Early in June, 1874, the manager of the Canadian Illustrated News received a letter from Col. G. A. French. This officer was then at Toronto, making final preparations for the departure of the North-West Mounted Police, which he commanded. His letter contained an invitation for an artist of the Illustrated News to accompany the expedition on its march through British territory to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The artist would be supplied with a free passage by railway from Toronto to Moorhead, thence with rations, horse, and full outfit, at the expense of the government. He would be treated as a member of the staff and shown every attention. He would likewise be afforded all facilities for sketching, exploring and hunting, being restricted to merely general military regulations.
I departed from Montreal with hardly any luggage but my drawing materials. Everything needful was to be furnished at Toronto, where I arrived on the 3rd of June.
I at once reported myself to Col. French, produced my credentials, and was by him very kindly received. Soon after, I made the acquaintance of my future travelling companions.
The Manitoba Mounted Police is a military body formed by special parliamentary legislation to serve the province whose name it bears and throughout the North-West Territories east of the Rocky Mountains. Its duties are generally to keep the peace throughout that vast country; to protect the Indian against the dishonesty of the white man; the white man against the treachery of the Indian; to prevent smuggling of liquor over the frontier, and, in case of any outbreak or incipient war, to disarm and disperse the belligerents. The whole force numbers 309 men, one half of whom are already quartered at Fort Dufferin, on the Manitoba frontier, near Pembina. The other half have just been recruited in Ontario and Quebec, and Col. French, commander of the entire body, has been commissioned to lead them to their destination.
June 6-Everything was in readiness. and orders were received to proceed to the railway station. There we found two special trains waiting for us. The work of embarking the horses was long and tedious, and amusing. At half past three the whistle sounded and amid the cheers of a vast crowd, we glided out of Toronto. Crossing the western counties of Ontario and the Michigan peninsula, we reached Chicago on Sunday, the 7th, at 6 p.m. We halted at the stockyards, finding ourselves amongst thousands of pigs the stench of whose pens was rendered doubly offensive by rain and mud. We soon got out of this unsavory neighbourhood however, the officers going to the Merchant's Hotel for a night's rest, and the men seeking refuge in different inns. A few were detained to take care of the horses.
The next morning was devoted to a stroll through the beautiful and wonderful city of the lakes, and, at 3 o'clock, we re-embarked for St. Paul, where we arrived on the morning of Wednesday, the 10th. We were exceedingly well received here, and complimented on being the finest set of men which had ever appeared in the Queen city of Minnesota. Our clothes were new; our horses were fresh, and we had had ample time to wash and brush up, so that we received the tribute with excusable complacency. A whole day was allowed for rest, and, early on the 11th, we set out on the last stage of our railway journey. We were booked for Moorhead, but, on reaching it we found that the train could run some miles further to Fargo. Moorhead is already ''considerable of a town," but Fargo is no more than a station. As we stepped out upon its platform, at 10 on the morning of the 12th, the novelty of the situation burst upon us all. This narrow strip of planking was the dividing line between civilization and the wilderness. Behind us lay the works of man, with their noises; before us stretched out the handiwork of God with its eternal solitudes. The first sight of the prairie is as impressive as the first sight of the sea. There at our feet it spread out, silent, immeasurable, sublime. In a few moments we were to go forth upon it, and for months and months it was to be our home.
We camped around Fargo station till the 13th of June, having naturally considerable labour to go through. Our two long trains were there at a halt. They had to be unloaded. Our wagons were in pieces - they had to be put together. Our saddles had to be unpacked. Our horses had to be properly groomed and shod. Finally, on a beautiful Saturday evening, we set out in two bodies for our march across the prairie to Fort Dufferin.
We followed the line of the Red River.
This historic stream takes its rise in Elbow Lake, near Lake Itasca, the fountain head of the Mississippi. Its first direction is southward, then it turns to the north and maintains that course through innumerable windings to its mouth in Lake Winnipeg, where it divides into a delta. Its total length is 900 miles, and it is navigable for almost the whole of its extent. The river is not true to its name, so far as the colour of its waters is concerned. That is of a turbid white. The origin of the name is traced to an Indian legend, which tells of a great battle formerly fought on the banks, and of torrents of blood which dyed the waters .
From Georgetown to Pembina, Red River divides the State of Minnesota from the Territory of Dakota. On the former side, it is lined with stately trees, while on the latter it is fringed with prairie, extending in a clean sweep to the farthest edge of the horizon. It was on this prairie side that we rode along, with no other incident than the loss of three horses, who fell suddenly on the plains. At length, on the l9th, just as the sun was going down at the close of a beautiful summer day, we reached Fort Dufferin. Here we were at last on Canadian soil. The place is not much to look at, consisting of only a few frame houses standing close together and partially shadowed with trees; but the importance of its site is unquestionable. It has therefore very properly been selected as the headquarters of the Mounted Police. It is needless to add that it is named after the Governor-General. In time it will be the chief frontier town of Manitoba, and a port of entry both for river and railway merchandise. Its rival on the other side of the line is Pembina.
At Dufferin we met the rest of the Force which had been stationed there awaiting our arrival. All together we began the work of organization. This was completed in a comparatively short time but our progress was unexpectedly retarded by a terrific thunderstorm, which overturned all our tents and stampeded the horses.
The fright and flight of the horses on the prairie is a wonderful spectacle, but as it occurred several times I shall describe it more fully later on. After recovering our horses, with the loss of only two, we at length set out from Dufferin. Our Force consisted of 22 officers, 287 men-called Constables and Sub-Constables - 310 horses, 67 wagons, 114 ox-carts, 18 yoke of oxen, 50 cows and 40 calves. This long procession filed out of Dufferin in the afternoon of the 8th of July and camped about two miles out.
Now we are in for it. Until now, it had been all plain sailing - fresh horses, plenty of rest, easy stages and untired bodies. But from this point, the real difficulties of the expedition became apparent. The very keeping together of so vast a caravan, with so many sluggard animals as oxen, cows and calves, through the untravelled country, was bound to be wearisome. Then there was the ride itself, over hundreds of miles, which. to the unhardy, was no trifling test of endurance. Add to this that the military regulations had to be severely enforced. No wonder then that the chicken-hearted in our band began to make wry faces. It would have been fortunate if they had done no more. But this was not to be our luck.
At Dufferin, thirty or thirty-five of the men deserted the service and took leg bail over the frontier (US border), where, of course, they were safe from pursuit. After the first encampment, two miles from Dufferin, four or five more followed their example. There is no doubt that this had a bad effect on the Force, which, for a few days was quite manifest, but gradually the distractions af the route effaced it, and we all came to the conclusion that we were well rid of these cowardly fellows who would have bred trouble at every turn.
Later, as I shall tell, the men had reasons for complaint in regard to rations and general comfort; but, at the beginning no ground existed therefor. Throughout, the treatment of the men, so far as their officers were concerned, was such as every soldier receives in a campaign.
More of Henri Julien's Diary
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