Oowikapun, How the Gospel Reached the Nelson River Indians, By Reverend Egerton Ryerson Young.
An interesting book, written largely from the point of view of an Indian, Oowikapun, who, when out hunting, receives a severe wound from a bear, and is looked after by a converted Christian Indian, who has such a different outlook on life from that of Oowikapun, for instance in the treatment of his womenfolk.
The book goes on from there, and eventually a missionary is sent for to the Nelson River, who delivers himself of an enormously long sermon, of several hours duration, which apparently the occasion demanded.
There are many very interesting commentaries on the way of life of the Indians and of the missionaries. The point is made that the size of the area covered by each missionary may be as large as the whole of France, or the whole of Germany, which makes strongly the point that much of a missionary's life is spent travelling by canoe or dog-train.
OOWIKAPUN, HOW THE GOSPEL REACHED THE NELSON RIVER INDIANS, BY REVEREND EGERTON RYERSON YOUNG.
Or, How the Gospel Reached the Nelson River Indians.
THE WOLF TRAP.
That Oowikapun was unhappy, strangely so, was evident to all in the Indian village. New thoughts deeply affecting him had in some way or other entered into his mind, and he could not but show that they were producing a great change in him.
The simple, quiet, monotonous life of the young Indian hunter was curiously broken in upon, and he could never be the same again. There had come a decided awakening; the circle of his vision had suddenly enlarged, and he had become aware of the fact that he was something more than he imagined. While, in his simple faith, he had paddled along the beautiful rivers, or wandered through the wild forests of his country, catching the fish or hunting the game, where at times he had heard the thunder's crash and seen the majestic tree riven by the lightning's power, and perhaps in these seasons of nature's wild commotion had "seen God in cloud and heard him in the wind," yet until very lately he had never heard of anything which had caused him to imagine that he was in any way allied to that Great Spirit, or was in any way responsible to him.
What was the cause of this mental disquietude, of these long hours of absorbing thought?
To answer these inquiries we must go back a little, and accompany him on a hunting trip which he made in the forest months ago.
Hearing from some other hunters of a place where grey wolves were numerous, and being ambitious to kill some of these fierce brutes, that he might adorn his wigwam with their warm skins, he took his traps and camping outfit and set out for that region of country, although it was more than two hundred miles away. Here he found tracks in abundance, and so before he made his little hunting lodge in the midst of a spruce grove, he set his traps for the fierce wolves in a spot which seemed to be a rallying place of theirs. As they are very suspicious and clever, he carefully placed two traps close together and sprinkled them over with snow, leaving visible only the dead rabbits which served as bait. Then scattering more snow over his own tracks as he moved away, in order to leave as little evidence of his having been there as possible, he returned to his little tentlike lodge and prepared and ate his supper, smoked his pipe, and then wrapping himself up in his blanket was soon fast asleep. Very early next morning he was up and off to visit his traps. His axe was slipped in his belt, and his gun, well loaded, was carried ready for use if necessary. When he had got within a few hundred yards of the place where he had set his heavy traps, he heard the rattling of the chains which were attached to them, each fastened to a heavy log. This sound, while it made his heart jump, was very welcome, for it meant that he had been successful. When he drew near the spot where he had set the traps, he found that a fierce old wolf, in trying to get the rabbit from one of them without springing it, had got caught in the other, and although both of his hind legs were held by the sharp teeth of the trap, he had managed to drag it and the heavy log fastened to it to quite a distance.
When Oowikapun drew near, the wolf made the most desperate efforts to escape; but the strong trap held him securely, and the heavy log on the chain made it impossible for him to get far away.
Oowikapun could easily have shot him, but ammunition was dear and the bullet hole in the skin would be a blemish, and the sound of the gun might scare away the game that might be near; so he resolved to kill the wolf with the back of his axe. Better would it have been for him if he had shot him at once. So putting down his gun he took his axe out of his belt and cautiously approached the treacherous brute. The sight of the man so near seemed to fill him with fury, and, unable to escape, he made the most desperate efforts to reach him. His appearance, was demoniacal, and his howls and snarls would have terrified almost anybody else than an experienced, cool-headed hunter.
Oowikapun, seeing what an ugly customer he had to deal with, very cautiously kept just beyond the limits of the fearful plunges which the chain would allow the wolf to make, and keenly watched for an opportunity to strike him on the head. So wary and quick was the wolf that some blows received only maddened without disabling him.
Oowikapun at length, becoming annoyed that he should have any difficulty in killing an entrapped wolf, resolved to end the conflict at once with a decisive blow; and so with upraised axe he placed himself as near as he thought safe, and waited for the infuriated brute to spring at him. But so much force did the entrapped brute put into that spring that it carried the log attached to the chain along with him, and his sharp, glittering fang-like teeth snapped together within a few inches of Oowikapun's throat, and such was the force of the concussion that he was hurled backward, and ere he could assume the aggressive, the sharp teeth of the wolf had seized his left arm, which he threw up for defence, and seemed to cut down to the very bone, causing intense pain. But Oowikapun was a brave man and cool-headed, so a few blows from the keen edge of the axe in his right hand finished his foe, whose only weapons were his sharp teeth, and he was soon lying dead in the snow; but his beautiful skin was about worthless as a robe on account of the many gashes it had received, much to the annoyance of Oowikapun, who had not dreamed of having so severe a battle.
The traps were soon reset and Oowikapun, with the heavy wolf on his back, set out for his camp. As he had set some smaller traps for minks and martens in a different direction, he turned aside to visit them. This would cause him to return to his camp by another trail. While moving along under his heavy load he was surprised to come across the snowshoe tracks of another hunter. He examined them carefully, and decided that they were made by some person who must have passed along there that very morning, early as it was.
As the trail of this stranger, whoever it could be, was in the direction of the traps which Oowikapun wished to visit, he followed them up. When he reached his traps he found that a mink had been caught in one of them, but the stranger had taken it out and hung it up in plain sight above the trap on the branch of a tree. Then the stranger, putting on fresh bait, had reset the trap. Of course Oowikapun was pleased with this, and delighted that the stranger, whoever he was, had acted so honestly and kindly toward him.
Fastening the mink in his belt he hurried on to his camp as fast as he could under his heavy load, for his wounded arm had begun to swell and was causing him intense pain. His stoical Indian nature would have caused him to withstand the pain with indifference, but when he remembered how the wolf, maddened by his capture, had wrought himself up into such a frenzy that his mouth was all foaming with madness when he made that last desperate spring and succeeded in fastening his fangs in his arm, he feared that perhaps some of the froth might have got into his arm, and unless some remedies were quickly obtained, madness might come to him, to be followed by a most dreadful death.
But what could he do? He was several days' journey from his own village, and many miles from any hunter of his acquaintance. He had, in his vanity, come alone on this hunting expedition, and now alone in the woods, far away from his friends, here he is in his little hunting lodge, a dangerously wounded man.
Fortunately he had taken the precaution of sucking as many of the wounds as he could reach with his mouth, and then had bound a deerskin thong on his arm above the wound as tightly as he could draw it.
Very few, comparatively, were the diseases among the aboriginal tribes of America before the advent of the white man. Their vocation as hunters, however, rendered them liable to many accidents.
Possessing no firearms, and thus necessarily obliged to come in close contact with the savage beasts in their conflict with them, they were often severely wounded.
Fortunate was it for the injured one if he had companions near when the bone was fractured or the flesh torn. If, when accidents occur, the injuries are not considered very desperate, a little camp is improvised and with a day or two of rest, with some simple remedies from nature's great storehouse—the forest—a cure is quickly effected. If a leg or arm is broken, a stretcher of young saplings is skillfully prepared, interwoven with broad bands of soft bark, and on this elastic, easy couch the wounded man is rapidly carried to his distant wigwam by his companions.
When there are but two persons, and an accident happens to one of them, two young trees that are tough and elastic are used. Then tops of small branches are allowed to remain, and very much diminish the jolting caused by the inequalities of the ground. No carriage spring ever more successfully accomplished its purpose. A couple of cross bars preserve the saplings in position, and the bark of some varieties of shrubs or trees cut into bands and joined to either side forms a comfortable couch. In this way an injured man has often been dragged many miles by his companion, and in some instances it has been found on his arrival at his forest home that the fractured bones were uniting, and soon the limb was whole again.
With these healthy, simple children of the forest wounds heal with great rapidity and fractured bones soon unite. This reparative power of the Indians when injured is only paralleled by the wonderful stoicism with which they bear injuries, and at times inflict upon themselves the severest torture. With flints as substitutes for lances, they will cut open the largest abscesses to the very bone. They will amputate limbs with their hunting knives, checking the haemorrhage with red-hot stones as was done long years ago by the surgeons of Europe.
With marvellous nerve many a wounded hunter or warrior has been known to amputate his own limb, or sew up with sinew the gaping wounds received in conflict with the hostile foe or savage beast. They were cognisant of the value, and extensively used warm fomentations. If rheumatism or other kindred diseases assailed them, the Turkish bath in a very simple form was often used. Sometimes a close tent of deerskins served the purpose. The patient was put in a little tent where, in a hollow under him, heated stones were placed, over which water was thrown until the confined air was heated to the required temperature and saturated with the steam.
Oowikapun had fortunately broken no bones in his battle with the savage wolf, but he knew that his wounds were dangerous. Some of them were so situated in his arm that he could not reach them with his mouth in order that he might suck out the poisonous saliva of the wolf that he feared might be in them, and it now being in the depth of winter, he could not obtain the medicinal herbs which the Indians use as poultices for dangerous wounds of this description.
While brooding over his misfortune he suddenly remembered the snowshoe tracks of the stranger, and at once resolved to try and find his lodge, and secure help. To decide was to act. The few preparations necessary were soon made, and taking the most direct route to the spot where he had last seen the trail of the stranger he was soon in it. He was uncertain at first whether to go backward or forward on it in order to reach the wigwam, for he had not the remotest idea whether these tracks led to it or from it. But his native shrewdness came into play to solve the question. First he noticed from the way the shoes sunk in the snow that the man was carrying a heavy load; next he observed that the tracks were not like those of a hunter going out from his home, moving about cautiously locking for game, but were rather those of a man well loaded from a successful hunt, and pushing on straight for home with his burden. Quickly had he read these things and arrived at his conclusions; so he resolved to go on with the trail, and he was not disappointed. He had travelled only a few miles, ere in a pleasant grove of balsam trees, on the borders of a little ice-covered lake, he discovered, by the ascending smoke from the top, the wigwam of his unknown friend.
Without hesitancy he marched up to it, and lifting the large moose skin which served as its only door, he stooped down and entered in. A pleasant fire was burning on the ground in the centre, and partly circled around it was the Indian family. As though Oowikapun had been long looked for as an expected, honoured guest, he was cordially welcomed in quiet Indian style and directed to a comfortable place in the circle, the seat of the stranger. The pipe of peace was handed to him, and but few words were spoken until he had finished it.
Indian eyes are sharp, even if at times words are few; and it was not many minutes before the owner of the wigwam saw that something was wrong, and so he drew from him the story of the killing of the wolf and his fears that perhaps all the froth from his teeth had not been rubbed off by the leather shirt and other covering through which they had passed as they pierced into his arm.
If Oowikapun had travelled a thousand miles he could not have been more fortunate than he was in the man to whom he had gone; for this man was Memotas, the best Indian doctor in all that vast country, who, when his hunting seasons were over, spent his time in studying the medicinal qualities of the roots and herbs of the country which the Good Spirit had created for some good purpose, and then in being a benediction and a blessing to the afflicted ones by their use among them, with but very little fee or reward, as a general thing, in return.
Quickly did Memotas apply his remedies, both external and internal, for he knew the risks the man was running; and he gently insisted on his remaining in his wigwam as his guest for several days until he was recovered from his wounds. He would not even hear of his going to visit his traps, for fear of his heating his blood by the vigorous exercise, and thus aggravating the wounds. So Memotas himself looked after them, and several times returned with rich spoils of fur-bearing animals, which he gladly handed over to the grateful man.
These great kindnesses completely won the heart of Oowikapun, who considered himself very fortunate in finding so kind a friend in his hours of need. The kind-hearted wife of Memotas was also interested in Oowikapun, and did all she could to add to his comfort and hasten his recovery. The injured man had been surprised at the kindness and respect which Memotas constantly manifested toward her, and was amazed that he often asked her advice. He did not, as the married men with whom Oowikapun was acquainted, treat her unkindly, nor even consider her as much inferior to himself.
While Memotas's wife, whose Indian name was Meyooachimoowin, was very industrious, and kept her wigwam and her children tidy and clean, yet she was never considered as merely a drudge and a slave and left to do all the heavy work. Strange to say, she was not allowed to cut the wood in the forest and then drag it home. Neither did she carry the heavy buckets of water up from the lake, as other Indian women were accustomed to do. Nor did she go out into the woods, perhaps miles away, and carry home on her back the deer which her husband had shot. Memotas never would allow her to do anything of the kind. He did all this himself, and seemed even anxious to save her from fatigue and toil. Then when the meals were prepared she was not gruffly sent away to wait until the men had eaten, but with them and the children she sat down on terms of perfect equality.
Then, as regards the children, a boy and girl, whom they called Meyookesik and Sagastao, he noticed that the girl was just as much loved and petted as the boy, and even as kindly treated. This was a state of affairs entirely unknown in the wigwams of the pagan Indians. There the boys are petted and spoiled and early taught to be proud and haughty, and to consider that all girls and women, even their own sisters and mother, are much inferior to them, and only worthy of their kicks and contempt. The boys get the best of everything and are allowed to eat with the men first; while the poor women and girls have to wait until they are finished, and then be content with what is left, often not much; and even then they have to struggle with the dogs for the fragments. The result is they are often half starved.
Oowikapun was bewildered at the marvellous contrast between what he had been accustomed to witness in the wretched wigwams and lives of his own people and what he here saw in this bright little tent of Memotas. It was all so new and strange to him. Everybody seemed so happy. There were no rude words said by the boy to his mother and no tyrannising over his sister. With equal affection Memotas treated Meyookesik and Sagastao, and great indeed was his kindness and attention to his wife. At first Oowikapun's old prejudices and defective education as regards women almost made him believe that Memotas was lacking in brave, manly qualities to allow his wife and daughter to be on such loving terms of equality with himself and his son. But when he became better acquainted with him, he found that this was not the case.
Oowikapun could not then solve this question, neither did he until in after years he became a Christian.
There was one custom observed in the wigwam of Memotas that gave Oowikapun more surprise than any of these to which we have referred, for it was something which he had never heard of nor seen before. It was that in the morning and evening Memotas would take out of a bag a little book printed in strange characters, and read from it while his wife and children reverently and quietly sat around him and listened to the strange words. Then they would sing in a manner so different from the wild, droning, monotonous songs of the conjurers, that Oowikapun was filled with a strange feeling of awe, which was much increased when they all knelt down reverently on the ground and Memotas seemed to talk with the Great Spirit and call him his Father. Then he thanked him for all their blessings, and asked his forgiveness for everything they had done that was wrong, and he asked his blessing upon his family and everybody else, even upon his enemies, if he had any. Then he besought the Great Spirit to bless Oowikapun, and not only heal his wounds, but take the darkness from his mind and make him his child. He always ended his prayers by asking the Great Spirit to do all these things for the sake of his Son Jesus.
All this was very strange and even startling to Oowikapun. He had lived all his life in a land dark with superstition and paganism. The Gospel had as yet never been proclaimed there. The name of Jesus had never been heard in that wild north-land, and so as none of the blessedness of religion had entered into the hearts of the people, so none of its sweet, losing, elevating influences had begun to ennoble and bless their lives and improve their habits. So he pondered over what he witnessed and heard, and was thankful when the day's hunting was over, and Memotas would talk to him as they sat there on their robes around the fire, often for hours at a time. From him he learned how it was that they had so changed in many of their ways. Memotas told him of the coming to Norway House of the first missionary, the Reverend James Evans, with the book of heaven, the words of the Good Spirit to his children. He told him many of the wonderful things it speaks about, and that it showed how man was to love and worship God, and thus secure his blessing and favour. The little book which Memotas had was composed of the four gospels only. These Mr Evans had had printed at the village in Indian letters, which he had invented and called "syllabic characters." They are so easily learned by the Indians, that in a few weeks those who were diligent in their studies were able to read fluently those portions of the word of God already translated for them, as well as a number of beautiful hymns. Oowikapun had never heard of such things, and was so amazed and confounded that he could hardly believe that he was in his right mind, especially when Memotas, to try and give him some idea of the syllabic characters in which his little book was printed, made little sentences with a piece of coal on birch bark, and then handed them to his wife and children, who easily read out what had been written. That birch bark could talk, as he expressed it, was a mystery indeed.
When the time came for Oowikapun to return to his home Memotas went with him quite a distance. He had become very much interested in him, and being a happy Christian himself, he was anxious that this man, who had come to him and been benefited physically, should hear about his soul's need, and the great Physician who could heal all its diseases. Lovingly and faithfully he talked to him and urged him to accept of this great salvation. Then he asked him to kneel down with him, and there, alone with him and God, Memotas prayed earnestly that this dark pagan brother might yet come into the light of the blessed Gospel. Then he kissed him, and they parted, not to meet again for years.
Happy would it have been for Oowikapun if he had responded to Memotas's entreaties and become a Christian, but the heart is hard and blinded as well as deceitful, and the devil is cunning. So long, sad years passed by ere Oowikapun, after trying, as we shall see, other ways to find peace and soul comfort, humbled himself at the cross, and found peace in believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Oowikapun returned to his little lodge, rekindled the fire, and tried to enter upon his hunting life where he had left off when wounded by the wolf. He stretched the furs already secured, and then early next morning visited his traps and spent the rest of the day hunting for deer. His success was not very great; the fact is, what he had heard and witnessed during the days of his sojourn in the wigwam of Memotas had given him so much food for thought that he was not concentrating his mind on his work in a manner that would bring success. He would sometimes get into a reverie so absorbing that he would stop in the trail and strive to think over and over again what he had heard about the good book and its teachings. Very suddenly one day was he roused out of one of these reveries. He had gone out to visit some traps which he had set in a place where he had noticed the tracks of wild cats. While going along through a dense forest with his gun strapped on his back he got so lost in thought that his naturally shrewd instincts as a hunter, sharpened by practice, seemed to have deserted him, and he nearly stumbled over a huge, old she bear and a couple of young cubs. With a growl of rage at being thus disturbed the fierce brute rushed at him, and quickly broke up his reverie and brought him back to a sense of present danger. To unstrap his gun in time for its successful use was impossible, but the ever-ready sharp pointed knife was available, and so Oowikapun, accustomed to such battles, although never before taken so unexpectedly, sprang back to the nearest tree, which fortunately for him was close at hand. With a large tree at his back, and a good knife in his hand, an experienced Indian has the advantage on his side and can generally kill his savage antagonist without receiving a wound, but if attacked by a black bear in the open plain, when armed with only a knife, the hunter very rarely kills his enemy without receiving a fearful hug or some dangerous wounds.
One of the first bits of advice which an old, experienced Indian hunter gives to a young hunter, be he white or Indian, who goes out anxious to kill a bear, or who may possibly while hunting for other game be attacked by one, is to get his back up against a tree so large that if the bear is not killed by the bullet of his gun, he may be in the best possible position to fight him with his knife. It will be no child's play, for a wounded, maddened bear is a fierce foe. The black bear's method of trying to kill his human antagonist is quite different from that of the grizzly bear of the Rocky Mountains. The grizzly strikes out with his dreadful claws with such force that he can tear a man to pieces and is able to crush down a horse under his powerful blows, but the black bear tries to get the hunter in his long, strong, armlike fore legs, and then crush him to death. The hug of a bear, as some hunters know to their cost, is a warm, close embrace. Some who, by the quick, skillful use of their knives, or by the prompt arrival of a rescue party, have been rescued from the almost deathly hug, have told me how their ribs have been broken and their breastbones almost crushed in by the terrible embrace. I know of several who have been in such conflict, and although they managed to escape death by driving their knives into some vital spot, yet they had suffered so much from broken ribs and other injuries received, that they were never as strong and vigorous afterward. But with a good tree at his back, his trusty knife in his hand, and his brain cool, the advantage is all on the side of the hunter.
Among the many stories told of such conflicts, there is one by a Canadian Indian which shows that even the women know how to successfully conquer in these encounters. This hunter was out looking for game, and had succeeded in killing a deer, which he left in the woods with his wife, skinning it, while he returned to his wigwam for his sled on which to drag it home, as it was a large one. It was in the spring of the year and there was still snow on the ground. A great, hungry bear that had just left his den after his long winter's sleep of months, while prowling about looking for food, got on the scent of the blood of the newly killed deer, and following it up soon reached the spot where the Indian woman was skinning the animal. She had just time to spring up with the knife in her hand and back up against a tree before the half-famished brute sprang on the partly skinned animal and began devouring it. Seeing the woman so close, he seemed to think it best to get rid of her before eating his meat, so with a growl he rushed at her. He raised himself up on his hind legs and tried to get his fore paws around her, and thus crush her to death. She was a brave woman and knew what to do. Holding the knife firmly in her hand, she waited until his hot breath was in her face and he was trying to crowd his paws in between her back and the tree against which she was pressing herself with all her might, then with all her force she plunged the sharp pointed knife into his body in the region of his heart and gave it a quick, sharp turn. So thoroughly and well did she do her work that the great, fierce brute could only throw up his paws and fall over dead. The brave squaw had killed him without receiving a scratch herself, and when her husband returned with his sled he found that, not only had his wife skinned the deer, but also a big black bear.
So Oowikapun, though taken off his guard for once, was soon himself again, and ere the infuriated brute could get her paws around him, one quick, vigorous thrust of his knife was sufficient; and his antagonist; armed only with teeth and claws, lay dead before him. So sudden had been the attack, and so quickly had come the deliverance, that for the first time in his life Oowikapun offered up as well as he could words of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit for his escape. In his own crude way and with the Indian's naturally religious instinct and traditions, he had believed in the existence of a Good Spirit, which he called Kissa-Manito; and also in the existence of a bad spirit, whose name was Muche-Manito; but in what little worship he had engaged heretofore he had endeavoured to propitiate and turn away the malice of the evil spirit, rather than to worship the Good Spirit, in whom all Indians believe, but about whom he had very vague ideas until his visit to the Christian hunter's wigwam. Now, however, even before he skinned the bear, as the result of that visit, he prayed to that Good Spirit, the giver of all his blessings, and was grateful for his deliverance. Would that he had continued trying to pray, even if he had received as yet but little instruction in the right way!
He was glad to get the meat and skin of the bear and also the two little cubs, which he easily captured alive. Bending down some small trees, he tied the greater portion of the meat in the tops and then let them swing up again, as he could not carry much back with him in addition to the skin and the two frisky little bears. This plan of caching supplies in the tops of small trees, as the Indians call it, is almost the only way that things can be safely left in the woods where so many wild animals are prowling about. If the meat were put up in the branches of a large tree, the wolverines or wild cats would soon get on the scent of it, and being able to climb the trees, would quickly make short work of it. If buried in the ground, these animals, or perhaps the grey wolves, would soon get it; but bury it in the tops of the small trees which the animals cannot climb, and which they have not wit enough to cut down with their teeth, the cache is safe until the owner comes for it.
Thus Oowikapun hunted until the season was almost ended; and then making a long light sled, he packed on it his furs and camping outfit, and the two little bears, which had become quite tame, and started out on his return journey to his far-away northern home. Loaded as he was, he saw it would take him several days to make the journey, and so he resolved to go a little out of his way and visit a village of Indians, at the meeting place of three rivers, and spend a little time with them, as they were of the same tribe as his own people, and some of them were distant relatives. Unfortunately for him they were in the midst of one of their superstitious dances. The dances and sacrifices of dogs were a kind of propitiatory offering to the Muche-Manito, the devil, to put him in good humour, so that he would not interfere with them and prevent their having great success in the coming spring hunt. Of course Oowikapun was invited to join in the dance, but much to their surprise he at first refused. This they could not understand, as in previous visits he had been eager to spring into the magic circle and display his agility and powers of endurance. When questioned as to his reasons for declining, he told them of his visit to the camp of Memotas and what he had heard and witnessed. They gathered around him and, Indianlike, patiently listened in silence until he had told them his story. Unfortunately it was not only received with incredulity, but with scorn. The men were astounded, and indignantly exclaimed: "So he lets his wife eat with him, does he? and cuts the wood himself, and carries the water and prays to the Kissa-Manito to bless his enemies, instead of trying to poison or shoot them! That is the white man's religion, is it? which that Memotas has accepted. Well, let him keep it. It is not what we want. As our fathers lived and died so will we. Don't be a fool, Oowikapun. You will be wanting one of our daughters one of these days to be your wife; then if you treat her like Memotas treats his, she will be coming back and telling our women all about it, and there will be a pretty fuss. O no; this will never do. You have had bad medicine thrown into your eyes, and you do not see straight."
Thus they answered him; and day after day they bantered him, until at length the poor fellow—anxious to follow the entreaties of Memotas, but as yet unconscious of the divine power which he might have had if only he had asked for it, and so lacking the strength to resist the entreaties of his heathen friends, especially when he heard from lying conjurers that even the black-eyed maidens were talking about his strange unwillingness to join in the religious ceremonies for success in the hunt—yielded to the tempter's power, and sprang into the circle, and with wild abandon engaged in the dance. Madly and recklessly he danced to the monotonous drummings of the wicked old conjurers and medicine-men, who had been fearful that they were about to lose their grip upon him. A wild frenzy seemed to have entered into him, and so he danced on and on until even his hardened, stalwart frame could stand it no longer, and suddenly he fell upon the ground in a state of unconsciousness, and had to be carried away to a little wigwam, where on a bed of spruce branches he was left to recover consciousness when he might.
Such occurrences among the Indians in their wild state when celebrating some of their religious ceremonies, such as this devil worship or their sun or ghost dances, were not at all uncommon. Wrought up to a state of frenzy, some of these devotees ceased not their wild dancings day or night, sometimes for three days continuously; and then when utterly exhausted fell into a deathly swoon, which often continued for many hours. In this sad plight was poor Oowikapun.
For hours he remained more like a corpse than a living being, in a state of absolute unconsciousness, and without an apparent movement of either muscle or limb. After a time the mind began to act, and strange and distorted dreams and visions flitted through his disordered mind and troubled him. At first all was confusion and discord. Then there came to him something more like a vision than a dream, and so vividly was it impressed upon him that it was never forgotten.
Here it is as told me years after. Oowikapun dreamed that he was one of a large company of his people who were on a long journey, which all had to take. It led them over high mountains and trackless plains, along swift rivers and across stormy lakes, through great forests, where fierce wild beasts were ever ready to spring upon them, and where quaking bogs were in the way to swallow up those who were for a moment off their guard. The company was constantly diminishing as they journeyed on, for the dangers were so many that death in various forms was constantly cutting them off. The survivors, full of sadness, and hurried on by some irresistible impulse, could not stop long in the way. All they could do was to give those who had fallen a hasty burial and then join in the onward march.
Darker and darker became the sky, and worse and worse seemed the way; still they were impelled on and on. They had to cross the wide, stormy lakes, and in every one of them some of the party were lost. In every rough portage some fell fainting by the way, and sank down to rise no more. The crouching panther and the fierce wolves in the dense forests were ever on the alert, and many a man and woman, and even some of the little children, fell victims to these savage beasts. A feeling of sadness and despair seemed to take possession of all. Vainly they called upon the conjurers and medicine-men to get help from their Manitos to make the ways easier and their sorrows less, and to find out for them why they were travelling on this trail, and the place to which it led.
Very unsatisfactory were the answers which they received. They had no information to give about the trail; yet some said that they had heard from their forefathers that there was a place called the happy hunting grounds beyond the high mountains; but the way was long and dark, and they had no guide to lead them in the gloom, none to tell them how they could find the passes in the mountains. While thus almost broken-hearted in the way, the thought came to Oowikapun in his dream or vision that surely there must be a better trail than this rough one, wherein so many of the people were perishing so sadly. With this thought in his mind he resolved, if possible, to break away from the company, and try to find a safer path. If he failed in his efforts and perished miserably in his search, why, what did it matter? They were dying off very rapidly where they were, and things could not be worse.
Then if he succeeded in finding a better road, where the skies were bright, and the storms came not, and the portages were short and easily passed, and the breezes on the lakes only wafted them on their way, and no savage beasts lurked along the trail, and he could find some one who had been over the way, or could tell him that it ended well, and if he could succeed in getting his people in this better path, how rejoiced he and they would be!
Then it seemed in his dream that he made the effort to break away; but he told no one of what was in his heart or of his resolves, for he was afraid of being ridiculed by his comrades if he should try and then fail in his efforts. He found it very hard at first to get out from the old trail; but he persevered and succeeded, although but slowly at first. He found the way become smoother, and in some way which he could not understand help was being given him several times just when he needed it. Cheering words and sweet songs at times fell upon his ears, and made him forget that he was alone and footsore in this trying work; and once when his way led him over a great lake, and he was in a little boat in which it seemed impossible for him to reach the farther shore, and he was about to give up in despair, a strong, firm hand took the little helm, and soon he was safe at his landing place.
From this place the travelling was very much easier, and he journeyed on, ever looking for the safer trail for his people. Seeing before him a pleasant hill, he hurried to its summit, and there before him in the valley, stretching away in the distance on and on until lost in a golden cloud of brightness, like the sunlight on the waters, he saw a broad trail, smooth and beautiful, with a great company of happy people walking in it. As he observed more carefully, he saw that some were Indians, some white people, and some of other colours; but all seemed so happy, bright, and joyous, that Oowikapun wept as he thought of the unhappy condition of his own people in the other trail.
Wearied by his long journey, and charmed by the sight before him, he tarried there for hours, and then he thought he fell asleep; and while in this condition a man with a covered face came to him and gently aroused him, and seeing that he had been weeping, asked in gentle, sympathetic tones why he should weep while before him there was so much joy and gladness.
Touched by the kindly manner of the stranger, Oowikapun forgot his usual reserve, and told him all that was in his heart. While he talked the visitor listened in silence until he had told his sad story, and then heaving a sigh, that seemed full of sorrow, he said to Oowikapun: "Has not the Great Spirit pitied you and tried to help you? Did he not send you to the wigwam of one of his followers to give you some directions about getting in the better way? Is he not waiting and watching to see how you are using what knowledge you have secured? Why have you so soon forgotten your first lesson?" Then he quickly moved to go, and as he turned away the covering for an instant dropped from his face, and Oowikapun had a glimpse of it, and it vividly reminded him of Memotas.
A STRANGE BENEFACTOR.
With a start Oowikapun awoke from his long sleep, confused and bewildered. So vivid had been his dream that it was some time before he could grasp his surroundings and come back to life's realities.
It was a night of intense darkness. Fierce, cold winds came shrieking out of the dense forest, and shook the little bark tent into which he had been thrown, and whistled through its many chinks, and made him shiver. No cheerful fire burned in the centre, and there was not a person in the wigwam to offer aid. Every bone and muscle in his body seemed to ache, and his mind was so distracted and his nerves unstrung that he was thoroughly miserable. He was nearly destitute of clothing, for he had been carried out from the circle just as he had danced and fallen, and now here he was nearly naked and shivering with the cold. Vainly he felt about for his fire bag, in which he carried his flint and steel, that he might strike a light; but in the inky darkness nothing could be found. Only a visitor in the village, he felt, with Indian reserve, that it would be a great breach of decorum and a sign of great weakness if he were to call out for help, and so, in spite of his aches and shiverings, he resolved that he would at least be a "brave," and patiently endure until the morning brought him light and friends.
Very long indeed to Oowikapun seemed that cold, dark night. The reaction had come, and physically and mentally he was to be pitied. His dance had carried him very near to the verge of the dance of death. And then owing to his vivid dream, although as yet he could not interpret much of it, there was the vague idea, as a haunting fear, that it had come to chide him for his cowardice in falling back and taking part in the devil dance, after having heard of the other way. Thus filled with sorrow there he sat on his rude bed of boughs, hour after hour, with his locked hands clasping his knees, and his head bowed down upon his breast.
The few sounds which broke the stillness of those hours or interrupted the sighing of the winds were not pleasant. A great owl ensconced in a tree not far away began and maintained for a long time its monotonous "hoot-a-hoot a-hoo," while away in the distant forest gloom, rising at times shrill and distinct above the fitful wind, he heard the wail of the catamount or panther, the saddest and most mournful sound that ever broke the solitude of forest gloom. A sound at times so like the shrieking wail of a child in mortal agony, that heard close at hand it has caused the face of many a brave wife of the backwoods settler, even when all her loved ones were safe with her within the strong walls of the log house, to blanch with terror and to cry out with fear. Its despairing wail seemed to poor Oowikapun as the echo of the feeling of his saddened heart.
But the longest night has an end, and to the patient watchers day dawn comes again. As the first rays of light began to enter through the cracks and crevices of the wigwam Oowikapun rejoiced greatly, and then fell into a heavy sleep.
When he awoke the camp fire was burning brightly on the ground before him, a warm blanket was over his shoulders, and food warm and inviting was ready for him near the fire.
It was very evident that some one had had compassion on him. Oowikapun rubbed his eyes, rose up and shook himself, and wondered whether this was a vision or a reality. His keen appetite, sharpened by long fasting, came to his help and naturally aided in the settling of the question; so he vigourously attacked the food, and, eating, was refreshed and comforted.
Just as he was finishing his meal, the deerskin door of his lodge was partially but noiselessly pulled aside, and his outer garments and Indian finery, including his prized fire bag, all of which he had thrown off at the beginning of the dance, were quickly placed inside the door. The thing was done so speedily and quietly that it nearly escaped his notice, sharp and quick as he was; but a draught of air coming in through the partly opened door caused him to turn and look, but he was only in time to see a hand and shapely arm, on which was a beautifully wrought bracelet of Indian beadwork, draw close again the curtainlike door.
It would have been considered a great breach of decorum if he had manifested any curiosity or had arisen to see who the person was to whom he was indebted for this kindness. So curbing all curiosity he finished his breakfast and put on his apparel, and strange to say, seemed anxious to be as presentable as possible. Then going out, he was soon greeted by his friends, who all began urging him to accept of their hospitalities and go and eat with them. When Oowikapun stated that he had eaten already a hearty meal, they were all astonished and amazed, and doubly so, when he told them of what had been done for him in the wigwam while he slept. Their heartless custom had ever been to leave the unconscious dancer alone and uncared for until he emerged from the tent, and then offer him their hospitalities; but here had been a strange innovation, and the question was immediately raised, Who has done this? But in spite of many inquiries, everybody seemed to be in ignorance.
Oowikapun's curiosity was now aroused, and he became exceedingly desirous of finding out who his benefactor was and expressing his gratitude. Among other plans that were suggested to his mind was to endeavour to find out who had taken charge of his clothing and fire bag while he was dancing in the tent. But even here, he failed to get any clue. Everybody seemed to have become so absorbed in the ceremonies of the dance, or in watching the endurance of the dancers, that all minor things were forgotten.
When the conjurers and medicine-men came to congratulate Oowikapun on his efforts, and called his dances "good medicine," a sudden feeling of abhorrence and repulsion came into his heart toward these men; and as quickly as he dared he turned from them in disgust, and resolved to get out of the village and away from their influence as soon as possible.
His few preparations were soon completed, and saying, "What cheer?" the Indian farewell, to his relatives, he securely fastened his little bears with his furs upon his sled, and throwing the strap over his shoulder, resumed the trail that led to his still distant home. Soon he was out of the village and in the forest. Snares and traps abounded on each side of the path, for the game was plentiful. Especially were the rabbits and white partridges, the beautiful ptarmigan, very abundant that winter and spring, and hundreds were caught in snares by the boys and women and girls; and so for a time he had the well-beaten trail over which these people travelled as they daily visited their snares.
On pushed Oowikapun until nearly every snowshoe track of these hunters had disappeared, and but few were seen, and the sense of being alone again in the forest, or nearly so, returned to him with depressing results. Rapidly and vividly did there pass through his memory the events of the last few days spent in the village just left behind; and especially did his singular dream come up before him, and a feeling of remorse filled his heart that he had yielded to the importunities of his pagan friends and had been persuaded to take any part in the dance. Then his thoughts went farther back, and he was with Memotas again, and the memory of their last walk came up so distinctly, and especially the loving words about the true way; and then as he recalled the spot where with him he had bowed in prayer, and then put up his hand on his brow where the good man's kiss had been imprinted, the very spot seemed to burn, and Oowikapun could have wept, only he was indignant at his cowardice.
Thus moodily he strode along on the trail, now nearly destitute of all evidences of having been used by the hunters, when he was startled and amazed by an unexpected sound that seemed strangely out of place. It was a woman's voice he heard; and although the tones were low and plaintive, yet he could easily make out the words of the song, for he had heard them over and over again in the wigwam of Memotas. They were:
"Jesus net it a ye-moo-win, Is pe-mek ka ke it oo-tate, Weya pi-ko ne mah-me-sin, Nesta a-we itoo ta-yan."
To our readers who may not be posted in the Cree language of the far North, we give the English translation of the verse:
"Jesus, my all, to heaven is gone, He whom I fix my hopes upon; His track I see, and I'll pursue The narrow way, till him I view."
This hymn was the first translated into Cree. It is a general favourite, and is frequently heard not only in the public religious services and at the family devotions, but often the forest's stillness is broken by its hopeful, cheering notes, as at his lonely toil the Christian hunter strides along. Mr Evans printed his first copies of it in syllabic characters on birch bark.
But how did it get here? and who was the sweet singer? These were questions now in the mind of Oowikapun as he stood still, uncertain what to do, but strangely thrilled by the song, which had so quickly carried him back to the tent of the loving Christian Memotas.
THE MAIDEN'S STORY.
Not long had Oowikapun to wait, for soon emerged from among the young balsam trees a fair Indian maiden with a number of snow-white ptarmigan and a few rabbits, which had rewarded her skill and enterprise as a successful huntress in coming so far from the village to set her snares. She was taller than most Indian maidens, and her eyes were bright and fearless. She stepped into the trail and turned her face homeward, but gave a sudden start, as, lifting up her eyes, she found herself almost face to face with Oowikapun. Quickly regaining her composure, she threw her game over her back, in the Indian woman's style of carrying loads; and with the natural Indian womanly modesty seemed anxious to at once go on. In all probability not a word would have passed between them. As it happened, however, just at the moment when the maiden swung her load of game over her pack, the shawl she was wearing fell back for an instant from her arm, and on it Oowikapun's quick eye detected the beautiful bracelet that he had seen that morning on the arm that had closed the door of his little lodge.
This discovery filled him with curiosity, and he resolved to find out who she was, and why she had shown him, a stranger, so much kindness. But the difficulty was how to begin. His Indian training told him it would be a breach of decorum to speak to her; but so great was his anxiety to find the solution of what was a mystery even to the villagers themselves, that he felt he must not let the opportunity pass by. Man's bluntness is his own poor substitute for woman's superior tact, and so as she was about to pass he said: "Have I not seen that beautiful bracelet before?"
He tried to speak kindly, but he was excited and fearful that she would be gone, and so his voice sounded harsh and stern, and it startled her, and her face flushed a little; yet she quickly regained her composure, and then quietly said: "It was made years ago, so you have seen it before."
"Was it not on the arm of the friend who made the fire and prepared the food and brought the clothing for the poor, foolish stranger?" he asked.
She raised her piercing black eyes to his, as though she would look into his soul, and said, without hesitancy: "Yes, it was; and Oowikapun was indeed foolish, if not worse."
Startled and confounded at this reply, given in such decided tones by this maiden, Oowikapun, in spite of all his efforts to appear unmoved, felt abashed before her, and his eyes fell under her searching gaze.
Recovering himself as well as he could, he said: "Will the fair maiden please tell me what she means?"
"Yes," she answered. "What she means is that she is very much surprised that a man who for days has been a guest in the wigwam of Memotas and Meyooachimoowin, and who has heard their songs and prayers to the Good Spirit, should again be found in the circle of the devil dance."
"How do you know I was with Memotas?" he replied.
"From your own lips," she answered. "I was with the maidens, with only a deerskin partition dividing us from the place where you told the men of your battle with the wolf, and of Memotas's love and words about the book of heaven and the Good Spirit to you. And yet," she added, and there was a tinge of sorrow in her voice, "after having heard all that, you went to the old bad way again."
Stung by her words so full of reproof, he retorted with some bitterness: "And you and the other maidens goaded me on to the dance."
With flashing eyes she drew herself up proudly, and said: "Never! I would have died first. It was a lie of the conjurers, if they said anything of the kind."
A feeling of admiration, followed by one of almost envy, came over him as he listened to the decided words, uttered with such spirit, and he heartily wished some of it had been his when tempted to join in the dance of sin. With the consciousness of weakness and with his proud spirit quelled, he said: "Why are you of this mind? How is it that you know so much about the white man's way? Did I not see you in the wigwam of Kistayimoowin, the chief, whose brother is the great medicine man of the tribe? How is it that you, the chief's daughter and the conjurer's niece, should have such different thoughts about these things?"
Her answer, which was a little bit of her family history, was as follows:
"While I am the niece of Koosapatum, the conjurer and medicine man, whom I hate, I am not the daughter, but the niece of Kistayimoowin, the chief. My father was another brother of theirs. He was a great hunter, and years ago, when I was a little child, he left the home of his tribe and, taking my mother and me, he went far away to Lake Athabasca, where he was told there was abundance of game and fish. In a great storm they were both drowned. I was left a poor orphan child about six years of age among the pagan Indians, who cared but little for me. They said they had enough to do in looking after their own children, so often I was half starved. Fortunately for me the great missionary, with his wonderful canoe of tin, which the people called the 'Island of Light,' came along that way on one of his journeys. He had those skillful canoe men—Henry Budd and Hasselton. While stopping among the people and teaching them the true way, the missionary heard of me and of the danger I was in of perishing, and so he took me in the canoe and carried me all the way to Norway House. It was long ago, but well do I remember how they carried me across the rough portages when I got tired out, and gave me to eat the best pieces of ducks and geese or other game which they shot for food. At night they gathered old hay from the beavers' meadows, or cut down a young balsam tree, and with its branches made me a little bed for the night.
"When we reached Norway House Mission, I was adopted into the family of the missionary. They and Miss Adams, the teacher, were very kind to me. I joined the Indian children in the school, and went regularly to the little church. I well remember Memotas and Big Tom and Murtagon and Papanekis and many others. I learned some of the hymns, and can distinctly remember seeing the missionary and Mr Steinhav printing the hymns in the characters on the bark and on paper. It was the happiest year of my life.
"O that I had been wise, and tried to gather up and fix in my memory all that was said to me of the Great Spirit, and his son Jesus, and about the good way! But I was a happy, thoughtless girl, and more fond of play with the little Indian girls and the fun-loving, happy boys than of listening to the lessons and learning them.
"A year after my Uncle Kistayimoowin came down to the fort with his furs, and took me away home with him; and here, so far away, I have lived ever since. In his way he is not unkind to me, but my Uncle Koosapatum hates me because I know these things; and as all are in dread of his poisons, even Kistayimoowin does not wish me to speak about what I heard that year, or sing what I remember except when I am far out in the forest. Because I do not want to have my uncle, the chief, poisoned, I kept quiet sometimes; but most of the women have heard all I know, and they are longing to hear more. So our hearts got full of hoping when, as we waited on the chief with his dinner a few days ago, we heard him talking with some others who were eating with him that you had come, and had been cured of your wounds by a Christian Indian, by the name of Memotas, and were going to give a talk about what had happened to you, and what you had heard. When I heard him mention the name of Memotas, I thought I would have dropped the birch roggin of roasted bears' paws which I was holding, for I could still remember that good man so well. Gladly I gathered some of the women together behind the partition to listen and learn more of the good way, if we could, from you.
"We drank in every word you said, and when they mocked we were very angry at them; but we dare not say a word for fear of a beating. While you stood firm and refused to join in that wicked dance we rejoiced. When you yielded our hearts became sad, and we silently got away. I went out into the woods and wept. When I returned the women had shut themselves up in their tents, and the men were all off to the big dance house. I found your clothes and fire bag just where you had thrown them off, in danger of being dragged away or torn to pieces by the foolish young dogs. So, unseen by anybody, I gathered them up and put them away.
"During the days and nights you danced I was angry and miserable, and at times could not keep from weeping that a man who had known Memotas, and for days had been with him, and had heard so much about the good way, should then go back to the old dark way which gives no comfort to anyone.
"When you fell senseless in the circle, I watched where they carried you. I visited the tent in the night, and I heard your sad moans, and I knew you were unhappy. At daybreak, as you had fallen into a deep sleep, I built the fire and prepared the food, and carried you your clothing; and if it had not been for the breeze which swept through the door, when I last opened it, you would never have known anything about me."
Her story greatly interested Oowikapun; and as he listened to her thus talking as he had never heard an Indian woman speak before, he saw the benefit which had come as the result of a year spent among Christians, even though it were only a year in childhood. When she finished he said: "I am glad I have met you and heard your story."
"Why should you be glad?" she replied. "I am sure you must be offended that a woman should have dared to speak so plainly to you."
"I deserve all that you have said, and more too," he added after a pause.
"In which trail are you in the future going to walk?" she asked. This straight, searching question brought vividly before his vision the dream, and the two ways which there he saw, and he felt that a crisis in his life had come; and he said, after a pause: "I should like to walk in the way marked out by the book of heaven."
"And so would I," she replied, with intense earnestness; "but it seems hard to do so, placed as I am. You think me brave here thus reproving you, but I am a coward in the village. I have called it love for my uncle's life that has kept me back from defying the conjurers, and telling everybody I want to go in the way the Good Spirit has given us; but it is cowardice, and I am ashamed of myself, and then I know so little. O, that we had a missionary among us with the book of heaven, as they have at Norway House and elsewhere, that we might learn more about the way, and be brave and courageous all the time!"
This despairing cry is the voice of millions dissatisfied with the devil dances and worship of idols. The call is for those who can tell them where soul comfort can be found, and a sweet assurance brought into their hearts that they are in the right way.
Hardly knowing what answer to make, but now interested in the woman as never in one before, he asked: "What name does your uncle call you?" Wishing to find out her name he put it this way, as it is considered the height of rudeness to ask a person her name. When several persons are together, and the name of one is desired by one of the company, the plan is always to ask some third person for the desired information. "Astumastao," she replied. And then feeling with her keen womanly instincts that the time had come when the long interview should end, she quickly threw her game, which had been dropped on the ground, over her shoulder again, and gliding by him, soon disappeared in the forest trail.
HUNTING WILD GEESE.
To Oowikapun this interview was of great value, and while he could not but feel a certain amount of humiliation at the cowardice he had been forced to admit, and felt also that it was a new experience to be thus talked to by a woman, yet his conscience told him that she was right and he deserved the reproofs she had given. So with something more to think about, he resumed his onward journey, and ere he stopped that night and made his little camp he was many miles nearer his home.
As he sat there by his cheery fire, while all around him stretched the great wild forest, he tried to think over some of the new and strange adventures through which he had passed. With starring vividness they came before him, and above all the brave words of the maiden Astumastao seemed to ring in his ears. Then the consciousness that he who had been trying to make himself and others believe that he was so brave was really so cowardly took hold of him, and so depressed him that he could only sit with bowed head and burdened heart, and say within himself that he was very weak and foolish.
The stars shone out in that brilliant northern sky, and the aurora danced and blazed and scintillated, meteors flashed across the heavens with wondrous brightness, but Oowikapun saw them not. The problem of life here and hereafter had come to him as never before. He found out that he had a soul, and that there was a God to fear and love, who cared for men and women, and that there was reward for right doing and punishment for sin. So with the little light he had, he pondered and thought, and the more he did the worse he got; for he had not yet found the way of simple faith and trust, and he became so saddened and terrified that there was but little sleep that night for him. As there he sat longing for help, he remembered the words of Astumastao: "O, that we had a missionary among us, with the book of heaven, that we might learn more about the way, and be brave and courageous all the time!"
In this frame of mind he watched and waited until the first blush of morn; then after a hasty meal prepared on his camp fire, he started off, and in due time reached his home in the distant village in the wilderness, and in the depressing mood in which we here first met him he lived for many a day.
The change in him was noticed by all, and many conjectured as to the cause, but Oowikapun unburdened not his heart, for he knew there was none among his people who could understand, and with bitter memories of his cowardice, he thought in his blindness that the better way to escape ridicule and even persecution would be to keep all he had learned about the Good Spirit and the book of heaven locked up in his heart.
Oowikapun was one of the best hunters in his village, and as his father was dead and he was the oldest son, and now about twenty-five years of age, he was looked up to as the head of the wigwam. In his Indian way he was neither unkind to his mother nor to the younger members of the family. To his little brothers he gave the two young bears, and they soon taught them a number of tricks. They quickly learned the use of their fore legs, and it was very amusing to see them wrestling with and throwing the young Indian dogs, with whom they soon became great friends.
Oowikapun, to divert attention from himself, and to keep from being questioned about the change in his conduct, which was so evident to all, devoted himself with unflagging energy to the chase. Spring having now opened, the wild geese came in great flocks from their southern homes to those northern lands, looking for the rich feeding grounds and safe places where they could hatch their young. These times when the geese are flying over are as a general thing profitable to the hunters. I have known an old Indian, with only two old flintlock guns, kill seventy-five large grey geese in one day. That was however an exceptional case. The hunters considered themselves fortunate if each night they returned with from seven to twelve of these birds.
Oowikapun, having selected a spot at the edge of a great marsh from which the snow had melted, and where the goose grass was abundant, and the flocks were flying over in great numbers, hastily prepared what the hunters call their nest. This is made out of marsh hay and branches of trees, and is really what its name implies, a nest so large that at least a couple of men can hide themselves in it. When ready to begin goose hunting they put on a white coat and a cap of similar colour; for these observant Indians have learned that if they are dressed in white they can call the geese much nearer to them than if their garments are of any other hue. Another requisite for a successful hunt is to have a number of decoy geese carved out of wood, and placed in the grass near the nest, as though busily engaged in eating.
Oowikapun's first day at the hunt was fortunately a very good one. The sun was shining brightly, and aided by a southern breeze many flocks of geese came in sight in their usual way of flying, either in straight lines or in triangles. Oowikapun was gifted with the ability to imitate their call, and he succeeded in bringing so many of them in range of his gun that ere the day ended he had bagged almost a score.
In after years when I visited that land it used to interest me much, and added a pleasurable excitement to my trip, to don a white garment over my winter clothing, for the weather was still cold, and join one of these clever hunters in his little nest and take my chance at a shot at these noble birds. I felt quite proud of my powers when I brought down my first grey goose, even if I did only break a wing with my ball.
Quickly unloosing Cuffy, one of my favourite Newfoundland dogs, I sent her after the bird, which had lit down on a great ice field about five hundred yards away. But although disabled, the bird could still fight, and so when my spirited dog tried to close in upon her and seize her by the neck, the brave goose gave her such a blow over the head with the uninjured wing that it turned her completely over and made her howl with pain and vexation. Witnessing the discomfiture of my dog, I could easily understand what I had been frequently told by the Indians, of foxes having been killed by the old geese when trying to capture young goslings from the flocks.
In these annual goose hunts all the Indians who can handle a gun take part. The news of the arrival of the first goose fills a whole village with excitement, and nothing can keep the people from rushing off to the different points, which they each claim year after year, where they hastily build their nests and set their decoys.
I well remember how quickly I was deserted by a whole company of Salteaux Indians one spring, on their hearing the long-expected call of a solitary goose that came flying along on the south wind. I had succeeded, after a good deal of persuasion, in getting them to work with me in cutting down trees and preparing the soil for seed sowing, when in the midst of our toil, at about ten o'clock in the forenoon, the distant "aunk! aunk! aunk!" of an old grey goose was heard, the outskirmisher of the oncoming crowds. Such was the effect of that sound upon my good hunters, but poor farmers, that the axes and hoes were hastily dropped, and with a rush they were all off to their wigwams for their guns and ammunition, and I did not see them again for a month.
Success in the goose hunt seems to elate the Indian more than in anything else. Why, I could never find out. It may be because it is the first spring hunting after the long, dreary winter, and there is the natural gladness that the pleasant springtime has come again. Whatever it may be, I noticed for years more noisy mirth and earnest congratulations on success in the goose hunt than in anything else.
Loaded down with his game, Oowikapun returned to his wigwam, and instead of cheerily responding to the congratulations of the inmates on account of his success, he threw himself down on his bed, silent and gloomy, and refused the proffered meal, and even the lighted pipe which his mother brought him.
They were all surprised at his conduct, which was so contrary to his old ways. He had never been known to act like this before. Just the reverse. He had come to be considered the brightest young man in the village; he had more than once been called the young hunter of the cheery voice and the laughing eyes. Then in his serious hours, in times when the affairs of the tribe were being discussed at the council fires, so good was his judgment, and wise and thoughtful beyond his years were his words considered, that even the old men, who seldom did anything but sneer at the words of the young men, gave respectful attention to what fell from the lips of Oowikapun. Well was it remembered how, only last year, at the great council fire of the whole tribe, when the runners brought the news of the aggressions of the whites on some of the southern tribes with whom they had been, in the years past, on friendly alliance, and the old men spake with bitterness and talked of the old glories of the red men, ere the paleface came with his firearms, and what was worse with his firewater, and hunted down and poisoned many of their forefathers, and drove back the rest of them toward the setting sun or northward to the regions of the bitter cold and frost, and how much better it would have been, they said, if their forefathers had listened to the fiery eloquence and burning words of Tecumseh and his brother the prophet, and joined in a great Indian confederacy, when they were numerous and strong to drive the white man back into the sea. Then it was, when eyes flashed and the Indians were wild enough with excitement to cause great trouble, that Oowikapun arose and spoke kindly words, and wise beyond his years.
In his address he urged that the time for successful war was passed, that Tecumseh himself fell before the power of the paleface, that his wampum and magic pipe had disappeared, and his tomahawk had been buried in a peace ceremony between his survivors and the paleface; and bitter as might be some of the memories of the past, yet to all it must be clear that as many of the white men were really their friends, it was for their interest and happiness to act patiently and honourably toward them, and strive to live as the Great Spirit would have them, as loving brothers.
Thus talked Oowikapun last year. Why is it, they said, that he who gave such promise of being a great orator, as well as a successful hunter, should act so strangely now? Some said he was losing his reason and becoming crazy. The young folks said he was in love with some bright-eyed maiden, whom they knew not, but many of the dark-eyed maidens hoped she was the fortunate one. And so they wondered why he did not let it be known. As he still delayed, they said, it is because he has had so many to support that he is poor, and is fearful that what he has to offer in payment for his bride might not be considered sufficient, and he would be humiliated to be refused.
Even some of the older women, not born in beauty's hand basket, when they could, get away from their exacting husbands, would sit down together under the bank where the canoes were drawn up, and in imitation of the men around the council fires, would gravely exchange opinions, and perhaps, like white folks, would gossip a little in reference to conduct so extraordinary.
MOOKOOMIS AND HIS LEGENDS.
The old conjurers and medicine-men who were at length consulted said, after long drumming and powwowing and the consuming of much tea and tobacco, at the expense of his relatives, that the spirits of the forests and rivers were calling to him to fast and suffer, and prepare to become a great medicine man; that nature would then reveal her secrets and give him power and influence over the people and make him "good medicine," if he obeyed her voice.
Oowikapun heard of the surmisings and mutterings of the people about him, and at first was very much annoyed. Then no peace coming to him, for he was afraid to pray to the Good Spirit since he had taken part in the devil dance, he decided to consult one of the old men of the village, who had a reputation among the people for wisdom and also as being well posted in old Indian traditions and legends. The young man was cordially welcomed to the wigwam of the old man, but Oowikapun had not been there very long in conversation with him before he found out that he was a great hater of the whites. On Oowikapun expressing some surprise at this, and asking his reason for having such bitterness in his breast toward the palefaces, the old man told him the following story.
One winter many years ago when he was a great hunter, he had been very successful in the chase and had caught quite a number of black and silver foxes, as well as many otters and other valuable fur-bearing animals. Thinking he could do better in selling his furs by going down the rivers and across many portages far away to a place where he had heard that white men had come, who wished to trade with the Indians, and who had sent word that they would give a good price for rich furs, he set off for that place. He took his wife along with him to help him paddle his canoe and to carry the loads across the portages, which were very many. They reached the place after many days' journey; and the white men when they saw their bales of rich furs seemed very friendly, and said as they had come so far they must be very weary; and so they gave him their fire water to drink, and told him that it would make him forget that his hands were sore with long paddling his canoe, and that his feet were weary with the hard walking in the portages. So because they professed to be his friends he drank their fire water, and found out that they were his enemies. They gave him more and more, telling him it was good; and so he foolishly drank and drank until he lost his senses, and was in a drunken stupor for days.
When he came to himself he found he was out in a cold shed and very miserable. His head ached and he was very sore. His coat was gone, and so were his beautifully beaded leggings and moccasins. His gun was gone, and so were his bales of rich and valuable furs. His wife was also gone, and there he was, half naked and alone.
Alarmed, he cried out for his things, and asked how it was that he was in such a sad plight. Hearing him thus calling out, some of those white men who had pretended to be his friends came to him and said, "Begone, you poor Indian fool!"
"Where are my furs?" he asked.
With a laugh they said, "We have taken them for the whisky you drank."
"Give me my furs," he cried, "or pay me for them."
"But," added the old man, "they were stronger than I, and had taken away, not only my gun, but my axe and knife, so I was helpless before them."
"'Where is my wife?' I then asked. But they only laughed at my question, and it was weeks before I heard that they had insulted her, and would have foully treated her but that she had pulled out her knife and threatened to kill the first man that touched her. While keeping them away with her knife she moved around until she got near an open window, when she suddenly sprang out and fled like a frightened deer to the forest. After long weeks of hardship she reached the far-off home. She had had a sad time of it and many strange adventures. Footsore and nearly worn out she had been at times, but she bravely persevered. Her food had been roots and an occasional rabbit or partridge which she snared. Several times she had been chased by wild animals. Once for several days the savage wolves madly howled around the foot of a tree into which she had managed to climb for safety from their fierce attacks. Fortunately for her a great moose deer dashed along not far away, and the wolves which had been keeping watch upon her rushed off on its trail. Hurrying down, she, although half starved, quickly sped on her way. Thus had she travelled all alone, her life often in jeopardy from savage beasts; but she feared them less than she did the rude white men from whom she had just fled. The clothing she had on when she reached home, was principally of rabbit skins taken from the rabbits she had captured, and made to supply that in which she had started, but which had been almost torn in rags by the hardships of the way."
The man when kicked out of the place of the white traders had fortunately for himself, after a couple of days' wanderings, fallen in with some friendly Indians, who took pity on him, clothed and fed him, and sent him back in care of some of their best canoe men. The result was he reached home long before his brave wife, who had to work her way along as we have described.
Oowikapun listened to this story of the old man, whose name was Mookoomis, Indianlike, with patience, until he closed; and then in strong language expressed his horror and indignation. It was most unfortunate that he should have heard it in the state of mind that he was in at that time. From his meeting with Memotas and Astumastao he had inferred that all white men were good people, but here was a rude awakening from that illusion. Terrible indeed have been the evils wrought by the white men in these regions where dwell the red men, as well as in other lands. The native prejudices and even their superstitious religions are not as great hindrances to the spread of the Gospel among them as are the abominable actions and rascalities of white men who bring their fire water and their sins from Christian lands.
For a time Mookoomis exerted a strong influence over Oowikapun, and many were the hours they spent together. Oowikapun was in such a state of restlessness that the only times he could be said to be at peace were when either engaged in the excitements of hunting, or when listening to Mookoomis's excited words as he talked away, hour after hour, of the old legends and traditions of his people, whose glory, alas! was now departed.
One evening, when a few interested listeners were gathered around the wigwam fire of the old story-teller, whom they had made happy by gifts of venison and tobacco, Oowikapun said to him, "Good father, you are wise in many things about which we are ignorant, and long ago the old men of our people handed down to you from our forefathers the stories to be kept in remembrance; tell us how the white men come to be here, and if you know, we should like to hear also of the black people of whom the runners from other tribes have told us, who also exist in great numbers." All joined in this request; and so, when the old man had filled and smoked his calumet again, he told them the Indian tradition of the origin of the human races:
"Long ago, perhaps as many moons as there are stars in the sky, the Great Spirit made this world of ours, and fitted it up as a dwelling place for his people. Then he set to work to make man. He took a piece of white clay, and moulded it and worked at it until he had formed a man. Then he put him into an oven which he had prepared, and there he baked him to make him firm and strong. When he took him out of the oven he found that he had kept him in too long, and he was burnt black. At this the Great Spirit was not pleased, and he said, 'You will never do;' and he gave him a great kick which sent him away south to that land where they have no snow, and where it is very hot, and told the black man that that was to be his land.
"Then the Great Spirit took another piece of clay, and moulded it and formed another man, and put him into the oven to bake. But as he had burnt the first one so badly he did not leave the second one in very long, and so when he took him out he found that he was still very white; and at this he was not pleased, and he said: 'Ugh! you will never do. You are too white. You will show the dirt too easily.' So he gave him a great kick, which sent him across the sea to the land where the white man first came from to this country.
"Then," said Mookoomis, "the Great Spirit tried again, and he gathered the finest clay he could, and moulded it and worked it until he was well pleased with it; and then he put it into the oven to bake it; and now having the wisdom which came from the experience of the other two failures, he kept this one in just the right time, and so when he took him out he was of a rich red colour, and he was very much pleased, and he said: 'Ho! ho! you are just right; you stay here.' So he gave this country to the Indian."
This account of the origin of the human race, which differs considerably from Darwin's, very much interested Oowikapun and his companions, and so they urged Mookoomis to tell them from Indian traditions how it was that the races had got into the condition in which they now are. So when the old man had filled and smoked his pipe again, and had seemed to be lost in thought for a time, he began once more:
"When the Great Spirit had made these different men, and given each wives of their own colour, he went away to his dwelling place beyond the setting sun, and there abode. After a while he thought he would come back and see how these men were getting on. So he called them to meet him at a certain place, and as he talked with them he found they were unhappy because they had nothing to do. When the Great Spirit heard this he told them to come back to-morrow and then he would make this all right for them. On the morrow, when they had met, they saw that the Great Spirit had three parcels. He laid them on the ground, and told them they were to choose which they would have. As the parcels differed very much in size it was decided that they would cast lots, and thus settle who should have the first choice. When this was done it was found that the black man was to choose first, the red man second, and the white man would have to take what was left. So the black man chose the largest parcel; and when he opened it he found that it contained axes and hoes, and spades and shovels, and other implements of toil. The Indian selected the next largest bundle; and when he had opened it he found that it contained bows and arrows, and spears and lances, and knives and other weapons used by the hunter. Then the turn of the white man came, and he took up the last parcel, which was a small one; and when he had opened it there was nothing in it but a book.
"When the black man and the red man saw that the white man had nothing but a book they laughed out loudly, and ridiculed him very much. But the Great Spirit reproved them, and said, 'Wait a while, and perhaps you will think differently.' And so they now do; for it has come to pass that because of the possession of that book the white man has become so learned and wise that he is now much stronger than the others, and seems to be able to make himself master of the other races, and to take possession of all lands."
SEEKING FOR LIGHT.
Thus Oowikapun heard Mookoomis at the camp fires tell these weird old stories, and in listening to him he tried to forget his own sorrows and anxieties.
When he thought he had become so well acquainted with him that he could make a confidant of him, he told him a little of what he had learned from Memotas, but he was careful to hide his own secret feelings, for he knew that Mookoomis was a strong pagan, as well as a great hater of the whites. Not as yet having met with any of the detested race who were Christians, he thought they were all alike, and had only come across the ocean to rob and cheat and kill the poor Indian and take possession of all his lands.
One evening, when they were alone, Oowikapun ventured to tell him about the book of heaven which the white man had, and which some Indians had got hold of and were reading with great interest, and that some of them had even accepted its teachings and were believing in them. This news made Mookoomis very angry, and Oowikapun was sorry that he had told him; but it was now too late, and so he had to listen while the angry man talked and gave his views on these things.
He said, referring to the legend, that the Great Spirit never intended the book for the Indian, but that he had made him a hunter, and sent him out into the forest and the prairies, and on the great lakes and rivers, and there he was to listen and hear the Great Spirit's voice and see his works. "This," added Mookoomis, "is the Great Spirit's plan, and he will be angry with any of his red children who become dissatisfied with this arrangement, and try to go the white man's way or read his book."
These talks did not bring comfort to Oowikapun, or lift the burden from his soul; and so, in his desperation, although he did not expect much comfort, he told Mookoomis of his heart sorrows and disquietude of spirit. The old man did not get angry, but listened to him very patiently; and then advised and even urged him to go out into the woods away from every human sound, and in peaceful solitudes let nature speak to him and soothe his troubled spirit.
So Oowikapun obeyed the voice of Mookoomis, and, quickly arranging his affairs, he went out into the solitudes, far away from any human being, in the hope that there, alone with nature, he might get rest for his soul. In doing this he was only imitating thousands who, too stubborn or too ignorant to come to the great Comforter in his own way, are trying in some other way to find that peace which God alone can give.
We pity those who ignorantly do these things, but what can we say of those who have been taught the plan of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet will go on talking pertly about God in nature, and of their ability to find themselves in him by studying him in his works? God in nature, without Christ, is a riddle, a perplexity, a mystery.
We pity poor Oowikapun. Just enough light had come to him to show him that he was a poor, miserable sinner, but he had not yet received enough to show him the true plan of salvation; and so he was still groping along in the gloom, and much more to be pitied than the thousands who know in theory what is God's plan of salvation, but who reject it because of their pride or hardness of heart:
Everything seemed against him. His eyes were opened to see things now as never before, for not as a skillful hunter, but as a seeker after peace, was he out in nature's solitudes. Everything around him seemed mysterious and contradictory. This teacher, nature, whose lessons he had come to learn, seemed to be in a very perverse mood, as if to impart just the reverse of what he would learn, and seemed herself to be destitute of the very things he had hoped she would have imparted to him.
Sharp and rude was his first awakening from his illusion. He had not gone far into the wilderness before it came to him, and it happened thus. As he was walking along in the forest he heard, but a short distance ahead of him, a pitiful cry of a creature in distress. Quickly he hurried on, and was just in time to see the convulsive gasp of a beautiful young fawn that had been seized and was being mangled by a great, fierce wolf, which had found it where it had been hidden away by the mother deer before she had gone into the beaver meadows to feed.
To send the death-dealing bullet through the brains of the savage wolf was soon done, but, alas! it was too late to save the little innocent fawn, whose great, big, beautiful eyes were already glassy in death, and whose life-blood pouring out from the gaping wounds was crimsoning the leaves and flowers where it had fallen.
"Is this," said Oowikapun, with sadness of spirit, "the first lesson nature has for me? To her I am coming for peace and quietness of spirit, and is this what I first see?" Thus on he travelled until he reached the shores of a great lake, where he had resolved to stay for a time, at the advice of Mookoomis, to try to find in the solitudes, in communion with nature, that which his soul craved.
As an observant hunter he had ever been a student of nature, but never before with such an object in his heart as now filled it. He found no happiness in his investigations, but was appalled at the sights which met him and the mysteries with which the study of them baffled him. Death and discord seemed to reign everywhere, and the strong seemed ever tyrannising over the weak.
Such sights as the following were ever before him. One day, while sitting near the shore of the lake, where before him the sunlit waters played with the pebbles at his feet, he saw a beautiful kingfisher hover in mid-air for an instant, and then suddenly plunge down in the water and quickly rise up again with a fine fish in his bill. Almost instantly, from the top of an old dead tree near the shore, he observed a fierce hawk, whose sharp eye had seen the fish thus captured. With a scream that rang out sharp and clear, it flew swiftly after the kingfisher, and so terrified it that it quickly dropped the fish and hurriedly flew away to a place of safety. Seizing the fish in its bill, with a scream of triumph, the hawk was about to return to the shore, when another actor appeared upon the scene. Away up on the side of the cliff, which rose up a little back from the shore to the height of several hundred feet, on a projecting ledge of rocks, a pair of eagles came year after year and built their crude, wild nest. One of these great birds was watching the transaction going on below. When it heard the shrill scream of triumph from the fishhawk, it knew that the time for action had arrived. With both wings closed it shot down from the eyrie, and ere the hawk, with its stolen plunder, had reached its old, storm-beaten tree, the king of birds struck it such a blow that, dazed and terrified, it dropped the fish, and barely succeeded in getting away. It was not the fishhawk the eagle was after, but fish; and as the active bird saw the fish drop from the beak of the fishhawk, it flew down after it and caught it in mid-air ere it reached the water. Then, in majestic circles, it slowly ascended to its eyrie. This sight under other circumstances would have been enjoyable; but now, when he was a seeker in nature for peace and happiness, the greed and rapacity of the stronger over the weaker only filled him with sadness.
Thus for several weeks he tried to study nature, or to learn lessons from her, while, far away from all his people, he dwelt in his little camp, which he had made at the foot of a beautiful birch tree, or wandered over the hills or in the forests. But he was no better off, for all the sights that met his eyes were very similar to those we have described. It was cruelty and death and destruction everywhere.
Nature alone and unaided does not reveal Christ the Saviour. Since the fall, and the entrance of sin with all of its attendant miseries into this once glorious world of ours, the study of nature, with all her vagaries, without the light of revelation to clear up her mysteries, is more apt to drive men from God than to draw them to him.
So Oowikapun found out, especially one night, after tossing about on his bed of balsam boughs in his little tent. While lying there, utterly miserable and dissatisfied with himself, he was startled by hearing, far away, the dull, sullen roar of thunder, telling of an approaching storm. Such was the mode in which he was that this sound was welcomed, and he sprang up rejoicing, for there had suddenly come into his mind the thought that perhaps now he would hear something in nature's voice from which he could draw comfort and happiness.
With this hope in his heart he went out of his tent and seated himself on a rock near at hand. One by one the stars disappeared as the thick, black clouds came rolling up, quickly covering the whole expanse of heaven, and making the night one of inky darkness, save when the cliffs and forest, islands and lake, were illumined by the vivid lightning's flash.