A Christian Band
Making their way east along the Bow River, the Southesk party met a Nakoda hunter. The meeting was fortuitous, for the party was running low on provisions. After rendezvousing with other members of his band, who were "a good distance away", the hunter brought fresh moose meat back to the party's camp.
The Bow River near Morley, Alberta.
"Had we not met these Indians we should have been reduced to great straits, and must soon have become very short of horses. They again had very little powder, and no lead -- they were using bits of iron for bullets, -- no tobacco and only very ragged old leather clothing. Now, they were well supplied, and we were provisioned for a week, and had got two stout fresh horses."
Several days later, near abandoned Bow Fort, the Southesk party met a second Nakoda band. McKay supplied them with ammunition, and they brought back several mule deer and a goose. The party was now well-stocked.
The two groups camped near one another, and some of the Nakoda men visited with the Southesk party. Conversation led to Southesk's acquisition of a small pipe. "I happened to notice a pipe, which one of the head men was holding in his hand ... On hearing that I admired it, the owner immediately presented it to me with the most obliging politeness. I afterwards gave him in return some things that I found him to be in want of, adding two pair of my own woolen socks, which he received with interest." The next day Southesk completed trades with two other Nakoda men, acquiring a fire bag and beaded knife sheath "which, though worn ... and not remarkable in pattern, I was glad to have as specimens of their commoner work."
Later that evening, a bell rang in the Nakoda camp calling worshippers to Christian service. Led by a Nakoda lay preacher, band members prayed and sang hymns. Missionaries had begun working with the Nakoda in the 1840s and Rev. Woolsey, the Methodist missionary whom Southesk had met at Fort Edmonton, visited periodically. The congregation, however, maintained its faith with minimal Church support.
Nakoda guide Neshodao, or
William Twin. Circa 1938.
Impressed by the Nakodas' generosity and their Christian faith, Southesk offered to purchase blankets, ammunition, "and such other things as they wanted" as a "token of friendship and goodwill". Two band members, Hector Nimrod and "William", traveled with the party to Fort Edmonton. The Fort Edmonton account book records the purchases they made at the post store—blankets, shot, gunpowder, knives, kettles, plug tobacco and three Highland bonnet caps.
A decade later, many of these people were dead. They were among the more than 3,500 people who died in a smallpox epidemic that ravaged Saskatchewan country in 1869-70.