ON our way out, and when about seventy-five miles from the north of the Saskatchewan River, just before we entered the heavy timber, we came upon a very pretty spot called "Big White Fish Lake" (the adjective had reference to the fish and not to the lake), and being doubtful of the suitability of Green Lake, from reports we heard of the place whilst at Carlton, we decided to leave all my goods there, with one of our party to keep watch over them, and take on the goods only that were destined for Bishop Bompas. This accounts for our loads being lighter over this, the worst part of the journey. Well, there was nothing else to be done now but to return to White Fish Lake, and having reached it, the Archdeacon commended us to God's keeping in prayer, and soon after commenced his return journey, with his man, to Winnipeg, approximately, as the trail ran, about seven hundred and fifty miles. The poor old Archdeacon, when shaking hands with me for the last time, showed how keenly he felt the loneliness of my position. But that my readers may fully comprehend my position at that time, I must refer to some other events which were not mentioned in their proper order. At Portage-la-prairie a school-teacher was engaged for work in Bishop Bompas' diocese, and he travelled across the prairies with us, and when we reached Green Lake we had rightly discharged our part of the agreement as concerning his passage; from there he was to be carried forward by the H. B. Company. He, like my interpreter, was a native of the country, and had been educated with him at the Bishop's collegiate school near Winnipeg, and consequently they were great friends. When the time came for them to part at Green Lake he demurred about going on alone, pleading as an excuse that he did not know the language of the Indians who would be most likely employed by the Company in taking him on, and so requested the Archdeacon to send my interpreter along with him as far as Isle-la-Cross, about two hundred miles farther on. This request was granted, though I failed to see the necessity for it, as he was as familiar with the Cree language as my interpreter was, and it was simply as a companion that he desired to have him with him; so when the Archdeacon bid me good-bye, I only had with me the Indian I had brought from Winnipeg, and my position was this: my goods were lying in a heap on the ground near the lake, there was not an inhabited house nearer than Carlton, seventy-five miles away, and, to add to my anxiety and responsibility, all the oxen, five in number, were left with me, as the Archdeacon did not wish to be hindered on his return journey by oxen, as he and his man had each a horse and conveyance, and, being light, they could jog along and do twice the distance in a day that they could do if they had oxen with them. The ox goes one pace, whether loaded or light. In addition to the oxen, I had two ponies to provide food and shelter for during the winter.
It was on August 13th, 1874, that the Archdeacon left me at White Fish Lake, just three months after I had sailed from Liverpool, and now I became a responsible missionary, and thrown on my own resources; and I will add here, for the information of those who look upon missionary work as an expensive hobby, and that it pays a man to become a missionary, that my salary, which was to be £100 per annum, only commenced on the day the Archdeacon left me alone on the banks of White Fish Lake, and my personal liabilities on that date were just £80.
When we realised our position I did not give way to despair. "Nil Desperandum" had been my motto for years. So we harnessed up one of our oxen and hauled our goods into the midst of a bluff of fir-trees, and covered them over as best we could to protect them from the weather. This being done, we began making preparations to build a little house in which to store our supplies more securely. The first thing we did was to put our grinding-stone into position. To do this, we cut down two small trees about four inches in diameter (growing side by side), and after cutting the stumps as level as we could, at a height of about two feet from the ground, and driving a big nail on either side of the iron axle that passed through the centre of the stone to keep the stone in position, we attached the handle, and the stone was ready for use. The feeling of pride and satisfaction that thrilled our hearts as we gazed upon this, the first sign of civilisation that had ever appeared in that lonely wilderness, is better imagined that described; it seemed to give a homelike appearance to our surroundings. Having ground a couple of axes, we commenced the same evening to cut down trees with which to build a storehouse, and, as this building was only ten feet square, a few days sufficed to erect it. Grass was then procured with which to thatch it; the spaces between the logs that formed the walls were filled up with handfuls of grass rolled in clay. The building was then complete except the door. In order to make this we had to remove the boards from the sides of some of our carts, and having in our outfit nails and hinges, the building was soon completed, and our year's supply of food, clothing, etc., was protected not only from the weather, but also from the wolves which prowled about the place.
We felt now that we could safely leave our stuff and go about other work j but our greatest hindrance was our cattle.
It is the natural instinct of domestic animals in that cold country to remember the place where they were housed and fed the previous winter, and when the autumn comes on, no matter where they may be, if not closely herded, they will go away stealthily and travel hundreds of miles back to their previous winter quarters. And so it was with our cattle. On one occasion David, my Indian, spent a week looking for them. He tracked them through the swamps and different places, travelling parallel with the trail without once approaching it; this is their common method when in flight of deceiving their pursuers. We sent word to Carlton that we had lost our oxen, and a freighter, who was about to leave for Green Lake, was given a description of the animals and was told to keep a look-out for them en route. To his surprise, having ferried his goods across the river, our oxen came out of the bush, and presented themselves for embarkation. This, of course, was all unknown to us at the time. About ten days after we had lost them, a freighter came past our camp with a number of loose cattle, as well as a number in" harness. It was those in harness that caught our eye, as they very much resembled those we had lost, so we crossed the little prairie and intercepted the man, when to our surprise, as well as delight, we found they were ours. The man told us that they were so determined to go back to Winnipeg that he had to harness them up and make them haul instead of his own cattle. The constant fear lest we should lose them necessitated a sharp look-out, which of course greatly hindered us in our work, and it was now we needed a third hand, and the folly of sending my interpreter with his friend was never more evident than at this time. Having completed the storehouse, our next work was to build a house for ourselves in which to spend the winter; in the meantime, we slept in my little cotton tent.
But now another hindrance occurred, and from a source we did not expect, for we had seen no Indians up to this time, but one day when David (that was the name of my Indian friend and co-worker) and I were cutting down trees, we saw about a dozen Indians coming towards us, riding on horseback, and they were highly decorated with feathers and war-paint, and each carried a gun. They rode up to us at full gallop, and the chief of the party demanded of us who we were and what we meant by cutting down his trees. David acted as my interpreter, and told him who we were, and our object for coming among them. The chief at once said they did not want missionaries, and he wished to know what we had brought out in our carts, and it was with difficulty that we succeeded in convincing him that we were not there for the purpose of trade. If we would trade with them, he said, we might stay, but, if not, we were to lose no time in getting out of his country. I explained to him that I was not sure of staying in that place more than one winter, and that as soon as we had prepared our winter quarters and my interpreter had returned, I should travel east, west, north, and south, in search of a place suitable for the work I had in hand, and I named the different places I hoped to visit. But it did not signify what place I named, he declared himself to be the chief of all the people.
Then I thought I would try what a little flattery would do, at the same time being quite truthful in what I said. I told him how pleased I was to meet such an influential chief at the very outset of my work, and I hoped we should work together for the good of all his people, but it did not take with him, and he was bent on sending us out of the country if we did not conform to his requests. He said he expected me to pay him for the trees I was cutting down, and to give him a weekly supply of food as a sort of "ground rent," only he did not use that term, but that is what he meant. I declined to take possession on his terms, as I pointed out I had only sufficient food with us for our own wants, but I promised that if he would allow us to go on with our work and put no hindrance in our way, I would make a trip to Carlton about Christmas, and I would take him with me, and, as all the Indians were well known to the H. B. Company, if the officer in charge confirmed his statement, viz., that he was the chief of the whole countryside, I would then make him a very nice present. This offer was refused. He said he did not want to make such a long journey when the weather would be at its coldest, but I perceived he had other reasons than the one he gave for not wishing to meet the H. B. Company's officials in my presence.
After parleying for about an hour with the man, I began to get impatient, and so took up my axe and began to cut down some more trees. This was too much for the chief, and he peremptorily ordered me to desist. I explained that the winter would be upon us before we were prepared for it, and therefore we could not waste our time in talking when it was evident we could not come to a mutual agreement. David said, "Please, sir, stop working; the Indians are getting very insolent. I do not know the nature of the Indians out here, and they may do us some harm." I replied that we must not let them see that we were afraid of them, for if we did they would take advantage of our cowardice and impose upon us. Besides, we must remember "that He who is for us is greater than those who are against us!" And I said that he should explain to them that we are the servants of the God of all the earth, and that we are here at His bidding not to do them or their country any harm, but good, and I advised them to wait and see if my words were not true. Having interpreted these sentiments, the effect was evident in the face of the old man, and seeing this, I was encouraged to reason with him further, and said, "I have always heard the Western Canadian Indians well spoken of, that it is their boast that they have never shed the white man's blood, that they are open to reason, and that God has given them much common-sense. Now," I said, "it seems strange, after having heard so much that is good and sensible about your race, that you should evince so little of the wisdom and goodness I had been led to expect; what I advise you to do is to let us go on quietly with our work and remain here undisturbed until the winter's snow has melted, and in the meantime try and make yourselves acquainted with our ways and the object of our coming amongst you, and then, but not before, say if you still wish us to leave you or not, for it is so unreasonable to say you do not want us, nor anything we have come to do, until you have had an opportunity of proving whether it be good or not."
This seemed to appeal to his followers, and they thought it was only right to give us a trial, but the old chief was not for giving in so readily, and he asked me to give him something with which to make a feast when he got home, and then he said, "We will see you again." Feeling sure that we had more than held our ground, I gave him a little flour, some tea and sugar, a few dried apples, and a few pieces of tobacco, and away he galloped, followed by all his party save one man, and only this man remained, but why he had stayed behind was the question I asked myself and my interpreter, and the answer I received was this: "He says you do not appear to know the customs of the people in this country." I replied that it was hardly to be expected, as I had only been in it for a few days, and had never really met any of its inhabitants before that afternoon. This being interpreted by David to the best of his ability, the Indian informed us that he was next to the chief in authority, and that the chief, as soon as he reached his tent, would hand over the things I had given him to his wife, and, when cooked, all his followers would be invited to a feast in his tent, and he, being next in authority, was supposed to make a feast in return, and invite all the people, including the chief, to his tent, "but," he said, "I have nothing with which to make a feast of, so I want you to give me the same as you gave the chief, that I may maintain the dignity of my position." Whether this man was speaking the truth or not was more than I could say, but I was very much impressed with his diplomatic way of stating his case, so I gave him the same as I had given the chief, only in smaller quantities. I made this distinction for two reasons: first, I did not want him to outrival his chief in the sumptuousness of his feast, and the second reason was a purely personal one and concerned myself only.
When he had taken his departure, we began preparing logs for our new house. This was to be a great improvement on the other building in size, anyway, though the material with which it was made and the architectural design were to be the same. This house was to be ten feet by fourteen feet inside measure, no floor except the earth upon which it stood, and no upstairs, just a box ten feet by fourteen feet, with a wall seven feet high, and a slight pitch to the roof. But our building operations did not progress so fast as we desired, the cattle continued to cause us delay, and the Indians kept paying us daily visits and making fresh requests, but I adhered to my promise to part with no more food, unless they brought us some fish or deer's meat in return for what we gave them.
The nights too were getting very cold, so cold that, having no stove for my little tent, I was unable to sleep in it, and we had to resort to other means for keeping ourselves warm, and this is what we did: we took three of our carts and placed them so as to form three sides of a square, we then bound the cart covers round the wheels, and covered up the carts completely with the green branches of the fir-trees, then we put poles across the open space at the top, and covered this with my tent, and branches on the top of it. The fourth side was open, but in front of this open space we kept a log fire burning throughout the night. On the I2th September, 1874, the weather became excessively cold, and on the 13th about four inches of snow fell, and our poor cattle, as well as ourselves, were very uneasy. We had not begun to put up hay for our winter's use, and, being a stranger to the climate of those parts, David could not say if winter was really upon us or whether it was only a passing storm. The weather of the I3th was repeated on the i6th, and altogether we had about six inches of snow on the level ground, and the frost was so severe at night that an Indian who had been following a moose he had wounded during the day, and, being thinly clad and perhaps faint from hunger, was unable to reach his home during the night, was found frozen to death in his tracks the day following. I have spent thirty-nine years in the Saskatchewan country, but have never seen anything like it since. After this the weather very soon changed for the better, the snow melted away, and in course of a week from this time George returned to us from Isle-a-la-Crosse, and took charge of our cattle, also did a good deal of shooting, keeping our larder well stocked with wild rabbits and prairie chickens, and our work went on with a merry hum. Complete summer weather returned to us, and for six weeks I do not think we ever saw a cloud. We got all our hay cut and stacked and our house completed and a lot of other work done, which I will relate soon, before the winter really set in.
As soon as we began cutting hay which we found growing in abundance on some marshy land, adjacent to a river about three miles from where we had established our winter quarters, and called by the natives "Mis-ta-he-Seepe" ("Big River"), we received another visit from the chief demanding pay for the hay we were cutting. I refused his demand, saying the hay we were cutting was no use to him, as he had no cattle to eat it, and, if he should decide to keep cattle before another winter, the hay that would grow on the ground we were cutting now would be all the better for him next year, as it would be free from old grass. The next day, about noon, his son came to the hayfield with a message from his father, a message which he seemed rather loath to deliver. He began by saying he was sorry our conduct the day before had necessitated the sending of such a message to us by his father as the one he was the bearer of. We encouraged him to go on, assuring him that we did not hold him responsible for any unpleasantness the message might contain.
"Well," he said, "I am sorry you do not know my father nor his power. My father has power over the wind, and the storm, and his message to you is this: If you refuse to pay him for the hay, he will not molest you; in the meantime you can go on cutting and stacking, and then, as soon as the winter has set in, and it is too late to cut any more grass, then he will cause a storm to arise and will scatter your hay in such a manner as to make it impossible for you to gather it up again, and then your cattle will all die of hunger."
I replied, "Tell your father that I am not very much impressed by his message, and shall continue our present work until it is finished, and shall patiently wait the execution of his threat; and if he can, and does, do what he has promised, there will be no necessity for me to take him to Carlton to have his statement about being a great chief verified, as I shall have all the proof I need to convince me that he is a very great chief, and, as the cattle will no longer be of use to me, and to save them from a lingering death, I will hand them all over to him to kill and eat whilst they are in good condition."
As my readers can imagine, the promised storm never came, and the chief did not eat my cattle. It was whilst we were cutting hay that George, my interpreter, returned to us and during his absence he had learned a good deal about this old self-instituted chief. The H. B. Company's officer in charge of Isle-a-la-Crosse district had asked him if we had come in contact with this old impostor on our way out. George said, "No." "Well, no doubt," he said, "your party will have to deal with him before you get back. He calls himself a chief, and on one occasion he demanded pay from my men before he would allow them to pass through what he called his country. He is no chief at all, the people over whom he is supposed to rule are his four sons and his son-in-law."
So when George returned, I handed the old man and his family over to him to deal with them according to knowledge, and I and David went on mowing. A few days after this the same son came to see me again, but this time on his own account. He said that his wife had just given birth to their firstborn, a son, and she had a longing for some tea and a little flour, and she asked me to be kind enough to give her some. I said certainly, as this was quite another kind of request, and if he would go home with us that evening, I would make a parcel up for her that would do her good. He went with us, and I sent her a few pounds of flour, a little piece of butter, and some rice and sugar, and a can of condensed milk. The poor fellow's gratitude could be seen in his eyes as he thanked me for his wife, and so I discovered that in spite of their rough exterior, they were not void of sentiment, nor strangers to love and parental affection! Ever after this when this man spoke to me with reference to this child, he always called him "Ke Koos-sis-se-now," i.e., "his and my son." The child is grown up now and is a parent himself, but as recently as two years ago, the father came to see me, not to beg, but to ask me to write out the date of his son's birth so that they might know when it came round and be able to distinguish it from other days, and think of the time when I first came among them.
After arranging with David as to the size and kind of stable to put up for our cattle, I left him to build it, and I and my interpreter began to explore the country. Our first journey was to Pelican Lake, a place which is seventy-five miles, I suppose, north-west of White Fish Lake, and as there was no beaten track leading to the lake, I had to hire a guide to take us there, and the man who showed himself willing to render us this assistance was the one who had described himself as being next in authority to the old impostor. We rode on horseback, the horses carrying our bedding, food and cooking utensils, as well as ourselves, and the Indian walked in front.
The day was fine, but the way was rough, and as the sun was getting low, we began to look out for a good place to camp. Soon we found what we were looking for, but we came upon something else, which had such an effect upon the Indian that nothing could induce him to stay the night near the place. In the days of which I am writing it was the custom of the Indians to bury their dead, either up among the branches of the trees, or else by placing the body of the deceased on the surface of the ground and building a small log house over it, to protect it from the ravenous beasts that prowled about the country. Well, it so happened that just as we were about to halt for the night, our guide stumbled on to a comparatively green skull. There were no signs of a grave near by, and it was more probable that the wolves had scented a grave somewhere, and had broken up the house and devoured the body, but the head had been carried by them some distance away. The Indian in his wild state is a firm believer in spirits, in fact, anything and everything that is beyond his understanding is looked upon as a kind of deity, and therefore to be feared and propitiated, but we will speak more of this later on.
After travelling on for about two miles, the Indian was prevailed upon to camp for the night, and whilst George and I were removing the packs, and hobbling the horses for the night, the Indian was engaged in collecting firewood and kindling a fire. Of course we Christians could wait patiently until supper was over before saying our prayers, but not so the Indian, for he said his, while waiting for the kettle to boil. Perhaps my readers will think it a strange sort of prayer that this heathen offered, but they must remember that this heathen had neither Bible nor any earthly friend to teach him how to pray. I could not join with him in his prayer, as I was alike ignorant of what was in his thoughts as well as the-meaning of his actions, until they were explained to me by my interpreter, and then I saw how much there was in his prayer that was true and good, and how many thoughts we had in common. This was his prayer: he took his pipe and very deliberately filled it with tobacco, and having lighted it, he took hold of the bowl of the pipe with both hands and stretching out his arms he pointed the stem of the pipe upwards towards heaven, and held it in that position for a couple of seconds, he then pointed the stem downwards towards the earth. The next action was to point the stem in the direction of his home where his family were, and then he pointed it inwardly at his own breast and lastly he pointed it in the direction of the skull. The time it took to go through these different actions was only about ten or twelve seconds, and then he smoked the pipe in silence. When he had finished his pipe, I asked him to explain the meaning of what he had been doing, and this is what he said: "I pointed my pipe to the sky, supplicating the aid of the great Spirit 'Keche Munnato' and then down to the earth supplicating the bad Spirit 'Muche Munnato' to protect my family, my friends and myself, from the wandering and perhaps angry spirit of that skull, which had been disturbed from its resting place." Thus far we have seen what some would call the "manual acts of his religion," now let us examine his prayer as it revealed to us the mind of the man. First it showed a belief in a living God, whose power and influence are for good, and that God can hear man's supplications. It also showed a belief in a wicked influence which was to be propitiated, but there was a great difference in the nature of these supplications. In the first instance he was asking the good spirit for protection from the power of the evil one, in the second he was beseeching the great source of all evil not to use his power to trouble him and his, during the hours of darkness through the agency of the wandering spirit of that skull. Apart from his knowledge of the source of good and evil, he evinced in that petition an affectionate prayerful interest in those who were his by the ties of relationship; and I was thankful for another insight into the religious mind of the people I had come out to instruct. Perhaps some one who by chance may read this book will say: Why go out to teach people who have such a knowledge of right and wrong as that man appeared to possess, and besides, he did not neglect to pray, as alas! many do here at home! This supposed question will be answered in its proper place.
The next day we had to wade through a muskeg, which was about four miles wide. There was very little water to be seen on its surface, but the ground was very spongy, and at times the horses as well as ourselves would sink down two or more feet in the mire. At times I despaired of reaching the other side, but our guide assured us we should sink no deeper as he had crossed the muskeg many times before. The third day we reached the lake and saw about six families. We camped two nights with them and explained to them our object in coming to see their country round the lake. They did not seem inclined to be interested, neither did they care to show us their country. One man did take us a few miles in a certain direction, but it was my turn now not to be favourably impressed. They told us--whether true or false I cannot say that I was the first white man that had ever seen their lake. On our way out we shot two bears, and wounded a third, but could not come up with it and had to give up the chase. The Indian removed the entrails, and then we submerged the carcass in the river, selecting a shaded place, and the water being cold we found the flesh in perfect condition on our return; and being loaded up with bear's meat added much to the cordial reception we received from our friend David when we reached home.
After spending a few days at White Fish Lake, we started again for Green Lake, as I wished to see more of the country at the north end of the lake than I had seen before; this time there was no priest in evidence, so I succeeded in getting an Indian to take us about and show us what he considered farming land, but I thought very little of it, especially when told that very often when haymaking time comes round the marshes are inundated, and those who cut the grass do so from over the side of their boats, and others pull it into the boat with rakes, and then when the boat is full they pull for the highland, and carry the hay ashore and spread it about to dry. It thus became evident to me that Green Lake was not a suitable locality either for growing grain or raising cattle, and so we retraced our steps back to White Fish Lake. The winter was now near at hand, so we made arrangements for capturing what white fish we could before the lake became frozen over, and we succeeded in staging about 250, and as these fish averaged about three pounds each we thought ourselves rich indeed.
As I have previously said my salary was £100 per annum, perhaps I had better state here the prices one had to pay for certain necessary articles if one dealt with the traders in the country; and the only alternative to this was to send to Winnipeg, our nearest market town, which was about 700 miles distant.
As bread is called the staff of life, I will begin with flour. Flour was 7 1/2 d. per lb., butter 2s. 6d. per lb., bacon, table salt, currants, raisins and dried apples were 2s. per lb. Print began at 1s. per yard and went up to 2s., and other articles of clothing in proportion. Common soap was 1s. per lb. Matches per quarter gross sold for 10s.--now sold in the Saskatchewan for 10d. Paraffin oil was sold at £1 a gallon--at the present time it is sold for 1s. 6d.
It is therefore easily conceived that very rigid economy had to be practised in order to keep within the limits of one's salary. In speaking of these facts to friends in England, the article that has been singled out as being the most extraordinary in price is paraffin oil. Why, say they, it comes to us from that country--then why should it cost so much there? Here it is under is. per gallon. There were several reasons for paraffin being so dear in the Saskatchewan at that time: first, the place where oil was then found was nearer England than it was to us, and besides, the method of getting freight of any kind into the interior at that time was very primitive. Also, oil being such a nuisance to handle, it was charged at a double rate, i.e., twice as much per cwt. as any other commodity--this latter rate was maintained even after steam-boat communication was inaugurated. In those early times paraffin used to be put up in square tin cans. Each tin held about four gallons, and two of these were put into one box, made of 1/2-inch boards, with a partition of the same material between each can; this partition was to keep the cans from chafing against each other. But as the method of conveying goods of any kind into the Saskatchewan was by carts, and as each cart could only carry 800 lbs. weight, and as it took seven to nine weeks to make this journey, it is evident that the freight rate from Winnipeg must be high; in fact paraffin cost £2 per cwt. from Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan, whilst other commodities only cost £1 per cwt. Then there was the cost of freight from the United States to Winnipeg, which was also very high. But the chief reason for paraffin being so dear with us was this--owing to the roughness of the roads between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan the carts frequently upset, scattering all their contents on the prairie, and the tin cans would spring a leak, and it often happened that in a shipment of oil to the Saskatchewan many of the cans would be half empty, and that which did arrive safely had to be priced so as to cover the loss caused by the leakage. There is still another reason why the oil was charged at such a high rate, i.e., it was a source of much damage to other goods. For instance, if the other carts in the brigade were loaded with tea or flour and the wind blew the odour of the leaking paraffin on to these carts, the tea and flour became tainted and their value reduced in consequence; flour sometimes became so badly tainted that it could not be sold.
About two weeks after our return from Green Lake an event took place which decided my future location, and my missionary work really began. It came about in this way. One Sunday afternoon my two companions and I were sitting outside the door of our little house when David exclaimed, "I see two Indians coming towards us on horseback, and they appear to me to be strangers," and in a short time they were off their horses and shaking hands with us. They proved to be father and son, and I thought I never saw a finer built man than the elder of the two. He stood over six feet high, and was well proportioned; the other was a youth of about sixteen summers. David at once set about preparing for tea, and we all partook of a frugal meal. Tea being over, the Indian and David smoked the pipe of peace in silence; neither George nor I smoked, otherwise we should have joined them. The pipe being empty, the Indian asked if I did not recognise him, and I said "No." He said, "Do you remember meeting a band of Indians a few miles this side of Carlton on their way out to the great plains?" I replied that I did. "Then don't you remember, just after passing the carts, an Indian came along on horseback, with a number of ducks hanging across the saddle in front of him?" and again I answered in the affirmative. "Well, I am that person. We tried to speak to each other, but neither understood what the other said, and so we soon parted. I wanted to know who you were, and where you came from and where you were going to. When I reached Carlton, I learned that you were 'praying masters,' and that you were looking for a place to settle upon, and for Indians to teach. I was sorry I did not know this when I met you, and I almost left my people to come after you, but when the trading master told me you would not stay at Green Lake, as he felt sure the country would not suit you, and as there seemed a likelihood of seeing you again, I went on with my people. I have travelled many miles since I saw you. I never had to go so far before to seek buffalo, and then we only saw a few. The buffalo are getting very scarce and our country is becoming very poor. When I think of the large herds of buffalo and other animals that used to roam about our country, and compare the state of things then with what they are now, my mind gets troubled. The wild animals may last my time out, but when I look into the faces of my children and grandchildren, my heart weeps for them, for I cannot see how they are going to live. I am not like many of my countrymen. I have seen this calamity coming upon us for years past, but some will not believe it even now, and I have had a longing desire to settle down and get my living like the white man, but I have had no one to teach me. I was at Carlton about eleven years ago when a Roman Catholic Bishop came along. He was on his way to Isle-a-la-Crosse, and the great trading master" (chief factor of the H. B. Company) "engaged me and my horses to take the Bishop and his party to Green Lake, and on the way the Bishop spoke to me about religion, and wanted to baptise me; I told him I did not know enough to be baptised, but I promised that if he would send a priest to live among us and teach us I would settle in some suitable place, and collect my followers around me. The Bishop was pleased, and said if I would be at Carlton the next summer about the same time of the year, he would arrange to have a priest there who should remain with us, and I agreed to do so. He tried hard to get me to be baptised before we parted, but I refused, not because I hated religion but because I did not know enough about it. The next summer came and I kept my appointment, and true enough a party of priests arrived from Winnipeg, and I made myself known to them. But they said they had no instructions to remain with any Indians at or near Carlton, but they would be pleased to baptise any children there might be in my camp--in fact any adults too who would submit to be baptised. I was much disappointed at the Bishop forgetting all about me and his promise, and I told them so; however, I said I would wait another year and see what the Bishop would do then, and I refused to let them baptise any of my people until they had first been taught. And so it has been going on for eleven years; each year the Bishop or the priests renewed the promise and each time they made it they broke it, and I am still waiting for some one to teach us; quite a number of our children have been baptised by the priests, but not with their parents' consent; my son here being one of them. It happened in this way. Priests used to travel with the French half-breeds years ago, when they came from Winnipeg to hunt the buffalo in the plains, and these priests used to enter our tents when the men were away chasing the buffalo and the women were about their work making pemmican or dressing robes, and without saying anything to anyone, they baptised the little children, and it was only afterwards that we heard from the bigger children what the priests had done. I told the Bishop about this, and I said I wanted my people to be enlightened. I consider I have waited long enough, and I told the great trader so at Carlton, and he agreed with me. Well, we went on to the plains, as I have said, and when we got within a hundred miles of Carlton on our return journey I decided to leave my people, ford the Saskatchewan River, and come in search of you; I had no idea where I should find you until I reached Devil's Lake, when the 'Net-maker' told me where you were. I have said enough in the meantime, and I will listen to you now."
I told him my object in leaving the country across the great water, where the great Queen lived, ari8 coming many miles to see his country was that the praying masters over there had heard from one of their Bishops that the Indians in the Saskatchewan country were likely, in the course of a few years, to come face to face with starvation, owing, as he had just said, to the disappearance of the wild animals, and this same Bishop had asked the praying masters to send some one who would live with these Indians and teach them, not only how to cultivate the ground and raise food from it, but also teach them to raise cattle which would to a certain extent take the place of the buffalo, and also teach the Indians how to make grease from the milk of the cow. This, the Bishop said, would attract the Indians around the missionary, and then he could have a school and teach the children to read and understand the white man's language, and so prepare them for the change that was bound to come over their country before the end of the present generation; and he could also teach the old people about "Keche Mun-nato" (the Great God) from His own great Book. I told him the praying masters in England had kind hearts, and they were sorry when they heard of the distress of the Saskatchewan Indians, and they had asked me if I would leave my home and friends and go out and live among these strange people, and try to learn their language, and teach them all those things that the good Bishop had suggested; and I said that I would go--believing it to be the will of the "Keche Munnato" that I should do so, and "here I am." The chief replied, "I am well pleased with what you say. My heart is touched by the kindness of people I never saw, and I believe 'Keche Munnato' wishes us to know all the things you have spoken about, and that is why He made you ready to come, and I promise that I will use my influence to make our new effort a success. As a pledge of my sincerity I shall leave my son with you for the winter and you can teach him what you wish, and I am only sorry my other children are too big to learn to read." The Indian then asked me where I intended to settle. I said up to the present I had not found a suitable place for a large settlement for, in addition to having plenty of good land, we would require extensive hay marshes close at hand, and plenty of big trees for building purposes and if possible, a lake or rivers where the people could catch fish occasionally. "Yes," he said, "all these things will be necessary, and I think I know of such a place." I said the only place I had seen was one we passed through on our way out from Carlton, and which would be about twenty miles south of where we then were. "That is the place I mean," he said. "But where are the hay marshes?" I asked. He said, "All along the banks of the Assissippi River (Shell River), which is not very far from the road you travelled over." I proposed going back and looking over the country with him. He said that he would have to get back to Carlton as soon as possible to meet his carts, and then he would come with as many of his followers as were there, and pitch their tents along the roadside near to a particular bluff of dry pines, and if I came along at a stated time I should find them there.
This ended our conversation on that topic, and then we spent the rest of the evening in speaking about the wisdom and goodness of the Keche Munnato. I told him that ever since I had decided to give myself to the work of a missionary, I had asked Keche Munnato that whilst I was being prepared for the work He would, by His good Spirit, prepare a people for me to work amongst, and to-day I realised that He had heard my prayer and granted my request, and I wanted him to believe that God had been preparing him and his people as much as He had me for the great work that was before us. He assented, saying he hoped soon to understand these things better, but at present he was only like a little child in understanding.
We then read a chapter and had evening prayer and retired for the night. The next morning our new friend started on his return journey.
At a set time David and I visited the Indians at the place appointed and found about seven families camped on the spot indicated. We looked well over the country and found everything satisfactory. This locality was afterwards called both by the H. B. Company's officials and passing missionaries, "The Paradise of the West." It certainly was a very pretty place--in after years, when the Mission became established. In the centre of the Mission is a lake called "Sandy Lake" from its sandy beach; the lake itself is five miles long, varying from a quarter to half a mile wide; it is bounded on either side by a fairly high plateau and surrounded by hills, the hills being covered with birch, poplar, spruce and some maple trees, and when these put on their autumn tints, the aspect was fascinating. The Mission House was afterwards erected at the south end of the lake, and the bell, which was sent to me from friends in England, could be heard at the farthest end, calling the children to school, and the people to worship; but I find I am a little premature in my description.
I arranged to visit the Indians once a fortnight during the winter, and as soon as the snow had melted and we were able to use our carts we promised to abandon our present quarters, and pitch our tent on the new site. Consequently every other Saturday, I and George, or I and David, used to walk the twenty miles on snow shoes, carrying our knapsacks at our backs, and spend two nights and a Sunday with the people, returning home again on the Monday.
The Indians built themselves temporary shacks for the winter, and when not hunting furs, busied themselves in preparing logs for permanent houses.