On the Indian Trail, Stories of Missionary Work among Cree and Saulteaux Indians, by Reverend Egerton Ryerson Young.
In his Introduction to the book the author tells us that some of the stories here recounted are new, while others have been published in others of his works. Thus, if you have read "By Canoe and Dog-Train" you will experience a feeling of deja vue.
Like so many nineteenth century clergymen, the author spends a lot of time telling us how very holy he is. But I suppose we have a different view of how we ought to tell others how much time we spend praying. Things are different these days.
This book is one of many to be found on the excellent Early Canadiana Online. We used the new (2005) ABBYY screen grabbing tool to capture the images of the pages, using the third of the five sizes available. This size was chosen because the image of each page just fits the text of the page on the screen. From other points of view it would have been better if we could have used the largest size, which we could not easily do for the following reason. The original scans were far from being nice clean ones, so there were many misreads. We used the Athelstane editing system to produce the final text as we have published it.
Had we used the full-sized scans it is quite possible that there would have been just the same number of misreads in the OCRed text, because of the number of bits of hair and fluff, scratches and other blemishes in the scans. So it is lucky that the Athelstane system can trap most of the misreads.
ON THE INDIAN TRAIL, STORIES OF MISSIONARY WORK AMONG CREE AND SAULTEAUX INDIANS, BY REVEREND EGERTON RYERSON YOUNG.
This is not a continuous narrative of missionary work as are some of the author's books. It is a collection of distinct chapters, some of which are written expressly for this volume, others of which, having in whole or in part seen the light in other form, are now, at the request of friends, and thanks to the courtesy of the publishers, here gathered.
Romantic missionary work among the red Indians will soon be a thing of the past. Civilisation is reaching this people, and the iron horse rushes and shrieks where the Indian trail was once the only pathway. The picturesque garb is fast disappearing, and store clothes, often too soon transformed into rags anything but picturesque, have robbed, the Indian of the interest that once clung to him.
These wanderings on the fast disappearing trail, speak of successes rather than failures; not but that there were many of the latter, as well as long waiting after the seed time for the harvest, but because it is so much more pleasant and helpful to look on the bright side of life, and talk of victory rather than defeat.
So in the hope that this book will be helpful and encouraging to the friends and supporters of missions, who have become such an innumerable company, and that His name may be glorified thereby, we send it on its way.
ON THE PRAIRIE TRAIL.
We struck the prairie trail at Saint Paul in 1868.
We, that is my young wife and I in company with some other missionaries and teachers, were to travel many hundreds of miles upon it, in order that we might reach the wigwam haunts of the Indians in the northern part of the Hudson Bay Territories, to whom we had been appointed to carry the glorious Gospel of the Son of God.
We were to follow up the work begun by men of sublime faith and heroic courage, and to carry it still farther into more remote regions where as yet the sweet story of a Saviour's love had never been heard. We had confidence enough in God to belief that if fur-traders could travel along these trails, and live in those lonely remote regions for from the blessings of civilisation, and in order to make money by trading with the Indians put up with the hardships and privations incident to such a life, we could make equal sacrifices for Christ's sake, to carry the Glad Tidings of His great love to those who had never heard the wondrous Story.
After about three weeks journeyings, we had travelled as far as we could by steamboat and railroad, and were at the extreme limit of these splendid methods of civilised locomotion. From this point onward there was nothing before us but the prairie trail. On and on it stretched for hundreds of miles, away and away to the land of the north wind. Over its winding undulating course, long years ago, the hardy pioneers of the new world adventured themselves; and as they bravely pushed on they were filled with amazement and awe at the vastness of the great and illimitable prairies.
Following closely in their trail, and even sometimes themselves the pioneers, came those early heroic priestly followers of Loyola, eager and anxious to meet and to make friends of the wild Indians of the plains and forest, that among them they might plant the cross, and, according to their belief, by the simple rite of baptism induct them into the bosom of Mother Church.
In later years much of the romance of the great Trail had worn away. Commerce and Trade with their multiplied activities had so taken possession of it that when first we saw it in 1868, the long trains of noisy creaking Red River carts, and the great canvas-covered wagons of the adventurous immigrants, were the most conspicuous sights on its dusty stretches. Occasionally bands of Indian warriors, plumed and painted, were seen upon it, dashing along on their fiery steeds, out on some marauding adventure, or more likely, on the lookout for the vast herds of buffalo that still swarmed in the regions farther west, like "the cattle on a thousand hills."
It was one of those perfect days in the lovely month of June when we left the thriving young city of Saint Paul, and with our canvas-covered wagons, and fourteen picked horses, really entered on the trail. As we left the frontier city, thus severing the last link that bound us to civilisation, we realised most vividly that now we were entering upon our missionary work.
Thirty days were we on this Prairie Trail. Not all of them were of that rare beauty of the first. Fierce thunderstorms several times assailed us when it was not always possible to protect ourselves from the terrible downpour of rain. One night a genuine cyclone wrecked our camp; tents and wagons with their varied contents went careering in erratic courses before its irresistible power.
Our way was beset with dangers: bridgeless streams had to be crossed; prairie fires had to be fought, or wildly run away from treacherous quicksands sometimes spread most invitingly on either side of the miserable looking trail, lured the unwary traveller to trust himself on their smooth and shining surface. But woe to the foolish ones who left the trail for the quicksands: unless speedily rescued by the united strength of friends, horses and travellers would soon be swallowed up; so the warning cry of the guide was ever: "Keep in the trail!"
Thus we journeyed on, sometimes in the sunshine, and sometimes in the storm. Every morning and evening we had our family prayers. The Sabbaths were rest days for all—sweet and precious days, when out in the sunshine on the glorious prairies, we, a little company of missionaries and teachers—worshipped God: they were as the days of the Son of Man on earth.
Thirty days on such a trail could not pass without some strange adventures, and we had our share of them with white men and with Indians.
A talkative parrot in our party nearly frightened the lives out of some very inquisitive and superstitious Indians and French half-breeds. They had stopped their ox-carts one day at the same spot where we, coming in the opposite direction, were resting for the dinner hour. Hearing about the wonderful parrot, they crowded around to see her. Polly stood their inquisitive gazings for awhile, then, apparently somewhat annoyed, with wings ruffled, sprang forward as far as she could in her large cage, and shouted out:
"Who are you?"
The effect upon the superstitious half-breeds, and Indians, was about as though His Satanic Majesty had suddenly appeared among them. They rushed away, and nothing that we could do would induce any of them to look at the bird again.
Another adventure, most unique and startling, occurred on this trip ere we had proceeded many days on the trail.
"You had better keep a sharp eye on those splendid horses of yours, or you may wake up some fine morning and find them missing."
This was rather startling news and caused a good deal of excitement in our camp.
The speakers were some scouts from the United States army, who were making a hurried trip from the head waters of the Missouri where the troops had gone to quell some Indian disturbance. They were now on their way to Saint Paul with dispatches for Washington.
Each night of our journey we had, in true western style hobbled our horses and left them to roam about and feed on the luxuriant grasses. This hobbling is merely the tying of the forefeet loosely together with soft leather thongs so that the animal in moving has to lift up both forefeet at once. Its movements being thus necessarily slow, there is no roaming very far from the camp. Having had no fear of danger, we had been very careless, leaving everything unguarded.
The terrible Sioux massacres a few years before in these very regions, were now being forgotten. It is true that as we journeyed, the ruins of the destroyed, and in many places, not yet rebuilt homesteads of the settlers, were vivid reminders of those dreadful frontier wars, when over nine hundred white people lost their lives. The Indians were now however far to the north and west of us, so that we had no fears as we leisurely moved along. Hence, it was somewhat startling when these picturesquely garbed scouts halted in our midst, and warned us to have a guard over our horses; telling us, that, the most notorious band of horse thieves was in the neighbourhood, and was rumoured to have heard that there was a party with some magnificent horses in the prairie country, and that doubtless, even now, they were on the lookout for us upon some of the trails.
After a short halt for a hurried meal, our bronzed well-armed visitors left us. The last we saw of them was as they galloped away southward on the trail.
Immediately a council was called, when it was decided to move on to the vicinity of Clearwater, and there remain until all the final preparations for our long trip were completed. Our horses were turned loose and hobbled during the day, but were not allowed to stray very far from the camp. Watchful eyes were ever upon them, and also scanning the prairies for suspicious intruders. Before sundown they were all gathered in and securely fastened in a large barn that stood out upon the prairie, the sole building left of a large farmstead: all the other buildings, including the dwelling house, had been burned during the Indian wars. No survivors or relatives had as yet come to claim the deserted place, and so the rich prairie grasses had almost covered with their green verdure the spot where the destroyed buildings once stood; and now all that remained to tell of former prosperity was this solitary old barn.
The men of our party were appointed to watch the barn during the night and protect the horses against all intruders. Two well armed persons were thought a sufficient guard for each of the eight or ten nights that we remained in that vicinity. One night a young man of our party and I were appointed to watch. He most thoroughly equipped himself with several varieties of weapons, resolved to be prepared for any emergency. I trusted to a quick-firing breech-loading rifle.
We gathered in the horses from the prairies, and were leading them toward the barn when we met the leader of our party, a man past middle life, most of whose years had been spent among the Indians, and in the great west.
Looking at us who were to be the guards of the horses that night, he said, with a sneer:
"Queer guards are you! I have some young Indians that could steal any horse in that crowd to-night from under your very nose."
Stung by the sneers of this man, for it was not the first time that he had tried to wound, I replied with perhaps too much emphasis:
"Mr — I have the best horse in the company, and I will give him to you, if either you, or any Indian living, can steal him out of that barn between sundown and sunrise."
My comrade and I carefully fastened our horses along one side of the barn where they could stand comfortably, or lie down on some old prairie hay during the night. Then we examined the barn. At one end were the usual large double doors sufficiently wide and high to admit of the entrance of a wagon loaded with hay or sheaves of grain. At the other end was a small door which we securely fastened on the inside. We then carefully examined the building for other places of ingress to make sure that there were no openings sufficiently large for even a naked savage to squeeze through. When thoroughly satisfied with our survey, we collected a quantity of dried hay, and made ourselves some comfortable seats, where we could, without being seen, command the large end doors: one of which was fastened inside with a hook and staple, while the other had only the usual wooden latch.
We moved about and chatted on various subjects during the long beautiful gloaming, and when the darkness settled down upon us, we made ourselves comfortable in our assigned positions, and with rides in hand, were indeed sentinels on the watch. As the excitement of the occasion wore off, my young companion who was still in his teens, began to feel exceedingly drowsy. I told him to cuddle down in the hay and go to sleep for a while, and if there was any appearance of danger I would instantly awake him. Very soon he was sleeping quietly at my feet. He had generously requested me to awake him when he had slept an hour or so, offering then to take my place. Thanking him, I said: "Get some sleep if you can; there is none, however, for me to-night."—I remembered too well those taunting words, and could not have slept had I tried.
As the hours slowly rolled along, I could not but think of the strange transitions of the last few weeks. Not six weeks before this I was the pastor of a large church in a flourishing city. Then I was living in a beautiful home with all the comforts and conveniences of civilisation around me, where the vigilant policemen paced their various rounds, while we in peace and safety rested without one thought of danger; now I was in the far West, away from the society and comforts of other days, on the boundless plains where dangers lurk, and lawless, thievish vagabonds abound. Not long ago I was in my own pulpit preaching to large congregations; now, during the quiet hours of this night, I was sitting on a bundle of dried prairie grass in an old barn, defending a lot of horses from horse thieves. Strange transformations are these. Truly life is a play, and we, the actors, little know what parts we shall next be called on to assume.
Thus I mused; bub hush! What noise is that? Surely it cannot be that a cunning horse thief would come so deliberately this beautiful starlit night and try at the principal door to seek an entrance. No stealthy Indian clever at horse stealing would begin his operations in such a way.
But there is the sound, nevertheless. Evidently it is that of a hand feeling for the latch.
Strict orders had been given at the camp, that under no consideration should any one of our party approach the barn after dark. So, here was an intruder who must be promptly dealt with, before he could draw and fire.
Springing up and lifting the rifle to my shoulder, I waited until the intruder's hand had found the latch. Then the door swung open and there he stood; a very tall man, clearly outlined in the starry night.
My first grim resolve was to fire at once. Then there came the thought: "It is a terrible thing suddenly to send a soul into eternity. Perhaps he is not a horse thief. He may be some lone wanderer on the prairies, who, seeing this old barn, desires to get under its shelter out of the heavy dews. You have him covered with your rifle; even if he is a desperate horse thief bent on mischief, ere he can draw his weapons, you can easily drop him."
These thoughts must have flashed through my brains very rapidly for the man had not yet entered the barn when I had decided on my course of action.
So, while keeping him covered with my rifle, and with my hand upon the trigger, I shouted:
"It's only Matthew. Surely you ought to know me by this time."
Instead of an enemy, there came stumbling along in the darkness, one of our young friends from the camp: a school-teacher, going out to instruct the Indians in the plains of the Saskatchewan.
Groping his way along, he said: "It is awfully close and hot down there in the camp, and so I thought I would rather come and spend the rest of the night with you in the barn."
Foolish fellow! he little knew how near he had come to losing his life by this direct breach of orders.
As I recognised his voice in answer to my challenge, and realised how near I had come to shooting one of our party, a quick reaction seized me, and dropping the gun, I sank back trembling like a leaf.
After chatting away at a great rate, he at length settled down in the hay, and went to sleep without having the slightest idea of the risk he had run, or of the part I had played in what came so near being a tragedy.
I continued my watch until relieved at sunrise, and then, with my comrade, turned over all the horses safe and sound to those whose duty it was to watch them while they were feeding on the prairies.
There was a row for a time when I reported to the leaders of our company the visit to the barn. The good-natured delinquent was the subject of a great deal of scolding, which he bore with an unruffled demeanour. As he was six feet, six inches and a half in stature, no physical castigation was administered; nor was any needed; he was so thoroughly frightened when he heard how he had stood under cover of my rifle with my finger on the trigger.
ON THE INDIAN TRAIL.
We will call the routes over which I travelled on my large mission field, "Indian trails;" but the name at times would be found to be inept, as often, for scores of miles, there was not the least vestige of a track or path. This was because there was so little travel in summer of a character that would make a well defined trail, for during that season the Indians preferred to avail themselves of the splendid and numerous lakes and rivers, which enabled them to travel very easily by canoe in almost any direction.
Thus, when obliged to travel on the short stretches of the so-called, "Indian trail," it is not to be wondered at if the missionary sometimes lost his way, and had to be sought after and found, much to the amusement of the Indians who constituted the hunting party.
"Good missionary, but him lost the trail." More than once was I so addressed by my clever and experienced Indian canoeman, with whom every summer I used to journey hundreds of miles into remote regions, to find the poor sheep of the wilderness to whom to preach the glorious Gospel of the Son of God. These summer routes lay through many lakes, and up and down rushing rivers full of rapids and cataracts. Generally two skilful Indian canoemen were my companions, one of whom was called, "the guide."
The Indians, for whom we were seeking, drifted naturally from their hunting grounds in the forests, to the shores of the lakes and rivers, for the sake of the fish, which, daring the summer months, could be easily obtained and which then constituted their principal food. The result was, that while in winter, with our dog-trains, we could go anywhere—the terrible ice-king freezing everything solid from the lakes and rivers to the great quaking bogs—in summer, we were confined to those trips which could be only made by the birch-bark canoe: in no other way could the Gospel he carried to these people. After we became accustomed to the canoe and dog-train, we rejoiced that we were counted worthy to be the Messengers of Good Tidings'to these neglected ones, who, having lost faith in their old paganism, were longing for something better.
One summer in the early years of my missionary life, when I had had but little experience in the northern methods of travel and was a novice at finding my way on an obscure trail, I took a trip which I remember very distinctly; partly, because of the difficulty I had in keeping the trail when alone and partly because of the dangers to which I was exposed when I lost it.
My birch canoe was a good one. It was made especially for running rapids, and was so light that one man could easily carry it on his head when necessary. I had as my companions two very capable Indian canoemen. One of them had never been over that route before and the other, whom by courtesy, we called, "our guide," had only once travelled that way—and that, several years before the date of this trip.
All the able bodied men of my mission excepting these two, were away serving the Hudson Bay Company as tripmen, which was the reason why I could not obtain men better acquainted with the long route. I had either to take these men and ran a good deal of risk, or wait another year to carry the Gospel to those hundreds who had never heard it, and who had sent a pleading call for me to come and tell them what the Great Spirit said in His Book. So, after much prayer, I decided, trusting in God and in these men, to make the journey.
The country through which we travelled was one of the roughest and wildest in that dreary, desolate land. The streams were so full of rapids that we had constantly to be making portages. This was slow and laborious work. Our method of procedure was something like this: as soon as we discovered that the current was too rapid to be safe, or that we were hearing some great falls, we went ashore and quickly unloaded our canoe; William, the guide, easily lifted it upon his head and starting off, soon disappeared in the forest, running where possible, and keeping parallel with the raging stream until he reached a place below which the waters were again navigable; Peter, my other Indian, as speedily as possible made a large bundle of our blankets, kettles, and supplies, and with this upon his back, supported by a carrying strap round his forehead, quickly followed the trail made by William; while to me was assigned the work of carrying the guns, ammunition, changes of raiment and the presents, and Bibles for the Indians we expected to visit. Although my load was not nearly as heavy as those carried by my stalwart canoemen, yet I was utterly unable to keep up with them in the trail. Indians, when thus loaded, never walk: they seem to glide along on a swinging trot that carries them over the ground very rapidly. A white man, unaccustomed to this pace, is very soon left behind. This was my experience. All I could do, was to trudge bravely along under my miscellaneous load, which was becoming constantly disarranged, thus causing delay.
But my greatest trouble was to keep the trail. There was absolutely no path. All the trail, was that made by my two Indians, and Indians are trained to leave as little evidence of their movements as possible. So I was often lost. I would at the beginning of the portage, bravely shoulder my burden and endeavour to keep in sight of my men. This, however, I found to be an utter impossibility. A sharp turn among the rocky ridges, or a plunge into the dense dark forest, and they were gone from my vision. Then my perplexities began. If, as some times happened, the trail was through mud, or reeds and rushes I could generally follow them in it; but, as more frequently happened, the trail was over rocky ridges, or through dense forests, sometimes for miles, and I was often completely bewildered and lost.
The trouble at first was, that being too perplexed, or too ignorant of what was the safer course to pursue, I would quicken my pace and hurry on—somewhere. On and on I would stumble under my heavy awkward load until the sweat fell like rain from my brow and my back ached. More than once when thus hurrying I have been startled by some savage beast, that with a snort or a growl, dashed away in front of me. This only added speed to my footsteps, and frightened now I would hurry on, until utterly worn-out and exhausted I threw off my heavy burdens and sank down on the nearest rock or log, tired out. Perhaps in my ignorance and perversity I had wandered far away, even in an opposite direction from that which I should have taken.
Fortunate was it for me that I had such men for my comrades. I knew their worth and loyalty, as well as their ability quickly to find me. As soon as they had safely reached the end of the portage they would be on the alert for my arrival. If I delayed beyond what they thought to be sufficient time they would set off on the back trail looking for me. With that unerring instinct which so many of them possess in woodcraft, and which to me always seemed perfectly marvellous, they soon found where I had wandered from the trail. From this point they had not the slightest difficulty in following and finding me. Without any chiding, but with perhaps a pitying look and a quiet utterance that sounded like "Good missionary, but him lost the trail," they would quickly pick up my burdens, and safely guide me to our waiting canoe. All I had to carry was perhaps the Book which I had with me, the reading of which, enabled me profitably to pass the hours that often elapsed ere my faithful men found me.
We lived on just what we could shoot, as it was impossible to carry additional supplies in a birch canoe. Hunter's luck varies considerably even in a land of game, and we at least had variety in our bill of fare. Black bears being still numerous in those wild regions we sometimes had bear's steak broiled on the coals, or ribs skidded on a stick and nicely browned before the fire. When my canoemen had time to prepare the bear's feet and boil them they were quite a luxury. In fact, the three great luxuries specially prized by the denizens of that country are, the heaver's tails, the moose's nose, and the bear's paws. Rarely was a deer shot on those canoe trips, unless it happened to be in the far north regions, where occasionally one was caught swimming far out from land in a great lake. When one was thus killed, there was of course abundance of food, but so little of it could be carried with us, that the larger portion had to be left to be devoured by wolves, wolverines, or other wild animals. However, in leaving all this meat on the trail the words of the Psalmist would come to us:
"He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." Perhaps it was only carrying out His great purposes, when we thus left all this food for some of His creatures to whom, "He giveth their meat in due season."
Wild ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds were occasionally shot, affording us most savoury food as did also the beavers wild-cats, and muskrats.
Our nights were spent where the day's journey ended. Missionaries in nearly all lands can generally find some human, habitation in which to obtain or prepare their food and spend the night. As a child, I used to listen with intense interest to my beloved father, who for many years had been a pioneer missionary in what were then known as the wilds of Upper Canada—tell of his adventures. Many had been his hardships and dangers, but I remember he used to say, that he could generally find the comfortable log-cabin of a friendly settler in which to pass the night. The trail in the wild north land leads through regions of country thousands of miles in extent, where there is not even to be found a leather tepee or a birch-bark wigwam, much less a house. The result was, when making such journeys, we had to do the next best thing, and that was to camp at the spot where night overtook us. Of course we were on the lookout for as comfortable a place as it was possible to find. A smooth dry granite rock for our bed, and dry wood with which to make our fires, where we cooked our food and dried our clothes, were always considered the essential requisites for a comfortable camp. Warm days alternated with damp and chilly ones, but the nights were generally cold. The bright warm camp-fire was always welcomed with great delight after a day's journey of sixty miles on the trail. Pleasant indeed are the memories of happy restful hours so spent, when the good honest day's work was done, and the time of rest well earned. After the hearty evening meal and prayers, it was each a luxury to be able to stretch our cramped limbs before a glorious camp-fire on the rocky shore of some great river or picturesque lake. Then the attempt to read even some favourite author was not always a great success. It seemed more congenial just to lie there, and muse and watch the dying of the day as the brightness gradually faded out of the western sky, and the stars in their modest way, one by one, came out into conscious vision, until the whole heavens were lit up by their radiance. The only sounds were the roar of the distant cataract, the music of the running stream, the rippling of the waves at our feet, broken some nights by the occasional cry of a wild bird or beast, from among the trees of the encircling forest. The quiet, picturesquely garbed men in their statuesque attitudes added much to the attractiveness of the surroundings.
Then at night very close to the heart, and appropriate, were the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork;" and, "When I consider thy heavens the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars which thou hast ordained; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?"
But the nights spent on the Indian trail, were not always so delightful, or so conducive to lofty and celestial sentiments. When the cyclonic winds howled around us through the long night hours, blowing with such fury that it requited all of our watchfulness and strength to prevent canoe, blankets, and bundles from being blown into the lake or river, our thoughts were not among the stars. Sometimes the black thunderclouds gathered and the rain fell upon us in torrents, putting out our fires, perhaps before our evening meal was cooked, drenching us completely, and continuing sometimes so long that we had not a dry stitch upon us for days together. Under such circumstances, while ringing some quarts of water out of our clothes, or from the blankets in which we had slept, there was no disposition to sentimentalise about the rippling of the waves on the shore or the distant waterfall.
Thus in storm as in sunshine, it was necessary that the missionary and his faithful canoemen should be on the trail, if the Book were to be carried, and its glorious truths proclaimed to those wandering people in their wigwam homes, in regions so remote and inaccessible that in no other way could they be reached during the brief summer months. However, in spite of its hardships and dangers, the results accomplished more than compensated for them all. Physical sufferings are not worthy of record, where successful work has been done in the conversion of immortal souls for whom the Saviour died. Many have been the trophies won and marvellous the transformations wrought as the result of these difficult trips on the Indian trail. The missionaries, numbers of whom are still toiling upon them, rejoice that they are counted worthy to endure such hardness, and to be "in perils oft" for His glory, and for the salvation of those for whom He died.
As regards some abiding results attained by these adventurous trips, one or two incidents are here recorded.
On these long journeys, the missionary generally carried with him a small assortment of medicines. He well knew that many a hard heart could be reached, and many a prejudice overcome, by the healing of some afflicted member of the family, when all other means for influencing them for good, had for the time being failed.
At one remote pagan village dwelt a man who had refused most positively to become a Christian. When urged to accept of Christianity he had most emphatically repeated the expression most common among them: "As my fathers lived and died, so will I."
He came to me one day in a state of much perplexity, and after speaking about several things, mentioned the thankfulness that was in his heart on account of my having cured his wife, who had been sick a long time. The way in which he expressed himself, however, showed the great ignorance under which he was living. His words were something like these, and most emphatically were they uttered:
"Missionary, my wife was long sick. I went to the medicine man of my people to cure her. He tried and tried, but he could not do her any good. Then I came to you, and your medicines cured her, and she soon got well. So I believe, that as your medicine is stronger than that of the medicine men of our religion, your religion must be better than ours. My wife and I have talked it over, and we want to sit at your feet, and learn of this new way."
Of course there was a good deal in his mind that was erroneous and I had to explain myself literally and enlighten him, ere I could begin to teach him the truths of the Gospel. However, I had won his heart, and that was half of the battle. Now predisposed toward the truth, he and his wife gladly accepted it. They became sincere and earnest Christians, and were both made a blessing and a benediction to their people.
There was a great hunter who had an only son. He had a number of daughters, but they were as nothing in his sight in comparison with his little boy. One day the child fell sick, and the medicine man of the tribe was sent for in great haste, a famous old conjuror by the name of Tapastanum. He had some knowledge of roots and herbs, but like the other conjurors of his nation, pretended to depend upon his incantations and conjurings to effect his cures. With a great deal of ceremony he brought out his sacred medicine bag, his charms, and rattle and drum. Then arraying himself in the most hideous manner possible, he began his wild incantations. He howled and yelled, he shook his rattle and beat his drum. All however was in vain. The child rapidly became worse as the days passed. Seeing that there was no improvement, the father became thoroughly alarmed and lost all faith in Tapastanum's power. Fearing however to offend him, he gave him some presents of tea and tobacco, and told him that he need not trouble himself to come again. Up to this time he had refused to listen to the missionary's teachings. He had been loud and almost persecuting in his opposition to the preaching of the Gospel among his people, and had refused to come where the friendly Indians gathered under the trees to hear the Word read and explained.
Indian-like however, he had been most observant, and it had not escaped his notice that some cures had been effected by the pale face that had been too difficult for the native medicine men. So, when he saw his little boy getting worse and worse, in spite of all the yells and antics of the conjuror, so soon as he had dismissed him, he came for the missionary, and in a tone very different from that which he had first used, almost begged him to come and save his little boy.
"I will do the best I can," said the missionary, who was thankful for an opportunity thus, perhaps, to win his friendship and to lead him to the cross.
When he examined the boy he found that it was a serious case of inflammation, so he candidly told the father, that as the disease had run so long it was hard to say whether he would be able to cure him or not, but he would gladly do his best. The Indian father urged him to begin at once to do all that was possible to save his boy; saying, that he would be so glad if his child recovered, and would not blame the missionary if he died.
Prompt remedies were applied, and with God's blessing, and careful nursing, the child recovered, greatly to the joy of the father.
Not long after, as the missionary gathered the people together for religious service, he was pleased to see, leaning against a distant tree, the once stubborn old Indian whose son had been healed. It was evident that he was anxious to hear what that missionary who had cured his boy had to say, and jet, he was still too proud to come and sit with the friendly Indians, who were anxious to learn about the message which the Great Spirit had sent to the people. So he compromised by taking a position on the outskirts of the audience.
Fortunately the missionary was gifted with a strong clear voice, so without any apparent effort, he told the story of God's love in Jesus Christ in a tone that could be distinctly heard by all, even by the distant hunter leaning against the tree.
Very attentively did that Indian listen to all that was said, and so interested was he, that at the next service he stood at a tree considerably nearer the speaker. The next service he was in the midst of the audience, and a few weeks later he was at the Cross, a happy converted man.
It was interesting and delightful to listen to his after apologies, and chidings of himself for his stubborn opposition to that in which he now so delighted. Among other things he would say:
"But missionary, you know that I was so foolish and stubborn. I was then blind and deaf; but now I have rubbed the dust out of my eyes, pulled the moss out of my ears, so now I see clearly and hear all right. Then, I could only say hard things against the Book which I thought was only for the white man, but now, I have found that it is for every one, and I love to think and talk about the good things that it has brought to us."
Long centuries ago Isaiah prophesied:
"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped;
"Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing;
"For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert."
Here in this wild north land, as, thank God, it has been on many other mission fields, this glorious prophecy had been, and is being, most literally fulfilled. Eyes long spiritually blinded are now open to behold the blessed light, deaf ears have been unstopped and now hear His loving voice, and tongues unloosened by His power make the wilderness vocal with His praise.
PRACTICAL WORK IN INDIAN HOMES.
Since the opening up of the heart of Africa, by the indomitable courage and zeal of such men as Speke and Moffat, Baker and Livingstone, Stanley and Cameron, Bishop Taylor and others, perhaps one of the least known portions of this habitable globe is the northern part of the great Dominion of Canada. The discovery of the rich gold mines in the great Yukon River district—the greater number by far being in Canadian territory—is attracting attention to that part of the hitherto unknown north-western portion of the great Dominion, and will doubtless lead to its becoming better known.
It is true that there are vast regions of this great country that are of but little value to civilised people as a home. Still there are hundreds of millions of acres, of land as fertile as any in the world, and thousands of people are crowding in every year and taking possession of what will yet become one of the greatest wheat producing portions of the globe.
From east to west, through the Dominion runs the great Canada Pacific Railway, the longest in the world. This great road has not only broken the long silence of the wilderness and opened up the grandest route to the Orient, but it has also unsettled the Indians in their prairie and forest retreat; it has not only brought trade to their wigwam villages but also the missionary with the Bible to their very doors.
But north of these new provinces where the whistle of the iron horse is heard, are vast regions that are as free from the inroads of the adventurous pioneer as is the Desert of Sahara. This is a country of magnificent lakes and rivers with their untold wealth of fish. Its vast forests and morasses abound in fur-bearing animals of great value. Bears and wolves, reindeer and moose, and many other animals which the Indians love to hunt, exist in large numbers.
The Indian tribes of these northern regions live altogether by hunting and fishing. They are not warlike, as are the tribes of the great prairies, but in their pagan state have many vile and abominable practices, which show that they are just as bad as those who delight in war and as much in need of the Gospel.
Missionaries of the different denominations have gone into these remote regions, have lived amidst many privations, and have given their lives to the blessed work of Christianising, and then civilising these long neglected people. They have not toiled in vain. Thousands have renounced their paganism and become earnest, genuine Christians. The missionary life in such a land and among such a people is, as might be well imagined, very different from that in other countries.
As these mission fields are in such high latitudes the winter is very long and severe. Hence, the habitations to be at all comfortable must be very warmly built. There is no limestone in that land, and consequently, no lime. As a poor substitute, mud is used. The houses are built with a framework of squared timber which is well logged up, and the chinks well packed with moss and mud. When this is thoroughly dry, and made as air-tight as possible, the building is clapboarded, and lined with tongued and grooved boards. Double windows are used to help keep out the bitter cold. When well built and cared for, some of these homes are fairly comfortable; very different from the wretched, uncomfortable abodes some of the early missionaries were content to dwell in.
As great forests are everywhere in those regions, wood is used for fuel instead of coal. Great box stoves are kept red hot day and night from October until May.
The food used by the missionaries was the same as that on which the Indians lived. Flour was almost unknown. Fish and game afforded subsistence to nearly all. It is true that, many years ago, the great Saskatchewan, brigades of boats came to Norway house and York factory loaded down with vast quantities of pemmican and dried buffalo meat; but long since the great herds of buffalo have been exterminated, and the far-famed pemmican is now but a memory of the past. The last time I saw the wharves of the Hudson Bay Company's post at Norway House piled up with bags of pemmican, was in 1871. This pemmican was pounded buffalo meat, mixed with the tallow and preserved in large bags made out of the green hides of the slaughtered animals, and was the food that for some months of each year gave variety to our fish diet. It was healthy and nourishing to persons of good appetites and unimpaired digestive organs; but to those not to the "manner born," or unaccustomed to it all their days, it appeared, whether cooked or raw, as partaking more of the nature of soap grease, than of anything more inviting. Cut it has gone to return no more: much to the satisfaction of some, and to the regret of others.
I and my Indian fishermen used to catch about ten thousand white fish in gill nets every October and November. These we hung up on great stages where they froze as solid as stones. A few hundred we would pack away in the snow and ice for use in the following May, when those left on the stages began to suffer from the effects of the spring warmth. These ten thousand fish were needed by the missionary's family and his dogs: the faithful dogs, from whom so much was required, lived on them all the time, while the missionary's family had them on the table twenty-one times a week for six months.
During the winter we had certain varieties of game which I shot, or which the Indian hunters brought in and exchanged with us for tea, sugar, cotton, flannels, or other things. All trade was done by barter, as there was no money then in the land. During the spring and summer months, occasionally, a wild goose or some ducks were obtained, and proved acceptable additions to our bill of fare.
Once or twice during the summer the boats of the Hudson Bay Company—the great trading corporation of the country—brought us from civilisation, our yearly supplies. These consisted of: a few bags of flour, a keg of bolster, a can of coal oil, tea, sugar, soap, and medicines. They also brought an assortment of plain, but good, articles of clothing and dry goods which we required in our own household, and with which we also paid the Indians whom we had to hire, as fishermen, dog-drivers, canoemen or guides on my long journeys over the great mission field which was several hundreds of miles square.
So many were the calls upon us on account of the sickness and terrible poverty of the people, that often our little stock of flour was soon gone. Other luxuries quickly followed, and is the mission home, as in the wigwams of the natives, the great staple was fish, fish, fish.
So many have inquired how Mrs Young and I managed so long to live and thrive, and keep up our health and spirits, on an almost exclusive fish diet, that I will here give the plan we pursued.
We were in good health, and charmed with, and thankful for, our work. We both had so much to do, and were kept very busy either in our own cosy little log house home, or outside among the Indians, that our appetites were generally very good and we were ready for our meals as soon as they were ready for us. Still, after all, the very monotony of the unchangeable fish diet sometimes proved too much for us. We would, perhaps, be seated at the break fast table, neither of us with any appetite for the fish before us. We would sip away at our cups of tea without apparently noticing that the fish were untested, and chat about our plans for the day.
"My dear," I would say, "what are you going to do to-day?"
"I am going to have Kennedy harness up my dogs, and drive me up the river to Playgreen point to see how that old sick woman is getting on and take her the warm blanket I promised her. I will also stop to see how those sick babies are, and how Nancy's little twins are prospering. In the afternoon I want to drive over to York village and see Oosememou's sick wife—What is your day's programme?"
To my good wife's question, my answer would be after this fashion:
"Well, first of all, as word has come that the wolves have been visiting our fish-cache, Martin Papanekis and I have arranged to drive over there with the dogs to see the extent of the damage. We may be detained some hours making the place so strong, that if they visit it again, which is likely, they will be unable to reach the fish. Then we will spend the rest of the day in that vicinity, visiting and praying with the neighbours."
Having taken our tea, we had prayers, and soon after began to carry out the programmes of the day.
For several winters we kept for our varied duties, a number of dogs. Mrs Young and I each had our favourite dog-trains. So widely scattered were the Indians, and for such diverse reasons did they look to us and claim our attention, that our lives were full, not only of solicitude for their welfare, but we were, sometimes for days together kept on the "go," often travelling many miles each day in visiting the sick and afflicted, and in looking after the interests of those who needed our personal help.
On that particular day in which the conversation above recorded was held, it was after dark ere our work was accomplished and we met in our little dining-room for our evening meal. It was really the first meal of the day; for we had a tacit understanding that when these times arrived that we could not really enjoy our fish diet, we would resolutely put in the whole days work without tasting food. The result was, that when we drew up to the table after having refused the morning breakfast, and ignored the midday meal, we found that our appetite, even for fish, had returned, and we enjoyed them greatly. And what was more, the appetite for them remained with us for some considerable time thereafter.
Hunger is still a good sauce; and we found—and others also have made the same discovery—that when the appetite fails and there is a tendency to criticise, or find fault with the food, or even with the cook, a voluntary abstinence for two or three meals will be most beneficial for mind and body, and bring back a very decided appreciation of some of God's good gifts which hitherto had been little esteemed.
Of course the great and prominent work was the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the people to read the Word of God. To this latter work we devote a full chapter and so need not refer to it here. Next perhaps to the direct results obtained by the preaching of the Word, we accomplished the most good by the medical work.
Indians are fond of medicine and are believers in large doses. The hotter the dose is with cayenne pepper, or the more bitter with any powerful drug, the more it is relished, and the greater faith they have in its power to effect a cure. Various were the expedients of some of them to induce us to give them a good strong cup of tea, made doubly hot with red pepper. In their estimation such a dose was good for almost any disease with which they could be afflicted, and was especially welcomed in the cold and wintry days, when the mercury was frozen hard, and the spirit thermometer indicated anything between forty and sixty degrees below zero.
Practical sympathy never failed to reach some hearts, and so influenced them, that they were ultimately brought to Christ.
So poverty stricken were the people, that the opportunities of helping them were many. Looked at from our standpoint of comfort, they had very little with which to make themselves happy. Few indeed were their possessions. Owning the land in common, there was in it no wealth to any one of them; but neither were there any landlords, or rents. All their other possessions were their wigwams, traps, nets, guns, canoes, dogs, and clothing. They lived from hand to mouth, as they had no facilities for keeping any surplus food even if they were ever fortunate enough to secure more than they needed for their immediate wants. If some were successful in killing a number of deer or bears, they made but little attempt at trying to dry or preserve some of the meat for future use. Very rarely, a little deer-pemmican would be made out of some of the venison; but this was an exceptional case. The general plan, was to keep open house after a successful hunt, with the pot boiling continually, everybody welcomed and told to eat heartily while the supply lasted. He was considered a mean man indeed, who, being fortunate in killing a large quantity of game, did not share it with all who happened to come along. This hospitality was often earned to such an extent, that there would be but very little left for the hunter himself, or for his own family.
Thus, life among the Indians for long generations, was a kind of communism. No unfortunate one actually starved to death in the village so long as there was a whitefish or a haunch of venison in the community. It was feast together when plenty comes; starve together when plenty goes. They could not at first understand why, when the missionary had anything in his mission house, he hesitated about giving it out to any one who said he was hungry. This plan, of once a year getting in front the outside world supplies to last a whole year, was indeed a mystery to them. They had an idea that it was very nice to see so many things coming in by the company's boats; but when they were once in the house, the pagan Indians thought that they should be used up as quickly as anybody asked for them. The practice of rationing out the supplies to last for twelve months, was a style of procedure that more than once exposed a missionary, who rigidly adhered to it, to be thought mean, stingy, and very unfriendly. They even questioned the truthfulness of one frugal, careful missionary, who carried out this system. When asked to help some hungry Indians, he refused on the plea that he had nothing left, knowing that that month's supply was gone. They reasoned from the fact, that, they knew that he had the balance of his year's supply stored away.
One very interesting phase of our work, was to help the Indian families, who had moved from a wigwam into a cosy little house, into the mysteries of civilised housekeeping. It is true that these houses were not very large or imposing. They were generally built only of logs, well chinked up with moss and mud, and consisted of but one room, with the fireplace in the end or side. As the people were able, they put up partitions and added various little conveniences. At first, when a family moved into one of these homes, some of its members would be very much inclined to keep to their wigwam habits. As these were very shiftless, and far below what we considered to be their possibilities of methodical and tidy housekeeping, some practical lessons had to be given. As they were willing to learn, various plans and methods were adopted to help them. The following was the most successful and perhaps on the whole, to all concerned, the most interesting. When we were aware that some new houses had been erected and taken possession of by families who had known no other habitations than their wigwams, I would announce from the pulpit on Sabbath, that during the week, in connection with my pastoral visitations, Mrs Young and I would dine at Pugamagon's house on Monday, on Tuesday with Oostasemou, and on Wednesday with Oosememou. These announcements at first caused great consternation among the families mentioned. When the services were over and we were leaving the church, we would be accosted by the men whose names I had mentioned, generally in words like these:
"Could we believe our ears to-day, when we thought we heard you say, that you and Ookemasquao, (Mrs Young's Indian name) were coming over to dine with us?"
"Certainly, your ears are all right. That is what they heard, and that is what we are thinking of doing," would be our answer.
"Nothing but fish, have we to set before you," would generally be their reply, uttered in tones of regret.
"Well, that is all right. It is what we generally eat at home," we would reply.
"Well, but we have no table as yet, or chairs, or dishes fit for you," would be their next objection.
"That is all right, we are coming."
Meantime, their half frightened wives would be seen standing behind their husbands, most attentively listening to the conversation.
When they found that this enumeration of the lack of variety of food and the poverty of their new homes, could not deter us from our determination to dine with them, almost in desperation they would say:
"Well, what are we to do to be ready to receive you?"
"That is the very question we wanted you to ask," I would reply. "Now I will tell you what is in our hearts. Have plenty of your fish ready and we will look after the rest of the dinner. But there are several other things about which we are anxious, and to which we want you to attend: first, we want to see when we visit you, how very clean and sweet your new house will be; then, we are also anxious to see, how neat and tidy the members of the family will be; we also wish to see, how bright and polished all your kettles, pots, and plates, will be. We are both coming to your homes as I announced, so be on the lookout and ready for us. I believe we will all have a good time."
Somewhat relieved by this interview, they would start off to their homes.
Soon after breakfast on Monday morning, Mrs Young would have her own dog-train and cariole brought up to the door, aid aided by willing hands, the cariole would be quickly loaded up for the visit to the Indian home announced for that day's visit.
Perhaps it is but right here to state, that we never inflicted these visits upon our Indians except when we had abundance of supplies of some kind or other in the mission house, and were thus able to carry over sufficient, with the fish the family supplied, for a hearty meal. So, in her cariole Mrs Young had, not only this liberal supply of food, with plenty of tea and sugar, but a large tablecloth, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, and other essentials. About nine o'clock she was driven over to the home, where, with a certain amount of trepidation, the expectant family were awaiting her coming. They had been at work very early and never did a floor made of well-planed spruce boards shine whiter. For hours it had been scrubbed; an unlimited amount of elbow-grease aided by some soft soap made out of strong lye and the grease of a fat dog, had done the work most completely. The faces of the children showed that they had been most thoroughly polished, while all the family were arrayed in their Sunday apparel. Every kettle and pot bore evidence of the early hour at which the family had arisen and begun operations.
The instructions given to me, were, that I was not to put in an appearance until about half-past twelve, and I was so interested that I was generally on time.
It was a very gratifying sight that met me, and a very cordial welcome that I received. Every member of the family was simply radiant with happiness and my good wife had most thoroughly caught the contagion of the hour. I, of course, shook hands all round and kissed the fat little baby in its quaint, moss-bag cradle. Then, we were speedily informed of what was very evident, that dinner was ready. There was not a chair or table in the house. The snow white tablecloth was spread out on the almost equally snow white floor, and upon it were placed in order plates, cups, and saucers, knives and forks. Then the dinner which had been cooked in various pots, and pans, at the capacious fireplace, was served up, or rather, down, and in our assigned places we seated ourselves Indian-like, upon the floor. After heaven's blessing was asked, the feast began. The menu was not very elaborate. Spoiled children of luxury, with lost appetites, might have sneered at it, but to us in that land, and especially to this happy Indian family, it was one of the great events of their lives. The missionary and his wife were happy because they saw these poor people so happy.
For perhaps three hours, Mrs Young, had been the instructor of that Indian motherland her daughters, as under her direction they prepared that dinner, and they were very proud of their teacher.
The dinner was pronounced a great success, and after it was over, and all had had an abundance, the Bible in the syllabic characters, was brought out and read, when all devoutly kneeling, the missionary with a glad heart offered up an earnest prayer for heaven's blessing ever to abide upon that home.
After prayers I was expected to leave, while Mrs Young remained for the rest of the day. When she returned to our mission home in the evening, tired, but very happy over her day's work, she would give me some glimpses into the doings of the afternoon. Of course, the first thing, was to teach the women how, nicely and carefully, to wash and put away the dishes; then, the house was once more swept up, when they were ready for the afternoons work. Sometimes the happy Indian mother was able to bring out a nice piece of dress cloth, which her now kind. Christian husband, had bought for her in exchange for his valuable furs. This dress piece had to be cut and fitted by Mrs Young. When asked as to how she wished to have it made she would generally say:
"Please, Ookemasquao, cut it out so that it will be like the one you had on in church, last Sunday."
So, as far as possible, the dress was cut and fitted in that style, the sewing of it commenced, and full instructions given so that the owner might go on working, until she became perplexed with its intricacies, when she would come to the mission house for help, and so on until the work was completed.
In addition to thus helping in dressmaking there were lessons to be given in patching and darning, and in lengthening out, or adding to, the dresses of the rapidly growing Indian girls.
Thus, from house to house we went, and for long years after the good results of those visits remained; thus, was a noble ambition stirred in those Indian women's lives to try and keep house like Ookemasquao; and thus, they endeavoured to let their husbands and children see, that no longer did they wish to live in the careless way of the old pagan life, but, as now they had become Christians in their profession, so in their homes, they would have the neatness and cleanliness, that should belong to those who are thus called.
HOW THE GOSPEL IS CARRIED: BY CANOE IN SUMMER; BY DOG-TRAIN IN WINTER.
That great northern country is a land of innumerable lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, many of the streams abound with rapids, and navigation on them, as generally understood, is an impossibility. Hence, the only way of travelling on them in summer, is in the light birch canoe or in some other craft, so portable, that it can be carried or dragged across the many portages that are so numerous in that land of cataracts and falls.
From time immemorial, the birch canoe has been considered a part of the craft of the Indian. Centuries of its use has enabled him so to perfect it, that although attempts have been made by the white man to improve it, they have not been very successful.
One of our missionaries, who was one of the best canoemen in the country, was conceited enough to imagine, that the beautiful cedar canoe of the white man was superior to the birch-bark ones of the natives. So certain was he of this, that at a good deal of trouble and expense, he had one of the very best models sent to him all the way from Ontario to Norway House. On the beautiful Playgreen lake and other similar places, he enjoyed it amazingly; but when he started off on his missionary touring, the Indians, who are the best judges of these things urged him not to attempt in that beautiful, but unreliable boat, to run the wild rapids of the mighty Nelson or other great rivers. He, however, only laughed at their fears and protestations. A number of them set off together on a long missionary journey, one of the objects of which was, to assist in the building of a new church. For a time, the erection of the little sanctuary in the wilderness went on uninterruptedly, much to the delight of the resident Christian Indians, who had long wished for one in which to worship God.
The securing of sufficient food for the builders, was one of the duties that devolved upon, and gave considerable anxiety to, the missionary. When the supplies which had been secured were about exhausted, and it seemed as though the work of building would have to cease on account of the lack of food, word came through some passing hunters that they had seen abundance of sturgeon sporting at the foot of some great rapids of the Nelson River. As they are considered delicious and nourishing food, an expedition was at once prepared to go and capture as many of them as possible. The missionary himself, an energetic, active man, took charge of the party, and insisted, on going in his beautiful cedar canoe. When they reached the head of the rapids, at the foot of which the sturgeon were reported to have been seen in such numbers, there was a brief rest ere the run down was attempted. The Indians all protested against the missionary's resolve to run such wild rapids in a canoe which they were certain was so unfitted for such a dangerous trip. The missionary, however, was stubborn and unmoved by their entreaties. When they saw that their words availed not, to change his resolve, an old experienced guide said:
"Well, then let one of us go with you, to sit in the stern of your boat and help you to steer, and also, by our weight, to keep the head of your canoe high up as we run the rapids."
This kindly offer to risk and to share the dangers, he also refused, saying, "that he could go in his white man's canoe anywhere an Indian could go in a birch-bark." Their objection to his canoe, was, that it was not built high enough in front, and so when he made the last wild rush in the rapids where the pitch in the waters was so steep, instead of the boat rising like a duck on the mad billows at the foot, it would plunge under like a log and disappear.
Well would it have been for the wilful missionary if he had listened to the advice of these experienced men who knew what they were talking about. He, however, cut them short by ordering them to enter their canoes and go on, and he would soon follow. With regret they left him there, sitting on a rock, leisurely watching them as they began the hazardous trip. With care and skill, the Indians all succeeded in successfully running those dangerous rapids which are as wild and fierce as any in the Saint Lawrence. As quickly as possible they went ashore at the foot, and, with their hearts full of foreboding, clustered at a point where they could watch the missionary make the run.
Alas! their fears were too well grounded. Down the rushing, roaring river, they saw the brave, but rash man, coming. With consummate skill in the upper rapids, did he manage his beautifully polished craft; but when the last wild plunge at the foot was made, both canoe and missionary suddenly disappeared. It was many days ere the poor putrid body was recovered, far away down the great river.
A solitary grave is there on the bank, and a little tombstone set up by loving hands, records the name of this brave, but rash man.
For the manufacture of a first class Indian canoe, the birch-bark must be taken from the tree at the right time of the year with the greatest care. The framework must be arranged with a skill and accuracy that comes only of long practice. The fact is, the first-class canoe-makers, were about as rare among the tribes, as are first-class poets in civilisation. Many Indians could make canoes; but there were a few men whose fame for their splendid crafts, were known far and wide, and who were always able to obtain the highest price for all they could make.
It is really wonderful, considering the cranky nature of a canoe at its best, what journeys can be made in them. My skilled canoeman and I used to run wild rapids, and cross over storm swept lakes of large dimensions. We lived on the game we could shoot as we hurried along, slept on the rocks or sandy beach where night overtook us, and were always thankful when we found the little companies of Indians for whom we were seeking. As they were generally eager to hear the truth, but little time was lost between the religious services. Long sermons and addresses were the order of the day; and often from early morn until late at night, there was only the short intermissions for our hasty meals of fish or game.
As we journeyed on from place to place, our meals were cooked and eaten in the open air, and for days we met no human beings. Our bed was on some balsam boughs, if obtainable; if not, a smooth granite rock or sandy beach did very well. So healthful were we, and so congenial was the work and its surroundings, that there were no sleepless nights, except when sometimes myriads of mosquitoes assailed us, or a fierce thunderstorm swept over us. Then the nights were not so pleasant, and we welcomed the coming of the day, even if, because of the storm, it revealed a damp condition of affairs among our supplies.
This was the general plan of our proceedings: when we reached one of the little Indian villages at a time which had been, perhaps, arranged six months or a year before. All who possibly could come in from contiguous fishing or hunting grounds, were there to meet me; then, for several days services would be held, after which the Indians would return to their different hunting grounds, while I would again launch my canoe and with my skilled paddlers, push on to some other point, where would be gathered another company of Indians awaiting my arrival and longing to hear the glorious Gospel of the Son of God.
Very precious was the Word to those people so isolated. The coming of the missionary in his canoe to preach to them, and perhaps teach them how to read for themselves the precious Book, was one of the few happy breaks during the brief summer months in their lonely, monotonous lives. They were ever on the lookout for my coming, and especially did those who had renounced their paganism and accepted Christianity give me a hearty welcome, even if it was expressed in their quiet, dignified way.
The Indian's alertness and keenness of hearing, as well as of seeing, was something remarkable to me. The following is a good illustration of it. One summer, when thus travelling, I was on the lookout for some friendly Indians whose camping place was determined each summer by the abundance of the food supply. Anxious to make as much of the time as possible, my men and I were paddling away in our canoe at four o'clock in the morning. To hasten our progress, we pushed out into the centre of the great river, down which we were travelling, as there the current was much more rapid than near the shore. At that early hour, the morning mists still lay low and dense on either side, completely hiding from view every object on the shore. While thus pushing on between those walls of vapoury mist, we were startled by the rapid firing of guns. To me this was a decided mystery, but it was at once understood by my experienced canoemen. Quickly turning the head of our canoe in the direction from which came the tiring, they paddled through the now rapidly disappearing vapours, and there on the shore we descried a company of friendly Indians on the lookout for our coming. Their ears had been of more service than their eyes; for although they had been unable to see us, their practiced ears had caught the sound of our paddles. After greeting us most cordially, they produced some smoked reindeer tongues and other native delicacies which they had brought for the missionary. Some very suggestive and profitable religious services were enjoyed there by the riverside. For the comfort and encouragement of those who had already become His children we talked of the loving kindnesses and providential care of our Heavenly Father. We also pleaded with those who had not yet decided to renounce the paganism of their forefathers, to do so speedily and to accept of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus the work went on, and through many happy summers, my canoe was afloat for days on many waters, while as a glad messenger, I travelled through the wilderness beseeching men and women to be reconciled to God.
Of the dog-travelling in that land so much has been written, that but a short account need here be given. Winter begins in those regions in the latter part of October and continues without any perceptible break until April. So immense, however, are the ice-fields on the great lakes, that they do not all disappear until a month or six weeks later. One winter I was able to make quite a long journey with my dog-trains, arriving home as late as the eighteenth of May. At that date, however, the snow had all disappeared and the frost was nearly all out of the ground.
The cold is intense, the spirit thermometer indicating from thirty to sixty below zero. We have seen the mercury frozen as solid as lead for weeks together. For months milk is frozen into cakes like marble. We used to carry large pieces of it wrapped up in a newspaper, and when at the camp-fire we desired a little in our cup of tea, we cut it off with an axe. As will be seen from this we had about seven months of bright cold winter. During all that time there was not a thaw, the snow was never soft, and there was no dampness in the air or under foot. Soft deer skin moccasins are very much superior to civilised boots or shoes under such conditions.
There are no roads in that vast country. The frost King freezes up every lake and stream, and hardens into adamant every muskeg and quaking bog. The snow covers everything with its great mantle of beauty, and makes it possible to travel on snow-shoes or by dog-train through vast regions absolutely impassable in the summer months. Horses or other large animals, are absolutely worthless for travel in such regions. The snow is a great leveller. It fills up many a dangerous pitfall and puts such a cushion on the logs and rocks, that upsets or falls are only laughed at by the dog-travellers as they merrily dash along. The only drawbacks to a tumble down a steep declivity of some hundreds of feet, as once befell the writer, were the laughter of his comrades, and the delay incident to digging him out of the snowdrift at the bottom, which was anywhere from twenty to thirty feet deep. These accidents and delays were not frequent; and, although there were hardships and sufferings, there were many things to instruct and interest, and to break the monotony of winter travelling in that lonely land.
In the coldest, brightest, sunniest days, the fitful mirage played its strange antics with distant landscapes, and at times brought within near vision places many miles away. Sometimes circle within circle appeared around the sun, until as many as four were distinctly visible; each circle at times having within it four mock suns—sixteen mock suns visible at the same time was a sight worth going a long distance to see. Strange to say, the Indians dreaded the sight of them, as they declared they were always the forerunners of blizzard storms; and the more vivid these sun-dogs, as they called them, the more dreadful would be the storm.
But the most fascinating and glorious of all the celestial phenomena of those glorious regions, are the Northern Lights—the Aurora Borealis. Confined to no particular months of the year, we have seen them flashing and quivering through the few hours of the short nights following the hottest days in July or August, as well as in the long cold nights of the winter months. They would sometimes linger on all night in their weird beauty, until lost in the splendour of the coming day. A description of them has often been attempted by writers of northern scenes, and I have to confess, that I have been rash enough to try it elsewhere; but their full glories are still unwritten and perhaps ever will be. They appear to belong to the spiritual rather than to the earthly; and there are times when they so dazzle and overwhelm, that it does seem as though only the language of spirits is adequate to the task of describing them. Then they are so changeable. Never have I seen two great exhibitions of them alike. At first they are of purest white; but when the scintillations begin, they take on every colour of the rainbow. Sometimes they appear in great brilliant arcs, as in the illustration. At other times they are simply ribbons of wavy undulations that seem to soothe, as well as charm, with their rhythmic motions and ever changing hues. At still other times they are mighty armies of disciplined warriors going out to conflict. Then, when they seem wearied with their warlike deeds, they appear to marshal all their forces; and, fairly filling the northern heavens, to rush on, and up, until the very zenith is reached, where they form a corona of such dazzling splendour, that it really seems as though the longing prayer of the church militant was being fulfilled; and, that universal triumph had come to the world's Redeemer here, and now the angelic and redeemed hosts of heaven and earth are bringing forth the Royal Diadem to "crown Him Lord of all."
The dogs which we use in the dog-trains, are generally of any breed that has in it size, endurance, and sagacity. The Esquimaux breed of dogs formerly predominated; but in later years there has been such an admixture of other varieties, that a pure Esquimaux dog is now a rarity except at some of the most northern posts and missions. My worthy predecessor among the Crees, left me a train of mongrels, that were good enough for hauling wood and fish for the mission; and also for the short trips to the places near home where I held weekly services; but when I attempted to make the long journeys of hundreds of miles to the remote parts of my great mission field, which was larger than all England or the state of New York, they proved miserable failures. Travelling with such dogs, was like the experience of the man who, in the olden times, paid first-class fare to ride in a packet boat on the Erie canal, from New York to Buffalo, and then drove a horse on the towpath all the way. So, after nearly killing myself travelling with weak or lazy dogs, having to walk or run on snowshoes all the time on account of their inability to draw me, I resolved, if possible, to become the owner of better ones. I appealed to some good friends in civilisation to aid me, and the result was, that I was soon supplied with some of the finest dogs that could be obtained. Among them, Jack and Cuffy, the gifts of Senator Sanford of Hamilton, were never equalled. Through the kindness of James Ferrier, Esquire, of Montreal, five beautiful Saint Bernards were obtained from Mrs Andrew Allan. Dr Mark of Ottawa, and other friends also remembered me, with the result, that soon I had some of the finest dog-trains in the land. These civilised dogs had all the good qualities of the Esquimaux without any of their thievish tricks. They proved themselves equal in their endurance and sagacity; and only lacked in that their feet seemed more easily to become injured and sore.
The dog-sleds are ten feet long and eighteen inches wide. They are used to carry our bedding and supplies, as often for days and nights together we are entirely dependent on our loads for food and lodgings. These miscellaneous loads are well packed up in the great deer skin wrappers and so securely tied to the sleds, that no matter how many may be the upsets, the loads never become disarranged. My own sled, which was called a "cariole," was one of the usual oak sleds with parchment sides and a firm back attached. Sometimes these carioles were handsomely painted and were very comfortable vehicles in which to ride. When well wrapped up in fur robes, with plenty of fat meat to eat, splendid dogs to draw you, and loving loyal Indian attendants with you dog-travelling was not without its pleasures and enjoyments; especially if the sun was bright, the icy pavement under you free from drifting snows, and the temperature not colder than forty degrees below zero. It was a different thing, however, when blizzards howled around you and the air was so fall of the fine cutting particles of icy snow, that it was dangerous to expose any part of the face to their pitiless attacks. Then it was, that the marvellous skill of the experienced Indian-guide was seen, and we were led on amidst such miserable surroundings with an accuracy and speed that seemed almost incredible.
The camp, when the day's travel was ended—especially if blizzards had assailed us—was a welcomed spot, even if it was only a whole day out in the snow on the sheltered side on some dense spruce or balsam grove. At times we were able to find places in which thus to camp that were quite picturesque. When the halt for the night was called by the guide, the first thing done was to unharness our faithful dogs. Our snow-shoes were improvised as shovels, and from the spot selected as our resting place, the snow was quickly piled up in a great bank at our rear; and, sometimes, if the night threatened to be unusually severe, on each side of us.
Then the great roaring fire of dry wood, at which we cooked our suppers, thawed out the fish for our dogs, and warmed our half frozen bodies, was very welcome. When supper was eaten, and prayers, so sweet and profitable to us all, were over, how delightful to sit down on our robes and spend some hours in pleasant chat ere my bed was made and I was cosily and thoroughly tucked in by my faithful comrades. It was hard at first to sleep with the head completely covered; there was such a sense of smothering, that I often ran the risk of the freezing rather than the smothering. One night, perhaps because of this suffocating sensation, I unconsciously uncovered my head. After a time I awoke suddenly to consciousness, to find that I was trying to pull off my now frozen nose which I thought was the end of an axe handle.
We fed our dogs on fish, giving them only one meal a day, and that one, when the day's work was done. To feed them in the morning, caused them to be sluggish and stupid for some time thereafter; and the same happened if they were fed at noon. Long experience has shown, that the dogs thrive the best, and are able to do the most work, on one good meal given to them before their long night's rest. The dog-shoes, which are so essential to their comfort and recovery when a foot is frozen or badly injured, are much prized by them. These shoes are made out of a warm English cloth called duffle, and are in shape like a large mit without a thumb. An old dog that has once become accustomed to dog shoes, is ever hankering after them when on a long cold trip. Sometimes, they will come and most comically hold up their feet to be shod. At other times, they have been known to come into camp and there lie down on their backs, and, holding up their four feet, plead most ludicrously and importunately for these warm woollen shoes. Some of them get very cunning at their work, and shirk from doing their share of the pulling; and yet, to avoid discovery, will appear to be doing more work than any other dog in the train.
But this dog travelling was hard work at best; and dogs, as well as their master, were always glad when the long journeys were ended and a welcome rest for a little while could be taken, to heal up the wounds and frost bites, and gather strength for the next trip.
Good was accomplished, and that was the great reward for all the risks run and sufferings endured. Many for whom Christ died, would never up to the present hour, have heard the Gospel or have seen the Book, if it had not been for the missionary carrying it to them by the canoe in summer, and the dog-train in winter. Thank God, many of them have heard and have accepted gladly the great salvation thus brought to them. With its reception into their hearts and lives, marvellous have been the transformations. Where the devil-dance, and ghost-dance, and other abominations, performed to the accompaniment of the conjurer's rattle or the monotonous drumming of the medicine man, once prevailed and held the people in a degrading superstition, the house of prayer has now been erected, and the wilderness has become vocal with the sweet songs of Zion. Lives once impure and sinful have been transformed by the Gospel's power, and a civilisation real and abiding, has come in to bless and to add to their comfort for this life, while they dwell in a sweet and blessed assurance of life eternal in the world to come.