Roughing It.

We expected that when we got to Garden River we should find an empty house, and have to do everything for ourselves; so we came well provided with a supply of flour, salt meat, etc., etc. Quite a crowd of Indians came running down to the dock when we landed, and all were eager to shake hands, crying, “Boozhoo, boozhoo,” the Indian mode of address. Then one seized a bundle, another a portmanteau, and, all laden with our baggage and supplies, accompanied us up to the Mission-house. Chief Buhkwujjenene was most warm in his greetings. “Would that you could always remain with us!” he exclaimed. On arriving at the little white-washed Parsonage, we were very glad to find that, although Mr. Chance had been gone for more than a week, Mrs. Chance and two of the children were still there; the furniture also had not been removed.

Mrs. Chance taught me to bake bread before she left, which was very useful, as I still often have to make camp bread. After a few days we were left alone with our boy Aleck. It was a primitive style of living, but we both enjoyed it immensely. The Indians were all so pleased to have us with them, and the attendance at services both on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, was very satisfactory. There was something quite enchanting about our little log cottage, with the hops clambering up the verandah, the garden-beds full of flowers, the broad river in front of our windows, and the little sail-boat moored to the dock, which we could use at our will and pleasure. Then there were plenty of fish in the river, which the Indians brought to us, and an accommodating old duck laid an egg every morning just beside the door-step. Aleck was a capital boy; always cheery and ready, and would do anything he was asked to do. During our month’s stay we only had fresh meat twice–once when a bear was killed, and again when we killed our drake. Among other duties of a new and peculiar kind, that of Post-master devolved upon me. The position was not an enviable one, and it took up a good deal of time; but it was convenient to get the mail without having to send twelve miles to Sault Ste. Marie for it. One day the boat arrived at the dock while we were at Church, and I had to set the people on singing a hymn while I ran down to change the mail. Another day an Indian came shouting at my window at 6 o’clock in the morning that the _Chicora_ was just coming in. Half awake and half asleep I turned out of bed, seized the Post-office key, and in frantic haste rushed down to get my mail ready.

My wife sent Aleck running after me with my boots, which I had forgotten in my hurry! I was by this time able to preach to the Indians in their own tongue. On the first Sunday after our arrival we had an attendance of thirty-two persons at the Holy Communion, and among them were a good many young men. The offertory collection amounted to just one pound English money.

The first week in July we went on a little camping expedition to Echo River, where the Indians were making their birch-bark troughs ready for the next year’s sugar-making. It was a fine bright morning when we started, and we went in _The Missionary_, with Aleck and two other Indian boys to row us. Echo River is a deep, narrow stream, scarcely a stone’s throw wide, with the thick foliage of many and various trees overhanging its banks. The only sounds which broke the stillness were the notes of birds and the croaking of the bull-frog, mingled with the measured splash of the oars. At length, after about two hours’ pull, we reached a little creek, and the Indian boys told us that their encampment was a short distance up it. It seemed scarcely possible to take the boat in, for the stream was very narrow, and nearly choked up with floating saw-logs. However, we pushed along with poles, and succeeded at length in reaching our destination. A good many of our people ran down and welcomed us heartily to their camp. It must have been strange to them, I suppose, to see a lady in so wild and out-of-the-way a spot.

A little clearing was cut with the axes, on which our tent was to be placed, and a path cut up to it from the creek; poles and tentpins were then made, and in a very short time our dwelling was ready for our reception. Meanwhile the fight with the lords of the Bush had commenced. While we were rowing we had not been much troubled with the mosquitoes, but now that we had invaded their dominions, they evidently regarded us as their lawful prey, and commenced the attack in good earnest. My wife, with a very serious face, drew on my large mackintosh coat, and sitting down on a heap of blankets, hid her hands, having first guarded her head and face with a thick veil. I filled the frying-pan with hot ashes, and covering them with green leaves, carried it in. The place was soon full of smoke, and after a vigorous whiffing I succeeded in making it habitable. Now we began to breathe a little more freely. Later in the afternoon we ventured on a short walk to see our neighbours. There were several wigwams all belonging to our own people. They were not conical, but had, generally, rounded roofs, over which were placed large sheets of birch-bark and Indian matting.

The people were very busy at work, the men drawing out saw-logs with two or three yoke of oxen; the women very busy with the birch-bark or basket-making. We found the Chief’s wife sitting in a very airy apartment, there being nothing over her head but a few twisted sticks, on which the bark had not yet been laid. When we returned to our tent we found that good Aleck had already got the kettle boiling, and we made a capital supper off fried fish and potatoes. All was very comfortable. The Indians had put a thick layer of maple branches for a floor; on these were laid first a couple of Indian reed mats, and then our scarlet rugs and table cloth. After supper I sent Aleck to ask the Indians to come together for some singing. A great many collected, and we sang the “Te Deum” and several hymns in Ojebway. Then we sat round the camp fire, which blazed up cheerily and gave light enough for us to see our books. I was pleased to find how many of the people had their Ojebway prayer-books and testaments with them, carefully wrapped up in a pocket handkerchief. Each little knot of people lighted a small smouldering mosquito fire in the midst, so that smoke was rising on all sides. About ten o’clock I concluded with prayer; the people shook hands and departed. Rain was beginning to fall heavily. This and the clanging of cow-bells close outside the tent, and the music of mosquitoes trying to make their entrance through the net suspended over us, drove sleep from our eyelids. In the morning we had other enemies in the shape of minute sand-flies, smaller than a pin’s head, which attacked us fiercely. It was no easy matter to light the fire in the morning in the drenching rain. One of the good people came up with an iron pot full of potatoes, which he hung over the fire to be cooked for our breakfast. When it ceased raining I went out to visit some of the people, and then we prepared to start homeward. We had only one Indian to help Aleck at the oars, and a head-wind to row against, so that it was late when we reached home; but, notwithstanding these drawbacks, we had enjoyed our trip.

The time for leaving Garden River was now drawing near, and the American steamer _St. Paul_ was daily expected to pass. It would not stop at Garden River, but we should have to run out to it in our boat, so Aleck took up his position on the ridge of the roof to keep a look-out, and the first appearance of smoke round the point would be the signal for the boat to be got ready. I had frequently requested the stewards on the boats to bring me fresh meat from Collingwood on their up-trip. They at length complied with my request, and just the day before we expected to leave came a big joint of thirteen pounds–the first we had seen since we came up. So we had beef for breakfast, beef for dinner, and beef for tea, and beef between times in the vain hope of getting through it. At last we called in our Indian friends and neighbours to partake, and they cleared off nearly all the food in the house. Evening came, and our boat had not arrived.

The next day was Sunday. Morning service was over, and the Indians, remembering the good feast of yesterday, came sniffing round, thinking to get another. We had a very spare luncheon, and we had to tell the Indians that we were quite out of victuals. Then we sent Aleck to the Jesuit priest to ask him if he would kindly send us a little butter and milk. In the evening the good man came down himself, and expressed the greatest distress at our laughable condition. He was a German by birth, but spoke English very well. “I think I have a leetle cock,” he said, “and I will give him to you, and if you have some rice, you may make some soup; that will be better than to starve.” We thanked him warmly, and Aleck went and brought the “leetle cock,” and an Indian gave us a pint of huckleberries, and we scraped the flour-barrel and made a huckleberry pie, and so had quite a feast. On Monday morning the steamboat arrived, and we bade adieu to our Indian friends, and returned to Sarnia.

Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886.

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