Appointed to the Hudson Hay Missions—Is made Chairman of same —Three years with Norway House as Headquarters—Describes several missionary trips made during these years.
Toronto, July 10th, 1800.
THE bearer, the Rev. George McDougall, has been appointed by the Canada Conference of Wesleyan Ministers to take charge of Rossville station, Hudson Bay Territory, in the room of the Rev. R. Brooking, who returns to Canada. Mr. McDougall is also appointed Chairman of the District embracing the mission stations of the Wesleyans at Rossville, Oxford House, Edmonton, White Fish Lake, Lac la Pluie, etc. I recommend him to the Company's officers, to extend to him their wonted courtesies in forwarding himself and family to their destination, and facilitating the object of his mission— the welfare of the Indian tribes within the Honorable Company's territory.
Sup't. Wesleyan Missions,
Making his arrangements, and leaving two of his family to attend school in Eastern Canada, as soon as possible after his appointment he started for his new field. The route was by train to Collingwood, for in the meanwhile railways had been built in Canada. At this point a number of friends had met to bid the missionary and his family adieu; among these were the Rev. Drs. Enoch Wood, Superintendent of Missions, and Stinson, President of Conference. Receiving the benediction of these brethren and friends, the missionary and his family embarked on an American propeller, which took them on the journey as far as Milwaukee, Lake Michigan, where he and his party took railway train for La Crosse, on the Mississippi river, which, at this time, was the most northerly and westerly point of railway enterprise on the American continent. Here the party went to one of the large Mississippi steamers, which were then almost the only means of transport into the interior of America.
Steaming up the magnificent Mississippi, the mission party met with the usual experiences in those days— tying up to other boats for the purpose of social conviviality, unloosing and running exciting races with the late partner; witnessed slavery; saw the management of steamboat employees, which seemed as bad as slavery; finally reached St. Paul, which was the limit of navigation at that time. Here the problem of the big overland journey, from this point to the Red River of the north, met the missionary. This he solved by chartering a newly organized stage line to transport him and his family on one of their coaches from St. Paul, on the Mississippi, to the Hudson Bay post, named Georgetown, on the Red River.
The party left St. Paul very early in the morning; breakfasted opposite where the present Minneapolis stands, then a few houses indicating the site of a future metropolis and the greatest wheat market in the world. The first day brought the party to St. Cloud, where the missionary learned it would be wise for him to remain a short time, in order that he might make connection with a steamboat in the Red River. Accordingly he camped his party for a short time at St. Cloud, and, purchasing a bolt of cotton, improved the time, like Paul of old, by making a tent, which he and his family very successfully accomplished, stitch upon stitch (for there were no sewing machines m those days).
Continuing their journey, the party rolled over the plains and hills of Minnesota, making passing acquaintance with the stage-house keepers, and the few solitary settlers at that time situate in this new land, many of these a short time afterwards to become the victims of the terrible Sioux massacre. After six days' rapid journey, changing horses every twelve or fifteen miles, the missionary and his party found themselves camped on the banks of the Red River, where they in a sense entered the Hudson's Bay domain, for here they found a Mr. Murray in charge of the Hudson's Bay Depot. Here the missionary found, notwithstanding his previous stay-over at St. Cloud, that the only steamboat on the Red River was behind-hand; which delay was compensated by the profuse hospitality of the Hudson Bay Company's officer, as also the grand opportunity for the pioneer spirit of the missionary to explore this new country; thus several days passed, and at last the steamboat came, but having arrived, the captain said the water is too low, the boat cannot possibly go down the river again until the water rises. Here was another dilemma, which was passed by having a barge, upon the deck of which the missionary and his family pitched their tent. Four immense sweeps were attached to this barge and were used as the propelling power. They were now on the famed prairie lands of the far west. Pemmican had become a staple in their food; this was made out of the meat of the buffalo, large herds of which were almost within hearing distance from the banks of the river. They were right on the neutral ground between two warlike tribes; the Sioux on one side and the Red Lake plunderers or Ojibways on the other. The party on the barge kept the middle of the river as much as possible, and were very careful as to the spot they landed on when it became necessary to go on shore for firewood for the cooking-stove upon which they prepared their meals.
Eight days and nights of pulling down the river, leaving Minnesota and Dakota, entering what constitutes to-day Manitoba, the mouth of the Assiniboine was reached. Here the party came to Fort Garry, the capital of the Hudson Bay country, the seat of government of the said Company, and the centre of the Red River, or Selkirk settlement, of the north. Here the missionary and family met with a kind reception from Governor McTavish, and through whose assistance, very little delay was found by them in obtaining transport to their yet distant post further north. Let the following letter, written shortly after, convey the impression of the missionary as to the capabilities and future of this great country:
Rossville, September 17th, 1860.
The three days spent by our boatman between Fort Garry and Lake Winnipeg gave us a tine opportunity for observation. We conversed with traders, farmers and travellers on the character of the country; we witnessed the system of agriculture, passed through their fields of grain ready for the reaper, and the impression we received was, that for fertility of soil, and readiness of cultivation, the banks of this western Nile could not be surpassed. It must be admitted that the system of agriculture is very primitive, the banks of the river often remind one of the shores of the St. Lawrence fifteen years ago, when the French-Canadians either carried the manure into the middle of the stream, or tossed it over the hanks. This, however, will soon be corrected. Farming implements are now being imported ; a progressive spirit is being manifested ; and the day is not distant when the limitless prairies which environ the banks of the Assiniboine will rank amongst the finest wheat-growing countries of British North America.
And here is a home for the hundreds of sturdy Canadians who live on rented farms, or who may not have means to purchase homesteads in Canada. The best of land can be obtained at a nominal sum.
A word to those wishing to emigrate to this country. At present we would recommend the St. Paul route. A through ticket from Toronto to St. Paul by Milwaukee and La Crosse, costs twenty dollars and fifty cents. A family would do well to purchase a team and waggon, not forgetting a tent. Provisions can be obtained cheaper eighty miles further on, at St. Cloud. The road is good, feed abundant; and in company with half-a-dozen there is no danger. In this way, the journey can be accomplished at a trifling expense. "We were much gratified to learn that the cause of temperance was beginning to exercise an influence, and that several of the clergy heartily advocated its claims. On this subject there ought to be no uncertain sound ; the missionary that would be useful in this country must abstain.
As an illustration, when we were coming down the river our men stopped at the lower fort, and procured a small quantity of spirits; singing, shouting, and a great deal of noise followed. The wind being fair and very fresh, my son assisted me in the sailing of the boat, leaving our unruly crew to swallow the demon. Subsequently, I conversed with them on the impropriety of drinking.
August —Our brigade was obliged to seek shelter on an island opposite Bering's river. Being anxious to visit the Indians, and see the location, we got up a party and went up the river. There were but few Indians at home, and only one of the Company's servants. In Canada we have frequently received gifts from our good hearted farmers, from the inmates of their sheep and pig-pens; but here we were presented with a fine sturgeon from the fish pen. The Indians of this location are pleading for a missionary. The young people here expressed themselves as willing to renounce heathenism and become Christians. Though we could not recommend Bering's river as a suitable place for a mission, yet there is a river a short distance south of it which possesses all the advantages of good timber, good soil, and an excellent fishery. Friends of Christ, will these poor Indians have a missionary? We plead for nothing expensive, but let it be said of the Church of Christ that she hath done what she could for them.
23rd.—We are now opposite the mouth of the Saskatchewan, the future highway of nations. A gentleman has just enquired of us, why the Grand Rapids as a mission station has been overlooked. "Here," said our informant, "is the place for active operations" among the Indians. A large body is located there. Past this point all the traffic of the Saskatchewan and the Mackenzie River country has yearly to be conveyed. Now is the time to secure this ground; soon all the important places along this great river will be occupied by the commercial world. Dear Christian friends of Canada, we have no time to enlarge upon this subject, or to plead with you in behalf of the suffering inhabitants of this country. Fields of usefulness there are almost without number, and thousands of precious souls who have never yet heard of the sacred name of Jesus. Now the Indian missionary naturally looks to Canada for a favorable response upon the subject. By the Methodists of Canada almost incalculable sums have been spent in the Christianizing and civilizing of the natives. Through their instrumentality thousands of precious spirits have been loosened from the bondage of heathenism and gathered into the paradise of God. And, Christian friends, what is your command to us, your agents in this distant field? Is it not to go on until the last western wigwam has been entered, and the last pagan brought to the feet of Christ? Yes, yes, blessed be the name of our God, this is what we understand to be our commission, as given us by Christ and His Church.
We reached Rossville, but could hardly realize the fact. We are now in a Wesleyan Mission House surrounded by old acquaintances; and then to feel that in this vast moral wilderness there is a place where one day is hallowed, and one assemblage convened to honor the True God, and to know that the veracity of heaven is pledged to make the little one a thousand. Bless the Lord for all His mercies.
The next morning found the missionary and party in one of the inland boats used by the Hudson Bay Company for the transport of their trade to and from the interior. Still continuing down the Red River, the party reached Lake Winnipeg, and coasting along the shores of which, after ten days' voyage from Fort Garry, reached "Norway House." This was the end of the journey; here was the station to which the missionary had been appointed. As it was already late in the season, it became the previous missionary, the Rev. Robert Brooking, who was now relieved, to make haste and get out of this northern clime before winter would set in, which he accordingly did.
Rossville was the oldest mission station in the country in connection with the Methodist Church. James Evans, Thomas Huilburt, Henry Steinhauer and Robert Brooking Lad labored at this point; a great deal had been done in the transforming of the people from paganism and barbarism to Christianity. A walk through the village, a visit to the church on the Sabbath morning; a trip with the male population of this band to York factory on the Hudson Bay and back; any one of these experiences could not but impress the thoughtful beholder with the fact that the previous missionaries had not labored in vain; and yet there remained a great deal to be done. At this time the Hudson Bay Company were still trafficking in rum. and this, as always, was proving itself the greatest bane of the native.
The immediate predecessor or. the field had slackened. His grip of the people in this respect, and therefore the present missionary found plenty to do; and the Lord was with him in the preaching of the Gospel, in the holding of temperance meetings, in the improving of the church and mission-house, and general material appearance of the mission, in the stimulating of the people to better their surroundings; he found that in all these lines there was plenty to be done, and characteristic of him he did it, and was blest in so doing.
The missionary's earnest desire to make provisions for the future of this people, will be seen from the following letter written at this time:
To the. Editor of the. Christian Guardian.
It is generally admitted that the great misfortune of the Canadian natives is their scattered position; this is not only their weakness politically, and a large additional expense to the cause of missions, but it has also greatly retarded their civilization. The time was when these bands might have been collected in one community; and we believe had our fathers, thirty years ago, possessed the experience and influence of our Mission Board at the present day, the work of centralizing would have been accomplished. The opportunity for such a consummation is now forever gone; the fair lauds of the Indian have passed into the hands of the "Pale-face," and all Christianity can do for them now is to watch over their spiritual and educational interests. This we are glad to know is not the position of the Indians of Hudson's Bay. "What might have been done for the Chippewa, may still be accomplished for the numerous tribes of this country. In presenting this subject to the. friends of the Indian, we lay no claims to originality; we know that the enterprise has been for years entertained by some of the most experienced members of the Conference; we are also aware that the able Superintendent of Missions has done more than merely speculate upon the subject. The good men who founded these missions were not in quest of farming locations; their great object was to save souls. Leaving the rich valleys of the south, they pushed their way through Lake Winnipeg down the Nelson River, and finding at Norway House and at Oxford a wild, neglected people, they applied themselves to the arduous work of Christianizing them. Rossville and Jackson's Bay were not selected because of their adaptation to agricultural pursuits, but because of their proximity to a heathen people. And here we will illustrate the position of these missions by a comparison. Our friends in the frontier cities of Canada can boast of the salubrity of their climate, and the fertility of the lands by which they are surrounded; but just suppose a point five hundred miles north of Toronto, or Montreal, amidst a vast wilderness of limitless swamps, and barren granite rock—a country that, for seven months in the year, is covered with a dreary rnantle of snow—and then you have no more than a parallel to Rossville or Oxford. In Rupert's land there are millions of acres of the richest soil; but the Red River and Saskatchewan are far south of us. There are a number of reasons why a suitable location should be selected for the poor Indians of this high latitude.
The first we shall notice is the scarcity of food, and the painful fact that the quantity is yearly decreasing; the fur bearing animals are now no longer numerous, and the rabbit, an animal as necessary to the inland native as the reindeer is to the Icelander, is very uncertain. When we lived in the Lake Superior district, for several years they entirely disappeared, and for the last two years they have caught none here. Fish is the principal article of food in most parts of this country, the hunter and his dog both live on fish; the quantity required for the winter supply of Norway House and Rossville is 70,000 annually; about twice that number are destroyed. Now, all past experience prove that fisheries worked in this way fail.
Thirty years ago the rivers flowing into Lake Ontario were at certain seasons full of salmon. When the Credit mission was established, it was nothing uncommon for one canoe to take 300 in one night.
From these waters the salmon has entirely disappeared. Twenty years ago, when I first visited Owen Sound, an Indian in our employ by the name of Na-bun-e-qum, caught by the light of one flambeau one hundred trout; I will venture the assertion that last fall, the most expert spearsman on that fishery did not, in the same length of time, kill ten. Fisheries at all our stations have failed, and the same causes are producing the same results here. The day is not far distant when the Indian must live by tilling the soil, or perish. The next fact to which we would direct attention, is the disposition of the native to emigrate south. Our journey from Red River to Norway, was made in company with the York Factory Brigade. Ten boats were manned by eight Indians. A few of these were Salteaux, the principal part were Crees, and most of the latter belonged to the Episcopalian mission. In conversing with these men we ascertained that many of them were from the north, not a few from our own missions. The prospect of better land, and a larger supply of food, had prompted them to move to Red River. On reaching Rossville we pursued the enquiry, and learned that one-third of our congregation were from regions farther north, some of them from the seaboard, Ports York and Churchill. They had left the hunting grounds of their fathers in search of a better country.
At present the great centre of attraction is Red River, and the reason is, there is no other settlement in this country to attract the attention of the Indian. Now, in our opinion, there is not in all the widespread dominions of our noble Queen, a worse place for the native. A large portion of the inhabitants are French half-breeds, these are all Romanists, and since their country has been opened to the American free-trader, they have become fearfully demoralized. The Protestant Indian must be provided with a better home. There is much to encourage the friends of missions in their efforts to save this people. The Cree, when brought under the influence of Christianity, is industrious. In order to better the circumstances of their families, they willingly spend the summer in making long and laborious voyages for the Hudson Bay Company. Unlike the Canadian native, he will hire himself out for a year, and faithfully fulfil the engagement. Only let the Cree have fair play, and he will be a credit to his benefactors. But we must not linger; all we wish to do is, to introduce the subject, and then leave it for abler hands to take hold of it. The present time is auspicious. This country is now in its transition state, the eyes of the speculator and the farmer are turned towards it; already the pale-face trader and trapper have traversed its plains to the very base of the Rocky Mountains. Soon its rich valleys will be changed into fruitful fields.
Shall a home be secured for the original proprietors? or shall they be left to drink the bitter cup of poverty and neglect, and at last perish as a people? Philanthropists, Christians, you whose hearts bleed for others woes, we look to you, and may the God of the oppressed speed the right.
G. M. McDougall.
Rossville Mission, December 2ith, 1860.
During my father's stay at Rossville, he made several trips into the country still farther north, as also westward to the mouth of the great Saskatchewan, where there are a considerable number of Indians located. The accompanying letters will describe some of these tribes, also some of the circumstances connected with them.
Letter from the Rev. George McDougall, Chairman of the District, to the General Superintendent of Missions, dated Rossville, March 22nd, 1861
We started on the 5th of the month for Oxford.
My kind neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair, placed a carriole at my service, but to travel in Hudson's Bay style, I would have to employ an extra train of dogs to carry provisions and blankets. To avoid expenses, I preferred footing it until our load was sufficiently reduced to allow me to ride. In this country when the traveller returns by the same roads, to avoid carriage, provisions for men and dogs are deposited at each sleeping place; to prevent these from being destroyed by the thievish wolverine, who constantly hangs upon your track, a hole is dug under the camp-fire; there the stores are concealed, the warm ground covered with snow, which soon becomes a body of ice.
My son, who since our arrival here has taught the school without the loss of a day, gave his little folks a vacation and accompanied us. My interpreter and a young Indian made up the party. The distance from Norway House to Oxford by water is upwards of two hundred miles, by land one hundred and fifty. A few hours after leaving home, we met Mr. Clair, the gentleman in charge of York Factory, on his way to Red River to attend the general council; this we regarded as providential, for it gave us a track, and made snow shoeing much easier; and also suggested the question, Shall Britons, in pursuit of legitimate gain, display a greater energy and endure greater hardships than we art! willing to do who profess to go forth for the love of the Redeemer, and the extension of His cause? As the hotels of the north are very similar, a description of one will be sufficient. The traveller selects the thickest clump of trees, in the centre of which he makes his resting-place. After shovelling away the snow, the ground is covered with boughs, a few branches stuck up in the rear, and a fire in front, the roof the one erected by the Great Architect, and the wayfarer's home is complete. Never shall I forget some of the nights spent in this high latitude under these circumstances. The peerless Queen of Night smiled down upon us with a brilliancy and beauty I never before witnessed, while the countless multitude of the celestial host marshalled around their sovereign. These at times are almost eclipsed by the Aurora, which here displays an assemblage of gorgeous forms never seen in Canada. Now shooting forth a stream of silver light, in a moment the color changes to that of a deep red, representing scenes of living fires, while at the same time these different, shades are all reflected by the vast fields of ice and snow beneath; while gazing on this inimitable picture, painted by the finger of God, with what joyful emotions does the Christian exclaim, "My Father made them all."
Wednesday, 6th. We crossed Winepegoosis, a fine sheet of water, nearly as large as Lake Simcoe. In the afternoon we reached the camp of a large family of natives. They were all our people, and heartily glad to see us; we all joined in a hymn of praise, and after commending them to our common Parent, resumed our journey.
Thursday, 7th. This is emphatically a land of lakes and rivers, one portage follows another. We have seen a few cariboo tracks, and one beautiful black fox; but animals of all descriptions are fast disappearing from these forests. Alas for the poor Indian of this inhospitable clime.
Friday, 8th, was a terrific day. To give the Ojibway idea, Nan-a-bush-you had shook his blanket, the old giant was mad. The sun looked pale and feeble through the thin scuds that swept across the- sky, the drift was so fine and so penetrating that no amount of clothes was proof against it. We struggled on until we reached the Oxford River. Here we found a family of the Jackson Indians; they had heard that a strange missionary was expected. In view of the visitor a fine young beaver had been kept. This was now taken from its birch-bark wrapper, prepared in backwoods style, and very soon disposed of. My mind has often been greatly encouraged when visiting those families who, in search of food, spend the winter away from the missions. By them the Sabbath is strictly kept, even when employed by the Honorable Company. Nothing will induce them to violate the sacred day. Another characteristic is their deep anxiety that dying friends should give unmistakable evidence of their acceptance in Christ, their last words are treasured up, and reported to the missionary. Most of these wandering families possess parts of the word of God ; in this way the noble James Evans "being dead yet speaketli." The very simple yet practical character of his syllabic letters can scarcely be realized. Not infrequently the pagan procures a part of the New Testament, and learns to read and write in these characters, before he has received the teachings of a missionary.
Saturday, 9th. We reached Jacksonville, and once more enjoyed the fellowship and hospitality of a mission family. Sabbath forenoon we spent among the natives, and in the afternoon, in company with Brother Stringfellow, crossed the fifteen mile portage to Oxford House, where we received a hearty welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Nelson. These kind friends did everything in their power to make our visit pleasant. In the evening I conducted an English service, at the close of which my interpreter astonished his friends by giving in "Cree" almost all I had said, word for word. May the bread cast upon the waters return after many days. Monday morning we returned to the mission. In the evening, Brother Sinclair preached; and on Tuesday morning we commenced our homeward journey.
We had spent three days with our esteemed friends, and after surveying their field of labor, and to some extent the work accomplished, I feel compelled to congratulate the Society in their having such agents at Oxford. Brother Sinclair has made a respectable acquaintance with a language that gives him access in preaching to hundreds. With his own hands he has done much to complete their now comfortable church. I was also much gratified to witness the efforts made by this worthy family to reduce the expenses of the station. When the importance of procuring certain necessaries was suggested, the reply was, How can we spend the Society's funds while so many suffering bands are crying, "Send us the GospelI"
Friday, 15th. We reached home, thankful to God for all His mercies. In two weeks I hope to start for the Grand Rapids, the mouth of the Saskatchewan. This will probably close our winter travelling for this year.
Extract from a letter from Rev. G. McDougall, dated Saskatchewan River. Grand Rapids, July 23rd, 1861:
Last winter I received three deputations from this people, all pleading for a missionary, and I am now fulfilling a promise made to visit them; having spent a week amongst them, I must hasten back to Rossville ; but next winter, Providence permitting, I shall return, and, with the help of my interpreter and hired man, make the timber for a dwelling-house and school house.
We must have a mission here, and have already commenced operations, but for the present year shall ask no additional help from the Society. It would be highly gratifying to you to have witnessed the effects produced by the simple preaching of the Gospel to this poor people. "It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts," and, glory to His name, that Spirit has not been withheld. Frequently the language of my heart has been,—
"In these deserts let me labor, On these mountains let me tell How lie died,—the blessed Saviour, To redeem a world from hell."
From where I am now seated, I have a full view of these majestic rapids. Along the banks of the river the half naked natives are posted, each with a gatf in his hand, ready to hook out the sturgeon; the doleful pelican floats leisurely among the eddies, while the black cormorant in flocks are hovering above these troubled waters,—everything indicates that the visit of the white man is only transient.
But what of the future! Once above these rapids, and the noble river is navigable to the foot of the Kocky Mountains, a country for agricultural purposes equal to the best parts of Canada, while recent explorations prove that gold on this side of the mountain is abundant. Several of the Company's officers with whom I have conversed speak confidently of the future; they all expect stirring times next summer.
Dear Sir, can we not do something more for the thousands of Indians in the neighborhood of Edmonton? Methodism alone represents Protestantism in that country. From 500 of the Stony Indians the cry conies, "Send us a missionary." This noble band have their hunting grounds in the gold region. They were first visited by Rundle, and subsequently repeatedly by a Woolsey. Many of them have embraced Christianity. We want a practical missionary instantly for this important field.
Chief Factor Christie, of Edmonton, is spending two weeks at Norway House, and having heard that your missionary intended visiting our missions in the Saskatchewan, kindly offers to place means at our disposal next spring for that long journey. This generous offer, the Lord willing, we shall accept.
On one of these northern trips, taken in the autumn, the missionary and party came very near losing their lives; they had made a portage, and re-embarking in their canoe, were crossing one of the rivers above the rapids, when an unexpected ripple upset the canoe, and thus the whole party was carried over the rapids. Father had on his overcoat and was otherwise clothed, so that it was almost impossible for him to swim; but the inverted canoe fortunately came swinging round within his reach, and he grasped one end of it which floated him into an eddy. In the meanwhile one of the Indians came to his rescue, and took bold of the other end of the canoe, and working for life, they succeeded in getting ashore, just a little before reaching another and far more dangerous rapid. Guns, ammunition, provisions and, in short, everything they had in the canoe was lost, and had it not been that a small piece of pemmican which was tied up in a bag, and thus floated on the water, and which they subsequently secured away down the river, starvation would have been the consequence; as it was, the missionary and his party reached Rossville in a very low condition.
The second summer of father's stay at Rossville, he visited the missions in the Saskatchewan. The route going up into the country was southward to Fort Garry in open boat, then westward across the plains on horseback. The first part of the overland journey was very tiresome; travelling in the saddle at the jog trot, up hill and down dale, fifty and sixty miles a day, was pretty hard on one unaccustomed to it. The route from Fort Garry to Saskatchewan overland was merely a pack trail. There were no ferries on any of the streams, means of crossing having to be improvised at every one of these; sometimes a raft of sticks, sometimes a buffalo's hide, at all times the traveller running more or less risk of life and property. Then westward through Manitoba and onward into the greater North-West, crossing the South Saskatchewan where the present Batoche is; touching at Carlton, which was at that time one of the principal distributing posts of the Hudson Bay Company in the Saskatchewan district.
Crossing the North Saskatchewan at this point, and traversing the country lying to the north of this magnificent stream, touching at Fort Pitt on the north bank, and continuing westward and northerly from this point, the missionary eventually reached White Fish Lake, one of the missions under his charge. He was now, by the route he had come, nearly 1,200 miles from home, and found himself on the borders of the great plains of the west and the forest lands of the north. Both westward and eastward of this point, the prairie and the woodland alternately give way, the one to the other.
There was the Rev. Henry Steinhauer. His mission at this point would then be about five years old; and notwithstanding all his difficulties, he had done considerable in the establishing of a mission settlement.
Quite a number of Indians had built houses, and already there were to be found among this people many evidences of the converting power of the Gospel of Christ. A few days spent at this place by our missionary were seasons of mutual encouragement.
Then making arrangements with Mr. Steinhauer and his people to meet them later away out on the big plains among the buffalos, the meat of which was the staff of life, the missionary and party continued their journey, and after two days' travel succeeded in reaching the Rev. Thomas Woolsey, who was attempting the establishment of a mission at a place called Smoking Lake, some twenty-five or thirty miles north of the present Victoria. Here another of the vicissitudes of missionary life cropped up. The travelling missionary and party were out of food when they reached Bro. Woolsey, who, if he had not the same afternoon killed one of his work oxen, would have had none for either himself or his friends; as it was, tough beef, with very little salt, and without any vegetables or bread, was the only food.
Here arrangements were made with Bro. Woolsey to accompany father out on the plains, where the Indians were congregated, and at which point it had already been arranged to meet the Rev. Mr. Steinhauer. Accordingly father's party was augmented by Mr. Woolsey and his interpreter. The route was now to the south, and the first day's journey brought the party to the North Saskatchewan, where the present Victoria settlement is situated. Here father exercised his authority as "chairman," and instructed Bro. Woolsey to move his efforts to establishing a mission from the Smoking Lake to this point. Camping on the spot, the first difficulty that presented itself the next morning was this mighty river to cross. Here was a mission party without any boat, canoe, or anything else; but the guide soon discovered a way of ferrying his passengers over this rapid-running stream. The means used were these: a large hoop about six feet in diameter was made out of two willows; the only oil cloth carried by the party was then spread out on the beach, the hoop was placed on it, and the corners and sides were turned in on to the hoop, thus leaving the hoop as the rim of the affair. Into the centre of this ring was put the travelling outfit of the party, saddles, axe, kettle, frying-pan, guns, ammunition, etc. Several of the party then, instructed by the guide, took a hold of the hoop and carried it out into the water. The weight of the material inside caused it to sag. However, to the great astonishment of some of the party, the whole thing floated buoyantly on the water. The guide now said to the missionaries, "Gentlemen, get into the boat," which they did by wading out into the stream and stepping into this thing, which looked like a huge nest floating on the water. The guide then tied a piece of buffalo line to one edge of the rim of the queer craft, and catching one of the horses, he led him up close, and tied the other end of the line to the horse's tail, and then leading the horse out into the water, he swam beside him out into the stream, and the big nest floated serenely along behind the horse. Father and Mr. Woolsey sitting believingly in it, the rest of the party drove the horses in behind this craft, and, each one grasping a horse's tail, were safely towed through the water to the other side; thus this difficulty was passed. Stopping a little to let the horses' backs dry, the party saddled up and resumed the journey. Great caution was now observed, for this was the war-path of the contending tribes. Vigilant watch was kept through the day as the party travelled, and at night camp-fires were put out and horses staked, and each one alternately kept guard. The beef brought from Mr. Woolsey's home was devoured very soon. A bear and a buffalo were killed; and after several days of travel which bring the party out into the prairie lands of the Battle River country, the large "Cree" camp was reached.
Before proceeding any farther, we will insert a letter written from this point by father to the Rev. Enoch Wood.
Black foot Country, Sept. 2nd, 1862.
Dear Sir,—We are now in the country of the dreaded Blackfeet, and in the centre of the great prairie. All around us is strange. One seems to be carried back to some remote, long past age. Never before have I felt so forcibly a consciousness of my own insignificance. Hourly expecting an attack from a war-party, living upon the providence of Heaven, our covering the vaulted sky, our only refuge God—and blessed be His holy name, we are witnesses of His watchful providence over the wants of helpless man.
Our approach to the great camp was very exciting. On the little hillocks that surrounded the little hamlet sat the wild sentinels, each with a loaded gun. Many scores of horses grazed on the adjacent plain. The vast circle of tents, all made of the dressed skins of the buffalo, and many beautifully ornamented, presented a fine appearance. Once inside of the enclosure, and we caught a gleam of savage life under one of its happiest aspects. The day's hunt had been successful.
Many fat animals had been captured, and stages in every direction were covered with the richest meat. Woman, the slave in all heathen lands, was hard at work, while her lord, robed and painted, sat smoking. An old conjurer fearing his craft was in danger, drummed and sang most lustily. We were received with the greatest kindness. Mas-ke-pe toon, the head chief, set before us a kettle full of the choicest flesh. O-nah-tah-me-nah-oos, his second, placed his tent at our service. The feast over, the pipe of peace was passed round, and arrangements were made for evening service. How solemn, how burdened with the interests of eternity appears the hour when the Indian herald announced to his tribe the commencement of this first camp-meeting.
For ages these virgin plains had echoed to the hideous cry of the warrior and the dismal dirge of the conjurer, but now they resounded to the praise of the most High God. The appearance of the congregation was deeply interesting. The native Christians collected around the missionary. In the back-ground sat the heathen, their fierce restless eyes and blood-stained faces proclaimed their allegiance to the Prince of Darkness. Yet for these degraded and benighted ones there is hope. The earnestness they manifested while listening to the Word cannot he described. Seventeen times we pointed them to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world; and our last service was not only the best attended, but, we trust, the most effective. O, God of mercy, have mercy upon this perishing people; their cry, though unheard in Christian lands, is heard by Thee? By many a camp-fire, and in many a smoky lodge, our> faithful missionaries have taught these natives the message of salvation, and who can estimate the fruit of their labor 1 Many of the pagans understand the syllabic characters, and have procured parts of the Book of God; and in this way in many hearts the heavenly leaven is spreading. The head chief, a fine old man, received a New Testament from Mr. Woolsey last winter. Every day he reads two chapters. He was reading the eighth of Romans when I visited his tent.
While at the Cree camp, I attended, in company with my brethren, a funeral. The deceased was a little girl, and the parents were Christians. It was a sad and mournful spectacle, and powerfully demonstrated that the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty; and yet such are the anomalies of heathenism, that men who regard it a merit and glory to murder a disarmed and helpless foe, and afterwards subject the lifeless body to the most shameful treatment, are no strangers to the tenderest sentiments of compassion for their relatives. The loss of parent or husband must be deplored with blood. A finger is cut off, or the arm pierced with a sharp flint, and the deeper the incision the more sincere the sorrow.
At the burial we joined in in order to prevent the enemy from discovering the new-made grave. Every effort was made to obliterate any sign thereof. If it had been winter time, a fire would have been built over the grave. In this case the sod was cut with a knife, the earth placed on a buffalo skin, and after the body was deposited the grave was filled and the sod perfectly replaced, the surplus earth being removed to a distance. Yesterday Mr. Steinhauer left for his station. The company of our intelligent and useful Brother was very encouraging, and often reminded me of the venerated Wm. Case. By that man of God the Ojibeway boy was rescued from paganism and placed in a position to receive a respectable education, and now, while the benefactor rests from his labors, the Indian lad is a successful messenger of salvation to his wandering brethren. Parting with the Crees was very affecting. The native Christians cheerfully supplied us with provisions. The fierce pagans seemed to forget their natural ferocity, as one by one they came to bid us good-bye. The head chief and a number of his warriors escorted us some distance on the way. Farewell, ye simple children of the plains. May the Holy Spirit accompany with converting and sanctifying power the living truths to which you have listened.
We are now on our way to Fort Edmonton. The scenery-is extremely beautiful. Judging from the appearance of these grassy plains, the soil must be very fertile. Animals are abundant. A herd of buffaloes allowed us to pass within fifty rods without showing fear. The elegant antelope bounded past us with incredible swiftness. More than a score of wolves were feasting on the carcass of a bull. The coyote, or smaller wolf, is frequently seen. Numbers of whitened antlers, some very large, show that we are in the neighborhood of the elk ; but the king of the plains is the grizzly bear.
G. M. McDougall.
Here father met for the first time with the Cree chief, Mas-ke-pe-toon, or Broken Arm, and was welcomed by this hale old warrior to the Cree camp and buffalo country. Here were a few Christian natives surrounded by an overwhelming number of pagans. On every hand were seen savages in their original costume—feathers and paint and trinkets forming the principal part of their clothing. In this camp services were held by the missionaries in the open air, and while a number were gathering at the services, the whole detail of savage camp life would be going on in other portions of the large encampment. The conjurer's drum, the gambler's "hi-he-yar," and the winner's exultant whoop can be heard, while on every hand buffalo meat was being handled in all stages of the curing process. Here, without an ounce of salt, thousands of pounds of provisions, in the shape of dried meat, pounded meat, and pemmican, were being cured; this, if preserved from the damp, would keep for many years.
The next day a great hunt was organized by Broken Arm. The missionary and party joined in the hunt; thousands of buffaloes were chased by hundreds of Indians.
Several hundred buffaloes were killed; and the whole party returned to the big camp the same night, having made a successful hunt. Several days passed, being occupied by the missionaries in holding meetings and councils with these Indians. Very many questions were asked. Already Broken Arm and some of the older men of his tribe felt that a change before long must come, and father had seen enough of their country to know that so rich a land could not possibly remain as it had been very much longer; and he told these men, anxious to get at the truth, that the day would soon come when the buffalo would be gone and white settlement come in. Leaving these children of the plains, the route of the party was westward and north. After several days' travel, they reached Edmonton, the head post, and practically the head of navigation on the Saskatchewan river in this western district. It was now autumn, and it became necessary for father, if he would reach home before winter, to make haste. He accordingly procured a skiff, and, having two men, started down the river. Travelling in this way for several hundred miles, he changed his skiff for a birch canoe, and eventually reached the Grand Rapids, and, crossing along the northern shore of Lake Winnipeg, arrived at Rossville a short time before winter set in. Father wrote the following letter to the Superintendent of Missions shortly after his arrival from this trip:
Rossville House, December 15th, 1862.
Dear Sir,—I left the Saskatchewan, deeply regretting that it was not in my power to visit the Stony Indians. While on the plains we ascertained that they were camped on the South Saskatchewan, at the base of the Rocky Mountains. To reach that part of the country, and then return to Norway House before the close of navigation, was impossible. At Edmonton we met with a family of these Indians, and was informed by them that the noble native, referred to by Lord Southesk in his correspondence with the Church Missionary Society, was killed by the Blackfeet last spring. For years this faithful man had been the spiritual guide of his people, directing their worship morning and evening. We were also told, that since his death the tribe had been visited by the Jesuits, and the priest had offered to place a missionary among them and build them a church.
The chiefs replied, we have been Protestants for twenty years, and though our greatest want is a teacher, we shall wait one year longer, hoping our old friends will remember us. This statement was corroborated by an intelligent officer of the Hudson Bay Company, who has a thorough knowledge of the facts. Assisted by Mr. Woolsey, I wrote them a letter, exhorting them to be faithful, and assuring them that we should represent their case to the elders of the Church, and if permitted, I would myself become their missionary next summer. Here is purely a case of urgent need. Five hundred anxious souls crying for help, many of them still beset with the errors of paganism, yet earnestly feeling after truth.
Yearly they are dying without a missionary to guide their groping souls. Shall these simple followers of our common Saviour be allowed to implore for help in vain? The Stonies have strong claims on the sympathy of the Methodist Church. From the time of William Bundle's first visit they have gladly received our missionaries. Unaided they have translated from the Cree some of our hymns. In many a pass and valley of the Rocky Mountains these humble sons of nature have sung these spiritual hymns of Wesley.
It was on September 11th that we took leave of our hospitable friends at Edmonton. In a small skiff, we commenced our homeward journey of 1,000 miles. Mr. Woolsey accompanied me as far as Victoria. On parting with our esteemed missionary, I found it difficult to suppress my feelings. Friends in the civilized world cannot realize the privations and sufferings which have been endured by these noble-hearted men. Blest in youth with the best of society, favored with the comforts of life in abundance, how great the contrast presented by his present position. For years most of the time a homeless wanderer amongst savage tribes, exposed to all the vicissitudes of Indian life, more than once escaping death by a special interposition of Providence. Herein the fact is apparent, that the Divine approbation has ever accompanied self-sacrificing labor. Many poor Indians have been made wise unto salvation, and not a few, after years of earnest Christian life, have finished their course, and have attained the heavenly rest.
Many were the cheering incidents that came to my notice while in the Saskatchewan. One day, as we were approaching a beautiful lake, my guide pointed to the grave of a chief, and remarked, "That is the resting-place of one of our head men. He was a great friend of Mr. Woolsey's, a good man, and died happy."
Of the lamented chief, La-patack, a Christian gentleman said to the writer, "I spent a week in the tent of the good old Indian, and shall never forget the impression made on my mind by his Christian conduct. Night and morning he called his people together for prayer." But I must not linger. After a journey of fifteen weeks, I reached Norway House on the 6th of October. Nature had already assumed her winter dress, arid a severe snowstorm made it very desirable to reach quarters.
With feelings of devout gratitude to God, I review the work of the past summer. From the officers of the Hudson Bay Company I received the greatest kindness, and, without exception, the Gospel has been preached at every fort visited. To William Christie, Esq., a gentleman in charge of the Saskatchewan district, I am under great obligation, also to Richard Hardisty, chief trader in the same district. Through the kindness of these officers these far-off missions have been visited without expense to the Society.
G. M. McDougall.
Thus a journey covering about 3,000 miles, in the saddle, boat or canoe, had been accomplished, and father had seen the country, had visited the mission stations and Indian camps, had estimated the great North-West in some sense as to its value, and had fully made up his mind to cast in his lot for life in this western country.
Being conscious of Divine guidance in this matter, he conferred not with flesh and blood very much, nor, owing to the difficulty of communication with the east, did he have time to obtain the sanction of those in authority as regards his contemplated movements, but went on making arrangements for the moving of his family into the Saskatchewan during the coming season, and for the securing of some one to take up the ground he would vacate by this move.
The latter he secured by bringing the Rev. Charles Stringfellow from Oxford to Rossville, and by filling Brother Stringfellow's place at Oxford with the appointment of a native missionary.