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The Life of Jeremiah Johnston: Part V

Jeremiah Johnston convinced Chief Blackbird that if a Church was built on the site of his father’s home it would be seen as a monument to the old Chief. Chief Blackbird was very much taken with the idea.

The Church was a very neat wooden building, clapboarded on the outside and the inside walls and ceiling were boarded. It was built in a cruciform and had a chancel, Jeremiah made the chancel rail and a reading desk, the inside very bare. It needed texts, a turret and a bell, thinking it would bring more people to the services. At the back of the Church was a graveyard with two or three marble stones and a wooden cross. It was pointed out that the Indians took great care of their graves and the missionaries felt that it was right that Christians should do the same.

James Taylor Rodgers, a missionary who worshiped with Jeremiah, photographed Jeremiah’s family including daughters Florence age 13, Beatrice age 10, Isabel age 9 and Samuel the baby boy 16 months old. Mrs. Johnston was very anxious to have a picture of the boy as he was delicate, and she had already lost six children. Mrs. Johnston had some interesting experiences; she saved a man from drowning catching him by one finger when he was knocked out of their sailboat on Lake Winnipeg. While traveling by boat and camping on an island Florence and Bee fell into deep water but Mrs. Johnston sprang up and caught one by the hair with on hand and caught the other by the dress between her teeth as she was holding on to the boat with the other hand.

Missionary Rodgers ruminated about his first Sunday with the heathen, the day began after breakfast with a family prayer. At the Church they had a morning prayer in Ojibwa then Mr. Rodgers preached on trust in God while Jeremiah translated. The Congregation was about 20 and what was of interest to him was that 12 were Indians. One of the parishioners was a settler, Horace Theker, whose presence according to Mr. Rodgers meant much. Horace had a striking history, his right leg was badly shattered while cutting wood by a tree which after being hung up shot back, it was January and he was alone for several hours until found. His arms, feet and hands were frozen when he was found and then taken home. There was no doctor to be found to set the broken limb properly, consequently the knee was far above where it ought to be and he could scarcely limp along often suffering pain. Mr. Rodgers felt that this accident helped bring Mr. Theker to a knowledge of the Savior. In addition to the above affliction he stuttered most painfully, he walked five miles part of the way to church over a very bad path to be present at the service and to receive communion. Mr. Theker’s last words to Mr. Rodgers were “you won’t forget me,” Mr. Rodgers thought him a bright Christian. In the front pew there was an Indian lad about 12 described as a Christian and behind him an old Indian Thomas Bunyan, one of his sons was buried in the church yard another with him appeared ill. Another still older Indian called himself grandfather and was interested in the Church, his wife was strongly opposed to Christianity. A little Indian girl was present who had been baptized, she was with her heathen mother and how it was that she was baptized seemed a mystery, apparently the parents were losing their children one by one so they decided to have the last three baptized. Also present was Mrs. Crow a Christina Indian with her two daughters, her husband John was away piloting a steamboat earning seventy-five dollars a month. Mr. Rodgers pointed out that Mrs. Crow was consumptive, for some time her heathen friends persuaded her to go to the medicine tent occasionally, one day Jeremiah had a long talk with her pointing out inconsistencies and she solemnly promised to never go again a promise he felt she faithfully kept.

Next up more about the parishioners’ backgrounds and what they did to practice their Christianity.

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