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“I know I shall lie awake at night and grieve at the loss of my boy,–we Indians cannot bear to be parted from our children, but it is right that he should go.” Such were the words of the pagan Indian on the shores of Lake Neepigon, when he parted from his loved son Ningwinnena, and gave him up to return with us. I remembered those words,–and often over the camp fire–as we journeyed home I looked across at my adopted son and thought, I will take the very best care I can of you and I trust that by-and-bye it may please God for you to return and do a good work among your people. Such a nice intelligent boy he was,–such gentle eyes, and such a trustful look,–he seemed quite to accept me as his father and guardian, and was always ready to give a helping hand, and he learned with marvellous rapidity. Our arrival at Sault Ste. Marie was quite a new era in his life,–the steamboats, the shops, and people;–few of course in comparison to places further south–but multitudes compared to the Neepigon region, and he had never seen a horse in his life till he reached the Sault.
It was a great pleasure to me preparing this dear boy for baptism, there were two other pagan lads from Michipicoten and I had them in a class together. I had good reason to hope and believe that all of them embraced the truth and accepted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. The three boys were baptized by Bishop Fauquier at St. Luke’s Church, Sault Ste. Marie, on the 27th of October; the Bishop took a great fancy to Ningwinnena, became his godfather, and gave him his own name, Frederick. Everyone indeed loved the Neepigon boy; he was so gentle in his ways, so quiet and polite in his manner, and made such quaint efforts to converse in English. He seemed so pleased too at any little attention shown him.
But, poor boy, he was soon laid on the bed of sickness. His mother had died of consumption, and that terrible hereditary disease was secretly sapping his life. At Christmas time he was ill with bronchitis and inflammation of the lungs.
From this attack he never thoroughly recovered. There was a hollowness of the cheek, and an unnatural brightness about the eye, and yet otherwise, he had become well enough again to occupy his place in school and pursue his studies with the other boys. Just after recovering from this illness he wrote a short note in English to the Bishop, composed by himself, in pencil. “Me not learn much book, all the time sick me,” and so forth.
Shortly after this he was much delighted at receiving a letter from his father. His poor father spoke of the longing he felt to see his loved son once more, and how anxiously he was looking forward to the spring, when he hoped to see him again. The Bishop also kindly wrote to him in reply to his little letter–exhorting him to try and live as God tells us to do in the Book which He has given to us; and concluding with the earnest hope that when he died, he might go to that happy place where the Saviour Jesus Christ is preparing to receive all who truly love him, “Goodbye, my dear boy,” added the Bishop, “may God bless, and make you good.” This letter Frederick fondly treasured to the time of his death, and afterwards expressed his desire to see the Bishop again.
On Sunday, March 28th, Frederick was at church in the Sault with the other boys. There was administration of the Holy Communion, and the other boys who had been confirmed remained to partake. Frederick remained with them and innocently came up with the rest to kneel at the rails. I was very sorry to turn him back, but whispered to him in Indian, that only those who were confirmed were about to take the Sacrament, and he quietly withdrew to his seat. Afterwards I explained it to him, and, a day or two subsequently, wrote to the Bishop asking him to arrange, if possible, to hold a confirmation before the boys dispersed for their holidays, so that Frederick, among others, might be confirmed. Had I known that he was so soon to die, and that in his last illness he would not be sufficiently conscious to partake intelligently of the sacred feast, I would not have turned the dear boy back. Too often do we, perhaps, unwittingly act the part of the disciples who hindered the little children in their approach to Jesus.
On Sunday evening, April 27th, Frederick came in for a little talk with me after service. He seemed very earnest and spoke very nicely of his trust in the Saviour. I said to him (in Indian) I want you to get quite well, Frederick, before you go home, perhaps your father will be angry with me if he sees you sick. He looked up in my face to see if I meant what I said, and, seeing me smile, replied, “No, I am sure he will not be angry. He entrusted me to you. My grandfather said, before he died, that we were to wait for an English teacher, and that when he came we must listen to him, and do what he told us. That is why my father gave me up to you.”
The dear boy seemed to have some presentiment that he might not live, and expressed himself on the subject in his broken English to one of our little children who had taken him up some canned peaches. “All the time my head just like broke. All the time sick me. By-and-bye I guess me dead.”
A few days after, severe symptoms set in, and the doctor was sent for. Frederick became delirious and had to be watched constantly both night and day. We never have any difficulty in procuring night watchers among our Indian boys. Quite a forest of hands generally goes up when the question is put after evening prayers. “Who will stay up to watch to-night?” Two boys stay at a time, and the change is made every three or four hours.
For three days and nights poor Frederick lay in a perfectly unconscious state, taking neither medicine or nourishment. The doctor pronounced it to be organic disease of the brain, the result of a consumptive tendency in his system, and gave but faint hope of his recovery. Day and night we watched him; and were glad when on the fourth day he showed signs of returning consciousness. His brain never seemed to become quite clear, but he had intervals of intelligence, during which he would often answer questions and attempt to repeat verses of Scripture. The verse “Suffer little children to come unto Me,” he said through. He attempted also “God so loved the world,” but only got as far as “believeth in Him.” Two nights before he died, he tried to say the Lord’s prayer, but it seemed to be an effort to him; at the words, “as it is in heaven,” he stopped, and after a pause, said, “can’t say ‘my Father.’ Too much runaway me.”
After a pause I asked him–“Who was it that died on the Cross for us, Frederick?” He rambled for a moment or two, and then, as the meaning of my question flashed upon him, spoke out in clear accents “Jesus Christ.” Very little longer was he to live. We had prayed earnestly, constantly, for his recovery, but it was not God’s will. On Saturday evening, after prayers, I perceived that he was sinking, and told the boys who were watching him that I did not think he would live through the night. He was breathing heavily and quickly. He would take no notice when spoken to, and could not swallow. An hour or two sped by, it was ten o’clock, and he was now gasping frequently for breath, his pulse being scarcely perceptible. I called to his bedside those boys who had made the Lake Superior trip with me last summer, and we stood watching him. Then as his end drew near, we knelt and I offered up the beautiful commendatory prayer for the sick, and we joined in repeating the Lord’s prayer. As we rose from our knees the dear boy gave one more faint gasp for breath and expired. How wonderful are the ways of God, how little can we understand His dealings. But the very essence of faith is the trusting in God when we do not understand His dispensations.
We had earnestly hoped that Frederick’s father would have arrived in time to see his boy’s body before its burial, and for that reason we kept it twelve days packed in ice, and I wrote to him and sent money for his passage. But it was not so to be. The Manitoba arrived at midnight on Wednesday, the 28th of May, but instead of the father, came a letter from him full of expectancy and longing to see his loved son. This seemed to make it sadder still. The letter was dated May 12th; it was written evidently for him by some white man at the Post; and said that he was patiently waiting at Red Rock, with his son Muqua, for Frederick to return; it also enclosed money for the boy’s passage on the steamboat.
The day after I received this letter, we buried Frederick. I prepared a slab for his grave, on which were inscribed the words–“_Frederick Oshkahpukeda_, a boy from the wild regions of Lake Neepigon. Was baptized a Christian, Oct. 27th, 1878: and was taken home to his Saviour, May 17th, 1879;–aged fourteen.” “‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.'” The Bishop read the service at the grave.
Sometime after, I received the following touching letter from the poor pagan father; written for him by some friend who understood Indian.
“_Red Rock, May_ 31_st_, 1879.
DEAR SIR,–I learn that my poor boy is dead, so that our talk is dead, for I will not send any more of my children to the Home; but if you want to follow out the engagement you made then, put up a schoolhouse somewhere round here, so that our children may learn, for after what has happened I don’t think that any of the Indians at Neepigon will let their children go to the Home.
I don’t think that we will be able to visit the grave of my poor boy. I would have been very glad if you could have sent the body in the steamer.
I feel very sorry for what has happened, my heart is sore. I do not know what to do.
Did not my poor boy say anything before he died? Surely he said something about his father! If so, let me know when you write. I do not blame anybody about the death of my boy, but I am most happy for the care you have taken with him. I want you to send me an alphabet, and a small book with words of two or three letters, about the school. I have nothing more to say at present. I am very sick at heart. My respects to you, and I hope to see you soon, or hear from you about my son’s last words. I would like very much to know.
Your sincere friend,
P.S.–Tell all the boys I send them my love; and the boy that he loved best I shall think him my son. Good-bye.”
* * * * *
A year after this, Oshkahpukeda, and a number of the other Indians of Lake Neepigon were baptized; the site for a Mission was selected, and a roughly built log school-house with bark roof was constructed, also another log-house for a teacher. Joseph Esquimau, a pupil of the Shingwauk Home was placed in charge of the Mission temporarily, and conducted services, and taught school very successfully. In the summer of 1881, the Rev. R. Renison, was appointed by the Bishop to take charge of the Mission, and moved there with his family. Several of the Indians had by that time built log-houses for themselves, and the village is called Ningwinnenang, after the boy who died.