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An Apostle of the North
Memoirs of the Right Reverend William Carpenter Bompas, D.D.

By H.A. Cody, B.A.

London: Seeley, 1908.

Chapter XVI. The Flood (1896-1900)

"Thy hand, O God, has guided
Thy flock from age to age;
The wondrous tale is written
Full clear on every page."

THE year 1896 marked a new era in mission-work in the Diocese of Selkirk. Up to this time the Bishop had been groping his way with a small force at his command. Often he became much discouraged, though pressing bravely forward. But upon the arrival of Mr. Bowen in 1895, the Rev. H. A. Naylor and his wife and Mr. F. F. Flewelling in 1896, sent out from Eastern Canada by the Canadian Church Missionary Society, prospects appeared much brighter.

Not only was the Bishop cheered by the addition to his staff, but the arrival of the Right Rev. Peter Rowe, the new Bishop of Alaska, filled him with thankfulness. His joy, however, was somewhat marred when he learned that the sister Church of the United States had made no provision for the spiritual care of the Indians in the northern diocese.

The great work of the Church Missionary Society among the Indians of Alaska, along the Yukon River, adjoining British territory, cannot be too strongly emphasized. From 1862, when the Rev. W. W. Kirkby crossed the Rocky Mountains and visited Fort Yukon, this post was held by the Rev. Robert McDonald till 1869, and a splendid work was carried on among the Indians for miles along the great river. When the United States Government purchased the territory of Alaska from Russia, the Indians had been left shepherdless but for the noble exertions of meri of the Church of England, such as the Rev. V. C. Sim, the Rev. T. H. (afterwards Archdeacon) Canham, the Rev. R. J. Bowen in 1896, and the Rev. John Hawksley, who was stationed at Fort Yukon in 1897, having been transferred from the Mackenzie River Diocese. Bishop Rowe, upon his arrival, at once realized the condition of affairs, and sought to make an improvement. He was the right man in the right place. To him the Church was one, and national boundaries formed no bar when souls were at stake. He asked Bishop Bompas to care for his Indians till he could take over the charge himself. This he did a few years later, and now has an earnest band of men working among the natives.

Bishop Bompas, in 1893, had himself visited along the Yukon River to its mouth, holding services and baptizing a number of Indians. During the summer of 1896, in company with Archdeacon Canham, who was then on his way to England, he spent six weeks at Fort Yukon. Concerning this visit among the Indians, the Bishop wrote:

"It was a pleasure to me to hold a daily afternoon class of middle-aged men, at which several chapters of the New Testament were daily read by them, with intelligence and interest, in their own tongue, by way of exercise and at their own request. For the first two weeks I was mostly engaged in schooling from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Afterwards I was partly relieved by the arrival of the schoolmistress from Rampart House."

Little did the Bishop realize while at Fort Yukon that an event was taking place in his diocese which in less than a year would change the whole aspect of mission-work.

About fifty miles up stream from Forty Mile the Klondyke River joins the Yukon. From time immemorial this had been a favourite Indian fishing resort, and on various occasions missionaries had gone up from Forty Mile and held services for the natives. Little did they think, when pitching their tents at the confluence of these two streams, what a change would take place there in a few years.

In July, 1896, George W. Carmack, with several Indian associates, made the famous gold discovery, news of which soon travelled abroad and thrilled the world with intense excitement. At the very time this information was speeding far and wide the Bishop was calmly writing:

"There are about 500 miners now in this neighbourhood, and some few have gone out this summer with fortunes in gold-dust. The chief mining attraction just now is on the American side of the border, about 200 miles farther down the Yukon River at Circle City, where there are said to be nearly 1,000 miners."

This was in August, and with the opening of navigation the human flood arrived. The story of that great rush of 1897 and 1898 has scarcely a parallel in history. The Klondyke, a stream which a few years before geographers did not think worthy of notice, became a household word the world over. The Yukon River literally teemed with boats and rafts of every conceivable shape. Men poured in thousands over the frowning Chilkoot and White Pass summits, enduring untold hardships and dangers. Merchants left their stores, clerks their desks, farmers their ploughs, woodmen their axes, carefully nourished sons their homes of luxury, and rushed for the gleaming treasure. The city of Dawson sprang like magic into existence, and in the space of a few short months the Bishop found the civilized world thrust upon him.

In the following extracts from letters to his brother George in England we catch brief glimpses of those stirring days:

"April 15, 1897.

"I think I will put on paper for you a few notes about the sudden change that is taking place in the course of a striking Providence in this region. From being a poor, desolate, and neglected country, it is suddenly becoming a rich and populous one. This is the effect of the new and very valuable goldmines discovered last year, about fifty miles south of us, at a place now called Klondyke, and Dawson City. These new mines are said to be as rich as any yet known for their size, which is at present very limited. Only about one hundred claims are yet found that are very profitable. . . .

"At the new mines last autumn any claim could be bought for a few hundred dollars. Now we hear that some have already changed hands for 50,000 dollars, and some are estimated to be worth 500,000 dollars. The owners of the richest claims are said to be leaving the country in spring, having already as much gold as they can carry, and being as rich as they care to be, and they will sell their claims at a high price to others.

"The miners of Circle City, about 300 miles below us, have been coming up all winter hauling their sleds of provisions, to the number of about 500, till the Yukon has become like a thronged thoroughfare. They have paid, I think, as much as 250 dollars for an Indian dog to help haul their sleds.

"Flour and meal have both been selling during the winter at from half a dollar to one dollar per pound, and the Indians here loan out their dogs at one dollar per day. The Indians, too, get somewhat rich, but, of course, they squander their money.

"The temperature has been most singular. The winter set in very early, being severe in October, and partly so in November Then three months, December, January, and February, were so mild that it was not like winter at all. This seems quite a providential favour to the numerous travellers.

"For myself, during the past winter I have enjoyed more ease and leisure than usual, from having more helpers around me, and I have devoted my days to digging the mines of God's holy Word, and have found, in my own estimation, richer prizes than the nuggets of Klondyke."

May 28, 1897.--"I hear now that the creeks are so winding as to make the gold streak extend 200 or 300 miles. I am told £4,000 was washed from the earth of one claim in one day. Another bought a claim for £10,000, and paid it all off out of the ground in two or three months. The richest claims are thought to be worth £100,000 to £200,000. (A claim is 600 feet of the creek, which each miner is allowed to pick for himself at the start.) . . . From one to two dollars per pan is reported to be a common rate there. This is something like taking your washing-basin, filling it with earth from your garden, and then, after washing away the earth with a little water, finding a silver crown or half a sovereign at the bottom. I suppose in such a case you might go again, and so do the miners. They next proceed to work with sluice-boxes, which is only a similar process on a larger scale. The earth is thrown into wooden boxes or troughs with a corrugated or uneven bottom, so as to retain the gold when the earth is washed out.

"An Irishman who was here yesterday is said to do his work so badly that his wife used to make from four to twenty dollars a day by picking up his leavings. She is now gone on a visit home with her earnings."

This new responsibility was a severe trial to the veteran of the North. So long had he laboured among the Indians that, as he sadly acknowledged, he was entirely unfitted for work among the whites. But, as has always been the case in-the world's history, just when the need was greatest God raised up a man for the work. This was the Rev. R. J. Bowen, the young Clapham student, who had volunteered for service, and was ordained by Bishop Bompas. We see in his case the working of the Divine hand. Mr. Bowen at first intended to labour among the Indians, and, in fact, did make several visits to their various camps, with encouraging results. But, finding that the Colonial and Continental Church Society had made a grant for a mission to the miners, and being asked by the Bishop to take up this special work, he did so, and thus became the first missionary among the miners in the diocese. For a time the work consisted chiefly in visiting the creeks where the miners were scattered, and their cabins when in town, holding services when possible, and in every way endeavouring to win them to Christ. During the spring of 1896 he began to hold services at Forty Mile, "in the first mission building that was wholly devoted to the spiritual welfare of the miners." Thus, when thousands of men poured into the country, the Bishop had a man tested in pioneer work to send among them.

At once Mr. Bowen started up the river to plant the standard of Christ in that excited camp of gold-seekers. It must have seemed a forlorn hope to the young missionary as he drew near the new town. Almost two years before he had visited that place, and on the very site where his camp had then been pitched large buildings were now erected, and a hurrying crowd thronged the streets. The great cry was gold; for that the people had come, and not for religion. Yet among them Mr. Bowen began to work, and through his earnestness won the hearts of the miners, and induced many of them to attend service.

These men were not miners in the ordinary sense of the word. Many had never handled a pick or shovel, but had been reared in ease in comfortable homes, sons of noble families, who had joined the mad rush to win a fortune in a short time. Such men were not slow to see the efforts the Mother Church was making for their spiritual welfare in the great north land. They saw the earnest missionary valiantly standing in their midst, pleading the Master's cause. Their hearts were touched, and around him they rallied.

A church building was the next important consideration, and towards this the miners gave what they could in labour and money. But even a modest log edifice meant much in those days. Wages were $15 a day, and lumber 25 cents a foot. Then the Bishop cast about for some plan to help on the work. In 1896 he had applied to that noble handmaid of the Church, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, for money towards the building of a church for the miners at Forty Mile. A grant of £250 was therefore made according to the rules of the Society. But when the sudden change took place, and the miners left Forty Mile and flocked to the new city of Dawson, the Bishop in 1897 wrote an urgent letter to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, asking permission "to remove the site of the proposed church from Forty Mile Creek to Klondyke Creek, where a greater need for it now exists. The stay of the miners at the rich Klondyke mines," he continued, "is likely to be permanent for ten years at least, and in case the whites should leave, there has always been a band of Indians at Klondyke, for whom the church would be available."

The society accordingly acceded to the Bishop's request, and the money was transferred to the erection of the new church at Dawson. This building, composed of logs, was ere long erected under the name of St. Paul's, and a few years later was replaced by a large frame structure of imposing appearance.

Two great societies of the Church had mission agents at work in the diocese: the Church Missionary Society for the Indians, and the Colonial and Continental Church Society for the whites, while the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge aided in erecting churches and providing scholarships for the Indian schools. In 1892 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was appealed to by the Bishop for a man to labour among the miners, as the Church Missionary Society considered this beyond its scope. It was not, however, till the opening of the Klondyke gold-fields that an offer came to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel from the Rev. G. W. Lyon for this special work. The Society at once made a grant of £200 for the purpose, and Mr. Lyon was sent out. He climbed the rugged Chilkoot Pass, and ministered to the people stationed at Lake Bennett, and upon the opening of navigation in 1898 started down to Dawson with a servant, Montegazza by name. While crossing Lake Laberge, both Mr. Lyon and his servant were drowned. Their bodies were recovered by the North-West Mounted Police, and buried on the shore of the lake.

Considering the fact that other societies were already in the field, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel did not renew its offer. But at Lake Bennett, Tagish, and Caribou Crossing, for convenience, the work for a time was under the superintendence of Bishop Ridley, of the Diocese of Caledonia. When Bishop Bompas took charge of these two latter places the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel withdrew from the field entirely.

When the Church work was well xinder way at Dawson, the Bishop for a while relieved Mr. Bowen, who returned to Forty Mile, and was united in marriage to Miss Mellet, who had heen labouring in the diocese for some time as schoolmistress. At Dawson the Bishop was out of his element. So long had he laboured among the Indians that work among the whites was very hard. In his letters of that time he draws a pathetic picture of the condition of affairs: the dwindling of the congregations, and the frank acknowledgment of his own inability to do much among the miners. "But Christ reigns," he wrote, "and the work is His, not mine, and let us trust and hope."

This worry, together with improper food, brought on a severe attack of scurvy, and when he went back to Forty Mile in April he was in a very weak condition. Yet, notwithstanding his illness, he persisted in conducting the Indian school and attending to his correspondence.

"I cannot move," he wrote, "without losing my breath, nor walk a few steps without great pain. If I can hold on till I obtain green vegetables, they may benefit me."

After a time "green vegetables" reached him from Dawson, and at once an improvement took place. To these the Bishop declared his recovery was almost entirely due.

Mrs. Bompas, during this trying season, was at Fort Yukon, unable to reach the Bishop. She had been summoned to England, to the bedside of her sister, who was dangerously ill. On her return to San Francisco, after a few months' absence, she found that wild excitement reigned, owing to the Klondyke gold discovery.

"The whole of the great city," so she writes, "was gathered on the wharf to witness the departure of the first steamer for Klondyke. On the boat itself the crowd was no less conspicuous. Men and women seemed locked together in frantic excitement. Shouts and cries were heard on all sides. Parting gifts were thrown on board, hats and handkerchiefs waved with enthusiasm, and in a few instances with wild sobs of pain. Then the anchor was raised, and the vessel started for St. Michael. Such a motley crowd is not often seen gathered together in one vessel. The Company did its best to accommodate all, but the attempt was but partially successful. Seven men were often the occupiers of one state-room, and the chief number of passengers were of the roughest kind of miners. On reaching St. Michael, the same number of passengers were moved on to the smaller steamer. Here our discomforts were considerably increased."

After a tedious voyage up the river, Fort Yukon was reached. It was a memorable day on which they arrived at this place.

"The miners," continues Mrs. Bompas, "were looking eagerly forward to the gold-mines of the Klondyke, when the whole load of passengers were set ashore, and the captain announced that he was not going a step farther. Prayers, entreaties, and remonstrances were unavailing. He gave no excuse for his conduct but that he was going back immediately to St. Michael--it was supposed to lay in a cargo of whisky."

And at Fort Yukon Mrs. Bompas was stranded for eight long months, thirty miles within the Arctic circle. Fortunately, the Rev. John Hawkesly and family were stationed here, who did what they could for her comfort. But to the Bishop at Forty Mile, in feeble health, disturbing news arrived of the riotous times among the miners at Fort Yukon, and their desperate efforts to overpower the American soldiers. Such information caused him much anxiety, and most thankful was he when at length the ice ran out of the river, and Mrs. Bompas was able to continue on her way after the long delay.

The following summer the Bishop turned his attention to the southern part of his diocese. Word had reached him of stirring towns on Lake Bennett and Lake Atlin. Thinking them to be in his jurisdiction, he made the long and difficult journey up stream to view the land. Reaching Bennett during the summer of 1899, he was astonished to see a flourishing city containing thousands of people. But greater still was his surprise to find that Bennett and Atlin were in British Columbia, and that he had gone several miles beyond his diocese. His stay was very brief at Bennett, and on his return trip down the river he spent two days among the Indians at Tagish, gaining much information concerning these natives and their language. One week later Bishop Ridley arrived at Bennett, and, writing of the visit of the Bishop of Selkirk, he says:

"Dr. Bompas has the full tide of civilization forced upon him to his sorrow. ... A week before my arrival he stood where I now write. Would that he had waited the few days, that I might have had the honour of welcoming him to my diocese. He thought Bennett and Atlin were within his, and therefore ventured so far. Arriving here, he found that he had trespassed beyond his jurisdiction no less than fourteen miles. The newspaper man who reported an interview with him states that he hurried northwards and buried himself once more in the frozen north, that no other man loves but for the sake of its gold. This report, copied into an American paper, added striking glosses to the account. What would the dear Bishop think if he saw himself described as the most devoted of Catholic (meaning Roman Catholic) Bishops in the wide world? This gloss was evidently by a Roman newsman, who covertly hit at the snug and comfortable lives of Protestants who assumed episcopal authority. Bishop Bompas, says the paper, was so modest that he would not talk of the countless hairbreadth escapes from awful peril and death, treating them as phases of everyday life not to be counted worthy of notice."

The following winter Bishop Bompas remained at the Indian village of Moosehide, and, amidst school labours and diocesan cares, formed plans for important extension of the mission-work.

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