Women and their Work

Pioneers of the Foothills

Women and their Work

Pioneers of the Foothills


Pioneers of the Foothills

Women and their Work

Cheerfully they endured almost unbelievable hardships, the first white women to invade the newly discovered West


To-day, Mrs. McDougall lives in woman, who bears lightly the marks days of the West, days that were filled with hard work, yet contentment, a life work shadowed only by the deep grief of losing her companion, partner, and husband, ten years ago.

“I left my Ontario home, in September, 1872,” said Mrs. McDougall, “and came west as a bride. By steamer and rail we reached Winnipeg about the first of October. As we still had eight hundred miles to drive to our new home at Pigeon Lake, near Fort Edmonton, we made ready with all possible speed, for already the nights were getting cold. Our ‘outfit’ consisted of a wagon, to be driven by my husband, and a Red River cart to be driven by our Indian guide, Jim, the other member of the party.

“It was a long, hard trip, and it took us seventy-two days to make it. Since the railroads have come, I have made this same trip in three days, and one part of it, that took us twentyfive days, in a few hours.

There were no stopping places. There was neither hay nor oats in the country and it seemed as if every hour our horses got thinner.

Then about half way across,

FIFTY-FOUR years ago, a very lonely white woman looked out from the door of her little log cabin in the foothills of the Rockies. Even to look out, she had to open the door, for the windows of that primitive home were made of parchment. Before her stretched, to the sky-line, a white, snowcovered, rolling country. There was no sign of life or habitation, except the smoke that curled lazily from the buffalo-hide tepees of the Indians, below the palisade fence that surrounded the cabin. Behind her rose the rugged Rockies, skirted with evergreens and crested with snow.

Her nearest white neighbor was two hundred miles north, at Fort Edmonton. She was the only white woman in that wide expanse of hill and prairie. Her name was Mrs. John McDougall, and she was the wife of that veteran prairie pioneer missionary, the late Rev. John McDougall. They had come there, that November of 1873, to establish a mission among the Stoney Indians and had chosen as their mission site, a place six miles from the present village of Morley, Alberta.

the city of Calgary. She still is a fresh looking of her pioneering. She loves to recall those early

without warning, we were caught in a terrible blizzard, made more appalling by the fact that we were encumbered with wheeled vehicles.

When the storm settled, not a vestige of trail could be seen—nothing but limitless snow.

Every day that we travelled the snow became deeper, the cold keener and our progress slower.

“One evening we camped in the valley of a creek, and because of the very deep snow, my husband decided to remain in the open, rather than make the desperate effort of pulling the wagon and cart into the woods, which were in the creek below us. All day had been a continuous struggle and then came the long winter night, gripping the land in a vise of cold.

“My husband and the Indian cleared away the snow, gathered some brush, cut and packed spruce boughs to floor the camp, made a big fire and I crawled out of bed in the wagon to take my place in camp. It was so intensely cold and clear that as I gazed into the sky, the stars seemed very near, as did the weird howlings of the coyotes around.

“Presently, I fell asleep. I was awakened, suddenly, by my husband, who said: ‘Another storm has come up, Jim and I are freezing: are you warm?’ I answered in the affirmative and he continued: ‘We must move the camp to a more sheltered place.

You stay here while the Indian and I go and do it. Above all do not move from this spot’.

“They left me alone, in that howling blizzard, and the minutes seemed like hours. I was in an agony of fear and anxiety, lest they should get lost and perish in the storm. Never will I forget the joy of hearing my husband’s voice again, calling: ‘Come, my dear girl. Bring the bedding and follow me.’ So we went out into the blinding snow to tie shelter of the timber, and to a great roaring fire. And never did a fire burn more brightly than that one did for me.

“The Indian followed with the provision bag and kettle, and in a few minutes tve were drinking cups cf hot tea. My husband had no sooner taken a mouthful than he fell back unconscious. The inward chill had been more than he thought and revealed to us the fact that if he had not awakened when he did, he would have frozen to death there. For many hours, while I watched and prayed, I waited for him to return to consciousness. Soon I could tell by a more regular breathing

that he was becoming normal again and it was not until morning that he awoke. By this time, the storm had quietened.

"With his customary energy he was at work at once helping the Indian. We prayed in Cree, sang a hymn, and the work of another strenuous day began. Thus we travelled for weeks, and it was not until the day before the New Year that we reached our destination among our people the Wood Crees and the Stoney Indians, who frequented that great country lying between Edmonton and British Columbia.

"It was November of the next year '73 that we moved into the Bow River country, where my husband was commissioned to establish a mission somewhere in the south country along the Rocky Mountains, an entirely new field for the Methodist missionary.

“So we started, following divers trails and buffalo paths, trying to stay for the most part by the old pack trail across country. For days, my husband and his brother David continuously were ahead of our party, seeking the best way around hills and timber and across streams.

A Feast of Buffalo Meat

WE KEPT on, always bearing toward the mountains, and after we had crossed the Battle and Red Deer rivers our people increased their caution against the many possible war parties which might be moving through the country. We came to, and passed through, great herds of buffalo and the men of the party killed what we needed for supplies. In due time we reached the Bow River at the junction of the Ghost and Bow rivers on the popular Banff road.

“Many of our party, though pioneers of the West, had never beheld such magnificent scenery, such inspiration of mountain plain and river valley, and there in the heart of it was an Indian encampment, those strange buffalo and mooseskin lodges, the homes of

A fluttered folk and wild The new caught sullen people,

Half devil and half child.

“We arrived on Saturday and it seemed fitting that we should spend our first Sabbath here. My heart was filled with a strange awe and humbleness in this great amphitheatre of nature and in the presence of these wild, wond ring people.

I think that first Sunday on the Bow will linger with me to eternity.

“The following Tuesday we reached the spot where my husband and his brother decided to build a fort, a place that would provide some natural protection, besides a forest-fringed lake on the summit of a great foothill. Here with the help of the Indians, the men fell to hauling and whipsawing of trees so vigorously that within a week the palisade fence and some of the buildings were finished.

The Mission Home

'T'HEN began the building of our home.

We had neither boards nor shingles so it was made of logs and chinked with moss. The roof was of sod laid on poles, while the floor was plain mother earth. The windows were made of parchment and the cupboard of a lone packing case with parchment for shelves, this serving nicely as we had little to put on them. The chairs and tables were homemade, the beds ‘bunks’ attached to the wall. When we wanted to look outside we opened the door.

“The fort being finished, the Indians struck camp, as did also our men in order to hunt and replenish our larder. I found myself the only white woman in the whole country, and alone, save for a few old squaws and Indians, who could not be I taken on the hunt. I was mistress of the [ fort. Our hunting party was most successful and returned with many thousands of pounds of the finest buffalo meat.

“Those were thé days of a diet composed almost wholly, of meat, and wild meat at that; buffalo, moose and deer, with wild fowl and fish, when they could be had. We had neither fruit nor vegetables. It was two years before I had potatoes and seven before I had apples. The latter were brought to me by my husband on one of his trips to Fort Benton, Montana, for supplies. He bought six and carefully packed them in a box. When I received them, alas, I found that only two were good. These I put on the cupboard shelf for two days, just to look at, before I ate them. And they did look fine to me, born and brought up, as I had been, in old Ontario!

“After Christmas my husband and his brother left immediately on the snowhidden paths for Edmonton, and did not return until the last of January. For a whole month, again, I was alone, except for the Indians. When they returned David McDougall brought with him, his wife, and we two were happy in our isolation.”

Mr. and Mrs. John McDougall lived at the mission for twenty-six years. Five children were born—all without the care of either doctors or nurses. The missionaries saw the fruition of their dreams, the establishment of the McDougall church and the McDougall school for Indians. They saw pitiful, little, savage waifs, hung”y and sometimes naked, brought there and fed, clothed and happy in going to school.

They rejoiced at the protection, both to white men and Indians, which the coming of the North West Mounted Police, in 1874, brought, and they were instrumental in securing the first Protestant church in the village of Calgary, in 1877. They were present at the signing of the Blackfoot Treaty with the Indians, the last Indian treaty made by the Government at Blackfoot Crossing, in 1876. Ten years after their arrival, in 1883, they stood on the mission heights at Morley, and watched the first train of the Canadian Pacific Railway slowly steam around the point, six miles below them. They had much power among the Indians, and it was due largely to the influence of Father Lacombe and Rev. John McDougall, that the Blackfeet and Stoneys did not join the rebel Indians.

The Second While Woman

A/fRS. DAVID McDOUGALL, who also lives in the city of Calgary today, was the second, white woman of the foothills. She was a pioneer of Red River, having come there in the late sixties, with her father and brothers from Ontario, to take up land. She married in 1871, and, as a honeymoon trip, came to her new home, ‘Victoria Pekan’, on the North Saskatchewan River, sixty miles below Edmonton. She came West by the famous Carlton Road, which in those days was known as the Hunter’s or Beef Road, as it led to the great hunting grounds of the prairies.

“Our outfit,” said Mrs. David McDougall, “consisted of a buckboard without springs, pulled by one horse, a wellloaded cart and saddle horse, the latter being used constantly by my husband to ride ahead to scout for water, feed, or roving bands of Indians. I followed along behind with the wagon. We were eighteen days en route from my father’s home at Rat Creek—nine miles north of Portage La Prairie—passing my husband’s brigade of some hundred carts, which had been sent ahead six weeks before.

“Our house at Victoria was built of logs and consisted of two rooms, one upstairs and one down. The furniture was made of whip-sawed lumber, with the usual bunks for beds. At first our mattresses were made of dried grass but later I collected feathers of the wild ducks and geese from the Indians and made feather ticks. Blankets and buffalo robes were used for bedding.

“Our kitchen equipment was of the

simplest. Beside a huge iron kettle, that was always boiling over the mud fire place, we were able to purchase from the Hudson’s Bay Company large, heavy pottery platters, vegetables dishes, and cups with handles on each side, large enough to hold a pint each. With the addition of few tin plates, a frying pan or two, such a kitchen equipment was to be envied by any housekeeper in the early seventies.

Squaws as Nurses

A YEAR after our arrival at Victoria, miles away from any doctor and with only the help of God and a Cree Indian woman, my first baby was born. I remember how frightened I was of the squaw, whose name was Mary Cecil, but soon I became very fond of her, because of her kindness and faithfulness. For twenty-eight years I had no better servant or friend, and the children loved her as well as any white woman.

“In 1873 we moved to Morley. There my husband carried on a fur trade, making yearly trips to Fort Garry, each year bringing in new supplies and comforts, such as white flour, canned goods, a better assortment of clothing, the former being eaten on holidays, and traded out to the Indiars by cupfuls.

“Each season of the year brought its own work with it. Throughout the winter the trappers and fur traders were busy; in spring and summer there were gardening, and building, while in the fall the fuel

and food supply for the long winter months had to be procured. This was the season of the hunt and the busiest of all. The entire settlement, with the exception of a few women and children, went to the prairies to hunt the buffalo.

“When the animals were shot, the squaws did the skinning, cutting up of the carcasses and then the boiling down of the meat and marrow. This was poured into rawhide bags, which held from five to twenty pounds each. As the bags cooled they were turned constantly so that the fat would be distributed evenly. The resulting mixture was called pemmican. Again, large quantities of meat were sundried, while the hard fat was saved for candle dips, the only light the settlement knew. In 1879 the last buffalo hunt started forth from the Morley settlement.

Then came hard winters. This resulted in a period of horse-stealing and cattle rustling, when raiding bands of Indians all but cleared out the live stock at the mission. This situation was relieved by the treaties with the Indians and the establishment of the North West Mounted Police posts.

Mr. and Mrs. David McDougall are both alive to-day. They have one great grandchild—a representative of a fourth generation, the other three generations all having been born in the West. Mrs. McDougall scill is a woman of unusual energy and is one of the best workers in the Southern Alberta Women’s Pioneer and Old Timer Association of which she is an honorary president.