|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
|Contact:Michel Lopez |
Everyone was begging me to stay. The men were making convincing promise, and the old ones took me by the hands, the women were crying and in my heart I knew that I had to grant their wishes. I told them that I would try my best to stay on with them.
This caused much joy in the whole camp. That very day the men set out to cut and dress trees. The next day the logs arrived at the place I had chosen and the two building began to take shape, my little house and the chapel. They went looking for hay to cover the building. As soon as the walls were finished, the process of clinking between the logs began. As soon as the rafters were in position, a layer of hay was put on top of the roof and on top of this layer was finally added some earth. And there I have it, a little house and chapel! Two doors were added. Two pieces of white cotton covered the walls and a chimney of clay served as a type of stove for heating.
My little house must have been 15 or 16 feet across and ten or eight feet high. As it was located between two other houses, it was easy to heat. My two neighbors Mr. Joseph Poitras and Gilbert Breland took it upon themselves to look after me and I can certainly say that they did this service to me with perfection.
On Sunday I had about 40 or 50 people come to mass. I said the sermon in French and Santee.
Little by little my Santee was getting better, without me being really aware it. Not all of the Meits families spent their winter at Woody Mountain. There were about 60 families there and about a three days journey away (about 100 miles) along a little river whose name I have forgotten, was an encampment of about 40 families. It was my intention to serve them all, to those who were near as well as to those who were far.
At the end of October I learned that there was a possibility to visit the distant camp with a Metis who wanted to go there on business and stay a few days. This was a good opportunity for me to visit these poor people before the cold and snow really set in. I went to this Metis, Bonaventure Gariepy and asked him if he would take me as his traveling companion. This Metis was more than happy to give me a place on his wagon. I quickly made preparations for the trip and soon enough we were on our way with a small bundle of dried meat, flat bread, and tea that should last us three or four days.
I has been my experience that the reputation of the Canadian Metis is certainly deserved. They are by far the best guides that one could hope for and that they never got lost or made mistakes while traveling. The thought that this man would lead me to isolated corners of the prairie or hidden ravines where I could perish never occurred to me. It was quite a surprise to me then on the second day when I figured out that my guide was not sure of his way, and that we were traveling more to the south than the north. On the third day when we should have already been at our destination, we ended up camping on the open prairie without having spotted any trace of human beings.
The fourth day we marched on and I no longer was under the illusion that all was well, we were lost; we were just going left and right. To make matters worse, we did not have a tent and in the open prairie we could not find wood for a fire, only Buffalo dung, and we couldn't even find much of that and here we are in the snow and cold. What will become of us? We had no more provisions. My good man had a gun, but no ammunition. Thank to God, we arrived at a mountain on the fourth or fifth day which was on the edge of a deep and woody ravine. The man unhitched the horses on the side of the mountain and we climbed down into the ravine where we made a nice fire. What a sight it was for us to see that fire! We had not enjoyed warmth since we had left Woody Mountain. As we has tea, the man took out the kettle and we made some of this medicinal water (Maskikiwapui).
This was better than nothing and it did fool the stomach a little. Finally we arranged our camp as best we could on either side of the fire and we slept very well. We didn't have a very nice dreams though.
The next day the man set out to hitch up the horses so that we could continue our journey. As for my part, I told him that I would much rather stay here in the shelter of a nice fire, than wander around haphazardly on the great prairie without shelter, without fire. Here at least,
if we were to die of starvation we would have more time and greater ease for preparing ourselves for death. My man said the he wanted to wander around a little bit nearby. "Maybe I will recognize something that will help us", he said. He wandered about all day for nothing, he didn't recognize a thing. In the course of the day I had time to say my prayers and the rosary. When the man came back we had another celebration with tea and we laid down to sleep. No fear of indigestion!
The next morning, enlivened by a substantial amount of Maskikiwapui, my left again to scout around. The father stayed with his supplies and his thoughts. I thought that we were done for, that we were to die in this ravine and I said to the many buffalo bones that were buried around us that in a few days a few other carcasses would be finding their "homestead" in this dismal ravine. I told myself that it was in the desire to help the most abandoned of souls that I was to die of hunger. The good Lord would come to my aide. Everyone has to die, be it of hunger or sickness, it all leads to the same thing. In some way I would prefer dying of starvation because I could be more aware and I could better prepare myself. In sickness, however, one is often riddled by pain and cannot think of anything else. If it is the will of God that I die here of hunger, than praise to God. I will take care of myself so as to not trouble or cause pain to my companion.
While I was resigning myself to this fate of dying in this desert, I opened my eyes and saw an Indian standing straight up near the side of our wagon. Who is this Indian? It is probably on of the Sioux who are seeking to escape American justice on English soil after massacring so many whites in Minnesota. This thought alone turned my blood to ice in my veins. Who know? maybe if he sees me all alone with horses and a wagon he will take me for an American and steal them from me. I was really frightened. If he knew that I was a priest I would have nothing to fear, I thought to myself, because the Sioux know and respect priest.
As I was thinking all these things to myself, here comes this Sioux climbing down the side of the ravine and extends his hand tome with a smile and his peaceful greeting of "Hai,Hai!". I realize quickly that my visitor does not have any evil plan in his head at all and when I tell him that I am a priest (Wasitcho Wakan, the Great Frenchmen) he accords me great respect and repeats the "washte, washte!'. "good, good!". In turn, I explained to him that my companion and I were quite lost and that we had nothing left to eat and that my man had gone out scouting around for any signs.
This good Sioux sat down with me by the fire, smoking his pipe, and waited a couple of hours.
Realizing that the man was not coming back, he invited me to come with him. "You will be fine with us", he said in sign language. "We have three lodges, and you will be warm and will eat and sleep well". The offer certainly tempted me but I was afraid that my companion would think that I had lost my mind and would then lose own, which didn't seem all that stable to in the first damm place.
The Sioux, seeing that I didn't want to go with him, took a good handful of dried meat from a bag made of bladder which hung from his belt and added to this a portion of marrow-fat and presented this to me. Afterwards, he gave me his hand and left. I followed him to the top of the ravine in the hope of seeing the direction that he would take, thinking that these Sioux were certainly our saviors.
After following the departing, Sioux with my eyes, I climbed down peacefully to my fire while eating a mouthful of dried meat(pemmican) and saved the greasiest part for my companion. While coming around the willows which hid my fire, a shiver ran through me; another Sioux was sitting at my fire.
This visitor saw the fear on my face and gave me his hand in a sign language I conveyed to him that we were quite lost, that we had nothing to eat and that my companion would soon be back. As the Sioux could not make himself understood, he sat down next to the fire, lit his pipe, smoked contentedly, and stayed for a little while. I read my prayer book. All of a sudden he let out a cry and kept looking off to the side where I saw a phantom emerging from the branches with a burden on it's back. "What could this be?", I asked myself. The ghost approached and I saw that it was a woman with a papoose. She came to the fire, and the Sioux motioned to her to give me her hand.
Then she sat down next to the man and they began speaking . Soon they asked me if I had anything for them to eat. I explained to them that I had only tea, but I could make them some if they wanted. I was saving the morsels of dried meat that I had gotten from my first visitor for my companion. The poor Metis who had been wandering around for two days on an empty stomach must have been starving by now.
The sun began to set. The sun disappeared down a very deep ravine quite early. I had no more fire wood for the night. I did not dare leave this fire as my visitors had not exactly shown their honesty.
Suddenly the Sioux stood up and started waving his tomahawk around wildly. "What does he want to do?", I ask myself. Does he want to beat me to death? Finally I realized it was a sign that he was going out to chop wood for the night. He brought back a good sized bundle for our fire. How good the Lord is to me! He has sent me a man who will gather wood for me for the night. How thankful am I!.
It wasn't long after the Sioux came back to the fire with some wood when I heard the steps of Metis companion returning from his excursion. I shouted to him. "Good news, there is a Sioux brave here!". My companion answered back with a greeting in the Lakota language . What good fortune!
We are saved! With much enthusiasm he shook the hands of the two Sioux. With great gusto he devoured the few morsels of pemmican which I had saved for him. While eating he asked the Sioux if they knew of the place where we were heading.
The Sioux knew precisely where this place was as he had just returned from there. What a stroke of luck! My companion wanted to hire him on as our guide. The Indian became serious, and told the Metis that he could not return to this place. " But why?", ask my companion.
"Do you see this woman?", he asked. " stole her from that village and her husband is probably after me right now. He is probably hiding someplace nearby. He will probably try and kill while I am sleeping tonight."
Because of this situation, it was obvious that this Sioux couldn't possibly help us and we need to find the man who had visited me the day before at our fire.
In the early morning he went to the three tipis to trade for some food and to hire a guide for us.
After a few hours he came back with a good Sioux brave, the same one in fact who had visited me the previous day. This Sioux who had stolen this squaw told him all about the lay of the land in such a detailed way that he did not fear getting lost. It was at least sixty miles away and it would take us a good three days to get there. Thanks be to God we finally had something to eat and our cheerful Sioux companions amused us along the way.
Before arriving at our destination, I wanted to warn my Metis about the impending danger that could befall him. I knew that there was a lot of alcohol in this winter camp and as I knew all about his weakness for firewater I said to him: "Bonaventure, we are coming to this village already with much shame as we were so lost. Please don't bring more shame to us by getting all liquored up."
"Don't worry Father. I will not embarrass us. Please don't worry."
This of course was the promise of a drunkard. No sooner had we gotten down from our rig. he was already drunk.
The Metis of this village, having learned that we were so lost, wanted to show to us the great joy they felt at our having arrived safely at last, despite the fact that my guide was so inept. This comment was made behind his back, of course. Meanwhile I was being introduced to the neighbors with much enthusiasm. These poor people seemed to be even more filled with the spirit of hospitality and friendship after
our misadventure on the prairie. They did their utmost to get as much out of my visit as possible. I baptized many children and heard the confession of some of the men, but few came. Drinking was behind that.
I stayed in this village seven or eight days. On the eve of my departure I was made to understand that I was to not to spend twelve days en route and that I was to not sleep in the open. Two young men had volunteered to accompany me back to Woody Mountain. In two days I would be back home.
I would find a good lodge with a supply of wood about half way down the trail where I was to camp.
In this same place there was to be a team of horses which would bring me to Woody Mountain on the second day with great ease.
"You had to suffer so much to come to us", these gentle people said to me. " The least we can do is to make sure you return home comfortably".
return at the main page
(1) for bibliography source write to :