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now he showed the materials for his house-tent to
the Indians and asked them to set it up. They com-
plied with delight ; it was an honour to have anything
to do in connection with this novelty.

The snow was cleared away by the squaws, while
the men set up the frame and covering. The camp-
stove was put in place, a pile of wood cut for it and
the snowy ground of the tent covered with boughs and
buffalo-skin. Such luxury and comfort had never
been known on the plains before.

When Father Lacombe was installed the old men
gathered about his doorway. Awed by the elegance
of his domicile they were at first shy about entering.



FATHER LACOMBE 1867

But they soon found their way in with their pipes
and philosophy and made themselves entirely at home
. . . until Father Lacombe had to clear the room
to hear the confessions of those who were already
Christian.

For the first time on the prairie Father Lacombe
was to exercise his priest's privilege of celebrating
three Masses on this one day of the year. From his
doorway, when the bell had called the camp to atten-
tion, he announced that all the chiefs and hunters were
to attend the first Mass, the women the second, while
the Mass after daylight was to be for the children.

Midnight found him at an altar made of poles sur-
mounted by his chapel-box in which were the vest-
ments, the altar-stone, the linen and vessels necessary
on the altar. Every foot of kneeling-space was oc-
cupied by the men.

"As I robed myself for that Mass," he has written,
"this is what passed in my heart. . . . 'The Holy
Gospel tells us that the shepherds of the valley of
Bethlehem came to the stable to adore the divine
Child. And here to-night in this wild country in
North America another kind of shepherds the shep-
herds of the great flocks of buffalo are kneeling
down to adore the same Child Jesus, the Son of God,
that lay on the straw in Bethlehem in the far east/

"And when these old shepherds began to sing the
canticles of the Church in their own tongue 'Emigwa
tibiskayik* f Ca t bergers assemblons-nous* for some
time I could not begin my Mass because the tears



1867 FATHER LACOMBE 153

came and I wept. Ah, that scene was a poeme.
'Sasay Manito, awasis* . . . Those
warriors and hunters singing the hymns that are of
the Church the whole world over, the same old mel-
odies we sang at St. Sulpice for the Noel! Ah-h!"
He never spoke of this night without emotion.

"I have said Mass in Saint Peter's at Rome, in
fine basilicas in France and in many places but I
say to you, this was the most solemn Mass the most
grand of all."

When the Mass was ended, the young priest, so
happy that he was conscious of no fatigue, dismissed
the warriors with a glad

"Bon Noel! My dear shepherds, go and smoke
your Christmas calumet and take your rest."

Then followed the Mass of the Dawn. Now it was
the women of the camp who came uniting their voices
in sacred song. The Sacrifice was concluded and the
women dismissed.

Father Lacombe, now thoroughly weak, felt his
head reel with faintness as it did during that awful
fortnight on the prairies, and in blind haste he packed
away the altar fittings and threw himself down on
the buffalo-skins to rest. The warm skins enveloped
him; the earth welcomed him and breathed repose
through him. Sleep closed his eyes.

No angels watched visibly over the sleeping camp,
but their message had penetrated to the hearts of the
Cree warriors. And the promised Peace-to-men-of-
Good-will had fallen in divine fullness upon Father



154 FATHER LACOMBE 1867

Lacombe lying exhausted by the fire on his bed of
boughs and skins.

On Sunday night when the last hymn was sung
in the chapel-tent Father Lacombe would fain say
good-night to his warriors: he did not want to ex-
change stories over the pipes that night, for the air
of his tent was hot and bad, and he still felt weak.
But while the men lingered the doorway of the tent
was suddenly thrown open and a Metis courier from
St. Albert stamped in with greetings from that mis-
sion, and letters that had come by the Company's
packet from the Red River.

As the Indians watched Father Lacombe read and
re-read one paper they saw great joy and anxiety al-
ternately master his mobile face, and the ready tears
welled up. He seemed oblivious of all but one letter.

This was from Bishop Grandin in Rome telling
him of the condition of their venerable Pontiff at-
tacked now on every side by enemies. Enclosed with
this was a copy of the Papal decree convoking the
twentieth Ecumenical Council. In the midst of his
cares and humiliations Pius IX had grandly decided
to hold another of the great Ecumenical Councils of
the Church, the first of the imposing assemblages
since the Council of Trent.

For these reasons smiles and tears were very close
together on the priest's face. Chief Sweet-Grass,
who was very fond of the Man-of-the-Beautiful-
Mind, came quietly near him, and asked what news
he had that moved him so strongly. Father Lacombe



1867 FATHER LACOMBE 155

explained the letters reading from the decree some
words of the grand chief of the Men-of -Prayer.

Immediately the warriors pressed forward to see
it. Father Lacombe pointed out the pontiff's name
and the heraldic device surmounting the sheet. One
old man bent and kissed the page.

"What is the name of the chief of the Men-of-
Prayer?" Sweet-Grass asked wonderingly.

"Pius IX is his name. Pius IX!"

Very gravely Sweet-Grass pursued his enquiries.

"May I speak his name even though I am not a
praying-Indian ?"

"To be sure you may," Father Lacombe agreed,
and Sweet-Grass had him repeat it for him until he
felt he could say it correctly.

Then the chief stood up among his braves, holding
the Pope's decree in his own hands ; and he called out
strongly, solemnly, as if he made an invocation :

"Pius IX! Pius IX! ... Listen, all my
people present Pius IX! May that name bring us
good fortune!"

Then sweeping an arm out over his seated braves:

"Rise!" he called to them, "and say Tius IX!' "

And they all rose and repeated after him "Pius
IX!"

This scene might have furnished another paragraph
to Macaulay's admiring study of the Church of
Rome. For while its Pontiff, the "Little Father of
the Poor," was being driven to his last redoubt in
the Vatican only saved from the Garibaldian forces



156 FATHER LACOMBE 1867

two months earlier by an army of men from every
civilized nation here in this western wilderness new
races were enlisting under his banner, and a miser-
ably clad but valiant soldier of Christ was moved to
tears at the unlooked-for tribute to his chief.

In the following year Father Lacombe sent the
details of the little incident to his early patron, Bishop
Bourget, who was then in Rome. The aged Pontiff,
profoundly moved by the happening, asked the Bishop
to convey his blessing to Father Lacombe, his good
chief and Indians.



XV

THE year 1868 opened upon Father Lacombe on
the plains in the camp of the head chief Sweet-
Grass. In a few weeks he returned to St. Paul de
Cris, and later went up to Rocky Mountain House
to minister to Indians there.

The time had now arrived to achieve his coup
d'etat; consequently he called at St. Albert for the
Sarcee captive. The Sisters who had become very
strongly attached to Marguerite, as she had been chris-
tened, pleaded with Father Lacombe to leave her
with them so that she might never know the hardships
of camp life again.

"We love her," they said, "and she seems to be
happy with us."

"Yes," said Father Lacombe, "that is all fine!
But how long will it last? She will get tired of life
here. Already when I spoke to her in Blackfoot she
told me she was lonely for her people. . . . And,
anyway, I must take her home. She is gold gold
to me!

"Her people of the Blackfoot nation are fierce and
proud. They are my friends, though they do not
love my teaching as the Crees do. ... But when
I bring Marguerite back to them. . . , Ah, that
is m'y day!"

157



158 FATHER LACOMBE 1868

Father Laeombe had spoken with discernment.
The Blackfeet did love him for his sympathy; they
admired his courage and daring; more than once the
chiefs had greeted the praying-man by running their
hands over his forehead, chest and arms to absorb
from him into their own bodies some virtue of the
medicine which made him great. But they wanted
nothing to do with the religion which had fired him
to become the man he was.

From the Blackfeet trading at the Mountain House
that spring Father Laeombe had learned something
of the position of their nation's camp. With this, to-
gether with Marguerite's knowledge of her people's
hunting-ground and their probable choice of a place
of encampment, he had little difficulty in finding
them.

His party included Alexis, the aged Blackfoot Su-
zanne and Marguerite. One day as they paused on
a piece of rolling upland to rest their horses the girl's
quick eyes caught sight of a big camp on the slope
of a neighbouring coulee blots of gray and brown
against the first delicate green of the prairies.

Maybe this was the camp of her people, she said.
. . . Eh, bien, said Father Laeombe, it was well
to be prepared. Immediately the party pitched
camp. Alexis was told to raise the Red Cross flag
on a tent-pole. The Sarcee girl was ordered into the
women's tent under no pretext to leave until she was
called and then the Generalissimo folded his hands
and waited.



1868 FATHER LACOMBE 159

But not for long: the Indians saw his signal flap-
ping in the long prairie winds, and promptly recog-
nized it. The flag in itself was famed among them, the
man who carried it, revered . . . for had he not
nursed them through the rongeole and the typhoid
and stopped the battle with the Crees? Lassoing
their horses lightly they sprang upon them and rode
over in a barbaric, half -naked cavalcade to the priest's
tent. Men and women rode galloping through the
valley, up the hill, welcoming him with glad cries as
they drew near.

"They did not want my religion," says Father La-
combe simply, "but they liked me. They were my
friends."

In the crowd he noticed some whose faces were
streaked with black paint and their hair cut, in token
of mourning. This looked promising. He asked
them whom they mourned?

"Six moons ago," they said, "your friends, the
Crees, attacked a camp of our young men, killed
some of them and carried off one of our young



women."



"And did you go to find her?"

"Her brothers went, but did not get her. They
carried her too far into the country of the Crees and
she is dead maybe. We will never see her again!"

"Never again?" . . .

The psychological moment had arrived, and the
dramatic instinct that had planned this seance recog-
nized the fact.



160 FATHER LACOMBE 1868

"Marguerite," he called into the tent. "Come
here!"

In a trice their lost girl active, strong and radi-
antly glad to look on her people again emerged
from the dusky interior. With a searching glance
through the crowd she ran directly to the arms of her
mother. The astounded silence was broken with cries
of joy, and women crowded about the mother who
now lay silent in her daughter's arms: while the men
pushed close to Arsous-Mtsi-rarpi The-Man-of-the-
Good-Heart.

They touched his hands and face and gown. They
told him their thanks in fervent language, and they
shouted his name Arsous-kitsi-rarpi! till the coulees
rang. Then with the young men riding ahead as
couriers Father Lacombe was brought in a savage
procession to the Sarcee camp, where there were
songs of triumph and orations by the chiefs.

Truly, this was his day. "An ineffable moment!"
he says, and one that gave him more influence among
these people and spread more desire for his prayer
than many sermons or visits would have accomplished.

During this triumphal progress of Father Lacombe
in the hunting-grounds of the Chinook-kissed south
the priest of St. Paul found near the mission the
bodies of two Indians who had perished of hunger.
The only other item of interest Father Lacombe found
in the Journal on his return was the record that at
Easter "the famous old Na Batoche and all his family
were baptised."



1868 FATHER LACOMBE 161

The items recorded in the Journal of St. Paul for
the remainder of that summer are pitiful in their reve-
lation of hardship from hunger. Pere Andre who
remained in charge during Father Lacombe's trips to
the plains, could starve with composure, but he could
not look on calmly at his inability to help the starving
Indians begging for help, and he counts the days his
stout-hearted, resourceful confrere is absent. He also
chronicles in the Journal an interesting incident that
marked the trip from which Father Lacombe returned
on July 9. The latter had been spending several
weeks with the Crees.

One day when the hunters came in with word that
the Blackf eet were approaching, the camp was quickly
put in a state of defence. Pits were dug to conceal
their persons, the horses were hobbled within the
camp. Small mounds of stones were piled outside
the camp to shield the warriors.

At night the camp waited in readiness for attack.

"At last at half -past eleven, when we were all tired
waiting," Father Lacombe tells, "I thought it may
all be a mistake. Ha! I take my horse and ride out
of the camp up the hill. The young men said the
Blackfeet were hiding in the trees across the valley,
and the moon was shining full over the hill.

"Up there I call out

* 'Hey ! Hey ! Are you there and wanting to
fight? Then my Crees are ready for you. Come
on, and you will see how they can fight. They are
brave, my Crees, if you come to kill their people.



162 FATHER LACOMBE 1868

. . . Come, they are ready. Do not wait till the
dawn/ . . .

"Oh, my voice sounded big over the quiet prairie.
But there was no cry; only the echoes answered.

"I ride back to the camp then, and I laugh. 'Let
us go to sleep,' I say. 'There is no danger/ '

The Crees decided to leave a small guard all night,
and the next day while the young men formed an
armed escort the band moved its camp north of the
lake. While there were no further alarms it was dis-
covered that this one had not been groundless.

Sixty Blackfeet had designed to attack the camp
that night, Father Lacombe learned soon afterward
from Big Eagle, one of their old men. But they
would not fight when they heard the voice of Arsous-
kitsi-rarpi, who had been in their own camp at Three
Ponds.

That brief bold midnight harangue to the ambushed
Blackfeet warriors is worth noting. It is a vivid
illustration of the instinctive art with which Father
Lacombe's Indian career was lit, as from day to day
he played on the Indian nature as a musician on his
harp.

To Father Lacombe the most important event of
the year was Bishop Grandin's arrival at St. Albert.
This marked the elevation of the half-breed colony to
the dignity of a episcopal see. It also marked a long
advance from the arrival of Bishop Provencher just
fifty years before to establish the reign of Christ in
Rupert's Land. Then there were two priests in the



1868 FATHER LACOMBE 163

whole immense territory west of Sault Ste. Marie.
Now there were three Bishops and close on to one
hundred missionary priests, nuns and lay brethren.

Toward the end of August the Bishop with his
caravan of carts was met at St. Paul by eight priests,
the Journal notes by all in fact who were at work
in the diocese: Fathers Lacombe, Leduc, Remas,
Vegreville, Moulin, Gaste, Andre, Legoff.

On October 26th he entered St. Albert escorted by
a cavalcade of Metis horsemen who went out three
miles to meet him. He drove in under an arch of
greenery erected in his honour, while salvos of mus-
ketry and cries of welcome rang out with an enthu-
siasm rare in the calm wilderness. Father Lacombe,
who had hurried ahead to St. Albert to direct this
demonstration and then returned to Fort Pitt to meet
the Bishop, had exhausted his own and his confreres'
resources to make this entry memorable.

The new Bishop, who had so lately within the Arc-
tic fringe chinked his own huts with mud, was doubt-
less fully impressed. The first day he officiated in the
little chapel, however, he found he must carry him-
self with discernment in order that his mitre might
escape being knocked off by the rafters!

His palace was of logs, sixteen feet by thirty. It
was uncomfortably crowded, and the diet was not
select. In a letter to his family one of the mission-
aries resident at St. Albert then has left a piquant
description of the external life. It is marked by a
gentle wit characteristic of the spirit in which the



164 FATHER LACOMBE 1868

French missionaries of the early days turned off their
privations with laughter.

It however pictures St. Albert at its worst when
the mill was not working, and the vegetables were all
consumed :

"Eight of us are living in the palace, and we are
one on top of another. There are seven of us in
one room which serves at once as a parlour, office,
carpenter's shop, tailoring-place, etc. A buffalo skin
stretched on the floor with one or two blankets
behold our beds ! Mattresses and sheets are luxuries
of which we know nothing. We eat bread only on
feast-days and then in very small quantities.

"On the other hand we have pemikan, a species of
pounded fat meat pressed into a leather sack ten or
twelve months before. We cut off pieces with an
axe it is almost as good as a candle! We have also
meat dried in the sun. It is as hard as leather: but
with good teeth one finally tears it off. Our beverage
is tea without sugar. With this not very recherche
nutrition we nevertheless are looking well. I, espe-
cially I am taking on flesh in such fashion that they
call me Canon. . . ."

The new Bishop speedily attached his priests to
himself, for he was a man of high principle, unselfish
and notably amiable. With this he was possessed
of a zeal for his work so ardent that during the past
winter in France Louis Veuillot, the prince of French
journalists, had said of him ff Cet eveque des neiges
fait bien comprendre que le froid brule. . . ."



1868 FATHER LACOMBE 165

"This bishop of the snows makes one understand
clearly how frost burns."

On the llth of December Father Lacombe left
once more for the prairies. He experienced no hard-
ships in finding the Indian camps this year, for with
all his dramatic instincts and emotional nature he had
too strong a vein of practical sense and organising
powers to make such a mistake twice possible.

During his stay in the camp of Sweet-Grass he was
brought to a young warrior who, having his hand
badly torn in the hunt, had amputated the useless
member with his hunting knife, binding the stump
with the cord of the sinew which tied his breech-clout
about his groins.

Father Lacombe going to his tent was horror-
stricken at the sight of the mangled arm. Up as far
as the shoulder the veins and the flesh had darkened
with blood poisoning, and at the wrist was a mass of
inflamed, swollen and corrupt flesh in which the cord
of deer-sinew was deeply buried. Putrified pieces of
flesh had already dropped from the sore stump.

Father Lacombe felt helpless before this, but
Sweet-Grass was relying upon him, so with a prayer
for divine assistance he nerved himself to do what he
could. For a few moments he studied the anatomy
of his own wrist to avoid cutting into any of the
principal arteries. Then insisting upon the young
man turning his head away the priest made a deep
incision with his razor into the swollen wrist on,
down until he reached the buried cords of sinew.



166 FATHER LACOMBE 1868

This he cut and with the aid of two fine sticks
removed it entirely. With the sudden resultant out-
flow of blood and matter the hitherto stoical Indian
groaned pitifully; but the outcry speedily changed to
a sigh of relief.

The onlookers murmured approval, and taking
heart Father Lacombe bent again to his work. He
cut away with his razor as completely as he could
the mortified flesh about the wound and burned what
remained with a stick of nitrate of silver one of the
few medical stuffs supplied to the missionaries and
traders at that period.

He smeared the arm and stump with a thick layer
of the balm-of-Gilead ointment which an old Black-
foot woman had taught him to prepare; then ordered
the young man to lie in bed for days, forbidding
him to eat meat. Dumbly wondering what would be
the outcome of it all, he sent up fervent prayers that
the man's life should be spared. For several days
he visited him thrice daily, renewing the ointment and
burning the rotten tissue.

To the delight of the whole camp, and to the sur-
prise of no one more than Father Lacombe, the young
hunter soon gave evidence of recovering, and in three
weeks was convalescent! . . . Father Lacombe
exclaimed with the great Pare, surgeon to four kings
"I dressed his wound; God cured him."

That winter again Midnight Mass was celebrated
on the prairies in the house-tent. Father Lacombe
did not return to St. Paul until late in February.



1869 FATHER LACOMBE 167

The St. Paul Journal records Father Lacombe's
return on February 27th, 1869. One of the horses
had died during the winter; the one that remained
was as thin and jaded as its master. But he was
satisfied with his latest ministry, exercised for the
greater part of the time in a camp of almost 2,700
Crees lodged in 400 tepees.

Toward Easter he preached an enlivening mission
for his former proteges, the half-breeds of St. Albert,
and at its close gave them a rendezvous for a certain
day to tear down his old bridge over the Sturgeon
and replace it with a new structure which they com-
pleted in two days.

Here again he combined with his spiritual ministry
vigorous efforts for the material advancement of his
flock; and as usual in the fields or pulpit he vitalized
his followers by the spur of his own splendid energies.



XVI

THERE was now being debated at St. Albert a
question which had already been considered in Feb-
ruary, when Father Lacombe returned to St. Paul de
Cris from the prairies and found Bishop Grandin
and Father Vegreville of Lac la Biche awaiting him.
It related to the improvement of their freight-trans-
portation. With the expansion of their missions the
amount of money paid out yearly to the Company or
freighters for this purpose was making terrifying
inroads upon their slim resources.

As early as 1854 Bishop Tache and his able lieuten-
ants at Lac la Biche had initiated a movement to
improve northern transportation by navigating the
Athabasca (hitherto avoided by the fur-traders as
too dangerous). This had now been successfully
accomplished by the missionaries, but there still
remained a possibility of bettering the transportation
system to the south.

As noted in the Oblate Annals, a new method had
been suggested to Father Lacombe and the Bishop
by "a certain number of adventurers . . . from
Benton, a quite new town of the United States built
near the sources of the Missouri." This method was
to ship supplies from France to New Orleans and
thence up the Missouri to Fort Benton.

168



1869 FATHER LACOMBE 169

It was obvious that Father Lacombe was the man
to examine into the new enterprise, and on April 17th
the task was formally assigned him by the Diocesan
Council.

"Plein de courage et d'audace" he writes in a mem-
orandum of that trip, he left St. Albert with three
Metis. Each man rode a sturdy little Indian pony
and in a cart they had packed their tent and some
provisions. They soon left the tree-line, and for days
travelled farther and farther south into the plains.

The Metis were very careful in choosing and con-
cealing their encampments each night, for in spite of
Father Lacombe's assurance of the Blackfeet's
friendly attitude toward himself, they feared a mid-
night surprise upon their ponies at least. This was
a dry season and many creeks were dried. So they
always carried a small keg of water from camp to
camp.

One day when this precaution was neglected night-
fall found them parched with thirst. Father
Lacombe, searching about in the dusk, found a
marshy pool frequented by the buffalo. He brought
a pail of the ill-smelling fluid to camp, but scorched
and gripped with thirst as they were all refused to
do more than moisten their lips with it.

One Metis suggested that they draw blood from
the carcass of a buffalo killed that evening. In spite
of some repugnance they refreshed themselves so,
but Father Lacombe could not bring himself to it.
All night he lay in broken sleep tormented with thirst,


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