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Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter XXI


IN calculating time the Oakinackens invariably use their fingers, and go by tens. A common mode of counting with them is by snows or winters. Ask an Indian his age, he immediately casts his eyes on his hands, calculates his age by his fingers, and answers by holding so many of them up to view, each finger standing for ten years. Some of the most intelligent among them will reckon to a thousand tolerably correct; but by far the greater part can scarcely count twenty.

Contrary to the customs in civilized life, the children are never weaned until they give up the breast of their own accord, or another child is born to supplant the former; nor is the child ever hand-fed while at the breast, but lives solely on its mother's milk till old enough to feed itself. Yet the infant is generally robust and healthy; but the mother soon becomes an old woman. Here a singularity in their manners presents itself; for the child never receives a name till it has done sucking its mother's breast, and then it is named according to the disposition it evinced up till that time. If a male child, fractious and ill-humoured, it is named to please the ear, after some carnivorous bird or beast, such as the bear, the wolf, or the vulture; if, on the contrary, it be mild and quiet, it will be named after the deer, the rabbit, or the pheasant, so that the name generally indicates the temper; and while we are speaking of names, it may be proper to follow that subject a little farther, because it is one that generally forms a striking characteristic of Indian manners.

Indians of all classes change their names periodically, taking new ones according to fancy or caprice; and it is a peculiar habit, even a national custom, for the male and female children to address their parents in a manner peculiar to their sex, if I may so express myself, and to name their brothers and sisters according to their respective ages, as shall presently appear. To explain this rather knotty point, we shall suppose a family to consist of six children, three boys and three girls, besides the parents; and in order to make the thing as intelligible as possible, we shall again suppose that one of the boys—not the eldest, nor yet the youngest, but the middle one—is to address each of the other members of the family. The boy then says, Eu-leo, my father; Es-koy, my mother; En-ketcheck, my elder brother; E -shentsa, my younger brother; El-kick-cha, my elder sister; El-shets-spo, my younger sister; E-she-she, my uncle; and Eswa-wis-saw, my aunt. We shall now take the female in the same degree; that is, the middle one, who- must say, En-mistem, my father; En-tonme, my, mother; El-keek-cha, my elder sister; El-shetsops, my younger sister; El-kack-itsa, my elder brother; El-she-shentea, my younger brother; Es-melt, my uncle; and Es-ta-ta-qua, my aunt.

Age and change of circumstance have great influence in causing change of names at different periods of life; but no change ever takes place in the above family mode of expression. During my first years among them, the chief went by the name of Its-kaykay-etsa, or painted garment. After the death of the fox his father, he changed his name to Quillquill-is-tshen-ach--can, or public speaker; and of late he has changed it again to that of Whist-as-mawhey-kin, or the white bear, a name only assumed by chiefs or other great men; but in general these changes may be classed under three heads; one for youth, one for middle age, and one for old age.

On our travels one day, we overtook a party of indians, when one of my men accosted the chief; calling him by name. The chief looked steadfastly at him, but made no reply. Being called again by name, he turned half round, and with a significant air said, "You white people say you know all things; do you not then know that I have changed my name?" "No," said the man; "how could I know? for you change your names as often as the moon changes; but the whites, like the sun, never change." "And who made the moon?" said the Indian. "God, to be sure," rejoined the man. "And who made the sun?" continued the chief. "The same who made the moon," was the reply. "Then if God made us after the moon subject to change, and you after the sun unchangeable, why do you reproach us? In reproaching us, you reproach the master of life."

If you offend or even assault an Indian, he seldom resents at the moment, or shows any signs of violence or passion; but, on the contrary, he remains sullen, mute, and thoughtful. This forbearance, however, forebodes no good; for he broods over the insult or injury, and meditates revenge. Years may elapse, but the injury is still fresh in the savage breast; and there is but one way left for you to ward off the meditated blow, and regain his friendship, and that is, by a peace-offering or present; for here property pays for all offences.

If one Indian kills another, the murderer saves his own life by making a suitable present to the nearest relative of the deceased; and they draw no line of distinction between accidental or justifiable homicide and wilful murder: death caused in any way by another is looked upon in the same criminal light.

If a native flies into a passion with a white man, which is seldom the case, his passion or anger ought to be allowed to evaporate; and if you can muster patience enough to keep your temper till his rage is past, you can then do with him just what you please; for nothing subdues and reforms a savage more than patience and silence on your part while he is giving way to anger. Forbearance and even handed justice are far more successful instruments in governing Indians than powder and bait The confirmation of this statement will be found in the spectacle of the millions of aborigines that inhabit this .quarter of the globe alone, and the Comparatively few white men, not perhaps one to a thousand, who live among them. Yet the white man does not always observe the golden rule of forbearance and even-handed justice, but often arbitrarily arrogates the right of domineering over the natives; and yet these, in almost all cases, yield without a murmur. And to our shame be it said, that reason and right, humanity and forbearance, are as often to be found among the savages themselves as among the whites who live by sufferance among them. The Indian in his natural state is happy, with his trader he is happy; but the moment he begins to walk in the path of the white man his happiness is at an end. Like a wild 'animal in a cage, his lustre is gone.

However strongly we may abhor heathenism, and deprecate the savage character in its natural state, as compared to civilized humanity, yet we ought not, in our zeal for the one or abhorrence of the other, to suppress the truth; and the truth, therefore, compels us to admit that there are many traits of virtue to be met with in the Indian character. They are brave, generous, and often charitable; and to their credit be it said, that there is less crime in an Indian camp of five hundred souls than there is in a civilized village of but half that number. Let the lawyer or moralist point out the cause.

Custom here constitutes law, not only in reference to the great affairs of the nation or tribe, but in trivial things also.. A mother is not allowed to prepare swaddling-clothes for an unborn infant; and, indeed, but little preparation is required, for the whole paraphernalia consists of but four articles—a rude piece of board, which serves for a cradle; a bit of skin, which serves to wrap the new-born babe in; some moss to lie on; and a string to lash the whole together. Thus secured, the bantling is carried about on its mother's back, or allowed to sprawl on the ground, in all weathers and all seasons.

Tacitus found fault with the Roman ladies of his day for giving their children to Grecian women to nurse, and thus depriving the infant of maternal tenderness. What would the historian have thought had he seen an infant of the savage race, as practised . in these parts, tied naked on a hard board, and allowed to tumble and roll about as it best could? and yet this very race, or portion of the human family, is as perfect in form, as healthy and vigorous, as any people on the face of the earth.

In travelling, the distance of places is always calculated according to time. If on horseback, a day's ride is estimated at about seventy of our miles; if on foot, at half that distance. This mode of calculating distances is, however, very erroneous, and not to .be depended upon by the whites, as the natives seldom take into consideration either the good or bad state of the roads. But interruptions which are grievons obstacles to us are nothing in their way; for where a rabbit can pass, an Indian horse will pow, and where a horse can pass, the savage, who sticks on his back Eke a crab, passes over hill and dale, rock and ra'vinej, at full speed; so that good roads or bad roads, rugged or smooth, all is alike to him.

Nor is the fair sex less dexterous in managing the horse; a woman with one child on her back and another in her arms will course the fleetest steed over the most rugged and perilous country. In conversation they seem to possess but few ideas, and their answer is often a gesture expressive of approbation or dislike; at other times, simply yes or no; and yet, in their national harangues, they often display great energy of mind, inspire confidence, and frequently give * strong impulse to public opinion.

While on their journeys, and indeed at all time, the men willingly aid in alleviating the hardships of the women, and are indulgent husbands. On all occasions they evince a steady and temperate disposition, and every- action of their lives is more or less marked by intelligence and moderation.

Having now performed, however imperfectly, the task we had undertaken, and brought to a close our description of the Oakinacken nation, we shall proceed to make a few remarks on the moral and spiritual condition of these people, as a portion of the great famaily of mankind, as well as on the system generally pursued by missionaries in converting Indians to Christianity.

The OaMnacke are a people that might soon, and with but very little trouble, be induced to throw off their savage habits altogether, as they are re forming fast, and exhibit on most occasions a strong desire and capacity for receiving moral and religious instruction. The last time I visited them was in 1825, and it was encouraging to witness their continued improvement;

When we contemplate the wide field open before us for missionary, labours, even between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific, and the large sums yearly spent in various parts of the world for the purposes of instructing and converting the heathen, shall we not then hope and expect that at some fixture day those blessings may be extended to the Far West? Even a tithe of what is laid out in our country in England would, if rightly, applied, be an inestimable blessing to these people. But the result would entirely depend on the manner in which the work of conversion was undertaken; and, with this impression on our minds, it seems to us expedient to make a few observations on the system generally followed in instructing and evangelizing the heathen in other parts of the world.

Where the rays of evangelical light beam forth that light alone, if practically improved, will net only discover the errors of the past, but point out a remedy for the future. But the great evil is, hesitation takes the place of determination, and no person wishes to begin the work of reforming any great system which has been long in operation, and more particularly so if it be considered by its promoters as working well; but in a case such as the present, in which the whole world is more or less concerned, others as well as the actual promoters ought to have a voice, and every voice inculcating improvement ought to be respected: yet I am not vain enough to suppose that any opinion or representation of mine, however correct, will either reform the old or perfect the new system, because such things are not the work of a day nor of an individual; but if the suggestions now presented draw the attention of abler writers to the subject, I shall be satisfied.

The pious and charitable world contribute with a liberal hand; the missionary is sent out to the wilderness to instruct and convert the heathen: so far all is well. The missionary reaches his destination, announces the gospel tidings, and commences his official duties; the young and the old are catechised, baptism is administered, and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper follows—and all these different glimpses of evangelical light succeed each other in such rapid succession as to stamp the whole proceeding with the character of a miracle. The calm and reflecting observer is confounded, and the pious Christian is struck with astonishment at the hurried and precipitate manner in which the wild and untutored savage is thus washed from all his sins, and received into the bosom of the Christian church. In all this, however, there is nothing real; on the contrary, it is utterly impossible for the missionary, or any other man alive, to cultivate the soil, sow the seeds of gospel vegetation, and bring forth the matured fruits of regeneration in .so short a time. The missionary, in all this, no doubt follows his instructions.

But this is not all: the missionary's journal goes home, more labourers are required for the vineyard, periodicals circulate the marvellous success, and all the world, except those on the spot, believe the report. Yet the picture is delusive: the savage is still a savage, and gross idolatry and barbarism have not yielded inwardly a hair's-breadth to the influence of civilization, far less is he made sensible of the obligations imposed upon him by his new creed. It is but a treacherous calm before a storm: the tree is known by its fruit.

These reports are no sooner laid before the public, than a pious interest is again excited, and the liberal hand of charity is again cheerfully held out to aid in civilizing mankind. Other missionaries are sent forth, who, to prove their own zeal and success, heighten if possible the colouring of the former picture, by the addition of still more marvellous reports; and in this manner they go on, as it were, at full gallop, according to the present system, without taking time to dispel that thick and heavy cloud of ignorance and barbarism so necessary to be removed from the savage mind before it is prepared to receive spiritual instruction, or appreciate the benefits of Christianity. The result is scarcely a form of godliness, the time allowed being insufficient for perfecting the work, or doing it as it ought to be done; and this very want of time is chiefly the rock on which the missionary bark universally founders.

Before concluding this part of our subject, we night advert to another evil connected with the present system, and perhaps the worst of all evils, inasmuch as no effectual remedy can well be aspired to it—that is, the interference of sects with one anot1Mr; for no sooner does a missionary plant the standard of the Gospel in any foreign land, but others of differeat persuasions follow: and it is no uncommon thing to see, in many parts of the heathen wend, Papists and Protestants, with all the different branches of the two great sects, like rivals in trade, huddled together, working confusion; not only distracting and oorriq4ing their converts, but destroying in their obstinacy the fruits of each other's labour—forgetting that they are all God's husbandmen, labouring in the same vineyard, and for the same master.

Next to the British empire, few countries on the globe have pursued the present system with more success than the Americans have dine; yet the Americans themselves have found from long ex- pence, as they now declare, that the system is defective, that the results produced nowise correspond to the means employed: and the same observation may be applied to every other quarter of the earth.

Let us new consider the possibility of reforming this defective system. Considering the moral degradation of the heathen world, it behoves those who take an interest in changing the condition of the natural man, to apply the means best adapted for that purpose, and to recognise and avail themselves of every light that may in a practical way hold out a prospect of success; and if they do so, they will neither slight nor contemn, without an impartial and patient investigation, any suggestions that may be offered with the view of forwarding the great and benevolent work of salvation.

In the first place, then, all men generally know, and history bears testimony to the fact, that Indians, whether of the open plains or of the deserts, universally rove about from place to place, like beasts of prey, without any settled or permanent home. To counteract this habit ought to be the first step taken in order to bring about a healthy state of civilization, without which the missionary labours in vain: but this is not the work of an hour, nor of a day, but of years—I should have said generations; and time proportionate to the work must be allowed, moral restraints must gradually be imposed, and the savage, in place of his former precarious mode of living, must be taught not only to feel the wants, but to appreciate the blessings resulting from settled habits and practical industry; he must be taught to cultivate the ground, and be convinced from experience that his living and comforts are more certain from the soil than from the chace, before he can be brought a step farther: but according to the present system, in place of locating the Indians, as a preliminary step, and accustoming them to habits of industry and social order, the zealous missionary at once commences his course of religious instruction, without any step of the kind; and, while the savages have anything to eat, all goes on well, but the moment a new supply of food is required, that moment they disperse in all directions, according to their usual habits, leaving the missionary alone, and perhaps months may elapse before they again reassemble on' praying ground, losing to-day what they had gained yesterday; and this is generally the course pursued—a course productive of social evil and moral deterioration.

What are the qualifications of the men generally sent out for the purpose of converting the heathen? These men have seldom any other recommendation than a knowledge of books; they are ignorant of the language, habits, and feelings of the people they have gone to convert, and have little experience in human nature: this alone is of itself sufficient to protract and retard, if not to frustrate altogether, the working of the system satisfactorily. In every quarter of the globe there are not wanting, if sought after, pious and philanthropic men, possessing the advantages of long and close personal intercourse with the natives of almost all countries. These are the men to be selected and sent out as pioneers among the heathen—men who might, from their local experience, at once infuse the elements of much good by their presence and example; and if such men cannot always be found, persons possessing at least a general knowledge of mankind, as well as of books, can. The work requires practical as well as pious men to set things a-going during the first probationary time; for I would wish it to be distinctly understood that religious instruction should not be mixed up with the primary part of the plan at all; but maybe introduced at any subsequent period, according to circumstances, as 'soon, but no sooner, than the degrading influence of the savage character begins to yield to the more genial and rational habits of civilized life. For one of the greatest evils in the present system is, that men generally begin where they ought to end. They commence with religion before the heart is prepared to receive it. A thing easily got is thought but little of: religion must therefore be kept for some time, as it were, at a distance from them; they must be taught to feel the want of it; they must ask for it; and they must be prepared to receive it with all thanksgiving.

The preparatory part of the plan, as regards time, ought, as I have already stated, to be regulated according to circumstances; but when a new field is opened for missionary labours, I cannot convince myself that a shorter period than ten years' location of the tribe or nation, under civilized guidance, would be sufficient to remove the deep-rooted apathy of the savage, and prepare his mind for religious instruction; or perhaps it would be still nearer the mark to adopt the more general opinion on this point, and that is, that an age is not too long for assembling, locating, training, and instructing the savage in the habits of civilization, industry, and economy, before introducing even pub.. lie schools among them; another age under scholastic discipline might be required to prepare them for the next and most important step; and in the third generation only might religion, as practised in civilized life, be thoroughly introduced with effect among them. This would be laying the basis of a solid and permanent plan.

In reference to the missionary himself, whose pious work is the conversion of souls, the apostle reminds us, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace;" and while the missionary follows, in all its purity, the work of faith and labour of love, all men are in charity bound to contribute to his assistance, and aid in bringing about, by the application of appointed means, the great work of salvation; but then, to encourage all men to do so, the missionary, like the apostles of old, who in simplicity and godly, sincerity told their Lord and master "what they had done, and what they had taught," ought to tell his masters, with the same simplicity and uprightness, what he has done, and what he has taught, without exaggeration or any false colouring. This course would indeed inspire confidence, and give such a direction and impetus to popular opinion as would lead all to co-operate for the good of mankind.

But the missionary at home and the missionary abroad are two distinct characters; the latter, from his position and the influence he acquires over the general conduct, as well as consciences, of the simple and ignorant people with whom he lives, and who on every occasion look up to him for advice in temporal as well as for instruction in spiritual matters, of course becomes a great man, not only in their estimation, but in his own also, till at last the force of habit gains an ascendancy over him, and often leads him astray from the path of evangelical duty. He is no longer the humble and zealous disciple he was when he left home, but considers himself the chief man in civil as well as in religious matters.

But the paramount evil which frustrates all the labours of the missionary is that arising from sects of different persuasions interfering with one another, an evil which tends rather to destroy than promote religious feelings among savages, and which nothing less than the potent arm of Government can prevent; for it is no uncommon thing in the wilderness to see the pious and persevering evangelist, after undergoing every hardship to open a new field for his labours among the heathen, followed after by some weak zealot of another sect, who had not energy or courage of himself to lead, but who no sooner reaches the cultivated vineyard of his precursor than he begins the work of demoralization and injustice, by denying the creed and labours of his predecessor, clothes some disaffected chief, and infuses animosity and discord among all parties, in order to get a footing and establish himself; and where envy and strife are, according to the apostle's doctrine, there are "confusion and every evil work ;" and every additional zealot of a different creed in this field of strife increases the disorder, for all Indians are peculiarly fond of novelty;* consequently, the last creed is with them the best. Now where there are two, three, or more conflicting creeds at one station, as is often the case, it may truly be said, there is neither religion nor religious fellowship to be found in that community; but, on the contrary, every moral and religious sentiment is destroyed, and the people are sunk deeper and deeper in the gulf of moral degradation; and not only that, but the missionaries, one and all, labour in vain. Yet, strange as it may appear, such unhallowed and demoralizing scenes seldom reach either the public eye or the public r; for the missionary or zealot of each sect, in writing home to the parent society, so far from noticing and reporting, with official uprightness, the true state of things, cheats the public by exhibiting a picture of marvellous success. Solomon hath declared that "he that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity." Surely there ought to be some law existing to protect and secure to the first missionary the fruits of his enterprize and pious labour against all such corrupt and impious interference.

To exemplify this part of our subject still further: I was once travelling along the frontiers of Canada, when I came to a neat little Indian village, on the bank of the St. Lawrence, containing about three hundred souls. They had a missionary, a little white chapel, and a thriving school, and I thought them at the time, as they also considered themselves, perfectly comfortable and happy. Three years afterwards, a friend of mine happened to pass through the same village; but in place of finding them happy as they had been, everything in and about the place was changed. The inhabitants were less numerous: instead of one missionary and one church, they had, during the short interval, got three missionaries, all of different persuasions, and three churches; but so high did the tide of religious animosity among all parties then run, that one of the churches had been recently burnt to the ground, by some of the fanatics themselves; another was despoiled of all its ornaments, and deserted; and the third remained, a memento of the times, with but few hearers: and in place of one thriving school, there had been no less than three, but with scarcely a scholar in any of them. Such are the fruits that generally result from the unhallowed practice of one sect interfering with another.


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