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Snapshots from the North Pacific
Letters written by the Right Rev. Bishop Ridley (Late of Caledonia).

Edited by Alice J. Janvrin.

London: Church Missionary Society, 1904.

Chapter II. A Summer's Journey and a Winter's Campaign

"His chief delight is converse with his Lord,
To share His work, and win His great reward."

THE Bishop was not long before he began to fulfil his intention of becoming acquainted with the inland tribes of his diocese. In June, 1880, he wrote the following letter, with the title "In Camp on the Skeena River." It will be seen that already the wonderful natural beauties which surrounded him on his journeys were to him a God-given means of strength and uplifting, a beautiful commentary on the verse, "All things are yours, things present," as well as "things to come":--

"It is refreshing to think of the many well-wishers at homo whose prayers are now helping me. The least return I can make them is to tell them what I am doing out here. The following extract from my journal shall be the preface:--

"'Trinity Sunday.--A glad, a joyous day. These stately and lovely works of Thy hands praise Thee, O God. We, Thy people, have worshipped Thee. Our prayers Thou hast heard. The morning sacrifice has been offered. Yet the service lingers. My crew of faithful Indians from Metlakatla are without a care. Beside me the fine fellows are stretched at full length with their hands under their heads and eyes almost closed--for the light is strong. So they bask and softly chant over again, in parts, the Venite, re-echoing the harmony that lately rang along this fringe of the forest and rose above the swish of the broad river that stealthily sweeps past our feet. They will be still praising Thee. My heart is thrilled by the harmony of this celebration. All Thy works in grace and Nature praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.'

"The next extract brings vividly before my mind the varied succession of Sundays I have lately boon enjoying:--

"'I am writing this in a canoe on a quiet reach of the Skeena River, twelve days distant from my lodging (not having yet found a home), and last Sunday was the tenth since March I have spent on the sea or river, or in the forest. My hearers have been people of all sorts and conditions. There have been the downright sort, some Heathen, some Christian; and Christians who are Heathen at heart, and Heathen who are all but Christians. The first were so ignorant of Jesus Christ that the one who asked whether He was a man or a woman was not behind the rest, but only more inquisitive. The downright Christian often, or as often as I met with such, made me value the communion of saints. The other sort of Christians, the greater number of them white men, moved my heart towards them, for they care as little for their own souls as they have been cared for, and truly they have been as sheep without a shepherd. No wonder if they sometimes outsinned the worst of the Indian Heathen, and placed a stumbling-block in the Native Christian's way. The Heathen who are almost Christians are those unbaptized Indians who have learnt so much of Christianity that they have renounced the ancient devilry and learnt to pray to God through Jesus. Intercourse with the Native Christians is working this beneficial change among them.

"'My hearers have been sailors, traders, loafers, miners, Greeks, Germans, and Norwegians; French, Maltese, and Britons; Russians, Kanakas, and Yankees; Chinese and Canadians; Jews and Gentiles; whites and greys, browns and blacks; Caucasians, Semites, and Mongolians; Indians of the salt water, and fresh-water Indians; hunters, fishers, packers, and nondescripts; round heads, flat heads, and peaked heads, all beautifully supplied with hair as black as jet, sometimes short and clean, sometimes foul, greased, and matted.

"'I have preached on the beach and on shipboard, in the miner's cabin and trader's log hut, in the Indian branch-built hunting lodge, and his larger but less agreeable village home, where the smoke fails to subdue the pervading ill odour; also amid the tangled forest on the coast, and clouds of mosquitoes on the prairie. My churches have been decorated in season and out of season, but have had neither pulpit nor prayer-desk, belfry nor organ. The care of Nature called for no help or scrutiny from Archdeacon or Rural Dean, Churchwarden, or Verger. And oh the joy of it! There have been no church expenses, no collections or painful pleading for subscriptions, and no newspaper reporters present to make a hash of the proceedings. Of most of my churches the builder and maker is God. He raised the lofty pillars of cedar and spread out the branches, and Himself formed the arches, grained, fretted, foliated, and coloured the whole in befitting tints. His, too, was the music, or rather, He used His winds and waters as ministers in His beautiful temple. At His command the waves of the sea, the roaring cascades and splashing waterfalls, lifted up their voices. His fingers touched the clattering torrents, and evolved music from the big river where it rushed down between the granite rocks that force the angry rapid foaming through their narrow throat. The high wind at sea somewhat risked the harmony when it made the. steamer's funnel howl and her rigging shriek, but never marred it really; while nothing could be softer or more sustained than its notes ashore as it played on the top of the forest trees. Unwearied the orchestra poured forth the music that Divine skill alone can discourse to the listening heart.

"'But it has been a far higher pleasure to see proofs of God's Spirit awakening dead souls through the power of Jesus' name.' "

Later on, the Bishop wrote from Hazelton, up the Skeena River:--

"I shall describe my winter's work as a winter campaign. It was preceded by seven months of seafaring among the many maritime tribes of Indians. Last May (1880) I paid my first visit to the inland tribes of Indians. It was a novel experience, and much pleasanter than tossing about the open sea in a 'dug-out,' as canoes are called. Oh, for the comparative luxury of ray stout steam launch! My voyage up lasted a fortnight. Fourteen days breasting the rapid Kshia or Skeena River; fourteen days amid fine scenery; thrice fourteen camps beneath forest trees beside a river, in some places two miles broad, dotted with innumerable islands. Working from dawn to sunset, often soused, as sailors say, by the angry-looking rapids, we enjoyed our hard-earned rest each night. With branches from the same friendly cedar that spread its arms over us, our bed was soon made. My crew were no sooner outstretched than they sunk into deep sleep undisturbed by each other's snoring. This, like the wild rapids, that twist and twirl our canoe as if she were a nutshell, one soon becomes accustomed to. Fresh air aided sleep, and each morning saw us thrust out into the current with a relish for battling with it. How I should have laughed at pity. I rather pitied my former self wrestling with the work and worry of a large Yorkshire parish.

"My purpose took me into every cluster of Indian lodges. I advise the lovers of the picturesque to content themselves with a distant view. Dirt prevails over all. It partly accounts for the Indians' roving habits. A few years of staying at home would immure them within a rampart of dirt. They make a new home rather than cleanse the old one.

"I saw no time should be lost when I came here in the spring. As I could send no teacher I changed my own plans, and instead of settling in my newly-built house at Fort Simpson came up here, and though ill-prepared, began operations in the heart of the enemy's country. Mrs. Ridley came, too, and is the first Englishwoman who has navigated the Skeena. Horrors and calamities were predicted, but, happily, were falsified by the event.

"On arrival I rented a cabin, but finding the rent heavy and the property for sale, I bought it, lest it should get into .hands inimical to Missions. After building a fireplace and putting in glass windows, we got some native bark mats and nailed them over the logs to keep out the wind and snow. Fairly lodged, we feared not the cold that has kept the mercury frozen.

"My first operation was to open a day-school. So the battle began. My pupils were my infantry. Few or many, I drudged away daily at A, B, C, and 1, 2, 3. The school grew--nearly two hundred attended. The medicine-men, who are the priests of this Heathenism, took alarm. A band of the painted wretches danced round the entrance to the school. As the din stopped work I stepped quickly up to the chief performer, took him by the shoulders, and before he could recover his self-possession, had him at the river's brink, assured him I should assist him further down the next time he interrupted my work. This prompt action seemed to unnerve the party. After loud talking they withdrew, and ever after kept their distance. This also seemed to encourage the pupils. It intensified the hatred of the enemy. When the school-bell was rung through the village, out would rush one of the foe on the ringer. But ring, ring, ring goes the bell daily, and in flock my infantry. They have done famous havoc in the enemy's ranks. Bolts of truth have been shot into their camp. The three B's have been taught. The first class have read half through the Second Book, First Series, and the writing of some is remarkably good. While the teaching proceeded the background would be filled by interested and wondering spectators. The pictorial Bible lesson was a great attraction. The school has been a marked success. I have great faith in my infantry.

"Now I must describe my artillery practice. The medicine chest is my ammunition tumbrel. Stoppered phials have been my Armstrong guns, and my shells were hurled on the foe from pill boxes. During school hours bodies of the wounded would accumulate, and, school over, my artillery would be plied. Five hundred and fifty applications for healing have been made, and if, as the medicinemen say, I have killed some, I have relieved so many that I am the most famous medicine-man known to the nation. So raged the battle. You may like to hear of one particular encounter. I was called to see a sick woman, but the native practitioner was there before me. My rule was to have nothing to do with cases where native treatment was also applied. So I would not treat this case that eight. About fifteen feet apart, with the blazing fire between, sat twelve brawling men with sticks like yard measures in their hand. With these they kept good time in striking the resonant cedar planks laid before them. The drummer was between me and the fire, and the doctor standing over the patient was the other side of the fire. So the party formed a square with the friends of the patient interspersed. Over her stood the doctor, a strapping fellow painted red, the colour of his only clothing. In his right hand was his gourd-shaped rattle, and with his left hand he made mesmeric passes, and stroked the woman energetically, even frantically, from head to foot at each stroke. Though the cold was great, the prolonged effort caused the perspiration to stream down and damage his paint. The din was fearful, but good time was maintained throughout, and by degrees the woman became quiet, and appeared to lose consciousness. I turned away in sorrow and pity. Next day I was called again, but found it too late to do aught but afford temporary relief. She died that night. On my next visit the corpse was surrounded by the poor creature's valuables, the most prized, an accordion, being placed on her face. For weeks afterwards the mother made the valley ring with her plaintive lamentations at the grave, over which the same valuables and instrument still dangle.

"Space would fail (time, too) to narrate all the exciting events of this winter. Nothing interfered with steady school work and my medical practice. Young men gathered round me. An undercurrent of rebellion against the heathen abominations became apparent. The old men complained of their loss of influence. Indications ol a better state of things grew clearer. The dog-eating rites were performed less boldly. The time had come, I thought, for a bold step on my side. I invited the four chief men of each Indian confederacy, and thirty-two responded favourably and came to my feast. After the eating and drinking came the speaking. I addressed them, and seven responded. The older orators announced their resolve to finish their course on the old lines. The younger demurred. This was most promising for the Gospel. The children first, then the young men, and these secured, the old men will follow the younger eventually. The week following I was invited back, and was received by about five hundred men "with much distinction. Again the old men stated their case. Their spokesman held aloft the mask and other symbols of the past, and said, 'These were my forefathers. These are my Bibles. Would you give up your Bible? Why then should you require me to give up mine?' But again a better feeling was abroad. This happened on the last day of 'the feast. The crowds melted away, but reassembled at a village eight miles distant before the final break up. Before this took place I was invited to meet them again. When the same invitation was repeated I walked up the frozen river, and a great lodge containing about four hundred men was prepared for my reception. Then I took solemn leave of them, urging them to turn to God and forsake the evil of the old ways. This has been the largest gathering of Indians that has taken place for a generation, and placed an opportunity for doing good in my reach, worth not only the labour it involved, but more than it is possible to compute. The place is now well-nigh emptied of its people. They are scattered in all directions, some carrying stores to the gold mines, some going to their hunting-grounds, and some to the coast to be ready for the fishery.

"What are the results of the winter campaign? you will ask. It is impossible to state this fully, for God only knows. But this we know, much suffering has been alleviated, much ignorance removed, and much enmity overcome."

The gold fever, which during the last few years has so suddenly populated the former solitudes of the northwestern corner of the Dominion of Canada, had already attacked some persons in 1881, and the influx of Europeans foreseen by the Bishop before he left England was beginning.

As a sad rule where whites have come in contact with native races there has been a quick deterioration of the latter, so it is a pleasure to find on reading the next letter that this is not always the case. Probably the advent of Mission work almost simultaneously with the miners had much to do with this. The restraining influence of the former on the latter would prevent many of those excesses which have ruined both dark-skinned and white people together.

Writing again from Hazelton, in October, 1881, the Bishop said:--

"The community here is mixed. The Indians have worked for the gold-miners during the summer, and both live here during the winter. This steady employment has told advantageously on the Indian's character. He is above all things naturally fickle and indisposed to steady work. As a rule the miners have paid them well, and taught them the value of labour. Hence these people, formerly the lowest of the low, and called the dogs of the Skeena, have, through the material advantages they have enjoyed, risen in the scale, and now have better houses than their neighbours, better food, and better clothing. They are therefore healthier, stronger, less dirty than the rest, and the proportion of children greater. Contact with the whites therefore has not produced the deplorable results that one too often hears of. Now that a Mission has been established here, and stress laid upon education, this community of Indians is likely to advance rapidly. Their progress is stirring up envious feelings among the other tribes of this nation. Deputations have come to me begging me to send them teachers, but we cannot support them if we had them.

"Our services have been crowded by attentive congregations, especially the regular daily evening service. The miners, too, come, and I rejoice to see them, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of the Indians, on whom they exercise much influence. When in the spring they left for the mines, it was a pleasant sight. In returning they looked worn and weatherbeaten. When they started, all looked smart. The white men with braided leggings and ornamental snow-shoes, and the Indians with streamers fluttering from their caps of ermine, marten, and other furs, looked quite picturesque; even the dogs harnessed to the birch-wood sleighs seemed proud of their tinkling bells and gay adornments.

"Never before was Sunday kept on the long marches. I had given prayer and hymn books to some of the whites, and suggested that one of them should minister to the rest, but none ventured. The Indians had prayers every day, and spent the Sunday in a most profitable manner. The whites attended the services, and though they could not understand the prayers, they joined in the hymns and encouraged the Indians.

"I had not appointed any leader; but J----, a catechumen, last winter a dog-eater, came forward as a natural leader, and said the prayers, and exhorted the listeners. He is a splendid fellow, square built, of great muscular strength, having a large head, and intelligent, though unhandsome, face--this man cannot but attract attraction. During the summer he paid a visit to Hazelton, and the days spent here could not be quiet. His attentions to Mrs. Ridley, then here alone, were almost comical. He hung about her all day long. The clock would not go fast enough to hasten school or service-time, that he might ring the bell and gather in the people. He was the terror of gamblers, and hated of medicine-men.

"Last Saturday morning J----- came to me with something weighty on his mind, I could see at a glance. He was full of plans. 'To-morrow is Sunday,' he said; 'at the lower village they do not serve God. May I go down and hold services? '

"'Yes, go, and be gentle, as Jesus was,' I said.

"'May I take a bell?'

"'Yes, take a small one, because you have only a little knowledge.'

"'True, but I will tell them all I know.'

"So he packed his Bible, hymn-book, salmon, and rice in his blanket with the small bell, and trudged away. Before he returns he means to go to the second lower village to see the five Christians who live there whom I baptized last spring. He will have had a journey of seventy miles at his own charges for Christ's sake.

"It was he who conducted service on the miners' march.

"At the mines the best building was cleared on Saturday and placed at the Indians' disposal for Sunday services, much to the credit of the miners, who always attended and enjoyed the singing, if nothing else. One Sunday morning an Indian family reached the miners' camp, and would have passed forward with their packs. 'What,' asked the miners, 'travelling on Sunday! Is this what the Bishop teaches you?' 'We are short of food, and must press on.' 'No, you need not; we will give you food.' So they travelled on together from Monday morning to the end.

"I had intended to follow them and go to the Fraser River, but was providentially hindered. The interval between that appointed start and my real start for the coast was full of blessing. Then came the resolve to build small houses. Privacy is impossible. Those of strong character, who, when converted, become mighty men of God, are able to resist the flood of persecution rolled on them by the evil-disposed; but not so the weaker folk. One evening a quiet fellow, since baptized, was reading his Bible by the firelight. One of the evil ones interrupted him again and again. He stood in his light, rudely questioned, abused, and finally assaulted him. 'Why read that book? Your fathers did not, nor do we. Would you be wiser than all?' When the book was struck from the reader's hand he nimbly recovered it and meekly walked away from the jeering circle round the cheerful fire.

"The whole clan live in the same large and undivided house. In old times such herding together was a defence, but now that imperial law is gaining respect, order is being established, so that it will be safe to break up the old-time clan into families, and each family live apart from the rest in small cottages. This will be a great upward step, and the beginning of a higher morality. Now we are in a transition state. Not ten minutes ago a wild-looking fellow came to complain of his sister's thieving. 'I would have killed her,' he said to me, 'but now you are our chief, and have brought laws from the great Shigitumna,' i.e. Queen.

"I must summon J------before you again, the man now on his way to hold services at the lower villages. I had called a council to discuss the whisky-drinking at the mines.

J-----'s turn to speak came. He proposed strong measures.

An Indian I will call A------ dissented. J ------ became impatient.

"'Did force make you good? if not, how can you expect to force any man to be good?' asked A-----.

"J------'s temper got beyond his control, and, dashing his New Testament on the table, he walked away full of anger.

This exhibition damaged our council. A------remarked, after the silence of surprise was passed,' He is a good man; I am sorry I provoked him.'

"I said, 'If he is good he will return and show his contrition.'

"After some hours of bitter grief he returned with a parcel under his arm. He found me alone. 'What do you want?' I somewhat coldly said.

"'I want to see A-----here before you.'


"'To give him this,' holding out the parcel. 'He wants no gift,' I said.; Away he went and soon brought in A. They stood near together, A------ waiting to hear why he was called, and J-----trying to master the emotion the twitching of the corners of his mouth betrayed. At length, in tones of contrition, he began: 'I have sinned--against thee--against the chief--against God. Thou art good--thy words wisdom--thy heart large. I am a fool, my enemy is myself.'

"The apology was ample, the confession noble in its fulness. The bundle was opened. It contained a propitiation that cost him perhaps eight or nine dollars. There was unfolded a new garment of black cloth that, matched with coat and vest, would make the wearer respectable in the best company. But J------ stopped the whisky-drinking.

"This Hotspur is a tender-hearted being. He found an old Heathen dying the day after he had heard me speak of the penitent thief. At once he pressed the mercy of Christ upon her. Not satisfied with his own skill, away he ran to fetch the only Christian then here. 'Hurry up, hurry, hurry up, the, old woman is nearly dead.' Almost dragging his friend towards the house of death, he urged him to tell the poor creature what I had told them the day before. 'Make it plain, very plain, hurry up, Jesus may yet save her--make it very plain.' But it was too late. The spirit had fled.

"As soon as navigation on the river was resumed, I left Mrs. Ridley behind to do what she could, and right well she carried on the Mission for months single-handed.

"The breaking up this past spring I was fortunate enough to witness. It was not the immediate action of the sun that effected it, but the south wind and the consequent downpour of ice-cold water from the mountains, where the snow lies fathoms deep. The floods uplift the ice by slow degrees till the weight of water starts the ponderous mass that winter laid on the river's bosom. I have seen the rivers of Germany break up, but the scene was tame compared with the tumult on these swift rivers of North America.

"I was on the ice when the movement first took place. It moves! What moves? The banks seem to glide up stream. Then came a slight tremor beneath my feet, and I sprang to the shore. The sensations were like those produced by shocks of earthquakes. The stone-like surface I had often walked on was in motion from bank to bank. At no great distance the channel narrows, and the greater breadth of ice from above was here caught as in a vice. The river is in agony--groaning, gurgling, sighing, surging, tilting, hissing, roaring deep and loud like subterranean thunder. What can ever dislodge this piled-up mass? The flood is rising at the rear foot by foot. Crack, crack, crack! Look! there go the trees falling inward. The forest king, that has drunk life from the river at its roots, is quivering. There it lurches! Down, down, flat on the ground without axe or tempest, all its roots now exposed to the ice in motion. The rising mass scalps the river's bank as an Indian would his foe. At last, with a sullen groan rising into a terrific roar, away goes the stupendous obstruction, and down sinks the river as if to rest after its splendid victory. Then succeeds the ministry of the south wind; then triumphs the gracious sun in his royal progress northwards. As the baffled ice king retreats, the snow-clad heights are melted as with the joy of freedom. The tears trickling from under the snow-fringe swell the cascades that furrow the mountain's face. Down they roll, swelling the river until its volume sweeps away all obstacles, and leaves it ready to bear the traveller seaward.

"So is the Gospel ministry dissolving hard hearts around me; uplifting the dread incubus drawn over them by Satan, and setting free those streams of faith and love that remove all barriers between man and his rest in God."

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