Farm Collector


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

  • Published on Nov 1, 1957
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