Chapter VI. The Indian Village "Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain."--St. James, v. 7.
EARLY in the spring of 1833 Mr. Cockran stood on a point of land formed by a sharp Lend of the river, thirteen miles below his own dwelling at the Rapids, and as he surveyed the scene before him his mind was , occupied with thoughts of the misery of the Indians and with plans for their relief. All was a dreary waste; the sweep of the river had formed a kind of bay, the shore of which was lined with wood and tangled thicket that had never yet been disturbed by the hand of man, while one solitary wigwam on the margin of the frozen stream, with its wretched-looking owner breaking through the ice and fishing for his scanty meal, rather added to than relieved the desolation that reigned around,
In October 1835 he again stood on the same spot, and thus records the change which, by God's blessing, two years and a half of unwearying toil had wrought:--
"Now, from the opposite side of the river, I see the village standing along the crescent hay; twenty-three little white-washed cottages are shining through the trees, each with its column of smoke curling to the skies, and each with its stacks of wheat and barley. Around them lie various patches of cultivated ground; here and there pigs are seen busily seeking for their food, cows are lowing for their calves, while in the centre stands the school-house, where sixty merry children, 'just let loose from school,' are leaping, running, or wrestling; and all is life and cheerfulness. It is," continues he, "but a speck in the wilderness, and a stranger might despise it; but we who know the difficulties that have attended the work, can truly say that God hath done great things, were it only that those sheaves of corn have been raised by hands that hitherto had only been exercised in deeds of blood and cruelty to man and beast."
It will be the object of the few following pages to relate the steps which led to this result, and to trace (though faintly) the history of one of the most encouraging instances on record of the blessing bestowed upon strong faith, prayerful hope, and persevering love.
The intercourse that Mr. Jones and Mr. Cockran had with those Indians who had from time to time joined their respective congregations, convinced them that the only effectual mode of permanently benefiting this people was by forming an exclusively Indian settlement, where the peculiarities of their minds and habits could more freely develope themselves, and be more effectually directed, than when dwelling among a mixed population.
They foresaw many and great difficulties in this plan, but they resolved to attempt it; and having obtained permission from England, Mr. Cockran undertook to begin the work.
The chief difficulties arose from the character and habits of the Indians themselves. Sunk as they were in the scale of society, their pride and self-sufficiency almost exceeded belief. The arts of civilisation, especially of husbandry, were looked upon by them as derogatory to the free unfettered Ked man, and only fit for degraded Europeans; and they turned with disdain and strong aversion, not only from the religion of the white man, but from all his modes of life.
Even in those cases where this prejudice had in some measure given way, there were other difficulties to contend with, in their ignorance of every art, in their utter helplessness and indifference.
"When," says Mr. Cockran, "the Indian steps on shore from his birch-rind canoe, his blanket thrown over his naked shoulders, in one hand his gun, with which to procure his next meal, and on his other arm a small hatchet with which to cut the poles for his tent, followed by his family as peeled as himself--a few pieces of birch-rind for their tent, and a kettle to cook their food, constituting the whole of their property;--if such a man even wishes to change his habits, how is he to do it? He has neither knowledge nor implements of husbandry, nor power of obtaining either. All must be gratuitously bestowed upon them, if we would locate them; and we must locate, them before we can preach the Gospel to them. [It must not be supposed that Mr. Cockran held the erroneous opinion that civilisation, in, itself, in any degree facilitated the reception of the Gospel, but the case of the Red Indian was a peculiar one and required a peculiar course of proceeding.]
A still more serious obstacle to the improvement of the Indians arose from their almost universal habits of intoxication. "Fire-water" had been but too freely supplied to them in exchange for their furs, and though about this time the authorities forbade the sale of it at Red River, the system was openly carried on at other places, and clandestinely even there.
But Mr. Cockran's mind and energies were only quickened by difficulties, and early in 1830 he began to take measures for the accomplishment of his long-cherished scheme.
Between the Rapids and the Lake lay a considerable tract of country, called the Indian Reserves, belonging to a portion of the Saulteaux tribe; and it was on some spot within those limits that Mr. Cockran desired to form the settlement.
The consent of Pigwys, the chief, must first, however, be obtained; and this was no easy matter, for, naturally enough, the Indians are very jealous of any encroachment on their lands, or on their liberty: they could neither understand nor believe the possibility of disinterested kindness; and they had no feeling of sin, or fear of eternal misery, that would make them desire the Gospel for its own sake.
"In vain," writes Mr. Cockran, "do we stand and cry, 'Come, ye thirsty, and drink!' for the heathen thirst not; in vain do we invite them to buy pardoning mercy and renewing grace without money and without price, for they feel not the want of either. I do not, therefore, intend to go to Pigwys and his tribe with the proposal of instructing them--this would be useless. They think themselves much wiser than we are, and when they intend to compliment us, they will tell us we are almost as wise and as good as an Indian. So I lay wisdom and goodness aside, for I have found from six years' experience that making pretensions to these will not obtain the desired end. The Indian thinks himself cheated always and by every one, and to offer religion to him for its own sake and his soul's sake only raises new suspicions. My only hope of success is to induce them to settle for their own temporal benefit, and at the same time to preach to them the glad tidings of a Saviour's love."
Mr. Cockran had several conversations with the chief, but without success. It was in vain that he represented to him the advantages of settling, the greater certainty of food, and a warm habitation for the winter; that he promised to come himself and help him, to supply him with implements, and to build a house for him. The old man still objected, giving as his chief reason that if they forsook the customs of their ancestors, and laid aside their "medicine," their drums, and their conjurations, the Master of Life would be angry with them, and would not prosper them in their hunting and fishing expeditions.
It was strange that the unsoundness of this reason did not strike him, as it was several times brought forward on some of his frequent visits to Mr. Cockran's house to beg from him some food for his family, especially for meal to thicken their musk-rat soup!
Sometimes these conversations took place at the chief's own abode, and Mr. Cockran thus describes one of his visits there:--
"The lower part of his miserable tent was formed of birch-rind, and the upper part of long grass. Five young children--dirty, and almost naked--sat round a small fire in the middle, the smoke of which filled the tent. His eldest daughter was boiling a kettle of soup made of haws and water, having failed in procuring anything more substantial."
It was rather a favourable opportunity to press the subject of cultivation, for Pigwys complained of having been very unsuccessful during the autumn, and of being three hundred rats in debt, and seemed half inclined to try some new experiment.
But he could not quite conquer his prejudices, and, speaking of the altered condition of the Indians since the white man had appeared among them, exclaimed,--
"Before you whites came to trouble the ground, our rivers were full of fish and our woods of deer; our creeks abounded in beavers, and our plains were covered with buffaloes. But now we are brought to poverty. Our beavers are gone for ever, our buffaloes are fled to the lands of our enemies, the number of our fish is diminished, our cats and our rats are few in number, the geese are afraid to pass over the smoke of your chimneys, and we are left to starve. While you whites are growing rich upon, the very dust of our fathers, troubling the plains with the plough, covering them with cows in the summer, and in winter feeding your cattle with hay from the very swamps whence our beavers have been driven!"
The following winter proved a very severe one; and in the spring of 1831 Mr. Cockran renewed his proposals, strengthening his arguments by a reference to his own circumstances,--
"Six times," said he, "has that river been frozen since I came to your country, and as many times has it been open again. Six times have the flocks of wild-fowl passed and repassed; I diminished not their number, nor retarded their flight. Yet you sec I have enough. Every time you have passed my house I have fed you when hungry, and often sent you away laden with provisions. Still I am not in want. I have a house, a field, a garden, cows, and pigs. I have enough to feed my family, my servants, and the Indian children, and to give to the passing stranger.
"Now, if you will let me come and farm at your encampment, it shall be entirely for the benefit of yourself and your tribe. I will teach you; I will supply you with hoes and with seed; I will send a man with oxen to plough the land; I will help you to build comfortable houses, and to preserve the corn and potatoes for winter use."
The sufferings of the winter had inclined the chief to listen more favourably to this proposal; he even himself cordially acquiesced in it, and promised to consult his tribe on the subject. Mr. Cockran was quite encouraged. "If I can once," said he, "get a footing among them, and make them see that I have a desire for their welfare, their prejudices against myself as a white man, and against the message I bear, will soon vanish." Pigwys, however, found that the principal men of his tribe objected to the plan; he himself hesitated; and again the summer passed without anything being done.
The next winter was still more severe than the preceding one, and the half-starved Indians seemed so much more inclined to listen to his proposals, that our Missionary determined without loss of time to seek for an eligible spot.
About fifteen miles below the Rapids, on the opposite side of the river, there was a part of the Indian Reserves called Netley Creek, much resorted to by the Saulteaux of the neighbourhood. Here, in spring and autumn, there was usually a large gathering of the tribe to consult the chief conjurer on their good or ill-fortune; here many of them would encamp for a few weeks at a time during their short summer, and it was here that Pigwys' tent was generally to be found.
Mr. Cockran thought that this might be a promising spot on which to begin his operations, and in April 1832 he set out to examine it. After a wearisome journey--partly on horseback through a succession of swamps, and partly in a small canoe, making his way between large blocks of ice piled one upon another--he reached the place; and though he found it far less suitable than he expected, he determined to begin at once, and sent down two men and a yoke of oxen to break up the ground.
But by this time the rivers were open, the fish was plentiful, the Indians had forgotten the miseries of the past winter, and they raised fresh difficulties. They now determined to allow no further steps to be taken till they had consulted their chief "medicine man," or conjurer, who was preparing for the annual feast and incantations: this took place at the end of May, and Mr. Cockran was invited, to attend. He found a large tent had been pitched, and was directed to the east end, where the chief was sitting, fanning himself with the skin of a musk-rat. Pieces of riband and cloth were hanging all round the tent,--the offerings of these poor people to the conjurer, who were "thus giving what they could ill spare in order to be told a lie; while to the truth, which they might have had without money and without price, they would not listen." There were as many as one hundred and fifty, men, women, and children, crowded together in the tent, the top of which was open, and admitted the rays of a cloudless sun; and here the whole party were engaged in dancing, shouting, singing, and drumming, shaking their rattles, and running round and round the tent. The weather was extremely warm, the skins of these naked barbarians had been well rubbed with sturgeon-oil, and we shall not wonder that our Missionary soon found himself obliged to escape into the open air, without waiting for the conclusion of the proceedings. Knowing that this conjurer was a clever but ill-disposed man, and that any improvement among the Indians would endanger his craft, Mr. Cockran greatly feared that the oracle would be unpropitious; but God in some way overruled the expected opposition, and he was allowed to proceed.
To those who have the opportunity and leisure to read them, the details of this first establishment of the Indian settlement afford a very instructive lesson. Nothing could be more discouraging, whether we look at the indifference and opposition of the Indians, the nature of the only available land, or the amount of the resources required compared with the very small means that were within his reach. But Mr. Cockran conferred not with flesh and blood, not even with his own occasional misgivings: moved with compassion for the people, and longing to extend his Master's kingdom, h& grasped the promises of God with an unyielding, though sometimes a trembling faith, and all the warmth of his heart and the activity of his mind wore directed to this object. His work of faith and labour of love were unfailing; but it is his "patience of hope" to which we would especially direct the attention of our younger readers.
Knowing the incalculable importance of the work, and believing that, with God's help, it might be accomplished, he did not suffer his thoughts to be occupied in considering whether it should he attempted, but concentrated his whole mind and energies on the best mode of carrying it out; and we only wish we could place before them more in detail the unconquered perseverance with which he met and overcame his daily difficulties and disappointments.
Determined to make at once a decided effort, he left his home and congregation, and taking with him two of his own servants and a yoke of oxen, set off for Netley Creek. Here he pitched his leathern tent, and though the men and oxen, as well as himself, suffered much at times from want of proper shelter, he continued here, week after week, returning to the Rapids on the Saturday and back again to his work on the Monday.
At this time there were about two hundred Indians in the encampment, but he could only prevail upon seven of them to attempt cultivation, and even these could not be depended on. If the weather were had, they would not stir from their tents; and if fine, they were as likely to set off on a fishing expedition as to assist in clearing the ground for their own crops.
One incident is too characteristic to be omitted. Some of the ground was prepared, and Mr. Cockran wished to send to the Rapids for the seed. He applied to the chief for two of the young men to take a canoe and fetch it, while he would ride home and prepare it for them; but though it was solely for their own use, not one would move, till at last one of the sons of the chief offered to ride Mr. Cockran's horse if he would take charge of the canoe! Unmoved by the rudeness and selfishness of this proposal, Mr. Cockran acceded to it, and in a moment the lad was mounted, his blanket thrown over his right shoulder, his hair adorned with narrow ribands, streaming behind his back, while his heel was diligently employed in urging the horse to its utmost speed. Off he flew as proud as possible, and was out of sight in an instant among the tall poplars, leaving Mr. Cockran and his servant to paddle the canoe fifteen miles against the current to fetch seed for his own people!
Thus it went on, day after day, till there was as much seed sown as there was ground cleared to receive it, Mr. Cockran taking every opportunity of bringing forward some portion of Divine Truth, here a little and there a little, as his hearers could bear it.
Much as Mr. Cockran suffered from fatigue and anxiety, and occasionally from cold and want of proper food, this residence at Netley Creek was not without its use. It not only brought him to a more intimate acquaintance with the minds and habits of the Indians, but it enabled him to form a more just and encouraging estimate of the work that was going on in his own congregation.
"While at home," he says, "and seeing the inconsistencies and shortcomings of some of my flock, I am apt to imagine things are going on badly with us, and I ask, 'Is the Lord among us, or not?' But when I go to Netley Creek, and see the inhabitant of the forest with his miserable blanket wrapped round him; or when I witness the emblems of terror painted on many a face, and hear the woods resound with the terrific notes of the war-song,--then I can see that the Lord has done great things for us, whereof we may well rejoice. Such were some of my own people, and such, but for Divine grace, might we all have been."
"Night and day do the woods at Netley Creek resound with the deadening and depressing sounds of the conjurer's drum and rattle. Every time he strikes his drum, regularly and steadily as the ticking of a clock, and shouts out his dismal 'Ho, ho, ho!' I feel my spirits sink, and an Indian apathy seems to come over my whole frame. Cut when, on Saturday afternoon, I return to my dear family and comfortable home, all my better feelings are brought back again. One day in the house of God is better than a thousand; and my Sunday services with my devout and increasing congregation (now about 250), make me forget the toils, the griefs, the gloomy thoughts of the past week, and prepare me for the troubles of the nest."
Three rude dwellings were soon constructed, one for the chief, another for an Indian of the name of "Red Deer," who showed a desire to settle, and the third for a servant of Mr. Cockran's; but one shudders to read that the man who assisted in the building these cottages was called "Cannibal," from his having devoured nine of his own relations in a time of scarcity.
The first few months were months of great anxiety to Mr. Cockran. The summer proved wet and stormy, and in August a sharp frost injured the potatoes; the Indians were discouraged, and even Pigwys himself returned to his old idea that the "Master of Life" was angry with these "tremblers of the soil;" while the "medicine men" left no means untried to dissuade the cultivators from reaping the very crops they had with so much difficulty been persuaded to sow.
It was a time of anxious suspense, and great was Mr. Cockran's joy when, on Sept. 3d, 1832, he found the Indians beginning to reap their barley, and though they would only work for an hour at a time, and then would light their pipes and sit down to rest, yet in the course of a few days their little harvest was safely housed. Four out of the seven consumed the produce immediately in Indian feasts; and only three, one of whom was Pigwys, reserved the produce for winter store. But small as the quantity was, the advantage and comfort they found from it encouraged themselves and others to future efforts, so that, in the following spring, the number of cultivators was increased to fourteen.
Circumstances, however, induced Mr. Cockran to think it advisable to form another settlement; and with the cordial consent of the chief he fixed on Sugar Point (so called from the sugar-maple trees with which it abounded), two miles nearer to the Rapids, as a more suitable spot for a permanent establishment. One motive that influenced him was the hatred and jealousy that existed between the Saulteaux and the Crees, the former being the more wild and ferocious, and the latter having the reputation of greater skill in sorcery.
A touching incident occurred to Mr. Cockran in illustration of this. He mentions a visit he paid to the chief, whom he found in his tent with the conjurer, and another man, a Saulteaux, whose face was blackened with charcoal in token of grief. It seems he had lately lost two relations by sudden death, occasioned, as he was persuaded, by the incantations of the Crees, and his melancholy countenance told plainly his apprehensions of soon sharing the same fate himself. He was now taking counsel with the conjurer and with the chief how best to avert the danger, and the conference would probably have ended in the murder of some of the Crees. Our Missionary entered into conversation with him, showing him the improbability of the supposition, and the folly of thus attempting to avoid the danger, even if it were real.
Sometimes, as he listened to these arguments, a gleam of hope would brighten the countenance of the poor man, and his eyes would sparkle at the idea that perhaps his fears might be ungrounded, and his life be yet prolonged. But soon the awful thought would return that, possibly even now, some conjurer among the Crees was using against him the fatal spell, and again his countenance resumed its look of terror and despair. "How beautiful." exclaims Mr. Cockran, after narrating the circumstance, "does the Gospel appear when contrasted with such gloomy superstition! Well may the Christian rejoice in his own clear light and peaceful prospects, and well may he mourn over, and strive to remove, the awful darkness of his fellow men!"
Mr. Cockran accordingly began the new settlement at Sugar Point in the spring of 1833; it was one extremity of the "crescent bay," of which we spoke before, and our readers will perhaps already have concluded that this was the commencement of the Indian Village.
Henceforward it became the point to which the Missionary's attention was chiefly directed, and in the next chapter we will relate something of the progress of his work there.