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is opened up to settlement, and railroads are built to supply the necessary means of transportation, it will become increasingly important. At Edmonton, on the North Saskatchewan, seams of coal of a thickness of five or six feet are known and worked. Coal from these strata is used in the blacksmith's forge with success. Seams of much greater thickness are reported to exist nearer the foot-hills, but until recently the knowledge of them was confined to a few half-breed and Indian traders and hunters.
The soil of the country is mainly a yellow clay of unknown depth, of superior fertility when exposed to the action of sun and frost, but difficult to cultivate. It abounds in alkali, and this fact, together with the cool climate of the latitude, renders it the natural home of the wheat-plant, of which no insect enemies are here known. Grass is found everywhere, in the swamps, on the slopes, and among the hills even to their summits. It is of several varieties and of varied excellence. In the vicinity of the thriving settlement of Prince Albert, not more than one or two hundred miles from the junction of the two great streams already spoken of, on the slopes of a long hill, I remember that as I rode along the heads of the thick, nutritious grasses were on a level with the seats of the wagon upon which we sat. Farther west there are large tracts well suited to cattle-raising, notwithstanding the severity and the length of the winters. A fine grass grows to the height of about twenty inches, and as the season of growth closes, it cures as it stands into a natural hay of great excellence; so that in winter, beneath snow a foot and a half in depth, there is often found a layer of bright, well-cured hay of a lively green color, and eight or ten inches in thickness, every particle of which animals eat with avidity. In other localities a short buffalo-grass mats the surface, and formerly furnished abundant pasturage for countless herds of buffalo, now unfortunately nearly extinct. In marshy regions, besides the customary wellknown marsh-grasses, the "goose-grass," more commonly known in this country as the scour ing-rush (Equisetum, probably hiemale), is of ten found, and, strange to say, it proves to be most fattening to horses. Where it abounds, the native ponies, after a long season's service in a trader's brigade of carts, turned out as valueless and abandoned to die, come out in the spring with sleek coats of hair, every gall-mark gone, and, as the traders say, "rolling fat." In waterless tracts a small patch of "goose-grass" furnishes both food and drink for the animals of an outfit, so that they fare better than the men, who, in the absence of water, can do no cooking, and do not care to eat ungarnished pilot-bread.
In the southern portions of the country, in what may be called the Winnipeg region, there exists the black prairie loam, of considerable depth, so characteristic of the prairie areas of Illinois and Iowa. Farther west and north, about Regina, the present capital of the province, this friable, easily tilled soil changes to a tough brown clay called " gumbo." In summer it becomes nearly as hard as rock, dries and cracks into areas of perhaps a square yard each, between which deep fissures run, of a breadth of two or three inches and a depth of a foot or more. In such a soil the grass is pinched and scanty, and traveling over the surface either on horseback or on wheels is trying to the last degree. A team of not less than four horses is needed for breaking it up, and it turns up in great lumps containing several cubic feet. Fortunately it slacks upon exposure to the air and the frost, and proves to be very fertile and productive. When wet it adheres to vehicles and implements with the utmost tenacity, and in grading railroad embankments on the Canadian Pacific Railway a man with a shovel was assigned to each scraper and each plow to remove the gummy mass. Where the ordinary yellow clay is found, the surface becomes hard in summer, and the grass suffers in times of drought; but wherever the badgers have thrown up the earth about their burrows, the grasses grow rank and tall. Where settlement has been made, wheat is sown in the spring as soon as the snow disappears and an inch of soil is released from the grasp of the frost. It germinates quickly in the clear, hot sunshine and the long, cloudless days of the high northern latitude, and sends its roots downward with the retreating cold, while the upward growth is astonishing. The slowly unlocking ice-crystals furnish a constant supply of moisture and the cool soil so congenial to the plant. In a period of about ninety days the crop matures, and with the most ordinary culture the farmer harvests from forty to fifty bushels of wheat that weighs from sixtytwo to sixty-eight pounds to the bushel. Oats, barley, and root-crops grow with equal luxuriance, heads of the first-named often measuring fourteen inches, and potatoes of two or more pounds weight being common. These crops grow freely as far north as the Peace River country, in latitude 60°, but, of course, this whole region is unsuited to the growth of corn, or of the commoner fruits of the temperate zone.
Certain indigenous fruits, however, are abundant and valuable, among which may be mentioned the common strawberry, which in places grows so thickly that the wheels of a cart in passing over the ground are speedily reddened, and the tracks resemble stripes of blood on the grass, while the fruity fragrance fills the air. A fine variety of the black cherry grows in thick
ets in many places, and supplies large quantities of desirable fruit to the wandering bands of Indians. Another berry which attracted attention, and which, I think, would repay cultivation as an agreeable substitute for the common currant, now nearly ruined by the currant-worm in so many parts of this country, is what is known among the half-breeds and Hudson's Bay employees as the "red berry." It is probably the buffalo-berry of the upper Missouri, Elaagnacea Shepherdia argentea. At the elbow of the South Saskatchewan River it is found grow ing in thickets, as also in many other localities. The shrub sometimes attains a height of fifteen feet, having a black bark, very hard wood, many strong spines, and small, simple leaves. The berries are borne in the axils of the branchlets, and are usually three in number and of the dimensions of a medium-sized pea. They are of a bright scarlet color, though a yellow variety is sometimes found, and in flavor they resemble the common red currant of the gardens. The hardiness of this fruit, its fine acid taste, and its freedom from insect enemies render it probably a desirable addition to our list of known fruits. But the most esteemed wild berry of the region is that which is called by the poetical name "Saskatoon." It is the Amelanchier Canadensis of the botanists, known by various common names, as the shad-berry, the June-berry, and the service-berry. It is gathered in large quantities, and one of its principal uses is in making berry pemmican, than which there is no more delectable food to an Indian or a Hudson's Bay man.
Of the forests of the northwest plains little can be said. From Lake Winnipeg on the east to the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains on the west, and from below the international boundary to the far northern regions inhabited by the "Huskies," or Eskimos, no forests of large area and commercial value are to be found. Indeed, the scarcity of trees and water constitutes the most surprising and prominent characteristic of this wide region. For more than two weeks at a time one may travel constantly and not find so much as a twig or a shrub of any kind. Even the willow is not found, and nothing but grass and sky meet the view in any direction. I have crossed great rivers, skirted considerable lakes, and traversed hilly tracts for hundreds of miles at a stretch, and have had to depend for cooking purposes upon an oil-stove, which I had taken the precaution to carry with me. In the absence of such provision, the only resource is to carry a few dry poplar poles upon one of the carts, to be used with such economy as only a half breed or an Indian knows for cooking his scanty food and for boiling tea. Even the "buffalo-chips" have disappeared since the
practical extinction of the buffalo, and to go without fire for days together is no unusual experience. When water also is not to be had, as often happens in traveling on these plains, the plight of the traveler is by no means enviable. And sometimes when water is abundant enough in lakes and ponds all about, it is not drinkable, and no boiling or other means of purification will render it serviceable. Of the loveliest color, as blue as the sky, lakes by the score may be counted from a single standpoint, let into the surrounding hills at various elevations like steps of lapis lazuli, without connection, inlet, or outlet; but so bitter are the waters that no animal, either horse or man. would drink of them. In them and around them, within the reach of the alkaline waters when blown by the wind, no vegetation is found, and on them no wild fowl alights. As camping-time approaches, near nightfall, in traveling over these plains, it is a necessary preliminary to send out a guide to taste the water of some pond near which it is proposed to make camp. Throwing himself prone upon the ground, he takes a quantity into his mouth, and then usually ejects it with a shake of the head and the emphatic utterance of the single word "Bad." Since, however, the waters of a tract may be of quite different characters, it is usual to find among the bitter lakes one or more whose waters may be drunk with passable satisfaction.
One day in summer, on leaving a river, misled by the appearance of the country before us, we took no water with us, arguing from the appearance of a distant forest on our line of advance that water must be discoverable. When we reached the belt of poplar woods, the sun was about setting, and we made all haste, leaving the carts still loaded, to find some creek or pond before the long, lingering twilight of the north should turn to darkness. Not a drop of water could be found in any direction, and we were forced to make camp in a hollow where the goose-grass afforded sustenance for our horses. Without water no cooking could be done, and a fire was unnecessary. Thirsty as well as weary, we lay down to sleep. In the early dawn, my halfbreed guide declared that in a certain direction, at the distance of a mile or two, a body of water could be found. During the night he had heard wild geese flying over, and from their cries as they alighted he was informed of the existence of water not far away as certainly as if he had seen it. We broke camp, and, moving in the direction designated, within an hour came to a lake the waters of which, although not sweet, were drinkable. Here we took breakfast.
About Lake Winnipeg, and also on the head
waters of the rivers near the mountains, are found some considerable forests of spruce; but the trees are not large or tall, and the lumber they are capable of affording is of no great value or amount. The oak is not found above latitude 500, or, say, one hundred miles north of the southern boundary-line, and even further south than that line it is mostly of the variety known as the bur-oak, and it is dwarfed and valueless. Along the streams the box-elder (Negundo aceroides) is sometimes seen, but it rarely exceeds a thickness of six inches and a height of thirty feet. With the exception of a few specimens of the ash, it is practically the only hard wood known. The characteristic wood of the country is the aspen (Populus tremuloides), the most widely dispersed deciduous tree of the northern parts of the continent of which I have any knowledge. From below the latitude of Washington as far north as I have ever been, where other varieties of deciduous trees diminish and disappear, the aspen poplar maintains its existence, and I have found it growing in sheltered depressions along the hills far up toward latitude 600, hundreds of miles north of any other deciduous forest-tree. Probably the aspen and the willow are the two forms of deciduous forest vegetation which endure successfully the widest variety of climatic conditions. Were it not for the prairie fires which sweep over the plains in autumn and spring, it is probable that in a few years vast tracts now covered only with grass would become aspen forests, and the present conditions of the coun
try would be considerably changed as to aridity, exposure to extreme cold, and vegetable products. Considerable forests of this wood have been ravaged by the fires, and the trees yet stand branchless, dry, and rotting in the wind. In other parts the woodland is still green and vigorous, and is liable to flourish for many years longer, unless it too encounters the usual fate. As a proof of the tendency toward forest development seen in these regions, it is enough to say that the traveler finds now and then considerable plantations of aspens of one, two, or three years' growth, which have already been swept by the fires, like their more mature companions; while again a forest of seedlings has just set out upon a precarious existence. When dry, the wood of this tree is light, stiff, and sufficiently hard for most uses, although not very tough. Of it the half-breed and the Hudson's Bay hunter or trapper build their rude cabins, the logs rarely exceeding eight or ten inches in diameter. These houses are generally small, perhaps sixteen or eighteen feet square, and rarely more than six feet high at the corners. Each consists of a single room, which serves for all the purposes of family life, having one low, battened door turning on wooden hinges. It is roofed with alternate layers of prairie-grass and mud to the thickness of half a foot or more, resting on a layer of the poplar poles placed close together. A single small window, generally unglazed, serves the usual purposes of such an opening. The floor is of puncheons of the same wood as the rest of the
house, or is simply the clay tramped hard and smooth. The chimney and fireplace are made of mud molded upon a rude structure of sticks to give it form and stability. The fireplace, unlike the openings in the chimneys of our own backwoods, are not low and wide, but narrow and tall, perhaps one foot and a half by four feet in dimensions; and in them the half-breed sets up the billets of fuel on end, having cut them in the half-breed fashion. His ax is of light weight, and is always used in one hand as an American uses a hatchet, the other hand being employed in supporting the slender log he is chopping. Instead of notching the logs which make the walls of his
abode upon one another at the corners, as is customary in the new parts of this country, the dweller in the Northwest squares large posts for the corners and for the sides of the door, and in these makes longitudinal channels two or three inches wide and deep to receive corresponding flat tenons wrought on the ends of the logs. The cracks and openings between the logs are stopped with clay, and thus after a few days' work, with an ax as his only implement, he constructs a house which makes up for all its deficiencies, from an architectural point of view, by its inexpensiveness and its comfort in a hyperborean climate. Like other primitive structures of man, it seems to have been suggested to the builder by the abodes of birds and animals in nature, like the dugout of Dakota; and I could never come upon a cluster of these cabins without observing their resemblance to the nests of the mud-wasps.
The so-called forts of the Hudson's Bay Company are in reality nothing more than trading-posts, and little reliance could ever have been placed on the strength and solidity of their construction against determined hostile attacks, even from Indians. A palisade of split logs of poplar twelve or fifteen feet high, sometimes with blockhouses at the corners somewhat higher than the palisade itself, sometimes without, incloses an area in which are placed the log structures used as storehouses, blacksmith-shops, and other necessary offices, together with the residence of the factor, or chief trader. Naturally these are of better construction and more commodious than the single houses of the few settlers outside the stockade, and they are generally two low stories in height; but all are made of logs of the poplar. The blockhouses are pierced for rifles, and command the approaches to the stout gates by
which on trading days- never Sundays - the motley crowd of Indians, half-breeds, and renegade white trappers and hunters are allowed to enter with their packs of furs. At Edmonton, through openings in the blockhouses, there peer down in grim silence what appear to be mounted cannon of small caliber and ancient construction, but their moral effect alone is relied upon, for they too, like the rest of the structures, are of wood only.
By preference, and from lack of other timber, of this same poplar the half-breed of the northwestern plains constructs his cart - the characteristic vehicle for all purposes in summer, and his sledge or jumper for winter use. With his ax, an auger, and his buffalo-knife for tools, in a short time he builds a light, stout cart singularly well adapted to his circumstances. As ordinarily constructed, it contains, like the harness with which it is attached to the draft-animal, not a particle of iron. The wheels are well framed together, and are about five feet in diameter. The spokes are well driven into the nave, the pieces of the felly are doweled together, and the structure dishes after the most approved fashion. The pony or the bullock which is to supply the motive power is harnessed between two large, light shafts, and upon the axle of the cart a light framework is built to contain the packages which are to form the load. It is lined and floored with thin boards wrought out of trees with the ax, or, more recently, the whip-saw. On such a cart a load of eight hundred pounds can be carried with safety, and its strength is such that repairs are rarely necessary. When a break does occur a ready resource is found in the bundle of "shaganappy," or strips of tanned buffalohide, which the native traveler always carries with him. Applied wet and flexible by wrapping around the broken shaft, felly, or axle, it soon dries in the wind of the plains and hardens like bone, and no second fracture can occur at the mended place. The harness also, made of the same tanned hide, can easily be mended with the same material. It is an amusing sight to observe the method of effecting such repairs. By some sudden wrenching occasioned by a deep rut, a long-used shaft is splintered, and must be mended. The strip of hide is softened in water, and two men wrap it closely about the broken part. Bracing their feet, they draw the bandage with all the strength of their hands and the muscles of their backs until you would say it could be drawn no more; but the process is not yet completed to the satisfaction of the dusky workmen. They now take the free ends in their teeth, and, using their hands as additional braces, they pull backward with such a strain as only iron jaws and steel teeth can withstand. The ends are now