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The Life of Jeremiah Johnston: Part VIII

While Missionary Rodgers and Jeremiah Johnston strolled through the Reserve, they came across an old Indian sitting under a shade tree making canoe ribs, he seemed interesting and they tried to bring some truth home to his mind. It was a bit of a surprise when Jeremiah took up the crooked knife and started whittling, the old man noticed that he could use the knife and said so, “why not, I am an Indian” was Jeremiah’s reply. The old man showed Mr. Rodgers his flint, steel and tinder in his bag and struck a light, they used matches then but kept the sack as a “just in case.” He was interested in hearing that Mr. Rodgers had come from a long way east and was going to the mountains, then when he heard that Mr. Rodgers wrote for a paper and was glad to see that he was keen on learning about their ways, the old man grunted an exclamation of approval and to the delight of Mr. Rodgers he asked him to come more under the shade.

Moving down the Reserve, they visited John Cochrane’s summer house, he was the father of three children who were baptized while Mr. Rodgers noted that Mr. Cochrane was still a heathen. The house was a regular square shape made with a ridge pole and cross pieces, they were covered with bark and there was a stove with a stove pipe, two beds and a swing for the little girl, outside a woman was stirring flour in a big dish and large cakes of dough, three sticks held up a kettle.

On July 18, 1898, Mr. Rodgers notated Half-a-day, Charlie’s father said he was very glad to see him going around to visit their tents.

Hearing a sound of incantation, Jeremiah and Mr. Rodgers went into a house, it was being used as a medicine tent: A man and his wife who had lost their son two weeks ago were propitiating the evil spirit that the rest of their family might be left alone, they were sitting in one corner on a cedar twig matting which went around the house. In the middle was an altar like pile of clothing and bead work surrounded by thin tin dishes, according to Mr. Rogers it was like a sacrifice to pacify the deity (he added that the sacrifice afterwards was divided among the medicine men). Three medicine men sat in a row, one was swaying forward repeating what the missionary thought was a meaningless refrain and incantation. The other two, Chief Cut-leg and the other with a pipe in his mouth, would interject “A-yah.” In front of the man repeating the words of the incantation was a tin rattle partly filled with shot a pan of broth. In the middle of the floor near the door were kettles of broth made of a dog which had been killed. This was called “the Dog feast” and beside it was a tom-tom, it was a wooden cask with a tight leather head. Chief Cut-leg got his crutches and hobbled out muttering something that Jeremiah took to mean that their presence was not desired there but they stayed on for a little while. Mr. Rodgers privately opined that the experience was most interesting but very sad this propitiation offered in ignorance to a higher power and even though he thought it all a fraud with the three medicine men getting the spoils. Mr. Rodgers stood with uncovered head and had a feeling of reverence but was none the less was dubious.

Mr. Rodgers spent the morning of July 19th writing, Jeremiah had left to marry a couple at another community, in the afternoon he went to the river bank and tried throwing out the trolling line but it began to threaten rain and there was thunder in the distance, in combination with the mosquitoes which he described as “unendurable” he returned to the house. In the evening a tremendous storm of wind and rain swept across the river, Jeremiah did not return and later that evening he helped Mrs. Johnston and her children split wood during which time she told him about an interesting story about an experience at Jack-Head when Jeremiah had left for a distant mission.

Next time you will meet “Kitty.”


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