"God spake, and gave us the Word to keep;
Bade never fold the hands nor sleep
'Mid a faithless world; at watch and ward
Till Christ at the end relieve our guard."
WE have thus followed Bishop Bompas in his long and noble course of over forty years in the great northland, and the question naturally arises as to the result of the work in which he took so great a part.
In estimating the effect of missions among the Indians there are certain things which should be carefully considered. A rude savage race is not raised to a high state of civilization in a day or a generation. It took ages to civilize the ancient Grecians and Romans. The German and English-speaking peoples were once barbarians, and it took a long time to bring them to their present condition, and still there is much room for improvement. The Indians in the Yukon Territory and in Alaska have only come in contact with civilizing influences at a comparatively recent date. And what are a few years in the progress of a race? The rooting out of old customs, beliefs, the sowing of the seed, and the bringing the seed to perfection are all the work of time.
"In Europe," says Bishop Bompas, "it may appear at first sight that the Western races, such as the English, have risen from savagedom to civilization and intellectual attainment; but when the matter is investigated, it is found that each stage of improvement has been caused by a sort of inoculation with a civilization already existing further to the East. Thus in England the advent of the Romans, Saxons, and Normans were each stages of advancement to the ancient Britons, while the dispersion to the westward of learned Greeks by the Turks was a cause of advancement of learning at the time of the Reformation. All these causes of improvement were mingled with the renovating influence of Christianity."
To appreciate the work that has been done among the Indians it is well to consider their lives and mode of living before the advent of Christianity into their midst.
"A residence among a wild and untutored race yields the strong impression, that one lives there among the ruins of a bygone civilization, rather than among men in their pristine and original condition. A savage race appears in a state of decay and degeneration, nor do we see any evidence of a tendency in untutored races to rise above themselves."
Though the natives have a little "knowledge of a good and evil spirit, and a confused idea of a retribution beyond the grave," yet how great is their darkness! Completely under the spell of the medicine-men or conjurers, they are in a sad state. The sick are neglected, and often murdered, as well as the helpless and aged. At times these beg to be put to death as a release from their sufferings and miseries through neglect. Murder is nothing thought of, and when formerly a young man appeared in spring with his face streaked with vermilion, it was a sign that he had had the glory of killing a human being in winter.
When the Rev. W. W. Kirkby visited Fort Yukon in 1862, and carried the Gospel message to the Indians there, many were the tales he heard of the darkness of heathenism. Men stood up and told of the number of murders they had committed, and "no fewer than thirteen women confessed to having slain their infant girls; some in the most cruel and heartless manner."
But with the arrival of Christianity a great change took place. "The Indians," says Bishop Bompas, "now speak of the times before the Gospel as the days of darkness. These will now seek to tend and nourish in distress those of an alien tribe, whom before they would only seek to murder as their hereditary foes. Kindness and affection and other fruits of righteousness spring up in the path of the Gospel. Even the Esquimaux promise to leave off their murders, and acknowledge the evil of these, after hearing the Gospel message. Among the Indian converts bloodshed or violence is almost unknown. The knowledge of the Gospel inspires them with a thirst for instruction, and among the Tukudh tribes adults and children hasten greedily to school.
"The conjurers, when converted, often refuse to perform their old tricks even as an exhibition, confessing: that while unconverted they were slaves to the devil, and professing that, since delivered from Satan's power, they have forgotten the way, and are quite unable to practise the dece'ption, in which they formerly delighted. A female Tsimshean conjurer will exhibit the painted green wood, which by sleight of hand she had substituted for the green stone that she pretended to make float on the water. A Tukudh conjurer will relate how, at the arrival of the first missionary among his tribe, he was in immediate danger of death, through accusation of having murdered by his spells, but, on the reception of the Gospel, all the dark deeds of the medicineman were blown to the winds and heard no more."
This is the evidence of missionaries; what do others say?
We have seen the low condition of the Tukudh Indians at the time of Mr. Kirkby's arrival among them; now let us bring forward the testimony of men who are not missionaries concerning their progress.
The first are the words of Mr. William Ogilvie, who was Dominion Land Surveyor in 1887, and later became Commissioner of the Yukon Territory. In his official report in 1887 he spoke of the Indians at Rampart House, and other places where Bishop Bompas, Archdeacon McDonald, and others laboured for years. These are his words:
"It is pleasant to testify that they have profited by this instruction. They hold every Sunday a service among themselves, reading from their books the prayers and lessons for the day, and singing in their own language to some old tune a simple hymn. They never go on a journey of any length without these books, and always read a portion before they go to sleep. I do not pretend that these men are faultless, or that they do not need watching, but I do believe that most of them are sincere in their profession and strive to do what they have been taught."
That was in 1887, and now let us see how they stand to-day. In August, 1907, Mr. David Cadzow, the fur-trader at Rampart House, on the Porcupine River, thus spoke of these same Indians to a newspaper reporter:
"The Loucheux live entirely by hunting, being good hunters and trappers, but will not work on Sundays. It appears that they are mostly baptized, having been for years under the influence of the English Church Missionary Society at the Mission Station on the Mackenzie River. In every way they live up to the teaching of the missionaries, and are a law-abiding, peaceful race of men."
The same paper (the Dawson News) which contained this account, a year or two ago described a visit of these Indians to the city.
"The Peel River Indians, who have been visiting Dawson the last three days, selling meats which they brought from the Rocky Mountains, left to-day on a return trip to their hunting-grounds. . . . The party has had a great time in Dawson this trip. All the dainties of cheechaco foods have been indulged in lavishly, but to the credit of the visitors it must be said they have eschewed the red man's fire-water and his befuddling hootch. "*
"No Indians on the continent, perhaps, are better behaved, and less brought under the evils of the white man and his vices, than the Peels. Coming hundreds of miles from Dawson, they plunge out of the wilderness into the city, spend a few days selling their meats and trading, and then, without loitering or lying idly about the town, after the traditional habits of Indians, they go immediately back to their hunting-grounds.
"These Indians all belong to the Church of England. They were converted many years ago by the missionaries who pioneered the way into the Mackenzie and Yukon Valleys long before the gold-strike in the Klondyke. Joseph and Amos are native preachers in the tribe, and the Indians are devout."
Of course these Tukudh Indians are the flower of missionary enterprise. Too often, it must be sadly acknowledged, have the natives succumbed to the evil influences of a degenerate class of white men, the scum of civilization, who exert every effort to ruin the Indian, soul and body. Time and time again did Bishop Bompas mourn over the ravages made among his little flock by the temptations to which they were exposed.
"When the Gospel is presented to their acceptance," he says, "it is as though they were invited to eat of the tree of life. . . . But, alas! as civilized races intermix with these barbarous and rude, there are offered also large tastes of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and these are greedily devoured, and perhaps greatly preferred.
"It is pitiful to see the comparative simplicity of the savage imbibe the allurements to vicious pleasure, which he learns from more civilized races, without possessing that self-restraint which enables those of a higher intellectual grade to moderate their indulgence even in vice. This applies especially to the introduction of strong drink among rude races by those more civilized; but also to other irregularities."
A very marked characteristic of Bishop Bompas's work among the Indians was his wonderful faith, combined with almost complete unselfishness. He had no doubt about the final outcome, and was willing to plant the seed, and tend it carefully, and leave the increase to God. While others became discouraged at the apparent ingratitude of the natives, and at times left the work, he never seemed to look for gratitude or thanks. He found pleasure in doing the Master's service, and deemed that sufficient.
To him there was much comfort in the promises of old, and he applied them to his own field of work. Among his favourite texts in this connexion were the following:
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" (ISA. xxxii. 16).
"Judgment shall dwell in the wilderness" (ISA. xxxii. 16).
"They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him" (Ps. lxxii. 9).
"The wilderness shall be a fruitful field" (ISA. xxxii. 15).
"He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody!' (ISA. li. 3).
These and other passages show God's purposes of mercy to bless in spiritual things those who have niggard supplies of temporal blessings. Christian missions have prospered in the wilds. In the very sparse population of the far North-West, more provision is made in God's providence for the hearing of the Gospel than might seem to be the share of these countries, if compared by population only with other lands.
These memoirs are now brought to a close. We have traced the life of Bishop Bompas through many vicissitudes. With him will always be associated thoughts of mighty rivers and great inland lakes, snow-capped mountains and sweeping plains; thoughts of heroism and devotion to duty; but, above all, thoughts of gratitude for countless unknown natives of the North on river, mountain, and plain, who have been lifted out of darkness and brought close to the Great Shepherd's side through the light of the Gospel carried by a faithful herald of salvation--this noble Apostle of the North.