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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XXXI
Great meeting—Conjurers and medicine-men look on under protest - Father prophesies - Peter waxes eloquent as interpreter - I find a friend.


IN due time, after our meal was over, the chief asked father when he would be ready to address his people; and father said as soon as the camp could be gathered he was ready. Then the chief summoned two men, and said to them, "Ride forth on either side and shout to my people, and say, Our friends, the praying men, have arrived. One of them is from afar. He is now about to speak to us words of truth and wisdom. All who can be spared from care of camp and guard of horses, come and listen." And the criers went forth and shouted as they rode, and presently from the whole circumference of the big camp, throngs of men and women and children gathered to where we were with the chief. The Christians were intensely interested, but the pagans were intensely curious.

What a gathering of strange people, strange costumes, tattooed and painted faces, painted robes, grotesque and also picturesque headdresses!

What diverse thought! Old pagans, and conjurers, and medicine-men, strongly conservative, and inclined to look upon these praying men and this meeting as altogether "unnecessary" and "unrequired." The religion of their fathers was good enough for their people. Let the white man keep his faith, and let them alone in theirs.

These wondered that men of the type of Maskepetoon should bother themselves in any way with these new-fangled notions, and while they counselled kindness and courtesy, at the same time they said, "Listen only with your ears, and let your minds be unaffected by what these strangers may say." But notwithstanding this, the larger number were eager for something better and stronger and more certain than they had in the faith of their fathers, and these were ready to give close attention to the message of the missionary. All were reverent and respectful, for all were religious in their way.

Our little company, with the native Christian following, sang some hymns while the crowd gathered.

Then the Rev. Mr. Steinhauer prayed, after which father began his address. He told of the coming of Jesus, how He found the world in darkness, and men worshipping idols, etc.; of the commission given to man to preach the Gospel to every creature; what this Gospel had done for the nations who had accepted it. He showed that true civilization originated in and was caused by Christianity. He said that it was because of the command of Jesus, eastern Christians were constrained to send missionaries to the Saskatchewan; that the purpose was for the best good of the people, both present and eternal.

He congratulated them on their country.

He foretold the extinction of the buffalo, and the suppression of tribal war, and the necessity of this people's preparing for a great change in their mode and manner of life; that it was the business of himself and brethren to teach and prepare them for the change which was bound to come.

He prophesied the ultimate settling of this country.

He assured them that the Government would do the fair and just thing by them; that this had been the history of the British Government in her dealings with the Indians, always to do justly and rightly by them.

He congratulated them on having a chief like Maskepetoon, who, while brave and strong, was a lover of peace, and earnestly desirous of helping his people in every way.

He urged them to listen to him and obey him.

He told them that, if God spared his life, his purpose was to come and dwell with them, and become one with them in this great country God had given them.

He assured them of the profound interest all Christian people had in them, and urged them to have faith in the Great Spirit and in His Son Jesus.

Peter waxed warm and eloquent in his interpreting.

What signified it to him that Mr. Steinhauer and William and even myself were closely watching his rendering of this address to the people.

He caught the thought and entered into the spirit and purpose of the speaker, and proved himself to be an earnest friend of this people and a prince of interpreters.

And that congregation, assembled on the highlands of the continent, under the canopy of heaven, amid such strange, and, to me, new and crude surroundings, how they listened! With what reverence and decorum they gave attention! No getting up and going away, no restless movements. On the other hand, the instinctive courtesy of the natural man was clearly apparent.

Civilization does a great deal for man, but it does not always make a gentleman of him.

When the service was over, the chief arose, and with quiet dignity spoke to the crowd as follows: "My people, I told you that my friend from the east would speak to you words of wisdom and truth. You have listened to him, and I want you to think of what you have heard. Let this sink into your hearts, for all my friend has said will come to pass. The Great Spirit has sent these praying men to teach us His will. To-morrow we will show our friends our manner of obtaining a livelihood. My runners have brought word that the buffalo are in large numbers near by, and we will go on a grand hunt to-morrow. Only the necessary guards will remain with the camp. Now let the guards be set for to-night, and let there be no recurrence of what took place last night. Someone slept at his post, and the enemy came within the circle of tents, and if he had not been detected, would have stolen, and perhaps killed. Shame on the young man who would allow that to happen! Go now to your tents, put the camp in order, and remember our friends are tired; they have ridden far. Let there be no unnecessary noise, no drumming or gambling to-night. Let the camp be quiet; let our friends rest in peace."

When I heard of the grand hunt planned for to-morrow, and of the great numbers of buffalo near by, my whole being was excited with the prospect of witnessing this, and perhaps participating in it. Ah, thought I, if I only had a fresh horse! And while I was wondering how to secure one, a young Indian, as if he divined my thought, said to me, "Will you go tomorrow? will you hunt with us?" I said I would like to, and he at once kindly offered me his horse. "Come and see him," said my new friend; and I went with him to his tent, where he showed me a beautiful little black, who was standing near the tent door, eating at a bundle of hay his owner had cut and carried in for him.

The lariat around the horse's neck was passed into the door of the tent, and fastened near where my friend slept. He evidently was taking extra precaution for the safety of his beloved horse. I thanked him for his kindness in thus providing me a mount, and as I sauntered back to our tent I took in the scene.

Horses were being driven in from all sides. Picket pins were being re-driven and made secure. Favorite steeds were being led up to tent doors. Women were busy putting away meat and hides. Others were cooking the evening meal over the flickering camp-fires. Old men were walking through the camp, urging to great caution about horses, and some of them enforcing the advice of the afternoon.

Soon came darkness and quiet, but though tired I could not sleepily thought was busy with all these new experiences, and then the hunt promised for to-morrow kept me awake. When I did sleep I dreamt of painted savages and buffalo.

Soon it was morning, and with daylight the camp was astir again. Horses were turned loose under guard, breakfast was cooked and eaten and another service held, and then at the command of the chief, all who could go got ready for the hunt.


 


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