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Small Frye tangles with a cougar [And, of course he comes out alive] Plus “Mike goes to a Shindig”
Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 00:00 Leonard Lea Frazer
Small Frye Tangles With a Cougar
In all my years travelling the backcountry, I had never seen a cougar. But one very rainy day, old Frye got his fill of the big cat of the woods.
I was on my way up the Thompson River to try and catch up with my brother, Charlie, and Louie Knutson on their way up to the mines and I was half a day behind them. I knew just about where they would be and as it was late in the day, I knew if I was to catch up to them I would have to leave in time to get to the Thompson Crossing before dark. If I was on the ball I could catch the four o'clock train to Gosnel. I took off for the station and arrived in time to catch the train as it pulled in to the station at Albreda.
I had never travelled the old pack trail at night before and knew of a few places that would be hard to follow after dark. I was a bit scared of running into a grizzly face to face on the trail, although I never went anywhere without my long barrelled 45-90. This big gun was longer than I was tall, but I liked it as I could kill anything with it.
I got to Gosnel early and at once set off up the trail along the Thompson. I was travelling along at a good fast clip. It was a nice evening and I was really enjoying myself. I had just made it to the first place where the trail ran along side the river for about half a mile, then it turned sharply back away from the river into the woods and then came back to the river, then up over a high ridge.
As I came to where I could see the river, I was impressed by tracks of a small herd of caribou in the soft mud and I could see they were right fresh as they were still wet.
I knew we needed meat for winter. So far, we had gotten none. If I was lucky I might be able to get all we would need right here and, back then, I loved to hunt caribou. So, now as I walked along in the gathering dusk I kept a close eye out for the herd. As I came around the second bend, and just where I could see the river again, I was ready for them. Just as I was passing a high windfall sticking out over the trail I heard a snarl and I ducked as some large beast leaped clean over me. I could hear his claws as he madly scrambled up spruce tree clean over on the other side of the trail.
I never had time to fire at him. Just at that moment I heard a snort and looked out across the river and saw five caribou as they splashed into the river and were all swimming as fast as they could. Now they were only about five hundred feet ahead of me, but every one of them was in the water and trying desperately to reach the far side.
There was nothing I could do about the cougar just at that time if I wanted to get some winter's meat, and I soon loaded the big rifle. I got the big bull in my sights and let go. Down he went just clearing the far shore and fell half in and half out of the water and lay there. I lined up on a two year old calf and waited till he just made shore and, at the crack of the rifle, he fell forward on his head just at the edge of the water. I knew that I had to have at least three if I was to get enough meat for winter. I saw, what appeared to be, a big dry cow and as she madly splashed out on shore. I took her and, as I fired, I saw her disappear in the brush. I knew I had all three of them and now I turned to the cougar, as cougar I knew it was.
I saw his huge pad tracks in the mud, as he tried to sneak up on the caribou. He had been all set to leap on them as they would have passed right through where he had been sitting on the huge windfall hanging over the trail waiting for them to come along. When I approached the herd I caused them to take off into the brush, and perhaps he thought I was one of them or he had it all figured out to nail me as I came under him and just at the last minute chickened out and leaped clean over me.
Anyway, now I was cougar hungry and I tried to spot him up in the huge spruce but he was too well hidden in the thick spruce limbs. Well, I could not get a shot at him, but wanted him to know that I was around, so I set the limbs around the bottom of the big tree on fire. It went up in flames like tinder and literally ripped the limbs off as it burned everything to the top and, as the flame roared passed, Mr. Cougar screamed and down he came to the ground right in front of me. I shot as he hit the ground and he shuddered twice and I had myself a very well scorched cougar.
His hide was too badly burned to be of any use, so I let him lay right there and tried to pull the caribou out of the water. All I could do was take out the entrails and leave the rest till next morning as it was getting dark very fast and I still had twelve miles to go.
Louie and Charlie were very pleased to hear I had three caribou and glad to get my message, and came back to help me butcher the rest the next morning. I took some meat home with me and they took some up to one of the cabins and we stored the rest in sacks in the deep water till we could get to it again.
I had a very exciting trip, but was disappointed that I had set fire to the tree as it had spoiled the hide of the cougar. However, I knew that it was one good cougar - a dead one.
Mike goes to a Shindig
Now, in all ‘gypo’ camps at spring break-up, the men always got paid for the entire winter's work. Through the winter there was no such a thing as any special payday; if we had to have some money we always got what we called a ‘drag’ on our wages. We were never fully paid until spring. On many of these jobs I have lost out as my employer, at times, never had any money himself to pay me. Over a period of time I would forget all about the money and still not have it by the time I would hire out to someone else the next fall.
Most of the employers would hold a big ‘shindig,’ a spree that would cover two or three days or until all the booze was drunk up and all the good food was eaten. They would also hold some really good banquets at the main camp.
One time, at Albreda, we were working for the best and squarest man we could find anywhere. The employer would buy and cook all the food and hold the shindig at his camp.
As everyone would be leaving camp for the summer anyway, we would clean out the bunkhouse and have the dances there. Between the bunkhouse and the cook shack we always had plenty of room to raise particular Cain and we did.
Now, two weeks before the big celebration, every one of us would order four or five bottles of hard liquor and a few dozen beer and this would be stored someplace so we could not get at it till the big do.
This time, we were late getting in the supplies, so it came just the night before, and it was my chore to haul this big order of liquor from the station to camp. All I had to haul the booze on was a ‘go-devil,’ which was a two-runner sleigh made out of any bent logs that would make good runners for the sleigh and the top or deck was made of planks nailed to the runners. This was hauled by two horses. There was no tongue on this rig so, you may use your own imagination about how good it was to steer down a crooked road by a teamster well loaded with rum.
I met the train and loaded all the booze on and headed back to camp, but on the way I got thirsty and opened up the cargo and by the time I got to camp I was in very high spirits. I got there just in time for supper and, in no time, we were prepared for a very happy evening of entertainment.
We got the fiddler going and we had one banjo, two accordions and soon someone was using the tub for a drum.
By midnight, the fiddler fell over and we were sure he was dead, as several of us took his pulse and could find no sign of life. He looked as if he wasn't breathing at all. This stopped things for awhile, but someone came up with the idea of storing the body for the night, as it was a whole day’s trip to take him to Valemount and no one wanted to stop the party to take him. So, as he was in the way, lying on the floor, we decided to stack him outside against the cook shack, and this we did. When we put him out there, he was supposed to be dead, and we had just got going good again, when all of a sudden we felt the cold air coming in and there in the doorway he stood, white as a sheet, again. Everything came to a dead stop and someone even jumped through the closest window. All he wanted was a drink and soon he was back to life and giving it all he had, and I do believe that he played better than he did before he had died on us a couple hours before.
Anyway, it all wound up by my brother going home and falling down in the middle of the road, where I found him the next morning under two feet of snow, sound asleep. All of us had spent a lot of good money that we had worked darn hard for, and all we got out of it was a few black eyes and a terrible headache. We didn’t make much out of that drunk, but, as one fellow told me, "I was drunk for two days and didn't know what I did, woke up sick and all my money gone, but I must have had a swell time.” To me, I don't think it pays at all. Drinking, that is!
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