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Episode two: Incident at Starvation Flats

The land north of Cranberry Lake, (Valemount), southeast of Prince George, was relatively flat, with only a few gullies to cross. Joe looked around as he rode and studied the forest.

The land north of Cranberry Lake, (Valemount), southeast of Prince George, was relatively flat, with only a few gullies to cross. Joe looked around as he rode and studied the forest. A forest indeed! Almost the entire valley floor was like a healing scar. A great fire that swept over the land had been man-made; the result of a surveyor's unattended campfire. The second-growth lodge-pole pine was rising out of the burn and protruded through the newly fallen snow. The trail crossed a wide plateau.

To the west, a massive ridge ran parallel with the valley, hiding the base of an impressive mountain, Sir Wilfred Laurier, in the Premier Range. Joe could see where the edge of the fire had been. At the base of the western ridge, a real forest of cedar and fir grew tall and thick. To the east, loomed the towering peak of McKirdy Mountain, also known as Old Baldy. This peak marked the position of Cranberry Lake in the valley.

Riding along the edge of the plateau, Joe continued to study the terrain. His glance followed the slow moving McLennan River below him on the left, as it snaked along in the direction of Tte Jaune Cache where it eventually joined the mighty Fraser River. As he looked forward he saw smoke rising straight up through the mountain air about half a mile down the trail.

A homesteader and his family had laid claim to the land ahead. Soon Joe saw the cabin. He sniffed the air for the smell of bacon. "Too far away," he complained aloud. He knew it was breakfast time. Well, he hoped it was breakfast time! Soon, Joe was greeted by a small black dog that barked continually, announcing his arrival.

Joe rode into the clearing in front of the newly built log cottage and called out. "Hello in there! Anyone home?" Joe was right in front of the hitching post before the front door of the structure opened.

A young woman stepped out on the veranda, "Just passing through, Mister?" Joe nodded. He could see a small child peering through the front window and, as he climbed out of his saddle, he spied the tip of a gun barrel projecting from the right-hand corner of the cabin.

A short man appeared from the side of the building and walked down the length of the front porch, still holding his shot gun. "Morning. Care to join us for tea? Got some rolled oats on the stove."

Joe waited until the homesteader had lowered the barrel of his gun before answering. "Sounds mighty fine, Sir." He walked his packhorse down to the far end of the long hitching post before following the man and his wife inside.

Joe stayed long enough to enjoy a cup of tea and some porridge. He discovered the family had been living on the land for two years with plans to build a road-house someday. Also, their supply of food was limited. When Joe enquired about their winter grub, Mr. Bartlett held up an onion and explained that there was plenty of carrots and onions but little more. They were hoping for a miracle to see them through till spring.

Joe watered his horses after his visit, said his good-byes, politely tipped the rim of his hat and continued on the trail to Mile 49, six miles away. He was hoping to make town before nightfall. However, Joe had only traveled a short distance down the trail, when he encountered, much to his amazement, six caribou; three cows, two calves and a bull. They were standing on the edge of an open area about 500 yards away. Joe pulled his Winchester out of its rawhide scabbard, dismounted, tied his horses to a small tree, and began crawling along on the ground towards the herd.

The caribou were grazing quietly in a patch of dried grass that protruded through the snow. Their heads were low to the ground. The bull had a dark, dense coat of hair with a large white mane. Its head, crowned with an intricate set of antlers, suddenly shot upright. Joe's finger squeezed the trigger just when the bull's ears perked up.

In the next installment we will find out what happens to both Joe and the herd of Caribou, as the "Incident at Starvation Flats" continues.