THE FLATHEADS AND THE “BOOK OF HEAVEN.”
The An-ko-me-nums, as they call themselves, are a branch of the great Salish or Flathead family of Indians, whose territory is that part of the Pacific Coast now known as Northern Oregon, Washington, and Southern British Columbia.
The Flatheads derive the name from their custom of compressing the skull in childhood until the whole front of the head is flattened and broadened.
They live along the great arteries of travel, the Columbia River in the south, the Fraser River in the north, and their tributaries, as well as on the shores of those inland waters of the West known as Puget Sound and the Gulf of Georgia.
Unlike the great nations of the East and of the plains, who possess something of national unity, they are composed of a number of branches, speaking languages bearing scarcely any resemblance to each other—the Chinooks, the Cayuses and the Sinahomish in the south; the Shuswaps and the Okanagans in the interior of British Columbia; and the An-ko-me-nums, known under such names as the Cowichans—after tribes on Vancouver Island, which some believe to be the parent stock—and the Stawlo, which literally means the River Indians.
These last inhabit the valley of the Fraser River, from Yale to its mouth, and the east coast of Vancouver Island, from Comox to Esquimault, and include the Nan-ni-moohs, Cowichans, Songees, Skwamish, Sumats, Chil-way-uks, and numerous other rival tribes, possessed of the same manners and customs, but speaking varying dialects of the same language, and, in earlier days, engaging in the fiercest conflicts with one another.
The Coast Indians are spoken of, generally, as Siwashes, a term which the more intelligent resent, and which is taken from the word for “Indian” in the Chinook or trade jargon.
There is some doubt, however, as to the origin of the word “Siwash.” By some it is thought to be a corruption of the French word “Sauvage” (barbarian), as applied by the Nor’westers to the Indians generally. But in all probability it is a corruption of the generic term “Salish,” which is given by ethnologists to the whole family, and as such is improperly applied to the Northern tribes.
The Indians of British Columbia.
There are some six distinct races among the Indians of British Columbia. The Hydah-Kling-get, on Queen Charlotte Islands and the lower Alaskan coast; the Tsimpshean, in the region of the lower Skeena and Naas River; the Kwa-kualth, from Kitamaat to Cape Mudge on the mainland and north-east coast of Vancouver Island; the Salish, of which the An-ko-me-nums are a division, in the south; the Kootenai and the Déné or Tinne, in the interior. The At nation, which occupies the west coast of Vancouver Island, it would appear, is still another race, though some ethnologists identify them with the Kwa-kualths.
The origin of these various people is much in doubt. The Tinne possibly came by way of the Aleutian Islands from Asia. The Northern Coast tribes, Hydahs and Tsimpsheans, may be related to the Filipinos and the Japanese. Some years ago, when the first Japanese fishermen came to the Skeena, the Indians immediately claimed them as their “tilikum” (friends). When the difference in language was pointed out, they replied, “That does not matter, the Indians speak different languages. Just look at their hair and their eyes and the color of their skin, is it not the same as ours? They are surely of our race.” The resemblance so noted is certainly remarkable.
As for the Salish and Kwa-kualths, the similarity between certain of their words and those of the Polynesian Islanders has led some to give them an Oceanic origin.
The various sources from which they possibly sprang will sufficiently explain the difference in their languages.
Very early in the last century the trading ships of various nations were visiting the coast and bartering their cargoes of firearms, rum and useless trinkets—beads, bits of iron and brass—for the valuable furs of the natives.
The first depôt on Vancouver Island was established at Nootka, on the West Coast, and, a little later, a second, on the mainland near the mouth of the Columbia. Thus early the Indians were debauched by the whiskey and vices of the white man, and from that time to the present have been wretched sufferers.
The great fur companies, the North-west, the Hudson’s Bay and the Astor, were soon in active competition for the trade of the Pacific slope. In 1818 the first fort was built on the Columbia at the mouth of the Walla Walla, and about six years later, in 1824-5, Fort Vancouver was built, where the waters of the Willamette join the great Columbia.
In 1804-6 the intrepid explorers, Clark and Lewis, made their then difficult and dangerous journey from the trading post at St. Louis across the mountains and down the Columbia River to the land of the Cayuse and Chinooks. Clark seems to have left a deep and favorable impression upon the mind of the Indians, as will later be seen.
Among these early traders were men of sterling character, who, while they might not be termed religious, had, nevertheless, a deep reverence for God and for His wondrous law, some little knowledge of which they imparted to the native peoples with whom they were engaged in traffic.
We cannot but wonder at the slowness of the Church in not seeing and seizing her opportunity. She should have been first on the ground, but was not. The trader preceded her. And finally it was the eager longing of the heathen themselves, awakened by the Spirit of God, which aroused the slumbering Church.
In Search of the “Book of Heaven.”
In 1832 the Flatheads at the headwaters of the Columbia River met in council, not painted for war or armed for the chase, but with a look of earnestness on their faces. They were talking over a strange story which some wandering trappers had brought to their camps—the story of the white man’s worship, and the Book that told of God and immortality, and the presence and power of the “Great Spirit.” They had more than once held such a council, and they finally concluded that if there was such a treasure as the Book of Heaven they would try and find it.
They selected one of the old “seams” (chiefs) and a strong-minded brave of full years, also two young and daring men. These four were sent off across the mountains in search of the news of the white man’s God, or the book that would tell of His love.
Leaving their western homes or “lalums,” they turned their faces to the east, and for many a week they travelled mountain and plain in the search. They reached St. Louis, then a mere hamlet, known as the far frontier, a resort of hunters and trappers. One day these four strange Indians were walking down the street, looking everywhere as if for hidden treasure. Finally they met Gen. Wm. Clark, whose name the two older had heard of years before, up in their far away western home, as he and others were making their way to the western sea.
To him they made known the object of their search. They were kindly received and well treated, but neither General Clark nor anyone in that Roman Catholic town helped them to what their hearts longed for. They waited till they became weary; two of their number sickened and died, and now the remaining two prepared to go back to the people with a tale of disappointment. General Clark, knowing the Indians’ love of ceremony, had a leave-taking in his town. One of the poor Indians, as they said good-by, made the following touching speech:
“We came to you over a trail of many moons from the setting sun. You were the friend of our fathers who have all gone the long way. We came, with our eyes partly opened, for more light for our people who sit in darkness. We go back with our eyes closed. How can we go back blind to our blind people? We made our way to you with strong arms, through many enemies and strange lands, that we might carry back much to our people. We go back with empty and broken arms. The two fathers who came with us, the braves of many winters and wars, we leave here always by your great wigwams. They were tired in their journey of many moons, and their moccasins were worn out. Our people sent us to get the white man’s Book of Heaven. You took us where they worship the Great Spirit with candles, but the Book was not there. You showed us images of good spirits and pictures of the good land beyond, but the Book was not among them to tell us the way. You made our feet heavy with burdens and gifts, and our moccasins will grow old with carrying them, but the Book is not among them. We are going back the long, sad trail to our people. When we tell them, after one more snow, in the big council, that we did not bring the Book, no word will be spoken by our old men, nor by our young braves. One by one they will rise up and go out in silence. Our people will die in darkness and they will go on the long path to other hunting grounds. No white man will go with them, and no Book of Heaven to make the way plain. We have no more to say.”
Only one lived to reach his people, and with a sad heart he told the story. Word of this strange visit got into the papers of the East, among others into the New York Christian Advocate. Soon the whole American church was aroused, and with such men as Nathan Bangs and Dr. Wilbur Fisk leading the way, it was not long before the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church had the money and were ready to establish “A mission among the Indians west of the Rocky Mountains.”
When the question was asked, “Who will go for us?” Dr. Fisk said, “I know but one man, Jason Lee.” Mr. Lee was a Canadian, born in Stanstead, Que. He was converted at twenty-three years of age. A splendid man, six feet three inches in height, and in every particular the type of man needed for this new enterprise.
In July, 1833, he was chosen leader of this great missionary adventure; and in the spring of the following year he, with his brother Daniel and two laymen, “mounted their horses and followed the Oregon trail.”
On September 17th, 1834, Lee and his party reached Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River, and at once began to do all the many kinds of work which men must do in starting a mission among a wild, savage people.
Lee and his associates were the first missionaries to the Pacific Coast, the first to the great Salish family of Indians; others followed.
Lee and his co-laborers planted their mission in the beautiful Willamette Valley and from the first had wonderful success. A boarding school was established for the benefit of the Indian children, on the site of which now stands the Willamette University.
Jason Lee was a preacher of marvellous power, and was the means, in God’s hands, of the conversion of scores, both among whites and Indians. He preached the word at Fort Vancouver, and nineteen were baptized, one being Lady McLaughlin. Dr. John McLaughlin, the Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company at this point, paid a fine tribute to his work when he said to Mr. Lee: “Before you came into the country we could not send a boat past the Dalles without an armed guard of sixty men. Now we go up singly, and no one is robbed.”
At a great camp-meeting, held in October, 1841, twelve hundred Indians attended and about five hundred were converted.
It is a remarkable fact that between the years 1839-41 a great spiritual awakening, which marvellously affected even heathen tribes, spread across the whole continent.
Commencing with the great revival under Jason Lee among the Chinooks of the Columbia, we may follow the route pursued by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s men, up the Columbia and through the Okanagan Valley and on to the upper waters of the Fraser River, and then across the mountains through the land of the Crees to Hudson’s Bay.
In 1839, in the Okanagan Valley, where Father Demers was laboring among the Shuswaps, a great many natives turned from their heathenism and united with the Roman Catholic Church, and a strong mission was established. Farther on among the Crees, at Norway House and other points, a blessed work of grace was begun about the same time under the leadership of James Evans, Mason, and Rundle, with their young native associates, Henry B. Steinhauer and Peter Jacobs.
As this spiritual influence spread—and it did spread—from nation to nation and from tribe to tribe, even those far removed from direct contact with the Truth seemed to be affected by it. These remarkable revivals were manifestly the result of the heroic work of Jason Lee and his associates. Where missionaries were sent to direct and lead the poor people, great and good results followed, for hundreds were savingly converted to God. But in other cases, where the natives were left to themselves, the old (Shaman) conjurers made use of it to their own advantage. The people would fast and pray and dance for weeks—not their old heathen dances; they danced and prayed to the Sun god, or the stars, or the storm, for help and deliverance. This went on for a long time amidst great excitement. It was the groping of the human heart after God, “if haply they might find him.”
At the time of the great revival on the North Coast, in 1875, when the people became so aroused that they did not eat or sleep for days, the old men would say, “Oh, I saw this when I was a boy many years ago. A man came down the Skeena and spoke to the people, and they began to cry and pray, and this is the same. Long before this, a man came down from Alaska and told the people that the Ta-kus had travelled far away, for a month or more, in the mountains, and they had met with people who prayed to the Good Spirit. When they took their food they would read from a strange book, and when the people heard this they got much excited.”
It is possible that these Indians to whom the old men referred had travelled on the Peace or Mackenzie River, and had come across some of James Evans’ converts, who could read in the Cree syllabic characters.
There is no doubt that a great revival spread across the continent at about the time before mentioned, filling the minds of the natives with expectation; and had the home Church used men and means at that day thousands and thousands of poor people might have been saved who went down in darkness.
The incident, before mentioned, of the early planting of the Gospel among the Flathead people in Oregon, though somewhat removed from that section of this great nation with which we will have more to do, makes it clear that when God wants a man to do a special work for Him it does not take long to find him. It also shows that God by His Spirit will sometimes arouse a tribe or nation, so that they are ready for the Gospel light before the Church is prepared to carry the blessed truth. It does look at times as if His Kingdom were advanced through means all His own; and yet when the Macedonian cry, “Come over and help us,” is raised, the Church should be ready to enter every field.
If the Church were only awake to her privilege, and the responsibility which God has thrown upon her by the wealth He has placed in her hands, and, as a faithful steward, would return a tithe of what He has given for the spread of His Kingdom, we should soon have enough to carry the Gospel to every creature.
Categories: English Literature