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A Trip Among the Out Stations
The out-station work among the Indians is a feature almost peculiar to the Indian Missions of the A.M.A. These stations are the picket-lines pushed forward into the Reservations beyond the line of established schools and missions. Each one consists of a cheap home connected sometimes with a cheap school-house, and these are occupied by one or two native Indian missionaries who teach and preach, and thus accomplish an immediate good and lay the foundation for the more permanent church and school. The Association has about twenty such stations on the Cheyenne and other rivers in Dakota. One of the teachers from Oahe gives a racy sketch of a trip among some of the out-stations. We make room for a large extract, regretting that we have not space for more.
We started Thursday morning, going about seven miles above the Mission to cross the river. We took dinner at the house of a white man who has an Indian wife, and then started out on the long drive. Our direction was almost due west, a little south toward the Cheyenne River. We reached an out-station on the Cheyenne about dark, where James Brown, a Santee Indian, is stationed. Two of our Santee school-girls are here, and it was encouraging to see their neat dress, and hear them use their English, though they so seldom see any one with whom they have occasion to use it that it is not easy for them. The next morning, the girls had classes in reading and writing. Some of the children were ragged and dirty, with faces unwashed, and hair uncombed, one little boy with both knees coming through his trousers, but their faces were, almost without exception, bright and intelligent, with the intelligence of childhood, which would inevitably change to the stolid indifference of ignorance, were it not for the influence which this Christian household among them may exert. To be sure, the girls are young and inexperienced, but that they do their best means a great deal. Two young men were learning to read the Dakota Bible. Soon after eleven, we were on our way again, keeping the Cheyenne River in sight. We stopped at one of the villages on the Cheyenne, where a Frenchman with an Indian wife has built up quite a little colony, all related to one another. Several of our pupils come from here, and the mode of life at their home has been modified by their influence.
We reached Plum Creek, where Edwin Phelps is stationed, about dark, and after two long days’ ride I was glad when bed time came. Ellen Kitto and Elizabeth Winyan had come up from the Cheyenne, and I felt sure that Elizabeth had given up her bed for me. The next morning I asked Ellen if we could go out to some of the houses, but she said the people were all on the other side of the river, that there was a dance there. This was a disappointment to me, as I wanted to see the homes of the people, but after dinner Edwin offered to take Elizabeth, Ellen and me across the river to Cherry Creek, so that I gained rather than lost.
As we drew near the dance-house I could hear the monotonous yet rhythmic beat of the drum, and get glimpses through the door-way of the feathered heads moving in time to the music. Outside there was a crowd of women, girls, and young men, the young men wrapped in white sheets under which they carry off, and make love to, the dusky maidens. This is the way a Titon “makes love.” As a recent writer describes this dance, bringing before one only its poetry, and that which may be perhaps really beautiful, it does not seem shocking or revolting in the least; but the reality is simply dreadful. Not so much in itself, perhaps, though that is bad enough, as in its influence, its consequences, all that it means and all that it leads to.
Just beyond the dance house is the mission station where Clarence Ward and his wife are; a civilized Christian family in the midst of this heathenism.
Sunday was to be the eventful day, and as early as half past nine the congregation began to arrive. When the bell rang for service, the school-room was filled almost immediately. Everything possible was utilized for seats; trunks, boxes, wagon-seats, kegs, and those who could not be provided with seats sat on the floor. There were probably a hundred in all. The weight of so many people on the floor was too much for the sleepers. Some of them gave way, and the floor settled somewhat, but the audience was not “nervous” and was only amused. As I sat at the organ, a group outside the door attracted my attention; several bright faced girls, their shawls drawn over their heads with a grace a white girl might envy, but could not hope to attain, and beyond them a face that would pass on the most perfectly appointed stage for one of Macbeth’s witches, without being “made-up.” The faces of some of the men were as wooden and expressionless as the figures in front of a tobacco shop, but these are they into whose lives the power of the Gospel of the Son of God has not come. After this service came the church meeting, and a Cheyenne River branch church was established which still has connection with the mother church at Oahe.
The school-room being too small for the afternoon communion service, this was held out of doors. There must have been a hundred and fifty present, perhaps more. First came a marriage ceremony, then the admission of four new members, and the baptism of two children. Probably four-fifths of the congregation had been drawn thither merely from curiosity, and on the faces of many of these were the traces of yesterday’s paint. The simple service, which the new communion set made perfect, could not fail to impress them that there is something better than they have known. At its close, Edwin Phelps’s scholars stood and sang “Whiter than Snow,” in Dakota. Have not those girls gained a great moral victory, when in native dress, with their shawls worn after the native fashion, they stand up among their own people and proclaim themselves on the side of right? It was a day full of new experiences and new impressions for me. The contrast between this scene and the one of the day before, presented itself to me over and over again.
The next morning we started out for the return to Oahe. The day was warm and pleasant and uneventful. I was comfortable and happy, and as we stopped for lunch when we got hungry, I began to wonder where the hardships of my journey were coming in, but people who are never so happy as when they are uncomfortable, ought to get their just deserts. I got mine. After we started from James Brown’s, the wind rose. It rose and it rose. It kept rising. How that wind did blow! It blew us up hill and threw us down hill. It fairly hurled us along. It blew Mr. Riggs’s hat off and we chased it for half a mile. It blew my hat off; it blew my hair down; we put into a ravine for repairs. We went through long stretches of burned prairie, and clouds of fire-black dust were flying. We hoped when we got down into the ravine it would not be so bad. Vain hope. It was worse. The dust was blacker and thicker and more dusty. The gravel stung our faces and blinded our eyes. For the entire distance of thirty-five miles, that wind howled and raved and tore. It almost took the ponies off their feet. I have not exaggerated it one bit. It would be impossible to exaggerate. When we reached the house where we had taken dinner going up, we found the dirt blown from the roof, likewise the tar-paper, leaving great cracks through which the dirt rattled. Everything was an inch deep in dirt, but we were welcomed to the shelter of the four walls, and what was left of the roof. The dirt did not matter. We were already done in charcoal. Mr. Collins was here, caught by the wind, and before dark the Agency farmer came. It was impossible to cross the river in such a gale, and here I knew we must stay.
The next morning was still and clear and beautiful. It was difficult to realize that the elements had been on such a tear the day before, so after breakfast we embarked for home, going the seven miles by water this time, and I reached the mission a gladder and a wiser woman.
This glimpse of out-station work is something I have long wanted, and anyone who does not believe in Indian education should see the results of it as they appear here. In the audience on Sunday, were three young women former students, one at Hampton, one at Santee, one at Oahe. Their dress, the expression of their faces, their whole appearance proclaimed the power of Christian education, and it is only in the faces of the Christian Indians that there is any expression of gladness. There is no gladness in their life outside of this. Oh, that the work at these stations may be blessed! There are hundreds and hundreds, yes, thousands of Indians who will never be reached by Hampton, Carlisle, Santee, by all the Indian schools put together, and who will never be Christianized or civilized by “edict from Washington.” Christ must be taken to them, lived among them in such a way that his true loveliness may be made apparent to them. Without this, all else goes for naught; with this, life and light must come, and darkness and ignorance and superstition must flee away.Word-Carrier.