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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 feared.


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 occupancy.

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 of food.

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 of destiny.

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 people.

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 scene.

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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