Friday, April 1, 2016

Editorial: The Life and Times of Augustus Fredrick Dale

Admittedly, I often use this blog to talk about something that I just randomly made up AltHistory wise. However, today I want to talk about someone I found out while doing some research for other topics, a man that should have never been lost to history. I’m going to tell you a short version of the story of a man named Augustus Fredrick Dale.

Put your mind back 150 years, to a small town in Northern England called Great Smeaton. Born at the beginning of April, 1866, Augustus Fredrick Dale (nicknamed Gus by those that couldn’t properly pronounce his name) was born the middle child of 17, all who helped his father, Julius Dale, on his small farm in a country that was quickly becoming more industrialized. But Augustus had a desire to be noticed, and this became clear at a young age. At the age of three, he managed to climb the tallest tree in the nearby communal pasture (and then fell, but somehow didn’t have any broken bones or injuries). It was said he started to drink ale at the age of four, and was almost never without some form of alcohol after that for the rest of his life.

“Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic were not his strong subjects,” a fellow classmate wrote of Augustus years later. “If anything, forcing him to sit in one place for a long time was like trying to tell a rabbit not to burrow a hole or a candle not to burn.” One no-nonsense teacher often had to liberally apply the strap to the young Gus, but one time, at the age of eight, he not only caught the strap before it smacked his hand, ripped the leather to shreds and tied the teacher to his desk before anyone could blink an eye.

In 1878, at the age of 12, Gus left school, and the farm and the town, and traveled to Liverpool and stowed away on the first ship sailing out of the port. For two weeks, in one of the biggest storms the Atlantic Ocean had ever seen, Gus hid from the crew and passengers, sneaking food from the kitchen and killing rats to eat. He was only found as the ship docked at Halifax. Before he could be caught, he leapt off the deck, landed in the harbor, and swam to the city.

Life for Gus was hard and tough, as a young teenage boy in Canada in the 1870s. But he was clever and quick (lying about his age whenever it suited him), and packed a mean punch, and he soon made a name for himself as a boxer, fighting in bars and pubs throughout the Maritimes and Quebec. He made hundreds of dollars, most of which he spent on beer and drinking. There were stories of a drunk Gus, glass of beer in one hand, being recognized in a bar and challenged to a fight, and then winning in just a couple minutes with only one hand, and not spilling a drop from his mug in the other.

Fighting and drinking got old soon, and when Gus arrived in Toronto at the age of 18 in 1884, he tried to settle down and make something out of his life. But after several months, and being fired from seven different jobs ranging from blacksmithing to stock trading, he joined the Canadian Army being raised to put down the North-West Rebellion. He served with distinction, managing to fire his rifle only once, and with that one bullet injuring five Metis fighters. Even the British regulars were astounded, and one of the Metis fighters called him the “Little Black Devil” that was later used as the name for an entire army Regiment based in Winnipeg.

Ordered back to Ontario when Louis Riel was captured, Gus instead resigned the army when he got back, and joined the Canadian Pacific Railway, and helped to build the railway across Canada. With his incredible strength, he managed to lay down ties, fasten plates and rails and drive spikes; building an entire seven miles stretch by himself when the rest of the crew he was working with became ill with Dysentery. When his team reached Brandon, he left the CPR, and walked south, and found himself a place to settle on a quarter section of land near what would one day become the town of Melita. But his exploits didn’t end there: he began to drink again, once drinking the entire Metropolitan Hotel dry in one spell in 1893. Stories differ on what happened next that night; either he wrestled a bear that had wandered a bit to far south into submission, or managing to build an entire dam on the Souris River like a beaver in a single night, and nobody knew until water was flooding the valley the next morning.

Over time, the stories of Gus Dale spread across the area, including that he once walked to Brandon, in the middle of a four day snow storm in 1902, to pick up a keg of whiskey for one of the hotels in town and carried it on his back to Melita, but he refused to have the stories written down. The Melita Enterprise, one of the predecessors to the current New Era, once wrote a tell-all story about Gus in a 1916 issue of the paper, but Gus hunted down every single copy of the paper and burnt them, and forced the editor to not tell another story about him in the Melita paper for as long as he lived, and then, not until 86 years after he died.

Legend says that when Gus finally did die, at the age of 64 in the farm he built with his own hands, that Death had to take him when he was sleeping, because if Gus had been awake, he would have put up a fight.

Stories about Augustus Frederick “Gus” Dale are, because of his refusal to have them written down, rather lacking. These stories are the only ones that I could find, and there are most likely many other stories that could be told about who could have been one of the most notable people to have lived in a time when many amazing, incredible men and women lived.

Or I just made up this story for an April Fools Day joke. You choose!

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