|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
|Contact:Michel Lopez |
When I arrived at White Horse Plains, I heard very sad news: a poor young man, very sick with small pox. had been abandoned on the bank of a small creek at Portage la Prairie, sixty or seventy miles further on our trail. If I had a rig of my own, I would have tried to go ahead and administer the sacraments to the poor fellow; but I had neither horse or cart and besides I did not know the country. Therefore it was only after two days of travel that I was able to reach poor Pierre Pepin.
The poor young man had been freighting to Fort Carlton with two or three other men. It was the year of the smallpox all around the country, among the Half Breeds and Indians. How many thousands died ?--- While in Carlton, Pierre's companions warned him not to visit Indian tents lest he might catch the disease. His disobedience turned fatal, he had caught the dreadful sickness and had suffered greatly all the way back from Fort Carlton to Portage la Prairie.
At the time, Portage la Prairie was, as it were, the beginning of the Red River Settlement. Our freighters were afraid to take the their sick fellow into the settlement, lest they might spread the disease, and on the account of the number of carts in the brigade they could spare none of the party to stay and take care of him. What to do then?
They devised to leave the poor sick young man, on the bank of the little creek, at the door of the settlement, with a little pemmican and some bannock, a little piece of canvas as a protection against the wind and cold, a couple of small blankets and a tin pot to drink with, as long as he could go down to the creek.
Before I had reached Pierre Pepin, two of his brothers -in law, had overtaken me on the road.
When we arrived at a stones throw of the wretched canvas, my two companions stopped, standing there they shouted towards the sick boy; "Pierre how are you?". The sick boy could not hear them.
Even had he heard them he could not answer them loud enough to be heard. For my part I went at once, straight to the poor patient. What a spectacle struck my eyes! I had never seen the likes of it, he was completely disfigured by the small pox; his face covered with ugly pimples, his eyes, hardly visible. I asked him; how are you my son? You see how I am father, says he. I am very sick. I asked him; do you know me? Who am I? You are father Lestanc, I know you very well. Well, my boy, I have come her to see you, to console you and to hear your confession. Are you ready to make your confession? I am, says he. All right said I; begin at once. He seemed to have had examined his conscience beforehand and confessed his sins as well as any person in full health could do. In fact, he made his confession so well that that I thought he was not as low as he appeared to be and I told him to fix properly his blankets on himself, because the evening was cold. The poor boy tried to set the blankets right, but her hardly moved one blanket on inch. Seeing he could not help himself, I saw where I had to cover him. So I did. After fixing him as well as I could, I hurried down to the creek to wash my hands. If he had been able to help himself, I would not have touched his blankets; but having had to fix his bed, I was bound to take every precaution in order to avoid the disease.
Such was the reason for me to the creek and wash my hands.
I do not think that I was more then a couple of minutes in going to the creek and coming back, while wiping my hands with my handkerchief and I was back in time only to witness the last breath of my poor Half Breed; he was just dying in that very moment.
I had known that young man, Pierre Pepin, from childhood. His father had been killed and scalped by the Sioux at the Mountain of Pembina. Peter was the oldest son in the family of four or five young children.
The poor widow had came to St. Boniface with her little orphans, while I was in charge of the Mission, and, many times I had seen Peter in the kitchen waiting for his rations. The poor boy was good and obedient to his mother; he helped her as well as he could. Perhaps it was on that account God spared him that he might see the priest and confess before calling him to his tribunal.
Meanwhile my people had arrived and fixed their tents at a certain distance aside. I told them that the poor young man was dead and asked them to approach a little that we might recite the beads for the repose of his soul. After praying for the departed soul and it was now night, I told my people what we would do the next morning.
The brother in law had fled away- Fortunately I had five or six good Half Breeds with me. I told them; tomorrow some of you will dig a grave here, some other will cut poles to make a fence around the grave. I will say mass for the repose of the soul of the deceased young man and when everything is ready, I will fix the body as well as I can in its blankets, as we have no means to make a coffin.
You will not touch the body at all, you will not even approach it. The only thing you will have to do is hold one end of the ropes, when I am ready to take the body down into the grave. I would not like any of to catch the disease. For me it does not matter.
The next morning, everything was done, according to my desires.
As soon as the I had finished the burial, I began to feel sick. Every day I expected to see some marks of the disease. No exterior mark appeared: but my pains inside were growing worse and worse. At last I could neither eat nor sleep; I could not walk and the cart was torture to me.
At last, after three weeks we, we arrived at the mission at Qu' Appelle. My poor body was burning with a very violent fever.
On entering the house, I asked for warm water to wash my face, my head, my hands and arms, my feet, and legs. After this partial bath, I went to bed. I could not eat for a long time.
We had to sleep on the floor, but that was not the cause of my sleeplessness; the cause of it was that I was burning up with fever and thirst.
I could not imagine that I had the small pox, it had been such a long time since I had buried my poor P. Pepin.
The whole night, I only slept a few minutes now and then and I arose several times to drink cold water, the only thing that I relished. At five o'clock I got up with father Decorby. We had only a poor little hut at the mission of Qu' Appele, That cabin was our church, our dwelling house, our parlor, our kitchen, our dormitory, etc. As the father was to say mass there. I had to rise with him, to pack up my blankets and buffalo robes and to appear valiant. A surprise awaited the little congregation at father Decory's mass: my face was covered with small pox as well as my neck, my hands, and arms, my feet and legs, in fact every part of my body that had been touched with warm water, was covered with small pox.
All the time I was under the illusion that I had not had the small pox. It had been too long a time since I had buried my poor young friend. Fortunately I was alone under the illusion. The people who saw me at mass understood I had the disease and kept aloof from the house. It was a great boon for me. I was weak and required rest. Now and then I liked to lie down and rest.
I had arrived at Qu' Appelle on Friday, (Sept.29, 1870). I suffered greatly from Friday evening to Saturday, the whole day Saturday, from Saturday evening to Sunday noon up until three P.M. when I felt I was cured.
For a couple of weeks, I had not been able to eat Now suddenly I felt great hinder and pressed father Decorby to prepare an early supper and not spare his pemmican. My companion, of course imagined I was joking. Never mind he hurried the supper and at my desire invited the Half Breeds, my companions, to take supper with us. They saw I was quite different from what I had been on my arrival and believed I was really cured. Although the small pox was still on my face they had the impression it was not the small pox. In any event, nobody had caught the disease.
I enjoyed perfect ease in my body, and after partaking of a hardy supper, went to bed and enjoyed a very sound sleep until five o'clock the next morning, when I got up at the sound of the bell along with my companion, joined in meditation up to six, then said mass and after thanksgiving, took breakfast in splendid appetite.
After breakfast, father Decorby and myself started on a walk; we climbed the lofty hills of Qu'Appelle and came back only for dinner. I was really well, and the small pox was drying up and falling down. How happy I felt and how contented was father Decorby to possess at last a companion in his solitude. He had been alone at Q'uAppelle for two or three years.
Unfortunately this happiness was not to be of long duration. On the following Wednesday, while we were devising plans for the coming winter, we see a stranger arriving with two saddled horses. What is the matter? Obviously enough it must be a sick call. But whither to? To Woody Mountain!!!!! A distance of a hundred fifty miles or perhaps more. Father Decorby wishes to go, because I was just recovering from sickness; but I objected to it, because I had a mind to stay and winter at Woody Mountain if it were possible. I had heard that there were more than one hundred families in those quarters, families, some of which had not seen a priest in years.
Besides I knew nothing at Q'u Appelle. Therefore I preferred to go myself although I was not perfectly well yet.
But how to go? I could not risk to go on horseback . For too long a time I had not been used to riding horses and still felt rather weak after my experience with small pox/ Consequently I directed my Half Breed to look for a cart. The poor man went around the few huts of the little village, but found no cart. The Half Breeds of the place had taken to the plains, all the available carts for the fall, buffalo hunt, in order to draw a home a greater supply of buffalo meat for the winter.
He only found the scattered members of an old broken cart at one place. Well, said I you must repair the cart; we will supply you with shaganappy (Raw hide cut in strips which was used to make repairs on the Red River Carts, they also wrapped the wheel rims with raw hide so they would last longer) as much of it as you want.
It was quite a job; but the smart Half Breed succeeded with the work as well as possible and I embarked in that automobile taking with me bed blankets and one buffalo robe, my chapel, and some articles necessary for mass and some provisions for the trip.
We left the mission of Qu' Appelle on Thursday afternoon and went on perhaps ten miles when my carriage began to creak and to crumble. Fortunately we had met two tents of Half Breeds. These good people helped my man to fix our rig so that it might take me further and offered us a comfortable berth in their tents.
So far the weather had kept fine; but on Friday there was a pretty thick carpet of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. Nevermind we had To go on, the case was so urgent.
As long as the atmosphere was clear, we could follow the right direction by the view of the Woody Mountain. After some time the snow fell so thick that we lost sight of the mountain and we had to go at random. It snowed the whole day. Our horses were tired so we camped early. Of course we had a light supper and poor a campment, our old cart was our only tent. On Saturday it snowed no more; but a thick fog prevented us from seeing Woody Mountain. We went on anyhow as straight as we could, camped again and made ourselves as comfortable as possible could, having no tent, no cooking apparatus. We used to sleep together uder our cart close one to the other. Although my small pox was not completely gone my man did not catch it.
On Sunday morning, the weather is clear and my man can see the Mountain and says to me after breakfast; Father, if you could ride one of the horses, we could reach home this evening; we could leave the cart here and in a few days I can come back for it. I am so anxious to be back; my poor brother was so low = in order to please him and in my desire in helping the sick man, I agreed to continue our trip on horse back. Of course we traveled quicker; but not being used to riding horses for years, I was horribly fatigued when we reached the house of the sick man.
The sick man was dead, in fact he had died the very day that we left Qu' Appelle. The next morning I tried to console the poor widow, Mrs. Antoine Houle.
I offered mass for the repose of the departed soul and felt happy to see a good congregation around me.
As soon as the news of my arrival spread around quite a crowd of people gathered to come and shake hands with me. Poor people! they were so happy to sea a priest! some of them had seen no priest for years! they clasped my hands and, with tears in their eyes, they entreated me to stay with then the whole winter.
For so many years we have not been able to approach the Sacraments; our children hear no catechism, no first communion and how many died with no confession! Oh father have pity on us, stay with us.
The diary then continued in French from this point about his encounters with the people at Woody Mountain:
It was my plan to stay at Woody Mountain the whole winter. I had learned on my journey there that there was to be there a great winter encampment with more than one-hundred Metis families in the immediate area. At Qu'Appelle, however, there were only ten or twelve families and there was almost nothing to do, especially with two priest already there. One thing deterred me and that was the high rate of alcoholism. People had told me that there were 40 to 50 kegs of rum in those parts and the devil had control of it the whole winter. Could I possibly hope to be of some help?
I explained to them my worries and they promised to that if I stayed on at Woody Mountain they wouldn't drink a drop of liquor and they would build me a house and chapel and would take care of all my needs. As a sign of their good intentions, one of the people wintering there, Angus McGillis, came towards me and gave me a buggy which was already hitched up. (This Angus McGillis was my great-grandfather, he was the husband of Isabelle and the father of my grandmother, Marie (McGillis ) Beaudry.)
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