."
"Yes," said Moise, "those bull-trout, she'll got big in that eddy, him—sometimes we'll caught him seven, height, eleven pound long."
"Well, that'll suit me," said John, "I don't care how big they come." So saying, he picked up his rod from the saddle of his riding-pony and, feeling for the reel in his pocket, began to joint and string the rod as he passed down the bank.
The others had not been working very long at fixing the camp before they heard a shout from John, far below them. Uncle Dick chuckled. "Shouldn't wonder if he'd got hold of one of them," said he. "Better go and see, Rob—you and Jesse." The other boys ran out of cover into an open place from which they could see John at the side of the deep eddy where he had begun fishing. Rob gave a big shout. "He's got one, sure!" He could see John's rod bending strongly, while John himself was walking up and down, making excited motions, looking back over his shoulder. The two ran down to him as fast as they could. "What's the matter, John?" demanded Rob, laughing, as he saw his friend's excited actions.
"Well, by Jiminy! I've got a whale, near's I can make out," answered John, excitedly. "I just threw in over in that slack water—baited with a piece of grouse, you know, not having anything else—and pretty soon he nailed it. I've been walking him around in there for quite a while, and can't do anything with him. He seems as big as a salmon up in Alaska."
"It's partly the current makes him pull so hard," said Rob. "Work him over here toward this bank in the quiet water, if you can."
"He don't cut up much," said Jesse.
"No," said John, "he just goes down and chugs with his head, like he wanted to break something. But I've got on a big hook, and we'll pretty near get this fellow before we're done. I wish I hadn't forgot my landing-net. But I didn't know there'd be any as big as this one."
"Well, lead him in, John," said Rob, bending down at the water's edge and waiting for the fish to approach.
John tried several times to comply, but whenever the big fish saw his captors he would rush off again for deep water. They could see his big olive-green back, broad as a hand, as the fish broke water close to them sometimes. At length, after a long and hard fight, John succeeded in leading the fish close to the shore, where Rob lay waiting. It did not seem to mind the touch of Rob's fingers as he ran his hand under it. At length, with a quick clutch, he caught it by the gills and flung it out on the bank.
"Bull-trout," said he; "they used to call him Salmo malma, I think, down in the States. He'll weigh eight pounds, anyhow. Well, John, you certainly got supper enough for us all this time."
"Well, that's what they told me to do," said John, proudly, "and I'm hungry enough to eat him all by himself."
"We'll just clean and wash him down here at the water," said Rob, "so that he'll be all ready to cook." And for boys as much acquainted with large fish as these young Alaskans were through their experience with large trout and salmon in their own country, this was a matter of no more than a few minutes' work; so soon they were climbing up the bank with their fish all ready for the pan.
"Well done, you boy!" said Moise, smiling when he saw their success. "She was good big bull-trout, yes, and she'll fry good in the pork to-night."
"Yes, young men," said Uncle Dick, "I think you've done very well to-day. We've got over two bad crossings, made over twenty miles of hard trail, and caught fish enough for supper, all between sun and sun. If we do this well every day we'll go through in great style."
It was very early in the morning when the boys heard Uncle Dick calling from his tent.
"Hello, there, young men! Are you awake?"
"Yes," answered Jesse, but so sleepily that Uncle Dick laughed.
"It's a shame to wake you up so early. How are you?"
"All right, except my knees are a little sore from riding so long yesterday."
"Well, if you'll all roll out, I'll explain why I'm anxious to make so early a start."
"Yes, Uncle Dick," grumbled John, rolling over in his blankets; "you always want to make an early start, and you've always got some reason."
Uncle Dick laughed and called Moise from his tent. "Well, I'll tell you," said he. "We've got to make the Leavings to-day."
"The Leavings—what's that?" asked Rob.
"I'll tell you at breakfast," said Uncle Dick. "Now hustle out and get the horses up."
In half an hour they were all at breakfast, the better for some warm food and a cup of tea. "Now I'll tell you," said Uncle Dick, "why I'm in a hurry to-day. If we can make the Leavings by night, we'll have a good camp-ground with plenty of grass for the horses. Besides, it gives us a good starting-place for the next day's march."
"But the 'Leavings'—what is that or what are they?" demanded Rob.
"It's the old traders' name for the place where the trail leaves the McLeod River and starts west for the Athabasca."
Rob fished his map out of his pocket. "I see," said he. "The river bends south from here, and I suppose we go up the Sun Dance Creek and cut across to the other end of the bend—the place they call White Mud Creek. Then we hang to the McLeod straight on to the Leavings?"
"That's right. It's the best part of twenty-five miles, but it's a good trail and not much muskeg."
"Well, what is a muskeg, anyhow," asked Jesse, "unless it's just a mud-hole?"
"That's precisely what it is—just a mud-hole," answered Uncle Dick. "Under a muskeg there is clay or hardpan which won't let the water through. So it is always full of mud. Drain the water off a muskeg, and it soon gets dry. They'll have to do a lot of that work up here one of these days. But now I've told you why I want to make an early start this morning; and I want you to help hustle with the packs too. It's time you're learning about that diamond hitch."
"All right," said Rob, "we'll take half the horses, and you and Moise take the other half. Mollycoddles are no good on the trail."
"They're no good anywhere. And the way to learn to do a thing is to do it. Rob, take the off side of the first horse, and let John see if he can remember how to throw the hitch on the near side."
"I'll tell you what you are, Uncle Dick," said John, leaving the fire with a piece of bannock still in his hand.
"Well, what then?" smiled Uncle Dick.
"You're not an engineer—you're a contractor! That's what you are."
"It comes to the same thing. You'll have to learn how men work in the open and get the big things done through doing little things well."
The boys now busied themselves about their first horse. After a while, with considerable trouble and a little study, Rob turned to Uncle Dick. "How's that for the cinch, sir?" he asked.
Uncle Dick tried to run his finger under the lash-hook and nodded approvingly.
"Didn't it hurt him awfully?" asked Jesse. "He groaned as though it did."
"Don't believe all the groans of a pack-horse in camp," said Uncle Dick. "Try the girth a half-mile out on trail. But now hurry up with the next ones. That's right, John, you're throwing the cross loop all right. That's right—just remember to fix the hitch so it draws every way—and don't forget to pull it tight."
The boys got on very well with their packing until they came to the claybank horse which had given Moise so much trouble. This one proved still rather wild, snorting and jumping about when they tried to put a blanket and saddle on him.
"What are we going to do with him, Uncle Dick?" asked Rob. "The three of us can hardly hold him."
"Oh, that's easy. Tie him to a tree and put this blinder over his eyes." He kicked toward Rob a heavy piece of leather semicircular in form and with a thong tied at the corners. Rob picked it up, and after studying it for a moment dropped the blinder over the claybank's face. To his surprise the horse now stood quite still.
"Well, what do you know about that? He thinks he's blind!" said Rob.
"Never mind what he thinks. Just go ahead and pack him."
Very much to their surprise, the boys found that as long as the claybank had the blinder over his eyes he stood quite patient and docile, not making any protest against the saddle or packs, although when they removed the blinder he snorted and kicked about quite a bit, testing thoroughly the hitch-rope by which he had been made fast. When the time came to start, however, he had once more changed his mind, and took his place meekly at the end of the train.
Meantime Moise had started up all the saddle-ponies, and the boys, slinging their rifles and other gear to the saddles, all were soon mounted and on the trail even before the sun was fifteen minutes high.
"Well, that's what I call work," said John. "I don't know but I'd rather travel in a boat than go this way. You don't have to saddle up a boat every morning and hustle around to keep from getting tramped on."
"Ah, but there's nothing like the mountains, fellows," said Rob; "and a pack-train will take us right into the middle of them."
"Well, the nights are so short away up here north in Canada and Alaska that a fellow has to go to bed in the daylight and get up in the dark. If you don't watch out you'll get fooled out of your night's sleep."
"You will if you don't watch Uncle Dick," said Rob, smiling.
"Well, anyhow, you've done several good days' work already. From this time on we'll have it easier—maybe."
"What do you suppose he means by that?" asked John of Rob.
"I don't know," said Rob, "but we'll find out to-morrow—maybe."
HIGHER THAN THE ROCKIES
"How far to-day, sir?" asked Rob of the leader of their party, when, having left their camp on the bank of the McLeod at the spot known as the Leavings, they had headed straight west toward the steep divide which rose before them.
"That all depends on luck," said Uncle Dick. "We've got to climb that divide and get down off the top of it. By noon we'll be higher than the Rocky Mountains!"
"That isn't possible, of course."
"I didn't say higher than the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains. But as a matter of fact on top of the divide between the McLeod and the Athabasca we are four thousand six hundred and forty feet above sea-level, and that is nine hundred and seventeen feet higher than the summit of the Yellowhead Pass where we cross the Rockies."
"It doesn't look like a very easy trail," said Rob.
"No, on the contrary, it is one of the most dismal and desolate parts of the whole march, with its burned forests and its steep grades. Besides, some of the worst muskeg in the country is on each side of this Athabasca divide—it just runs in terraces all up and down both sides."
"When does the first one come?" asked Rob.
"Just before we get ready for it! But if you don't discover when we get there I'll let you know. To my notion, this looks considerable like a muskeg just on ahead of us. Now we'll take a little lesson in muskeg work. What I want to say to you is, that you must never get angry and excited, either over muskeg or mosquitoes. Take it easy all the time."
They paused now at the edge of what seemed a thicket covered with low bushes, which rose above green moss and tufts of grasses. In places the swamp looked as though it would hold up either a man or a horse. None the less, the boys could see where long ago an attempt had been made to corduroy the bog. Some of the poles and logs, broken in the middle, stuck up out of the mud. A black seam, filled with broken bits of poles, trampled moss and bushes, and oozing mud, showed the direction of the trail, as well as proved how deceptive the surface of an unbroken muskeg can be.
"Now, Jesse," said Uncle Dick, "you and John take your guns and go across on foot on one side of the trail. It will probably hold you if you keep moving and step on the tufts and the bushes. The rest of us will have to do the best we can with the horses."
"Why can't the horses go out there, too?" demanded Jesse. "It looks all right."
"There are times," said Uncle Dick, "when I wish all horses had been born with webbed feet. The hoof of a horse seems made purposely to cut through a muskeg, and the leg of a horse is just long enough to tangle him up in one. None the less, here is the muskeg, and here we are with our horses, and we must get across. We'll not go dry into camp this day, nor clean, either."
The two younger boys were able to get across without any very serious mishaps, and presently they stood, a hundred yards or more away, waiting to see what was going to happen. The horses all stood looking at them as though understanding that they were on the farther side of the troublesome country.
"Get in, Danny," said Uncle Dick, and slapped his riding-pony on the hip. The plucky little horse walked up to the edge of the soft ground, pawing at it and sniffing and snorting in dislike. Uncle Dick slapped him on the hip once more, and in Danny plunged, wallowing ahead belly-deep in the black slime, slipping and stumbling over the broken bits of poles, and at times obliged to cease, gallant as were his struggles. Of course the saddle was entirely covered with mud. None the less, in some way Danny managed to get across and stood on the farther side, a very much frightened and disgusted horse.
"She's a bad one, Moise," said Uncle Dick, thoughtfully. "I don't know how they'll make it with the loads, but we've got to try. Come on, Rob, let's drive them in."
It took a great deal of shouting and whipping to get the poor brutes to take to this treacherous morass, but one after the other they were driven in, until at length the whole dozen of the pack-train were distributed, half-submerged, over the hundred yards of the mucky trail. Uncle Dick, not stopping to think of his clothes, followed Moise in; and Rob, pluckily as either of the others, also took to the mud. Thigh-deep, plunging along as best they could, in the churned up mass, they worked along the animals, exhorting or encouraging them the best they could. It was piteously hard for all concerned, and for a long time it seemed doubtful if they would get the whole train across. Sometimes a horse, exhausted by its struggles, would lie over on its side, and the three of them would have to tug at him to get him started again.
The last horse in the train was the unhappy claybank. Within a few yards of the farther side this horse bagged down, helpless, and fell over on its side, its pack down in the mud, and after plunging viciously for a time lay flat, with its head out, so that Rob had to cut some brush to put under it.
"Broken leg, I'm afraid," said Uncle Dick. "It's that rotten corduroy down in the mud there. What shall we do, Moise, cut off the packs and—but I hate to shoot a horse."
"S'pose you'll wait some minute," said Moise, after a time, coming up plastered with mud from head to foot. "Those horse, she'll want for rest a little while."
"Feel down along his hind leg if you can, Moise," said Uncle Dick; "that's the one that seems helpless."
Moise obediently kneeled in the mud and reached his arm along down the cayuse's legs.
"Those legs, she always there," said he, arising. "Maybe those horse, she'll just fool us." Then he began to exhort the helpless animal. "Advance donc, sacre cochon diable cheval! En avant la—whoop!"
Moise continued his shouts, and, to the surprise of all, the disabled horse began to flounder once more; and as they all lifted at his pack and pushed him forward he gave a series of plunges and finally reached firm ground.
"So," said Moise, calmly, "thass all right. She was French horse, thass all—you'll been spoke English on him, and he wasn't understood it."
Uncle Dick, grimed as he was from head to foot, could not help laughing at Moise's explanation. Then they all stood and laughed at one another, for they, as well as the saddles and packs, were black with muck.
"I told you, young men," said Uncle Dick, "that we wouldn't make a clean camp to-night. You see now why we have covers on the packs, don't you, and why we roll everything in canvas? Well, anyhow, we're across that one, and I hope there's nothing any worse ahead, although you never can tell."
The pack-horses seemed to have very short memories of their troubles, for when the line of march was again resumed they went on peacefully enough, even the claybank bringing up the rear as though nothing had happened to him.
It was a stiff climb which confronted them now, on the eastern slope of the big Athabasca divide; but as they rose the terrors of the trail were in some part compensated by the splendid views of the country which now were disclosed as they passed into this or that opening along the jack-pine ridge. A wide panorama lay off to the east, the country from which they had come; and at last, when finally they had arrived at the top of the divide, they could see the barren slopes of the Rockies, now apparently so close as to be within a half-day's travel. It was a savage and desolate scene which lay about them, the more gloomy because of the wide areas of dead and half-burned timber which stretched for miles beyond. Weary and travel-stained as the young travelers were, a feeling of depression came upon them, seeing which Uncle Dick did his best to cheer them up.
"Never mind," said he; "that much is behind us at least. We're nearly a thousand feet above the McLeod River here, and it's over thirteen hundred feet down to the Athabasca yonder. There's bad going between here and there, although the valley itself isn't so bad. So I tell you what I think we'll do—we'll make an early camp, and Moise and I will go off to the south of the main trail and see if we can't work over the heads of some of the creeks. It may be rougher country, but it ought not to be quite so soft."
They were glad enough to follow this counsel, and when at last they came to a little open glade with running water they pulled up and began the unpleasant work of removing the muddy packs.
"I've got mud in my hair and my eyes and my mouth yet," said Rob, laughing.
"And my stirrups are full, and my rifle scabbard and everything else," added Jesse.
"Well, I don't call this any fun," said John; "I don't like to be dirty."
"Nonsense!" said Rob. "It'll all wash off. And once we are clean and have a cup of tea, we'll be just as good as new."
THE ATHABASCA AT LAST
"Well, what luck did you have, Uncle Dick?" inquired Jesse, the next morning, when, a little later than usual, they were once more ready to take the trail.
"Do you mean what luck I had in finding a new trail? Well, none too good, but better, I think, than the one on ahead. Anyway, we'll try it. If we can make the mouth of Hardisty Creek, we can't complain. Besides, talking of adventures, you can't think of anything that has more chance in it than finding a new trail down the Athabasca side of this divide—no telling how many muskegs or hills or creeks we may run into."
Uncle Dick, however, proved to be a very practical wilderness guide, for he now led the party considerably to the south of the old trail into country broken and covered with down timber, but with little or none of bad muskeg in it. By noon they were well down toward the water-grade of the Athabasca itself, and at night, after a long, hard day's work, they made their encampment at a point which to the eye seemed almost within touch of the Rocky Mountains themselves. They counted on much better going in the flat valley of the Athabasca than they had had in crossing the country back of them, broken as it had been with many little waterways and by the deep, troughlike valleys of the bolder streams making northward into the Athabasca.
By this time their camp work seemed less like a picnic and more like routine work, but on the other hand they were settling down to it in steady and businesslike fashion, so that it did not take them long either to make or to break camp. Nor did their weary bodies leave them time to enjoy the splendid mountain view which now lay about them.
On the next day, leaving the big peak of Mount Hardisty behind them, they made a swift climb up the valley of a little creek called Prairie Creek, the beaten trail leaving the main valley and heading off parallel to the big shallows of the Athabasca, known as Brule Lake. Now the great shoulders of the Rockies seemed to come close about them. They were following the general course of the Athabasca valley southward to the point where it breaks out through its gate of the hills. Folding Mountain now rose to the left of them, and when finally they pitched their camp on the next night in a little glade near its foot they felt the pleasing assurance that at last they were getting to the Rockies themselves. Their leader pointed out to them that they were now within the original lines of the great Dominion reserve known as Jasper Park, five thousand square miles in extent, and reaching from the place where they were to the summit of the Rockies themselves, and to the eastern edge of the province of British Columbia.
"From where we are," said Uncle Dick, that night, "it is seven or eight miles to the Athabasca River at the end of Brule Lake. Once more we are at a place where we have the choice of two evils."
"I know," said Rob, once more pulling out his map; "you mean we'll have to go over the Roche Miette—that big hill on ahead there."
"Yes, if we keep this side the Athabasca we will," said Uncle Dick. "The Roche Miette is a historic landmark on this trail of the fur-traders, and I never heard that any of them ever loved it, either. There's no way of getting between it and the Athabasca, and the trail over it certainly is bad enough. There are places where a pack-horse might slip off, and if so it would go many a hundred feet before it stopped."
"What would we do if that sort of thing happened?" demanded John.
"Well," said Uncle Dick, "we'd do precisely what other fellows have done when that happened to them. But it hasn't happened yet, and maybe won't at all."
"It's over a thousand feet high," said Rob, standing and looking at the face of the big cliff ahead of them.
"Yes, and that means a thousand feet down on the other side, too. Worse than that, it means fording the Rocky River on beyond, and she's a wild one. Then you've got to ford the Maligne, as well as a lot of little creeks. After that you've got to ford the Athabasca—because we've got to get across the Athabasca in order to go up the Miette River to the Yellowhead Pass."
The boys stood silent, looking at one another, none too happy at these hardships and dangers which confronted them.
"Don't look so glum," said Uncle Dick. "I've been over this trail three times each way, and the old traders used to cross here dozens of times each way and thought nothing of it. You must learn to be like soldiers, and be contented if you have a good supper and a good place to sleep. Besides, I've got a plan that I'll tell you about in the morning."
CROSSING THE ATHABASCA
The boys felt a little more cheerful the next morning after they had had their breakfast, and Rob finally asked the noncommittal leader of their party what he had meant the night before when he mentioned his plan for avoiding the Roche Miette.
"Well, some of us may get wet again," said Uncle Dick; "but if we can make it through, we can save a little time and a little risk, I think."
"I know," said Rob; "you mean to ford the Athabasca—or swim it."
Uncle Dick nodded. "The horses will have to swim, but I hope we will not. For that matter, we might have to swim the Rocky River, on ahead. Of course, the higher up the Athabasca we go the less water there is in it, but down in this country she spreads out on gravel-bars and sand-flats. If we can make it across here, it'll be a good thing, the way I figure it."
"The streams are not as high now as they will be a month from now," said Rob. "It's cold up in the hills yet, and the snow isn't melting. This country's just like Alaska in that way."
"That's the way I figure," said Uncle Dick. "I know the regular trail is on this side the Athabasca, but at the same time they do sometimes ford it down below here. We'll go have a look, anyhow."
Accordingly, they started out from their camp near Folding Mountain, not in the direction of Roche Miette, but departing from the trail nearly at right angles. They pulled up at last on the shores of the rushing, muddy Athabasca. Here they found a single cabin, and near it a solitary and silent Indian. What was better, and what caused Uncle Dick's face to lighten perceptibly, was a rough home-made bateau of boards which lay fastened at the shore.
"How deep?" asked Uncle Dick, pointing to the swirling waters, here several hundred yards in width.
The Indian grinned and made signs, motioning with his hand at his knees, at his waist, and far above his head.
"Swimming it, eh?" said Uncle Dick. "Well, that means swimming the horses across. Also it means freighting the packs. Off with the loads, then, boys, and let's get busy."
The Indian and Uncle Dick now examined the boat and found that it would ferry something like five hundred pounds besides two men acting as oarsmen. As they had something like three-quarters of a ton in the pack-loads, this meant several trips in the boat.
Meantime Moise, singing and laughing as usual, proceeded to build a fire and to make a little midday camp, for he knew they would tarry here for some time.
"We'll wouldn't took all the grub over right way first thing," said he. "Better eat plenty first."
"All right, Moise," said John; "I'm hungry right now, and I'll eat any time you say. But I think we'd better wait until we see how they come out with the boat."
With the first load of supplies in the skiff, Uncle Dick and the Indian had a good stiff pull of it, for the current of the Athabasca here is at least six or eight miles an hour. But by heading up stream they managed to land nearly opposite the place where they had started. By the time they had returned for the second load all the packs were off and the horses were ready for the crossing. Uncle Dick thought that it would be best to cross the horses at once, as any mountain stream is lower in the early part of the day than it is in mid-afternoon, when the daily flood of melting snow is at its height.
The boys had often heard of this way of getting a pack-train across a river too deep to ford, and now they were to see it in actual practice. The Indian, wading out, showed that there was a shallow hard bar extending some distance out and offering good footing. He pushed the boat out some distance from shore and sat there, holding it with an oar thrust into the sand. Uncle Dick rode his saddle-pony out a little way, and led the white bell-mare, old Betsy, along behind him, passing Betsy's rope to the Indian as he sat in the boat. Betsy, as may be supposed, was a sensible and courageous horse, well used to all the hardships of mountain work.
It is the way of all pack-horses to be given to sudden frights, but, still, if they see that another horse has gone ahead they nearly always will try to follow. All the other horses now stood looking out at Betsy. As they did so the others of the party made a sort of rope corral behind them and on each side. All at once Moise and Uncle Dick began to shout at the horses and crowd them forward toward the water. Although they plunged and tried to break away, they were afraid of the rope, and, seeing Betsy standing there, one after another they splashed out into the shallow water.
Uncle Dick sprang on top of his horse, Danny, once more, and headed off those which undertook to come back to the bank. Then, once more riding out to the boat, he sprang off nearly waist-deep into the water and climbed into the boat, leaving Danny to take his chances with the others. Both men now bent to the oars. Old Betsy, seeing her rope fast to the boat for the time, swam toward it so strongly that they were almost afraid she would try to get into it, so at length Uncle Dick cut off the rope as short as he could and cast everything loose. By that time, as good-fortune would have it, all the horses were swimming, following the white lead-mare, which, seeing the shore on ahead, and not seeing the shore behind, and, moreover, seeing human beings in the boat just ahead, struck out sturdily for the other side.
The swift icy current of the Athabasca carried the animals far down-stream, and this time Uncle Dick did not try to keep the boat up-stream, but allowed it to drift with the horses, angling down. It seemed to those left on the hither shore at least half an hour before a call from the other side announced that the boatmen had reached shallow water. Of course it was not so long; but, whether long or short, it certainly was fortunate that the journey had been made so quickly and so safely. For now, one after another, they could see the horses splashing and struggling as they found solid footing under them, so what had lately been a procession of heads and ears became a line of pack-horses straggling up the bank; and a very cold and much-frightened train of pack-horses they were, too, as Uncle Dick could have told his young companions. But what he did was to give a great shout which announced to them that all was safe.
After that, of course, it was simply a question of freighting over the remainder of the supplies and the others of the party, and of rounding up the scattered horses from the grazing-places in the woods. Moise insisted on having tea before the last trip was made; and by this time the boys realized that at no time in these operations had they been left alone with no one older than themselves to care for them in case of accidents, nor had they been left without supplies close at hand.
"You're a pretty good manager, Uncle Dick," said John, while they sat on a long log by the fireside before the last trip across the river. "I'm willing to say that you're a pretty good engineer as well as a pretty good contractor."
"Nothing venture, nothing have," said Uncle Dick. "You have to use your head on the trail a little bit, as well as your nerve, however. We'd have had to swim the Athabasca anyhow, and I'd about as soon swim a train over a broad, steady river as to try to cross a rough mountain river with a loaded train, and maybe get a horse swept under a log-jam. Anyway, we can call the river crossed, and jolly glad I am of it, too."
"When do we get any fishing?" asked Jesse. "That water looks too muddy for trout."
"We won't get any fishing for a couple of days yet, probably," said Uncle Dick. "And as to shooting, you must remember that we are now in Jasper Park, and if we struck a game warden he would seal all our guns for us."
"Well," said Rob, "I see there's a lake over here called Fish Lake."
"Yes. The old traders' trail runs between Fish Lake and Brule Lake, and a great piece of sand it is in there, too—we engineers will have to put blankets on that country to keep it from blowing away when we build the railroad through. But we'll miss all that, and to-morrow we'll stop at Swift's place, on the other side of the river."
"Whose place?" asked John. "I didn't know anybody lived in here."
"It's an odd thing about this country," said Uncle Dick, "but people do live all over it, and have done so for a hundred years or two, although it, none the less, is the wilderness. Sometimes you will find a settler in the wildest part of the mountains. Now, Swift is an old Yankee that came up here from the States about thirty years ago. He used to trade and trap, perhaps, and of late years he has made him quite a farm. Besides that, he has built himself a mill and makes his own flour. He's quite an ingenious old chap, and one of the features of the country. We engineers found his fresh vegetables pretty good last season. For my part, I hope he makes a fortune out of his land if we locate a town near him. His place isn't so very far from Jasper House. That was the first settlement in this country—the Hudson's Bay's post, more than a hundred years ago."
"Is it still standing?" asked Rob.
"Oh no, and hasn't been for years. We can still see a few logs there, and nothing more. It fell into disuse maybe fifty years ago, and was abandoned altogether twenty-five years back, and since then burned down. It's the only post, so far as I know, called after a man's Christian name. The old posts were called 'houses,' but this one was built by Jasper Hawse. Hardy old chap, old Jasper, I presume; because, he made such good fur returns that the rival company, the old Nor'westers, came in here and built a post, which they called Henry House, on up the river some miles from Jasper House. But the Nor'westers couldn't stand the competition, and before long they abandoned their post, and it has been left so ever since. Lastly came the engineers, following the traders, who followed the Indians, who followed the wild-game trails; and behind us will come the railroads. In two or three years, if you like, you youngsters can come through here on the train a great deal more easily than you are doing it now.
"But now," concluded Uncle Dick, "we must go across the river and see how old Betsy is getting along with her family."
They made this final trip with the boat without incident, and Uncle Dick gave the Indian ten dollars for his help, which seemed to please that taciturn person very much.
IN HIGH ALTITUDES
"Well, I want to shoot something," said John, as they stood in their camp the following morning. "I don't like this park business."
"Nonsense, John," said Rob. "A park is just a place where you raise wild animals; and if there were no parks, pretty soon there wouldn't be any wild animals. Besides, it's such a glorious morning, and this country is so beautiful, that for one I don't much care whether or not we shoot anything for a day or two."
"Well, I like a free country," said John, loudly.
"So do I, but you can say one thing; when a railroad comes into a country and it begins to settle up, you can't have free hunting forever."
"We can have good fishing before long, young gentlemen," said Uncle Dick. "In fact, I'll show you a lake or two up above here where you shall have all the fun you want. This used to be a great fur country. I fancy the Stony Indians killed off a good many of the sheep and bears on the east side of the Rockies below here, and of course along the regular trails all game gets to be scarce, but I will show you goat trails up in these hills which look as though they had been made by a pack-train. I don't doubt, if one would go thirty or forty miles from here, he could get into good grizzly country, but you know we put our grizzly shoots off for the other side of the Rockies, and we all agreed just to plug on through until we got to the summit."
"How's the country on ahead?" asked John, dubiously.
"Bad enough," said Uncle Dick, "but it might be worse. At least, there is a lot of ground on this side the river which is solid, and in fact I wouldn't say there is anything very bad until we get pretty well up the Miette River where the cross-creeks come down. We may find some soft going up there, with the snow just beginning to melt, as it is. But now let's get into saddle and push on."
They soon were under way once more, passing up the wide valley and now entering deeper and deeper into the arms of the great Rockies themselves. Not far from their camp they paused for a moment at the ruins of old Jasper House. It was as Uncle Dick had said. Nothing remained excepting one cabin, which showed evident marks of being modern.
"It's too bad," said Rob, "that these old historic houses ever were allowed to pass away. How nice it would be if we could see them now, just the way old Jasper Hawse built them. But log cabins don't stand as well as stone houses, I've noticed."
"I wonder if Mr. Swift is going to build him a stone house when the town comes," said Jesse. "I suppose it's only a log house he's got now."
"Quite right," said Uncle Dick, "and it's only a little way until we reach it to-day. We'll celebrate our crossing the Athabasca by making a short journey to-day."
So presently they did pull up at the quaint frontier home known all along the trail as "Swift's." They were met by the old man himself, who seemed to be alone—a gaunt and grizzled figure of the old frontier breed. He came out and shook hands with each in turn and helped all to get off their saddles and packs, evidently glad to see them, and still more pleased when Uncle Dick told him that these boys had come all the way from Alaska.
"Alasky?" said he. "You don't tell me! Now here I be, and I thought I'd come a long way when I come from the States thirty year ago. Alasky, eh? I've heard there's gold up there. Maybe I'll stroll over there some day."
"It's a good long way, Mr. Swift," said Rob, smiling.
"Well, maybe 'tis, maybe 'tis," said the old man, "but I betche when they get the railroad across it wouldn't be any farther than it was when I punched a pack-horse up from the state of Washington. Which way you headed?"
"Clear across to the Pacific," said Rob, nonchalantly. "We live at Valdez, in Alaska, and that's a week's sail from Seattle. We crossed the Peace River summit last year—"
"You did? Now you don't tell me that!"
"Yes, sir, and Moise here was with us. And this year we're going across the Yellowhead and down the Fraser to the Tete Jaune Cache, and from there we are going down the Canoe River to the Columbia, and down the Columbia River to the railroad, and then west to the coast. It's easy enough." And Rob spoke rather proudly, perhaps just a little boastfully.
The old man shook his head from side to side. "Well, I want to know!" said he. "If I didn't know this gentleman of the engineers I'd say you boys was either crazy or lying to me. But he's a good man, all right, and I reckon he'll get you through. So you're going over to the old Tee-John, are you? I know it well."
"And we hope to see the old Boat Encampment on the Columbia where the Saskatchewan trail came in," added Rob, reaching for his map.
"I know it well," said the old man—"know it like a book, the whole country. Well, good luck to you, and I wish I was going through; but I'll see ye up in Alasky in a couple of years, when this here railroad gets through. I got to stay here and tend to my garden and farm and my town lots for a while yit."
The old man now showed them with a great deal of pride his little fields and his system of irrigation, and the rough mill which he had made with no tools but a saw and an ax. "I used to pack in flour from Edmonton, three hundred and fifty miles," said he, "and it wasn't any fun, I can tell you. So I said, what's the use—why not make a mill for myself and grind my own flour?"
"And good flour it is, too, boys," said Uncle Dick, "for I've tasted it often and know."
"I s'pose we ought to get on a little bit farther this evening," said John to the leader of the party, after a while.
"No, you don't," said the old man; "you'll stay right here to-night, I tell you. Plenty of trouble on ahead without being in a hurry to get into it, and here you can sleep dry and have plenty to eat. I haven't got any trout in the house to-day, but there's a little lake up by Pyramid Mountain where you can ketch plenty, and there's another one a few miles around the corner of the Miette valley where you can get 'em even better. Oh yes, from now on you'll have all the fish you want to eat, and all the fun, too, I reckon, that you come for. So you're all the way from Alasky, eh? Well, I swan! I've seen folks here from England and New York and Oregon, but I never did see no one from Alasky before. And you're just boys! Come in and unroll your blankets."
THE HEART OF THE MOUNTAINS
"Well, boys," said Swift, the next day after breakfast, "I wisht ye could stay longer with me, but I reckon ye got to be on your way, so I'll just wish ye well and go about my planting."
"So long, friend," said Uncle Dick, as they parted. "We'll see you from time to time. When the railroad gets through we'll all be neighbors in here."
"Sure," said the old man, none too happily. "It's a fright how close things has got together sence I packed north from the Columby thirty year ago. Well, I hope you'll get some trout where you camp to-night. You'd ought to go up on my mountain and ketch some of them lake-trout. I dun' no' where they come from, for there ain't nothing like 'em in no other lake in these mountains. But I reckon they was always in there, wasn't they?"
"Certainly they were," answered Uncle Dick. "I know about those trout. They tell me they are just like the lake-trout of the Great Lakes. But we can't stop for them to-day. I'll promise the camp some rainbow-trout for supper, though—at least for to-morrow night."
"I know where ye mean," said the old man, smiling; "it's that little lake off the Miette trail. Plenty o' rainbows in there."
"We'll camp opposite that lake to-night."
"And pass my town site this morning, eh? Wish it well for me. If I've got to be civilized I'm going to be plumb civilized. Well, so long."
They all shook hands, and the little pack-train turned off up the north-bound trail.
They were now following along a rude trail blazed here and there by exploring parties of engineers. Presently Uncle Dick pointed them out the place where the new town was to be built.
"Here," said he, pulling up, "is where we will have a division point, with railway shops, roundhouses, and all that. Its name will be Fitzhugh."
"Huh!" said John, "it doesn't look much like a town yet. It's all rocks and trees."
"But there's a fine view," said Rob, looking out over the landscape with critical eye. "I presume that's the valley of the Maligne River coming in on the other side of the Athabasca, isn't it, Uncle Dick?"
"Yes, and I am glad we don't have to ford it, but are on this side of the big river."
"It looks like another valley coming down from the right, on ahead," said Rob.
"That's the Miette valley, and we turn up that as though we were going around a corner. Just ahead is where we leave the Athabasca valley. That river runs off to the left. The big white mountain you see square ahead is Mount Geikie. The Athabasca runs south of that, and the Miette this side. In short, this is the place where the old trails fork. Yonder goes the trail to the Athabasca Pass, and here to the right is ours to the Yellowhead."
"Which did they find first, Uncle Dick?" inquired John.
"As I was telling you, the Athabasca Pass was the first discovered. That is, it was found before the Yellowhead. Far south, at the head of the Saskatchewan, Duncan McGillivray discovered what is called the Howse Pass. That was in 1800. Some suppose that pass was named after old Jasper Hawse, or Howse, who founded Jasper House just below us on the river here.
"The traders used the Howse Pass quite a while, until, as I told you, the Flathead Indians and Kootenais got guns from the west and whipped the Piegans, down below here. That started old David Thompson out hunting for another pass further north. It is thought that the Athabasca Pass was discovered by J. Henry, a free trapper, about 1810. The Yellowhead Pass, which we are going to cross in due time, was not really discovered or used by the traders until about 1825 or 1826. But our friend Jasper Hawse seems to have used it before that time."
"And he went right up this way where we are going now," said Rob, musingly.
"He certainly did," said Uncle Dick. "There wasn't any other place for him to go if he started up the Miette."
"It seems to me as though the engineers were always following rivers," said Jesse.
"Precisely. When you have learned the rivers of a country you know its geography, and a good part of its history, too. You'll realize more and more that white explorers did very little discovering. They clung to the rivers, which already had paths along them—paths made by the native tribes. Engineers like to stick to stream valleys because the grades are light. All the great passes of the Rockies were found by following rivers back into the hills, just as we are doing now."