Among the Red Indians: Chapter 2

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 6
A LOUD "Ahem!" behind the chair of Mr. Egerton Young, who was for many years a devoted and successful missionary among the North American Indians, made him turn quickly from the small study table where he had been writing, to find himself face to face with a tall, copper-colored Indian, one whom he felt sure he had not seen before. He had not noticed the entrance of his visitor, for, like most of his tribe, he had been unable to see any reason for knocking at the door, and his footfall was as noiseless as that of a cat.
Pointing to a chair, Mr. Young told him to be seated. He did not sit down, but going close up to Mr. Young, said in a voice that trembled with eagerness, "Missionary, will you help me to be a Christian?”
The simple question must have been a glad surprise to the faithful but often sorely-tried laborer, and his answer was, "Certainly I will; that is why I came to live among you.”
“Will you help my wife and children to become Christians too?”
“Yes, of course I will. It was to tell your people of the love of the great Spirit, and of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, that my wife and I left our home, very, very far away, and came here. Now tell me who you are, and from what place you come.”
The Indian had a wonderful story to tell, so full of interest that I feel sure if he were here Mr. Young would forgive me for trying to tell it as nearly as I can in his own words.
“Many years ago," he said, "when I was quite a little boy, I was kindly cared for by Mr. Evans, who was then our missionary. My father and mother had died, leaving none to care for me. I had some relations, but they were not Christians, and there was not much love or pity for the orphan in their hearts. Mr. Evans took me to his own house. He fed me, he clothed me, he made me a home. He taught me to read the new letters he had written for our people; he told me about the great Spirit; he taught me and other Indian children to pray to God. I was very happy with him. He kept me with him for two or three years, and I was very happy in having such a kind friend had I only known it.
“One summer, among the many Indians who came to sell their furs at the company's stores, was one family who lived very far away. They seemed to take a great liking to me and would often talk to me. They said they had no little boy in their wigwam. They said they wanted me to go and live with them, and they told me a lot of foolish things about how much happier I should be with them than having to obey the white man. And, foolish boy that I was, I listened to them, and believed all they told me, and one night, when they had got everything ready to start, I slipped quietly out of the house and joined them. We paddled hard most of that night, for we knew we were doing wrong, and were afraid of being followed.
“After many days we reached their hunting grounds. I did not find living with them so pleasant as they had said it would be. They were often very cruel to me, and sometimes we had very little to eat. I was very unhappy, yet I dared not run away, for all the Indians who lived in that part were wicked, so it would only have made matters worse. All the worship they did was to bad spirits. They were all very much afraid of the medicine man. I thought as I lived with them I must be like them, so I tried to forget all the good missionary had told me about the great, good God and His Son. I tried to wipe it all out from my mind.
"I grew up to be a man. I was a wicked heathen, but I was a good hunter. One of the men sold me one of his daughters to be my wife. We have several children. I had seen when I was a little boy how much better the Christian Indians treat their women than the pagan Indians do. I treated my wife and children well. I was never cruel to them. I love my wife, I love my children.
"Last winter the snow was very deep. I took my family and built a wigwam where I thought we should find plenty of deer, and I set traps for the fur-bearing animals and took a good many, but very little that we got was good for food and often we were nearly starving. I could not find any deer to shoot, or if I did my gun, an old one, would only flash the powder in the pan and would not go off, but the noise it made would frighten the deer, and it would be gone before I could fire again.
“Day after day things seemed to be getting worse with me. At last I said, I will only try once more, and if I cannot shoot a deer I will shoot myself. So I took my gun and went into the forest, far away from my family. I hunted all day, but could not find even the track of a deer. At night I made a little cover, and lay down cold and hungry. The next day I hunted again, but only took a rabbit. I ate it in the little camp I had made, and lay down the second night in the snow.
“On the third day I felt weak and ill, and I said, `It is of no use trying any more. I will die here.' I loaded my gun with a heavy charge, and was putting it to the side of my head. Just as I was about to pull the trigger, I thought some one said to me, 'William' (not my Indian name, but the one the missionary had given me). I was frightened; I put down my gun and looked round me, but could see no one. Then I knew the voice was in my heart, and it seemed to say to me, 'William, do you not remember all the missionary told you about the good God? He said He was kind, and even if we did wrong and got far away from Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, if we were sorry, and told Him so, He would forgive us. Why not pray to Him now?' I remembered how wicked my life had been. I said, 'I cannot; it is too mean to begin to pray now.' But again the inner voice seemed to say, `It is worse to stay away.'
“Then I seemed to hear my wife and children crying for food in the wigwam where I had left them, and that decided me. I knelt down in the snow and began to pray. I cannot remember what I said, but I know that I asked the great Spirit to forgive the poor Indian who had been so wicked, and had gone so far away from Him. I told Him I was very sorry, and I told Him if He would forgive me, and help me in my trouble, and give me some food for my wife and children, that as soon as the snow was gone I would seek for the missionary and ask him to help me to be a Christian.
"While I prayed I seemed to grow stronger. I felt in my heart that help was very near; I forgot that I was cold and hungry. I took up my gun with a glad heart, for I felt that the great Spirit had had mercy upon a poor, wicked Indian. I had not gone far before I saw a large reindeer only a few yards from me. I fired, and it fell dead. I was very glad. I quickly skinned it and made a fire and cooked some of the meat. Then I pulled down a small tree and fastened part of the meat into the top to keep it from the wolves, and let the tree swing up again. I took as much as I could carry upon my back and set off to my hungry family, my heart filled with joy. Soon after I returned for the remainder of the venison. It was quite safe, for it had been beyond the reach of the wolves.
"Since that day we have always had something to eat. I have hunted hard and God has given me success. God has been very good to us. He has been all that the missionary told me He would be. I have not forgotten my promise made in the forest. As soon as the snow had melted, and the ice was gone from the lakes and rivers, I got my canoe ready and brought my wife and children here, and now we want you to help us all to be Christians.”