"I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon."--Hosea, xiv. 5.
AT the end of the last chapter we promised our readers that we would lay before them the letter sent to the Committee of the Church Missionary Society by some of the principal men at the Indian Village, and though, as they will find, it differs considerably from that of their chief, it contains, as that did, the genuine expressions of the feelings of our Red brethren. It is as follows:--
"August 1, 1838.
"Servants of the Great God,
"We once more call to you for help, and hope our cry will avail. You sent us what you called the word of God; we left our hunting-grounds, and came to hear it. But we did not altogether like it, for it told us to leave off drunkenness and adultery, to keep only one wife, to cast away our idols and all our bad heathen ways; but as it still repeated to us that, if we did not, the great God would send us to the great devil's fire; by the goodness of God we saw at last it was true. We now like the word of God, and we have left off our sins; we have cast away our rattles, our drums, and our idols, and all our bad heathen ways. But what are we to do, our friends? Mr. Jones is going to leave us; Mr. Cockran talks of it. Must we turn to our idols and gods again? or must we turn to the French praying-masters? We see three French praying-masters have come to the River and not one for us! What is this, our friends? The word of God says that one soul is worth more than all the world; surely then, our friends, three hundred souls are worth one praying-master! It is not once or twice a-week teaching that is enough to make us wise; we have a bad heart, and we hate our bad hearts and all our evil ways, and we wish to cast them all away, and we hope in time, by the help of God, to be able to do it. But have patience, our friends; we hope our children will do better, and will learn to read God's book, so as to go forth to their country-people to tell them the way of life, and that many may be saved from the great devil's fire.
"We hope you will pity us, and hear our cry, and send us a father to live with us here to teach us. We thank you all for what you have done for us, and for sending us the Word of Life, and may the great God be kind to you all. We feel our hearts sore when we think of you all, and the praying-masters that are here: we pray for you and for them, and shall still do so."
These letters, as might be expected, were read with great interest by the Committee: and our readers will be glad to find that, after some little time, they felt themselves enabled to answer the appeal.
In the meantime the departure of Mr. Jones left the colony more destitute than before; the care of the four churches and their congregations, extending thirty miles along the river, lay entirely on Mr. Cockran, and we can only thankfully rejoice that he was enabled, though "in weariness and painfulness," to continue thus alone at his post for fourteen months, till the arrival of the Rev. W. Smithurst in the autumn of 1839.
Except in summer, when boats could pass up and down the river, the communication between the Rapids and the Indian settlement was at this time very difficult. There was no road for the latter half of the distance; and though, in winter, Mr. Cockran could ride with safety along the frozen surface of the stream, in spring and autumn this course was scarcely practicable. Often the surface would thaw, and freeze again with a deceitful crust of ice, too thin to bear his weight, and at every step his horse's feet would sink, through several inches of water, to the unthawed mass below, while the half-thawed, half-freezing mud upon the banks was still more perilous.
Though undeterred by these or any other difficulties, his progress was, of course, frequently delayed; but his congregations never seem to have been weary of waiting for him, and on one occasion he tells us that he found on his arrival they had been four hours in the church. [Speaking of his Sundays in the winter of this and other years, he says--"I leave home with my heart glowing with love, and with a desire to praise God and proclaim the message of salvation to my fellow-creatures. I ride on; a snow-storm drifting in my face almost blinds my horse and myself, my hands and my feet are benumbed, my face perhaps blistered with the intensity of the frost--the chill reaches the heart, and I seem to have lost all spiritual feeling. But when I hear two hundred voices joining to sing the praises of Him whom lately they knew not, my heart grows warm again; I remember His promise who has said 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,' and I, too, can rejoice in Him."]
An occasional Sunday service was all that Mr. Cock-ran could now give to the people of the Indian Village; yet, notwithstanding the scantiness of the means of grace, evidences were not wanting that that Holy Spirit, who, "like a dew from the Lord, tarrieth not for man nor waiteth for the sons of men," was still carrying on his work among them.
One case was that of a young man who had for some time been under the influence of religion, and who now lay on his dying bed. Mr. Cockran asked him--
"'Joseph, what do you wish me to do for you?' 'I have sent for you, sir, to pray for me just here,' pointing to his bedside. 'When I was strong and could go to church, I felt happy in the worship of God; and as long as I could kneel down here and pray, I found my heart light: but now I cannot rise, my heart is heavy and cold as ice, and I fear it is not well with me.' 'Do you,' asked Mr. Cockran, 'believe that the Son of God is able and willing to save you?' 'Yes, entirely,' answered the youth; 'and it is by looking to Him that my heart has been drawn away from the world; and I now rejoice that I am going out of it. In heaven I shall be near God, and He will make me happy. I sometimes feel a little afraid when I think of the change, but I say to myself that Jesus is there, and He will call me to come near Him; and then all my fears go.'"
More conversation of the same kind ensued, till a poor woman who was present, quite overcome, hid her face in her blanket, and began to sob, crying out, "Oh, I would give the whole world if I could have such a hope on my dying bed!"
On the 30th of September, 1839, to the great joy of Mr. Cockran, Mr. Smithurst arrived to take charge of this congregation; and, anxious to enter on his work without delay, he took up his abode at once in an unfinished dwelling, which had been begun for him near the church.
Mr. Cockran assembled the people to introduce their new minister, and to bid them farewell as no longer his own flock. Drawing a picture of their former state, he called on them to compare with it their present condition, led them to consider the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and, deeply affected himself, drew tears from Mr. Smithurst and most of the congregation.
Mr. Smithurst was surprised and encouraged by the state in which he found the village. The congregation was serious and devout, the school was regularly attended, and the children were quiet and orderly in their general conduct. There were now ninety-eight in the day-school, and on Sundays these were joined by fifty-eight adults. [One of these was an old woman, who had attended regularly for six years, without having yet accomplished learning the alphabet; yet she would not give it up; and some time after told Mr. Smithurst with great joy that she now knew all the letters except three! A good example of perseverance to those with better opportunities.]
Mr. Cook, the schoolmaster, had regularly met as many of the people as could come, for reading the Scriptures and for prayer, every evening in the schoolroom; and another man, Peter Carrigel, instructed the elder boys at his own house. It was pleasant also to find, that when the men were absent on a hunting or fishing expedition, it was their constant practice to return home on the Saturday and go back on the Monday (thus losing three days in every week), if within reach; or if too distant, they would spend the Sunday together, reading the church service, singing hymns, and talking over passages of the Bible.
We might here introduce details from Mr. Smithurst's journal, which would enable our readers to realise somewhat of every-day life on the banks of the Red River. We could tell of the candles for his use being made on the premises, of his corn being threshed on the frozen river, of the store of provisions laid in in autumn for himself, his farm-servants, and the passing stranger; no less a quantity than 2000 pounds of dried buffalo meat, and a still larger proportion of beef and mutton, which had to be frozen before it was stored up, as it would be eight months before fresh meat could be again procured.
Or we might describe our missionary's early rides on Sunday mornings to take the service at the Rapids, while Mr. Cockran undertook the Upper and Middle Churches; sometimes through storm and snow, his shoes freezing to the stirrup, and icicles of frozen breath hanging round his horse's mouth; or sometimes, on a brighter winter morning, filled with admiration as he rode through woods of aspen, birch, and poplar, whose stems and larger branches, catching the rays of the rising sun, shone like burnished gold, while the icicles on the smaller twigs sparkled like diamonds. [Mr. Smithurst had employed some of the people in making a road along the banks of the river.]
In summer it was a different scene that met his view: the trees were clothed with their varied foliage, and adorned with a vast profusion of wild roses; while here and there, between their stems, the river was seen pursuing its onward course. And for the last five miles the open country was covered with flowers of every form and hue, among which the brilliant yellow lady's slipper was the most conspicuous.
There was one feature in the prospect that never varied. In all seasons, and in all weathers, no sooner did our Sunday traveller come out upon the plains than he saw persons gathering from all quarters, some on foot, some in their carioles, hastening even at this early hour to the church; for the congregation had so outgrown the place for its assembling, that those who did not reach it an hour, or sometimes two hours, before the time of service could find no admittance. [There would at this time have been from 700 to 800 attendants at public worship at the Rapids, had there been room: the number of communicants was 145.]
But we must not wander from the Indian Village; and we have better things to speak of there than pleasant rides and brilliant flowers--even those things that accompany salvation, but our limits will only allow of our mentioning two of these.
The first relates to the good old chief, Pigwys, the reality of whose Christian principles was about this time put to a severe test. Our readers will remember the undutiful conduct of his eldest son, and the subsequent removal of this young man to a distance. He had continued in his heathen state, still opposed to Christianity, when in the winter of this year his father was overwhelmed with the intelligence that this son, still so dearly loved, had, in an agony of grief for the loss of one of his own children, committed suicide.
Pigwys sent for the body, and, clinging to his child even in death, requested that it might be interred in the churchyard, close to the spot he had chosen for his own grave. It was difficult to refuse him, but the missionaries felt that they had no alternative; they softened. however, the refusal as much as possible, by stating their reasons, and offering that it should be buried just beyond the boundary.
The feelings of the poor father were deeply wounded, but after a short pause, during which, doubtless, pride and parental affection were struggling with higher principles, he acknowledged that they were right, and with a touching gentleness submitted to the disappointment.
The corpse had been prepared after the Indian customs, sewed up in a blanket, with the hunting, fishing, and war implements of the deceased; the face was painted red, red feathers were in the hair, beads in the nose and ears, and a necklace round the neck. As soon as it arrived, the chief had it stripped of every badge of heathenism and put into a coffin, and employed Christian bearers to carry it to the ground. It was in January; the wind was blowing a hurricane, the air was darkened with drifting snow, the thermometer stood at 8° below zero, and Mr. Smithurst, who could see the whole proceedings from his window, concluded that as soon as the grave was covered in, the party (for many heathen relations had come to attend the funeral) would disperse. But they still stood round the grave, and presently he saw that the Chief was addressing them with great earnestness; the faith and love of the good old man rose above his grief, and he was taking advantage of the solemn occasion to invite his unbelieving countrymen to Christ.
The other incident refers to some of the boat's crew who had in the preceding autumn brought Mr. Smithurst from York Fort to Norway House. They were seven in number, and all were heathens; the voyage lasted twenty-one days, and fain would our missionary have spoken to them of the things that would make for their eternal peace, but they did not understand English, and he had no interpreter. All he could do was to pray for them. In the course of the voyage one of them was taken suddenly ill, and appeared to be dying.
"I cannot," writes Mr. Smithurst, "describe my feelings; we were a hundred miles from any human habitation--I knew he was a heathen, I believed he was expiring in my arms, and I was unable to say one word to him, or to point him to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. With uplifted eyes he surveyed the blue expanse of heaven, and uttered a piercing shriek, which told of suffering without hope. If ever I prayed sincerely, it was that God would spare him till he should hear the Gospel, and I heartily thank the Father of mercies that He heard my prayers. T gave him some medicine I bad with me, and the disease abated; but during the rest of the voyage he was unable to do anything, and I was obliged to attend to him myself till we reached Norway House."
At Norway House Mr. Smithurst parted from his companions, and though we cannot doubt but that these men were often remembered by him at a throne of grace, yet he probably never expected to see them again in the flesh.
But early in the next year (1840), he was told that two Indians wished to speak to him, and to his surprise and pleasure he found they were part of his former crew, and that one of them was the very man who had been so ill. He took the opportunity of thanking them for all the kindness they had shewn him on the voyage, and was affected by their answering, "that they knew he had come to teach their countrymen the way of life, and felt therefore that they ought to do all they could for him."
One of them, it seemed, had visited the Indian Village in the preceding winter, and what he then heard from Mr. Cockran so impressed him, that he had given up his heathen practices for some time past. They had now both of them come from Norway House (500 miles) to put themselves regularly under Christian instruction. After due time Mr. Smithurst baptized them. "Little," says he, "did I think, while travelling those 600 miles with them, that they would be the first Indians I should baptize! How mysterious are Thy ways, O Lord of Hosts! O merciful leather, keep them both by Thy grace through faith unto life eternal."
A few weeks later Mr. Smithurst had the privilege of baptizing another of the crew, who had also come down for the purpose; so that now three of the seven for whom he had so anxiously prayed, were Christians.
The occasion of his son's funeral was far from being the only instance of Pigwys' endeavours to lead his own people to Christianity. We have before spoken of his anxiety on this point; and in September 1840, he convened a general meeting of all the Saulteaux in the neighbourhood upon the subject, and invited Mr. Smithurst to accompany him.
The men seated themselves in a circle, and the Chief, Mr. Smithurst, and an interpreter, stood in the midst. The Missionary first addressed them, setting before them the leading truths of the Gospel,--the fall--the consequent corruption of human nature--the redemption offered to fallen man through the merits and death of the Saviour.--assuring them that there was no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." Pigwys followed, and spoke for nearly an hour, with great energy and eloquence. He urged them to attend to the message of salvation, to send their children to the school, and to come themselves to church; telling them, that in addition to his prospects for eternity, his temporal condition was greatly improved, and his mind was at peace.
But the Saulteaux continued unmoved, and not one of the whole assembly was willing to follow the example of their Chief and the few others of their tribe who had joined the Crees at the Indian Village.
We will here introduce a few words from our Missionary's Journal, written in the first spring after his arrival at his station:--
"1840. May 4 and 5.--In heart with friends at home, thought of this time last year, and longed to be among them, but remembered that here is the reality of the work. There is more in seeing what God has done, than in hearing about it front others.
"May 6.--The Meeting of the Bible Society. Here lire tic, poor Indian children, reading the very Bibles the Society supplied me with twelve months ago!"
The account of the Indian Village has so engrossed us, that we seem to have almost lost sight of the Rapids: but it is not really so; and if space permitted, we might continue at some length the history of the work of grace there, that we began in our fourth chapter. We must, however, content ourselves with two instances.
Returning from the Middle Church one Sunday afternoon. Mr. Cockran fell in with one of his people, whose son had gone on a long journey near to the Rocky Mountains. He entered into conversation with him, and was thankful to find the spirit in which they had parted from each other. The father earnestly pressed upon the young man the importance of reading the Bible as often as he had opportunity, and of never omitting to pray at least twice in the day.
"My son," said he, "as long as you have lived at home, you have seen me pray; you have gone to church and heard that God is love. When you go through the plains you will no longer see me praying, you will no longer be told of your God and Saviour. There you will meet with men whose hearts are cruel, who would like to drive an arrow through your heart, take the scalp from your head, and drink your blood. My son, when night comes on, before you close your eyes in sleep, ask your God to look on you, and spread his hand over you; for that you are alone, far from home, and have no other friend but Him. When morning comes, ask Him to go with you on your way, to turn bad men on one side, that they may not meet you. Never forget that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Trust in it; God has accepted it for your soul, and through it you and I shall meet in heaven."
[This was no imaginary danger, for even several years later the Missionary at the Cumberland Station (to which we shall shortly introduce our readers) writes:--
"Feb. 13, 1849.--During last summer about forty Plain Indians were killed by war parties on the banks of this very river on which we are residing (the Saskatchewan). On one occasion, nineteen Black-Feet Indians came to the Cree camp, near Fort Pitt, and being perceived by the Crees, the alarm was given. The Crees immediately sprang to their horses, and in less than an hour the whole nineteen of the Black-Feet Indians were killed; their scalps floating in the air, suspended to long poles; their hands and feet hung to the tails and necks of the horses; and the women mutilating the bodies in the most shocking manner."]
The father added to Mr. Cockran:--
"My heart was light when I saw my son take his Bible and some tracts, and when he squeezed my hand with tears in his eyes, and said, 'I will remember Him who is over all till we meet again.'"
The other was a little girl, who was burnt by one of those destructive fires with which the prairies of North America are not unfrequently visited. One of these occurred in the neighbourhood of the Rapids, in October 1839. Driven by a strong south wind it came rolling impetuously along the plain, like a sea of fire, the flames curling over the outstanding stacks of hay and corn, and spreading desolation for miles around. Much property was destroyed, and several persons narrowly escaped the flames, but this poor little girl and her mother and two sisters were overtaken by them, and so severely burnt that they all died in the course of a few days. This child was the last survivor; she had always loved instruction, and, young as she was, had given evidence of piety, and now in her last extremity she knew where to find rest for her soul. During several days of suffering her only comfort was in prayer; every one who came to see her she would ask to pray with her; and when Mr. Cockran visited her she would ask him to talk to her "about heaven, where the saints of God serve Him day and night--where my father and my little sisters are, and where I expect soon to see them." [The burning of the prairies is spoken of as one of the most beautiful and sublime scenes in the country. These prairies sometimes extend for hundreds of miles and are covered with grass; where this is thin and short, as on the more elevated lands, the fire creeps on slowly, giving the animals time to escape, but sometimes the flames are driven forward by a strong wind over prairies where the grass is seven or eight feet high, and are then most terrific, often destroying whole parties of Indians, though on their fleetest horses. Not that the fire travels as fast as a horse at full speed, but the grass is so entangled with creeping plants that grow among it, that the only way of getting through is by following the zigzag paths of the deer and the buffalo. Sometimes too the dense cloud of smoke that is swept before the fire alarms the horse, and he stands terrified and immoveable, till the pieces of burning grass, tossed by the wind, fall before him, and in a moment new fires burst out all around.
The Indians believe these fires to he kindled by supernatural means. "Over this beautiful plain," said one of them to Mr. Catlin, when entering upon one of these magnificent prairies, "dwells the spirit of fire. He rides on yonder cloud; his face blackens with rage at the sound of the trampling hoofs; the fire-bow is in his hand; he draws it across the path of the Indian, and, quicker than lightning, a thousand fires rise to destroy him." They had proceeded some distance, when Red Thunder (for such was the name of this Indian) began to show signs of anxiety; he threw himself on the ground, presently started up, and looked anxiously around, again threw himself down and lay with his face to the earth. After a little he sprang again to his feet, and stretching out his arm exclaimed with vehemence, "White man, see that small cloud rising from the prairie! He rises!--our horses' hoofs have waked him; the Fire Spirit is awake, this wind is from his nostrils and his face is towards us!" They flew to their horses, and urged them to their utmost speed,--the fire gained upon them,--it was like the roar of a distant cataract. The frightened eagle flew screaming over their heads; the heath-hen followed on slower wing, and the antelope and long-legged hare hounded pass them, escaping for their lives. They strained every sinew, and reached the barren bluff only just in time, rescued from, as it were, a sea of fire--Abridged from Catlin.]
She afterwards begged Mr. Cockran, and those about her, to sing to her "Jesu, lover of my soul," to the tune it was sung to in church; and her request having been complied with, she said, "I cannot now kneel, I am obliged to lie on my back day and night; but be so kind as to pray for me, and ask God not to be angry with me, but to pardon all my sins through His dear Son, and to take me to heaven."
Mr. Cockran commended her to God in prayer and thanksgiving, and shortly after her happy spirit fled.