THERE is one event which I must speak about now, as it refers to our first Christmas experience. When Christmas was getting nigh I asked my co-workers if they would like to have a plum pudding, and they both said they would. A pudding of any kind would be a treat to us, as we had not even seen one since we passed through Carlton on our way out four months previous. I asked if either of them could make a plum pudding, and they both said "No." "Well," I said, "I do not know if I can, but I remember hearing my friends in England say that the art in turning out a good plum pudding lay in the boiling, so we will make a pudding and boil it a long time."
As the time drew near, David prepared a quantity of dry sticks to keep the kettle boiling, and George and I made a pudding. We were not quite sure what was required to make a plum pudding, but currants and raisins we had none! Neither had we any suet, and bread crumbs and eggs were conspicuous by their absence. David said the roe out of some of our white fish would do as well as eggs--and certainly when beaten up they did improve the unleavened cakes that we lived upon--but I preferred baking powder to fish roe, though afterwards I believed I had made a mistake in using baking powder--perhaps I erred in using it too freely.
First I ripped up one of our empty flour sacks and cut off sufficient to make a pudding bag; the material very much resembled a piece of duck. This we damped and floured in the orthodox way, and placed it on one side in readiness. Then we thoroughly purified our wash-basin and put some flour into it, and to this I added a large tablespoonful of baking powder and mixed the two well together; and then I suddenly remembered that I had brought Beeton's cookery book with me from England, and so went to my box to search for it; but I might as well not have had it with me for all the use it was, for it told us we needed everything we hadn't got, and what we did possess it did not mention, except the flour, and then it said something about bread-crumbs and grated carrots being used as substitutes; but as we had neither bread nor carrots, we kept to the original and used flour. I set George to invent a substitute for currants and raisins, and this is what the genius did. He took some slices of American dried apples, of which we had a few, and cut these up into small pieces, some smaller than others, and the larger pieces he called raisins and the smaller he called currants; so these formed the next addition. Then I remembered having seen something in my box of groceries, either curry powder or allspice, but I could not think which. A search, however, proved it to be allspice, so I put a teaspoon-ful of this among the other ingredients. Then one suggested a cup of treacle, and in it went too. We next opened a can of condensed milk in order to have it fresh, as we did not want to spoil the flavour of our Christmas pudding, and having followed the directions on the can as to the right proportions of milk to water, we made sufficient liquid to make the whole mixture into a fairly stiff paste, and then into the bag it all went, and we tied it up as tightly as possible, leaving no space for the pudding to spread, and as the kettle was boiling we deliberately put it into the water. We all took turns in watching the kettle to make sure it kept boiling, and at the same time to see it did not boil dry, and to prevent this latter catastrophe taking place, another kettle filled with water was kept on the boil. This was kept up for four or more hours--in the meantime we kept peeping at the pudding to see how everything was going on, and we were thoroughly satisfied with the appearance of the pudding, and we felt confident that our success was assured. After having kept it confined in the boiling cauldron for the space of six hours, we thought we had persecuted the pudding sufficiently; so we took it out, and I shall never forget with what a thud it fell on to the table. Its confinement was such that we had a difficulty in finding the string, it was so completely buried in the pudding. It was not Christmas Day until the morrow, but we found the temptation so great that we could not resist having just a taste. "But what is the matter?" I asked David. "The knife is either very dull or the pudding is very hard." I examined the knife and found it all that a knife was expected to be, and we ultimately discovered that the pudding was a very hard one indeed. It was left to David to diagnose the cause. He said: "It's the apples and the baking powder that did it, sir; they both swell up when they are cooking. If we had not tied the bag so close to the pudding it would have been all right." Then I said: "David, we must be thankful that the bag was a strong one, for if it had not been, the pudding would have burst its bonds and got all over the pot, and then we should have had to have called it a custard and not a pudding." So in spite of all our failings we got a pudding, and one which lasted us a good long time! As soon as the month of March arrived I sent David to live at Sandy Lake with the Indians, and in his spare time he was to cut fence poles for our proposed new field, and we hoped that we should be able to join him some time in the early part of April; but the spring that year was very late in coming, and the snow did not melt sufficiently to permit of our travelling before the 3rd of May, and then we crossed lakes and a river on the ice with our oxen and loaded carts. We tried to begin to plough on the 5th of May but could not for frost, and it was not until the 20th of May, 1875, that we actually made a beginning. I must confess I doubted much if anything could be done in the way of farming in a climate like that, but I afterwards found that my first winter in the country was exceptional for its length and its severity, as I never again experienced such a late spring.
During the fourteen years that I stayed at the Sandy Lake Mission I experienced a variety of climatic changes, and one year I sowed wheat as early as the 20th of March. We did not do much seeding the first year as we had not the implements for breaking up the soil that are in use in the West at the present time. What we did was this. We got the Indian men and women to pulverise the newly ploughed ground with axes, chopping the sods in pieces and pounding them up with the head of the same instruments. The potatoes we planted I had sent to me from Isle-a-la-Crosse the previous autumn, as I could not procure them any nearer. The H. B. Company had a large garden there, and the officer in charge kindly sold me ten bushels, and in order to protect these from the frost we dug a deep hole in the middle of the floor of our dwelling house and lined it well with hay, and put the potatoes in there and covered them over with hay, and then David chopped some boards out of logs (we had not at that time begun to use our pit saw) with which to cover the hole to prevent anyone falling in, in the dark. Very often when examining these potatoes to see if they were freezing or not, I felt a strong temptation to take a few out and boil them for my dinner, but I brushed aside the temptation, and remained firm, and kept them all for planting in the spring. I managed to procure a few bushels of barley from a settler in the district of what is now Prince Albert. We only made one field the first year, both for the Indians and ourselves, and as the labour was mutual we divided the proceeds equally. After the potatoes were planted and the barley was sown, I asked the Indians to indicate to me just where they each wished to build the following autumn, and having done this, I advised them all to go out to the plains and make as good a hunt as possible, and we would remain at the lake, enlarge the Mission field, and plough up land for each of those who had shown us where they intended to erect a house, and time permitting, we would plough up a number of other fields in different places, so that when other Indians came to us, as I hoped they would do in the autumn, I could present each family with a field as an inducement for them to settle. The Indian who came to us at White Fish Lake, and who was the cause of our settling here, was A-ta-kwa-koop (Star Blanket), whom we found to be one of the most influential chiefs in the Saskatchewan country, and speaking from past experience, I have no hesitation in saying a better Indian never roamed the prairies. This chief said he would not go out to the plains himself--he said he could not leave us, our kindness was so great. He said he had received many acts of kindness in days gone by from the traders; sometimes they made him valuable presents; but they had an object in doing it, namely, knowing his influence among the Indians they relied upon him to bring much custom to their store, but "Your kindness," he said, "is different: yours is unselfish, you do not ask for or expect any remuneration from us for what you are doing; all you seem anxious for is that the Indian may learn to be good and be independent of the buffalo when they cease to exist. No, I will not leave you, but my two married sons shall go out to the plains with the rest of the people who are here, and I will send a letter by my son to a great friend I have in the plains, telling him what I have made up my mind to do, and invite him to come with some of his followers in the autumn to see and hear for themselves." He said, "The name of my friend is Mis-ta-wa-sis (Big Child), and he, too, is a chief like myself." So he did as he suggested, and this is the kind of letter he sent--it consisted of a plug of tobacco, and a verbal message by his son. When his son reached the plains and had learned from other wandering Indians where Big Child was camped, he went in search of him, and having found him, he handed the chief the tobacco, telling him it was from his father. The chief, being one of themselves, knew by this act that the young man was the bearer of a message, and so when the hunters had returned from the day's chase, he sent word to the different tents, telling the men he had a messenger in his tent from Star Blanket, and he invited them to smoke the pipe of peace with him and his friend. In due time they all presented themselves at the chief's tent, but not being able to get inside on account of their number, they all seated themselves in a circle on the grass outside. The chief being supported on either side by his head men, and the bearer of the message being seated inside the circle, the chief handed the tobacco and pipe to the man at his right hand to perform the ceremony of "filling the pipe." Having done this, he lit it and handed it back to the chief, who having taken three good pulls at the pipe, passed it to the one sitting next to him, and he in turn, taking the same number of pulls, passed it on to the next, and so on, until all had smoked the same pipe, and then all exclaimed "A-ha" (Yes), meaning they were ready to hear the message. Then the bearer, having received an encouraging word from his host, stood up in the centre of the circle and delivered the message. Having heard the words of the great chief Star Blanket they showed their respect by shouting out, "Ta-pwa, ta-pwa, Me-wa-sin" (It is true, it is true, it is good), though many of those who joined in the exclamation did not agree in heart with all the sentiments expressed in the message. Still, the response was good, for when those who went out from us in the spring returned in the autumn, they brought back with them several families which professed their allegiance to Star Blanket, as well as chief Big Child and fifteen tents of his followers.
Our first crop was not much to boast of, and the yield of f potatoes was such that I felt we ought to put them all away for seed the following spring; but the desire was so great among the Indians to eat something that had grown from the ground where they hoped to make their future home, that I had to give way, and they each took home about half a bushel, and the name they gave them was Us-Kip-wa-wah I (eggs of the earth).
As the Indians had brought home with them sufficient pemmican and dried buffalo meat to last most of the winter--augmented, of course, with what they could kill in the woods during the winter, such as rabbits and prairie chickens, rats and wild cats, bear and deer, all of which are relished by the natives of the country--the question of what they should eat did not concern them very much, and all hands set to work to build themselves winter quarters, except Big Child and his party, who had already spent the previous winter in the woods twenty miles south of Sandy Lake, and intended to utilise the same shacks again this winter. We now prevailed upon the Indians to put up a temporary log building, free of charge to the Mission, in which to conduct day school and Sunday services, and until Big Child left for his winter quarters about forty children attended school regularly. A few belonging to Big Child's band, not wishing to take their children from school, built themselves winter quarters near by, so as to have their children regularly taught.
During the past summer, in addition to ploughing, etc., we had managed, by working sixteen hours a day, to build ourselves a house sixteen by eighteen feet, with a thatched roof and boarded floor (and most of the boards used in this house were sawn by David and myself). During the past summer, also, my interpreter paid a visit to some friends in Prince Albert, and whilst there he met our Bishop, who was making the first tour of his diocese since his consecration, and as George had been a student of his whilst the Bishop held the position of Warden of St. John's Collegiate School in Manitoba, the Bishop was agreeably surprised to meet him in the Saskatchewan, not having previously heard of his being there; and when George told him what he was doing in the Saskatchewan the Bishop at once said he would find other work for him to do--and so, without my acquiescence, he was taken from me and appointed catechist in charge of the church people in Prince Albert. My interpreter was not by any means pleased with the Bishop's actions, as he knew he was under an obligation, according to existing rules, to serve in one or other of the Society's Missions for three years at a uniform salary, and then at the end of that time, if the missionary with whom he had laboured could report well of his services, he would be at liberty to return to college and study for the ministry. But--whether through ignorance of these rules or otherwise I do not presume to say--all I do know is, that just at the time I needed my interpreter, not only in that capacity, but also to help me in learning the language, as well as to teach the day school, the Bishop took him from me, and David and I were left alone to battle with the work, which was growing apace. I went to Prince Albert to see the Bishop during the latter part of the summer and told him about my work, to which he was a comparative stranger (the reader will remember that it was at the suggestion of the Bishop of Athabasca that the Society had sent me out to begin work in the Saskatchewan), and he found for me a young half-breed, with very few qualifications, to take George's place, and he also arranged my course of studies with a view to ordination the following spring.
As Big Child and certain of his followers returned late in the autumn to their former winter quarters, I placed my new interpreter with them to teach their children, as well as instruct the adults on the fundamental truths of the Christian religion, and I taught the day school at Sandy Lake.
During the winter we had a visit from the Bishop, who was accompanied by a country-born clergyman (now the Archdeacon of Saskatchewan), and the first C.M.S. Conference ever held in the Saskatchewan, or west of Winnipeg, was held at Sandy Lake Mission in my little single-room dwelling-house.
The object of that Conference was to inaugurate Emmanuel College for the training of native youths for the dual work of teachers and pastors, and the initial step was to ask the C.M.S. to sanction the removal of their missionary, the Rev. J. A. McKay, from Stanley Mission on the English River to Prince Albert, to help teach divinity to the native students. There were three present at that Conference, the Bishop, Mr. McKay, and myself, and our request and certain other suggestions we made to the Society were approved of by it, including a special grant for the Divinity Professor, and the Bishop made Mr. McKay first a Canon, and then an Archdea-deacon, and appointed him to the Divinity Chair. I have heard on many occasions at our Diocesan Synods the origin and work of Emmanuel College discussed, and at times quite a feeling of jealousy was aroused among those zealous of the part they had taken in bringing the institution to its present status, but if I had cared to enter into the arena of discussion with them I could have taught them ancient history of which they were ignorant.
Having reached this stage of my work I think it desirable to make no further reference to it now, but to give my readers a description of the Indians as they were when I entered their country forty years ago.
This I will divide into headings, beginning with
THEIR HABITS AND MODE OF LIVING
When I arrived in the Saskatchewan country the prairie Indians had no fixed abode. They lived by the chase, and so pursued the buffalo wherever they roamed. Often they spent the winter on the bleak prairies, and the only artificial means of keeping themselves warm was by collecting the dried bones of the slain buffalo, that were plentiful in those days, and using them as fuel. Grease in those far-away days was plentiful among the Indians, and I have been told by those who wintered on the prairies that they used to get a bleached buffalo head, and fill the holes where the eyes, ears and horns had been with hard fat taken from the recently slaughtered buffalo, and having placed the skull in the centre of the tent, they set fire to it, and as the bone became hot it absorbed the grease, and so kept burning for hours, giving out both light and heat.
In those early days the Indians, men and women, used to dress themselves in leather garments which they made from the hides of the buffalo. They removed the hair by a process of scraping, and toned down the hide in a similar way, and then by a process of washing and wringing, the skin was made pliable, and if needed for wearing apparel it was tanned by smoking, in this way: the skin was folded up and sewn into a sort of bag; this bag was suspended bottom upwards to a horizontal pole, high enough to allow the bag to touch the ground slightly, and the bottom was stretched out and pegged to the ground. Then very dry bark or decayed wood, which they gathered from the forests, and which was generally kept in stock and carried about by the Indians wherever they went, was placed under the bag and set fire to, and the bag was again pinned to the ground to keep in the smoke. This touchwood, or tinder, would smoulder away, giving forth a quantity of smoke, and after a short time the smoke could be seen percolating through the pores of the leather and this was kept up until the whole of the leather was thoroughly tanned by the smoke. The object of the treatment was this, namely, to prevent the leather from becoming hard and unwearable after having been made wet, through either perspiration or rain. Without this tanning the leather would dry hard and shrivel up, and it would be impossible to use the garment again, but having been smoked, the leather could be dried, and then with a little rubbing the garment would be soft again, and as pliable as the day it was first made.
In the summer time the Indians used very little clothing; the men might wear a pair of leather leggings which would reach half-way up their thigh, and which were kept in their place by a string of leather tied to another piece, which they had fastened round their waist as a sort of strap; the only other garment that was worn was called a breechcloth, made either of leather or a piece of blanket about a foot wide; this was placed between the legs and the ends were passed under the belt fore and aft, to use a nautical phrase, the ends being long enough to hang down about a foot in order to keep the cloth in its place--but frequently the men dispensed with their leggings and were considered fully dressed if they wore a. breechcloth only.
A man used to work in my field dressed in this fashion. I often wondered that his back never became blistered by the sun. Whenever I went near him he used to clap his hand on his shoulder and say, "Kis-sas-tao, boy: (It is hot), boy being the only word in English that he was able to say. This Indian was a Saulteaux and his name was "Sa-Koo-te-tah" (Pushed behind the tent-pole). This poor fellow and his wife were murdered out in the plains the following summer, and their bodies were found lying beside their cart; but all their belongings were intact, except their horse, which could not be found, so it was considered that the crime was committed by a Blackfoot horse thief.
The women clothed themselves with a sort of skirt, either from the same leather or a piece of blue cloth purchased from the traders, and the garment when made resembled a wide sack. A deep hem was made at one end, through which was passed a string of leather, and tied round the waist; the skirt was usually short, and seldom reached below the knee. In making themselves a sort of bodice they took a piece of one or other of the materials mentioned, about two feet wide and four feet long, a hole was cut in the centre, through which they placed their heads, and having put on the garb in this fashion, an assistant was needed to make this costume complete. This was done by gathering the sides together and putting a few stitches under each of the arms to keep it from flapping about, and a few stitches here and there joined the jacket to the skirt. Sewing garments on the backs of women and children was neither uncommon nor inconvenient, because they seldom or never changed their garments until they were worn out. Then in many cases the old garment was not removed, but put out of sight by putting a new one on top. During a visit from a doctor to certain Indians in the Saskatchewan, for the purpose of vaccinating them, one of his assistants made a remark to the teacher about the thickness of some of their skins and said how difficult it was to find blood. The teacher, however, encouraged the assistant to persevere, saying he was not to be surprised if he came upon a lost shirt before he drew blood! I was not present when this remark was made, or I should have rebuked the teacher for his levity of speech, but it certainly used to be their custom not to discard a garment so long as it would hold together on their backs. The kind of dress that was worn by the Indians in winter differed only in this respect: in addition to their summer garb, they enveloped themselves either in a H. B Company's blanket or more frequently with a buffalo robe; these robes were made by the Indian women, and I believe were more difficult to make than leather, as all the work required to soften the skin had to be done on one side. Their tents were also made of the skins of the buffalo, made first into leather, and then cut and stitched together so as to make an evenly shaped "tepe." Women who knew how to cut and shape a tent well in this way were considered among the cleverest of their tribe. The harness used both for their dogs and horses were also made out of the buffalo skin, but in this latter case not so much labour was bestowed upon the dressing, as the material used for this purpose was more like parchment. Strings made from this kind of parchment were cut and used in making the network of snowshoes. In fact the buffalo provided, not only food and wearing apparel for the Indians, but also a substitute for iron, as, for instance, when the felloes of a cart became out of repair, and showed signs of coming apart, the Indian would take a strip of raw hide about six or eight inches wide and soak it well in water and then place it on the outside of the rim of the wheel, and with strings of thong, lace the edges, drawing them as near together as possible; this raw hide would shrink in drying and draw the felloes together and hold them as strong and stiff as if bound with iron. In damp weather, of course, the hide would stretch, but the wood would also swell, and when the weather was dry enough to cause the wood to shrink, the hide shrank with it and so kept the wheel tight.
The Indians were very fond of fresh meat, and this they ate without salt, sauce, vegetables or bread; the plain Indians liked their food properly cooked, they did not like it done to death, neither did they eat it raw, but as they had neither ice-houses nor cool cellars in which to keep their food, necessity taught them other ways. The Indians had three ways of preserving their meat, namely, by making it into pemmican, pounded meat, and dried meat. For the sake of brevity, I will say first how dried meat was made. When an animal was killed, the women would cut off as large a piece of flesh from the carcass as they possibly could, and then place it on a piece of parchment before them; they would then draw their knife right across the piece of meat parallel to the grain, making a gash about half an inch deep, and in a slanting direction; then they would take hold of the lip with the left hand and cut slantingly with the right hand, and as they cut across, they turned the lump of meat over, and then another cut, and so on, until the whole of the piece had been pared away, so to speak, and instead of a lump of meat there would be a steak from one to three feet long. This kind of thing was repeated until all the meat on hand had been cut up into thin steaks, then a sort of stage would be erected and rods put across, and on these rods would be hung the slices of meat, and left there to dry by the sun; if the blue flies were bad, a small fire would be kindled beneath the meat; the fire would help to dry the meat, and the smoke would not only keep away the blue fly but also impart a pleasant flavour to the meat. When considered sufficiently dry, the women piled the dry steaks neatly one on top of the other until a pile was formed two feet long by one foot wide and one foot in height, and then this was bound round tightly with line made from the hide, and put on one side either for personal use or for sale. This is what was called a bale of dried meat; meat cured in this way and kept dry would last a whole year or longer, and when used it could be eaten just as it was or boiled, of toasted before a fire.
Pounded meat was made from the dried meat by beating it up with flails until it became as small as desired, and then stored away in bags.
Pemmican was made by beating either of the above until the largest piece became the size of a filbert nut; much of it would of course be like mincemeat; a whole skin made into parchment used to serve for the thrashing floor. The young men invariably did the pounding, and whilst this work was in process the women were rendering down all the fat they could get--even the bones were broken and boiled so as to get all the marrow fat they contained; others would be employed making bags out of parchment about 2 1/2 ft. long and 1/2 ft. wide; when sewn up, and when everything was ready, a proportion of hot grease was poured on to the top of the heap of pounded meat, and the whole was mixed up with wooden shovels, in the same way that men mix mortar in England; then when the grease was thoroughly mixed with the meat it was put into the bags and sewn up neatly, and this was called a bag of pemmican. The bag was not allowed to lie on one side more than a few minutes at first, lest the fat should settle to the underside, and the upper side should be dry; so every ten or fifteen minutes the bag was turned over to ensure the whole receiving the proper amount of fat. When buying a bag of pemmican from a number of bags, one sometimes happened to get a bag that had not been properly attended to during the cooling period, and the result was that one side of the bag was practically all grease, and the other side dry cracknels. Buffalo meat cured in this way and kept dry would last for years. No salt was ever used in either of the above processes. By travellers, pemmican was considered a very convenient kind of food, as it could be eaten just as it was, and the only instrument required in the culinary line to make it fit for the table was a hatchet to chop it out of the bag, for it became as hard as mortar through confinement. Travellers used often to make a very rich soup with it by boiling a quantity for a certain length of time and then adding a little flour to make it thick. In my time, when we started growing vegetables, we made pies and stews of it, just in the same way as such things are made with the flesh of domestic animals.
Perhaps some may think I am dwelling too long on this subject, but the memory delights to linger on the happy days gone by, never to return, which were associated with the buffalo, and what they meant to the people of that time. These oxen of the prairie became extinct about thirty-six years ago, except for a few kept on preserves by the Canadian Government.
When the C.P.R. was being built across the prairies, certain half-breeds and Indians made a fairly good living by collecting buffalo bones and selling them to, I think, Americans. At every station one came to on the line large piles of bleached bones could be seen waiting to be shipped away; it was said they were for use in sugar refineries, but whether true or not I am not qualified to say.
THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEF
The next subject I propose speaking about is the religious ideas of the Indians. They were not by any means unbelievers or irreligious; they did not know about God's love as manifested through Christ, neither did they ask the great Father for anything in Christ's name, for how could they call on Him in whom they had not believed? and how could they believe in Him of whom they had not heard? and how could they hear without a preacher?--and previous to that time no preacher had been sent. They were children of nature, and nature had taught them that there was a great Supreme Being, who had made all things and who controlled all things that He had made, and they called Him "Ke-che-Mun-ne-to" (the Great Spirit), and sometimes "Kis-sa-Mun-ne-to" (the Merciful Spirit). They also knew from personal observation, as well as from personal experience, that there was another powerful force at work in their hearts and in the world, whose tendency was towards evil, and this something they called "Mu-che-Mun-ne-to" (the Bad Spirit), and in their untutored minds they regarded them both as objects of worship; one the object of fear, and the other, one whom they could trust. But they were very superstitious and regarded anything and everything that was beyond their comprehension as a kind of deity, which had some influence upon their lives, and therefore felt themselves bound in some way to do them reverence. The medicine-man was a sort of high priest among them, and they pretended to believe in his incantations even more than in his herbs. This medicine-man was supposed to have communication with spirits which revealed to him hidden mysteries by means of dreams, and many of the careless ones left everything as to their present and future welfare to him. They paid him well and he spoke to the spirits for them. Without desiring to make any animadversions, one cannot help noticing, in passing, the close resemblance between the minds of these non-Christian people and certain people of the present day who call themselves Christians!
The religiously disposed Indians prayed often as well as on special occasions; for instance, if an Indian was going on a hunting expedition, he would most likely before starting speak to the Great Spirit, whom they also called Father, as well as to the spirit that was supposed to govern the actions of the particular animal they were going to hunt, and ask for guidance and success. I have heard it said that a Black-foot woman will take her child from her breast and place its little hand upon a block of wood, and then take an axe and deliberately chop off one of its fingers, and having done this, will hold it up to the sun as a supplicatory offering, with a request that her husband might return from his hunt with food for them to eat I I have never seen such cruelty as this myself, and I am not persuaded in my own mind that such cruel acts are really practised, such heartlessness on the part of a mother towards her child being utterly foreign to my experience--and besides I should feel more inclined to believe in the woman's sincerity if she spared the hand of her helpless infant and mutilated her own instead! Indians that I have had to deal with believed in sacrifice, and often in their heathen days deprived themselves of food, or even necessary clothing, to appease the anger of one or other of the spirits that were supposed to be angry with them. At certain seasons of the year they held high festivals: these feasts were generally held in the spring and autumn. One of the spring feasts was called the dog feast, and was patronised by Indians, principally who lived near to great rivers. The large rivers in North-West Canada are very dangerous, especially in the spring of the year. As all these large watercourses take their rise in the south and flow northward, it will be easily understood that the melting of the snow and ice in the south will take place weeks before the ice that confines the water in the northern parts of the said rivers shows any signs of decay or weakness; and the pressure of the water under this northern ice, which holds in check the floods from the south, becomes very great, and it often has happened in the past that without any apparent indication of the ice becoming weak, it has been suddenly lifted up and broken by the pressure of the undercurrent, and anyone who happened to be travelling on the river at the time would in all probability be drowned. Two or three years after my arrival in the country, nine of my Indians were on an island in the river near Prince Albert. It was in the month of April, and they were making maple sugar, when without the slightest warning the ice broke up, and after running for a short time it jammed and formed a barrier in the river, which caused the water to rise rapidly, and the island became inundated, and seven out of the nine were drowned, notwithstanding the island was not more than fifty yards from the mainland. I remember, too, standing on the banks of the Saskatchewan River at the Pas, watching two men crossing on the ice in the spring, when suddenly I noticed the men were passing by me as if floating downstream; they were walking and chatting together, watching where to put their feet so as not to get wet--and perfectly ignorant of what was taking place, until I shouted to them that the ice was moving, and when they looked towards the land they saw they were being carried away; the ice did not break up immediately, and they just had time to reach land before the rush of water and the grinding of the ice was both heard and felt. Had I not been standing on the banks of the mighty Saskatchewan at the time, these two men would probably have perished, and this brings back my thoughts to what I was saying about the dog feast.
Just before the ice broke up, as described above, the Indian used to take a dog, and after going through a certain ceremony, would break a hole in the ice through which the dog would be precipitated into the water under the ice, and so carried downstream and perish; this was to propitiate the spirit of the river, for they thought from past experience that the waters had some annual right to demand the sacrifice of life, and the life of the dog was sacrificed as a substitute for them and their friends!
There was another religious rite observed by the Indians in the past, which was held in the spring and in the autumn as well--it consisted of roasting an animal or bird, whole. In the spring it was generally the first goose shot after their return from the south, provided no bone had been broken in the shooting. A special tent was erected and other necessaries provided, such as bunches of dried sweet grass, which had been gathered the previous autumn and tied up in bunches and dried in the house or tent. When this grass is burning it gives forth a pleasant odour. Everything being ready, the" medicine-man and those whom he named would enter the special tent and sit cross-legged around the roasted goose, which had been brought in on a spit and placed in the centre, and after the medicine-man (their great high priest) had beaten his drum, and spoken to the spirits, all began eating the goose, picking the flesh off the bones very carefully with their fingers so as not to disturb a bone, and when the flesh had all been eaten the skeleton was intact. During this performance certain young men, who had been previously chosen for the purpose, whom we will call "Nethinims," took in their hands a bunch of the sweet grass, and having set fire to it marched round the outside of the tent singing an Indian dirge, and waving on high their sweet incense! Now, it has often been asked, from whence did the North-West Indians come? I am not aware that this question has been answered to the satisfaction of everybody, but comparing their religious ceremonies such as the above with what we read in Exodus xii. 46, and Exodus xxx. 34-38, and Psalm cxli. 2, it seems to me that there was a time when these people were in closer touch with the people of the East than they are at the present time, and had a more accurate knowledge of certain religious observances mentioned in the Old Testament than they had at the time of which I am writing. Yea, some of their own legends indicate this. They had a story of the deluge, and a certain character who figured very prominently in the deluge, which can without any stretch of the imagination be taken as representing Noah. They also spoke of their wanderings in-the North Land in these legends, and of their encountering difficulties in the way, the greatest of these being a wide expanse of water, and had it not been that some of their men had not forgotten their ancient cunning, they would have had to turn back to the land from whence they came. But these wise men constructed a very large raft by means of which they were able to continue their wanderings; in short, there is everything to show that they came from the land where the Bible was known and read, but owing to their wanderings and having no written word to guide them, the Bible story, as generation after generation passed on, became legendary, and so became corrupted. Still, I maintain there is sufficient in their religious rites and ceremonies to indicate from whence they came, namely, from Northern Asia via Behring Straits.
As I have already referred to the method adopted by the Red Indians in burying their dead previous to the advent of Christianity, I will now mention some of the customs they had with regard to their dead. Some persons call them heathenish customs, but when one has learned to understand the mind of the people, these customs appear to represent a different kind of thought, and compare very favourably with our own enlightened ways. For instance, when any one lost a relation by death, on certain occasions, or at stated times, the bereaved, would visit the grave and place on it a plate with some food upon it, and leave it there. The food thus taken would sometimes be a particular piece of deer or buffalo meat, or perhaps a piece of the first goose or duck they had shot in the spring. Now I know it has been said, by some who ought to know the Indians better, that the idea of the Indian was to feed the spirit of the departed, but I have not been able to make any such discovery; what I have found out is this: Firstly, they do it to show to their neighbours that they still remember their departed with affection, and secondly, that they hope in some way, which they cannot explain, their friend who lives in the spirit world will be made acquainted with what they have done, and perhaps even behold their acts, and be pleased and made happy by the knowledge that they still occupy a place in the mind and affection of those they once loved on earth? Strange notions do you say? Then let me ask, why enlightened Christians visit the graves of their departed ones, and plant flowers or place wreaths of bloom on them? Let them answer this question, for surely it does not matter to the dead whether their friends show their loving memory by placing flowers or food upon their grave, for the dead can no more be affected by the fragrance of flowers than by the sight of food. No! both customs are equally pretty and full of significance, but neither one excels in virtue!
The same thing applies to what is called the Wa-pin-na-so-win, which consists of hanging up, in the spring of the year, pieces of print or some other material on the trees and bushes near to where some one they had loved is buried (the wandering Indians had no regular burying place, but buried their dead near to the spot where they breathed their last, wherever that might be). This custom, like the other, gave effect to their feelings for the departed, their own senses could tell them that both the meat and the print remained where they placed them, and had not been spirited away nor used by the one to whose memory they had been sacrificed. Now what do these children of nature teach us by their strange customs? Surely it is that they believe in a future state, and as they have not had the advantage of the Bible, or Christian teachers, to give them an idea of what that future state is, they can only associate it with the present, and whatever has contributed to their happiness here, they believe the same good things will exist in the life to come, only in a greater degree, and as nothing added so much to their comfort and happiness here as a successful hunt, they called the spirit world "The happy hunting ground." I once found an old gun near a tree not far from my house at Sandy Lake. The barrel was rusty and the stock disfigured by long exposure. I took it home and cleaned it, and during the process of cleaning, I discovered a rude figure of a skeleton scratched on the stock. I made inquiries if anyone had lost such a gun, and in a short time the image on the stock helped me in ascertaining the original owner, as certain Indians had seen just such a gun in the possession of a particular Indian; that Indian was none other than the old impostor that I encountered soon after my arrival in the country. Some said that he had placed it near my house with the image of death upon it for some sinister purpose, but be that as it may, it brought nothing but good luck to me, as I found it both light and a true carrier, and I used it for years for shooting wild rabbits. When I saw the old Indian, I asked him if the gun was his, and if so I was prepared to give it up; he said it was his, but he refused to take it, saying it was his Wa-pin-na-so-win, and therefore he could not receive it back. He said he was pleased I had found it and appropriated it to my own use, and added, the reason why he had represented death on the stock was that it might prove a sure killer. He looked upon this image as a sort of mascot, and one which was nearly as superstitious as another venerable English custom of throwing salt over the left shoulder to avert a catastrophe. The Indians had also superstitious notions with regard to hunting, travelling, etc. For instance, when an Indian killed a moose, and the head had been removed from the carcass and stripped of what meat it contained, it was then placed on a stake or among the branches of a low willow-bush in the attitude of a moose looking on the ground in a drowsy condition; this they wished to persuade themselves would be the attitude of the next moose they hunted, and would therefore come upon it and shoot it without having roused the suspicions of the animal that any danger was at hand.
Some Indians pretended to have medicine that would cause anyone pursuing them to fall lame. The medicine was placed on the road behind the pursued, and when the pursuer came up to it, he or his dogs were supposed to fall lame. The half-breeds, I think, excelled in this superstitious notion, and they practised it on each other when travelling from camp to camp in pursuit of furs. These half-breed pedlars generally represented rival trading companies, and every means was resorted to by them to steal a march on their opponents, and it was for the purpose of getting ahead of their rivals that this medicine was used. The medicine, as I have said, was placed on the trail over which their rival was expected to travel, and as he came running along driving his dogs at full speed and quite unconscious of any danger being near, all at once he, and sometimes his dogs, would be seized by sudden and severe pains in the leg, resembling cramp, and they would scarcely be able to continue their journey, and so the one who put the medicine on the road would have achieved his object and have all the business to himself when he reached the camp. On the following business trip to be made to the camp, perhaps the injured on the last trip would by stealth get on the road first, and then he would place the leg medicine on the trail with the hope of checking the speed of his pursuer, and so this superstitious excitement was kept up. In order to prove to them that there was really nothing in it, I challenged all the manufacturers of "leg medicine" in the district to try it on me and my dogs, but no one would accept the challenge. Then I undertook to explain to them the cause of these different attacks of lameness of which they complained, and this was my argument: "You know you are both jealous of each other's success and you are always scheming to outdo each other, and in order to get to a certain place first you try to get off through the night, when you hope the other fellow is sleeping, and sometimes you succeed; consequently you go jogging along quietly, feeling your position sure. The other man finds out in the morning that you have got a lead on him and he harnesses up his dogs and pursues you with all the speed he can command, and in his anxiety to overtake you he overtaxes both his own strength and that of his dogs, and striking the hard frozen snow so heavily with his feet, he jars the muscles of his legs and so experiences the pains you complain of." It was to the interest of the medicinemen to keep this superstition alive, and as this profession was associated with the mysteries of their religion they found ready dupes to buy from them.
From what has been said already about the religious character of the Indians, some may even think there was no necessity for sending a missionary to teach them. I was once asked by an American doctor, in mid-ocean, to describe the religious condition of the Indians as I found them, and having done so he exclaimed, "It seems to me that there was no necessity for your staying among them except for the purpose of learning fervency of spirit and diligence in prayer; for judging from what you say, they appear to excel us in their religious zeal." I replied: "I am afraid, doctor, that you are not right in your diagnosis this time, for like those Paul referred to in Romans x., they had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Besides," I asked, "what did these Indians pray for? Exactly the same as the unenlightened Gentiles did in the days of St. Paul, whose thoughts were confined to this present life only, saying what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed. It is true they believed in a future state, but it was a vague sort of belief and not according to knowledge. God had planted within them, as I believe He has in every man, an apprehension of something to come, as svell as a holy fear of unfitness for participating in that something. But this knowledge, being imperfect, led them to make sacrifices; they felt themselves deficient--coming far hort of what was required of them--and so they felt compelled to punish themselves in some way in order to appease the anger of the spirits. It is true they admitted in their prayers that Ke-che-Mun-ne-to was also a great Father, and spoke of Him as such, but to them he was only Father by creation and not by redemption, for what could they know about redemption, not having heard 'redemption's story'? Besides, their worship was actuated by fear and not by love. They feared this and they feared that, and so asked the spirits for protection from the objects of their fear; therefore the need for enlightenment and the work of the Christian missionary is obvious, namely, to teach them the story of redemption: That whilst they were yet sinners God gave Christ to die for their redemption, that He was their propitiatory sacrifice, and that Christ was theirs by faith, and with Him God would freely give them all things; and that the heathen should know this, it becomes the duty of every Christian to take part in proclaiming the good news to them!" And although much of my work at the first may appear to be of a purely secular character, it was only a means to an end, and that was to bring the Indians within the sound of the Gospel, and that this secular part of my work fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended will be explained later on. But in order to convince the doctor from his point of view that the Indians needed a missionary I found it necessary to repeat a story as it was told to me by a woman, one of my own Indian converts about the year 1880, but which on account of its repulsiveness I would fain leave out of this book, nevertheless as it shows the wretched state of ignorance they were in, in spite of their religious sentiments, I deem it advisable to repeat it here.
On two occasions during the ten years previous to my entering the Saskatchewan country, the Indians had been visited by that loathsome disease smallpox, and not having been vaccinated many of them fell a prey to the disease. It was estimated that more than half of the Indian population of the prairies died from its effects. The result of this state of things upon the minds of the poor Indians can be better imagined than described. They became so terrified when they realised its infectious nature, that as soon as one showed signs of having taken the disease, those who were well got their things together and pitched off to another place, leaving the afflicted person behind to die alone or get better, as the case might be, and those who died were in most cases left unburied and their bodies were devoured by the wolves! The woman mentioned above had lost all her children except one, though she herself had not taken the disease, and this child, a daughter, was nigh unto death. She told me the rest of the band had pitched off, fleeing as it were from the plague, but as this was her last child she felt she could not leave her, and so remained by, to do what she could for her until the end came. As she sat there watching, she began to ask herself what she had done to displease the Great Spirit, because she regarded this affliction as having been sent to punish her for some wrongdoing, and then many things came into her mind which she had done in the past, which at the time they were committed did not occur to her dark mind as being wrong, but now in the face of death, she felt the Great Spirit was justified in punishing her in the way he had. And she asked herself what could she do to appease the anger of Ke-che-Mun-ne-to, and the only thing that came into her mind was, sacrifice; she must sacrifice something. But what had she got for sacrifice? She had neither money, nor clothes, except what she had on, and she did not possess a single animal; what, therefore, could she do? She loved her child, her only child, and she did not want it to die, and then in her distress of mind she spoke to Ke-che-Mun-ne-to, and told him, she deserved all the sorrows He was placing upon her, but why should her children suffer for her wrongdoings? And she pleaded for the life of her child, and then her mind went back again to sacrifice, and she told Ke-che-Man-ne-to, that if He wanted life, she would give her own if by so doing the child might live. But how was she to sacrifice her own life? Something told her it would be wrong to take her own life, and looking round she espied the body of one who had died from smallpox lying in the tall grass near by, and it came into her mind to place her life in the hands of the Great Spirit who made and governs all things, and by contamination with the dead body she tried to give herself the disease. Having told the doctor what she actually did, he at once exclaimed, "She must have died." I replied, "No, she did not." "Then," he said, "it was a miracle that her life was spared!" "Yes," I said, "I quite agree with you, Doctor, it was a strange sort of prayer, and a strange kind of sacrifice this poor unenlightened woman presented to God, but it was not lacking in sincerity, a sincerity which is necessary for our petitions to reach the throne of grace, and although it was not emphasised in the way God required, yet He heard and answered her petition. The woman suffered nothing from her rash act, and her child was speedily restored to life and health, and to make this narrative complete, this woman with her husband and daughter came and settled in my Mission at Sandy Lake. They put themselves under instruction, and in due course all three were baptised and the girl, who was then grown up, was lawfully married to a Christian Indian and all became communicants. And now, Doctor," I said, "after having heard this true story, in which I have included the sincerity of that heathen woman, do you not think there was a need for further enlightenment, and that my presence among them was amply justified?" "Yes!" he said with emphasis, "I never saw it in that light before, but I cannot help remarking that the sincerity of that heathen woman puts us to shame, for where would you find a Christian mother ready to take such risks for her child as that woman did?"