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Skagit River Journal

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Old Mose of Whoop-Up

(Mose the dog)
      This drawing by Gerald T. Feathers accompanied the Alberta Historical Review re-posting of Frank Wilkeson's story in 1957. The Historical Society of Alberta is a tremendous resource about that province. Their Review magazine launched in 1953 and in 1975 the name was changed to Alberta History. The Society dates back to 1907 when it was founded by Alexander C. Rutherford, the premier of the province, who also founded the University of Alberta.

By Frank Wilkeson, Sun River Sun newspaper, Montana, Sept. 18, 1884
Reprinted in the Alberta Historical Review, Summer 1957
(Frank middle-age)
Frank in middle age, circa 1883.

      It was late in July 1872, and late in the afternoon, when I rode up to George Warner's house on Flat creek in Northern Montana. After greeting my comrade, who sat in meditation on a pine log, I unsaddled my horse and turned him loose in the valley, and then sat down by Warner's side to enjoy the glories of a Rocky Mountain sunset.
      The soft gray light of the plains blended in the distance with the purple tints hanging over the mountain glens lying in the shade of lofty, snow-clad peaks. The silence of the plains was absolute. Between us and the precipitous walls of the foothills antelope grazed. A few cattle walked in file toward the water holes for their evening draught. My horse joined a small herd of horses that were feeding in the valley below us. They gathered together compactly, to talk, probably. Soon they differed and fought, and my horse was promptly kicked out of the herd.
      I noticed these incidents lazily, unconsciously almost, as I sat with chin on knee-supported arms, watching the light fade from the serrated crest of the mountains. The silence was broken by a heavy pat, pat, pat on the porch behind us. I turned and saw a large, handsome half-blood stag hound walking on the porch. In his mouth he carried a billet of firewood. Seeing me he stopped, and with his head high in the air looked intently at me for an instant, and then resumed his walk. Slowly he stepped off the porch and walked around the end of the log nearest to Warner, and stood motionless before him.
      My comrade's voice thrilled with affection, or it may have been the unspoken recollections of the past conjured up the silent and mysterious power of the highland that affected his tones as he said lovingly: "Mose, old boy."
      After looking affectionately at Warner and disapprovingly at me, the dog dropped the billet of wood, and then, holding it firmly with his paws, went through the pretense of gnawing it, as though it were a marrow bone, looking appealingly at his master the while. My comrade stroked the animal's head and smiled as he said:

(Flat Creek)
You can see this and other photos of Flat Creek at this fine Montana website.

      "Mose, I suspect that you are a fraud. You know you are not hungry. Are you not ashamed to bring that stick here and pretend to eat it? You are trying to convey the impression that I starve you. What will my friend, a stranger to you, Mose, think of me, you wretched, wretched dog?"
      While Warner was speaking, Mose looked into his eyes, his face beaming with love. His expression was almost human in its intelligence. Lovingly, Warner looked at the dog for an instant and then he inquired, "Are you really hungry, Mose?" For answer the dog worried the stick as though he would devour it. Warner arose and said, "Come and eat, you humbug."
      They disappeared around. the house in the direction of the pegs on which antelope were hanging. I heard my friend talk to the dog as he fed him, as one talks to a child, questioning him as to whether he had had enough, admonishing him not to bolt his food, lecturing him on the vulgarity of greediness. Presently Mose came around the corner of the house, and walking to me, thrust his nose into my hand and smelled of it inquiringly. Then, after looking me full in the face for an instant, he laid his long head on my knee and sedately wagged his tail as I smoothed his forehead and talked to him as dogs love to be talked to.
      I have owned and loved one brown-eyed setter bitch that had frequently exhibited quite a high order of reasoning power. But I have owned and heartily disliked and promptly killed two score of beetle-headed dogs, wretched, semi-idiotic creatures that bayed at the moon, set rabbits in the field, and sucked eggs assiduously when off duty. But Mose surpassed all other dogs I have seen in intelligence. He was modest, courageous, honest and loving. He was a far more agreeable companion than many men I have camped with.

The land of the Blackfeet
      The morning after my introduction to the dog, we started on our journey into the land of the Blackfeet, Warner, I and Mose. The dog trotted after our horses. Occasionally he relieved the monotony of the trail and expended the surplus of his animal spirits by short combats with intercepted badgers that he artfully worried into intense rage and then allowed to escape. After one of these sham fights Mose would cock his head and look at us, as much as to say: "Great sport, eh? That fellow smelled very badly; worse than usual, I believe. Did you see him back into his hole?" and he would leap high in the air and bark loudly with delight.
      I noticed that Mose was careful not to close with the badgers. He simply teased them. I doubted his courage, and asked Warner if he could kill the animals. My friend smiled scornfully and refused to answer the absurd question. The next badger Mose artfully cut off from his hole was unfortunate. The dog was having great fun in making pretenses of furious onslaughts on the vile-smelling animal when Warner said, Jowly, "Kill him, Mose." Instantly Mose closed with his antagonist. There was a crunching of bones between powerful jaws, and the dead animal was tossed aside. Kill badgers, indeed! as a terrier does rats.
      Toward evening we crossed a divide, on the northern slope of which a small herd of antelope were feeding. Warner's rifle flew to his shoulder and cracked sharply. Instantly the animals were in flight. The shot was long, and I feared my companion had missed. When the gun cracked, Mose bounded forward and seated himself on his haunches by Warner's side and looked attentively at the running antelope. Suddenly he leaped and was running at full speed in pursuit.
      "Follow the dog," Warner cried, as I rode after Mose. "He would not course if the antelope was not wounded."
      Weeks of experience proved the truth of my friend's assertion. When one of our rifles cracked, Mose was enormously interested in the result of the shot. He would study the fleeing animals until he saw which one was wounded, and that one he would run down; but if he was satisfied that the shot was unsuccessful he would not course. He would look at us, I used to think, sympathetically, as much as to say: "That's all right. You must not expect to kill every time. We'll find another one pretty soon, and I know we'll capture that one," and the gentlemanly creature would wag his tail and feign a joy he did not feel, and promptly distract our thoughts and relieve his own feelings by worrying the next badger he found.
      When Mose was a young dog, just out of his puppyhood, he caught a wounded antelope after a long chase. Warner lost sight of the chase in the intricacies of the hills. An hour passed before he found the game. When he arrived at the spot where the dead animal lay he was horrified at the rotund appearance of his dog and the disappearance of a large portion of the antelope. Mose had eaten he prized brisket.
      This crime Warner punished severely. After that Mose would never eat in the field. Often I have stood over dead game and offered him bits of meat. Invariably his high-curved tail became pendant, his head sank, his ears drooped, and the light and joy faded from his face. He would lie down at a little distance from us and look reproachfully, sorrowfully, even, at us, as though saying: "I am disappointed in you. I think it ungentlemanly of you two to laugh at me and recall my shame and disgrace." And he would sigh deeply. But when camp was made, Mose was always hungry, and if not promptly fed would carry a stick to the fire and there lie and pretend to eat it.
      In the morning, after breakfast had been eaten, the horses saddled, and the burden placed on the pack animal, Mose would beat the camping ground for overlooked articles, as a setter dog does a patch of grass for a scent-withholding quail. An overlooked knife, or spoon, or spur, or pipe, or even a twig that had been used as a whip the previous day, he would pick up and deliver to Warner. When he was satisfied that nothing had been left, he would caper and twist himself and bark for joy.

Milk River in northeastern Montana
(Milk River)
You can see this and other photos of the Milk River area at this fine Lewis and Clark website

      One evening, as we descended into the Milk River Valley, Warner discovered that his knife and sheath had fallen from his belt. He called Mose. The dog reared and placed his forepaws on Warner's thighs as he sat in the saddle, and looked earnestly in his master's face. My friend talked to him as he would to a man, telling of his loss. Then with outstretched arm, pointing back over the windswept divide we had just crossed, he said, "Go find it."
      Mose dropped to his feet and started back. We went on to the river and made our camp. In about two hours Mose leaped into camp with the leathern sheath of the knife in his mouth, and gave it into Warner's hand. With ineffable scorn Warner looked at Mose as though he expected him to sprout donkey ears. He savagely told Mose that he was the greatest ass in the Rocky Mountains. Then, holding the empty sheath before the dog's eyes, he sternly said: "Where is the knife?" and he added: "Go back, you donkey, and find the knife you allowed to slip from the sheath." The dog turned and disappeared in the darkness. In less than an hour he returned with the knife in his mouth.
      I now understood why Mose so carefully searched the camp each morning. Experience had taught him that Warner would send him back for any article that had been overlooked, and Mose, being a sociable dog and not fond of lonely trips across the plains and over hills, behind which savage gray wolves lurked, took good care that nothing was left in the abandoned camp.
      Mose was noisy. He dearly loved the sound of his own voice. His spirits were always high. He chased jack rabbits; he pursued coyotes; he coursed swifts; he tormented badgers; he avoided gray wolves; he barked at game of nights.
      One evening we rode into a valley. Stamped into the clay by the edge of the water were the fresh prints of many moccasined feet. We were among hostile Indian. Warner and I dismounted and examined the tracks. Mose smelled of them. That night, after it was dark, we rode northward and made a dry camp among the hills. After our horses were picketed Warner carried a saddle blanket to the top of a hill near by that overlooked our camp, and there spread it. He told Mose to lie there and guard the camp, and he added to his instructions the caution, "No more noise from this on, Mose."
      I never again heard the dog's voice. Nightly he watched our camp in silence. The approach of game that he could not make out, such as buffalo in the distance and traveling elk or antelope, he announced by waking Warner. Often while lying on the northern plains I have awakened with a start and a keen sense of the presence of danger to see Warner, rifle in hand, and Mose at his side, gazing intently into the darkness. The dog understood as well as we that his bark might betray our camp to the Blackfeet, who were hunting in the land, and he suppressed it.
      Mose became a solemn dog. He quit playing with badgers; he stuck close to the horses when we were on the trail; he lost all desire to explore the crests of the divides or to admire the scenery from the top of foothills. The low valleys and tiny draws that hid us from the sharp eyes of the Blackfeet suited Mose as well as us. I have not a particle of doubt that Mose felt the presence of danger, and understood that we were careful because it was essential to our safety.

Mose disappears at Whoop-Up
(Milk River)
This photo of the restored Fort Whoop-Up can be seen at this Wikipedia website, which also has more background information.

      Late in August 1872, the trading post of Healy Bros. and Hamilton, at Whoop-Up on the Belly River, sheltered us. There we lost Mose. Dogs as well as men have their hours of weakness. Mose was of ardent temperament. He fell a victim to the wiles of a fair, golden-haired, dark-eyed female of his species and was lured by her into the Piegan camp. The children of the plains, having secured .the dog by honest thrift and finished craft, refused to surrender him to Warner when he entered their camp, and they told him they would kill him if he came after the dog again. The tears stood in the brave gentleman's eyes when he returned to the trading post. The descendants of Mose are famous among the Blackfeet for sledge dogs.
      On my return to civilization Mose gradually faded from my memory. One day last winter (1883) I met Toe Healy on Broadway Street. During our talk he told me that Mose was still alive. He made the trading post his headquarters, but visited in the Indian camps a great portion of the time.
      He grew in intelligence as the years rolled by. Healy told me that Mose could not talk or read or write, and that he might be a little rusty in mathematics, but that he knew more than many men, and that he was a most delightful comrade under any circumstances.
      Today I received a letter from Healy, written at Silver City, North-West Territory. (Ed. Note: This was in Banff Park, at the base of Mount Eisenhower). Let it speak for itself:
      "I lost a good and true friend this past winter. You knew him well. Old Mose of Whoop-Up is dead. He was sensible to the last. He knew his time had come. Some of the men found him digging his own grave outside of the fort. They carried him into the building. That night he escaped, and the next morning was found dead in the grave he had digged. The men made for him a coffin, and buried him at the spot he had chosen. I hove erected a slab over him, and inscribed on it: 'Here lies Mose. He will hunt no more'."

      I remember this area of western Montana well from the time that my future wife and I drove to Missoula in 1984. We crossed Flat Creek and then drove north to Flathead Lake, where a friend, Tom Campbell Jr., opened the Mission Mountain Winery that year at Dayton, between Highway 93 and the western shore of the lake. Tom and his wife Hema also started Horizon's Edge Winery in Zillah, Washington, in 1985, between Yakima and Prosser, and sold it in 1999. The vineyards they draw from in Montana grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and small amounts of Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. The Campbells grow other grapes in their vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills of Washington and they purchase grapes from other vineyards.
      The time period that Frank wrote about here ranged from the winter of 1870-71 through 1872. He had just finished exploring the Skagit River watershed with D.C. Linsley in the spring and summer of 1870 on assignment for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In later writings he described those barometrical surveys of the Cascades and Eastern Washington, where he also rode with Chief Moses around his camp at Grand Coulee. Trained in mining and steelmaking at the Cambrian Iron Works in Pennsylvania, he also rode on horseback through different sections of the Rocky Mountain territories.
      In the other Wilkeson transcription in Issue 43, you can read "Poker on the Wenatchee," a column that he wrote for Charles Dana of the New York Sun in 1885, where he recounted other adventures of that time. He had married Mary Crouse in 1869 and their son, Edward Bayard Wilkeson was born back East in 1870. Later in 1872, they leased and then soon bought a large ranch near Gypsum, Kansas, where they are both buried. Wilkeson was living on Long Island, New York, when the Sun column was published. He went on to write dozens of columns about the West for the New York Times and in 1889 he moved to the new state of Washington, where he continued posting columns for the Times, which were bylined Sedro, Hamilton and Fairhaven. He lived in both Skagit and Whatcom counties off an on for the next dozen years and died while vacationing near Lake Chelan in 1913.
      While living in New York in the mid-1880s, Frank Wilkeson completed a book about his own military service that has become one of the most quoted accounts of the Civil War, and has been reprinted at least three times: Turned Inside Out: Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac, first published in 1887. A copy is available in the Sedro-Woolley library. Some question the factual narrative of the book, but we realize that he created composites of characters to illustrate his broad points about the war and his own anti-authoritarian streak. Patricia McAndrew, a biographer of Wilkeson who in Pennsylvania, notes that when William Dean Howells reviewed the book, he praised it highly and saw certain aspects of Tolstoi in the work. Considering that Frank had very little education in the liberal arts after secondary school, he seems to have had a natural ability to write, as did his father. Running against the grain of glorious accounts of battle, his book was in the Stephen Crane mold. In the introduction to the most recent edition, editor James McPherson wrote: "[The memoir is] unlike most others by Civil War Veterans who tended to romanticize and sometimes glorify the experiences they went through . . . . His emphasis on the seamy, unheroic, horrific side of war is a healthy corrective to romanticism."
      We are indebted to Hugh Dempsey in Alberta, who found this Mose story in the Montana Historical Society Archives back in the 1950s and posted it in the Summer 1957 Alberta Historical Review. Dempsey later cited Wilkeson in his book, Firewater: The Impact of the Whisky Trade on the Blackfoot Nation (Calgary: Fifth House Publishers, 2002).

Sun River Sun newspaper
      Frank's column appeared in this newspaper the year it was launched at Sun River, west of Great Falls, Montana, on the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains. In 1885, publisher Will Hanks moved the Sun to Great Falls and renamed it the Weekly Tribune, where it has evolved today into the Great Falls Tribune and is owned by the Gannett chain. During those early years around the turn of the century, the Tribune was the only major daily not owned by the politically dominant mining industry, "The Anaconda Company." Great Falls is now the third largest city in the state and is the home of the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center. [Return]

1. Flat Creek
      Flat Creek is in northwest Montana and you cross it when you drive on Highway 90 near the town of Superior. [Return]

2. Milk River Valley
      The northernmost major tributary of the Missouri River, the Milk flows for 729 miles through Montana and the province of Alberta, Canada. The South and Middle forks rise in the Rockies and converge just east of Glacier National Park, in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, in Glacier County north of Browning, Montana. The joined river flows east-northeast into southern Alberta, where it is joined by the North Fork, then east along the north side of the Sweetgrass Hills past the town of Milk River and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. It then turns southeast into Montana, easterly past Havre and along the north side of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Near Malta, it turns north and then southeast, flowing past Glasgow and joining the Missouri 12 miles downstream from the present Fort Peck Dam.
      On May 8, 1805, Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, described the river in his journal: "the water of this river possesses a peculiar whiteness, being about the colour of a cup of tea with the admixture of a tablespoonfull of milk. From the colour of its water we called it Milk river. . ." because of the rock flour, extremely fine-grained sediments that result from glacial erosion in the Milk River's headwaters. [Return]

3. Fort Whoop-Up
      Fort Hamilton, south of Lethbridge, Alberta, and just north of the Canada-U.S. border, was nicknamed Fort Whoop-Up after it was established in 1869 as a base for trade with the Blackfeet, Piegan and other Indians. The most notorious of the whiskey forts built by Americans on Canadian soil, Whoop-Up's trading post was operated by traders from Fort Benton, Montana, brothers John J. and Thomas Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton, for whom the fort was officially named. The trade in contraband liquor and firearms through forts like this so inflamed the Indian tribes from 1869 to 1874 that violence and disorder were rampant and the conditions called for formation of the North West Mounted Police in 1873. Part of the fort served as an outpost for the Mounties, but it soon fell into disrepair, then burned and settlers used its remains for lumber and metal. A replica of the second fort was built in 1967. See a fascinating map of fur-trading routes at this Canadian website. [Return]

4. Fort Piegan and Indian tribe
      Fort Piegan is named for the local Indian tribe who ranged over Glacier County in northwest Montana. This area is on the Lewis and Clark Trail, southwest of Cut Bank, east of Kalispell and south of Lethbridge, near Glacier National Park. Read about Fort Piegan at this Montana website. [Return]

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Story posted on April 30, 2008 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 43 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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