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Dayspring in the Far West
Sketches of Mission-Work in North-West America

By M. E. Johnson

London: Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, 1875.

Chapter XI. The North Pacific Mission

British Columbia.--Its early History.--Boundaries, Rivers, Resources--The Metlakatlah Mission.--Its origin.

VERY little was known of British Columbia till Sir Alexander Mackenzie, in 1790, crossed the Rocky Mountains from the east, and descended into it. Before long, the traders of the North-West Fur Company followed in his steps, and established forts on the Columbia River. In 1806, Mr. Fraser, a trader of the Hudson's Bay Company, established Fort Fraser at the head of the river of the same name. The Hudson's Bay Company afterwards obtained a licence for the exclusive trade of the territory west of the Rocky Mountains, which expired in 1859 Previous to that, no Europeans had visited the country except the traders of the Fur Company. "Its fertile valleys, and rich pasture-lands, its mines of gold, copper, and silver, its magnificent forests, its lakes and rivers abounding in fish, were useless, except to support a few wandering tribes of Indians. No steamboats navigated its lakes; there were no roads; its streams turned no mills." The sole object which the handful of traders had in view was to obtain the greatest possible number of furs. In 1858 it was discovered that large-quantities of gold were to be found in the country; in consequence there was an immediate rush of gold-seekers. The Hudson's Bay Company being unable to establish order amongst these invaders of their territory, their charter was revoked, and the country formed into a colony, under the name of British Columbia. The boundaries of the colony are, on the south, the United States territory; on the north, the 6oth parallel of latitude; on the west, the Pacific and the Province of Alaska; on the east the watershed of the Rocky Mountains and the 120th meridian of longitude. The neighbouring islands are included in the colony, with the exception of Vancouver's, which forms an independent colony under its own legislative government. The mainland has a coast of about five hundred miles in length, and about an equal number in breadth from the coast to the Rocky Mountains. It now forms a portion of the Dominion of Canada. Its scenery is of the most varied character--snow-capped mountains, sombre forests, prairies and pasture-lands, rivers and lakes, diversify the landscape. The Fraser is the chief river of British Columbia. It is from 450 to 500 miles in length. The Stuart and the Thompson Rivers are tributaries of the Fraser. It is navigable for about 103 miles from its estuary to the town of Yale. Beyond this numerous rapids interfere with its further navigation. The Columbia River flows through the south-east portion of the province until it enters American territory. The Thompson River, which flows through Lake Kamloops, is navigable for steamers for some distance. Travellers from Red River, after crossing the Rocky Mountains, can proceed by water to Cariboo, the site of the gold-diggings. Silver, iron, and coal are also found in British Columbia. There is a large extent of land well adapted to agricultural and pastoral purposes. On the lower part of the Frascr River the country is hilly, and much rain falls, but in many parts the climate is fine and dry, and the soil fertile. Fruits come to great perfection here, and wild flowers grow luxuriantly. In the forests is found timber of gigantic size; some species of pine reach the height of 150 and even 200 feet. The Douglas pine sometimes attains 300 feet, and grows perfectly straight.

The Indian population of British Columbia is supposed to amount to 80,000. They belong chiefly to the Great Tinné, or Chipewyan family. They are well disposed towards Europeans, but the greater portion of them are in a very degraded condition. They never bathe or wash; they say that dirt keeps them warm in winter, and protects them from the sun in summer. The women saturate their hair with salmon oil, paint it with red ochre, and powder it with the down of birds. Both men and women are repulsive in appearance; they are cruel and vindictive, and much given to drinking when they have the opportunity. It is estimated that there are in British Columbia, between the parallels of 49° and 54° 40' north latitude, four distinct tribes of Indians, speaking different languages, and each numbering about 10,000 souls. The first of these great branches of the Indian family is met with at Victoria and on the Fraser River. The second is located about a hundred miles north of Victoria, and round Fort Rupert at the north end of Vancouver's Island. The third division is settled at Fort Simpson, Naas River, Skeena River, and on the islands of the coast. These are the Tsimsheans, amongst whom the Church Missionary Society commenced a Mission in 1857. There are, fourthly, the Indians on Queen Charlotte's Island.

In 1856, Captain Prevost, having been appointed to survey the Pacific coast.offered a free passage in H.M.S. "Satellite" to any Missionary whom the Church Missionary Society might appoint to labour amongst the tribes in British Columbia. The offer was accepted, and Mr. Duncan, then in the Society's Training College at Islington, was selected to go out as cate-chist and commence a Mission amongst the Tsimsheans settled around Fort Simpson. He arrived at the Fort in October, 1857, Just at the time when the Indians were celebrating their medicine mysteries before setting off to the rivers to secure a stock of fish for their winter consumption. At the celebration of these mysteries every kind of abomination is practised by the Indians.

Through the kindness of Sir James Douglas, Governor of British Columbia, Mr. Duncan was provided with accommodation in the Fort. Fort Simpson consists of a few dwellings and warehouses with trading stores and workshops. It is built in a square of about a hundred yards, enclosed by a palisade of trunks of trees sunk in the ground, and rising to the height of twenty feet, protected at the corners by a wooden bastion, mounted with cannon. Along the top of the palisade runs a platform on which the garrison can take exercise, and from which a good view of the surrounding country is obtained. The Indian camp contained about 250 wooden houses, ranged along the beach on either side of the Fort. About 2500 Indians were here collected together. The Tsimshean nation is divided into ten tribes, each distinguished by its crest. A crest is ruled over by four or five chiefs, one of whom takes precedence of the others and represents the crest in any general gathering. Among the head chiefs one again is regarded as the chief of chiefs. The rank of a chief is denoted by the height of a pole erected in front of his house, on which the crest which distinguishes his division is carved. The greater the chief, the higher the pole. Frequent quarrels arise from the ambition of some chief to set up a pole higher than his,rank permits. The head chief of a tribe of Xaas River Indians, having attempted this on one occasion, a fight ensued, and the ambitious chief was shot through the arm, which induced him to lower his stick. The crests are the whale, the porpoise, the eagle, the coon, the wolf, and the frog. The Indian regulations with regard to these crests are remarkable; those belonging to the same crest may not intermarry--for instance, a whale may not marry a whale, but a whale may marry a frog. If an Indian be poor, he has a claim on those of his tribe who are of the same crest with himself. Sometimes a chief, wishing to make a display, resolves to give a great feast, at which property is to be distributed. For some time before, he is occupied in collecting this property from members of his crest. He wears his crest painted on his forehead, or on the paddles of his canoe, or worked with buttons on his blanket, and the members of his crest are then bound to honour him by casting property before it, proportionate to their rank and means. These gifts arc publicly exhibited in order to impress the beholders with a sense of the magnificence of the donor. Cotton cloths by hundreds of yards, blankets in great quantities, the rarest furs, are spread out, and then given away. Frequently blankets are torn up in narrow strips, which are scrambled for by the spectators.

A scene witnessed by Mr. Duncan soon after his arrival .showed how greatly these poor savages needed the softening influences of Christianity. "The other day we were called to witness a terrible scene. An old chief, in cool blood, ordered a slave to be dragged to the beach, murdered, and thrown into the water. His orders were quickly obeyed. The victim was a poor woman. Two or three reasons are assigned for this foul act: one is, that it is to take away the disgrace attached to his daughter, who has been suffering some time from a ball wound in the arm; another report is, that he does not expect his daughter to recover, so he has killed this slave in order that she may prepare for the coming of his daughter into the unseen world. I think the former reason is the more probable. I did not see the murder, but immediately after I saw crowds of people running out of their houses near to where the corpse was thrown, and forming themselves into groups at a good distance away. This I learnt was from fear of what was to follow. Presently two bands of furious wretches appeared, each headed by a man in a state of nudity. They gave vent to the most unearthly sounds, and the two naked men made themselves look as unearthly as possible, proceeding in a creeping kind of stoop, and stepping like proud horses, at the same time shooting forward each arm alternately, which they held out at full length in the most defiant manner. For some time they pretended to be seeking the body, and the instant they came where it lay, they commenced screaming and rushing round it like angry wolves. Finally, they seized it, dragged it out of the water, and laid it on the beach, where I was told the naked men would commence tearing it to pieces with their teeth. The two bands of men immediately surrounded them, and so hid their horrid work. In a few minutes the crowd broke in two again, when each of the naked cannibals appeared with half of the body in their hands; separating a few yards', they commenced, amid horrid yells, their still more horrid feast. The sight was too terrible to behold. The two bands of savages alluded to belong to what white men term 'Medicine Men.' The superstitions connected with this fearful system are deeply rooted here; and it is the admitting and initiating of fresh pupils into these arts that employ numbers and excite interest during all the winter months. This year I think there must have been eight or ten parties of them, but each party has seldom more than one pupil at once.

"Each party has some characteristics peculiar to itself, but, in a more general sense, their divisions are but three, namely, those who eat human bodies, the dog-eaters, and those who have no custom of the kind. Of all these parties, none are so much dreaded as the cannibals. One morning I was called to witness a stir in the camp which had been caused by this set. When I reached the gallery, I saw hundreds of Tsim-sheans sitting in their canoes, which they had just pushed away from the beach. I was told the cannibal party were in search of a body to devour, and if they failed to find a dead one, it was probable they would seize the first living one that came in their way; so that all the people living near the cannibals' house had taken to their canoes to escape being torn to pieces. It is the custom among these Indians to burn their dead; but I suppose for these occasions they take care to deposit a corpse somewhere, in order to satisfy these inhuman wretches.

"These, then, are some of the things and scenes which occur in the day during the winter months, while the nights are taken up with amusements--singing and dancing. Occasionally the medicine parties invite people to their several houses, and exhibit tricks before them of various kinds. Some of the actors appear as bears, while others wear masks, the parts of which are moved by strings. The great feature in their proceedings is to pretend to murder, and then to restore to life, and so forth. The cannibal on such occasions is generally supplied with two, three, or four human bodies, which he tears to pieces before his audience. Several persons, either from bravado or as a charm, present their arms for him to bite. I have seen some whom he has thus bitten, and I hear two have died from the effects."

Such were the people whom Mr. Duncan had come to instruct, and as he gazed on these savage scenes, his heart was stirred within him, and he longed for the time when he should be able to tell them of Christ and His salvation. He at once commenced the study of the Tsimshean language. With the assistance of an Indian named Clah, the interpreter at the Fort, he first went through an English dictionary, and taking 1500 of the most essential words, obtained the equivalents for them. He next wrote down about noo short sentences. His Indian teacher took great interest in his progress, and the Indians manifested much anxiety for the time when he should be able to speak to them in their own language. Sometimes a few would enter the room where he was at work, and take a childish delight in helping to find out equivalents. At the same time, he tried to win their confidence. In the month of January, 1858, he began to visit them in their houses, taking Clah with him to interpret. The people received him on these occasions in a friendly manner, saluting him with "Clah-how-yah," the complimentary expression of welcome. This would be repeated several times, then a general movement and squatting would ensue, then a breathless silence, during which all eyes were fixed on the visitor. After a time several would begin nodding and smiling, at the same time reiterating in a low tone, "Ahm, ahm ah ket, Ahm Shimauyet." (Good, good person, good chief.) In some houses he was made to take the chief place by the fire, and a mat was put on a box ior him to sit upon. From these visits Mr. Duncan found that the people were anxious for instruction, and that they believed the white man to possess some grand secret about eternal things which they desired to know. Here was a token of encouragement. By the month of May Mr. Duncan had made so much progress in the Tsimshean language as to enable him, with the assistance of Clah,to prepare a written address. He then went round to all the chiefs,, and asked each one to allow him to use his house to address the people. Each one consented. When the day fixed upon arrived, it proved wet, and as the hour appointed for the gathering drew near, it rained in torrents. Nevertheless, more than a hundred men assembled. At the last moment Mr. Duncan's heart failed him, and he asked his interpreter to speak for him, while he read the paper; to this proposal Clah demurred, and Mr. Duncan saw he must do the best he could. Telling the Indians to shut the door, he knelt down and prayed for God's help. Then he read his address. Perfect silence prevailed, and the Indians showed by their looks that they understood what was said. After the address, he desired the Indians to kneel down while he prayed in English. They at once complied. He then went to the next chief's house, where all was in readiness; a canoe sail had been spread out for Mr. Duncan to stand upon, and a box covered with a mat placed for a seat. About 150 persons were present. Again all were attentive, and all knelt during prayer. This was the house of the head chief, a very wicked man, but he was present. Each of the other seven divisions of the tribe were visited in succession. The smallest congregation was fifty, the largest two hundred. In all, about nine hundred persons heard for the first time the message of salvation. Amongst these were some strangers from surrounding tribes. One chief absented himself during the time Mr. Duncan addressed the people in his house, though he had caused it to be neatly prepared; he had a few days before killed a slave to gratify his pride, and probably he was ashamed to be present. Alarm was depicted on some of the countenances of those who listened to Mr. Duncan's address, as he warned them of sin and its consequences. A few days after this first attempt to preach to the Indians, Mr. Duncan took each of the chiefs a small present, as an acknowledgment of the kindness they had shown him. These presents, though trifling in value, were gratefully received, and much pleasure was manifested on finding that Mr. Duncan appreciated the assistance given him by the chiefs. One of the chiefs offered Mr. Duncan the use of his house for a schoolroom. The offer was accepted, and the school was commenced on June 28th; twenty-six children were present in the morning, and fifteen adults in the afternoon. The children were with one exception neat and clean; in the case of this one it was found that it was superstition which prevented him wearing a shirt like the rest; he had been initiated into the medicine mysteries in the previous winter, and to have worn anything but a blanket or a skin during the next year would, it Was imagined, cause some terrible calamity to fall upon him. The children were attentive and intelligent. With the adults, however, Mr. Duncan did not succeed so well. The chief and his wife in whose house the school was held placed themselves under instruction, but they preferred attending with the children, saying they wished to help to keep order.

But soon difficulties presented themselves. A party of Indians from Queen Charlotte's Island arrived with large-quantities of food to trade. A quarrel took place, the strangers were robbed, and one or two wounded and taken prisoners. A second party coming a day or two afterwards were attacked, their canoes plundered and broken up. One Tsimshean espoused the cause of the islanders, great commotion ensued, five tribes became involved in the fighting, and the noise and confusion were such that it was almost impossible to continue the school. After some days, however, a truce was agreed upon, and all went on as before. The school prospered, and the people became increasingly anxious for instruction. On visiting a chief in his house, Mr. Duncan found him learning the letters of the alphabet from a piece of board on which the letters had been chalked out by his son, one of Mr. Duncan's most promising scholars.

In July, Mr. Duncan again preached to the Indians in Tsimshean; as before, he went to each tribe separately. On this occasion one man refused to kneel; he sat still, a sullen observer of the whole proceeding. He was the chief of the cannibal gang, and probably, like Demetrius, the silversmith of Ephesus, he saw that his "craft was in danger." This chief's name was Quthray.

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