The Journal of the Bishop of Montreal, during a Visit to the Church Missionary Society's North-West America Mission. By George Jehoshaphat Mountain London: Seeleys, 1849.
Letter III. Some Account of the Indian Population of the Fur Country, their Moral and General Condition, and their Superstitions; with an Appeal to the Religious Sympathies of Great Britain on Their Behalf
Quebec, Dec. 16, 1844.
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
MY labours being brought to a close at the Red River, I prepared, on the 10th of July, to embark with my party in the canoes, and took a final leave of my friends. The kind addresses which I separately received from my brethren of the Clergy, from the Protestant inhabitants generally, and from the Congregation of the Indian Church, [101/102] respecting which last it is pleasing to know that it was a spontaneous act, unsuggested and unaided, was communicated to the Society in my Letter to you of the 27th of August, announcing my return to Quebec. The three Clergymen from above had come down to Mr. Smithurst's to bid me and my Chaplain farewell; and we parted with many mutual expressions of regard, and fervent invocations of blessing. The fore-part of the day was occupied in packing up the presents with which we had been loaded by our different friends, consisting of specimens of Indian workman ship, or other characteristic mementos of the Territory, which were put into a large box made for the purpose, and formed no trifling addition to the amount of baggage which was to be carried across the Portages. Several Indian women were busy, up to the last moment, in finishing some trifling token of remembrance which they were anxious to put into our hands. They work beautifully in bead-work, or embroidery with silk, or with the dyed hair of the [102/103] moose, and with dyed porcupine quills. Fire-bags, leggings, belts for the fire-bag and powder-horn, all made of cloth, moccasins of moose-skin, mittens and gloves of the same, or other soft leather, with baskets and boxes of bark, are the most common articles upon which they employ their ornamental skill; and their sprigs, and other decorative devices, are executed not only with great accuracy, but often with a tasteful effect. The fire-bags, which are some times of leather and trimmed with fur, are usually very richly and minutely wrought, and finished at the edge with a showy fringe. The beauty, nicety, and correctness of the fancy-work executed by the women, contrasts strangely with the extreme rude ness of performance which I have seen when a delineation of natural or artificial objects is attempted in colours. I have in my possession a whole buffalo-robe, the inner side of which is daubed all over with representations of human figures, some of them on horse-back, fire-locks and other implements interspersed, with marks or [103/104] devices arbitrarily representing bodies of men in battle array, or other combinations of objects, the whole precisely resembling the first attempts at drawing made by a young and untaught child; a specimen of which is introduced in one of Wilkie's celebrated pictures. The gentleman--one of the Chief Factors--who made me a present of this robe, appeared to think that it was designed to exhibit a complete history of the exploits of the wearer, for these robes are thrown over the shoulders as a cloak. This specimen was procured from one of the Black-feet Indians. Along the middle, from one end to the other, is a narrow strip of stained quill-work, with circles, at intervals, of the same material. A representation of the same sort of thing may be seen in Catlin's book. These uncouth delineations are, I apprehend, the work of the men; but not so the quill-work. I do not know whether the Indians who are rather more in contact with the Whites, and nearer to the borders of civilization, imbibe thence a better use of the hand and eye in their copies from [104/105] nature; but along the shores of Lake Superior, and in some other parts of the route, we had observed drawings upon the face of the rocks, usually in places only accessible to very expert climbers, and this done perhaps in a spirit of pride and challenge, of various domestic animals, long-necked aquatic birds, schooners, and canoes, the canoes sometimes full of men, which, at the distance from which we saw them, appeared to exhibit a tolerably correct outline. They are made by scraping away the incrustations formed upon the surface of the rock, and leaving the lighter colour underneath; and in some places are very conspicuous objects to the eye.
The last act of devotion in which we united with the Indians had been on the evening of the day before [our departure], in the School-house, after the Confirmation held in the morning in the Church. They attend Mr. Smithurst every week-day evening [105/106] in this way, to receive religious instruction of a familiar kind, in conjunction with which some prayers from the Liturgy are offered, and Psalms are sung. He never opens his Church except for full and regular service. These people, with whose aged Chief and his wife I had had a special interview by their own desire, now gathered around us, in front of the little Parsonage, by the river-side, men, women, and children, to bid us adieu at the moment of our embarkation. One woman, with the peculiar modesty of manner which I have before described, presented me, just as I was step ping into the canoe, with a simple bark basket of her own workmanship. Another was present who had recently become a Convert, and had been baptized, on the evening be fore her Confirmation, by Mr. Maning. Mr. Smithurst accompanied us down to the mouth of the river, his own boat attending to take him back.
I had great cause of thankfulness in being enabled to bring away Mr. Maning without delay; for he had met with an accident [106/107] the day before, which seemed to threaten either a most inconvenient detention, or the necessity of my leaving him to come down when the season should open again in the Spring. In stepping backward, he fell down a trap-door opening into the cellar, in the floor of one of Mr. Smithurst's rooms. The jar of this fall was very severe, and shook his whole nervous system in a manner of which the symptoms were very distressing. We had to send about twenty miles for the Medical Gentleman in the service of the Company, who at once pronounced that Mr. Maning would be able to travel the next day, and used measures which, by the blessing of God, were found to verify his augury.
Climate of the Red River.
Having spoken of the opening of the season, I will here mention that, at the Red River itself, the climate, from all that I could gather, appears not materially to differ from that of Quebec. The "sleighing" [107/108] appears to be of much the same duration. The cold is probably a little more severe; for it occurs more frequently, according to the information given to me, that the mercury freezes in the thermometer. This has occurred at Quebec, I think about three times within the memory of living man. I do not think that at either place the power of frost has ever been known to descend much below that point, if at all.
[In a subsequent Letter, Jan. 16, 1845, the Bishop writes--
[In speaking of the climate at the Red River, comparatively with that of Quebec, I have probably underrated the degree of cold experienced in winter, at the former place. Mr. Maning received information that the temperature had been known to stand there at 52º below zero by the spirit thermometer: and that it descended as low as 40º more often than I supposed. I have still some doubt of the former of these two statements.
[On this subject the Rev. J. Smithurst writes, in his Journal--
[January 9, 1848--It has been intensely cold to day. Having no spirit thermometer, I could not as certain the exact degree of cold, but I should suppose that at sunrise this morning it must have been about 50º below zero. On former occasions, when I have made observations with spirit thermometers, I have invariably found that as soon as the degree of cold reached 46º below zero, the atmosphere lost that clearness which we usually have here, and appeared as if mixed with a thin blue smoke, which went on increasing in density as the cold increased. On no former occasion, with the exception of two mornings in February 1843, when a spirit thermometer which I then had stood at 52º below zero, have I seen the atmosphere assume the same dense smoky appearance which it had this morning before sunrise. It was from myself that Mr. Maning received information of the thermometer having been known to go down as low as 52º below zero, and which statement the Bishop of Montreal appears to doubt.
[As this morning was in appearance so like the mornings in 1843 to which I have referred above, I resolved to make the best experiment that I could for testing the degree of cold. I therefore filled a table spoon half full of mercury, and put it about two yards outside the front door a little before sunrise. In about ten minutes it was perfectly solid, and I turned it out of the spoon, and hammered it out till it was like a piece of sheet lead. I put it again into the spoon and took it into the house, and stood by the stove with it in my hand four minutes before there was any appearance of its liquefying. There was a thermometer hanging on the opposite side of the room from the stove, and it stood, at the time I was making the experiment, at 75º above zero. As I held the frozen mercury within a foot of the stove, the temperature there must have been at least 80º, and yet I had to hold it for four minutes before a single liquid particle started from the frozen mass. I put it out again, and at 10 o'clock it was still frozen. I may therefore, I think, safely infer that the cold must have been at least 10 below the point at which mercury freezes; so that I have very little hesitation in saying that the cold of this morning was 50º below zero.
 In the regions further North, some of the Fur-traders have told me, in accordance [109/110] with the accounts of Arctic explorers, that the spirit thermometer has indicated an approach to 60º below zero, by Fahrenheit. The winds which sweep over the open and level prairie at the Red River, are described as intensely cold and cutting in severe weather. During our stay, with the interruption of some hard showers, we had a delightful time: the season, however, was said to be unusually cool. On the way back it occurred, I think, only a couple of times, and that only during the height of the day, that we felt glad to raise the [110/111] umbrella to shade ourselves from the sun glaring on the water.
I gave, in my first Letter, an account of what was most remarkable on the route, both up and down; but I may add here one or two circumstances which occurred upon our return, and which I did not then notice.
Some incidents of the Route, before omitted.
We overtook, at the Rainy Lake Fort, where we passed a night, a gentleman who has been established for a great number of years far on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and is now one of the principal Factors of the Company. He was proceeding from that remote quarter to Canada, and had under his charge a couple of youths, the sons of another Factor, whom he was to place at School. There were also passengers with him, an elderly couple, decent sort of people, and he had, in this part of the route, two canoes like our own. But he had other companions, [111/112] also, of a different cast; and the footing upon which they were with the rest, afforded a striking evidence of the strange state of society in some parts of the American wilderness, and might serve as a check to the romance of feeling which is fascinated by the adventures and varieties of a half-Indian life, and attaches the idea of comparative insipidity to the settled habits of order and civilization. Two most atrocious criminals, who had, in a state of exasperation, murdered one of the Factors, in a very savage and barbarous manner, were placed in charge of this gentleman, professedly to be brought down to Canada for trial. The crime had been committed at one of the posts established in a portion of territory belonging to Russia, and held under lease from the Government of that country, by the Company. The nearest Russian authorities, it appears, refused to have any thing to do with the case, and as it would have been of mischievous consequence to leave the perpetrators of this act of blood at large in the country where [112/113] it occurred, matters were so managed as to send them off as prisoners to Canada They were, however, when we saw them, perfectly at liberty; nor was there any thing, either in their deportment or in the state of relations appearing to subsist between themselves and their companions, which could indicate the character in which they were travelling. The party left the Fort in the morning, as usual, with song; and the two murderers, with all the nonchalance in the world, occupied their seats and handled their paddles, without any distinction, as part of the crew, and joined in the cheerful chorus with which they started, nearly in company with ourselves. One of them was a French Canadian; the other, an Iroquois Indian. There is an act of the British Parliament which confers criminal jurisdiction over the Hudson's-Bay Territory upon the Canadian Courts of Justice; but this crime having been committed in Russian Territory, it must probably have been sufficiently understood, perhaps by all parties, that these Courts [113/114] could not be competent to try it. The men, in any case, could easily escape into the United States upon reaching the Saut Sainte Marie. I met one of them, however, after my return, walking quietly and composedly through the village street of La Chine.
Acts of violence committed upon the persons of the Factors or Traders of the Company must, I apprehend, be of exceedingly rare occurrence. As far as I had opportunities of knowing, the general system pursued at the Forts, with reference to the treatment of the people employed, is such as to gain their attachment. And the Indian hangers-on, in seasons of want, draw largely upon the charity of these establishments. Kindness, united with firmness and decision, appears to be the secret of governing mankind throughout the world, ill as it is understood in too large a portion of it, But where the spirit of Christian love, and a conscientious adherence to principle, prevail, there the qualities before mentioned appear under a sanctified aspect; and it is then that they effectually [114/115] promote the happiness and well-being of a community. "Blessed are they who sow beside all waters" the seeds of such heavenly improvement in this world of sin and strife!
In descending the Ottawa, our guide, with more than half the crew, were, upon one occasion, in most imminent peril of their lives, and had a truly merciful deliverance. It was at one of the spots where slides are in process of construction by the Government, under a considerable grant of money from the Provincial Parliament, for the passage of timber. We had left the canoe, and, with part of the crew, had betaken ourselves for the night to a log-building put up by some Irish people employed about the slide, and situated at some distance. The canoe was to come round to us in the morning, having first a bad Rapid to shoot. The guide was perfectly at home in all the Rapids; but the slide, which had been constructed since we passed up, had forced the waters into new courses, and he was consequently at a fault. They [115/116] were whirled in the arms of danger to seeming death: they were rapidly filling with water: the men were alarmed, and one cried this thing, and another that, their presence of mind beginning to forsake them all, except the guide. "Nagez" said he, in a tone of stern command; "nagez: ne parlez pas." They obeyed: made a last desperate effort with their paddles, and gained a sort of little recess where the waters were comparatively quiet. As soon as they got safe on shore, they all fell upon their knees and performed their devotions--an example to better instructed persons, and professors of a more enlightened system of faith. We were detained several hours for the repair of the canoe, and for drying the articles of baggage which had been left in it.
In the course of the downward voyage, we lost two half days in mending our frail vessel.
Return to La Chine.
We reached La Chine toward the close of a fine day, on the 14th of August, and came in with song. The sound of the voices is cheerful, and gives life to the strokes of the paddle, urging the canoe with a rushing sound through the water, on which the old Norman airs of the voyageurs float, like the chimes of Church bells. But far other song had I cause at the close of this journey to raise in my heart, even a song [117/118] of thanksgiving unto my God, after having been permitted to visit those remote establishments of the Church--to comfort the hearts of those faithful Missionaries--to dispense ministrations urgently needed, for which no provision exists within reach--and, may I dare to hope it, to give an impulse to endeavours which will result in something effectual for the permanent supply of these spiritual wants. To this subject I shall speedily return.
I parted at La Chine with Mr. Maning, who, by the way, was once an aspirant to the service of the Church Missionary Society, and was known to the gentlemen presiding over their Institution at Islington; but, with several other young men, I believe, about the same time, found the door not opening to him as he expected, and ultimately came out to Canada, where he entered the service of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in which he has been a very active and labourious itinerant Missionary, often "enduring hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," He went with me as a [118/119] volunteer, his own duties having been provided for in his absence.
Indian Population, and Extent of Field for Missionary Exertion.
I come now to consider the Territory, and the whole tracts of country traversed by the Company in their operations, and dotted with their widely-severed posts, as presenting a field for the exertions of religious zeal. And the value of whatever I have said respecting secular and temporal things is, that it may serve the purpose of giving a more palpable form and pressure, a more human reality, if I may so speak, to the interests of this vast region and its inhabitants, in bringing them before the friends of religion at home; and that it may lend, perchance, more attraction to a story which ought to be listened to, by diversifying its details.
The same gentleman to whom I was indebted, as already mentioned, for a copy of the Census taken in the Red-River [119/120] Colony, has most obligingly furnished me with the fullest information which he could prepare, at short notice, respecting the Tribes at large. He states, however, the deficiency of certain data, not at the moment at his command, "without which it is not easy to determine either the number or the territorial limits of a people, in their divisions and subdivisions, whose habits are constantly erratic in the pursuit of game, which affords the means of their subsistence." It appears, also, that the discordant estimates, even of the oldest and most experienced residents in the Indian country, forbid all idea of arriving at an accurate knowledge of the amount of population, either as a whole or in detail. The Tribes themselves, however, occupying the country East of the Rocky Mountains, and resorting upon occasion to the Company's Establishments, may be enumerated and distinguished as follows below--
Mackenzie's River District--
The Copper Indians: Inhabiting the Country about this River.
 The Loucheux or Quarrellers:
The Hare Indians:
The Dog-rib Indians:
The Strong-bow Indians:
Inhabiting Mackenzie's River, and its Neighbourhood, and speaking different languages.
Athabasca and Isle à la Crosse Districts--
The Chipewyans, and a few of the Cree Tribe:
Inhabiting the Country surrounding this Lake, and between it and the Isle à la Crosse District.
Peace River District--
The Beaver Indians, and a few Sauteux from the Rainy Lake:
Inhabiting both sides of this River, and speaking a language different from that of the Chipewyans of Athabasca.
Upper part of the Saskatchewan District--
The Black-feet proper:
The Blood Indians:
The Piègans: [The first syllable is pronounced as in the French word pied.]
 The Fall Indians:
All these five Tribes are generally termed Black-feet, although they speak different languages, and have different customs and manners.
Lower part of the Saskatchewan District--
The Stone Indians, or Assiniboins:
The Sauteux, or Ogibwas:
These three Tribes are constantly at variance with the Black-feet, and the whole eight depend on the chase for subsistence. They--i. e. the three Tribes--extend their habitations also to the upper part of lied River and of Swan River.
York Factory, Oxford, Norway House, Cumberland, and lower part of Swan River district--
Mis-Kee-Goose, or Swampy Indians: [I think I have seen this also written Muskaigos.]
These also extend along the sea-coast to James's Bay. They evidently spring from the Crees, as their language is only [122/123] a dialect of the Cree. There is said to be a mixture of the Sauteux in their origin.
Chipewyans, and a few Swamp Indians:
Inhabiting the Country to the North of Churchill.
These are all the Tribes on the East side of the Rocky Mountains who trade respectively at the posts indicated by italics. The source from which I received this information is one upon which I feel that I can rely; and with the exception of the Mackenzie's River District, respecting which the statements are less positively made, the whole account, I believe, is the result of personal acquaintance with the localities.
The Indians in James's Bay are generally classed with the Mis-Kee-Goose, and inhabit the countries about Albany, Moose, and East Main.
Beyond the Rocky Mountains, the company occupy a territory extending from the [123/124] North branch of the Columbia River to the line of separation from the dominions of Russia, latitude 54º 40' North. These regions are inhabited by a vast variety of Tribes, speaking different languages, and frequently engaged in war with one another. They are generally considered more naturally acute than those on the Eastern side of the mountains, and more awake to the desire of instruction; although it must not be inferred from this remark, that there is any characteristic deficiency in these points generally pervading those on the Eastern side. I cannot give particulars. I should have received them from the same highly-intelligent and well-informed gentleman to whom I am indebted for the statements made above, if circumstances had not deprived him of access at present to some of his papers.
Moral and General Condition of the Indians, and Practical Inferences.
Here, then, are seventeen Tribes on the [124/125] East side of the Rocky Mountains, beside the vast hordes, under manifold names, who range the immense regions lying between those heights and the Pacific Ocean, and are brought into contact with the servants of the Company, far out of its own Territories, for purposes of trade--since its operations, and its traffic with the Tribes, are pushed, over the surface of the globe, for a wide and long space beyond the limits of its chartered sway. And two questions now present themselves: 1. What is the condition of all these "nations, and kindreds, and tongues, and people?" 2. What is the duty lying upon the great country--whose influence penetrates and pervades these distant portions of the earth, and whose own prodigious resources are still swelled by what she draws from them--to meliorate that condition? To which a third may perhaps be added--What is within her power for effecting such melioration?
I need not say much with respect to the first. They are Heathen savages. The condition and the habits of Heathen savages, [125/126] I have had occasion to paint in my notice of those specimens with which I was in contact upon my route. But there are aggravated features to be contemplated when we look further into the interior, or follow the inquiry to the more remote ramifications of the trade. Scenes of blood and treachery, from hereditary and cherished feuds; the trophies of the scalping-knife; the exposure of infants; the abandonment of helpless objects, when found burthen-some, to perish in the wilds--these are some of the examples among the Indians of that fierceness and cruelty of nature which has multiplied itself in many forms over the earth, since the day when it was said, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground," The influence of the Company has been exerted, no doubt, successfully to a certain extent, to check some of these practices; and more decisively, I believe, for the discontinuance of certain horrid barbarities exercised upon the widows of Indian warriors, as an established custom, and upon captive slaves at [126/127] the will of their masters. But what is this improvement, as far as it goes, but a testimony to the humanizing influences of the Christian religion, which, even in its general and indirect operation--i. e. apart from any endeavours to make converts to it, or teach it as a system of faith--engenders an abhorrence of acts like these? and, consequently, to the unspeakably higher advantage of bringing that system to bear in its direct force upon the persons and the hearts of the Indians themselves? Crimes and atrocities prevail among professed Christians; and there is a remark made by that amiable and engaging writer, the late Mr. T. Simpson, to the effect, that they need not be hasty to condemn the Indians for practices of a revolting nature which prevail among them, if only they look at home. [I have not his work at hand.] But the difference lies in this that these are practices allowed in the community; not repugnant to public sentiment, nor at variance with any system received as authority in [127/128] morals. Within the Tribes themselves, there is no counter influence to cure or to repress them. They are found, in fact, incorporated with the sentiments and usages of the people.
Superstition of the Indians, and Jugglery of their Conjurors.
With reference to the religion of the Indians, if it can be called by that name, it is well known that they believe in a great spirit called Manitou, a word which enters into the composition of many of their names of places; that they are afraid of this spirit, although their fear is not in the slightest degree whatever connected with a discerning sense of moral delinquency; and that they yield an extensive credence to the existence of spiritual agency, which they associate with the exercise of necromancy. I cannot find that they have anything which can properly be called worship, either private or public; but I took some pains to possess myself of the practices of their [128/129] sorcerers, or conjurors, or Medicines, as they call them, and of the notions attached by the people to these performances; especially in a conversation, of perhaps a couple of hours, with two intelligent Crees, now sincere Christians, and Communicants of Mr. Smithurst's Congregation, who had been sorcerers of note in their heathen state, and who made me presents of certain implements of the craft--a hideous mis-shapen image, made of painted leather, stuffed, about three feet high; a conjuring-rattle; a very rudely-executed imitation of a snake, of painted wood; and two small pieces of carved bone; the uses of which will be presently described. [A drawing of it is here given. The face is of wood, flat, and without a nose: the eyes are brass studs. The fringe upon the arms and legs is of leather, mixed with small triangular pieces of tin: upon the sides and head, of leather only. The leather is of moose-skin, and the colouring is laid on in making the image.] Communicating with these men through an interpreter, and with other persons present who might be said [129/130] perhaps to put leading questions, I may certainly have been led into some mistakes upon lesser points--for I am perfectly aware of the difficulty of being accurate in such cases, and I have received from respectable sources within the Territory very conflicting accounts of many other peculiarities of the Indian beside his superstitions; but I did my best to sift my information, and wrote down the result of my conversation while it was fresh: I believe, therefore, that I shall state nothing materially incorrect.
According to the conclusions of my own mind, there is in these conjurors a great, but not an uncommon mixture, of which Mahomed appears to afford one of the most remarkable examples in history, of fanaticism and imposture.
The two men with whom I conversed, appear to have been sincere enthusiasts in their function at the time; although, with all this," they unreservedly stated that the conjurors are obviously acted upon by interested motives, since they [130/131] receive largely the "rewards of divination" and the "wages of unrighteousness," beside being considered to be protected against the fatal charms exercised by others of the craft. One of them told me that his father advised him, when a youth, to train himself to become a conjuror, as the best speculation in which he could engage. They say that one man in twenty, some times even one in ten, will be found to have acquired some portion of the art; in which, however, there are many degrees of excellence, and some accomplished professors have an extraordinary influence and reputation. The preparation for assuming the task is made by fasting in one place and posture, night and day, with the face down to the earth. The ability of the Indian to endure the protracted privation of food is well known; and this they are said, in these voluntary fastings, to extend to eight, ten, or even twelve days. They believe that, during this process, they receive communications from the invisible world through the medium of dreams. One [131/132] of them described to me a huge figure which repeatedly appeared to him in his nocturnal visions, demanding an offering of fat, to be hung upon a certain tree; and his description reminded me of the genii pictured in the Arabian Nights, which I remember reading when a boy. Upon one occasion, this portentous and colossal visitor stood before him, with the tent of the family between his legs. And the effect upon the feelings and imagination of the Indian, could not fail to bring to mind the astonishingly sublime and thrilling description found in far different pages, those of the volume of eternal truth itself, in the fourth chapter of Job, 13 16. In the solitude of the night, with the body attenuated by fasting, the tone of the animal spirits consequently lowered, and the mind filled beforehand with ideas of a dark and mysterious agency, it is no wonder if the poor savage beholds awful and repulsive apparitions in his dreams.
After having become qualified, by the revelations thus supposed to be imparted to [132/133] him, to assume the office of conjuror, he prepares for any special exercise of his powers, by the erection of a conjuror's tent or lodge--of which I have seen, in different places on the route, a skeleton or frame--formed of young saplings, or single branches stripped of the leaves and twigs, the whole encircled at intervals by bands or hoops of the same material, and covered with dressed skins--of a considerable height but only of a size to admit one man, in a recumbent posture or doubled together. Here they are prostrate, often being put in with their hands and feet tied by hard knots, which they contrive, by some trick, to disengage. While they are lying in the tent, it becomes violently agitated, the top swinging rapidly backward and forward in the view of the spectators on the outside, who also hear a variety of "strange sounds and voices, unlike the voice of man" the responses rendered within to the conjuror, by his aerial visitants; after receiving which he supplies news respecting persons and affairs at a great distance. He is also believed to receive [133/134] the power of inflicting disease and death upon persons some hundred miles off, whether his own enemies or those of his neighbours who have recourse to his magical skill. During the process going on in the conjuring lodge, without boldly looking up, he catches glimpses, in the same plane with the topmost hoop of the lodge, of a number of objects like little stars. The Converts who have formerly been engaged in this craft do not always shake off every remnant of the old habitual awe attached to their mysteries, and of the strong imaginative fascinations which have acted upon the excited mind. They sometimes appear to shrink instinctively from the mention of the subject. One of the two whom I have specially mentioned, told me that he now knew the power of sorcery to be all worthless falsehood; but that it had formerly had a strong hold upon his mind.
Two specimens were given me of the instrument which is sent through the air to carry sickness or death to its appointed mark. They are small pieces of bone, about [134/135] the length of a man's thumb, ornamentally carved: one of them is sharply pointed at both ends; the other is of an oblong form, with projections at the corners. The Indians believe that it actually enters the person of the victim by an invisible aperture, after which, it was stated by one of my informants, that it returns through the air to the conjuror. The bone implements were sent to me after the close of my interview with the ci-devant conjurors, and the explanations relating to them were given by other parties. I have found very similar superstitions still lingering among the Indians of Lorette, near Quebec, although they were settled in a village, as Roman Catholics, before the English conquest of Canada, and are now a race of mixed blood, whose language, in another generation, will be exclusively French. The sufferer who has been struck can only be dis-enchanted by another conjuror, and it is for this process that the aid of the conjuror is perhaps most frequently invoked. Being sent for when a member of a family is seriously ill, [135/136] he comes with his rattle into the tent. The rattle has a resemblance to a battledore, except that it is perfectly round, and has a very short handle. It is about a foot in diameter. The space between the two parchments which are stretched upon it is filled with small pebbles, or some other loose rattling substances. The specimen which I have--of which a drawing is here given--is painted over, on one side, with what appear to be talismanic marks or magical emblems: the triangle forms one of these, and other figures, opposite to each other, to the main central stroke of which projections are attached having a rude resemblance to wings, are called the big birds, a name which the Indians give to thunder, seeming, in this point, to approach that profane mythology which made the eagle the ministrum fulminis alitem. The devices vary: they are more simple in a specimen given to Mr. Maning. The quondam conjuror performed before me with his rattle, putting himself into a stooping posture, and then shaking it, with great vehemence and great [136/137] rapidity, over his own shoulders, under his breast, and between his legs. I believe it is also shaken over the patient, and, with some muttered incantations and other mummery, the charm is completed. There is a mark in the centre of the rattle, and the conjuror has a kind of whistle in his mouth: with this whistle he pretends to suck out the disease from the patient, and then to pass it into the rattle through the central mark.
There is a curious resemblance between the form and appearance of the Indian conjuring rattle, and those of an appendage of the sorceresses in the district of Krasno-jarsk in Siberia, as represented in the engravings of a German work, which I have not seen, and of which I am unable at present to give the title. It was observed by an excellent English lady now here, who I believe will permit me to call her my friend; and it struck her so forcibly, when she compared her recollections of the engraving with the rattle itself, which I put into her hands, that she wrote home for a drawing made after the engraving, of which drawing I [137/138] also forward you a copy. Speculations might be built upon this small coincidence, confirmatory of the persuasion that America was peopled from Northern Asia. [The Siberian affair is perhaps a musical instrument, having some resemblance to a tambourine. It is not double; but open on the under side, and held in the hand by means of a bar which there crosses it. The figure of the sorceress is represented as holding in the other hand something which has the appearance of a long feather; but may be a fringed and ornamented stick, with which to strike the instrument. Still, this is an implement of divination, and its sounds are probably, like those of the rattle, conceived to carry a charm.]
The use of the term medicine, in North American Anglo-Indian phraseology, to describe not only any article of potency for effects supposed to partake of a magical character; but even the person who is master of these effects, and operates with such articles--prepares us to find that medical cures, produced by common agents in their natural efficacy, are resolved by the Indians into the working of a charm, and made [138/139] advantage of by the conjuror, as if they be longed to the secrets of his power. An Indian, after some violent exertion, is perhaps exposed to cold, and suffers in some of the forms of malady which follow from obstructed perspiration. He applies to a conjuror, who, with all solemnity of performance, puts him into a small low tent made of sticks arched over, and covered tightly with skins. The place has been first thoroughly heated by means of red-hot stones, and steam is produced by pouring water on them; and thus, in fact by the process of a vapour-bath, but in the estimation of the Indian by the mysterious force of a charm, the patient is relieved. The place constructed for the operation is called a sweating-house.
The conjurors carry in their belts, or hanging at their sides, a little rudely-executed image, supposed to possess some powers of enchantment. Except in this kind of way, there is no superstition connected with images among the Indians. The images seem to be only a portion of [139/140] the magical apparatus. Upon certain high days, I think twice a year, they hold a feast, for which a spacious tent is made. The images are then placed up at one end of it; sometimes such large, leathern, decorated things, as were given to Mr. Maning and myself; but no act of worship or homage to them appears to be paid. In what precise light they are regarded, it is a matter of some difficulty to pronounce; and, in fact, the Indians themselves seem to me to have only a confused and mystic view of their attributes and powers; but it does appear that they are, in some in stances, designed to represent spirits, and to be fashioned in imitation of appearances made to the conjurors in their dreams. Upon the occasions here mentioned, when the images are set up, there are two heaps prepared upon the floor, or ground within the tent, of the down of the wild swan: upon each of these is laid a bladder full of fat. The conjuror first makes the entire circuit of the assembly, who are sitting in a line around the inner side of the tent, and [140/141] places upon the head of each individual a small portion of this down. He then throws one of the bladders to the man nearest to him, who, having bitten out a piece of fat through the bladder, passes this on to his neighbour to do the same, and so it goes completely round. The piece of fat, taken out with the teeth, is believed to assure to the individual whatever he has previously made up his mind to wish for. One exclaims, after biting his morsel, I have got life!--i. e. a long life for himself: another, I have got the life of my enemy! a third, I have got luck in my next hunting! a fourth, I have got rum! A portion of the fat is burnt as an offering; but whether this be the contents of the second bladder, or the leavings of both, I did not learn. Before any of the ceremonies commence within, four men without, fire their guns, one gun being pointed to each of the four cardinal points. The women and children are not admitted to the assembly.
The image which I have, and the other implements of conjuration--among which [141/142] there is one, namely, the snake, about the use or meaning of which I am not sure--I have reserved to be presented to the Church Missionary Society, if they should think them worth having, as evidences of prevalent superstition in the scene of their labours, which I visited. But they are far removed from having either beauty, costliness, or neatness of execution; and the Society has perhaps already, in its collection, better specimens of the same kind from the same quarter. They are, however tangible proofs of imposture, delusion, and darkness. The proceedings which I have described in connexion with them, are, as I wish it to be kept in view, not things of which I have been an ocular witness; but results of my endeavours to collect and compare information from the best living sources within my reach when I was upon the spot. Many of the particulars have been verified to me by the independent testimony of different informants--Europeans who have been familiar [142/143] with Indian life, or Indians who have be come Christians.
There are some of the Clergy who are distinctly persuaded of a direct diabolical agency, preternaturally manifested, in the performances of the conjurors: and certainly there are some startling appearances connected with them; particularly in what takes place when the conjuror gets into his lodge, and in some parts of the experience of conjurors who have since be come Christians. Nor can it be doubted for one moment that these, and all similar delusions, are fostered and promoted by the "father of lies." In my own judgment, however, so far as that may be worth stating, the marvellous appearances which stagger the mind may be resolvable into mere sleight of hand, of which the effects, in their common exhibitions for money in Europe, are often perfectly wonderful and unaccountable till explained; and the impressions existing in the minds of the quondam conjurors may be traced, as I have hinted before, to a strongly-excited [143/144] imagination acted upon by several conspiring causes, and creating its visions to itself with all the force of reality, as minds over wrought by ghost stories will make spectral appearances out of natural objects. I have always been slow to believe in the super natural displays of infernal agency, apart from the contemporary displays of miraculous power from above. When one is permitted, I am disposed to think that the other is to be looked for.
That, in very many instances, the performances of the sorcerers are mere juggling cheats, is matter beyond dispute; and a remarkable example of this nature was related to me by a gentleman to whom I have already owned myself indebted for much information. He was present when one of these fellows pretended to conjure back, and to produce to view, bullets which he had told some of the Indians to throw, with all their might, into the river. He was either naked, or stripped for the purpose, and his very hair was searched in order to ascertain that he had no bullets [144/145] concealed in it. The Factor observed, how ever, that, in executing his various movements and gesticulations to operate the charm, he passed his hands over his face, and was convinced that, by a piece of well-concealed dexterity, he took the bullets from his mouth; and the Factor privately desired one of the other Indians, when the exhibition was about to be repeated, to make a little notch in his bullet by which it could be recognised. The bullet produced by the conjuror was, of course, without the mark, and the cheat was detected.
Concluding Appeal to Britain for the Establishment of a Bishop of our Church in the Territory.
The second and third questions which I have proposed above, relating to the duty which we owe to the Indians, and the power which we have to perform it, may now be considered together.
It would surely be a happy consummation [145/146] to see these juggling fiends no more believed; to see these perverted minds disabused, which are capable of better and nobler things; to see these deceptions, delusions, and abominations, swept away; to see these sottish and mischievous practices, with all their accompaniments of moral debasement, and of social and domestic degradation, displaced by the observances of Christianity and the habits of Christian men--the prayers, the praises, the teaching, the Sacraments, of the Church of the living God; the light of His blessed Word; the lessons of His heavenly love; the purifying efficacy of His holy truth; the practical fruits of His being made known in Christ to fallen, bewildered, and ruined man. The Bible warns us of the tendency, in nature, to superstitious mummeries and dark forbidden arts, and of their utter offensive-ness in the sight of God--the pre-disposition, on the one side, to entertain the whole brood, who are described in our translation under the names of wizards, witches, magicians, necromancers, soothsayers, [146/147] sorcerers, diviners, astrologers, seekers of enchantments, dealers with familiar spirits, and practisers of curious arts; and the ready avidity of all these, on the other side, to profit by that corrupt credulousness, to which, in fact, they owe their existence.
The Bible says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace and salvation," Well may we apply, in both instances, the language of that blessed Book to the regions here under our review--a review pregnant with instructive lessons of duty toward the poor Indian, whose country we have occupied, and replete with unanswerable proof, although exhibited as yet upon a confined scale, of his capacity to benefit by what we can do for him. I have got life, is what he may be taught to say in a better sense than when he utters it, under the tuition of a conjuror, in biting fat out of a bladder: he may learn to say it with a happy reference to Him, who came that we "might have life, and might have it more abundantly;" and of [147/148] whom it is emphatically declared, that "in Him was life, and the life was the light of men." I have got the life of my enemy, is what the Indian may be taught to repudiate as a sentiment befitting a human heart--he can learn to "love his enemies," and instead of asking the life of his enemies, to ask an understanding heart to discern between good and evil. Here is a country open to evangelization--a country, to borrow the language of the Missionaries who have been sent to labour in it, larger than Russia--and how trifling is the beginning which has been made in the work; yet how encouraging the effect of that beginning as an incitement to enlarge, by God's blessing, the borders of the Churches. Is it, then, not to be evangelized? And if it is to be, who is to evangelize it? To what country is it an appendage? To what power does it belong? To what Church does it address the call, "Come over, and help us?" The country is an appendage to Britain, to Christian Britain, to the first Empire upon earth; with a Christian [148/149] Government; with a great Church Establishment; with institutions, laws, and customs connecting all her proceedings with the name of religion; with immense, inexhaustible resources; with unequalled means and facilities of influence; with responsibilities before the GOD who rules over kingdoms, exactly proportioned to all the distinctions which are here enumerated. Shall it be said, that it is not in the power of such a country either to supply her own people in her own Colonies with spiritual succour, or--which is to our present purpose--to meet the demands actually presenting themselves in her Dependencies, for blessing the savage with the Gospel? What is the meaning of her prayer, offered all over the world when her people pray, "that God would be pleased to make His ways known to all sorts and conditions of men, His saving health unto all nations"--if, in a country such as I am here speaking of, she can make no more effort, than, at this period of her occupation, to provide some thing less than half-a-dozen Clergymen, [149/150] and these without any Bishop to preside over them? Great efforts have been made by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for the Colonists--great efforts by the Church Missionary Society for Heathen lands; but what, after all, are the labours of both Societies together, considered as the act of Great Britain? It is called much, if a religious Society of the National Church in that country, having vast and various objects to accomplish in many regions for the highest interests of man, can raise £100,000 a year. Things are then said to prosper and flourish; but are there not single individuals in England who have the double and the treble of this income? And what would be found the aggregate, if calculated, of all the incomes amounting to or exceeding £5000 a year? Let it then be hoped that the Church Missionary Society will not be left without the means of energetically and extensively enlarging its operations in this most interesting and promising field; and that all other parties concerned will efficiently take their [150/151] share in the same object. I am as much convinced that it is the duty of the English Government to plant and perpetuate the Church according to her full organization, and to provide standing institutions for training a local body of Clergy, in the distant dominions of the Empire, as that it is the duty of a father to see to the religious interests of his family; and whatever may be the issue of the Oregon boundary question, there is a large accountability of this kind in the region for which I am pleading. There is not one Clergyman of the Church of England on the further side of the Rocky Mountains. The Hudson's-Bay Company did at one time maintain a Chaplain at Fort Vancouver--they have ceased to do so. Within their own proper Territories they have one, namely at the Red River: in Hudson's Bay itself there is none. If I may judge from the kindness shown person ally to myself, the facilities given to my operations, and the respect paid to my office, by all the gentlemen representing the Company's interests, with whom I had to [151/152] do, that body must be presumed well-affected to the cause; and that its several proceedings are conducted on a liberal scale, I have had some occasion to notice. I hope that I may without impropriety suggest that the Company--an English Company, whose seat is in London--should be solicited to take some part, and to assume some share, of the burthen in establishing a Bishopric within its own Territories. At least, that they would countenance the undertaking, and go hand-in-hand with the parties engaged in it. They are Lords Paramount there: [I have seen a printed copy of the Charter, and, if my memory serves me, the Territory is held of the Crown by the tenure that the Sovereign, in case of visiting it, may demand an elk and two black beavers. In the strict sense of the word, the Sovereign is the Lord Paramount--"since none seemeth simply to be Lord Paramount, but only the King." Minshew's Guide into the Tongues, 1627.] they can make any laws, not repugnant to the Laws of England; issue [152/153] their own money; appoint their own public Functionaries for the administration of the Territory; and raise, if they see necessary, a Military Force. What they have done for the Recorder of the Red River would, in my judgment, with certain aids given to him in travelling, suffice of itself for the maintenance of a Bishop, whose Diocese should comprise the country East of the Rocky Mountains. This is now the thing to begin with: a great deal more will follow of itself. The Church Missionary Society, and the Institution formed expressly for the establishment of Bishoprics in the Colonies, would help forward this object in different ways. Special benefactors may be raised up, when an interest is once excited by the appeal, perhaps within the number persons who are or have been connected with the company's interests. Already a gentleman the late Mr. Leith--who was a resident Factor in the Territory, has bequeathed the sum of £10,000, as yet, I believe, in litigation, toward the propagation of the Gospel in the scene of his former pursuits and occupations; [153/154] with the interest arising from which sum, it is intended, if I am correctly in formed, to establish a Mission and a School in Cumberland. It is the rule of the Company's posts that the Factor or Trader in charge, when there is no Clergyman, should read the Church Service on Sundays to the persons who can be gathered to hear it. They have forwarded the erection and establishment of Churches at the Red River. Nothing, perhaps, has been wanting to engage them in more effectually promoting the advancement of religion under the same auspices, but the impulse only recently given either to public authorities, or to the community at large, in the work of extending the Church. Their own temporal interests would be favourably affected by whatever they do in this way: the whole social condition of the Territory would be improved, and the way would be prepared for changes which must ultimately come. There are large tracts of country in which the diminution of the furs is already very sensibly, and by the poor [154/155] Indians severely, felt. The day will arrive when the example of the Red-River Settlement must be followed in other portions of the Territory; and, if I belonged to the Company, I should say that the sooner it comes, the better. Those vast regions, comprehending here and there tracts favourable for cultivation, cannot be doomed to be for ever tenanted only by wild beasts, and savages as wild: their resources of another kind must be turned to account; and in the mean time, there is little fear that any effects resulting directly or indirectly from the exertions of the Church will prematurely accelerate the desertion of the hunts man's craft: that will be a long and gradual process, accomplished by little and little, rather behind than in advance of the circumstances which demand it. At all events, the religious melioration of a country will always bring a good return to its Lords: and nothing will ever be lost by consulting the honour, and furthering the cause on earth, of Him who has all in His omnipotent hands.
 I may seem here to have made some observations which partake of presumption, as proceeding from a person of such limited experience in the Territory as myself. But the subject has taken a deep hold upon my convictions, as well as upon my heart. I feel, with an indescribable force, the necessity of establishing a Bishop in those Territories. Perhaps I need not disclaim such an idea as that all the virtue of the Gospel is centred in the Episcopate, because I hap pen to hold that thorny office myself; but it is the Episcopal Church of England which is specially, distinctly, and loudly called to occupy that open field--it is the Episcopal Church of England which took the lead, and gave the impulse to other parties, in whatever has been yet done, of any note, for planting and extending any of the forms of Christianity in that land--it is the Episcopal Church of England, its interests being represented upon the spot by the Church Missionary Society, which has been conspicuously successful, by the fruits of its Schools and Missions, in diffusing blessings [156/157] among the people; and an Episcopal Church without a Bishop is an anomaly upon the face of it--a contradiction in terms: it is like a monarchy without a King. A Bishop is necessary even for the existing establishment of Clergy, and the existing Congregations; who, in their extreme remoteness and utter severance from all the rest of the world, afford a sort of revived exhibition of the ancient sect of the acephali, against their own wills. A Clergy without superintendence--a people who love the Church, [157/158] without the means of Confirmation--Churches unconsecrated--the uniform and pervading influence of resident authority in matters Ecclesiastical unknown--Ordination upon the spot impossible, though subjects for it should be found, and the need for their services should be urgent--the nearest Bishop probably two thousand miles off, and the intervening country a "waste howling wilderness," and he under a disability, without special commission from home, to act for the Territory in this behalf--none to advise the Clergy in their perplexities, to strengthen their hands in seasons of difficulty, to relieve them of painful exercises of discretion in matters of local necessity or expediency, to comfort and encourage them in trouble--none to conduct measures of improvement with authority and weight on the part of the Church, in concert with the Society at home, or with the Functionaries of the Company upon the spot--no common point of reference to which Clergy and people can look with confidence alike--no apex where the loose [158/159] pieces, as it were, of the Church converge and are bound together in one. [The facts which I have detailed in may second Letter afford abundant evidence of this; and it might be confirmed from the more remote Stations, which I have not seen. In the Protestant division of the Red-River Settlement itself, the continued accession of Europeans being the merest trifle in the world, and the few original European Settlers being destined, in the course of nature, soon to disappear from the scene, it may be said that the whole population will shortly be composed of persons trained exclusively in the Church of England--a happy spectacle of religious unity. Never, never may it be broken in upon!] What a difference would the appointment of this one individual, the local establishment of this single office, produce in the whole aspect and prosperity of the Church! What can be more mortifying to our Clergy, more discouraging to our people, than to see, in the adjoining Roman-Catholic Settlement, the Church of Rome giving full efficiency to her Ecclesiastical arrangements by the establishment of a Bishop of French origin, and to know that a second has been established in Columbia, [His residence, I believe, is within the limits of the United States; but his jurisdiction is considered to cross the Line.] while the Church of the Sovereign and of the Empire remains yet among them in a defective and mutilated form and that, although she has sufficiently proved her perfect adaptation to the peculiar task required in the Territory, and there is reason to believe that even now there are [159/160] more Indian hearts prepared to receive the Gospel from her hands. The Church, in the early days of Christianity, was planted in new regions by seating, at a central point, the Bishop with his Cathedral and his College of Presbyters, who ranged the country here and there under his direction. [It would be very desirable, I think, to train some of the Natives for the Ministry; and to require it of some of the English Missionaries to learn Indian languages. But, upon the whole, although the mixture would be good, it is found that the European Clergyman has the most influence, and that the prophet who is in his own country is less honoured. And Mr. Cockran is a strong advocate for bringing the Indians as speedily as possible to the use of the English language, and stimulating them to the acquisition by some bars left in their way till they make it. He thinks this is the surest way to anglify them in their sentiments also.] And this, or the nearest approach to this of which the times are susceptible, is what is wanted now. It is wanted in Prince Rupert's Land. The [160/161] effect of my own flying visit, and imperfect ministrations, sufficiently demonstrates the existence of the want. Most cheerfully, most gladly, would I repeat the journey, under the same arrangement, every four or five years, if that would serve the purpose, so long as I may be spared in health and strength, and provided I could afford to steal the time from the yearly increasing duties of my own charge. But the fact is, that the fruits of such a visit as mine, instead of sufficing for the exigencies which exist, serve rather to set in strong relief the real character of those exigencies as demanding, imperiously, an established provision for the exercise of the Episcopal functions upon the spot. And indeed, by the time at which another visit might be paid by myself, the Missions may be found so far to have extended themselves, that it would be impossible to accomplish the journey, and to return, within the season open for travelling. But shall it be supposed that things are to be left for such a shift? Is it actually come to this, that the Church [161/162] of Rome can establish two Bishoprics in ground which ought specially to be taken up by the Church of England, and that the Church of England cannot establish one? I am not proposing any interference here with what the Church of Rome has positively in her hands, nor any control of her zeal by measures of intolerance: there is abundance of work for the Church of England to do without anything like this, and they are surely better blessings that she would dispense. We cannot think with complacency, if we love the truth of God, of the extension of Romanism instead of Scriptural religion; but it is of the plain duties and the plain wants of the Church of England that I am speaking, independently of all other considerations, and as they exist in themselves. And cannot means be found to enable her for the discharge of these duties, and to supply these wants within her bosom; or, if means are provided, cannot men be found to use them? Forbid the thought! I feel confident that, if that were my business, I could find the [162/163] man, and a fitting man, myself. The branch of our Episcopal Church which subsists in foreign America has consecrated a Bishop for China, where we had carried war--a necessary war, it may be granted, and one ordained, in the providence of God, to break down the barriers of ages, and open the way for the introduction of blessings; but war was what we carried there--and if America can now carry, to the extreme point of the globe, the Church in her completeness of form, can it be believed, can it be endured, that England should leave her own Dependencies unsupplied? I am well aware that whatever other effect may be produced by these poor Appeals of mine--which, such as they are, I have made some sacrifices and some forced efforts, in the midst of the pressure of other duties, to prepare--they will, if known at all abroad, stimulate other parties to pre-occupy as much as may be possible of the ground. It is not in a spirit of rivalry, or from notions of competition with them, that I desire to see our own Church doing her part. But let her do her [163/164] own duty, and commit the issue to God above. I cannot, for one, withhold the expression of my feelings in the cause. "While I have been "musing" of these things, "my heart was hot within me: the fire kindled, and I have spoken with my tongue." And I may speak, if so permitted, yet again, though in a different way. It is for others to carry the work into effect to deliberate, to plan, and to execute. But a move should be made at once an earnest, a determined move, with the eye of faith turned up to God, the heart lifted in the fervency of prayer, and the hand put to the work without looking back.
Your very faithful Servant,
G. J. MONTREAL.