Tidings from the Youcon. Digest of reports by William West Kirkby, William Carpenter Bompas, and Robert McDonald
The Youcon River Mission is one of the most remote, if not, indeed, the most remote, of all our Missionary stations. It certainly is the most difficult of access.
Fort Simpson, on the Mackenzie River, which flows into the Arctic Sea, is 2500 miles from Red River; yet even from thence the Youcon is far distant. The traveler has to descend the Mackenzie down to its estuary; then he has to a send the Peel River flowing in from the south-west. This brings him to Peel Fort, a great rendezvous of Indians. He has then to leave the canoe and clamber over the Rocky Mountains, up and down over several rises rising from 700 to 2800 feet, until by a sudden dip of 1000 feet into the valley he reaches La Pierre's House. He then embarks in a canoe on the Rat River, a tortuous stream, which makes its way through a rough country, until it reaches the Porcupine River, and descends this to its confluence with the Youcon. The great river is there three miles across. About two miles up the river from the confluence stands Fort Youcon.
It may be desirable to put together such geographical and ethnological notes as we can command concerning this remote region.
From an elevated district lying west of the Rocky Mountains, and a little north of the parallel of Fort Simpson, three great rivers take their source--the river which, being joined by other affluents, is known as the River of the Mountains, and which making its way through the Rocky Mountains, joins the Mackenzie at Fort Simpson; the Lewes, which, uniting with the Peel, flows westward, it is said, into the Pacific, probably into Tchilikat or Lynn Canal; and the Youcon.
In 1847, Mr. Bell, one of the Hudson's-Bay Company's officers, having heard of the Youcon from some of the Kutchin Indians, set out in quest of it, accompanied by a native guide. He succeeded in reaching it, as our Missionaries do, by the Porcupine, which united with the Youcon in the 66th parallel, and in the supposed longitude of 147.25 deg. west. About 20 or 30 miles below the confluence the united stream cuts a spur of the Beaver Mountains, and, pursuing a south-westward and westward course, is supposed to be identical with the Kwichpack, which falls into Behring's sea, between Cape Stephens and Cape Romanhoff.
The Indians found in the Youcon districts are called by Sir John Richardson the Kutchin, or Loucheux, but our Missionaries find that they call themselves Tukuthe.
They are a much finder and more numerous people than the Tinné, or Chipewyans, on the west of the Rocky Mountains; but for a full description for this people we must refer our readers to a paper in the May Number of the "Church Missionary Intelligencer" for 1863, one of great research and interest, written by the Rev. W. W. Kirkby, from which, on the present occasion, we shall introduce one paragraph--
Their religious notions are very few and indistinct. They have a knowledge of a Supreme Being, but as they possess no idea of a future state of rewards and punishments, their faith exerts no influence over their actions. Their religion, if such it might be called, is one of fear, as they more or less deprecate the wrath of demons. In this they approximate very closely to the Tinné of Mackenzie River. So far it is good, as there is no system to be overcome, or prejudice to remove, before the Gospel could be brought to bear upon them. Indeed, on the whole continent of North America it would be difficult to find a more important and interesting field of Missionary operation. Gladly would I, if it were not for my family, live permanently among them. They require a single man to be their Missionary.
We shall next refer to the circumstances which led us as a Missionary Society into these remote parts.
 An article of food, which, in its genuine state, is nutritious, may be adulterated until it not only loses its healthful properties, but acts injuriously on the human constitution. Bread may be so dealt with, and the adulterated article, retaining the name while it has lost the wholesome properties of bread, may be widely circulated and readily received.
A medicine also may be so dealt with. In its genuine state it may be a powerful specific for a prevailing disease; but in its deteriorated condition not only may it cease to exercise any corrective influence, but may so vitiate the taste as to induce a decided aversion to the genuine article when it is offered to the patient.
Romanism is the adulterated bread--the perverted medicine. It retains the name of Christianity, but it has lost its properties, and can neither renew nor save. When its agents go forth amongst the heathen they merely substitute one form of idolatry for another, and leave the man as unregenerate as they found him. One thing, however, they never fail to do, and that is to imbue the minds of their proselytes with an intense dislike to Protestantism.
The Romish agents are very energetic in their efforts to Romanize the North-west American Indians. They spare no pains to pre-occupy the ground, and, when they have done so, to prejudice the Indian as much as possible against the teaching of the Protestant Missionary. When we occupied the Churchill River district in 1850, they pushed beyond us into that of Isle à la Crosse, and there established themselves, expecting that from thence they would command the portions of the content which lie northward of that post, and obtain undisputed influence over the Indian tribes. We may well ask, What is it that, in the absence of the true motive, energizes the Romish missionaries to efforts such as these? It may solve the difficulty to remember that they are the agents of a system into which the god of this world has infused a bitter hatred of the truth as it is in Jesus. In the absence of scriptural Christianity, Rome is inert. In proportion to its activity it becomes alive and enterprising. The earnestness of Protestantism touches the dormant principle of action, and Rome is awake.
Protestantism was not, however, asleep in Rupert's Land. There were posted there earnest soldiers of the Cross, true Crusaders, and they were willing to endure hardness. Archdeacon Hunter saw through the strategy of the Romish Missionaries, and resolved to outflank them. He decided on getting before them, and raising the standard of the Gospel in the Mackenzie-River district.
"The Church of Rome sends in all her five Missionaries, and I go alone, and leave my more immediate charge to itinerate, in this blessed work. Yet not alone, for One is with me who is mighty to save, a Friend who sticketh closer than a brother, and who, I trust, has disposed and called me to this blessed work. I feel, indeed, that it is the leading of Providence, for with such a band of priests the whole of the Mackenzie River would be overrun without any apparent effort to counteract the evil. We have lost much ground among these fine Indians to the north. Isle à la Crosse is gone, Athabasca is also occupied, and now the first post on the Mackenzie River district, Fort Resolution, Slave Lake, receives its staff of agents, all zealous for Rome. We shall drive right through their ranks, and commence operations beyond them."
Leaving his wife and family behind him at Red River, in June 1858 he embarked for Fort Simpson. On his way he encountered, at the Great Slave Lake, one of the priests, who openly avowed his intention of opposing the establishment of a Protestant mission in the Mackenzie-River district. The Archdeacon reached his destination on August 16, and there he remained until the summer of 1859, when he was relieved at his outpost by the Rev. W. W. Kirkby.
During Archdeacon Hunter's residence at Fort Simpson the Loucheux Indians had first attracted his notice, a party of them from Peel River having visited the Fort--
 At night the Loucheux Indians from Peel River were performing their national dances outside the Fort, painted and bedecked with feathers, &c. Their dances are of a very excited character, accompanied with singing, shouting, yelling, and beating time with their feet, making the ground almost to shake under them. They are a fierce race, and generally at war with the Esquimaux at the mouth of the Mackenzie. They frequently kill and murder each other. Across the mountains beyond Peel River, to the west, are the Youcon Indians, among whom the Hudson's-Bay Company have a Fort. Mr. Hardisty has just arrived from thence, after traveling the whole summer. He describes them as very numerous and difficult to manage.
This people Mr. Kirkby proceeded to visit in May 1862. the narrative of this exploratory tour will be founding our volume for 1863. On his landing at the Fort, two miles above the confluence of the Youcon and the Porcupine, he was met by 500 Indians. These he addressed, setting before them their ruined state by nature, and the great salvation which is by Jesus Christ; after which the principal chief, in a long and vigorous speech, expressed, on behalf of his people, their pleasure at his arrival, and their full purpose to attend to his instructions; nor would they part with Mr. Kirkby until he had promised either to return himself, or to send another Missionary in his stead.
In October of the same year (1862) the Rev. Robert McDonald reached the Youcon, to take upon him the permanent charge of this new work. To its prosecution he gave himself unreservedly, visiting and instructing the Indians both at the Fort and in the surrounding country, and making progress in the language; so that, before the year 1864 had ended, a first-fruit was gathered in--a leading chief of the Youcons who died exhorting his people to become Christians indeed, that they might follow him to that blessed place whither he felt sure he was going.
But just about this time Mr. McDonald's health failed. It seemed as though he must return to Red River. The priests rejoiced, and one of them declared that the moment the Youcon was vacant he would enter in.
Our good Missionary at Fort Simpson was in great distress. He wrote home, stating the extremity to which they were reduced. About the time when this letter reached Salisbury Square the Rev. W. C. Bompas had offered himself to the service of the Society. Appointed to this distant Mission, he left London, June 30th, 1865, and, traveling by way of the United States, reached Cumberland House, August 28th, not two months from the time that he left London, and, pushing on from thence, to the astonishment of everybody presented himself at Fort Simpson on the morning of Christmas-day 1865.
Mr. Bompas's narrative of his rapid journey will, we think, prove interesting to our readers.
In resuming the narrative of my travel from Cumberland House to the north, I have thought it best to relinquish the plan of a diary, inasmuch as the ordinary routine of the daily voyage offers but little variety or interest. I purpose rather to give a general outline of the voyage, with such particulars as seem worthy of note, and then to annex a schedule of the dates at which the various points of the route were passed.
After leaving the Fort at Cumberland House, our course, at first, lay across Cumberland Lake, which is large, and connected with various other lakes in different directions. It was very observable what an influence the large quantity of water in this district had in producing a humid state of the atmosphere, and we were detained several times by rain, when, as we afterwards learned, the weather higher up the country continued perfectly fine.
From Cumberland lake we entered Sturgeon River whose shoals are of great notoriety among the navigators of this country. Though only about twelve miles in length as he crow flies, this river took us five days to pass, the boat's crew being mostly in the water, tugging the boats over the shallows. The labour was sometimes extreme, and the rainy weather made this part of the voyage unpleasant even to the passengers.
After leaving Sturgeon River and crossing [146/147] Beaver Lake, favourable winds made our progress more expeditious, and some bright sun enabled us to dry the tents, bedding, and cargoes, which were all becoming gradually saturated with wet. The banks of the rivers maintained generally the same appearance. Thick woods of birch, alder, poplar and ash shut out any distant prospect, while the rocky shelves of granite or hard limestone gave but little promise of fertility in the soil.
Arrived at Frog Portage, where one boat was to part company with us, the arranging of the cargoes caused two days' delay, and as one of these days was Sunday, we were enabled to have a quiet service on shore in the morning, which, though only attended by the few men of the crews who profess the Protestant faith, was refreshing and encouraging. The priest traveling with us held mass meanwhile for the Romanists; but from this point he left our boats to proceed to his Mission on Deer Lake.
From Frog Portage a few days brought us to Rapid River, where the boats were again detained two days, in order to discharge a part of their cargoes, and thus a time of rest or refreshment was allowed me at our Mission Station, which is opposite the Company's Fort.
Mr. Mackay, the Missionary at present in charge of this station, was from home. We had met him two or three days previously in the river, going in his canoe to meet his boat of supplies from Cumberland, in which he hopes to find Mrs. Mackay returning from Red River. He spent one evening with us, encamped on the river's bank, which formed a time of pleasing intercourse and conversation respecting the Missions.
But to return to the station at Stanley, or Rapid River, formerly occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Hunt. The appearance of the station is attractive. A handsome church, good parsonage and harden, schoolroom and lodging-house for the children, together with store-rooms, form the Mission premises. The wooden houses of the Indian settlers, most of whom have also gardens, and some of them cattle and plots of corn land, are cheering and hopeful. Mr. and Mrs. Hunt are remembered by all with gratitude and respect.
Mr. Spencer, the Company's officer at the Fort opposite, expressed to me his great thankfulness at having the advantage of a Christian Ministry so near. I took occasion to speak to such of the Company's servants as could understand English, and visited some of the Indians who had children ill with a severe form of mumps. One infant had died the day before my arrival, and was buried by me with the usual service.
A new Schoolmaster, Mr. Hensden, had lately arrived at the post from Red River, who appeared to me likely to prove a useful assistant to our Missionary.
From Rapid River, our course was expedited by favourable winds, though the numerous portages still offered many detentions. The family of Mr. Mackenzie, the Company's officer in charge of the district, were now among the passengers, from whom your Missionary continued to receive much kindness.
A short service was held regularly throughout the voyage on Sundays, both morning and evening, at which Mr. Mackenzie's family attended while in the boats, and such of the boat's crew as were Protestants. Some of these men generally joined in singing a hymn, such as they had learned in our churches at Red River.
The character of the country through which we passed offered but little fresh subject of remark--alternately lake, river, and rapid, which were bounded alike by thick woods on a rocky soil, until, as the neighbourhood of Isle à la Crosse Lake was reached, the soil became more sandy, and prairies of fine hay grass appeared between the woods.
Arrived at Fort Isle à la Crosse, a detention of three days occurred while the supplies were being prepared for the boat which proceeds to the next post. While on shore I held prayers each evening at Mr. Mackenzie's house, which were largely attended by the Protestants in the Company's employ, and by a few Indians.
I was unable to address the Indians generally, for want of a Chipewyan interpreter, but endeavoured to communicate with two or three of them through an interpreter into the Cree language.
Many Chipewyans were encamped round the Fort, who had come to meet the boats, and obtain their advances of clothing from the Company. These brought intelligence of the death of many of their tribe during the past season from measles. There is a Roman-Catholic Mission about a mile from the Fort, consisting of a good church, and three houses in which reside a bishop and priest, one or two lay brothers, and two or three sisters of mercy. On the Sunday before my arrival, they held (I was told) a great display of pageantry, with processions, decorations, &c., at which most of the Chipewyans attended, though at the same time these Indians express a desire for Protestant instruction, saying that they cannot understand the Romish worship. Mr. Mackenzie, the officer at the Fort, also strongly wishes the presence of a Protestant minister at the Fort, and wished me to remain for a time with him, but the [147/148] distance of the station to which I have been appointed by the Committee seemed to me to preclude this.
Proceeding, therefore, in the boat that was taking supplies to the next post, I reached Portage la Loche on the 12th October, after being three days among the shallows on La Loche River. This portage terminates the up-stream journey, as, after the ridge of hills, twelve miles broad, the country slopes towards the north-west, in which direction the rivers thenceforth run, falling into the Arctic Sea, while all the rivers previous to this point communicate with Hudson's Bay.
At the long portage the cargoes of the boats for the north are, in the summer time, crossed with oxen and carts. My arrival was, however, too late in the season for meeting with any boats going further north, and it therefore only remained for me to engage a canoe, and so proceed as far as possible before the rivers closed with the ice. I therefore engaged a canoe, and two French half-breeds, to take me forward to Athabasca.
At the portage I found the same report of much sickness among the Chipewyans. A priest came up with me in the boat to spend the winter with the officer at this post, (a Romanist), but he, like myself, was unable as yet to address the Indians in their own language.
After one day's detention, my canoe and baggage were carried across the hills with a horse and cart, and we started on the downstream journey. The view from the brow of the hill which terminates the portage is very striking, and has been noticed by all travelers. You see the river gliding from among the hills at the foot of the steep, and winding for many miles between lofty slopes, covered with birch and pine, until a ridge of blue hills bounds the prospect in the far distance.
The country to the north of the portage is more interesting than that previously passed. The soil no longer consists of a thin layer of earth on the hard rock, but is more abundant, and on a soft or sandy foundation.
The trees are therefore more lofty, and the woods, moreover, are much less frequently devastated by running fires. This is probably owing to there being fewer passengers to the north, for it is generally the travellers' camp fire which catches the woods, and often, in the more southern districts, leaves a whole tract of country only a blackened waste. Fresh trees, indeed, soon spring up, and these, it has been noticed, are of a different kind to those which previously occupied the same soil, but the frequency of these fires and the scantiness of the soil prevent the trees from growing to any great size south of the portage.
The banks of the Athabasca River, which we entered about three days after leaving the portage, are of a very interesting character. The various geological strata are well displayed in the cliffs, and these are frequently filled with fossil shells and corals, &c. in some places there are salt springs, which leave an incrustation of pure salt at their mouth; in other places you find abundance of bitumen, both in a solid and liquid state. The woods occasionally open out into fine prairies of hay grass: in one of these we found two horses belonging to Indian hunters, who bought them from the Company. These horses are allowed to remain unprotected in the prairie all winter, where they find their food by scraping the snow with their feet from the grass beneath.
We found lodges of Indians in several places on the river bank, and one of the men with me being able to converse with them, I was able to give a few simple medicines to some who were sick. I gave also a small quantity of sugar and flour from our stock of provisions, to gain their goodwill.
After eight days' paddling in the canoe, we reached Fort Chipewyan on Athabasca Lake, and received a hearty welcome from Mr. Christie, the officer in charge of that post.
The winter's frost had set in since we left the portage, and for several days the water froze on our paddles, and on the sides of our canoe. The weather, however, continued fine and bright, and, owing to the rapid current, but little ice appeared in the rivers. In Lake Athabasca, however, we found much ice on the flats, and some drifting with the wind. It appeared, therefore, doubtful whether I could safely proceed further by canoe, but it was thought that the Slave River, having a rapid current, would remain open for another week, and as I urged Mr. Christie to allow me to proceed at once, if possible, in order to shorten my winter travel hereafter, he kindly placed at my service a large canoe, and engaged three Indian lads to take me down to Slave Lake.
In God's good providence the fine weather still continued, and, with a fair wind, we made good speed on our way. In four days we had accomplished half the distance, and here we visited a settler, named Boileau, on the river's bank.
From this point we again proceeded in safety and comfort for three days, but on the fourth we were surprised to find the river full of ice, through which we made our way with difficulty, partly cutting our passage with the axe. The next morning we were obliged to leave our canoe and baggage "en cache" on the river bank, and take to the woods, the ice [148/149] being too thick to allow of our proceeding further by the river.
Fort Resolution was now at no great distance, but we did not quite know the correct direction to take for it. We therefore only reached it after a rather circuitous march of two days, through the thick woods, and as our provisions were now spent, and I was fatigued with scrambling through the brushwood and thickets, it was with much thankfulness that I saw, on he second evening, the lights of the Company's Fort.
At this point it became necessary for me to remain until the ice on Slave Lake became sufficiently fixed for me to proceed with snow shoes and sledge. Mr. Lockhart, the Company's officer, kindly offered me his hospitality during this needful detention of about three weeks, and sufficient employment for this time offered itself in the preparation of letters for the winter express, which is dispatched hence to the south in December, and also in practicing walking with snow shoes, in preparation for my journey forward.
The Indians of this district are still of the Chipewyan tribe, a mild, inoffensive race, and well disposed towards the Gospel. There is a French Mission Station about a mile from the Fort, where reside a Priest and a Lay Brother, (the latter arrived from Ireland in the present season) together with their servants.
Mr. Lockhart, the Company's officer here, has taken some pains in translating hymns and passages of scripture into the Chipewyan tongue, for the use of the Indians. His assistant, however, in this work, an old interpreter, who spoke English and Indian, has, I regret to say, died during the present year, and there is now no one here who can render the same help.
I have not yet found an English interpreter at any of the Forts which I have visited, and the French interpreters, whom the Company's officers use to communicate with the Indians, are both averse (from being of the Romish religion) to assist a Protestant minister, and are also generally incapable, from ignorance, to communicate on any other subjects than those of the ordinary trade and business of the Company. It therefore becomes the more essential for the Missionary himself to acquire without delay a proficiency in the Indian tongue, and to this object I must devote myself as soon as I reach the scene of my labours.
The most noticeable result, as it appears to my own mind, of my journey through the country, is the special claim of the Chipewyan to the district to the services of a Protestant Mission. The Athabasca district is called by the Company, their Protestant district, the servants being mostly of our religion, while the Chipewyan Indians have been putting in a claim for Protestant instruction for years past. Yet this is just the district that has been left exclusively in the hands of the Romish priests. So anxious are the Company's officers for the services of a Protestant minister, that they offer every assistant to provide him with board and lodging, and they are willing to recommend to the Company's council that this should be granted at the Company's expense.
Christian instruction must, alas come too late for many of these poor Indians, who have so long applied for a Protestant minister, the ravages of disease having carried off numbers of them before the Gospel in its purity had reached their ears. I trust a labourer may now be sought and found for this district. I shall be willing to return to it myself, in case my services are not required further north.
I desire to close this page of my journal, with an expression of thankfulness to Almighty God, for the "goodness and mercy" which have, according to His promise, followed me "all the days" since I left my native land.
So soon as the rivers opened, Mr. Kirkby wrote to us a letter full of thankfulness for the seasonable help thus sent to him. It is dated June 3rd, 1866--
You will imagine, better than I can tell, what a delight and surprise the unexpected arrival of Mr. Bompas was to us. He reached us in health and safety on Christmas morning, making the day to us doubly happy by his presence and glad tidings that he brought. He was a Christmas-box indeed, and one for which we thank God with a full heart. The entire unexpectedness of his coming caused us to see in it more the loving-kindness of our God. Such a thing as an arrival here in the winter is never thought of, nor had it ever before occurred. After the boats leave here in the fall we have no visitors from without the district until now, when the waters are again open. Our dear brother deserves the greatest credit for the way in which he persevered in getting to us, and the accomplishment of his journey speaks much for his energy and determination. A more auspicious day, too, he could not have had for his arrival. He was just in time for morning service, so that we had, at once, the happiness of partaking of the holy communion together. Then followed the Indian service, in which he expressed much delight; and in the evening, like good S. Marsden of old, he began his work by preaching from [149/150] St. Luke ii. 10. He remained with us until Easter, and then went on with the packet-men to Great Bear Lake, where, I trust, God is doubly blessing him. Fancy--it is not yet a year since he left England, and in that short time he has traveled so far, entered upon his work, and acquired enough of the language to be able to tell the Indians, in their own tongue, the wonderful works of God. I admire that way of doing things exceedingly, and would accord all honour to him who performs his Master's work.
Mr. Bompas, on his arrival at Fort Simpson, had intelligence communicated to him which caused him both joy and sorrow. Mr. McDonald had so recovered his health that he had been enabled to return to the Youcon; but sickness during the autumn had been rife amongst the Indians on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, and hundreds of Chipewyans, Esquimaux, and Kutchin had been cut off. The boats from the south, which arrived in August, brought with them the scarlet fever. Many of the crew, both European and Indian, were suffering from it, and it spread with fearful rapidity through the Mackenzie district. Mr. Kirkby, in his letter of June 3rd, refers to this afflictive dispensation--
My November letter would tell of the sad season of affliction through which we had just passed, and my journal sent herewith will give you all needful details. I had hoped that it would be confined to this place, but by our March letters I was distressed to see that it had spread throughout the whole district. Fort Halkett was the only place that escaped, and that was in consequence of the boat which should have gone there not being able to accomplish the journey from the illness among its crew. The fever reached the Youcon, and even the Esquimaux along the Arctic coat, and was as fatal there as anywhere. Altogether hundreds must have been swept away by it. In the midst of our sorrow what a sustaining thought it is, that to most of them the way of salvation through a crucified Redeemer had been made known, and therefore more of them may have been led to the Saviour than we at present know. I am sure that I shall not ask in vain for your prayers that the affliction may leave a blessing behind it, and that those of us who are left may live a higher and holier life, a life of deeper love and greater nearness to the Saviour.
When, during the previous September, the sickness was at its height, and Mr. Kirkby was intent on his work, going about from tent to tent, several of his own family being at the same time ill, the following passage occurs in his journal--
Sept. 30--On visiting the Indians today I found that the priest had been among them, and, according to their rule, had endeavoured to unsettle the Indians' minds by traducing our faith and exalting his. They were, however, all displeased with him, and rejected his offers to baptize them. On my return I went up to speak to him of his conduct, and besought him either to refrain from visiting the tents at all, or else to go and preach a Saviour's dying love to the poor sufferers there. I reminded him of the truth, that he could speak the language better than I, and that a heavy responsibility rested upon him to use that talent for good. I also asked him whether he did not think it would be more in accordance with the divine mind, and more beneficial to the poor Indians, if he would earnestly and simply direct their dying eyes to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, than to do as he had done to-day; and added, that if he would thus preach Jesus I would take him to every tent most gladly, but that if Romanism was his theme I must oppose his going. A long discussion followed, which did not amount to much, and he concluded by saying that he hoped the bishop would soon be here, when they should both go home together: in the meantime, as some of the Indians here were Catholics, he would attend to them, and my people he would not again visit, unless they requested him to do so. Tartsillá, George, and Henry, are all very ill to-night still, and I hear the little girls at Brough's have not been so well to-day.
Oct. 29: Lord's-day.--Poor George entered into his rest last night, and is, I doubt not, now with the Saviour. His last words were, "I wish to go to Jesus." Poor lad, he was very grateful for all we did for him, which is so unlike the Indian in his natural state. [150/151] Once, in speaking to me, he said, "Oh, Sir, I am so glad I came to you. When I was with the Indians I was like a wild deer, knowing nothing; but now I know that I have a soul, and that Jesus died to save it." He has been connected with the Mission four years, and was becoming very intelligent and useful. I had made preparation for his going to Red River school next summer, for two or three years, with a view to his further usefulness among his countrymen; but God has ordered it otherwise, and He alone knoweth what is best. Poor lad, he was with me in my spring journeyings, and was then as active and strong as any. I feel sadly depressed in spirit, and had much difficulty in performing my duty to-day; yet--
"Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at death's alarms?
'Tis but the voice that Jesus sends
To call them to His arms."
Mr. McDonald, on his return to the Youcon from a visit to Mr. Kirkby, found the same sad sickness everywhere prevalent. Writing on Nov. 25th, 1865, he says--
The journey from Fort Good Hope was far from pleasant, owing to the amount of sickness which prevailed among the boats' crews and passengers. Before reaching Peel-River Fort the majority of the people in the two boats belonging to it were prostrated with scarlet fever, and nearly the whole of the Youcon boat's crew were reduced to the same condition several days before the end of the journey: of twelve Indians in the boat, only three of them were able to work it during the last five days. They presented a melancholy scene, either when lying in the boats, moaning with pain, or around the camp fires at night. To add to the distress, the weather was rather inclement, generally cold, and rainy and snowy at times. Happily no death occurred on the journey.
I arrived at Peel-River Fort on the evening of the 12 of December, and received a cordial welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Flett, and a large number of Indians who were there assembled. Owing to the unfavourable state of the weather, and my not being quite well, I did not attempt holding more than one religious public service with the Indians, but was otherwise actively employed during my short stay there in doing what I could for the sick, giving directions as to the treatment of scarlet fever, putting up medicines to be left with Mr. Andrew Flett, and making up packages of articles which I required to be brought on at once. Two days afterwards I proceeded on my journey. I performed the portion of it across the mountains from Peel-River to La Pierre's House much more satisfactorily than I had anticipated. Not having as yet recovered from influenza, I had rather feared the walking through the cold water, but I found myself better at the end of it than at its commencement. I reached La Pierre's House on the 18 September, partially recruited in health and strength. I saw but a few Indians there, and had divine service with them. The next day I resumed my journey to this place/ I saw three camps of Indians en route, and held prayers with them.
On my arrival here I received a hearty welcome from the Indians, of whom there were a good many assembled here; also from Mr. James McDougall, the officer at present in charge of this Fort, and others belonging to the Fort. Most thankful was I to arrive here again after an absence of more than a year; the more so, as it was doubtful when I went away whether I should be able to return again, owing to the ill state of my health. It was with heartfelt gratitude to Almighty God that I recommenced my labours among the Indians of this place. It was pleasing to me to hear them join together in singing the praises of God, and to proclaim to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. Most attentively did they listen to the word of life; most eager did many of them appear to be to learn more of the things of God; and I trust that, on the whole, their interest in religion has not diminished. Several of them made me a pressing request to visit them soon after winter set in, in order to teach them more of religion. Nearly the whole of them went away three or four days afterwards, not to return to the Fort till next spring.
Since my return my time has been much occupied in rendering what assistance lay in my power to the sick, both in a medical way and also to their spiritual necessities, and I have felt encouragement in the hope that my efforts have not been in vain.
Scarlet fever has spread most rapidly and extensively among the poor Indians, and it has proved a terrible scourge to them. All around and in the Fort, and those at some distance off, of whom we have received tidings, have been seized by it, every one without exception, and large numbers have died of it. Upwards of sixty deaths have already occurred among two tribes, and the disease is still raging among them.
I have, within the last month, made three [151/152] Missionary visits to the Indian camps, at distances respectively of forty, sixty, and seventy miles from the Fort. They all appeared to hail my visits to them with thankfulness, and my efforts for their eternal benefit have been in some measure crowned with success. They appear to be not unmindful of the concerns of their souls in their time of sickness and death; and I trust that some of those taken hence were prepared for a better and a happier world; that to them death was eternal gain.
Having a considerable stock of medicines, I was enabled to render some assistance to the sick by means of them.
The cold weather which has set in some time since will doubtless aggravate the sufferings of the sick, and render the disease more fatal. On the 9th and 10th inst. it was respectively 51 deg. and 49 deg. below zero. I was out at that time on one of my visits to the Indians, and spent a night with them in one of their lodges. It was almost impossible to maintain warmth in the lodges with any degree of comfort. The occasional opening of the doors for taking in firewood, and letting in the cold air, was very unfavourable to the sick.
Should the deaths among the Indians of the other Forts and posts of the Hudson's-Bay Company throughout the district be in the same proportion as it is at this Fort the depopulation will be immense. It is painful to contemplate the miseries of the poor Indians, in consequence not only of their ignorance of the nature of the disease, but also from their want of medical assistance, especially those remotely situated.
It is to be hoped that the Indians will be led by the present trying affliction through which they are passing to attend more to the things which belong to their eternal peace. It will be so with some no doubt. May there soon be a mighty religious awakening among them, and souls be brought from darkness into light, translated from the kingdom of Satan into that of God's dear Son!
That earnest prayer has had its answer. A letter has just been received from Mr. McDonald, dated Sept. 3, 1866, in which occurs the following passage--"Within the last six months I have had the pleasure of admitting within the visible church, by baptism, upwards of 80 adults, and there are many more awaiting its administration."
Mr. Kirkby adds, under date of Nov. 30, 1866--"Mr. McDonald is, in health, a new man. His work at the Youcon is really a blessed one, and no journal more full of devoted labour and marked success will go to the Society this year than that which I am now forwarding."
That journal has not yet arrived; but this we promise, that so soon as it reaches the Editor's hands, we shall give it to our readers.
Meanwhile a passage of Scripture occurs to us. There was once a rebellion against the authority of Moses. One of the sons of Levi and some of the tribe of Reuben rose up against Moses and Aaron. The Levites seemed to think that the priesthood ought not to be confined to the family of Aaron, and the Reubenites seemed to think that their tribe, as the posterity of the first-born, ought at least to share with Moses the temporal authority. To prevent, by an open recognition of Aaron's family, all future contentions about the priesthood, the Lord commanded that the chief prince of each tribe should bring a rod, and that these twelve rods should be laid up before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. On the morrow they were brought out: all were found to have remained sticks as they had been, with one exception--"Behold the rod of Aaron, for the house of Levi, was budded and brought forth buds and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds."
Here, then, amidst the wilds of North-west America, the Gospel of Christ buds and blossoms and brings forth fruit, and thus vindicates itself from the vain pretensions of the church of Rome.
While, however, their work is thus crowned with the Lord's blessing, there is one taunt to which our Missionaries are exposed, and which they know not how to answer. It will be found in the following paragraph from Mr. Kirkby's journal--
The priest has been very talkative to-night, and, among other things, said that he and his co-workers hoped and prayed for the conversion of England to the Roman-Catholic faith, and fully believed that, at no distant date, it would be accomplished. I answered [152/153] him according to my faith and hope, but he little knew the pang the very thought gave me, that there should be, in a land so long blessed with Gospel light, so much of Papal error as to lead to the very thought of such an issue. May the God of our martyred forefathers in mercy prevent such a catastrophe! Oh that a sevenfold spirit of prayer and faithfulness may descend upon England's teachers, rulers, and people, so that no machinations of Rome may prevail against her; but that, continuing "stedfast in the faith" which has been entrusted to her, she may fulfil that Divine mission to which she has so evidently been called.
May these three good men--Kirkby, McDonald, and Bompas--be as mightily helped of God as were Jonathan and his armour-bearer, and may their motto be--"It may be that the Lord will work for us; for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few."