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Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XVIII
Maskepetoon - Council gatherings - Maskepetoon's childhood—"Royal born by right Divine"—A father's advice—An Indian philosopher—Maskepetoon as "Peace Chief"—Forgives his father's murderer—Arrival of Rev. R. T. Runde—Stephen and Joseph - Stephen's eloquent harangue - Joseph's hunting exploits—Types of the shouting Methodist and the High Church ritualist.


BOTH father and mother have taken a strong liking to Maskepetoon, and have given the old gentleman a room in the new house, of which he is very proud. In this room he leaves his paper and books and clothes, and into it he often goes to read his Bible. His manly, courteous and kindly behavior makes it pleasant to have him in the house, and in every good work he is as the missionary's right hand. It is well it is so, for at this time the missionary needs all the help he can secure. This strange, promiscuous, turbulent crowd need careful handling. Men who have quarreled about a horse or a woman bring the case to the missionary to settle. Women whose husbands have, as they say, "thrown them away," come to him to reinstate them in their husband's favor and lodge. Widows who have been robbed by their late husband's relatives pour their complaints into his ear, and look to him to adjust their claims. Monogamy versus polygamy is a burning question, and very often the preacher is sorely puzzled to know what to do in the matter. All the sick in camp expect the praying man to help them. What with meetings all through the week and almost all day Sunday, father and Peter are constantly employed. Then comes the solemn gathering of the big Council, when the long-stemmed pipe is passed around, and every rite and ceremony religiously observed.

It has often seemed to me that superstition and ritualism are synonymous in the minds and lives of men. Here were these most superstitious of beings, and in all their life intense ritualism had full sway. These council gatherings, however, were fine opportunities for the missionary, who, if in the vicinity, and if he had the confidence of the people, was always invited to be present. At these would assemble both friends and foes. Conjurers and medicine men were there, who felt their craft was in danger; warriors and horse-thieves, too, who loved their life of wild lawlessness, and readily foresaw that if this new faith should have sway their present mode of life would cease. Others there were who intensely hated the white man. His cupidity, sensuality and generally aggressive conduct had at some time in their history insulted and wronged their whole being, and now they fairly loathed the sight of the white portion of the race. On the other hand were the few who had embraced the new faith, and who were in hearty sympathy with the mission.

War, peace, trade, the present, the future, their old faiths, the new one brought in by these missionaries, all these matters would be discussed at the councils, and the tactful exponent of Gospel teaching would watch his chance, and from the speeches and arguments of his audience turn the trend of thought to Christianity and civilization.

It was fortunate that at this time our mission had a strong friend and ally such as Maskepetoon proved himself to be. With consummate tact he would preside over these council gatherings, and in every one of them score a point or more in favor of the missionary and the cause he represented.

Tennyson says:

"Here and there a cotter's babe is royal born By right Divine."

I will say an Indian's babe was "royal born by right Divine," when the child who became this man Maskepetoon was born: his birthright the common heritage of natural man, his birthplace the Rocky Mountains, his cradle lullaby the crash of tumbling avalanches and the roarings of mighty "chinooks." The shrill cry of the mountain lion, the deep bass note of the buffalo, the ripplings of limpid streams and the ragings of mountain torrents in their wild race to a common level—these with the pagan's death wail, the rattle of the conjurer's drum, and the warrior's shout of triumph were sounds familiar to his baby ears.

His childhood was passed in travellings constant and perilous. Winter or summer, his people had "no abiding place." He was always in the presence of the giant forces of Mother Nature. His youthful eye could ever and anon look out from some foot-hill height upon scenes which the varying shades of heaven's light so glorified that these became as pictures painted by the hand of God Himself. His young manhood was passed in those times when the rich premiums of life, love, respect, gratitude were lavishly bestowed upon the perfect horseman, the successful hunter, and the brave and victorious warrior.

Maskepetoon had a free hand in all this, and brought to himself and people great glory. As was the manner of the period, he was a polygamist, and an inveterate hater of his tribal enemies. This he had drunk in with his mother's milk, and yet as he grew into strong manhood I can readily believe this unique man had his moments of longing for better things. The Divine would stir within him so strongly at times that the crusting of centuries of sin and darkness would crack, and the man would aspire and look and long for something that he instinctively knew would be infinitely better than his present.

It is related of Maskepetoon that after he had become renowned as a victorious warrior, and already the Blackfeet tribes had given him the name of Mon-e-guh.-ba--now (the Young Chief), his aged father said to him, "My son, you are making a great mistake. The glory you are now seeking will be short-lived. Delighting in war, taking pleasure in the spilling of man's blood, is all wrong. If you want to be a great man, if you want to be remembered long, turn about and work for peace. This is the only thing that will give you true fame."

Six different times did this heathen philosopher thus address his beloved son, and this proud and haughty youthful chieftain would fold his arms around his head, and bowing himself sit in silent reverence and meekly listen; but his warlike spirit would rebel against this sage advice. Yet his father's words troubled him so that at last he filled a pipe and went over to the lodge of another aged man, who was said to be wise beyond the wisdom of other men, and lighting the pipe he handed it to the old man, and asked for counsel as to what was best in life, and what was evil and should be shunned.

The humble-minded old Indian said, "Your father is more capable of advising you than I am;" but Maskepetoon persisted in seeking counsel, and then the aged philosopher cut eight small sticks of different lengths, and stood them in the ground four in a row. "Now," said this unschooled professor of ethical teaching, "these sticks represent two lines of life. I will give them names. These four are falsehood, dishonesty, hatred of fellowmen, war; those are truth, honesty, love of fellowmen, peace. I will speak of each one; and now since you have come to me, my son, I want you to open your ears and treasure in your heart what I have to say." Then in his own natural eloquence the aged man discoursed to his intent listener, and when finished he gathered the line of sticks ending in war, and said: "Shall we keep these, or shall I burn them?" "Burn them," came from the stern lips of the strong-willed young man. "Shall I bind these others ending in peace together, and give them to you in remembrance of what 1 have told you?" "Bind them well and give them to me," replied Maskepetoon, and thus he forsook war and became the champion of peace, and in this way became the forerunner of the Gospel of Peace which in a few years was to be preached for the first time in this new land.

In the meantime Maskepetoon's reformation was put to severe tests by the murder of his friends and fellow tribesmen, and by the frequent stealing of his horses; but he stood firm. Then came the killing of his father by the Blackfeet, and while both friends and foes, knowing him as they did, watched and wondered, still, like the mountains under whose shade he was born, he was immovable, and remained loyal to his new position as the apostle of peace in this lawless country.

It was soon after this that Maskepetoon placed himself upon record before all men as the "Peace Chief," and it happened in this wise. He and his people were encamped near the Peace Hills, close to where the little town of Wetaskewin now stands, when a large party of Blackfeet and their allies came in on their way to trade at Fort Edmonton. Under such circumstances the Blackfeet were only too glad to ask for a temporary peace, and this being arranged, they came into the Cree camp, seemingly forgetful that they had with them the very man who had killed Maskepetoon's father. Somehow this came out, and caused consternation in the minds of both parties. Said they, "If the young chief hears this, then there will be terrible war." But our hero did find out that the man who had killed his parent was in his camp. When he heard it he sent for his best horse, had him saddled and accoutred as for war, fastened him at his tent-door, and while intense anxiety prevailed, and all were nerved up for the struggle which they thought inevitable, Maskepetoon sent for his father's murderer. The man, an elderly warrior, came as to his death, and Maskepetoon waved him to a seat near himself in the tent. Passing him his own adorned chief's clothes, made of leather, decorated with beads and quills and fringed with human hair, he said to him, "Put those on." "Now," thought the frightened yet stolid murderer, "he is only dressing me out for my death," and brave men on both sides held their breath as they looked on, calmly making ready for the desperate struggle they believed was coming. Again Maskepetoon spoke: "You deprived me of my father, and there was a time when I would have gloried in taking your life and in drinking your blood, but that is past. What makes you pale? You need not fear; I will not kill you. You must now be to me as a father; wear my clothes, ride my horse, and tell your people when you go back to your camp this is the way Mon-e-guh-ba-now takes revenge."

Then the old Blackfoot found speech and said, You have killed me, my son. You are a great man. Never in the history of my people has such as this you have done been known. My people and all men will hear of this and say, 'The young chief is brave and strong and good; he stands alone."

With this men breathed freely again, and women laughed for joy, and little children began to play once more among the lodges. No wonder that such a man was looking for something better than the old faith. But who was to reveal this better something to him? Thus far the white men he had met gave him no help. The trader's ambition, it would seem, reached no higher than muskrats and beaver, while the transient stay of the roystering, licentious, sporting aristocrat or eastern grandee, with his impudent assumption of superior make, did the Indian and white men 'Who followed him great harm. But now in the fulness of time the same England that had sent to this new land rum and many a sample of spurious civilization, was sending a messenger of another type. The English Wesleyan Conference sent the Rev. R. T. Rundle to labor amongst the Indians of the Hudson's Bay Territory. His objective point was the Saskatchewan country, and presently it was rumored in the camps that a man who talked to "Him" (meaning the Deity) had arrived in the upper country.

"Who is this mysterious being who talks with God?" "What are the limits of his power? "What is his purpose in coming to this part of the country ?" were questions frequently asked, and around many a camp-fire and in many a leather lodge this strange being was discussed. None was more curious and anxious than Maskepetoon, who finally saw Mr. Rundle at the Rocky Mountain House. Then the missionary visited his camp, which was at that time near Burnt Lake, a short distance west of where the Industrial School on the Red Deer now is.

Old Chiniquay, one of our chiefs at Morley, who was brought up in Maskepetoon's camp, tells me that from that first visit of the preacher of this new faith there was a marked change in the conduct of the chief. Later on he learned the Syllabic system, taught him by Mr. Harriott, an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, who was stationed for some time at the Mountain Fort. Then he became a student of the New Testament, translated by Steinhauer and Sinclair into a dialect of his mother tongue, and from that day took sides with the Gospel and became the true friend of the missionary.

Two other friends of the pioneer preacher of the Gospel were Stephen and Joseph his son, whom I have already referred to in earlier chapters. The old man had been a mighty hunter. Grizzly bears, mountain lions, and all manner of game, big and little, had been his common prey, and of his pluck in battle there could be no question. With his left arm broken near the shoulder, he caught up the swinging limb, and gripping the sleeve of his leather shirt with his teeth, he charged the enemy, and in the defence of his camp did such heroic deeds with his one arm that his foes gave way, believing him to be possessed of "Spirit power."

I will never forget the old hero's eloquent harangue before a council of excited warriors, who had been discussing the desirability of driving the white people out of the Saskatchewan country. Many had been the grunts of approval and assent, as one after another wrought upon the assembly in the endeavor to stir up strife. Then old Stephen got up, and leaning on his staff, spoke as follows: "Young men, your words have made me sad. I have said to myself, while I listened to you, These men do not think. Has it never come to your minds that this big country we live in is almost empty of men, that one can travel many nights between the dwellings and tents of men, and not see a human being; and do you think this can continue? Were not these broad plains and great hills, this good soil and rich grass, and these many trees made to be used for the good of the great Father's children? I think so. I am not selfish enough to believe that all this big land was for me and my people only. No, I seem to see great multitudes occupying where I have roamed alone. Young men, the change is near, and the Great Spirit has sent his servants to prepare us for its coming. Again, young men, your words are foolish, for you are not able to drive the white man out, nor yet keep him back from coming into this country. Can you "—(and here the old man's eye flashed, and his almost palsied arm took on fresh life, pointing to the mighty river flowing near)— "can you dam that river? Can you send those strong waters back up on the mountains from whence they came? No, you cannot do this; likewise you cannot keep the white men out of this land. Can you stop yonder sun from rising in the morning? Come, gather yourselves, make yourselves strong, stop him if you can No; neither can you stop the incoming multitudes. It will be; it must be; it is destiny. Then, young men, be wise, and listen to those who can prepare you for these changes which are coming, surely coming."

Ah, thought I, this man has attended the school of the prophets; the Infinite has spoken to him. And other men, notwithstanding the paint and feathers, and the centuries of war and ignorance, thought so too. Joseph also, like his father, was solidly on the side of the mission, and no other man I have ever been associated with lived so strictly and consistently as did this man. The law of God was to him supreme. He followed the letter as well as the spirit. The snow might be deep, the cold intense, the distance we had travelled for the day long, the way difficult; but if it was Saturday night, Joseph would work until midnight cutting and packing in wood, so that our supply would not need replenishing before midnight Sunday night. Legalism, you say. Never mind, this man was of the true Puritan stock, and his pedigree, is it not written in heaven?

Joseph also was a mighty hunter. He told me (and this was fully corroborated by his contemporaries) that quite early in his career as a hunter he had kept count of his killing grizzlies up to forty-two, then he had lost count, but had killed a large number since that time. Think of this, you Nimrods who go afield with your big bores and modern repeating rifles! Joseph's best weapon was a pot-metal flintlock, single-barrel, and muzzle-loading at that. With such a gun it required pure pluck to tackle the big grizzlies of the mountains, but my old friend was full of it. There was another fine fellow, "The Red Bank," or, as he was baptized, Thomas Woolsey, a kind, cheerful, everyday Christian, one it did you good to meet, and from whose camp I always came away refreshed and made stronger in the faith.

These men were some of the fruits of missionary labor. Bundle and Woolsey and Steinhauer had not visited distant camps and undergone all manner of hardship and risk without accomplishing good. These men I have mentioned and others, both men and women, were now the nucleus of a church, and the comfort and help of the new mission. Moreover, there were among the conservative pagans some good fellows, kindly disposed to all men, and these, too, became the friends of the mission party. There was the "Blood" man, whom I have already spoken of, who had to whoop every little while or else lose his soul, as he thought. He would have made a first-class shouting Methodist or Salvation Army man. I should not forget old Mah-mus, who could neither eat nor smoke without first ringing a small bell he - constantly carried with him. He was an A1 ritualist, and would have done credit to an extremely High Church establishment.


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