Project Canterbury

Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada

By the Rev. William Newton
Hon. Canon of Saskatchewan

London: Elliot Stock, 1897.

Chapter XIV. True and False Bravery

IT is in scenes such as we have described that human nature shows itself, and the qualities of men are exhibited. Some in our small communities at this time said but little, and were quiet in their manner, but were men of real mettle. Others primed themselves with whisky in order to keep their courage up. When the danger was over, it was surprising to discover how many brave men we had amongst us, and what heroic deeds would have been done if only opportunity had offered. Perhaps it is as well that the heroism was not put to the test by grim Indian warfare. The courage thus saved may be retained for other occasions in life's battle, where it can be used daily in all sorts of ways, and to our life's end. Courage physical, courage mental, courage moral--of each and all of these we cannot have too much, in order to make the truly noble character.

One Saturday, during the height of the excitement, a secret message came to me from an Indian girl, to whom I had ministered in her illness, when her tent was pitched near the fort. Her people had taken her with them to their hiding-place on the plains, but she felt that she was dying, and longed to see a clergyman. In her forlorn condition she begged me to visit her, and prepare her for the end. It was miles away, and I could not find the place alone, for it was in the wild wilderness, which was without roads, or, indeed, any marks that would guide me. I spoke to several persons who professed to know the place, and who said that they could conduct me. I made an appointment with one of the bravest to start with me immediately after the Sunday morning service. The service over, and the horse harnessed, I waited for my guide; but I waited in vain: he did not appear, nor could he be found anywhere. I sent after one and another person, who the day before had said that they knew the place well, and were not afraid to go; but it was always with the same result. These brave men thought a stray bullet from an Indian gun might find them, and they regarded discretion as the better part of valour. The poor girl died in her loneliness, and they made her a solitary grave somewhere on the wide prairies, where she sleeps unsanctified by Church rites or priestly prayers. May the sweetest wild-flowers bloom around her! May her soul rest in the perfect joy and peace of heaven!

Though I sometimes saw a scowl on the face of the Indians whom I met, and whom I had sought to benefit before their evil passions had been aroused, I was amused, and not displeased, by the following story, which was told me afterwards by one of the Crees.

Near my residence in those days was a very retired place, where both water and facilities for encampment are found. Without my knowing it, a band of Indians had hidden themselves there, awaiting the order for an outbreak. Day by day, from the rising ground, they watched me in my garden, and discussed what they should do with me when the massacre began; and it was kindly decided that they would not meddle with the little white-robed priest, for I had not been bad to the Indian; but as for my mare, they might take her if they should be pressed for horses. At that time several Indian dogs prowled around at night-time, and this caused some remark. Excepting this sign, which was soon forgotten, there was no evidence that an Indian encampment was so near. The Indian can be very secret in his ways. As for the danger, I had, both at the time and afterwards, many proofs that it was very real; even the Indian children had decided what particular plunder they intended to appropriate; and they practised their bows and arrows in order to join in the fray. It was settled what families should be clubbed, in order to save the expense of powder and shot; and what women should be taken captive, and whose particular tent these fair ones were to adorn. I do not say that there were no bands loyal to the Government; but there were certainly very few in which there was no disaffection, and a very great pressure was put upon them all to throw off their allegiance. The chief things that prevented the open revolt of all the bands were the influence of the Churches and the prompt action of the military authorities.

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