Besides the four hundred Indians on the Sarnia Reserve, there were about one hundred more living at Kettle Point, thirty miles distant, on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. I had not been long settled at Sarnia, when, in company with my interpreter. I started on a first visit to these people. I will describe the journey.
Taking the railway as far as Forest, we had to walk on a distance of eight or nine miles. Neither of us knew the country, but a couple of Indians, whom we happened to fall in with, showed us the way.
It was nearly two o’clock when we reached David Sahpah’s house. We found the Indians most hospitable; some of them were Methodists, some still pagans, and others members of the Church. They were most desirous of having a Church Mission established among them, as there was no school for their children and no regular services held. Not a single individual, man, woman, or child, could read or write. They were very anxious to have a school-house built and a schoolmaster sent to teach them, indeed some of them had already got out logs with the view of building a school. The Chief’s name was Ahbettuhwahnuhgund (Half a Cloud), a fine, broad-shouldered, intelligent-looking man, but still a pagan, although he had had several of his children baptized in the Church. There was also a large family named Shaukeens, all of whom were pagans, and several others. They seemed, however, to have advanced more in their farming operations than the Sarnia Indians. The Chief had a capital house with several rooms in it, an orchard full of apples and cherries, and well-cultivated fields. In the evening we had service at David Sahpah’s house, and then I spoke to the Indians and proposed that we should at once commence a fortnightly school among them, myself and my interpreter taking it alternately. There was an empty log-house which they said we could use, and they all seemed pleased at the proposal, and said that they would send their children to be taught.
We had to start at 3.30 a.m. next morning to catch the early train for Sarnia. It was a clear starlight night when we emerged from the hospitable shelter of an Indian’s log-house and started on our pilgrimage through the bush. There was no moon, and we had some difficulty in groping our way. Wagimah went first, and slowly and cautiously we proceeded, carrying our wraps and satchels with us. However, with all our care, we had soon lost our way, and found ourselves stumbling along over a potato patch, without having the least idea where we were. For nearly an hour we were wandering about, when at length we came once more upon a beaten track; but whether it was the right one or not we could not tell. However we followed it, and almost before we were aware we found ourselves out of the bush and standing on a broad clay road, and at length we arrived at Forest Station in good time for the cars to Sarnia.
After this we visited Kettle Point every fortnight, and many were the amusing incidents connected with those trips. Sometimes I drove the whole distance in my own trap, at other times took train to Forest or Widder, and some of the Indians would meet me with a waggon or sleigh, as the case might be, at the Station. It was on the 9th of September that we commenced our school in the vacant log-house. We began with A, B, C, as no one yet knew anything. There were eleven children and five adults present. I was amused in the evening to see a game of draughts going on, on a log outside the Chief’s house; the draught-board was a flat part of the log with squares carved out on its surface, the black men were squares of pumpkin rind with green side up, the white men the same with the green side down. That night we slept at Adam Sahpah’s house.
Our sleeping places on these Kettle Point expeditions were various. One bitterly cold night in the late autumn, I remember, passing in a little boarded shanty used as a workshop. We were nearly perished in the morning, and were glad to get inside David Sahpah’s comfortable log-house; a huge fire was blazing on the hearth, and the Indian women all busy, some with their pots and frying-pans, boiling potatoes and baking cakes, others dressing and cleaning the children. Mrs. Ahbettuhwahnuhgund gave me a chair, and down I sat by the blazing fire and gazed with a feeling of happy contentment into the yellow flames. The scene was certainly a novel one. In a dark corner by the chimney sat a dirty old couple on the couch where they had been passing the night; they were visitors from Muncey Town, and were staying a few nights only at Kettle Point. The old woman lighted up her pipe, and whiffed away with her eyes half shut; after enjoying it for about twenty minutes or so, her old husband thought she had had enough, and taking it from her put it in his own mouth and had his whiff. When he had done, he restored it again to his wife. Underneath another old bedstead were a couple of large dogs, which occasionally let their voices be heard in a dispute; some of the stones on one side of the fire-place had broken away, making a little window through which the dogs could reach the fire, and it was amusing to see how they put their noses and paws through the opening and warmed themselves just like human beings. Down in another corner sat an antiquated old woman enveloped in a blanket, and in vain endeavouring to comfort a little fat boy of about ten months who was crying, as only children know how to cry, for his mother. Finding that she could not content the baby, she at length got up, and taking off her blanket, put one end of it round the baby’s shoulders, tucked the ends under its arms, and then with one sweep placed baby and blanket together on her back, and with one or two pulls once more got the blanket wrapped completely round her, and the little fat boy snugly ensconced between her shoulders; then she marched off to give him an airing. The bigger children were set to clean themselves, a tin bowl of water and a towel being given them in turns. I was wondering whether my turn would come, when Mrs. Ahbettuhwahnuhgund, having once more filled the bowl, addressed me with the words, “Maund’uhpe,” which in polite English would mean, “Here you are!” “Ah, meegwach, ahpecte”–“thank you kindly”–said I, and forthwith began my ablutions, while the children stood around me in wonderment.
One night I slept with a pig. It was a vacant room in the Chief’s new house. After our services were over and we had had supper, Mrs. Ahbettuhwahnuhgund took a clean blanket on her shoulder and a lantern in her hand, and calling me to follow led me to the apartment. There was a bedstead with a mattress on it in a corner, and on two chairs in the middle of the room lay a pig which had been killed the day before. Early next morning, before I was fully awake, the door opened, and Mrs. Ahbettuhwahnuhgund appeared with a knife in her hand. What could she want at this hour in the morning? I opened one eye to see. Her back was turned to me, and I could not distinguish what she was doing, but I heard a slicing and cutting and wheezing. Then the good lady turned round, and closing the eye I had opened I did not venture to look out again till the door was shut, and Mrs. Ahbettuhwahnuhgund departed; then I peeped out from my rug–poor piggy was minus one leg! Next time I saw the missing limb it was steaming on the breakfast table!
I must not make this chapter longer. By-and-bye I shall tell of the baptism of the Chief and several other of the pagan Indians of this place. Suffice it to say now that our little school kept nicely together, and services were held either by myself or my interpreter every fortnight. In a little more than a year’s time we had the satisfaction of seeing both a school-church and a master’s residence erected, and a catechist placed in charge of the station.