The trappers north of the Peace River knew each other fairly well, even if we never met. You knew men by their reputations. The traplines were huge and you rarely saw anyone during the winter, except for neighboring trappers. A few were teenagers like myself and others were in their eighties and there were many in between. It was nothing for a trapper to stop in at a cabin and make himself at home until you showed up. The rule was simple, replace what you used, if someone came to the cabin in an emergency and was barely alive, he didn’t want to find a twenty dollar bill and a thank you note.
There was always kindling, matches, flour, sugar, coffee, tea, beans and rice, all stored in mouse proof containers; most trap cabins had enough emergency rations to keep a man alive for at least a month. It was a code that worked well among men who knew no law except for the law of hospitality.
These were men with the bark on, they would be considered dangerous if you saw one in the city: if you were in trouble in the mountains, forget the tree hugger, you better hope a trapper is looking for you.
Most lived a solitary life without women, there were a few who had Native wives and a few Metis who had Metis wives, these were usually women who knew no other life. For there were seldom women who wanted to live the life of solitary exclusion that was the trapper lifestyle.
Frenchy was a trapper, of French heritage, we assumed, it was customary not to ask someone about their past, just in case. Besides his French accent, his most notable characteristics were a luxurious head of black hair and a rugged cheerfulness.
He could sleep outside, in the coldest temperatures (40 to 60 below), wrapped in just a tarp, he drank vodka and liked to rub some into his scalp every morning. He said it made the hair grow and looking at that full head of hair, it was hard to argue the point. Most people would classify him as a wild mountain man, but I was just a boy and I knew a different Frenchy.
I had known him for years, like most of these intrepid Frenchmen who wander into the unknown, they are wild characters and loyal friends. I would have trusted him with money or my sister, if I had one. We often met at either his cabin or mine, since a creek divided our individual trap lines and we each had a trap cabin along the creek. These were trap lines that covered hundreds of thousands of acres, averaging 60X60 miles, with five or six cabins on them, before snowmobiles became practical, the cabins would be 15 to 25 miles apart. We used snowshoes, horseflesh, cross country skis, or dog teams, there was no easy or reliable way to work a trap line.
But trapping was a lucrative business; during the Depression, trappers kept the economy of the North alive. For some reason, rich people were still buying fur.
I loved to listen to Frenchy’s accent, English was obviously his second language; although he, like me, had never been to school, he was an avid reader. Many trappers were well versed and learned in the classics or poetry; their power of memorization was frightening. I think it was partially from remembering the location of hundreds of traps and snares.
Frenchy asked me to help him with his classical education and give him guidance, so far he had read Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf, Aeneid, Elder Edda, Pharsalia, Os Lusiadas, Gerusalemme, Liberata, Paradise Lost, and La Le’gendes siecles. I was supposed to offer intelligent discussion on these tomes: truthfully, I mainly listened to Frenchy, his ideas were thought inspiring. We might meet on the trapline for the evening and by a flickering and sputtering oil lantern, Frenchy would ask me to explain a simple expression like braggadocio, of course I would reply with the typical answer, “A theatrical or poetic term for a braggart”, I would then be figuratively beaten about the head and shoulders like a red-haired step child.
“Not exactly,” Frenchy would begin in slow and deliberate evisceration of my pathetic vocabulary, “Late 16th Century, from the English verb, ‘brag’ the Italian augmentation suffix was added, denoting an idle, swaggering man who is likely to be a coward. Spenser developed a character named Braggadocio in, The Faerie Queene, a typical braggart that is finally exposed as a lowly coward and braggart. Falstaff is a braggadocio type and probably the most famous in English Literature.”
I listened in amazement, now I realize he should have lectured in University. Later on, after six years of academia, I only had one professor who could have debated successfully against this titan of knowledge.
Needless to say, Frenchy was overwhelming for a 16-year-old boy who had yet to sit in a formal classroom. Although Frenchy had never been to school, his mind was like finely machined tool steel. When I explained that the Odyssey, Illiad, and Beowulf were epics of the oral tradition, Frenchy looked at me in a state of shock. He decided that he had to memorize these epic poems. This represents thousands of pages, I was lucky to memorize twenty or thirty lines, after getting kicked in the head by a rodeo bull a couple of years earlier, but Frenchy was memorizing two times that much on each page.
I honestly began to doubt his sanity at this point and wondered how safe I was sleeping in the same cabin. It turned out that Frenchy wasn’t really losing his sanity; he was just overwhelmed with a thirst for knowledge, and perhaps there was a need to impress someone else.
At home, I saw a rider with three pack horses dismounting in the corral, this wasn’t unusual, men often stopped for dinner and a bed in the bunk house. The man had close cropped hair and was clean shaven, once he had unsaddled his four horses, he waved to me like I knew him; but I didn’t recognize him. He walked closer and said, “Skook, it’s me Frenchy”.
With a shave and a haircut, I didn’t recognize him. I invited him in and he said he needed to confide in me first. Now, I was 16 and Frenchy was at least 30; we never really had a conversation in civilization, so this was obviously something special.
Frenchy said he needed me to take him into town. I assured him that there was no problem; we could take my team. He put his hand on my shoulder and said in a conspiratorial tone, “I need a ride to town in one of your dad’s trucks”.
Well this was a little more of a deal than I could swing with my own authority. I asked, “What do you need a truck for, Frenchy?”
He looked around and then whispered, “I have a mail order bride coming from Japan”, he could have told me he wanted to rob a bank and I wouldn’t have been more surprised.
“We better talk to my dad”, I told him. We walked inside and waited at the kitchen table for my dad. My dad had served in the Pacific during the war and I didn’t know how this news was going to be received. I knew some Pacific Vets had serious problems with anything made in Japan.
My dad listened to Frenchy’s story and when it was all over he broke into a wide grin and poured French a carefully measured shot of Tennessee Whiskey.
“Well, do you plan to get married right away or live in sin for awhile?” My dad usually went straight for the jugular in fights and conversation.
“We want to get married right away”, Frenchy, replied meekly.
“Then you will tie the knot here tomorrow night, I’ll do the preachin and Knarley will do the cooking, we’ll have a couple of Skook’s hams, a mess of barbecue ribs, and we’ll have a big do, to welcome your new wife. You two take the Blue Egg into town and pick her up, it’s not a limo, but it is the best we have.”
Frenchy thanked my dad over and over, and I breathed a sigh of relief, the Blue Egg was an old Chevy Suburban, it was a bare bones truck, without carpet and the fancy trimming, but there was a pretense of comfort and there was room for baggage that was out of the weather.
On the way to town we stopped to tell my best friend, Knarley Manners, about the big do and how he should go to the home ranch tomorrow morning and begin cooking. He laughed and said it sounded like a hoot. I told him if he was skinning coyotes tonight, to wash his knife and hands before starting to cook, he laughed and said, “You Betcha”. Knarley used rendered bear lard to make the best pies and biscuits in the Peace River Country; but you couldn’t count on him washing his knife or his hands after skinning coyotes.
Using the Moccasin telegraph, I judged there would be at least a hundred to two hundred people; hopefully, there would be a few women and with any luck, they wouldn’t be sitting around with disapproving scowls on their faces.
Frenchy and I stayed at the Mile Zero Hotel and had dinner. We took a six pack of beer to the room and after a couple of beers, Frenchy told me of his apprehensions. He asked me about making love to a woman, I asked him why he was asking me and he told me, Knarley had told him about the horse women in Virginia and about riding horses naked with the red haired girl.
I was going to need to talk to Knarley.
I thought for a few minutes and told Frenchy, “With humans it is different than cattle or horses, women expect you to be gentle and romance them; mares and cows are not wrapped up in the act emotionally, women are invested with feelings of love, if you cater to those feelings and spend time to express your love, a woman will feel much more attached and fulfilled, it will also mean much more for you. Too many men are willing to be like a bull or a stallion with no emotion other than lust, women soon lose interest in this type of man. That’s about all I can tell you about love, Frenchy, the rest a man and a woman figure out between them. If you have desire, you have desire: that is one of the most important requirements; after that, it boils down to how you treat a woman before the rodeo and after the rodeo.”
Frenchy thanked me over and over, I wasn’t actually sure why, since it was all beginning to sound like nonsense to me. I said good night and fell asleep after two beers and left Frenchy the extra beer and let him deal with his anxieties, all by his lonesome.
We were at the airport at eight AM waiting for one of the puddle jumpers that shuffle oil field workers around. Her plane landed and Frenchy was pacing like a caged animal, these big hairy faces began to get off the plane and there she was, pretty as a picture and no bigger than a minute.
She would brighten up things in the Peace River Country, that’s for sure. She was a beauty, she bowed in a formal manner to Frenchy and he bowed for the first time in his life; an act that I was sure to become a regular tradition in the Peace Country. Men were going to be coming from a long way just to bow to this pretty little thing.
Frenchy introduced me, her name was Maki, and all of a sudden I was bowing and loving it, me who had never been subservient to anyone besides my dad was bowing to a woman I met seconds ago, a woman I could put in my pocket and walk away like she wasn’t there.
The drive home was interesting, Frenchy couldn’t stop talking, but I just wanted to hear her exotic accent speaking perfect English.
When we arrived home Maki was given a room so that she could prepare for her big day. In the mean time, the moccasin telegraph had performed flawlessly; trappers, cowboys, natives, and farmers began arriving to see Frenchy’s mail order bride and take part in the wedding ceremony and celebration. My dad had fixed up the cabin that we used for hunters and the odd family members that came to visit: that way the newly weds would have a quiet place for their nuptials, because the party was likely to go on for 24 hours or so. A fiddle player and several guitar pickers showed up and started playing, the party was about to begin.
Frenchy had new blue jeans, a white shirt with blue suspenders and a blue bow tie, he looked quite dapper. My dad was going to walk Maki from her room up to Frenchy and then do the marriage ceremony. In the rest of the world, it might seem awkward, here in the Peace Country, it was normal.
When the bride walked out of her room, you might have thought several people were having heart attacks at the same time, because of the gasping and women grabbing their throats in shock, and then came the low moans. Maki was beyond beautiful in a long white silk dress with gold threads woven through it depicting rural farming scenes of Japan, and her long black silky hair piled high on her head. These country people, including me, had never seen such a beautiful sight. The men all envied Frenchy and the women were all jealous.
During the ceremony, there was not a sound other than my dad speaking and preaching, the audience was in a state of awe. After the ceremony, the dinner party went well and Knarley’s huckleberry and blueberry pies disappeared as quick as they were set down. The furniture was pulled back, Frenchy and Maki started the first dance, no one could remember Frenchy ever dancing, it was probably his first dance; he did well, but all eyes were on Maki.
After the first dance, My dad gave Frenchy a flash light and told him to go start his new life as a husband and to remember the word husband is from husbandry and it means to care far someone else. The crowd whooped and hollered as the couple walked into the night.
In nine or ten months, there was a baby born. I don’t think I have ever seen a happier couple. Maki took to life in the bush as if she had been born to it, she could run a household like none I had ever seen. It was uplifting to visit them and see how happy they were.
There was one funny incident, John Belcourt dropped in for a visit one day while Frenchy was out on the trapline. Maki was boiling doughnuts when John knocked on the door. She opened the door to see one of the biggest most powerful men I have ever known. John just walked in and sat at the table without saying anything. Maki was scared, John weighed close to 400 hundred pounds and was six foot six and John didn’t talk to you unless he knew you real well. He was one of the Indian groups we called Chips and they are big people.
Maki knew about the law of hospitality; she put two warm doughnuts on a plate and offered them to John. He inhaled them. He grunted and patted his belly to show that he enjoyed them and she gave him two more. The sequence was repeated until John had eaten 48 doughnuts. Maki was out of flour and had no idea what was going to happen when Frenchy came home, but the two men were glad to see each other and Frenchy laughed and laughed about John eating all the doughnuts. You see, John was the most intimidating bull in the woods, but he was also the most gentle man alive.
It was a cold morning in early November, The RCMP ( Royal Canadian Mounted Police) squad car pulled up to the ranch with Knarley in the back seat.
I was very suspicious, but they wanted Knarley and me to take them to Frenchy’s cabin on a tributary of the Peace. I asked why and was told that a light skinned baby with oriental features had been found adrift on the Peace in a riverboat.
My heart felt cold. I told them we could only get within twenty miles of the home cabin by boat; but we could take horses all the way. They decided that we should take horses; although, none of them had ever ridden, they weren’t keen on staying up with Knarley and me on foot. I told them that we should take a pack horse with grub and First Aid equipment. They didn’t have a clue, they just agreed to everything.
I put the horses in a trot, the pack horse was packed so light it didn’t matter to him, Knarley and I could do 50 miles a day on these rolling foothills, but the police officers were going to be in trouble soon enough. They would need to hang on, I wasn’t concerned about them; I was worried sick about Maki and Frenchy.
We arrived at the home cabin and there was no smoke from the pipe chimney. I ran to the door and kicked it in while the RCMP were yelling at me to wait.
Inside was a terrible tragedy. In the North country, a man uses an ax and a knife with the same familiarity other men use silverware or a razor; of course slipping with an ax and cutting a foot or leg is a risk we all assume, such an injury can and often means death in the bush.
Frenchy had slipped with an ax and split his shin bone, unable to move he had Maki treating the wound. The wound infected and it looked like he developed a fever, Maki had run out of grub and was starving. Once her milk quit, she put the baby in the boat, pushed the boat into the river, and went back home to die with her husband.
We packed the bodies out and the police took them to town. My dad asked to have them buried in our community graveyard and he said a nice service out of the Book. The baby was adopted by a young couple in Alberta.
I often wondered why Maki didn’t get in the boat with the baby. Eventually, I realized that she could not desert the man she loved, she was devoted to the last ounce that she could give, towards the end, she realized that the only hope the baby had was to drift down river. She didn’t know that the boat could have caught on a snag or log jam and never been seen. She acted on faith and every thing worked out for the baby. It was a hard choice, ride out with the baby and let your husband die alone or take a chance setting the baby adrift and going back to die with your husband.
If Obama has his way with altering the Constitution, we will have the choice of going along with the current and allowing this transgression against our Freedoms to transpire or staying with the concepts of Liberty and Freedom that were written by our Founding Fathers and risking everything for that which we love. The rapacious beast of International Socialism is at the cabin door, are we ready to stand by the founding fathers and the countless veterans who have sacrificed their lives and bodies to protect our Freedoms or do we say, “He won, he can now remake our country into any Socialistic Dystopia that he wants.”
Now is the time to take the measure of your commitment to Freedom; this assault on the Constitution and our way of life is about to come to a head. I personally swear to all who read this, I will never submit to the shackles of Socialism nor the Yoke of Communism. I have lived over six decades as a free man and I will die a free man in the country that I love, that is my commitment.
I wrote this story almost four years ago. It seems to be more important now, than it was then.
A professional horseman for over 50 years, Skook continues to work with horses. Skook has finished an historical novel, Fifty Thousand Years, that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The story follows a line of courageous women, from the Ice Ages to the present, as they meet the challenges of survival with grit and creativity. These are not women who whimper of being victims, they meet the challenges of survival as women who use their abilities without excuses or remorse, these women are winners, they are our ancestors.