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Fort Simpson, Mackenzie River, North-West America.

By William West Kirkby.

From The Church Missionary Gleaner, July, 1869, pages 73-77; 88-91.

OUR engraving is a picture of Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie River, the station of the Rev. W. W. Kirkby, who is now at home, and, by his descriptions and appeals, drawing forth much sympathy on [73/74] behalf of the Indians of the far North-west, amongst whom he has laboured so long and so earnestly.

The Fort stands on an island, at the junction of two rivers, the River of the Mountains, and the Mackenzie. It is 2250 miles from, the Red-River Settlement. When our Missionaries first reached the Red River, we seemed to think that they had gone so far north that it was scarcely possible that they should go further; but now we find them at Fort Simpson, 2000 miles beyond the Red River, while the Youcon, the station of the Rev. R. McDonald, is some 1000 miles further to the north-west.

Archdeacon Hunter was the first Missionary at this remote spot. He was succeeded by Mr. Kirkby in the summer of 1859. He found himself face to face with a strong body of Romish priests: nevertheless the Lord stood by him, and blessed him in his work. W hat the nature of the work has been, and what he has been enabled to accomplish, Mr. Kirkby had the opportunity of explaining in an address which he delivered in Exeter Hall at the livening Anniversary Meeting of the Society, held on Thursday, May 4th, portions of which we now introduce to our readers--

I am going to place before you something about the Indians in North-west America, and something which you ought to do in that land. In the first place, let me say a word or two about these Indians in Northwest America. I feel that those people are not understood as they ought to be understood by Christian people in this and other countries. I dare say you have heard something of the Red Indians, for they have been put before you by the novelists in their peculiar style; but there is a phase in their character which these men have not touched upon, and which I should like to place before you. If you look at the vast tracts of land in North-west America, you will see that the Indians are as deserving of, and require, as much attention as the African, the Chinese, or the Hindus, whose case has been so well pleaded here. There are whole tribes of Indians in that land upon whom no Sabbath smiles to commemorate the Saviour's resurrection and the blessings thus assured to us. There are tribes in whose ears no Sabbath bells ever sounded: they have no prayer-books, they make no prayers, nor have they any knowledge of God, because the Missionary has not yet reached them. I say these are some of the evils on which I want you to look. That is the state of many of the Indians of North-west America, and I wish to stand a little while before you as their representative and as their advocate, and I want to enlist your sympathy in their behalf. Not a single word has been spoken here to-day for the Red Men of the north. I know well that the Red Men of the north can never become to this country what the Chinese have become, and may yet become; nor can Rupert's Land ever become what India is to England. But because the Red Indians are poor men are we to neglect them, and close our sympathy? Is it not rather Christ-like to help the weak and try to lift up the feeble? Is it not rather Christ-like to stretch out a hand to try to help those poor men in that country, who are without hope, and without the knowledge of Christ 1 I say that [74/75] these people are a very interesting people; and although they may not long have a name amongst the nations of the earth, is not that rather a reason than otherwise why we should be up and doing, in order that every one of them may have a name in the record which shall never perish? There are some very interesting particulars which I should like to place before you with reference to the Red Men of the north. Cooper has told you about their camps, and their council-chambers, and some of their mental characteristics, but some of the most interesting points in these men have never been laid before you. I am glad to say that the Indians would stand high amongst some of the nations of the earth, as far as their mental characteristics go. I believe there are many classes of people here in England who have not such a scope of thought as these Indians of the north. They can reason upon things coming within their range of knowledge, and express themselves in a manner which the working classes in this country could not do. How deeply touching was it when the American Minister went to a tribe to make a treaty with them for land. He said, "I want to make a treaty with you for land." When the chief said to him, "Sit down upon that log," the American minister sat down upon the log: when the chief said, "Move on a little further," and he moved on further, the chief said, "Move on further," and he moved again. The chief then said, "Move on yet a little further," but the minister said, "I cannot move further." The chief said, "Why not?" and the minister replied, "Because I have got to the end." The chief replied, "That is it. In years gone by our forefathers lived out there with the rising sun, and the white man came and said, 'Give us room to spread our tents.' We gave them room to spread their tents, and they then said, 'Give us land,' and we gave them land. They said, 'Move up a little further,' and we moved up a little further. Again they said, 'Move up a little further,' and again we moved. But once more they said, 'Move up a little further,' and we did so; and now you come to us and say, 'Move further still!' But where can we move to; we have got to the end: the great sea is at the west; where can we move to, where can we go?" Does not that show great scope of thought? How deeply interesting was it when a heathen came to me and said, "We Indians are like iron, and you white men are like stone." I thought this was pride. "What do you mean?" said I. "Why," said he, "if you throw a piece of iron out into the prairie, and let it remain there, it will gradually waste away, until it is soon all gone; but if you throw a stone there it does not waste away. But," he said, "if the iron, before it is all gone, is taken up and rubbed against the stone, it soon becomes bright and useful. We are like the iron: our people are wasting away, but you do not waste away; and if we can only manage to rub ourselves against you, then," he said, "we will become bright?" Does not this show scope of thought? And then I daresay you have heard of that bright reply which one of the converts in Rupert's Land gave to a traveller. This man was a warm-hearted Christian, fond of singing hymns; and the English traveller said, "Why do you like to sing those hymns? What has Jesus done for you?" The man looked at him in great astonishment, but said nothing. He made a ring of some moss which he gathered, and got a worm, which he put in the centre: then, with his flint and steel he [75/76] struck a light and set fire to the moss. As the moss began to burn the worm began to writhe with pain. The Indian then took up the worm, and put it upon a stone, and said, "That is what Christ did for me. I was that worm, and felt in my spirit as much pain as the worm did in its body, but in the midst of my agony Jesus came to me, and placed me upon the rock, and can you wonder that I love Him as I do?" Now I say that men who can reason like that ought to take no secondary place amongst the nations of the earth; and although they be a poor. people, although they be a failing and wasting people, shall we neglect them I Shall we not stretch our hand to help them? Shall we not seek to save them? My dear friends, these Red Men, I may say, have suffered grievous wrongs at the hands of the Anglo-Saxon race. I do not charge any one with those wrongs, but I charge the race with them; and therefore to those who have endured the wrongs we ought to take the remedy, and that remedy is Christ.

Let me go on to tell you a little about our work in Rupert's Land. Sixteen years ago I sat in yonder gallery previous to my departure for Rupert's Land. I little thought at that time that, sixteen years after, God in His mercy would bring me back to tell you what He has been doing there; but so it is. I went to Red River. In our church at Red River--we never knew what it was to have an empty one--the people were always there in their places whenever there was service. Here in England the proverb is often too true, "Many to market and few to church," but there it is very different: it is few to market and many to church. They might not see many enter there on the week-days, but they are sure to see it full on the Sabbath-day. You see them flocking to the house of prayer to offer their thanksgiving to God. But I cannot stop at Red River, for I want to take you with me up to Fort Simpson on the banks of the River Mackenzie. This Fort Simpson As not the Fort Simpson you have just been told about. The one I speak of is in the east, and the other is in the west. I should like you, when you go home, to take your maps and search out these places, and put a mark against them. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a Mission on the Mackenzie River; but at that time Archdeacon Hunter went up to the north; and when he came back again, God in His Providence led me there to continue the work he had begun, and I thank God that I was led to that work, and have continued in it. After I had been there a little while, and the work promised well, I had some sad trials to endure. One of those trials came from England and one from France. They were very dissimilar, but both very injurious. Shall I tell you what they were? The trial from England came last, but I would rather place it first, and then draw attention to the trial which came from France. The boats go up in that country once a month, and bring supplies for the natives, for which they exchange furs and other things. And when the boats come up it is a sort of fair day, or general holiday, and the poor people gather in the height of expection and enjoyment. In a certain year, when those boats came, there were the poor natives full of joy at receiving their annual supplies. They received them, and on the third day after that many of them were sick and dying. Scarlet fever had been brought out from England in the goods, and those goods were, as it were, the angel [76/77] of death among them, going throughout that vast district, and no fewer than 1000 persons fell victims to that frightful disease. At my own station I think there was not a single person, except myself, who was not down at one time or another with the fever. At one time, in my own house, all were afflicted except myself; and I myself had in the morning to wash up the cups, plates, saucepans and so forth of yesterday; and after getting breakfast I had to sweep up and put all things right in the house. I then had to go out to the poor Indians' tents and give them something to eat, and then I took the poor Indian children in my own arms and fed them with a spoon, because there was not a single one to help them. But do all I would I could not keep them from dying. But there is never a dark cloud without a silver lining. Thank God, that cloud, black as it appeared to be, had its silver lining also. A great many of those people there were, about whom, up to that time, I had little hope that the truth would reach their minds; but when that sad affliction came upon them--when they saw death before them--the truth came out: they had been led to Jesus, and died looking to Him who loved them, and who had given Himself for them. When with; streaming eyes I turned my heart upwards and prayed that the affliction; might pass away, I could not but thank God that it had been sent, and that their faith had been manifested by it. That was trial from England. I will now speak a few words to you with reference to our trial from France. That trial came to us in the shape of some Roman-Catholic priests; and if I could only tell you some of the lies, which those men used to tell the Indians you would be surprised. I should not like to pain your ears by repeating some of the statements they used to make, but I will tell you one or two of the most gentle ones. They used to say to the Indians, "Don't go where that man is," meaning me: "he is only a man like the fur-trader, and has no more power than you have. If you shake hands with him you will be sure to be sick, and will very likely die." And they said also, "If he baptize you, he will baptize you with common water out of the river, and that has no strength; but if we baptize you, we will baptize you with water from God, and that is very strong." They also said, "We will write letters to God, and put them into your coffin when you die; and when God sees that you have got the letter, He will open the doors of heaven to you; but it will surely be shut against all that minister's people; therefore don't you go where he is." But the people said, "We like to go there because he always speaks to us from the word of God." Those priests then said, "Then you are a stupid people, because, if you do not know anything about God, and do anything wrong, God will not be angry; but if you hear that book and do something wrong, as you are: sure to do, for you are a silly people, God will surely be very angry, and therefore you had better not hear that book at all."

(To be continued.)


MY next movement was to the Great Bear Lake, which is between 400 and 500 miles from Fort Simpson. The natives received me kindly, and permitted me to build a school, to which several of the poor children came. I brought some of those boys with me to the Red River, and sent them to the Bishop's school; and since I have been in England I have received the best accounts of them, and I trust they will go back again as schoolmasters, catechists, or as pastors to their distant countrymen in the north. Then next I thought that I would like to go further still, and I went on until I came within the Arctic circle, and the day I came there I had great cause to thank God, for that day was the first day that ever any Missionary had gone within that circle of the great continent of America. For many reasons it was very interesting, but the most interesting thing of all was to see the sun going round and round for two months without setting. You can easily understand what my first text was: it was, "There shall be no night." I went on further, and met with a band of Esquimaux. The idea which one has of the Esquimaux is that of a short, thick-set, blubbery sort of fellow. That is not the character of the men I met with there: they were all fine-looking fellows, and the Indians I took with me did not know what to make of them.

These people were a little troublesome when I first saw them: they wanted to steal everything I had; but when they found why I had come they treated me very differently. There was one kind old creature came to me with a large piece of blubber, and much wanted me to eat it, but I declined her hospitality, as you may suppose, and talked to her about something else; I stayed there three days, and, leaving my canoe, walked over the Rocky Mountains. I came to a river west of the mountains, and, just at its confluence with the Youcon, I met with no fewer than 600 natives, every one of whom is under Christian instruction.

Those people were a most interesting set of people. There were many things repulsive about them, but I will not trouble you with them; and there were many interesting things, one or two of which I should like to mention. They had a bold and brave spirit. They used to argue with much reason and wisdom, and say they could understand why it is that a child will fall into a fire and burn itself, or into water and drown itself. They say, "How is it that a child, coming fresh from the great Spirit, has not more knowledge than we have?" Does not that show that there is much thought amongst those people, and that if their minds could only be developed they would be capable of great things? They had a remarkable tradition about the deluge. They say there was a great man who was the east wind, and he had three brothers, the north wind, the south wind, and the west wind. He went to war with the king of the serpents, and the king of the serpents conquered him. He ran away, and the king of the serpents followed him, but being unable to catch him, he sent an immense quantity of water out of his mouth, which soon became a river, and began to cover the earth. East wind then cut up some wood and made himself a raft, upon which he took some of his animals, and away they went. At last he thought he would [88/89] die of hunger, so he sent the beaver out to see if he could find any land, but the beaver, could not find any, and came back again. He then sent out the musk-rat, and he dived down, and brought some up in his claws. He then blew upon the earth which had been brought up, and it covered the rat, and it soon grew to be an island, and the island became a continent, and so they were all saved. I read to them those great Missionary texts from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, and I told them the old story which never fails to touch the hearts of men and win them to the truth. What I said to them was not told in vain. They came to me and said they would be glad to hear the tidings I had brought to them over again; and then I spoke to them a long time, and afterwards said to them, "Do you wish to put yourselves under my instruction?" and they said "Yes: if you will only teach us we shall be thankful to be taught." They came at six for service, and I told them to select some young men and I would instruct them, and then, when I had gone, they would be able to teach. The next morning at six o'clock they were all there, and the young men remained with me. After breakfast I had the young men in my room. I had not been there long before I heard a noise outside the door, and I found about half the other people trying to hear what I was teaching the young men--the message of redeeming love; and I assure you that so great was their anxiety to hear what I was saying, that I had to nail the door up before I could get a quiet day with these young men. When I told them that I must go and leave them, if you had only seen the sorrow depicted upon those poor peoples' countenances, you would never have your faith shaken in the value of Missionary work. "Why do you want to go?" one noble old chief said: "before you came we were like brutes that did not know which way to go; but you have found us a path to walk in, and if you go we may lose it again." I said, "I cannot stay, I must go." He then said, "Will you come to us again next year?" I said, "If I do, I must first have three promises from you." Thirteen of those poor creatures had told me that they had thrown some two and some three of their little infant girls into the snow, in order that they might perish rather than undergo the sorrows which they had experienced in life. "Now," I said "you mothers must promise me that there will be no more of that." They said, "Oh, yes: when we did that we did not know you; we had not heard the book. We will never do it again." And, thank God, they never have done it again. And there has not been a single instance of infanticide at the Youcon from that time to this. I then said, "Now I want another promise from you, and that is about the medicine men. You must promise me that there shall be no conjuring." They answered, "Yes." It seems most strange that they should say so, but they kept their word; and this is the most marvellous, because no men had more influence over their countrymen than the medicine-men. The Indians never suffered, and a man never died, but it was supposed that it was caused by sorcery: they never supposed that a man died a natural death. Therefore immediately a man fell ill his relatives went to the medicine man with a large present, and the medicine man went to the sick Indian, dressed in his fantastic style, taking with him his rattle and [89/90] drum, and began hooting and making a most horrible noise. Then if the person got better, this medicine man took the credit of curing him; but if the man died, he said, "I am so sorry your friend is dead, but the fact is that somebody has been paying another medicine man to kill him, and they have been paying him more than you paid me to save him." And therefore you can understand and admire the grace of God when I tell you that these men said, "If you will come and see us next year, we will have no more conjuring." I then said, "I still want one more promise from you, and that from all of you: it is, that so far as you know what heathen ways are, you will promise to forsake them; and that, as far as you know what God's ways are, you will promise to keep them;" and they said "Yes." I then promised to return to them, and went away. The next year, as soon as the spring came, I went to the Youcon again, within two days of the time I was there before, and it was wonderful to hear the way in which they had tried to carry out their promises. One party said, "We have to hold our heads down, we are not men, we have not kept our promise. We have not kept holy God's day." They said, "We have been starving, and when the Sunday came some deer came down, and we said 'Shall we shoot the deer and so break our promise?"' Well, they talked the matter over, and decided to fire one shot only. They did so, and one deer fell. The next day a whole herd of deer came down, and from that they thought that God was not very angry, but they were anxious to know what I would say to them. You may be sure I was not angry: I was only too thankful that they had given that proof of their desire to keep holy God's commandments. I left them with a promise to see them again on the third year, and when I reached them on that occasion it was eleven at night. The Indians, hearing the splash, of my paddle, came on to the bank to meet me. I said, "Have the boats come up yet?" and they replied, "Oh, yes, they came to-day;" and I said, "Did any priest come?" for I was always afraid of those men coming among the Indians. They replied, "Yes, a minister like you has come to-day." I had been so long alone that I could scarcely believe my ears, for I was 1500 miles away from my nearest Missionary friend. Being so far away and isolated has a very deadening effect, and one has to be very watchful to maintain the standard of piety amongst the heathen in a heathen land. I compare it to logs burning: if you keep them together, they will burn well and give out heat, but separate them and they become black and cold; and so it is when many Christians are together. And therefore, when the Indians said that another minister had come, I could hardly believe them for joy. To my deep joy, I found that a Missionary had been sent there from the Red River, and was intended for a station 250 miles south-west of me. When he heard what had been doing at the Youcon, he said he would go there, and there he is a Missionary now, and a better Missionary than Mr. McDonald we have not. In a letter I had from him, he said, "You will be delighted to hear that I have been permitted to receive 270 adults for baptism, and after having had them three years under me in training I am satisfied that they are fit for the holy ordinance. And I have 150 more candidates." Is not that indeed a blessing? He himself is a native of Rupert's Land, and I am thankful [90/91] to say, that of the staff there one-third are from the country, and that number will be greater by-and-by. My dear friends, and especially the young men I see here I would say a few words to you. I had before me, at one time in early life, a biography of the grandfather of our respected chairman, and there was one sentence which I there read in 1848, which I never forgot, and I wish to impress it upon your attention. Sir T. Buxton says, "A determination once fixed, then victory or death." Let there be a determination among you with regard to this Church Missionary Society. That determination once fixed, let there be victory or death. Nothing short of this will make Christian Missionaries. When I was in Lancashire I had the opportunity of going down into a coal mine. Why do you think I went down? Why, because I had confidence in the machinery and in the rope. I have been, as it were, for sixteen years going down into the pit amongst the heathen, and why had I confidence? I had no doubt as to the power of the machinery, and that gave me confidence. I have confidence in the Church Missionary Society, and therefore I am content to go down into the pit of heathenism. I have confidence in the machinery above, and let me have confidence in you, the rope. But remember, the longer that rope is, and the deeper you go, the stronger it will have to be. The further you go, the greater the success, and the greater the success the more money will be asked at your hand. If you wish for success you must be content to pay for it. I say, my dear young friends, take up this great cause. Give your sympathy, give your money, and, above all, some of you give yourselves to the Lord in this great and noble undertaking. Nothing pleased me more than to hear that there wore not less than 200,000 young men who had banded themselves together to fight, if necessary, at any moment, for their country, their Queen and their homes. But I would have you all know that there is another king, Jesus, whose battles require to be fought, and I would have you to remember that His kingdom is only one quarter of the earth, and that the black banner of death floats over the others. Missionaries are becoming aged and dying, and I want you to say, "I will take the standard as it falls from their hands, and will plant it in the midst of heathenism." Take your stand under the banner of your great Captain of salvation, and do what you can do for Him, and you will be promoted from the ranks here to the ranks where you have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. And if God grants me sixteen years longer to live I hope they will be as happy as the sixteen years I have already passed in Missionary work.

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