The Drama of Our Great Forests LIFE AND LOVE RETURN
MY SON, it is ever thus, when spring is on the way,” smiled Oo-koo-hoo, as Granny entered with glee and displayed a new deerskin work-bag, containing needles, thread, thimble and scissors; a present from Shing-wauk The Little Pine Neykia’s
“Now that spring and love are going to hunt together,” further remarked the Indian, “the snow will run away, and the ice begin to tremble, when it hears the home-coming birds singing among the trees. Ah, my son, it reminds me of the days of my youth,” sighed The Owl, “when I too was a lover.”
“Tell me,” I coaxed.
“It was many, many years ago, at the New Year’s dance at Fort Perseverance that I first met Ojistoh. She was thirteen then, and as beautiful as she was young. . . No, I shall never forget those days. . . When she spoke her voice was as gentle as the whispering south wind, and when she ran she passed among the trees as silently and as swiftly as a vanishing dream; but now,” added Oo-koo-hoo, with a sly, teasing glance at his wife, “but now look at her, my son. . . She is nothing but a bundle of old wrinkled leather, that makes a noise like a she-wolf that has no mate, and when she waddles about she goes thudding around on the split end of her body—like a rabbit with frozen feet.”
But Granny, saying never a word, seized the wooden fire-poker, and dealt her lord and master such a vigorous blow across the shoulders, that she slew his chuckle of laughter the moment it was born. Then, as the dust settled, silence reigned.
A little later, as Granny put more wood upon the fire, she turned to me with twinkling eyes and said:
“My son, if you could have seen the old loon when he was courting me, it would have filled your heart with laughter. It is true he was always a loon, for in those days,
Oo-koo-hoo, the great hunter, was even afraid of his own shadow, for he never dared call upon me in daylight, and even when he came sneaking round at night, he always took good care that it was at a time when my father was away from home. Furthermore, he always chose a stormy evening when the snow would be drifting and thus cover his trail; and worse still, when he came to court me, he always wore women’s snowshoes; because, my son, he had not courage enough to come as a man.”
Tripe was the Lover’s Gift
TpHIS sally, however, only made Oo-koo-hoo smile the more as he puffed away at his briar.
“Did he always bring your grandmother a present?” I enquired.
“No. my son, not always, he was too stingy,” replied the old woman, but he did once in a while,
I must grant him that.”
“What was it?”
“Oh, just a few coils of tripe.”
But Granny, of course, was joking, that was why she did not explain that deer tripe filled with blood was as great a delicacy as a suitor could offer his prospective grandmother-ln-law; for among certain forest tribes, it is the custom that a marriageable daughter leaves the lodge of her parents and takes up her abode with her grandmotherthat is, if the old lady is living within reasonable distance.
Shing-wauk The Little Pine—had come that day, and had been nvited to sleep in Amik’s tepee; yet he spent the greater part of his time sitting with Nekyia in her grandmother s lodge. As there are no cozy corners in a tepee, it is the Ojibway custom for a lover to converse with his sweetheart under cover of a blanket which screens the lovers from the gaze of the other occupants of the lodge. Early in the evening the blanket was always hung in a
dignified way, as though draped over a couple of posts set a few feet apart. Later, however, the posts frequently lost their balance and swayed about in such a way as to come dangerously near colliding. Then, if the old grandmother did not speak or make a stir, the blanket would sometimes show that one support had given away. Accordingly the old woman was able to judge by the general contour of the blanket just how the courtship-was progressing, and being a
foxy old dame she occasionally pretended to snore just to see what might happen.
One night, however, Granny’s snoring was no longer pretension, and when she woke up from her nap, she found that both supports of the blanket were in immediate danger of collapsing. Seizing the stick with which she used to poke the fire, she leaped up and belabored the blanket so severely that it lost no time in recovering its proper form.
Kissa pesim—the Old Moon—February, and Mikeserve pesim—the Eagle Moon—March, had flown and now Niske pesim—the Goose Moon—April, had arrived; and with it had come the advance guard of a few of those numerous legions of migratory birds and fowls that are
Copyright in Canada, 1920, by Arthur Homing. All right* reserved.
merely winter visitors to the United States, Mexico and South America; while Canada is their real home—the place where they are bom. Next would follow Ayeke pesim— the Frog Moon—of May, when love would be in full play; then a little later would come Waive pesimthe Egg Moon—otherwise June, when the lovers would be living together—or nesting.
It so happened that day, that Neykia, she of woodland grace and beauty, was strolling in the sunshine with her Little Pine; while on every side the trees were shaking their heads and, it seemed, gossiping about the hunting plans of that reckless little elfin hunter, Hymen, who was hurrying overland and shooting his joyous arrows in every direction, till the very air felt charged with the whisperings of countless lovers. It made me think of the shy, but radiant Athabasca, and I wondered—was her lover with her now?
The Indians divide their annual hunt for fur into three distinct hunting seasons: the fall hunt— from Autumn until Christmas; the winter hunt—fromNew Year’s until Easter; and the Spring hunt— from Easter until the hunters depart for their tribal summer camping ground. At the end of each hunting season—if the fur-runners have not traded with the hunters and if the hunter is not too far away from the post—he usually ioads upon his sled the result of his fall hunt and hauls it to the post during Christmas week; likewise he hauls to the post the catch of his winter hunt about Easter time; while the gain from his spring hunt is loaded aboard his canoe and taken to the post the latter part of May. Easter time, or the end of the winter hunt, marks the closing of the hunting season for all land animals except bear; and the renewing of the hunting season for bear, beaver, otter, mink and muskrat, all water animals save the first.
Meanwhile the canoes had been overhauled : freshly patched, stitched, and gummed, their thwarts strengthened, their ribs adjusted and their bottoms greased.
A few days later, loading sometraps and kit—among which was the hunter’s bow and quiver of arrows—aboard his small canoe, Oo-koo-hoo and I set out at sunrise and, paddling around the Western end of Bear Lake, entered Bear River. It was a cold but delightful morning and the effect of the sun shining through the rising mist was extremely beautiful. We were going otter and muskrathunting; and as we descended that charming little stream and wound about amid its marshy flats and birch and poplar-clad slopes, every once in a while ducks startled us by suddenly whirring out of the mist. Then, when long light lines of rippling water showed in the misty screen we knew that they were nothing but the wakes of swimming muskrats; and soon we glided into a colony of them; but for the time being they were not at home—the still rising spring freshet had driven them from their flooded houses.
The muskrat’s little island lodge among the rushes is erected upon a foundation of mud and reeds that rises about two feet before it protrudes above the surface of the water. The building material, taken from round the base, by its removal helps to form a deep water moat that answers as a further protection to the muskrat’s home. Upon that foundation the house is built by piling upon it more reeds and mud. Then the tunnels are cut through the pile from about the centre of the overwater level, down and out at one side of the underwater foundation. While upon the top more reeds and mud are placed to form the dome-shaped roof, after which the chamber inside is cleared. The apex of the roof rises about three feet above the water. In some localities, however, muskrats live in dens excavated in the banks of rivers or ponds. To these dens several underwater runways lead.
Muskrats feed principally on the roots and stalks of many kinds of subaqueous plants. In winter time, when their pond is frozen over, and when they have to travel far underwater to find their food, they sometimes make a point of keeping several water holes open, so that after securing their food, they may rise at a convenient hole and eat their meal without having to make long trips to their house for the purpose. In order to keep the water-hole from freezing, they build a little house of reeds and mud over it. Sometimes, too, they store food in their lodges, especially the bulbous roots of certain plants.
False Alarms for the Tenderfoot
MUSKRATS, like beavers, use their tails for signalling danger, and when alarm causes them to dive they make a great noise, out of all proportion to their size. Thus the greenhorn from the city is apt to take the muskrats’ nightly plunges for the sound of deer leaping into water; and just in the same way does the sleepless tenderfoot mistake the thudding footfalls of the midnight rabbit for those of moose or caribou running round his tent.
Muskrats are fairly sociable and help one another in their work. They mate in April and their young are born about a month later. The Indians claim that they pair like the beaver, and that the father helps to take care of the children. The young number from three to eight. When they are full grown their coats are dark brown. In length muskrats measure about eighteen inches, while in weight they run from a pound and a half to two pounds.
Except in autumn, their range is very small, though at that season they wander much further away from their homes. If danger threatens they are always ready to fight and they prove to be desperate fighters, too. While slow on land, they are swift in water; and such excellent divers are they, that, in that way, they sometimes escape their greatest enemy — the mink ; and wolves, fishers, foxes, otters, as well as birds of prey and Indians are always glad to have a muskrat for dinner.
But, to return to our muskrat hunt; Oo-koo-hoo, stringing his bow and adjusting an arrow, let drive at one of the little animals as it sat upon some drift-wood. The blunt-headed shaft just skimmed its back and sank into the mud beyond; the next arrow, however, bowled the muskrat, over; and in an hour’s time The Owl had eleven in his canoe. When I questioned him as to why he used such an ancient weapon, he explained that a bow was much better than a gun, as it did not frighten the other muskrats away, also it did not injure the pelt in the way shot would do, and, moreover, it was much more economical.
Occasionally Oo-koo-hoo would imitate the call of the muskrats; sometimes to arrest their attention, but more often to entice them within easy range of his arrows. If he killed them outright while they were swimming, they sank like stones; but when only wounded, they usually swam round on the surface for a while. Once, however, a wounded one dived and seizing hold of a reed held on with its teeth in order to escape its pursuer; Oo-koo-hoo, nevertheless, eventually landed it in his canoe.
Tobacco as an Antiseptic
TN SETTING steel traps for them, the hunter placed the * traps either in the water or on the bank at a spot where they were in the habit of going ashore, and to decoy them to that landing Oo-koo-hoo rubbed castoreum on the branches of the surrounding bushes—just in the same way as he did for mink or otter. Another way he had of setting traps was to cut a hole in the side of a muskrat’s house, so that he could thrust in his arm and feel for the entrance to the tunnel, then he would set a trap there and close up the hole. One day when he was passing a muskrat house that he had previously opened for that purpose and closed again, he discovered that the hole was again open. Thinking that the newly added mud had merely fallen out, he thrust his arm into the hole to reach for the trap, when without the slightest warning some animal seized him by the finger.
It was a mink that had been raiding the house; and in the excitement that followed, the brute escaped. The hunter, however, made little of his injury; chewing up a quid of tobacco, he placed it over the wound and bound it securely with a rag torn from the tail of his shirt.
That afternoon Oo-koo-hoo set a number of traps for otter. When placed on land otter traps are set as for fox, though, of course, of a larger size, and the same statement
applies to deadfalls; while the bait used for both kinds of otter traps is the same as that used for mink. The otter is an unusually playful, graceful, active and powerful animal; but when caught in a trap becomes exceedingly vicious, and the hunter must take care lest he be severely bitten. Oo-koo-hoo told me that on one occasion, when he was hunting otters, he lost his favorite dog. The dog was holding an otter prisoner in a rocky pocket where the water was shallow, and the otter, waiting to attack the dog when off guard, at last got its chance, seized its adversary by the throat, and that was the end of the dog.
The otter is not only easily tamed, but makes a charming pet, as many a trader has proved; and it is one of the few animals that actually indulge in a sport or game for the sheer sake of the thrill it affords. Thus the otter is much given to the Canadian sports of tobogganing and “shooting the chute,” but it does it without sled or canoe; and at all seasons of the year it may be seen sharing its favorite slide—sometimes fifty or a hundred feet in length—with its companions. If in summer, the descent is made on a grassy or clayey slope down which the animals swiftly glide, and plunge headlong into deep water. If the sport takes place on a clay bank, the wet coats of the otters soon make the slide so slippery that the descent is made at thrilling speed.
But in winter time the sport becomes general, as then the snow forms a more convenient and easier surface down which to slide. The otter, though not a fast traveler upon land, is a master swimmer, -and not only does it pursue and overtake the speckled trout, but also the swift and agile salmon.
Otters den in the river or lake bank and provide an underwater entrance to their home. They mate in February and the young—never more than five, but more often two —are born in April; and though their food includes flesh and fowl—muskrats, frogs, and young ducks—it is principally composed of fish.
Some Otter Superstitions
THE Indians of the Strong Woods are very superstitious in relation to the otter. They not only refuse to eat the flesh but they don’t like to take the carcass home, always preferring to skin it where it is caught. Even then they dislike to place the skin in their hunting bag, but will drag it behind them on the snow. Also, Indian women refuse to skin an otter, as they claim it would prevent them becoming mothers.
One afternoon, when Oo-koo-hoo and I were sitting on a high rock overlooking the rapid on Bear River, he espied an otter ascending the turbulent waters by walking on the river bottom. We watched the animal for some time. It was an interesting sight, as it was evidently hunting for fish that might be resting in the back waters behind the boulders. Every time it would ascend the rapids it would rise to the surface and then quietly float down stream in the sluggish, eddying shore currents where the bushes overhung the bank. Then it would again dive and again make the asc ent by crawling up the river bottom.
“My son, watch him closely, for if he catches a fish you
will see that he always seizes it by either the head or tail, rarely by the middle, as the fish would then squirm and shake so violently that the otter would not like it. Sometimes, too, an otter will lie in wait on a rock at the head of a rapid, and when a fish tries to ascend to the upper reach of the river by leaping out of the water, and thus avoiding the swift, current, the otter will leap, too, and seize the fish in mid-air. It is a thrilling sight to see him do it.”
The snow was going so rapidly and the water running so freely that Oo-koo-hoo felt sure the bears had now all left their dens, otherwise water might be trickling into their winter beds. So, for the next few days, the hunter was busily engaged in setting traps for bears, beavers, otters, minks and muskrats; and thus the spring hunt went steadily on while the Goose Moon waned and then disappeared, and in its place the Frog Moon shone.
One sunny morning while I was strolling along the beach, I heard the sound of distant drumming, and presently a youthful voice broke into song. It was the Little Pine singing to his sweet-
The forest and all her creatures, hearing the song of springtime, were astir with joyous life. Among the whispering trees the bees were humming, the squirrels chattering and many kinds of birds were making love to one another.
No wonder Shingwauk—The Little Pine —sang his love song too, for was not his heart aflame with the spring-time of life? Perched high among the branches of a pine the youth was relieving the monotony of his drumming by occasionally chanting. At the foot of the thickly wooded hillside upon which the pine stood, the indolent waters of Muskrat Creek meandered toward Bear Lake. On the bank near the river’s mouth stood the lodges, but neither Oo-koo-hoo nor Amik seemed to be at home; and the rest of the family may have been absent too, for the dogs were mounting guard.
Again the boy beat his drum; louder and louder he sang his love-song until his soft rich voice broke into a wail. Presently the door-skin of Granny’s lodge was gently pushed aside, and Neykia stepped indolently forth.
Neykia Listens to Her Lover’s Song
SHADING her eyes with her hand, the girl gazed at the hillside, but failed to discern her lover in the tree-top. She listened awhile and then, upon hearing once more the love-song above the beating of the drum, yielded to the dictates of her heart and began to climb the hill. Little Pine saw her coming, ceased his drumming, and slid down to hide behind the tree trunk.
A faintly marked woodland path led close by, ami along it the maiden was advancing. As she came abreast of the tree, the youth, in fun, gave a shout, and the maid evidently pretending bashful alarm—took to flight.
Though fleet of foot, she suffered him to overtake her soon, and catch her by the arm, and hold her while she feigned to struggle desperately for freedom. That won, she turned away with a laugh, sat down upon a bank of wild flowers and, with shyly averted face, began plucking them. Little Pine sat down beside her. A moment later, she sprang up and with merry laughter ran into tin' denser forest and there, with her lover swiftly following her. disappeared from view.
At sunset that evening Oo-koo-hoo and his wife sat smoking beside their fire; and when the hermit thrush was singing; the whip-poor-will whip-poor-willing; the owl oc-koo-hooing; the fox barking; the bull-frog wlioowonking; the gander honking; the otter whistling; the drake quacking; the squirrel chattering; the cock grouse drumming; and the wolf howling each to his own chosen mate, the hunter turned to me and smiled;
“Do you hear Shing-Wauk singing?”
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I listened more attentively to the many mingling love songs of the forest dwellers, and sure enough, away off along the shore, I could hear Little Pine singing to his sweetheart. It was charming.
“My son,” sighed Oo-koo-hoo, “it reminds me of the days when I, too, was a boy and when Ojistoh was a girl, away back among the many springs of long ago.” “Yes, Nar-pim,” smiled Granny—for an Indian woman never calls her husband by his name, but always addresses him as Nar-pim, which means “my man.”— “Yes, Nar-pim, don’t you remember when I heard that drumming away off among the trees, and when I, girl-like, pretended I did not know what it meant, but you, saying never a word and taking me by the hand, led me to the very spot where that handsome little lover was beating his drum and making love to so many sweethearts?"
The First Geese of the Season
NEXT morning, while Oo-koo-hoo was examining a muskrat lodge from his canoe, he heard a sudden “hunk, honk,” and looking up he espied two Canada geese flying low and straight toward us; seizing his gun, he aimed it and let drive at one of the geese as it was passing beyond him, and brought it down. He concluded that they had just arrived from the south and were seeking a place to feed. Later, we encountered at close range several more and the hunter secured another.
As they were the first geese he had killed that season, he did not allow the women to touch them, but according to the Indian custom, dressed and cooked them himself; also, at supper time, he gave all the flesh to the rest of us, and saved for himself nothing but the part from which the eggs came. Further, he cautioned us not to laugh or talk while eating the geese, otherwise their spirits would be offended and he would have ill-luck for the rest of the season. And when the meal was finished he collected all the bones and tossed them into the centre of the fire, so that they would be properly consumed instead of allowing the dogs to eat them, and thus he warded off misfortune.
As we sat by the fire that night Oo-koohoo busied himself making decoys for geese, by chopping blocks of dry pine into rough images of their bodies, and fashioning their necks and heads from bent willow sticks, as well as roughly staining the completed models to represent the plumage. And while he worked he talked of the coming of the birds in spring.
“My son, the first birds to arrive are the eagles, next the snow-birds and the barking crows (ravens) ; then the big gray (Canada) geese, and the larger ducks; then the smaller kinds of geese and the smaller kinds of ducks, and then the robins, blackbirds, and gulls. Then, as likely as not, a few days later, what is called a ‘goose winter’— a heavy wet snow-storm followed by colder weather—may come along and try to drive the birds all back again; but before the bad weather completes its useless work, a timely south wind may arrive, and with the aid of a milder spell, will utterly destroy the ‘goose winter.’ Then, after that, the sky soon becomes mottled with flying birds of many kinds; gray geese, laughing geese, waveys and white geese; as well as great flocks of ducks of many kinds; also mud-hens, sawbills, waders, plovers, curlew, pelicans, swans and cranes, both white and gray. Then another great flight of little birds as well as loons. And last of all may come the little husky geese that travel further north to breed their young than do those of any other kind.”
Wiles that Will Get Geese
THE next day the hunters built a “goose stand” on the sandy beach of Willow Point, by making a screen about
six feet long by three feet high of willow branches; and, as the ground was wet and cold, a brush mattress was laid behind the screen upon which the hunters could sit while watching for geese. The site was a good one, as Willow Point jutted into the lake near a big marsh on its south side. Beyond the screen they set their decoys, some in the water and others on the sand, but all heading up wind. When they shot their first geese, the hunters cut off the wings and necks together with the heads and fastened them in a natural way upon the decoys.
Oo-koo-hoo told me that when one wished to secure geese, he should be in readiness to take his position behind the stand before the first sign of morning sun. Furthermore, he told me that geese were usually looking for open water and sandy beaches from eight to nine o’clock; from ten to twelve they preferred the marshes in order to feed upon goose grass and goose weed, as well as upon the roots and seeds of other aquatic plants. Then from noon to four o’clock they sought the lakes to preen themselves; while from four to six they returned to the sandy beaches and then resorted to the marshes in which to spend the night. That was the usual procedure for from ten to fifteen days, then away they went to their more northern breeding grounds where they spent midsummer.
But one day after the geese had passed on their northern journey, Oo-koo-hoo began making other decoys of a different nature, and when I questioned him, he replied that he was going to kill a few loons with his bow and arrow, as Granny wished to use the skins of their necks to make a work-bag for the Factor’s wife at Fort Consolation. After shaping the decoys, he mixed together gunpowder, charcoal and grease with which to paint the decoys black—save where he left spots on the light-colored wood to represent the white markings of those beautiful birds. When the decoys were eventually anchored in the bay they bobbed about on the rippling water quite true to life and they even took an occasional dive, when the anchor thong ran taut.
Heading for the Fort
A FTER half of May had passed away, and when the spring hunt was over, Oo-koo-hoo and Amik, poling up the turbulent little streams, and following as closely as possible the routes of their furtrails, went the round of their trapping paths, removed their snares, sprung their dead-falls, and gathering their steel traps loaded them aboard their canoes. That work completed, packing began in readiness for the post-ward journey; there, as usual, they would spend their well earned holidays with pleasure upon their tribal summer camping grounds.
So, when all was in readiness, the deerskin lodge coverings were taken down, rolled up and stored out of harm’s way upon a stage. Then with hearts light with happiness and canoes heavy with the wealth of the forest, we paddled away with pleasant memories of our forest home, and looked forward to our arrival at Fort Consolation.
Soon after entering Bear River, the canoes were turned toward the western bank and halted at a point near one of their old camping-grounds. Then Naudin—Amik’s wife—left the others, and took her way among the trees to an opening in the wood. There stood two little wooden crosses that marked the graves of two of her children— one a still-born girl, and the other a boy who had died at the age of three. Upon the boy’s grave she placed some food and a little bow and arrows, and bowed low over it and wept aloud. But at the grave of her still-born child she forgot her grief and smiled with joy as she placed upon the mound a handful of fresh flowers, a few pretty feathers and some handsome furs. Sitting there in the warm sunshine, she closed her eyes—as she told me afterwards —and fancied she heard the little maid dancing among the rustling leaves and singing to her.
Like all Indian women of the Strong Woods, she believed that her still-born child would never grow larger or older; that it would never leave her; that it would always love her, though she lived to be a great-grandmother; that when sorrow and pain bowed her low, this little maid would laugh and dance and talk and sing to her, and thus change her grief into joy. That is why an Indian mother puts pretty things upon the grave of her stillborn child, and that is why she never mourns over it.
As our journey progressed, those enemies of comfort and pleasure, the black flies, appeared and at sunrise and sunset caused much annoyance, especially among the children. Then, too, at night if the breeze subsided, mosquitos swarmed from the leeward side of the bushes and drove slumber away.
The journey to the Post was a delight all the way—save when the flies were busy. One night, those almost invisible little torments, the sand flies, caused us— or rather me—much misery until Granny built such a large fire that it attracted the attention of the little brutes, and into it they all dived, or apparently did—just as she said they would—for in less than half an hour not a single sand fly remained.
ON OUR way to God’s Lake we had considerable sport in the way of shooting white-water. One morning, we landed at the head of a portage, and, as the rapid was not a dangerous one, Oo-koo-hoo and Amik determined to run it, but first went ashore to examine the channel. On their return Oo-koo-hoo instructed the others to follow his lead about four canoelengths apart, so that in case of mishap they could help each other. Down the canoes plunged, one after the other. The children wielded their little paddles, screaming with delight as they swiftly glided through the foaming spray past shores still lined here and there with walls
As the canoes rounded a sharp bend in the rapid, Oo-koo-hoo descried a black bear walking on the ice that overhung the Eastern bank. The animal seemed as much surprised as any of us, and, instead of making off, rose upon its haunches and gazed in amazement at the passing canoes. But as we swept by there was no thought of firing guns.
On the last morning of our trip, there was a flutter of pleasant excitement among our little party; and by the time the sun appeared and breakfast was over, everybody was laughing and talking; for we had made such progress that we expected to reach Fort Consolation by ten o’clock that forenoon. Quickly we loaded the canoes again, and away we paddled. In a few hours the beautiful expanse of God’s Lake appeared before us. When we sighted the old Fort, a joyous shout rang out; paddles were waved overhead, and tears of joy rose to the eyes of the women—and some of the men.
Decking Out in Fine Array
GOING ashore, we quickly made our toilets, donning our very finest in order to make a good appearance on our arrival at the Fort—as is the custom of the Northland. Bear’s grease was employed with lavish profusion, even Oo-koo-hóo and Amik and the boys using it on their hair; while the women and girls greased and wove their tresses into a single elongated braid which hung down behind. The men put on their fancy silk-worked moccasins; tied silk handkerchiefs about their necks—the reverse to cow-boy fashion— and beaded garters around their legs; while the women placed many brass rings upon their fingers, bright plaid shawls about their shoulders, gay silk handkerchiefs over their heads, and beaded leggings upon their legs. How I regretted I had not brought along my top-hat—that idiotic symbol of civilization—for if I could have worn it on that occasion, the Indians at Fort Consolation would have been so filled with merriment that they would have in all probability remembered
me for many a year as the one white man with a sense of humor.
For in truth, it is just as Ohiyesa (Charles A. Eastman), the full-blooded Sioux, says in his book on Indian boyhood: “There is scarcely anything so exasperating to me as the idea that the natives of this country have no sense of humor and no faculty for mirth. This phase of their character is well understood by those whose fortune or misfortune it has been to live among them day in and day out at their homes. I don’t believe I ever heard a real hearty laugh away from the Indians’ fireside. I have often spent an entire evening in laughing with them until I could laugh no more.”
When we arrived at Fort Consolation, Oo-koo-hoo and his party were greeted by a swarm of their copper-colored friends, among whom were the Little Pine and his father, mother and sister. Making his way through the press, The Owl strode toward the trading-room to shake hands with Factor Mackenzie; but the trader, hearing of Oo-koo-hoo’s arrival, hastened from his house to welcome the famous hunter; and The Owl greeted him with:
“Quay, quay, Hu-ge-mow.” (good day, Master).
On their way to the Indian shop, they passed the canoe shed, where skilled hands were finishing two handsome six-fathom canoes for the use of the Fur Brigade; and they stopped to examine them.
The Diplomacy of Trading
ON ENTERING the Indian shop or trading room, Oo-koo-hoo was ready to talk about anything under the sun, save business, as he wanted to force the trader to solicit his patronage; but as the Factor was trying to make the hunter do the same thing, they parted company a little later without having mentioned the word trade.
No wonder the Indians are glad to return to their tribal summer campinggrounds; for it is there that they rest and play and spend their summer holidays. It is there, too, that the young people enjoy the most favorable opportunity for doing their courting; as every event—such as the departure or the return of the Fur Brigade—calls for a festival of dancing which not infrequently lasts for several days. Also, in many other ways, the boys and girls have chances of becoming acquainted. Since young hunters often claim their sweethearts during the winter, many “marriages” take place after the Indian fashion. On their return to the Post, however, the young couples are generally married over again, and this time after the white man’s custom — “in the face of the Church.” The way the young people “keep company” at the summer camping-grounds presents no feature, of special interest. It is during the winter season in the forest many miles beyond the Post that the old customs have full sway. The re-marrying the young couples “in the face of the Church” frequently demands extreme vigilance, for in the confusion of the matrimonial busy season when the Indians first come in, the little papoose is apt to be christened— unless the clergyman is very careful—before the parents have had time to arrange for their church wedding.
Meanwhile, the women having erected the canvas lodge and put in order one of their last year’s birch-bark wigwams, called upon the Factor’s wife and presented her with a handsome work-bag made of beautifully marked skins from the necks of the loons Oo-koo-hoo had shot with his bow and arrows for that purpose.
After leaving the Indian shop, the hunter returned to his camp to talk matters over with Amik and the women. He told them that he intended selling most of his furs to the Company, but that he thought it wise to stay away from the Factor until next day. But as Granny, being a Roman Catholic, wanted to have Father Jois marry Neykia and the Little Pine, she suggested that Oo-koo-hoo go and cali upon the priest at once. Notwithstanding that her mother was a Presbyterian, Neykia had joined the Roman Catholic Church, and when asked why she did so, she said it was because she thought the candles looked so pretty burning on the altar.
AT TEN o’clock, on the morning of Neykia’s wedding, a motley mass of natives clothed in many colors crowded about the little church, which, for lack of space, they could not enter. Presently the crowd surged back from the door and formed on either side of the path, leaving an opening down the centre. A tall halfbreed with a shock of wavy black hair resting upon his shoulders,stepped from the doorway, raised his violin, and adjusting it into position, struck up a lively tune to the accompaniment of the wailing of a broken concertina played by another halfbreed who preceded the newly married couple. Neykia wore a silk handkerchief over her head, a light-colored cotton dress open at the throat, a silk sash over one shoulder, and a short skirt revealing beaded leggings and moccasins. Behind the bride I and groom walked Oo-koo-hoo and the i fathers of the bridal couple, then the mothers and the rest of the relations, while the clergy and the other guests brought up the rear. As the little procession moved along, the men, lined up on either side of the path, crossed their guns over the heads of the wedding party and discharged a feu-de-joie.
On reaching a certain log-house, the procession broke up. The older people went in to partake of the wedding breakfast, while the bride and groom went over to one of the warehouses and amused themselves dancing with their young friends until they were summoned to the second table of the marriage feast. Everybody at the Post had contributed something towards either the feast or the dance. Out i of respect for Oo-koo-hoo, the Factor had i furnished a liberal stock of groceries and j had, in addition, granted the free use of the ! buildings. The clerk had sent in a quantity of candies and tobacco. The priest : had given potatoes; the clergyman had ! supplied a copy of the Bible in syllabic ! characters; and the minister had given the j silver-plated wedding-ring. The nuns had presented a supply of skim-milk and butter. Mr. Spear provided jam, pickles, and coal-oil for the lamps. The Mounted Police contributed two dollars to pay for the “band”—the fiddle and the concertina —and ammunition enough for the feu-dejoie. The friends and relations had given a plentiful store of fresh, dried and pounded fish; and had also furnished a lavish supply of moose, caribou, and bear meat; as well as dainty bits of beaver, lynx, muskrat and skunk.
The bridal party having dined, they and their elders opened the ball officially.
. The first dance was—as it always is—the Double Jig, then followed in regular order the same dances as those of the New Year’s feast. After a frolic of several hours’ duration, some of the dancers grew weary and returned to the banquet room for refreshments. And thus for three days and i three nights the festivities continued.
During the lull in the dancing on the afternoon of the wedding day, Little1 Pine’s sister, went up to him and said, “Brother, may I kiss you? Are you ashamed?” He answered “No.” She kissed him, took his wife’s hand, placed it in his with her own over both, and addressed the young wife : %
“As you have taken my place, do to him as I have done; listen to him, work for him, and, if need be, die for him.”
Then she lowered her head and began to cry.
NE-GEEK, the Otter, Neykia’s oldest brother, then went up to Little Pine ; and asked,
“Are you man enough to work for her to feed her, and to protect her?”
“Yes,” replied the new-made husband.
The Otter put the husband’s hand on his sister’s hand, and looking him straight in the eyes. . . shook his clenched fist at him and said in a threatening tone. . . . “Beware!”
In the midst of one of the dances, Oo-koo-hoo walked up to the “band” and knocked up the fiddle to command silence. Pulling his capote tightly about him, he assumed a dignified attitude, slowly looked round the room to see that he had the attention of all present, and began to address the assemblage.
“The step which Shing-wauk has taken is a very serious one. Now he will have to think for two. Now he must supply the wants of two. Now he will realize what trouble is. But the One who made us. . . The Great Mystery. . . The Master of Life. . . made us right. The man has his work to do, and the woman has hers. The man must hunt and kill animals, and the woman must skin and dress them. The man must always stand by her and she by him. The two together are strong. . . and there is no need of outside assistance. Remember. . . my grandchildren. . you are starting out together that way. . . .”
To illustrate his meaning, he held up two fingers parallel, and added••
“If your tracks fork. . . they will soon be as far apart as sunrise is from sunset. . . and you will find many ready to come in between. Carry on in the way you have begun. . . for that is the way you should end. And remember. . . if your tracks once fork. . . they will never come together again. . . my grandchildren. . . . I have spoken.”
After Little Pine’s father as well as several of the guests had made their remarks, Naudin, Neykia’s mother, rose to address her daughter. Overcome with nervousness, she pulled her shawl so far over her face as to leave only a tiny peephole through which to look. Hesitatingly she began :
“My daughter, you never knew what trouble is, now you will know. You never knew what hard work is, now you will soon learn. Never let your husband want for anything. Never allow another woman to do anything for him; if you do. . . you are lost. When you have children, my daughter, and they grow up, your sons will always be sons to you, even though they be gray-headed. But with your daughters it will not be so; when they marry, they will be lost to you. Once married, they are gone for ever.”
She stepped up to her daughter, kissed her, and sank to the floor weeping copiously.
Then Amik rose to speak. He beckoned to his daughter. She advanced and knelt down, holding the fringe of his legging while he addressed her:
“Neykia, my daughter, you have taken this man. Be good to him, work for him. live for him, and if need be, die for him. Kiss me, Neykia, my daughter, kiss me for the last time.”
She kissed him, and he added :
“You have kissed me for the last time: henceforth never kiss any man but your husband.”
Raising his hand with untutored dignity, he pronounced the words:
“Remember. . . I have spoken.”
( Next and Concluding Instalment June I.)