Saddle, Sled and
Snowshoe Chapter XVII
Improvements about home—Mr.
Woolsey's departure-- A zealous and self-sacrificing missionary—A
travelling college—I feel a twinge of melancholy—A lesson in the
luxury of happiness—Forest and prairie fire —Father's visit to the
Mountain Stoneys—Indians gathering about our mission—Complications
PART of that afternoon I
spent at home with mother, and during part of it hunted up our horses, and
finding them, corralled them for the night. I noted the new house was
finished and that mother was comfortably settled once more in a substantial
home. True, it was without any furniture or stoves, but Larsen was hard at
work at the former, and time and money would eventually bring the latter.
(Mother, of all women I know, is most strongly possessed of patience and
sublime resignation to the lot of the wife of a pioneer missionary.) I saw,
also, that the stockade around the mission-house was finished; that another
field had been fenced, broken and planted; that the prospect of a garden
crop was good, and that our chance of barley for soup next winter was
largely within the possibilities. I saw, too, a number of garden patches
that the Indians had fenced in, hoed and planted with the small share of
seeds the mission could give them. With most of these aborigines, this was
the very first effort to till the land. In short, I saw that those at home
had been at work, and that things were beginning to look Eke permanent
I missed the genial, kindly
presence of my old friend, Mr. Woolsey. He had returned to Ontario,
following the route down the river in one of the Hudson's Bay Company's
boats, and thus I had failed to meet him. Nine years on the Saskatchewan,
from 1855 to 1864, in Hudson's Bay fort, in Indian lodge, beside many a
camp-fire, he had preached the living gospel of a loving Saviour. In doing
this work he had undergone untold hardships, always and everywhere
handicapped by physical infirmities. Transplanted from the city of London,
Eng., into the wildness and wilderness of the far west; having had no
experience or knowledge of the conditions of frontier life in a new country;
with no knowledge of the language of the Indians—indeed, I venture to say he
had seldom seen an Indian— in the presence of the physical difficulties
which were as legion everywhere around him in his new field, he was
altogether dependent on those around him. This, too, in a country where the
horseman and the hunter, and the man ready in resource under every or all of
the exigencies of real pioneer life on the frontier, were tried to the
utmost. If upon such men as these there was the constant strain and burden
of difficulty and great hardship, what must have been the experience of Mr.
Woolsey, arriving there fresh from the comforts of English life.
For nearly a decade this
devoted servant of God had journeyed incessantly up and down through the
length and breadth of the Upper Saskatchewan and among the foot-hills of the
Rockies. He had alternately shivered and sweltered, starved and feasted.
When freezing he was given a camp-fire in the frozen snow and colder air to
thaw him. When scalding in the burning heat of the long midsummer day on the
treeless plains, he had to refresh him a cup of tepid swamp water, in which
any ordinary sight might behold extraordinary life. When starving, even he,
notwithstanding his strong Sabbatarianism, was forced to travel on in quest
One cold winter day, he and
his French half-breed guide and dog-driver were within a hard day's travel
of the Rocky Mountain Fort. It was Sunday. They had food neither for dogs
nor men. Mr. Woolsey would fain have kept the Sabbath, and gone hungry in so
doing, but his materialistic guide and driver hitched up his dogs, and
making ready, said: "Well, Mr. Woolsey, you stop here and pray; I will go to
the Fort and eat." Mr. Woolsey then allowed himself to be wrapped in the
cariole and taken to the Fort, where he could both eat and pray.
When he feasted, he might sup
and dine and breakfast for days on fish, another time on rabbits, another
period on eggs, in all the various stages of incubation; for change he would
pass from eggs to moulting ducks, and for days these would be his diet. Then
would come the longer intervals of buffalo diet. Tongues and marrow-bones,
and back fats and bosses both little and big, and dried meat and pemmican,
either straight or disguised in rush-o or rab-ăboo, just as you please. Ah!
then he was feasting indeed when he had buffalo meat. It is true at times
there would come to him the strong craving of a true Englishman for slices
of bread and butter, or chunks of plum pudding, or even a potato; but what
was the use, my friend would heroically away with such longings, and content
himself with his hard grease pemmican.
He mastered the Syllabic
system so that he could read and write in it, and also teach to others the
use of this wonderful invention which God gave to James Evans. It was
curious to listen to him reading a chapter in the Cree Testament to a group
of Indians, himself not understanding ten words in the chapter, while his
hearers were intelligently grasping every word. Scores are now in heaven
whom he taught to read the words of the blessed Master. Under a
blanket-covered tripod on the plains, at the foot of a tree in the woods, in
the shade of a skin lodge, by the glare of a campfire, or in his little room
at a Hudson's Bay Company's Fort, he held school, and the graduates in
syllabic learning of his travelling college are scattered all through this
western country to-day.
He gained a smattering of the
Oree, so as to make himself understood at a pinch. For instance, he and Susa,
Samson's brother, were once camped in the woods near Pigeon Lake. When
retiring for the night, Mr. Woolsey wanted to arrange an early start next
morning, and spoke thus: "Susa, ke-yah ne-yah Wa-buh-ke we-butch a-wass,"
(You me to-morrow soon get out); and Susa understood, and acted accordingly.
Like my father, Mr. Woolsey
never presumed on a knowledge of the language, never gave the shortest or
simplest kind of an address or sermon without an interpreter, never made the
too frequent mistake of attempting to speak of sacred and important matters
in an unknown tongue. He was considerable of a medicine man, too, and many a
poor Indian was relieved and aided by his hearty help in this way. Among the
Hudson's Bay Company's employees he had quite' a name as a kind physician.
I have been Mr. Woolsey's
interpreter, guide, and general "roust-about," his confidante and friend,
for the past two years, and now he has gone into a far country; and as I
look upon the valley, the scene of our association under strange and
sometimes exciting circumstances, I feel a twinge of melancholy. But here
are mother, and sisters four, and little brother, and the evening passes
quickly as we recount to each other the experiences of the summer.
The next day I started back
with some fresh horses, and met our party coming along famously. For picking
a road Peter is a genius, and all hands worked willingly in chopping out the
road, brushing swamps, and bridging creeks. Late in the evening of the next
day we rolled down the hill into the beautiful valley of the Saskatchewan at
Victoria, ours the first carts to ascend the north side of that great river
so far west as this point. Slowly the star of empire was moving in the line
Fifty-six travelling days
from Fort Garry— stock all right, carts sound, goods dry, and twenty-five
pounds of flour still left in the bag we began on when we left the Red River
settlements—such was our record, and father was pleased; and because he was
pleased I was happy. I took the flour in to mother, and she and the children
and Larsen luxuriated in hot rolls for supper. We unloaded the four sacks I
had brought with me, and everybody felt good, for this seemed to us a great
quantity at the time; though really, for our large party, taking into
consideration, too, the fact that our house was the only one for miles, and
that the Hudson's Bay Company officers and men, and brother missionaries, as
well as occasional travellers and fur traders, stopped with us as they
passed to and fro; that sometimes we had from five hundred to fifteen
hundred Indians beside us, and more or less coming and going all the time,
with many sick among these,—I say, when one thought of all this, the item of
four hundred and nine pounds of flour for twelve months did not seem much.
It was, however, the first time in the history of the place and vast
surrounding country that so much breadstuff had been stored. Why, when you
arithmetically calculated it, there was actually one and one-quarter pounds
per day! No wonder mother saw a Christmas pudding, and no end of cake for
the many sick folks to whom she so much delighted to minister. No wonder my
sisters laughed, and the little baby brother gleefully shouted, "Cake!
plenty cake !" If some of the pampered among men in centres of civilization,
jaded with the ennui of plenty, had visited that lone mission on the evening
of our arrival, they would have learned a lesson in the luxury of happiness
that comes from contentment with little.
The cows I had bought were
also a great source of comfort to our party. These assured us of milk and
butter, and if other resources failed, of beef also. Of those who came with
me from Red River, the Scotchman traded his cart and harness to father, and
packing his horse went on to Edmonton, thence taking the trail through the
Yellowhead Pass for British Columbia, never to be heard of by us since; Mr.
Connor and his son concluded to winter beside us, and went to work putting
up a shanty to live in. Thus our small English- speaking company was
augmented by two more, for which we were very thankful.
One mishap had come upon us
during my absence, in the burning of our saw-pit and saws, together with
considerable lumber, by a forest and prairie fire which came in from the
south "like the wolf on the fold." This was quite a set-back, as the getting
out of lumber by hand is slow work.
I found that father and Mr.
Steinhauer, with Peter, had made a long trip among the Mountain Stoneys. Our
visit of the last fall had resulted in bringing about half of these down
country, as far as the upper crossing of Battle River. There father and
party met them, and spending a few days with that camp, continued their
journey, and found the rest of these "Sons of the mountains and foot hills"
in a valley some forty miles north of where our mission at Morley now is.
Father was full of this visit to the Stoneys. Their hearty reception of the
missionaries, their earnest and joyous listening to the teachings of the
Gospel, their appearance and demeanor, had won his ardent sympathy. Then the
country they lived in—lovely valleys, springs of water, beautiful hills, and
in the background immense ranges of majestic mountains—father declared the
whole country was one great revelation to him of Canada's rich heritage in
this vast North-West. He said he would do what he could to urge upon the
Mission Board the need of establishing a mission among these mountain
Having more stock
necessitated the making of more hay and providing more stable room; then we
went to work at replacing the timber and lumber which had been burnt, for
our purpose now was to build a church as soon as possible.
The large one-roomed shanty
we had lived in the previous winter was our place of worship in the
meantime, and when the weather permitted and the Indians were in from the
plains, some central spot out on the prairie was chosen for open-air
meetings. With the advance of autumn our Indian friends began to gather in
to the mission. Maskepetoon's following of Wood Crees, or "mountain men," as
they were called by the other Indians, were followed by many of the Plain
Crees, and for days the riverbanks and crossing in front of the
mission-house were alive with humanities, in all stages of growth. Horses
there were in many hundreds, of all colors and grades, and dogs, it would
seem, by the thousand. Shoutings and neighings and howlings incessant broke
the quiet of our valley, while the smoke of myriad lodges hung over the
During the summer a number of
skirmishes had taken place between the Crees and the Blackfeet. Scalps had
been taken home and rejoiced over by both contending camps. Warriors had
gone straight from the field of blood to the "Big Sand Hills;" as the
Blackfoot would say, or to the "Happier Spirit Land," and many a young
fellow who had no horse last spring now rejoices in the ownership of a
little band, the successful stealing of which gives him a place among men.
These camps have been coming into the mission, while at the same time
several parties have left the south to look for horses and scalps. As these
return (if they ever do) they will follow straight into the mission, which
will in time complicate us, and bring retaliatory measures to our very door;
but as this is the condition of the times, we must take our chance, all the
while laboring and praying for a better order of things.
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