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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 XII. The Metlakatlah Settlement

Persecuted for the Work's sake.--Christmas Services.--Fort Simpson.--Small-pox.--Death of Converts.

IN September Mr. Duncan commenced the building of a school-house. It was completed by the 17th of November. The boards for the roof and the floor were given by the Indians, some even took the boards off their own roofs to give to Mr. Duncan, so warm was the interest which they took in the erection of the school-house, and the heart of the faithful Missionary was cheered by these willing offerings. No sooner was the school opened than Mr. Duncan's scholars hastened to the new building; one mounted the platform and struck the steel which supplied the place of a bell to summon his companions. Fifty adults and fifty children assembled, and four of the five chiefs of the tribe determined to give up their heathenish ceremonies, the time for performing which had now arrived. Even amongst those who still clung to their barbarous customs, the work was carried on feebly. The little leaven which leaveneth the whole lump was gradually spreading and permeating the mass.

The number of scholars also increased, and fewer of them appeared with their faces painted.

But it soon became evident that a storm was impending. Rumours reached Mr. Duncan that the medicine men intended to put a stop to the teaching; Legaic, the head chief of the Indians, complained that the children running past his house to and from school interfered with him and his party in working their mysteries: he therefore requested that the school might be closed for a month. This Mr. Duncan refused. He then demanded that it should be closed for a fortnight; this also was refused, notwithstanding that Legaic accompanied his demand by a threat to shoot any of the children who continued to attend. At last Legaic asked four days' suspension of the school; this also was refused. A few hours afterwards, Legaic and his party of medicine men dressed in their charms appeared at the door of the school. Legaic and seven others entered the room; the chief ordered the children to be off. Mr. Duncan, seeing their object was to intimidate him, spoke to them calmly, telling them they must not think they could make him afraid, he must obey God rather than men. The interview lasted an hour: Legaic, drawing his hand across his throat, assured Mr. Duncan that he knew how to kill men.

At length the chief, finding his efforts unavailing, went away. It afterwards appeared that Mr. Duncan owed his life on this occasion to his interpreter Clah. No sooner had Legaic and his followers entered the school-house than Clah also entered, not dressed as usual, with him, in European costume, but in his blanket. Leaning against the wall just inside the door, he calmly watched the proceedings, but Legaic knew that the blanket concealed a revolver, he knew also that Clah was a resolute man, and skilful in the use of fire-arms, and that, moreover, he regarded Mr. Duncan as under his protection, and that any injury done to Mr. Duncan would be instantly revenged by his own death. Well might Mr. Duncan record in his diary that night, "I bless the Lord for His gracious care of me this day." The indignation of the medicine men at being thus thwarted was very great, and threats of violence to the scholars were again renewed; so that Mr. Duncan felt obliged to accept the offer of a chief to hold the school in his house, where the children would not be afraid to come. These events took place shortly before Christmas, 1858. On Christmas Eve Mr. Duncan explained to his scholars the meaning of the Christian festival, and invited them to bring their friends the next day. No less than 200 assembled, and then for the first time Mr. Duncan attempted an extemporaneous address in Tsimshean. He told them of our lost condition, and of the pity and love of God in giving His Son to die for us; he exhorted them to leave their sins and pray to Jesus, warning them of the consequences if they refused, and telling them of the good which would follow on obedience. As he enumerated the sins of which they were guilty, he saw significant looks exchanged with each other, which showed him that some realized the truth of his words. After his address, Mr. Duncan questioned the children on some simple Bible truths, and the service was concluded by singing two hymns which he had previously taught in the school.

The same plan was pursued every Sunday, simple hymns were sung and repeated, a short address given, and the service concluded with singing and prayer. In these services the Indians took much interest.

At the beginning of the year Mr. Duncan returned to his school-house. The number of his scholars increased, and many made considerable progress in learning to read, while the improved conduct of some showed that Mr. Duncan's teaching had not been in vain. This proved the quietest winter Fort Simpson had ever known, not one murder having been committed.

In March, 1859, the Indian school was visited by three of the Hudson's Bay Company's Officers and the Rev. R. Dowson, Missionary of the S. P. G. to the Indians on Vancouver's Island. More than 300 persons were assembled in the school, and the gentlemen expressed themselves surprised and delighted at what they saw.

"It is truly wonderful," said Mr. Dawson.

About this time Mr. Duncan conceived the idea of forming a separate Missionary settlement for the Christian natives, and the need of an ordained Missionary to assist in the work was very evident; Mr. Duncan therefore earnestly requested the Church Missionary Society to send him out a coadjutor at once.

Towards the close of the year, 1859, he had a touching proof that he had not laboured in vain, nor spent his strength for nought. He was sent for to visit a young man who was dying of consumption. On entering the house he found some twenty people assembled; he rebuked the noise and tumult, and directed the dying man to fix his heart on the Saviour. "Oh yes, sir; oh yes, sir;" he replied. He begged Mr. Duncan, with much earnestness, to continue to teach his little girl; he wanted her to be good. By the side of the dying man sat a young woman, one of Mr. Duncan's most regular pupils, remarkably intelligent, and attentive to instruction. With tears in her eyes she begged him to give his heart to God, and to pray to him. During his illness this young man never permitted the medicine men to try their incantations upon him. He died assuring the people of his happiness.

In this year Mr. Duncan printed in the native language a small Church service, containing three hymns, and a prayer he had himself composed.

He also drew up a short catechism, which he also printed, and fifty-five texts of Scripture, arranged in three classes, the first marking the difference between the good and the bad; the second referring to doctrines, and the third to practice. He also prepared a series of reading lessons to be used by the scholars at home. Before starting for the fishing grounds, the chief sent a message to Mr. Duncan, to "speak strong" against the bad ways of their people, promising that they would second what he said with "strong speeches." Moreover Legaic sent word that he intended to come to school himself. Evidently, Mr. Duncan's teaching had made an impression on the Indians. The light was penetrating the darkness, and hope and gratitude swelled the heart of the Missionary.

In August, 1860, the Rev. L. S. Tugwell arrived from England to co-operate with Mr. Duncan. At the time of Mr. Tugwell's arrival Mr. Duncan was at Victoria, whither he had gone at the request of the Governor of Vancouver's Isle to assist in organizing plans for the benefit of the Indians in that locality. On the I3th of August the two Missionaries set sail in a steamer for Fort Simpson. On their way they touched at Fort Rupert, where the Indians were loud in their complaints of a white teacher not being sent to them, and earnestly entreated that they might have a Missionary as early as possible.

On arriving at Fort Simpson, and witnessing the work done there, Mr. Tugwell thus wrote:--"How I wish the friends of Missions in England could see Mr. Duncan's congregation on Sunday. They would, indeed, thank God, and take courage. I have never seen an English congregation on Sunday more orderly and attentive. With but few exceptions, both the children and adults come clean and neatly dressed. The children sing hymns very sweetly. A morning and evening hymn, composed by Mr. Duncan, a hymn to our Saviour, and another beginning, 'Jesus is my Saviour,' 'Here we suffer grief and pain,' and some others in English, also one in Tsimshean, composed by Mr. Duncan. The Indians all up the coast are crying out for teachers; 'Come over and help us.' Now seems the propitious moment; soon hundreds, yea thousands, will have perished." Mr. Duncan also wrote about the same time earnestly begging for Missionaries to be sent out, and suggesting that each clergyman should be accompanied by a schoolmaster, able to teach some industrial occupation, with a view to finding employment for the Indians, and thus keeping them from Victoria, which he described as a "sink of corruption." "Here," says one, "is a large population comprising representatives of almost every nation under heaven, a population composed for the most part of waifs and strays of humanity; it is a very vortex of dissipation. The Indians who visit Victoria return to their homes tainted by the most degrading vices, and possessed with a craving for ardent spirits." Hence Mr. Duncan's earnest desire to provide useful occupation for the Indians at home.

He now prepared to carry out his project of forming a new settlement for the converts. The place selected was called Metlakatlah, situated about twenty miles down the coast. Here they would be removed from the contaminating influence of contact with the white traders. It was proposed that Mr. Tugwell should accompany the Christian Indians to their new home. For taking this step the following reasons were given by Mr. Duncan:--

1. The discovery of gold in the northern districts of British Columbia, promised to attract a large mining population to the neighbourhood of Fort Simpson.

2. There was not room on the coast at Fort Simpson for building new houses.

3. There was no available land for gardens.

4. The proposed settlement would be central for six tribes of Indians speaking the Tsimshean tongue.

5. The Christian Indians were most anxious to escape from the sights and thraldom of heathenism, and from the persecution they endured from having to live in the same houses with heathen and drunkards.

6. School operations would be put on a more satisfactory footing, as the imparting of secular knowledge would thus be limited to those who had embraced the Gospel. "All we want," wrote Mr. Duncan, "is God's favour and blessing," and then we may hope to build up in His good time a model Christian village, reflecting light and radiating heat to all the spiritually dark and dead masses of humanity around us."

The following rules were drawn up by Mr. Duncan as indicating the least he should expect from those who went to the new settlement:--1. To give up their "Ahlied," or "Indian devilry;" 2. To cease calling in conjurors when sick; 3. To cease gambling; 4. To cease giving away their property for display; 5. To cease painting their faces; 6. To cease drinking intoxicating drinks; 7. To rest on the Sabbath; 8. To attend religious instruction; 9. To send their children to school; 10. To be cleanly; II. To be industrious; 12. To be peaceful; 13. To be liberal and honest in trade; 14. To build neat houses; 15. To pay the village tax.

The proposed removal to Metlakatlah was, however, postponed to the spring of the following year. The damp climate of Fort Simpson proved injurious to Mr. Tugwell's health, and he was compelled to return to England, to the great disappointment of Mr. Duncan.

Early in May, 1862, preparations began to be made for removing to the new settlement. The large school-house was pulled down, the materials formed into a raft and sent off to the new site. Two days after the raft had started a canoe arrived from Victoria, bringing word that small-pox had broken out among the Indians at Victoria, and that many Tsimsheans had died. The next day other canoes arrived bringing mournful particulars of the virulence of the disease. On the 27th, Mr. Duncan set sail with a party of fifty men, women and children, in six canoes. "I felt," said he, "that we were beginning an eventful page in the history of this poor people, and earnestly sighed to God for His help and blessing." By two the next day the little fleet of canoes arrived safely at its destination. They found the Indians, who had preceded them, hard at work clearing the ground and sawing planks. They had erected two temporary houses, and planted a quantity of potatoes. For the next few days all were busy choosing the sites for their houses and gardens, and preparing for building, and every night they assembled, a happy family, for singing and prayer, Mr. Duncan at the same time giving an address on some portion of Scripture suggested by the events of the day. On the 6th of June a fleet of thirty canoes arrived from Fort Simpson, containing 300 souls, forming nearly the whole of the tribe, called Keetlahn, with two of their chiefs.

A few days later news arrived that the small-pox had broken out at Fort Simpson, and had taken fearful hold of their camp.

"Some of the Indians sought refuge in their charms and lying vanities. They dressed up their houses with feathers and rind of bark, and the rattles of the conjurors were kept constantly going, but all was of no avail; several of the charmers fell a prey to the disease, and death and desolation spread far and wide. One of the tribes which had been foremost in resorting to heathenish charms went for a time unscathed, which filled the conjurors with pride and boasting, but when it did seize upon them, this tribe suffered more than any other. In the whole camp the deaths were 500, more than one-fifth of the whole. Many of the heathen fled to Mr. Duncan in great fear; amongst these was the head chief Legaic. He left Fort Simpson and settled down at Metlakatlah with his wife and daughter; from this time he attached himself to Mr. Duncan, and gave earnest attention to his teaching. Only five fatal cases occurred amongst the Indians who originally left Fort Simpson with Mr. Duncan, and three of these were caused by attending sick relatives who went to the new village after taking the infection. One of those who succumbed to the malady was Stephen Ryan, who was baptized at Fort Simpson by Mr. Tugwell. "He died," says Mr. Duncan, "in a most distressing condition, so far as the body was concerned. Away from every one he loved, in a little bark hut on the rocky beach just beyond reach of the tide, which none of his friends dared to approach, except the one who nursed him, in this damp, lowly, distressing state, suffering from malignant small-pox, how cheering to receive from him such words as the following: 'I am quite happy, I find my Saviour very near to me, I am not afraid to die; heaven is open to receive me. Give my thanks to Mr. Duncan: he told me of Jesus, I have hold of the ladder that reaches to heaven. All that Mr. Duncan told me I now find to be true. Do not weep for me. You are poor, being left; I am not poor; I am going to heaven. My Saviour is very near to me; do all of you follow me to heaven; let none of you be wanting. Tell my mother more clearly the way of life: I am afraid she does not yet understand the way. Tell her not to weep for me, but to get ready to die. Be all of one heart, live in peace.'" This case was not a solitary one; the hope of eternal life through faith in a crucified Saviour shed light and joy around other dying beds.

Quthray, the cannibal chief, who was one of the principal actors in the horrid scene witnessed by Mr. Duncan soon after his arrival at Fort Simpson, also died in the faith of Christ. Mr. Duncan visited him frequently during his illness. He had long and earnestly desired baptism, and he expressed in such clear terms his repentance for his sins, and his faith in the Saviour of sinners, that Mr. Duncan deemed it right in the absence of any ordained minister, to admit this dying man into the visible Church of Christ. Throughout his illness he manifested resignation and peace, weeping for his sins, depending entirely on the Saviour, confident of pardon and rejoicing in hope. "Glorious change!" says Mr. Duncan. "Once a naked cannibal, see him clothed and in his right mind, believing in the Saviour and dying in peace." In these fruits of his labours Mr. Duncan found his richest reward, and his heart rose up in thankfulness to God who had used him as His instrument to bring souls out of darkness into the glorious light of the Gospel.

From four hundred to five hundred persons now attended Divine service on Sundays. Seventy adults and twenty children were baptized. Two hundred children and adults were under instruction in the school, while forty young men had formed themselves into classes, and met for prayer and exhortation. The instruments of the medicine men had found their way into Mr. Duncan's house. Customs which form the very foundation of the Indian government had been given up because they were evil. Feasts began and ended with the offering of thanks to the Giver of all good. Thus was Metlakatlah a witness for the truth of the Gospel to the surrounding tribes, who saw in it the good things which they and their forefathers had sought and laboured for in vain, namely, peace, security, order, honesty, and progress. Such were the results of the Missionary's faithful and self-denying labours in his Master's vineyard.

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