The Life of Jeremiah Johnston: Part VII

Jeremiah and the Missionary Rodgers strolled through the Reserve passing by the burial grounds, they passed three graves that Mr. Rodgers hoped to photograph; they were surrounded by a fence, a chair stood inside and the three graves were covered with a pointed roof. A flag staff with a white flag at the top and another halfway up stood at the foot of each grave. The bodies were put into the grave in a sitting position then branches were put across them and about a foot of earth placed over them. Then a little house was built over the grave with sides and a roof, there was always a little door and a shelf below this, as spirits were supposed to come in and out of the door to get what was placed on the shelf and on the ground around the grave. Mr. Rodgers reported he saw knives, forks, cups, tumblers and a tin rattle filled with shot that the mourners rattled when they sat waiting at the grave. Ribbons were fastened around the door of one grave and wild berries were often placed there. Women coming home from the woods after picking berries often placed a few on the shelf. On one shelf he saw a 10 cent piece, he inquired as to if it would be allowed to stay and was told “of course” though in time it disappears but then they think the departed one has come out of the grave and took it.

Mr. Rodgers visited the School which he described as “a fine building,” the teacher lived in a little house nearby with a beautiful view of the Sault Rapids, a further journey through the woods was filled with mosquitos and “bull dogs.” He heard the tom-tom sounding and went to investigate, some young Indians saw them coming and in a large log house he saw the tom-tom, although the place was deserted it was where the dance of Sunday evening was held. The long tent or medicine tent is the name they gave such a place. According to Mr. Rogers the young Indians looked ashamed when they saw him going in, around the house was cedar tips covered with matting, on this they sat and danced. A little further on he entered a regular tepee, which is the Sioux word, wigwam is the Ojibwa word. In the tent he saw Chief Black Bird, son of the old chief, and McGuire, an Indian pilot with a sailors beaked cap and a hard face who was addicted to drink, and Thomas Bunyan smoking on his long tomahawk pipe (he thought it quite a picture). There were two other Indians playing cards seated on matting placed on cedar twigs. The tepee was made of poles covered with birch bark except on the top where there was a large open space, he talked to these men and told them he had come a long way to see them and was glad they had such a fine reserve and hoped they would have God’s blessing. Outside under a shade tent was Chief Black Bird’s wife seemingly in decline, she looked ill but as she had been going through the medicine tent she declared she felt better. Close to her was a large red cross with some marks on it and nearby was another large tent or canvas tepee which belonged to American Indians who had come over to gamble, he shook hands with many of them, they were playing cards. It had been mentioned that they were going on and as they walked by one of the tents near the river an Indian boy passed them running at full speed and did not stop when spoken to, in Mr. Rogers mind he had no doubt the boy was sent to warn the folks at the upper end of the reserve that they were coming, there was no doubt gambling was going on there. They passed two prehistoric Indian mounds which were not allowed to be opened, near them were some more graves one only two weeks old. Beyond this they came across an old Indian sitting under a shade tent making canoe ribs, he was the only Indian that they saw working while on this tour, he seemed an interesting old man and they tried to bring some truth home to his mind.

Next up, more visiting and a trip through the “medicine tent.”

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