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Christmas on the Plains

Published November 06, 2007        by Matt

In the winter of 1877, my brother and I were living at a place called Grizzly Bear Coulee, about 130 miles west of Battleford, while far to the south of us there were two brothers who were old friends or acquaintances of ours, who had come up from Winnipeg in the late fall to trap, hunt buffalo, and trade with the Indians. It so happened that on their way west we met them and arranged that my brother and I should spend Christmas with them, if possible. To do this, it was necessary for me to leave Grizzly Bear on the 19th or 20th of December, so on the morning of the 20th we saddled our ponies, taking a third along as a pack horse and started south on the open plains to try and locate our two friends.

We were now right in the heart of the buffalo country, and as there was very little snow that winter, the buffalo had not gone south in any great numbers as it had been customary for them to do, so were very numerous. However, on the evening of the second day out we were beginning to think we were not going to locate our friends, but after camping for the night two-half-breed buffalo hunters came into our camp, and when we told them what we were after they explained to us (they both could speak English) that there were two tender-feet boys camped at a small lake about 25 miles further on, and that we would have no trouble finding them. We were glad to get this information as we were sure it was the boys we were trying to find; then rolling ourselves in our blankets on the open prairie, we slept soundly till daylight.

After having breakfast, we saddled our horses for the last lap on our journey and reached our destination about two-thirty that afternoon. We found our friends in good health and glad to see us, but not any more glad than we were to be at our journey's end. They were camped in a small ravine close to a nice spring of fresh water and it was here we spent our Christmas on the plains, surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of buffalo and antelope.

Christmas morning came clear and frosty, I should think about 10 or 15 below zero, and after breakfast it was decided that Tom, Bob and myself should go out for an antelope chase - buffalo being too easy to get - while Alf was left in camp to get our Christmas dinner. So we saddled our horses, examined our Winchesters to see that they were all in working order, mounted our horses, and headed for the plains, promising Alf that we would be back not later than four 0' clock, and that we would expect something special for our Christmas dinner. In this we were not disappointed, for on our return after securing two antelope, we found a fine dinner of choice buffalo and antelope steak, together with an Al plum duff and hot bannocks also a lot of other dishes on the side too numerous to mention, waiting for us.

Did you ever get a Christmas dinner ready at a camp fire, fair reader? Of course not. Well, it is no easy matter, but Alf made a success of it, and while we were turning our horses loose and hanging up the antelope, he had a fine spread on the grass, where we all seated ourselves and enjoyed as fine a dinner as I ever ate. Alf had thoughtfully arranged a fine camp fire which furnished sufficient heat to make things very comfortable.

Of course, after dinner speeches were out of the question as we had no booze, so we drank the health of the absent ones and the girls we had left behind, with a good cup of coffee, all standing around our camp fire. Tom, who was something of an orator, was called upon for a speech and although not very willing nevertheless said, "Well, friends, we four are here to-night in the wilds of the northwest, far from home and loved ones who no doubt have remembered us all today, but this is too sad and lonely a thought for us to be thinking about. Yet right here I wish to say that my brother and I have come out to this new country as pioneers to make our home, and I have no doubt but my two friends have done likewise. It is up to us all to brace up, mentally and physically, and enjoy the heritage that is in store for us. Let us put joy in our hearts and a tone of cheer on our lips, each doing his duty toward everyone and helping those who cannot help themselves. And may we all live to see this land a home for large numbers that may follow us. My brother and I wish our two friends a safe return to their little cabin at Grizzly Bear, and that we may enjoy many a happy Christmas in this new land." Thus ended my Christmas on the plains.