Project Canterbury

The Cumberland Station.

[By Archdeacon James Hunter]

Church Missionary Intelligencer, February, 1855, pp. 43-48.

IN the previous part of this Number our readers have had Missionary work presented to them in its exploratory character, the Missionary penetrating into new countries, where evangelization has not yet been initiated, with a view to the eventual introduction of the gospel. We now present a contrast--an oasis in the desert, a spot reclaimed and brought under cultivation: a little flock in the wilderness, under its shepherd's care, and sheltered, as far as human effort can accomplish it, from the storm; both shepherd and sheep under the watchful protection of Him who is Head over all to His Church, the Shepherd of Israel, that neither slumbereth nor sleepeth. We have given, in a previous Number, a brief historical sketch of the Cumberland Station. The extracts from Archdeacon Hunter's journal, which we now introduce, need no further preface; they speak for themselves. Our readers will find in them some details of pastoral work amidst a congregation of converted Crees, between September 1853 and June 1854. They commence immediately on the return of the Missionary to his station, after a brief absence.

"Sept. 27, 1853--At evening prayers our schoolroom was quite full; and my dear people manifested much pleasure and thankfulness that I had safely returned from my journey, and was once more among them again. We all enjoyed the services, feeling how delightful it is to draw near to the throne of grace, and look up to God as our covenant and reconciled Father in Christ Jesus, who, although we may grow cold and lukewarm in our religious feelings and desires, is 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,' and is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto Him in His own divinely appointed way, through faith in a crucified Redeemer. My hope is, that many among my people are truly united to the Saviour by a lively faith, and are daily ripening for those mansions which Christ is gone before to prepare for those who love and obey Him. Many have already departed in the true faith, and are now among those who 'have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

"Sept. 30--About a fortnight before my arrival, an Indian, called Mamanas, was, when paddling a canoe, accidentally shot in the arm, just above the elbow, and also in the knee. The poor man was very anxious to get the arm removed; but before my arrival it was already in a state of mortification. However, as cutting off the limb was the only chance of saving his life, to-day, after I had baptized him by the name of George--for he was one of those who for some time had been halting between two opinions--I got his arm removed, at the earnest request of himself and his family, and the wound properly dressed. The poor man was very thankful; and as he lost very little blood during the operation, and appeared to suffer little pain, I have some hopes of his recovery. Previously to the accident he had expressed his determination to embrace Christianity: indeed, I think he would have been a Christian long ago, but for the opposition of his wife, as she is now desirous to follow the example of her husband, and make an open profession of religion.

"Oct. 2: Lord's-day--Poor George Simpson, mentioned above, died this morning: the operation was delayed too long, and mortification had already affected his system. I trust his repentance and faith in the Saviour were genuine, and that he has exchanged a world of sorrow and toil for one of endless joy and rest. In former days he was very much opposed to Christianity, and resolved never to embrace it. 'So much,' he said, 'did I despise it, that when I heard the Indian Christians praying to one called Jesus, I gave my dog the same name.' That Name which he so greatly despised and dishonoured was previous to him in his last days; and he gave particular directions to his wife, on his death-bed, to become a Christian, and to love and serve the Saviour.

"Oct. 16: Lord's-day--After the morning service I administered the Lord's supper to eighty-seven communicants. It was a delightful and refreshing service--a table spread in the wilderness, where the Saviour meets His people, to strengthen, comfort, and sustain them for the dire conflict which they have to maintain with their untiring spiritual foes, the world, the flesh, and the devil. In ourselves we are perfect weakness; but in Him we have grace and strength, and are enabled to say, 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.' How much do my people, just emerging from heathen darkness and superstition, stand in need of that grace and strength! May prayer ascend for them continually, that He who hath begun the good work in their souls would carry it on to the day of salvation!

"Oct. 31--I called at all the houses on this side of the river, and found the inmates all well, and comfortably arranged for the winter: their houses and byres mudded, and their cellars well filled with potatos. May God give them thankful and cheerful hearts, and by His grace enable them so to pass through things temporal, that they finally lose not the things which are eternal!

"Nov. 1--On looking out this morning, I discovered that the river had set fast; and now, for six months, it will be held in the iron grasp of winter. All communication by water is now closed for another season, and we must take to our snow-shoes and carioles to make visits to the Indians. I hope to make trips to Moose Lake and Cumberland House during the present winter, and look forward with much pleasure to these journeys."

The following paragraph will afford encouragement to the kind friends who are sustaining the action of Missionary Needlework Associations throughout the country. They will perceive how useful are their results in distant lands, especially wintry North-West America.

"Nov. 2--As the weather is very cold, and our school-children are much in want of clothing, Mrs. Hunter assisted me to-day in distributing warm clothing to each child in the school, consisting of cloth and blankets from the Society, and other articles of clothing sent by our Christian friends at home. About sixty children received clothing; and I am sure it would have rejoiced the hearts of our kind friends, could they have seen the happy faces of these dear children as they each retired with a little bundle of clothing carefully folded up. They will now, I hope, be warm and comfortable during the winter. We gave each of them a supply of fish-hooks and needles, sent out by Mr. Milward.

"The Bible class are now reading St. Matthew's gospel in Cree; and I spend many a happy hour with them, teaching them to read it. It will be a great privilege for their parents to hear them read it at home, and thus obtain a more intimate acquaintance with God's word.

"Nov. 14--I called at two houses in my visits to the sick, read to them portions of St. Matthew's gospel, adding a few words of exhortation suitable to each case, and prayed with them. They value these visits very much, and always manifest a readiness to engage in devotional exercises. I do hope they know something of the spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father; and feel the comfort and joy of holding communion with the God and Father of their spirits, through a crucified Redeemer.

"Carrying on my Indian studies, assisting in the school, visiting the sick, administering medicine, giving out provisions to the work-people and the sick, superintending the hay hauling, sending sleds for fish, &c.--in this way my time is fully occupied, and I find the days and weeks pass away very rapidly. How much need we have to pray for grace so 'to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom! But it is delightful thus to spend one's strength in the work of the Saviour, full assured that our labour shall not be 'in vain in the Lord.'

"Nov. 25--To-day I buried a grandchild of old Charles Cook, called Abraham. The boy has been a sufferer for many months; and very frequently, at his request, his mother has brought him over in her arms to see us, and obtain medicine and little necessaries for her afflicted child. At my last visit I thought he was approaching death, of which he was perfectly conscious, and mentioned his desire to 'depart, and to be with Christ,' where he hoped to see his relatives who have gone before. He was a great sufferer; and one has every hope that he is now where sorrow and sighing are no more, and where all tears shall be wiped away. At our usual evening prayers we committed his body to the cold and silent grave: the weather was intensely cold, and the ground covered deeply with snow, yet the people gathered around, and joined in the last solemn rites over the departed one. The cold and wintry scene around us, with the country held, as it were, in the death-grasp of a hyperborean winter, with a winding sheet of snow, is well calculated to symbolize the solemn event of death; but we look forward with hope to the returning season of spring, when nature again shall put forth her latent powers, and all shall be clothed with life and beauty. In like manner a joyful resurrection awaits the dead in Christ: they are now asleep in Jesus, but the period is fast approaching when they shall hear the voice of their returning Lord, and rise again to participate with Him in the happiness and felicity of heavenly Jerusalem.

"Dec. 21--During the week the Indians were coming in from all quarters, to be present with us on next Lord's-day: a great number have applied to me to be admitted to the Lord's table on Sunday next, being Christmas-day. After careful examination and instruction, I admitted thirteen new communicants, and as all the Indians belonging to this station are here, I look forward to a large attendance at the Lord's table. At our usual evening prayer-meetings during the week, the school-room has been crowded, and my addresses have had reference principally to the Lord's Supper, warning and encouraging them to come to that holy ordinance, pointing out the importance of the rite, and at the same time the necessity of due examination and preparation for the right reception thereof. I trust that they feel their own sinfulness and unworthiness, and will come in simple dependence upon the Saviour, looking to Him for pardon and acceptance, and earnestly praying to be strengthened and refreshed with Divine Grace from on high. May He condescend to bless His own ordinance to their souls, and build them up in their most holy faith, that year by year, as this blessed season comes round, they may be found advancing in the divine life, and moulded more and more into the image of their Saviour! I have often had occasion to notice that they come long distances to attend the Lord's table. In this respect they would put to the blush many in my own country, for they think nothing of a fatiguing journey of more than 100 miles, walking in snow shoes, to be present on these highly-prized occasions.

"Dec. 25: Lord's-day: Christmas-day--We commenced the day with our usual early prayer meeting at seven o'clock: the school-room was crowded, and I read in Cree Matthew i. 18 to the end, and made some practical remarks both on the birth and death of the Saviour, as they were about to commemorate His dying love at the Lord's table. About ninety children were present at the Sunday-school, and Miss Ross continues her valuable aid in instructing the children. We had full morning service in the church, and I never saw it better filled than on this occasion, nor the Indians neater or cleaner in their persons. Both men and women were very neatly attired. I preached from Matt. i. 21, and then administered the Lord's supper to 100 communicants, being the largest number who have communicated here: they filled the rails six times, and many of them received the elements with tears and trembling. On the hands of several, as they were stretched out, I noticed the marks which they had received when in a state of heathenism; but, blessed be God! they have been brought 'from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.' May they now be sealed by the Spirit as the servants of the living God, and in the day of the Saviour be found among that 'great multitude, which no man can number clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands!'

"Feb. 12, 1854: Lord's-day--Snow storm, with wind. With much difficulty, sometimes sinking three feet in the snow, I reached the school-house this morning for early prayers. Very few people present to-day at our services: indeed, the greater part of the Indians are away. Those who are here are starving about the Mission, and we have constantly to supply them with food. I hope and pray that a change of weather may take place, and the fish become more abundant, for it causes us much pain to be surrounded by so many Indians and school-children in want of food. The school-children we feed regularly every day with pemican, grease, and flour, and the Indians occasionally, when they have been three or four days without eating.

"Feb. 14--An Indian and his wife arrived here, the man reduced to a walking skeleton: they left here but a few weeks ago, and have been unable to catch any fish or rabbits: they then endeavoured to reach the Mission station. The poor man was almost giving up to-day, but he persevered, walking in snow shoes in the deep snow, and, through the mercy of God, they arrived here late this evening. We gave them food, with directions to take a small quantity at a time until they gain strength. The Indians around us, who are principally old people, are very much reduced, and are so weak that they are not able to go off any distance in search of rabbits, &c. The snow is so deep, that the strong only are able to walk and make a road through it. We shall continue to give them food occasionally, as long as any provisions remain in the store.

"I visited Jane Lathlin, the young widow of George Lathlin, an interesting account of whose death was sent home by Mr. Budd. ["Church Missionary Intelligencer," February 1853, pp. 36, 37] George died during my winter visit to Red River. Poor Jane is very sick: she is I fear phthisical, and is fast wasting away: she coughs very much. I have regularly administered medicines to her for some time, but the winter has been very severe and trying to her weak constitution, and there is, I fear, little hope of her recovery. But mentally she is happy: her hopes for eternity are based upon that sure foundation against which the gates of hell can never prevail. Like Timothy, she has known the Scriptures from her childhood, having been placed in the school by her father, the old Charles Cook, at the commencement of this station: her mind, therefore, is well furnished with Scripture truths, and her memory stored with precious promises, and portions of holy writ, hymns, catechisms, &c. This winter, on her bed of sickness, she has learnt to read Saint Matthew in Cree. 'Life,' she remarked, 'is like the rising and setting of the sun; and now my sun is almost gone down. When I look back upon my life, it appears to me like a day, it seems so short, and my life is now like the setting sun.' She warned her friends not to be anxious and careful about worldly things: they appeared to her utterly valueless now on her sick bed, and such also would be their estimate of them when they came to die. Her father had, previously to my visit, sung and prayed with her. She told me that she was quite happy; that she had been a great sinner, but that she trusted in the blood of Christ to cleanse her from all her sins. I prayed with her in Cree, and came away comforted and encouraged by the thought that she was a child of God, and an heir of immortality, and furnishing another instance of the blessing of God resting upon the labours of our beloved Society. Many have now died here looking to Jesus alone for pardon and salvation, whose happy spirits, we doubt not, are before the throne of God and the Lamb, and unite in ascribing praise and honour to Him who redeemed themw ith His most precious blood.

"March 5: Lord's-day--After the morning service I administered the Lord's supper to Jane Lathlin. She is now very weak, and apparently approaching her latter end. Her father, Charles Cook, together with her mother and brother, joined her in receiving the sacred emblems of her Saviour's dying love. After receiving the Lord's supper, she appeared refreshed in spirit, and expressed her thankfulness for the ordinance. She said, 'I feel much pain and weakness in my body, but in my mind I have peace.' She added, 'I am not afraid to die: I now feel quite ready, and resigned to the divine will.' I exhorted her to look to Jesus, to pray much to Him, and that He would pardon her sins, and comfort and sustain her whilst passing through the valley and shadow of death.

"March 24--I finished the fair copy of 'Faith and Duty,' and have also written out paradigms of several of the Cree verbs. Correcting the Cree of Mr. Howse's grammar. All my spare time, both early and late, I devote to the Cree language. I am more and more struck with its beauty, order, regularity, and fulness. I think I have now succeeded in ascertaining and arranging all the prefixes and affixes of the Cree verb, impersonal, transitive, and intransitive, throughout its different moods and tenses. A clear arrangement of the Cree verb is still a great desideratum, but it is a work requiring much patience and perseverance to search out and arrange, in grammatical order, such a mass of inflections as are to be found in the Cree language. It would be a work of several months, and fill a large volume, to write out one of their transitive verbs through all the different changes of which it is susceptible.

"When I called to see Jane Lathlin to-day, I found her still in the same happy frame of mind: her answers to my questions were clear and full of earnestness. She is looking to the Saviour, trusting, as she says, alone in Him to pardon her many sins, and wash them away in His most precious blood. Her desire is, 'to depart, and be with Christ:' all fear of death is removed, and she is waiting to lay aside her body of sin and corruption, and to enter into 'the inheritance of the saints in light.' She is quite resigned to the divine will, and waiting the Lord's time: her heart, affections, and her all, are placed upon heavenly things. She is in a most pleasing and happy frame of mind, and I feel my own spirit refreshed and quickened by visiting her. I read and prayed with her, and she was most earnest and devout in repeating after me the Lord's Prayer, in a very loud and distinct tone of voice, in her own language. Who would not rejoice in the hour of death, to possess the calm and cheerful frame of mind of this poor Indian woman dying in the wilderness, with her firm and full reliance upon the merits of her crucified Redeemer. I could desire no greater blessing for myself than that my last end may be like hers.

"The weather still continues very cold, and we almost feel weary and tired of the winter. It has been a very trying season, between my duties and studies, that I find the weeks and months pass rapidly away, and sometimes am surprised how quickly the Sabbaths come round. Very little happens here to mark the progress of time. Our lives are very monotonous, one continual and daily routine of duties, with very little change; yet I find the time too short to complete the task I allotted myself, and the summer is rapidly advancing before I am quite prepared for it. I am, however, thankful when I look back upon the labours of the winter, and bless God for giving me health and strength to get through them. I generally allow myself about six hours' sleep, and, when the weather is moderate, get a little time for out-door exercise; but this winter the weather has been so severe, that I have gone out but little, except to the school-room, church, and visiting the Indians at their houses. I am looking forward to the summer for a little relaxation and exercise. I am also anxious, before I leave, to collect as much as I can of the Cree language.

"April 2: Lord's-day--Sunday-school, prayers, and services, as usual. The school and services were better attended to-day, as many of the Indians have returned from their hunting-grounds. They all complain of the severity of the winter, and many of them have been nearly frozen and starved to death. But God has graciously preserved their lives, and they are now returning again to their forsaken houses, and the ordinances of religion. When scattered through the woods they long for the courts of the Lord's house: they miss the sound of the 'church-going-bell,' inviting them to the throne of grace, and the glad news of free salvation through a crucified Redeemer: they feel the pleasure and comfort of worshipping God in His house of prayer, and singing the songs of Zion in the assembly of His people. When sitting solitary in their lonely hut in the woods on a Sabbath morning, they turn their eyes in the direction of the church from which dire necessity has driven them, and feel a longing desire to assemble there with the few favoured ones who are privileged to worship all the winter in His house of prayer. One of my greatest trials is to see the majority of my people for months scattered to the four winds, and the station presenting the appearance of a deserted village, with a solitary house here and there inhabited, especially on the opposite side of the river. One by one they are returning to their houses, and the little curls of smoke ascending from their chimneys to convey to us the good tidings that the scattered sheep are returning again to their deserted homes. But, poor things! it is the only way in which they can obtain clothes and food. With all their efforts they are still poor and miserable, and far from being able to keep themselves or their families either clean or comfortable. Indeed, without the assistance they get from the Mission, and kind Christian friends at home, many of them would have little or nothing to wear. The strong and healthy can hunt furs, and clothe their families tolerably; but the aged, sick, widows, and orphans, would be miserable but for the assistance of the Church Missionary Society and Christian friends. Many of them would have died this winter, from starvation, but for the assistance which I gave them.

"I saw Jane Lathlin several times during the week: she is always thankful for my visits, and is ripening fast for a better and happier world. Although lying in poverty, and principally supported by us, surrounded with few earthly comforts, yet, filled with the love of the Saviour, and the comfort and presence of the Holy Spirit, she feels truly happy: she enjoys a peace which neither riches nor earthly comforts could impart, and a hope of undying glory and immortality beyond the grave, in comparison with which the honours and titles of this world are but a poor and empty shadow. I asked her if the things of this world had any attraction to her now. Her reply was, that they were 'tapiskooch numma kakwi'--like nothing: 'I think of the world as nothing: I am always looking to my Saviour: in Him I trust. He was crucified for me: His blood can wash away my sins.' On one occasion, when she saw her mother weeping, she said to her, 'Mother, why do you weep to see me suffer? Remember Him in whom you trust. Pray to God for strength, and He will enable you to witness my sufferings calmly, without murmuring. I trust in my Saviour. I know that when my sufferings end here, I shall be happy with Him in heaven. I would willing go now, but I wait His time.'

"April 11--I was called over early this morning to see Jane Lathlin, as her happy spirit was about to quit its clay tenement: she was still sensible, but able to say but little. 'I trust in Jesus,' she said, 'who was crucified for me: His blood alone can wash away my sins. I look to Him, my Saviour.' She was delighted to see me again; and, after I had read and spoken a few words to her, we knelt down and commended her to the care of the Saviour whom she loved, whilst passing through the valley of the shadow of death.

"On leaving, I said, 'Continue to look to Jesus, and trust in Him alone.' We both seemed to feel that it was the last time we should meet on earth, and she shook my hand very warmly, and bade me an earnest and final farewell. She is in a delightful frame of mind, and I hope her death-bed warnings and exhortations to her relatives and friends will leave a lasting impression upon their minds, and influence their conduct. Never was the power of religion to comfort and support in the trying hour of death more fully exhibited than in her case. One has every reason to believe, that for her to live is Christ, and to die eternal and everlasting gain.

"In the afternoon I heard of the death of poor Jane: she continued sensible to the end, and her last words were, 'I believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified.' Her final words, 'Ne mumiseetotowaw n' Oopimachehewam'--I trust in Him my Saviour.

"April 12--This afternoon I buried Jane Lathlin. All the Indians about the station attended the funeral, and the church was well-filled. I read the whole of the service in Cree, as usual, both in the church and at the grave. She was buried near her husband, George Lathlin: they have both died young, but happily, supported and sustained by faith in a crucified redeemer, and are now among the ransomed of the Lord, partakers of eternal happiness and joy.

"April 16: Easter Sunday--To-day our church was well filled, as the Indians have collected from all quarters around us, to be present at the table of the Lord. It was my privilege, after the morning service, to administer the Lord's supper to 102 communicants: they filled the communion-rails seven times, and received the sacred elements with much apparent devotion and earnestness of feeling. I have no hesitation in saying that these poor Indians manifest much love to the Saviour, and feel a real pleasure in attending the ordinances of religion. Family prayer is regularly maintained in their houses, and, with all their failings and shortcomings, there can be no doubt that a real work of grace is going on amongst them. We have continual proofs, not only in their lives, but by their deaths, that they know and feel the power of vital religion in their hearts and consciences. Their resignation to the divine will, and their meek but firm reliance on the merits of a crucified Redeemer, in the near prospect of death, are sufficient evidence that the work is of God: to Him, therefore, let us ascribe all the praise, that He has disposed the hearts of 102 of the scattered wanderers of this wilderness to assemble around the table of their Lord to commemorate His dying love.

"April 23--To-day the ice in the river moved a little, while we were in church attending the afternoon service.

"April 25--The ice made another start to-day, but soon became stationary: it is very thick and strong, and it will be a few days yet before the river will be open.

"April 27--The river rose very high to-day, overflowing its banks in many places, being kept back by the ice. In the evening the ice began to move in a body, and it was a grand sight to observe it passing down the river, grinding, crushing, and forcing itself up into large masses along the shore, accompanied with a fearful noise. We could distinctly hear it in the house, something like distant thunder. During the night all the ice and drift-wood passed down, and, on looking out in the morning, I found the river quite clear, and gradually receding within its usual channel.

"May 7: Lord's-day--Early prayers, Sunday-school, and divine services, in the church, morning and afternoon, as usual. I preached in the morning from Psalm xccii. 1, I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.' A heavy fall of snow and hail during the day, accompanied with thunder. The storm to-day has again given to the country all the appearance of winter; but we hope we shall have, when it passes, a continuance of fine warm weather. We think of our Christian friends this month, who are attending the May meetings in London. May great grace rest upon the preachers, the speakers, and the hearers! May the spirit of Christ be present, to sanctify and bless the sermons and meetings, and to quicken and stimulate the zeal of His servants, that they may be increasingly earnest about their efforts to lengthen the cords, and strengthen the stakes, of His spiritual Zion! Although alone here in the wilderness, cut off from my brethren and Christian society, yet in spirit I have communion and fellowship with our Christian friends attending these meetings, and who are seeking to extend the Redeemer's kingdom upon earth."

The time of Archdeacon Hunter's departure for England had now arrived, when he was to leave for a season this station, which he had found in the rudeness of an incipient state, and, under the direction and blessing of God, had reared to Christian advancement and maturity.

"June 11: Lord's-day--I took the early service in the school-room; attended the Sunday School--ninety-four children present; and read the morning prayers, Mr. Budd preaching an excellent sermon. In the afternoon I preached a farewell sermon from Acts xx. 32--'And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace,' &c. The church was quite crowded to-day: I never saw a larger congregation here. How different from what I found it ten years ago! We have now more than 100 communicants, 663 names on the baptismal register, 30 to 40 Indian houses, and the healthful appearance of growth and vitality. To God be all the praise! His blessing alone could have effected such a change, and have induced so many from among this scattered people to feel anxious about the salvation of their souls. I have great comfort in handing over this work to the care and superintendence of Mr. Budd during my visit to England: he is well qualified for the post, and his intimate acquaintance with the routine of business here, and perfect knowledge of the Indian language and character, all combine to make him a very valuable instrument for good to his country-people.

"June 16--We left home in the Mission-boat for Red River: the boat will return with flour, &c., calling at Norway House. We went in company with Mr. Finlayson, who is going to Moose Lake. I felt very much at leaving my people. A crowd assembled on the beach: we sang and prayed with them, and then shook hands with all. A great number of them were in tears; even some of the men gave vent to their feelings: they were all very serious and down-cast at our departure."

May they be more than abundantly sustained and comforted, during the time of absence, by a clearer and fuller manifestation of the presence of Him who, as the great High Priest of His people, in all their afflictions is afflicted.

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