Chief Buhkwujjenene’s Mission.

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It was sugar-making time, and Buhkwujjenene was at work three miles back in the bush collecting the sap from the maple-trees, and, with the assistance of his wife and a large family of daughters, boiling it down in huge black kettles to transform it into maple-sugar. It was rather a labour getting out there, and I had to take my snow-shoes. About two miles back from where our parsonage stood is a long range of low, rocky hills, about 300 feet high, nearly parallel with the course of the river, and for the most part bare and naked, only sprinkled with a few ragged balsams, pine, and birch. It was April, and the snow was gone from the exposed parts of the hill, but beyond, in the valley where sugar-making was going on, it was still a couple of feet deep.

Wandering along through the bush, the first sign of your approach to a sugar-camp is generally the sound of an axe or the barking of a dog; these help to direct your steps; then, in a little while you see snow-shoe tracks, and then–here are the little birch-bark troughs, one or two to each maple-tree, and a slip of wood stuck in the tree about two feet from the ground, which serves as a spout to convey the sap from the tree to the trough. It does not run fast, about a drop in every three or four seconds, or sometimes much slower than that; however the little trough gets full in time, and then the Indians come round and pour it into birch-bark pails and carry it to the camp to be boiled. The sap is very nice when you are thirsty–slightly sweet and very cold, as the nights must be frosty during sugar-making time, and there is generally a little ice in each trough. Cold frosty nights and clear sunshiny days is what the Indians like for their sugar-making. As soon as the weather gets too warm the sap becomes bitter and is no longer of any use.

Well, after my walk of course I took a draught of sap from the first trough I found, and then wended my way on to Buhkwujjenene’s camp. The sugar camp is made of poles about four inches thick, laid horizontally for walls, and fitted into each other at the corners, the crevices being filled with moss. The walls are only about four feet high, and they enclose a space about ten or twelve feet square; the roof is also made of poles placed like rafters and covered over with sheets of birch-bark, an opening being left the whole length of the ridge for the escape of the smoke. In the centre of the earthen floor is the fire, over which are suspended five or six large sugar-kettles, holding perhaps twenty or thirty gallons each, and into these the sap is poured as it is brought in from the trees. Along the inside of the wigwam on either side of the fire is a raised floor of boards or sticks, covered with fir branches, on which the Indians recline by day or sleep at night. The door is generally an old blanket hung over the opening. In just such a camp as this I found Chief Buhkwujjenene, for though chief of his band he yet has to hunt and fish and make sugar for his living, the same as the rest of his people.

“Ah-ah-ah boo-zhoo boo-zhoo!”–That’s the way we Indians greet one another. Very warm and hearty, is it not? There they all were, busy over their big pots–Isabel and Susette and Therese and Liquette, and the old mother, who is very stout and comfortable-looking.

I told Buhkwujjenene that I wanted to have a little talk with him, so as soon as I had some maple syrup, and my pockets filled with sugar cakes to take home to the children, he came with me out of the wigwam, and we sat down on a log together for a pow-wow. Of course he lighted his pipe the first thing, for Indians can’t talk without smoking. I told him I had been thinking that I would cross the great salt water to the land of the pale-faces, and try to collect some money to build the big teaching wigwam that we had been talking about, and I suggested the idea of taking him with me, if he would like to go. I said his brother “Little Pine” had already done a good work by addressing meetings in Canada and thus giving a start to the scheme, and now it would be for him, the other chief, to carry the work on and help to raise funds sufficient to erect the institution. Buhkwujjenene listened attentively while I spoke, and then, laying his pipe down, replied as follows:

“It is true I have often thought that I would like to visit the great country across the great salt water, and I have sometimes thought that the day would come for me to do so; still, I am getting advanced in years now. I am no longer young as I used to be. I am not always well, and it is a long way to go. Nevertheless I am willing to accompany you if the Great Spirit wills it. I committed myself to the hands of the Great Spirit when I became a Christian forty years ago. If it is His will that I should go, I will go; if it is not His will I will stay here.”

A few days after this the Indians held a council in the school-house, when it was definitely arranged that Buhkwujjenene should accompany me to England, and the Indians agreed to sell an ox, which belonged to them in common, to assist in defraying his expenses.

The party who were to make the trip across the Atlantic consisted of Mrs. Wilson, our little boy Archie (whom the Indians call Tecumseh, after the celebrated chief who fought under Sir Isaac Brock in 1812), Chief Buhkwujjenene, and myself. We started on a bright Monday morning towards the middle of May, the first part of our journey being accomplished in the steam-boat _Waubuno,_ which took us as far as Collingwood, a distance of 300 miles. From Collingwood we took train about 100 miles to Toronto, where we staid a few days; then from Toronto we took train _via_ Niagara and Buffalo to New York. Our train arrived a few hours only before the steamship _The India_ was to start.

So far Chief Buhkwujjenene had seen nothing more than he had seen before in his life, for he had already on more than one occasion travelled through Canada. Now however that he was embarked on an ocean steamer, all would, for the next few months, be new to him. One of his first experiences was the qualms of sea-sickness, and I verily believe he thought he was going to die. However, as with the white man so with the Indian, a few days on the salt water set him all right, and strength, spirits and appetite returned. One evening on deck he told me a dream he had had shortly before I proposed for him to accompany me. “I thought I was working outside my house,” he said, “when I heard the note of a loon. (The loon is a favourite bird among the Indians, and they regard it with superstitious reverence.) The sound came from the Western sky, and I gazed in that direction to try if I could see the bird. In another moment I heard the sweep of its wings over my head, and there it flew sailing majestically along and drawing after it an airy phantom ship with three masts; it sailed away off east, still uttering its monotonous note till it was lost to view. Thus my dream has come true,” he said, “for this is the three-masted vessel that I saw in my dream, and the loon is dragging us along!”

At length the north coast of Ireland came in sight, and then the Scotch coast, and finally we came to anchor in the harbour at Greenock. It was late in the evening, about 8 p.m., when we arrived, and we heard that there was a through train to London at 8.30, so we made a great effort to catch it; we succeeded in boarding the train at the very last moment, and were off by the night mail to London.

The next morning there appeared the following interesting, though not very truthful, notice in the _Glasgow Herald:_–”An interesting stranger has arrived in this country, and it may possibly turn out that the ‘Coming Man’ has come at last. His name, we understand, is Chief Buhkwujjenene, which signifies ‘a man of the Desert,’ and he landed in Greenock from the Anchor Line steamer _India_. The man was dressed in the full costume of the Chippewa tribe, to which he belongs, namely, skins, feathers, &c. He is described as being tall and handsome, with a frank but thoughtful face, and appeared to be about thirty years of age. It is understood that this chief, who proceeded immediately per mail train to London, has been converted to Christianity, and has been brought over to England under the auspices of the Church of England Missionary Society, in order that he may be instructed in Christian truth, fitting him to return as a native teacher and preacher among his tribe in the backwoods of America. A more appropriate lodging for ‘a man of the Desert’ cannot be found in the whole world than Leicester Square; though whether he would receive much Christian truth in that locality is another question. If he would send for his tribe, and encamp there permanently, a picturesque effect might be produced at a very trifling outlay.”

We travelled all night, and were due at Euston Square the following day. Early the next morning we sent on the following telegram to announce our arrival to our unexpecting friends:–”Myself, wife, Archie, and Indian chief have arrived; shall reach Euston at 3 p.m.” This was the first intimation that our friends had of the certainty of our paying them a visit, as we had come away by the first boat down on the opening of navigation, and our letters sent by dog-sleigh a week or two before that were still on the road. Still less had they any expectation of an introduction to one of the natives of our wild backwoods.

Our train steamed into Euston Square punctual to the time after its long run of 400 miles. And now familiar sights met our eyes after a four years’ absence from our native land; there were the cabs and the running porters and the dense crowd of people filling the station; and there–still more familiar sight–was my father’s carriage and the well-known figure of our coachman on the box. Then came hearty shakes of the hand from my father and brother who had come to meet us, and Chief Buhkwujjenene, who seemed quite lost, poor man, among the excitement and bustle, was introduced and shook hands with the venerable English Black-coat.

It was strange the affection that Buhkwujjenene conceived for my brother from the first; he misunderstood his name (Arthur), and thinking it to be Otter, always called him _Neegig._ Upon my father he conferred the name of _Pashegonabe,_ the great eagle, and one of my sisters he was pleased to call _Wabausenooqua,_ which title he explained to mean a little spot cleared by the wind; though for what reason he gave this name we could never quite make out. _Neegig_ and he became great friends; they had one thing in common, and that was a love for tobacco, and in the summer evenings after dinner the young white man and his grown companion would recline on rustic seats in the garden, and smoke pipe after pipe, the red man mixing his “baccy” with some savoury bark from his native land which he produced from the depths of his martin-skin tobacco-pouch. They could not understand each other’s speech, but by dint of signs and a few broken words of English occasionally introduced by the Chief, they managed to carry on some conversation.

Quite a sensation was caused not only in the house but in the neighbourhood by the new-comer’s arrival. It was strange to see him sitting in his blanket coat in an easy chair beneath the gas-lights in the drawing-room, strange to see him conducting a lady in to dinner and sitting at table awaiting the arrival and removal of the various courses, strange to see him walking the streets with his medals on his breast, his skunk skin and leggings and feather in his hat, or riding in the same attire on the top of an omnibus; and yet amid it all he bore himself with such perfect grace and self-possession that every one admired and wondered at him. People thought he had a very pleasant expression and agreeable manner, and they were astonished at his politeness and the cool self-possessed way in which he accepted the many new experiences which kept crowding upon him. A photographer in the neighbourhood soon heard of his arrival and asked him to sit for his portrait. Several likenesses were taken–representing him as a Christian Chief in his ordinary dress; and as a Chief of former days in feathers and Indian costume. As he could scarcely speak a word of English I was obliged to be tied rather closely to him as interpreter, and assist him in receiving visitors, numbers of whom came almost daily. We also had a visiting-card prepared for him on which was inscribed Chief Buhkwujjenene, Garden River, Canada. At morning and evening prayers and in church on Sundays he was most devotional, and whenever the Lord’s prayer was repeated he joined audibly in the Indian tongue–”_Wayoosemegooyun keezhegoong ayahyun, tah keche-ahpeetandahgwud kedezhenekausoowin_” &c.



MLA Source Citation:

Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/chief-buhkwujjenenes-mission.htm - Last updated on Apr 5th, 2013


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