MARY'S GENEALOGY TREASURES
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Jane Eliza Woolf Bates
Zina Alberta Woolf Hickman

THE GREAT TREK...

Even for the well-prepared, the trip to Alberta was filled with hardships. And no one could be better prepared than the 12 Mormon families who followed Charles Ora Card north to Canada in 1887.

They were no tenderfeet. They had pioneered once already, to carve out homesteads in Utah.

They knew the hardships of the trail, and they had no illusions about Chinooks or any other break that nature might offer.

In choosing to follow Charles Ora Card north, they knew they faced long weeks and months through dangerous country. And they knew that even when they reached Canada, it would take years to regain even the little comfort they had created in Utah.

Card was a cautious man. Before proposing the trek north, he made a long trip of exploration and chose a spot by the side of Lee Creek, just south of the huge reserve left to the Blackfoot Indians by Treaty Number 7. On his way back to Utah, Card carefully mapped a route to that spot; mapped it so carefully that not one of the lonely wagons was lost for so much as a day.

In 1960, two of the last survivors of that trek, Jane Eliza Woolf Bates and Zina Alberta Woolf Hickman, wrote their memories of the famous trip:

"To us, the younger ones of the party, the coming trip was hailed as a challenging adventure. To our elders, who had been pioneers or the children of pioneers of Utah, it was a huge undertaking.

"They knew that the greater part of Idaho and Montana through which we were to travel was wild, Indian infested, unsettled country for the most part, with rugged mountains and turbulent rivers to cross. The roads were poor at the best, often cut through forests, and were sometimes only narrow trails.

"Our outfit, the Woolf's, consisted of father, mother, six children, two wagons and Henry Matkin, aged twelve, who helped drive the the cattle and horses. There were thirty-six head of stock in the two outfits.

"...We had two good teams of mares, other horses and cows and a white pony called Peter that all except the youngest child could ride when he was not otherwise on duty. One of our two wagons had a set of bed-springs fitted to an extension on the double-bed wagon box. This was for mother and the children.

"Aunt Zina's wagon was arranged the same way. All the wagons had two boxes and were well packed. These extension wagons carried prepared sandwiches and rusks in case it was necessary to satisfy our hunger while still driving to find camping places and water for the horses. They also carried changes of clothing, extra bedding and other emergency or needful commodities.

"Fastened on the back, outside of the two extension wagons were mother's rocking chair and Aunt Zina's camp chair. Our second wagon held bags of oats, flour, potatoes, and other vegetables, packed trunks of clothing, wooden wash tubs and wash board, and such things as hand plow, camp stove, shovel, axe, wrenches, wagon grease, pewter and tin table utensils, candle molds, bullet molds, nose bags for feeding oats to the horses, cooking pots and utensils, all of iron; tea-kettle, bake oven, frying pans; a rack made at one stop to accommodate a new-born calf which during the crossing of one very steep river had to be taken into the front of the wagon.

"Most of the towns we had looked forward to visiting were disappointingly small. I remember Camas, Swan Lake and Pocatello. The last was a small place which seemed to me to be surrounded by Indian encampments. I remember being impressed with the clean, bright appearance of the Indians, Bannocks, and of their surroundings. They seemed to be different and of a higher class than the Indians I had seen at home. We had no difficulty with them but kept careful watch over our stock.

"There were endless miles of sage brush, rough roads and often mud holes from which it took four and sometimes six horses to drag us.

"When Johnny was needed to assist others, or find fords, Mamie or I cared for young Joseph while his mother drove team and Sterling drove cattle.

"The cows sometimes became lame with cracked hoofs or with gravel in them. At such time two or three days' stop-over was necessary. The hooves were washed clean of gravel, filled with tar and wrapped with gunny sacking.

"During the layovers the women did the necessary baking and cooking, washing and mending. This also was the time when Aunt Zina and mother made as many light loaves of bread as was possible; and for bathing in the front of the wagons, with washtubs replacing the spring seats, and with covers drawn....

"Wagon wheels scretched and groaned and bumped along over long stretches of prairie when prairie dogs came out in numbers and barked at the intruders as we passed. A lone wolverine drank without fear from a stream that we crossed. There were many coyotes and badgers.

"From now on there were no roads, only old trails with ruts, stone, stumps and tree roots to keep us bumping. There were often stormy days with both snow and rain to add to the discomfort.

"It was often so cold the wagon covers had to be drawn tight and smooth over the bows and made close at the back. Often blankets were hung at the front, back of the driver, as well as at the back, to keep the cold and the driving rain and sleet out.

"What a happy relief when the sun shone and the front cover could be thrown back so we could feel the warmth! How pleasant to be able to see where we were and to look for something besides snow, mud and sage-brush! What an extreme joy we felt when we camped in the mountains where the steep slopes were covered with towering pines from which the boys brought us pine nuts!

"Weather permitting, we spent our evenings around the campfire. Sitting on spring-seats from the wagons, on packing boxes or fallen logs we listened to the sweet strains of the mouth organ played by Will Rigby and Brother John. One of the favorite songs of all was 'Hard Times Come Again No More', though often we sang hymns such as 'All is Well', and 'Oh Ye Mountains High, Where The Clear, Blue Sky Arches Over the Home of The Free'. After prayers of praise and thanksgiving and petitions for continued guidance we retired to rest as best we might in cramped and crowded spaces.

"On reaching Helena it was found there was not enough water for bathing purposes so the children were bathed in skim milk.

"We made butter by tying the jar containing the cream to the back of the wagon. By night the jolting of the wagon had produced a nice pat of fresh butter, and the buttermilk made a refreshing drink. Carrying the milk had been a problem. At Helena mother purchased a tall tin dasher churn in which more butter at a time could be made. The milk was placed in covered pans and jars at night, the thick cream skimmed into the churn, and all the milk that could not be used or given away was thrown away. We could not permit the cows to go unmilked or they would dry up.

"There had been on our trip, no serious accidents, but two very close ones and in one mother was the victim.

"An axe in the hands of one of the young men chopping wood had flown off the handle and struck mother on the side of the head and she had fallen, fainting. The spot over her temple was very painful and she suffered from headaches. but she had good care and soon recovered.

"A horse kicked the Farrell driver, George Thomspon, on the leg, but he too had good care and was soon able to take over his job again.

"The pioneers know what to do in almost every case of accident or sickness, whether travelling or at home.

"Another near accident involved both mother and Wilford. While camped on Boulder Mountain a sudden dynamite blast from railroad workers sent a shower of rocks down the side. One huge boulder bounded down close to Wilford and just missed mother where she was dipping water from the stream. Camp was hastily moved to a safe distance.

"On the ninth of May, President Card and company, travelling south, met the first advance company headed north for the new colony. By horse Brother Card travelled on to meet his family.

"Johnny, as usual driving the lead team, spotted the lone khaki clad rider approaching. The man alighted, tied his horse to a post of the wire fence along one side of the road and started for the wagon train.

"Johnny kept his eye on him, and as he stopped Aunt Zina's team, climbed in her wagon and kissed her, Johnny shouted to father who drove the team just behind him, "Pa, that old galoot is getting in Aunt Zina's wagon....He's kissing her!"

"Father had recognized his bewhiskered friend, C. O. Card, and gave the go-ahead sign and the wagon wheels rolled along.

"It was a joyful camp-making near Little Boulder Range that night. Brother Card recorded in his journal, 'It was a happy meeting to join my family and friends who had toiled through weeks of cold, stormy weather, over snowcapped mountains, hills and bleak plains. I found them in good spirits for they had leaned on the Lord.'

"The next morning, May 13th, we awoke to find six inches of snow on the ground and still snowing. There was poor food for the stock and no wood here, so we hitched up without breakfast and drove on about ten miles to within three-quarters of a mile of Little Boulder Mountain. Here we found plenty of water and snow-covered grass.

"However, the men borrowed a large tent from nearby railroaders, cleared away the snow, set it up, cut pine boughs to spread over the floor, spread horse blankets over them and made big fires without, and in the camp stoves within the big tent.

"The women cooked, the children played, the men talked with their leader and exchanged experiences. We ate together but slept in our wagons and were warm and comfortable. The next day the weather cleared and we drove on to the north side of Big Boulder Mountain....

"Occasionally we saw ahead of us a long mule or oxteam with several wagons drawn close together and an equal number of teams in front with the driver walking beside them cracking a long black whip over their backs. We never did get close enought to hear the language they used, though the ferocity of their voices left no doubt as to its meaning.

"From this point on near Choteau we had to start night-herding the horses. Brother Card took the first part of the night to 1 A.M. and father took the balance of the night. We were nearing Indian country and must be careful.

"We camped about six miles south of Dupuyer near a beautiful spring of water May 27th, and on the 28th we camped on the north bank of of Birch Creek on the Peigan Reservation. Our wagons were growling in the congealed hub grease.

"On the next day we drove to the Indian agency to procure lumber to build a boat as the streams were swelling with the melting snow from the mountains. We waited for the stock and the men who helped to get them across Badget Creek, then drove to Medicine River which was very high.

"An Indian named Peter was engaged for the price of $2.50 to guide us to a safer crossing. About one and a half miles on, a place was found where the river had spread. Up-rooted trees and much debris had been carried down stream on the muddy waters. On examination it was found the approach to the river had been washed away and a new one must by dug out.

"While the new approach was being made ready, three Indian Police brought a note into camp written by the agent, Mr. W. D. Baldwin which read as follows:

May 29, 1887, To Whom It May Concern: A white or gray horse in your outfit is claimed as the property of one of the Indians belonging to the Agency. You will at once return to the Agency and account for same. The bearer is one of our Indian Police, the Captain of the force. Very truly, W. D. Baldwin.

"Peter, our white horse which we had brought from Hyde Park with us, was the horse in question.

"Henry Matkin had been riding him as he drove the cattle when the Indian claimed him. Henry refused to give the horse up or even to dismount, so the Indian had led him into camp by the bridle. Father, accompanied by his friend Brother Farrell, returned to the agency at Dupuyer and during the examination by the agent, the Indian was asked if there were any identifying marks by which he could prove his ownership.

"The Indian pointed to black spots on the pony's legs and another Indian swore this was true.

"Quietly, father took out his jack knife, opened it out and cut the spots away. Mr. Baldwin said, 'Take your horse, Mr. Woolf and go.'

" A few nights before, the boys had gleefully held a pail of wagon grease while Johnny decorated Peter with buttons, gaiter-like, from hock to fetlock.

"But Peter the pony was kept near the wagons at nights from now on, and the wagons night-watched constantly.

"The Indians were very unfriendly and the chief sent word that our stock must be taken off their grazing lands at once. They were told that we intended to move as soon as suitable crossing to the river could be made, but this did not satisfy them.

"Soon we could see them coming, headed by their chief, all in war paint and and feathers.

"It was suggested that now would be a good time for the men to clean their firearms. Father had a pistol, relic of Indian troubles in the early days of Utah. Sterling Williams and Johnny each had a shot gun and there were one or two others in camp.

"The Indians came, but they made no trouble after looking the situation over and seeing that we were able to defend ourselves. However they made frequent visits while the work was in progress of making an approach to the river crossing.

"None seemed friendly or would give information as to the best place for the approach to be made.

"A gravel bar had been located by Johnny under President Card's direction. One of father's wagons was in the lead with two teams of horses attached. Johnny rode one horse of the lead team while father handled the lines.

"There was much debris, and occasionally an uprooted tree came down the muddy stream, but it was not known that the treacherous waters had undermined the river bank at this point causing a jump-off for the horses, and a sudden drop-off for the front wheels.

"The sudden plunge caused an empty two gallon stone jar on the back of the wagon to fly out of the front, grazing my head and striking one of the horses. There was no time for inquiries or explanations as the hind wheels quickly followed with a jolt.

"Those behind watched with apprehension and all were greatly relieved when the opposite side was reached in safety.

"It was June 1st, at 10 A.M. when Brother Card stopped his team and helped Aunt Zina to alight over the wagon wheel. They stood by a pile of stones. He waved his hat and shouted something which none could hear but all understood.

"Wagons were drawn up while smiling occupants climbed out over the wagon wheels and gave their heartiest salutes: 'Harrah for Canada!' 'Canada or bust!' 'Three cheers for Canada!'

"Laughter and gladness on everyside: Snatches of songs were sung. Each then selected a stone which was added to the fast growing mound which marked the boundary line.

"We had reached the new home land. We were nearing the end of the trail. The new land was indeed an ever-growing source of wonder and delight.

"Sagebrush had been left behind. Instead were wide, rolling prairies covered with tall, waving prairie bunch-grass and wild flowers in profusion - bluebells, yellow sweetpea, Indian paint brush, cranebills and buttercups.

"There was one thing resembling home - the Rocky Mountains - a wondrous range, with majestic, square-topped Chief Mountain stationed in front as if to give strength and courage to our under- taking.

"There was the morning sun coming up out of the prairie, the lone days, numerous lakes dotting the landscapes, and teeming with a variety of wild fowl.

"We drove north as far as Willow Creek and camped about 2 P.M. at a spot where the Taylorville school house now stands. Johnny shot two wild ducks. What a welcome change to the bill of fare! It began to rain as soon as camp was made and kept it up all night until about noon on the following day.

"Thursday, June 2nd, was Fast Day; accordingly, fast meeting was held and special prayers offered for our continued safety, especially in crossing the swollen waters of the St. Mary's River. Some Indians had recently drowned in the treacherous and ever swelling stream.

"Works must ever accompany the faith of these hardy pioneers, so after the prayer meeting they immediately set to work to build a flat-bottomed boat to aid in the crossing. The lumber they had bought was soon converted into a boat.

"On arising at 3 A.M. the following morning, June 3rd, President Card was delighted to find there had been a severe frost during the night. Arousing the camp, an early start was made.

"They were met at St. Mary's River by Sergeant Brimmer of the NorthWest Mounted Police, who informed them that because of the frost the water had fallen eighteen inches, and that it would not be necessary to use the boat. This word was received with great relief and gratitude, for all felt that an answer to their prayers had been graciously granted by Providence.

"On his excellent mount, Sergeant Brimmer very kindly gave the men all possible assistance.

"The wagon boxes were tied down so they could not float away. Even so, the water ran in, soaking everything. With the sergeant piloting the way, several trips were made with double team each time, crossing and recrossing, until the seven wagons were safely across as well as the stock and drivers. The crossing had been accomplished in four hours at ten A.M., when they were across, it began to rain again.

"They later learned that by sundown of that day the St. Mary's was again at its former high level.

"On they went joyfully, for travelling in the rain was no hardship now as they looked forward to the last lap of the long journey. No more rivers to cross; no more mountains to climb; peace and rest from weary travel was soon to be had for all, after an eight week's trip.

"Lee's Creek was just ahead.

"There was now talk of home. 'We'll be home tonight.' 'How good it will seem to be home.' 'Just wait 'til we get home....'

"On arriving at the location in the rain, with the long, sodden grass laying flat, the trees drooping and dripping, one wagon box in sight on the ground, on the east side of Lee's Creek, Wilford, aged four, clasped his arms about mother and looking into her face, said woefully, 'Ma, you said we'd be home tonight.'

" 'Yes, dear,'she said.'This is home from now on.'

"With quivering lips and brimming eyes he said, 'If this is home, where's all the houses?'

"Mother gazed around too, who can tell with what longing, but bravely and cheerfully she reassured him with promises of a home and happiness until all felt that spirit.

"A new country to subdue, wet weather overhead and underfoot could not dampen the spirits of that dauntless company..."

They are gone now, every one.

And on headstone after headstone is carved the one-word epitaph that is the proudest any Albertan can earn: Pioneer;

  • PLACES - The "Our Alberta Heritage" Series
    By Jacques Hamilton, Illustrated by Tom Nelson
    Commissioned by Calgary Power Ltd.,
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    Printed with permission from Trans Alta Utilities
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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup