Among the Red Indians: Chapter 6

THE account of Mr. Young's first winter trip to Nelson River is so interesting, and unlike anything we see or even hear of in England, that I am going to tell my young readers something about it that they will be sure to read.
The weather was bitterly cold, the snow in many places being from two to three feet deep, when Mr. Young, with a guide and several dog-drivers, all, or nearly all, of whom were Christians, started to visit a band of pagan Indians, whose hunting grounds were so far north that they almost touched those of the Esquimaux, with whom, however, the Indians never hunt, and are seldom, if ever, on friendly terms. The journey that lay before them was one that would take several days, and as the greater part of it lay through dense forests, where they were not likely to see a wigwam or meet a fellow-creature, the dog-sledges were rather heavily loaded, as many things, such as kettles, guns, knives, tin bowls, bedding, blankets and skin robes had to be taken, besides food for the whole party and their dogs, of which there were from twelve to sixteen.
In many places the snow was so deep that if the guide and dog-drivers had not walked ahead of the dogs, beating down a path with their snow-shoes, the animals would not have been able to pull the sledges through. The dogs, as a rule, were only fed once a day, and certainly deserved a good supper when their day's work was done. The party usually stopped about half an hour before dark in order to prepare for passing the night in the snow. For some time before the halt was made, the guide, who for the last hour or so had been on the look out, stopped and said, "Missionary, here is a good place for our camp.”
“Why do you think so, Tom?” "Because we can cut down these tall balsams for our beds, and there is plenty of small, dry wood for our fire." So every one set to work with a will to prepare for sleeping in the open. The dogs were unharnessed, and while a few of the younger and more lively ones went off for a rabbit hunt on their own account, the older and wiser ones would look for the most sheltered spots, and then begin scraping away the snow till the ground was reached, then with teeth and paws they would make their chosen sleeping-place as smooth and even as possible; this done, they would curl themselves up, and wait more or less patiently till called to supper.
A quantity of balsams were then cut down, and a pile of dry wood for the fire collected; then the missionary and his men, using their snow-shoes as spades, began clearing away the snow, and building it into a low wall on three sides of the camp, care being taken in choosing a place for the fire to be sure that it was one in which the wind would blow the smoke from, and not to the camp. As soon as the fire blazed brightly, two large kettles were filled with snow and placed over it. As soon as the snow in the largest of the kettles was melted, a large piece of meat, the fatter the better, was put in, and while it was cooking, the fish for the dogs' supper was thawed by being placed before the fire, the fish, of which each dog received from four to six pounds, being frozen as hard as a stone. Tea was then made, and poured into pint tin cups, but the cold was so severe that ice would often form upon the cups that had been filled with boiling tea only a few minutes before.
Supper over, and the dogs fed, it was time to prepare for the night's rest. Wood enough for the morning fire had to be collected, as an early start, some hours before daylight, must be made. When all was ready, the guide would say, "Missionary, we are now ready for prayer." The whole party ranged themselves round the fire. The Bible and hymnbook were brought out, and by the light of blazing logs Mr. Young read from the word of God, the book many of them had learned to love so well. Several hymns followed; many of the Indians have very musical voices, and love singing. Then came prayer, that in that lonely place, far away from their homes as they were, with no wall around them but one of snow, with no roof over them but the star-spangled sky, the presence and care of their God and Father might be very real to them; and we may be sure that they did not forget to ask that the hearts of the Indians they hoped in a few more days to reach might be prepared by the Holy Spirit not only to listen to the sweet story of a Savior's love, but to accept God's offer of a free salvation, through faith in the finished work of His Son.
Fresh logs were piled on the fire, and the guide said, "Now, missionary, I am ready to make your bed." Balsam boughs and stems were laid on the ground, upon the boughs a skin robe and a heavy blanket were spread. When this was done and the pillow placed, he would say, "Now, if you will get into bed, I will cover you up and tuck you in." Undressing in such bitter cold was out of the question; another skin robe and another heavy blanket were sped over the tired missionary and carefully tucked in, and though at first he objected to having his head and face completely covered, he soon found it was the only way to escape severe frost bites. When a foot or eighteen inches of snow fell during the night, it added to their comfort, the extra covering enabling them to make up for sleep lost on previous nights when the intense cold kept them awake.