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The Rainbow in the North
A Short Account of the First Establishment of Christianity in Rupert's Land by the Church Missionary Society.
By Sarah Tucker.

London: James Nisbet, 1851.

Chapter VII. Indian Village continued--Pigwys

"In due season we shall reap, if we faint not."--Gal. vi. 9.

THE cultivation of the new settlement was, as we have said, begun in the spring of 1833, and though the progress was slow, it was steady. A house was built for the Chief, who willingly took up his abode here, and one Indian after another (chiefly from the Crees) joined him, and set to work in good earnest to clear the ground, to sow their seed, and to build for themselves small and rough, but substantial dwellings. The walls of these cottages were made of logs of oak or maple, plastered with mud, and neatly whitewashed; the roofs were thatched with reeds, and covered with earth; and for their windows they used the skins of fish.

One of Mr. Cockran's first cares was to build a school room, and, after much persuasion, he prevailed on the parents to send their children for instruction; but he found the management of these untamed beings no easy task. The Indians never control their children, nor will they suffer them to be controlled by others; and as knowledge was as yet of no value in their eyes, the only method of obtaining even an occasional attendance was by giving them one meal in the day, and providing them with warm clothing in the winter. The interior of the schoolroom presented for some time a strange scene of confusion and disorder.

"If," says Mr. Cockran, "we had the same number of the wildest birds in the forest let loose in a room, we should not find it more difficult to move among them. They run in and out, learn or play, according to their pleasure, quarrel with each other, and always seek to settle their quarrels by the knife or the bow and arrow. To assume anything like authority would be to drive them away."

Mr. Cockran, however, was happy in finding a master, Mr. Cook, who partook of his own devotedness and per severance; and by gentle persuasion and almost imperceptible restraint, succeeded by degrees in bringing the school into something like order. The children began to take pleasure in learning, the knife and the bows and arrows were reserved for more fitting use, and in about two years the school assumed the appearance which we have described in the preceding chapter. Not that it was possible ever to bring it to the regularity of an English school. The susceptibility of the boys to the complaint called "thinking long," made it necessary for Mr. Cook to allow them to go out to hunt or fish whenever they liked; and yet even with this precaution several of them died.

The first year that cultivation was attempted here the crops were tolerably good, and Mr. Cockran urged them to reserve a sufficient quantity for seed for the ensuing spring; but in vain: they could not overcome their own habits of improvidence, nor resist the importunities of their wandering relations.

"My relations from the woods," replied Red Deer to Mr. Cockran, "come to me and say, 'My brother, you are rich, you have a house, you are warm, you eat, but we are cold and hungry;' so I let them come and warm themselves at my fire, and sleep in my room. I cook for them, they eat; and when they go away, they say 'Give us a little to take away.' I give, I give, but they are scarcely gone when others come. I cook, I give, I give, they soon will have the whole."

It was easier to Red Deer to give till all was gone, and then to depend on Mr. Cockran for support, than to refuse these idle wanderers, or to help them only on the condition that in the spring they would help themselves.

The consequence was that they were left without seed-corn or potatoes; and as the store of the Missionaries was too low to afford them any effectual assistance, their fields in 1834 would have remained unsown, and all the improvement that had taken place would have been lost, had not the people at the Rapids nobly come forward to their assistance; and though themselves straitened by having to repair the injury done to their own church by lightning, generously sent them a large supply of wheat, barley, and potatoes, for seed.

Gradually, however, the Indians improved in these respects; and we have seen the testimony which Mr. Cockran himself bore of the state of the village two years and a half after its commencement.

The erection of a mill had greatly aided in this improvement; hitherto the people had been accustomed to dry the corn in a pan and bruise it between two stones; but this mill not only enabled them to get proper meal, and make it into wholesome bread, but it seemed to develope a new character in them. Nothing that had yet been done had served to rouse them so effectually from their natural apathy as this did. On the day on which it was first used, Mr. Cockran rode down to see it, and found the whole village in a state of bustle and excitement. Some were threshing their corn, some carrying it to the mill on their shoulders, or dragging it on a sledge, while an eager group were at the mill itself, waiting till their turn should come, or handling the meal as it fell into the box, scarcely able to persuade themselves that this was indeed the produce of their own industry.

The improvement in their moral and religious state kept pace with that of their social habits. From the first, their minister had, while assisting them in their work, taken every opportunity of scattering the seeds of Divine truth, though for some time there was no appearance of its taking root. In December 1833, he commenced a weekly evening meeting, but for some time with little to cheer him. The attendance was very small; some were afraid of hearing their sins condemned; others were conjurers, who imagined that if they listened to the Word of God their magical power would depart from them; and Mr. Cockran's homeward ride of thirteen miles, often through storm and snow, was saddened with the feeling that he was spending his strength for nought.

But before very long a little gleam of light appeared; the few who did attend continued very steadily, and seemed impressed. Early in the spring a woman applied for baptism, others followed her example, and after a few months of diligent instruction the foundation of a Christian Church was laid here by the baptism of ten adults and as many children.

It was soon after this that Mr. Cockran was summoned to a distressing scene. One of the Indians, who had a cottage and field, and who had for many months regularly attended the means of grace, and conducted himself with the greatest propriety, had, for some time past, wished to be baptized; but his wife and mother so violently opposed this that he deferred speaking to Mr. Cockran on the subject, hoping that their prejudice would subside. After a while he was taken ill; and the wife and mother, notwithstanding his entreaties to the contrary, sent for the conjurer, who invoked the spirits of the wind, the forest, the sea, and the dead, to restore him to health.

We may suppose the distress this caused to the poor man, but it led him to a determination no longer to delay sending for his minister, whom he entreated to baptize him. Mr. Cockran, anxious to know the state of his mind, attempted to enter into conversation with him, but the two women, unmindful of the sick man's suffering, assailed them both with such a torrent of abuse, that conversation was impossible. With great difficulty Mr. Cockran prevailed on them to leave the house; and then, when all was quiet, and he had ascertained his fitness for the rite, he baptized him and two of his children, who attended the school. Two days afterwards he died in peace, the first-fruits of the Indian Village.

A few months later, Mr. Cockran had the privilege of baptizing several other persons, some of whose cases were very interesting, and none, perhaps, more so than that of the widow of the man above-mentioned, who, having been softened and awakened to a concern for her soul by the conduct and death of her husband, began to attend the weekly meetings, received regular instruction, and at last joined herself to the people of the Lord.

In January 1835, Mr. Cockran began an afternoon's service on the Lord's day; more he could not attempt, for his own congregation occupied him in the morning and the evening; and he could expect no help from Mr. Jones, on whom lay the charge of the Upper and Middle churches. Early in the following year, the number of regular attendants had increased to 100; and the almost unhoped-for prospect of an Indian Church began to open upon him. His congregation at the Rapids took great interest in the plan, and with their accustomed liberality and kindness gave him all the help in their power, some of them walking twenty-six miles to give him an occasional day's work gratuitously.

The Indians themselves were very much pleased with the idea, but whether from any remains of a superstitious feeling, or only from their natural apathy, could not be induced to set about digging the foundations, till, in June 1836, Mr. Cockran began the work with his own hands. They then readily joined him, and the work was carried on with such spirit, that before the end of the year the church was completed, and this fresh testimony for God on the banks of Red River was added to the pretty picture already described. [Mr. Jones, alluding to a service he held here in the following summer, speaks of the scene as most picturesque:--

"The clump of trees in which the church stands was in full foliage, the doors and windows were open on account of the heat, and the eye caught glimpses of the river gliding past in glassy smoothness between the trunks of ancient and decaying trees. The people before me were all Indians, the feeble remains of a nation passing into oblivion."]

This steady industry was the more encouraging, as the want of the supplies from England prevented Mr. Cockran from being able fully to remunerate them for their work, or to give the usual supply of clothing to their children. Their own crops, too, had failed, and they were often entirely dependent for their support on a book or a net let down through ice three feet in thickness. And yet these people would go entirely without food, rather than either hunt or fish on the Lord's day.

At length the time arrived when the Church was to be opened, and January 4, 1837, was fixed on for the purpose.

It was not only the eye of the Indian that glistened with thankful joy on that occasion. The weather was stormy and bitterly cold, the snow fell so fast that the track was invisible, yet so great an interest had been felt in the erection of this Church, that all the officers of the Company within reach, and a large number of settlers from the neighbourhood, made their way through storm and snow to be present at the opening of it.

The little Church was full, and few among the assembled throng could remain unmoved at the sight of above two hundred of these once half-naked savages, now "clothed and in their right mind," joining with seriousness in the responses, listening attentively to the sermon, or, with sweet and well-tuned voices, singing the praises of Him who had done such great things for them. Mr. Cockran's own heart overflowed with gratitude, and even Mr. Jones's sorrow-stricken spirit was filled with joy. There was one present on that joyful day whose eye shone as brightly, and whose heart glowed as fervently as any there, and to whom Mr. Cockran looked for future usefulness, but who was soon, in the inscrutable Providence of God, called up from the congregation on earth to join the company of the redeemed above. This was one of the sons of the Chief, who had been brought up in the school, and whose heart had been opened to receive the truth as it is in Jesus. He had at his baptism received the name of George Prince; and finding he was a clever lad, Mr. Cockran took him to reside with him, that he might be further instructed in the Holy Scriptures, and might acquire a better knowledge of English.

Nothing could he more satisfactory than his conduct. His anxious desire to impart to his countrymen a knowledge of the Saviour whom he had himself found and loved, stimulated him to a steady application to his studies, while, in the intervals of relaxation, he showed none of the usual indolence and selfishness of the Indian character. He would never see Mr. Cockran at work without coming to assist him; and though often scoffed at by some passing Indians, who would call him "slave," and hold him up to ridicule, this never moved him from his purpose nor roused his spirit.

Thus he went on, "a faithful friend and willing helper" to his benefactor, till the autumn of 1837, when he seemed unwell; and Mr. Cockran, knowing the prejudices still remaining in the Indian mind against European nursing, sent him home: here he grew worse, medical advice was of no avail; he lingered for three weeks, and then fell asleep in Jesus. During this period he gave abundant proof of the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. His faith and hope rested unhesitatingly on Christ, whom he boldly confessed before his people, begging his father and his friends not to weep for him, as he was going to live with God, where he should he for ever happy, and urging on them to learn the way of salvation, so that when they died he should meet them again. His earthly remains now rest in the little churchyard of the Indian Village.

During the last two years the settlement had been gradually increased by the arrival of families from a distance, and now extended at intervals nearly three miles along the river. Some of the inhabitants still remained heathen, but at the time of the opening of the Church there were, we are told, forty-seven Christian families, consisting of two hundred and sixty individuals, residing there, and listening to the sound of the Gospel. Great had been the change effected by that sound. Formerly they had been addicted to every crime, but all had been renounced. Drunkenness and licentiousness, heretofore so general, were now not to be found; and though they still had many peculiarities and infirmities, and many old habits were still cleaving to them, yet their hearts' desire was to serve God wholly, and to love their neighbours as themselves. The congregation averaged above two hundred, and nowhere could a more devout and attentive one be met with. Their heathen neighbours had become more orderly, for in 1835, when Divine worship was first established, the services were often interrupted by the din of the conjurer's drum, but now all was quiet, and the Sabbath was as well observed there as in any English village. "Little, indeed, still," says Mr. Cockran, "when compared with other Missions, or with the wide extent of heathenism around, yet great when compared with former days, or when viewed in the light of eternity."

The number of Christians continued to increase; and one interesting case, among others, was that of a noted conjurer, who had taken up his residence here some time before, but continued violently opposed to Christianity. When his children came to school, it was with the imprecations of his gods upon their heads; and when his daughter, who was soon able to read, tried to persuade him to listen to some of God's Word, he would sneer at her, and tell her she was going to ruin. After this he gave her in marriage to a heathen man, who had come from some distant place; and when the poor girl entreated that she should not be obliged to accompany him, her father forced her into the canoe with his own paddle. Unable to endure the miseries of her new life, she made her escape at the beginning of the winter, and returned to the village. Soon after, she and two of her brothers were taken ill, and were very anxious to be baptized, when the strong feeling of parental affection overcame every other, and the father himself took the message to Mr. Cockran. Mr. Cockran gladly consented, but only on condition that he would himself bring them to the Church, and publicly declare that he would allow them the free exercise of their religion. It was a great struggle for the poor man, for he feared that if he entered a Christian place of worship his occult art would depart from him; but at last he ventured to the door, and gradually moved into the Church itself to witness the baptism of his children. It seems to have made an impression upon him, for he soon after put himself under Christian instruction, and was baptized in the summer of 1837. After his conversion he assured Mr. Cockran that his former conjuring was not imposture, and that he was convinced he had the power of invoking spirits, who would answer his questions, and sing and dance at his command. He told him that he had obtained the power by fasting for eight days for this express purpose

But a still more interesting case was that of the Chief himself, Pigwys, in whom we doubt not that our readers have already felt some concern. They will remember the doubts and difficulties with which he gave his consent to Mr. Cockran to endeavour to form an Indian settlement; but from the time that consent was given he never wavered, continuing firm and faithful, notwithstanding the violent opposition of his tribe, who were made still more angry by seeing the Crees profiting by the advantages which they themselves continued to refuse.

They went so far as to set up his eldest son as a rival to him, intending to deprive him of his chieftainship, but the scheme failed, and the young man left the neighbourhood and joined a distant portion of the tribe.

Throughout all this affair, Pigwys behaved with the greatest moderation; indeed, the whole of his character was undergoing a complete change, his old habits of sin were broken through, and he appeared not far from the kingdom of God. He had for a long time regularly attended all the means of grace, had sent his children to the school, and, as we have seen, had allowed one of them to be baptized.

The illness and death of this young man were severe trials to his father's faith: his heathen friends gathered round him, attributing his illness to his having forsaken the religion of his forefathers, and eagerly pressing to have the usual conjurations performed for him. But the good old man steadfastly refused. "Brethren," he said, "you are too late; I have given up thy heart to this new religion, and I intend to prove that I can leave my son in the hands of God."

All this time Pigwys remained unbaptized; he had often applied for baptism; he had given up his old sins and drunkenness, which had been his besetting one, was no longer a habit; but Mr. Cockran knew that he could not always resist the invitation, when visiting at the Upper Settlement, to take a little, which often grew to more, and he still occasionally returned home in a state very unfit for a Christian.

But by the grace of God this last chain of sin was at last effectually broken through; and in February 1838, his minister had the joy of receiving this faithful, upright friend, into the fold of Christ's Church.

The distance of the Indian Village from the Rapids was a great disadvantage to the people, for though, notwithstanding the failure both in his health and spirits, Mr. Cockran never suffered either cold, or heat, or rain, or melting snow to interfere with his Sunday service there, yet it was but seldom that he could visit it during the week, and both himself and the people deeply felt the importance of having a resident clergyman among them.

In August 1838, Mr. Jones visited the village before he took his departure for England. He held divine service in the Church, and gave a parting address, after which Pigwys stepped into the aisle and said, "You have spoken as you always do, as a father to his children, and I wish all would listen to you. I send by you a letter to the Missionary men in England: tell them not to forget me--I want the word of life to be always spoken in my land."

Another Indian, a chief of the Muscaigoes, then came forward and spoke to the same effect, adding with great vehemence, "Toll them to make haste, time is short, and death is snatching away our friends very fast; tell them to make haste." There were from 300 to 350 Indians present, and as Mr. Jones stood at the church door to shake hands with each one as he passed, there was scarcely a dry eye among them. How different from the stoical indifference of their former character!

The following is the letter sent by the Chief to the Church Missionary Society, accompanied with a calumet, or pipe of peace, made of the peculiar red stone considered sacred among them:--

"August, I, 1838.

"It has never been my custom to leave off in the midst of my work, but to finish it off hand; and what I said to you in my former letter I intend to adhere to, to the end of my life. My friends, my heart is sore to see our praying-master (Mr. Cockran) driven about like a slave, to teach all the people here. You cannot know how far he has to go; I think you are killing our friend; you should send another to teach us. My friends, what are you about? There is not a summer but some of the French praying-masters arrive, but I do not wish to go to them; I wish you alone to teach me the word of God. I am getting very old, my friends, but there are young people growing up who are instructed to seek everlasting life, and I sincerely hope they will find it. I do not now look so much to my body as to my soul, and I intend therefore to hold fast to your instructions. It was fully my intention that my son, whose hand wrote to you for me last year, should have been useful to you, but he is now no more; he has left me for ever; he sleeps by your church, and I hope to sleep there too. I hope, therefore, you will more particularly consider my case. You may, perhaps, he discouraged as you hear that many of my young men do not wish to follow your doctrine; but, you know, perseverance goes a great way, and I think in time many will be brought in.

"Chief of the Red River Indians."

So anxious was the good old man upon this subject, that as Mr. Jones was getting into his canoe he again came up to him and said, "Do you send me a letter next spring, that I may know what to expect."

Several others of the principal men sent also a letter to the Committee, but we must reserve this for the next chapter.

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