We give his story because it is true and very interesting. All names of persons have been changed. Those of the 'Wide Open Spaces' will really enjoy it. (Editor)
IN JAIL IS A PLACE I have never been, but I may have had a close brush with it when I was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and charged with being a horse thief.
Well, it was all on account of Louie and his liking for sheep. He had a good job in a steel mill on Prince Edward's Island, but he had been raised on his father's sheep ranch in Nova Scotia and ever since he was a small boy until he was man-big his job had been caring for sheep and lambs. When one is, you might say, raised up among livestock and gets away off somewhere, where you hardly ever see an animal, not even a dog, one gets sort of lonesome for the so-called dumb creatures.
Also in Nova Scotia was a stripling of a country lass who no doubt had Louie on the hook and I guess they thought that being apart every day was not their idea of happiness, so when the railroads of Canada announced the harvest excursion Louie got a two-month leave of absence from the steel mill and after a short visit in Nova Scotia headed for the western provinces.
The roads gave you a long and interesting trip for very little money provided you put in so many days in the harvest fields. They gave you a card on which each of your employers marked down the number of days you worked for him and when you had the required number, all told, you could settle into the green plush for a cozy trip home. A band of antelope scamper away from the track; an arctic owl flies low over the stubble looking for mice; a coyote sits atop a straw pile eating at a jack rabbit. Darkness comes early, but the 'Golden Arrow' glides over the rails.
Louie was 'Johnny on the spot.' He arrived about ten days before the harvest was ready. He got a job on a big steam breaking outfit that I was with (breaking prairie sod that is ) When harvest started and Louie joined the shockers, it was agreed that the first time it rained enough to stop threshing for a couple of days that I was to go along with him and help him find a homestead that would make a good sheep ranch. There was a heavy crop in the west that year and an ideal season for harvest and threshing. It was well into the golden mellow Indian summer before we got our chance. And then one Thursday night there was a heavy soaking rain. They said, 'No more threshing this week.' The next morning, as usual in such a case, everybody went to town.
I hunted up Louie and we hurried to the livery barn to hire a 'rig'. I guess there were many more land seekers on the ball that morning because every team and buggy at the place was already gone. The barn man said, 'There is a retired farmer out in the west end that has a team that he lets out for hire. If that would do I'll give him a ring.' Louie gave him a nod, and soon there was a dandy little team, a buckskin and brown hitched to a 'buckboard' at our disposal. We expected to be back Sunday afternoon and Louie paid the man for the use of the outfit until that time.
It was a lovely morning after the rain. The air seemed so fresh and clean. That country is so level that to look up along the railroad track you could see four or five towns and each with about half a dozen grain elevators and a glorious mirage. They all seemed to blend together like a city of skyscrapers.
We had in mind the Dart moor hills. That was a strip of rolling prairie that reached off to the northwest along the river. It had been by-passed by those looking for good level farm land, but was said to be good livestock country and such it appeared to be. There was plenty of good grass. There were clumps of poplar trees here and there, and many prairie chickens, grouse, and wild flowers. Springs trickled from the base of the low hills to purl down the ravine to the river where the young geese and ducks sat so thick on the wide places as to look like floating debris. Louie took the numbers of three quarter sections. One is all you could get as a homestead but it was better to take the number of more than one, else when you got to the land office someone else might have filed on your first choice. At the corner of each section there was an inch-square iron stake driven into the ground and extending somewhat above, on which was stamped the number of the section. They would tie a 'hanky' on the rim of the wheel and count the turns. If you could drive straight you seldom had much trouble in finding the next corner. We were a little ahead of schedule so we let the little team take their time in getting back to the city and it was mid-afternoon when we came down the north hill and soon were clip-clopping over the wooden blocks with which the main street was paved.
Louie, with the reins in one hand, was going through his pockets for the slip of paper that the team owner gave him so we would know where to bring the team when we got back. No. - no slip of paper. We must have lost it some of those nights we camped on the prairie. 'Well, I think we know it,' said Louie. 'Stratford, wasn't it?' 'Yes, Stratford west. Remember they said a fellow out in the west end.' 'And now the number? Wasn't it 47?' 'It must have been or you wouldn't think of that.' No. We turned west on Stratford and I was watching the numbers: 38 - 42 - 45. 'Here it is to the right-47'. There was a small barn and a large white house set back a ways from the street. We put in the team and unharnessed them. There didn't seem to be any hay or feed of any kind there, but I said to Louie, 'I suppose whoever takes care of them will be around soon.'
We had let them drink at the fountain on the edge of town and we gave them what oats we had left. We hurried up town and found our outfits. We all went down and had 'Tea' with Yu Kum Chu,, piled into the E.M.F. and left for camp. It was Tuesday afternoon. The wheat was again in good condition. The 'bundlers' who had a few days' rest and were anxious to get home, were really heaving them in. I stood out a ways in the stubble watching the weigher and blower to see that the stuff was coming out. I noticed the grain haulers waiting their turn were looking northwest. I glanced around and saw a 'Mountie' coming leisurely across the field.
Well, he's not coming for me, I thought and turned my attention to the job at hand, but presently his noble steed was breathing down my neck. I glanced up, 'Is there a man by the name of Clark here?' 'Why. yes. That's my name' He shot me a quick glance, saying, 'I'll have to take you to town,' at the same time handing me a folded paper and adding, 'You're charged with stealing horses.'--
George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, Sovereign of Great Britain, Emperor of India, and the British possessions beyond the sea;' I realized is was a summons and handed it back to him. He said, 'Keep it; it's yours.' 'Well, officers, I think there must be some mistake about this. I think I'll be coming back. Would it be alright if I take our horse and buggy?' He said, 'Very well.' (The flunky had just brought out afternoon lunch with Buster on the buggy). I went to the engine and said to the engineer, 'Say Ted, you better take Bill from the spike pitching and let him look after the separator, and don't run in the dark. I'm under arrest.' Ted, who had known us for quite a while seemed to take it as a joke. I pulled off my jacket and overalls, put on my suit coat, hat and tie. Ted, looking a little more serious, said, 'What's the charge?' 'Horse thief.'
Meanwhile our guests took in the sights. The officer nudged his mount quite close to the belt and watched the sheaves going up the wide carrier. They also gave the once-over to the big double compound steamer that was doing its job about as smooth and silent as a dog trotting under a wagon. As I was untying Buster the officer asked, 'Do you know where the barracks are?' 'Yes, sir'. 'That's where we'll have the hearing.' I gave him a nod, headed little Buster through the shocks toward the city.
Cpl. McCanna, that I later heard was my captor's name, behaved very decently. He stayed a long ways behind. Even when he got into the city he stayed a block or more back. No one would think there was any connection between us.
The 'barracks' was a one story brick building fronting south. Out front was a long hitch rail to which was tied a pair of chestnut horses hitched to a 'Democrat'. I tied Buster to the rail and went in. In front of me across the room was a desk behind which sat another Mountie and he was a shrewd looking person. He had a haircut like General Dean, a dark mustach waxed at the ends. He was handsome and about 45. He seemed to be working on some papers and didn't look up when I entered. Over against the west wall was a sort of divan on which sat another Mountie thumbing through a magazine. He gave me a casual glance. Just east of the desk was another man in overalls and jacket who I thought I had seen somewhere before. There were chairs to my right but as no one asked me to sit down I remained standing. Then Cpl. McCann came in. He nodded to the chair next to me and I sat down. By now the desk man seemed to be done with the papers. He put them in a drawer and glanced around the room.
'This is Clark Sir', said my captor. The Sergeant gave me a sharp glance that wasn't too severe and said in a sort of brotherly tone, 'What did you do with this man's horses?' (So that's it. It's the team that Louie and I had that are missing).
'We put them in his barn.' 'No you didn't' came from the chair. They're not in the barn and they haven't been since I took them out myself.' And then I remembered something and felt better. That Sunday afternoon when we drove into the yard at No. 47 there was a lady sitting in a chair on the screened-in porch reading a book. When Louie and I started unhitching she came and opened the door and seemed about to say something but changed her mind and went back to the book.
I loked up at the Cpl., and said, 'How would it be if we go and have a look?' The Sergeant must have heard. He nodded to Cpl McCann who passed the nod to me, and he and I, the retired farmer and the officer from the divan, went out. We untied the chestnut team from the rail. The Cpl. and I got in the front seat, the other one in back and we were again traveling over the wooden blocks of main street. We turned west on Stratford and again I was checking the numbers.
'Here it is officer-the next place on the right.' 'No' came from the back seat. 'This isn't where I live.' 'Well, this is where we left the team. The buggy stands in the same place.'
Cpl. McCann gave the reins to his partner in the back seat and he, the team owner, and 1 went to the barn. The little team was there. There was hay in the manger. They were nicely bedded and a couple of water buckets stood by.
'Are those your horses?' said the Cpl.
'Yes, that's them.' 'Well, is that satisfactory?' 'I suppose there is a feed bill against them' said their owner.
'Well, that's all right' said the retired farmer. The two officers got in the two seated spring wagon and drove away. I helped harness and hitch up the team and told their owner we were sorry for his trouble, which we were. It wasn't his fault. He waited an extra day before he went to the police. They went to the livery barn to try to get our names. At the barn they said they didn't know the young lad who asked about the team but that taller one of the two was one of those Clark Brothers that run those breaking and threshing rigs out north. I happened to be the only one of us boys out north just then so that's how I got in and out of the fracas.
The little team's home was at No. 74 Stratford Street West.