MASKEPETOON'S camp had now
been gone about two weeks, and my instructions were to accompany this camp
for part of the summer in its movements, and to do what I could towards the
Christianizing of the people. Accordingly, taking Paul with me, and leaving
our wives and Oliver with mother, we started for the big camp. We took two
oxen and carts and several horses, as father had made arrangements with
Muddy Bull to make dried provisions for home use. Our course was down the
valley of the Vermilion, and then out through the hilly country that runs by
Birch Lake to Battle River.
We killed several moulting
geese as we travelled, and enjoyed them as food. On our fourth day out we
came up to the camp, and turning the oxen and carts over to Muddy Bull, we
domiciled ourselves in his lodge, and at once became part of this moving
town. My work was all around me. Here was paganism intensely conservative,
the outcome of many centuries of tradition. And here were its high priests,
and the novitiate following which thronged after them, seeming to me as "the
blind leading the blinder," if this were possible; the whole causing a
devolution which was lowering the range of thought and life and ideal, and
all the while producing a profundity of ignorance as to things moral and
spiritual which in turn, as a logical sequence, affected the physical and
material life of this people.
Doubtless environment has a
great deal to do with the formation of character and being, but in the
environment of these men, outside of buffalo and tribal communism, I failed
to find anything that might be thought degenerating in its tendencies. The
great herds of buffalo as abused by man were hurtful to himself, and
therefore in the fulness of time the Great Father, in the interests of His
children, wiped them from the face of the earth. Tribal communism has always
been hurtful to individuality, and without this no race of men can progress.
But apart from these factors in the life of this people, the rest of their
environment was, in my judgment, of the nature and kind to help them, and to
give them large, broad and fine views of life and all things. Why, then,
this degradation witnessed on every hand? This intense superstition and
ignorance, to my mind, is all due to the faith and religion of this people.
Their faith is a dead one; no wonder they are dead in trespasses and sins.
We believe we are now coming to them with a living faith, but even then we
require infinite patience. The change will come, no doubt, but when? O Lord,
Thou alone knowest when.
To come back to environment.
So far as nature's realm affected the sojourners in this part of the valley
of the Saskatchewan, these should be among the best of men. Beauty and
wealth and power and a mighty purpose are apparent on every hand. These
hundreds of miles of territory, these millions of acres of rich grass and
richer soil, these hundreds of days of glorious sunshine in every year,
these countless millions of cubic feet of healthful atmosphere, surcharged
with ozone so that one ever and anon feels like "taking the wings of the
morning "—what a splendid heritage.
Look at this delightful spot
where we are encamped for the day. It is now nearing the midsummer, and the
hills and valleys are clothed in the richest verdure. Take note of these
hills and valleys. Behold the shapeliness of yonder range of hills, and the
sweep of this vale at your feet. See the exquisite carvings of this ascent,
and the beautiful rounding of that summit. Drink in the wonderful symmetry
displayed in planting those islands of timber. Behold as yon fleecy cloud
comes between the sun and the scene of sylvan beauty, how the whole is
hallowed and mellowed by the shading of light! Think of the corrosions of
ice and the cleansings of flood necessary to create such a variety of hill
and dale as this. Ponder over the ages of later development, and calculate
the layers of vegetable matter needed to make this wealthy soil and produce
this infinite variety of flora and herb and forest and grass. Now to my mind
all this is exceedingly helpful, and every time I look upon such environment
I am made a better and stronger man. Then why not all men be thus helped and
made better? All —there it is, our faiths are not alike. Even a wrong faith
is mighty to the pulling down of "strongholds," and man under such
But even here there are
exceptions, and environment has its way in a measure. Amongst these men and
women you will come across those who are big and broad and grand and noble.
Blessed be the Lord for this! And one of these latter even now is calling to
me and speaking in broken English, "John Mak-e-doogal-un, come here now,"
with big emphasis on the "now," and I readily recognize the voice and walk
over to the lodge of the old Chief Maskepetoon.
"So you have come, John? I
asked your father to let you come with my camp for a few weeks. There is
plenty for you to do, my boy. But I called you just now, as my tent is
empty, to tell you that I am sorry and ashamed that my son was with those
young rascals who tried to steal horses from the Stonies at Pigeon Lake.
"I told him that under the
circumstances I could not have done anything if he and his party had been
killed: that he must remember that all men were now my friends, and
especially all missionaries, and if I ever fought again it would be on the
side of the missionary. That he should have gone from your lodge to steal
the horses, of your people made me much ashamed and sorry in my heart. I
told your father about it, and he said the young men were foolish to act in
that way towards you—that you were the Indians' friend; and I believe that,
and I want you to work hard, and will pray the Great Spirit to help you to
gain a power over young men."
I thanked the old Chief for
his confidence, and told him I should always expect his advice and help in
my work. Then I gave him my news,. and he told me what the camp's movements
were to be and that there was to be an immense gathering of several camps
for the holding of the annual festival and "Thirst Dance" of the pagan
Indians. He also told me that the buffalo were coming northward and
westward, and we should move slowly to give them a chance to come in; that
the plain Crees who were coming up country to join us were behind the herd
of buffalo; and further informed me that the peace was effectually broken on
both sides, and we might expect more or less trouble all summer.
I sat and chatted with the
Chief and had supper in his lodge, and then arranged for an evening service
in the open camp. These services elicited much interest. Paul, who was a
good singer and a fine young fellow, would take his stand by my side. Then
as we sang the people gathered, and our service would begin. 1 would take
advantage of our surroundings or the occurrences of the day in the selection
of my subject, and then call upon our old Chief or some one of our native
Christians to lead in prayer.
In the meantime warriors and
hunters on horseback and on foot and curious women and children with
"tattooed" and painted faces would come around and watch and listen, but
with native courtesy keep silence and act orderly and seem interested.
Thus day after day we
publicly proclaimed the Gospel and teaching of the Master according to our
ability, for I was but a child in these things myself; and yet the Lord did
not despise the day of small beginnings, but blessed us and our work. While
during the week conjuring and gambling and heathenish riots went on in many
portions of the camp, such was the respect in which Maskepetoon was held by
all these people that they desisted from these things on the Sabbath. They
even gave up hunting on that day because he wished it. Not that he thus
commanded. Oh, no; he was too much of a real gentleman and too wise in his
ideas of chieftainship to do this.
Slowly we moved out on the
plains. Every day brought fresh scones, and steadily I was becoming
acquainted with these people. Maskepetoon always invited me to their
councils, and seated beside him I listened to argument and oratory, and
beheld genuine gesticulation, natural and true. Sometimes the Chief would
ask me to tell about white men and how they conducted matters. I would
respond with a short address on government and municipal organization, or at
another time speak of civilization and some of its wonders, or give a talk
on education, and Maskepetoon would say, "Listen to John. Although he is
only a child in years he is a man in experience; he has seen far and wide,
he has gone to school, he has listened for years to that wise man his
father." Then at the closing up of these council gatherings Maskepetoon
would give judgment on what had been said, either approving or condemning,
and settle the matter in discussion in his own way, when the Council would
break up for the time.
Day after day we moved slowly
out on the plains, the prairie openings growing larger. All this time strict
guard was kept, and the camp travelled, when the country would permit of it,
in several parallel lines of march. At night scouts were sent out in every
direction, and all of the horses either tethered or hobbled up close within,
the circle of tents.
On every hand were scenes
which acted as stimulators in the exercise of care to most of the
inhabitants of our moving village. Here had been a fight. Yonder some one
would point out where many bad been killed. "This is where the camp was when
we brought in so many scalps and horses;" and as I listened to these people
I could in a measure begin to realize how exceedingly romantic their lives
had been, and how constantly the excitement of tribal war had followed them.
One evening we were startled
by the wail of a mother. Her eight-year-old son was missing. The camp was
searched and the boy not found. For two nights and a day we remained in the
one place and made diligent search; but as we were now in the fringings of
the large herds of buffalo, and the whole country was tracked up, it was
impossible to find any trace of the lad.
One old conjurer drummed all
night, and said that the boy was killed, locating the place of his death in
a little valley near the line of our march the day the boy was missed. He
was so particular in his description of the place and as to the manner in
which the Blackfeet had waylaid the boy, that many thought the old conjurer
was telling the truth, and quite a number went with the "Medicine Man" to
the spot he had so vividly described. But while they found the spot just as
he had indicated, there were no traces of the lost boy, nor yet any signs of
the enemy. Needless to say, the party came back very much disgusted with
their "false prophet."
Another "sight-seer" went
into his mysterious lodge, and when he came out he said the boy was alive,
that he had passed to the east of our course, and gone on until he was
bewildered, and continuing his wanderings he was found by Indians from
another camp which was now coining up country from the east to intercept us.
This was more comforting, but who could vouch for its truth? Nevertheless
this did prove true, for some three or four days later, after we had
encamped for the day, some strangers were seen approaching, and when they
were formally seated, and each had taken a few whiffs of the big pipe, one
of them deigned to open his lips and tell us that a strange boy had been
found and was now in their camp; that at first he was quite out of his head,
but after a day or two came to himself, and told them where he came from,
and the place to which our camp was heading, and thus they had intercepted
us. These couriers also told us of several other camps which were coming up
to join ours for the Thirst Dance Festival. The poor mother was overjoyed to
hear of her boy's safety, and our whole camp rejoiced with her.