A History of the Rice Lake Indians by Mary Jane Muskratte Simpson

Custom of Holding Watch-Night

(Memoirs of Reginald Drayton - continued)

The year 1876 was strange as far as the weather went; there has been no year in my recollection at all like it, both as regards the very early opening of the lake, and the coming of the leaves on the trees which were in full leaf by May, a thing almost unknown. In later years it was often the case that they were not in leaf on the first of June."

"Old Moses Muskratte was much more entertaining, he was a very old man. In fact, the oldest inhabitant of the village, and was known the country round. He was extremely industrious and active in spite of his eighty-odd years; and was always fishing, or making baskets, and going over the country where he was mostly always welcome on account of his ways, always very talkative and good-natured.

He had a dog that used to fish. I used to see it on warm days standing for nearly an hour in a pool connected with the lake and as sunfish passed him he would grab at them, but I never saw him catch any.

Moses, besides his son John and a daughter, had also two grandchildren, Charlie and Danny Fawn; of the latter, who was only twelve years old, Moses was particularly fond."

"I returned to Point House all unaware of a tragedy which had occurred just in front of the house in early afternoon. How true it was I cannot say, but Louisa Harris claimed to have been looking through a telescope and saw Joseph Hutchinson fall out of his canoe, and drown. As I got home about six, and everything seemed to be all right. I set about getting tea. and had only finished when two or three canoes came from Gore's Point. In one was Joshua Hutchinson. Poor fellow, he was awfully cut up; I gave him my bed in the next room to lie on, and we made a good fire on the hearth. The men from the landing brought a skiff with a jacklight in the bow, but a breeze had come up and it was too rough to do anything. So we sat and smoked and talked until daybreak. They did not find the body until afternoon, he had a .32 Smith & Wesson revolver in his pocket. I think he must have been seized with a fit of vertigo and fell out of the canoe.

Shortly after this, I had the chance to rent a house in the village of Hiawatha, Mrs McCue had moved to Mud Lake Village, and I was glad to take it as I did not like the idea of living all winter at point House. I should have near neighbours just across the road, in Jerry Crowe at the council-house, and old Mrs. Paudash, she was aunt to half the village it seemed to me. I found my new house, though small, quite large enough.

It had two rooms on the ground floor, with a kitchen at the back, and a loft upstairs. The front room was, of course my sitting-room and the room in the east my bedroom. I soon settled down in my new quarters, and was not sorry that I had exchanged the solitude of Point House for the village; I had near neighbours and old Jerry Crowe used to come in and smoke with me, or Robert Paudash, the Chief's son, who was a very intelligent fellow. and well educated. He had been an interpreter at the Indian Reserve in Minnesota where the Indians were all Episcopalians, Bishop Shipple being their Bishop. It was interesting hearing him tell about them. Often of an evening, I would go to the post office and store now kept by John Brown Burnwell who was quite a hunter and a good shot, especially with the rifle.

Between us we covered at cost for geese among the Indians. At the time a goose was only about forty cents and our apparent liberality was not a very expensive matter. I do not remember going up to Simcoe this Christmas, but spent it with my friends the Atwoods, and New Year's Day at home. The Indians had a custom of holding Watch-Night services until after midnight. I cannot say I found it dull this winter. I seemed always to have enough to do to keep me from being bored, and thus began for me the year 1877."

"January was a long, cold month, and I congratulated myself that I had moved away from the old Point House more than once. February the Indians used always to call "ma-ga-mo-n-ge-zis" which being interpreted means "devils month" on account of all the bad storms and freezing cold. March came in warm that year, and most of the ice was out of the lake by the end of the month; indeed, I remember John Burnwell asking me to go with him on March 22nd; to Harwood in the boat he got from me. We started, but could only get to Tick Island, about, six hundred yards from Harwood. And the bays on both sides of the railroad were still full of solid ice.

Spring is always a pleasant season and is so full of so many duties and responsibilities which must be attended to. For my own part, I got my canoe to the river at John Clarey's and used to get up long before daylight and go off after swallowing a hearty breakfast to attend to half a dozen tasks I had set on the river bank. I was buying muskrats from the Indians to send to England in the spring. I do not like trapping myself unless it be mink or otter. I had about half a dozen decoys and used to set these off a point with a large soft-maple which caused a bifurcation of the east mouth of the river. Here I used to kill all the ducks I required and had plenty to give away. I used to tap the soft-maple tree and, if not as sweet as the sugar-maple, its sap was quite preferable to river water. I remember well those spring days, and the happy, joyous notes of the grackles, both the fire-winged, and the big, crow-black bird, and I much enjoyed those hours of the day. I used to return about ten or eleven o'clock if I had luck, and walk back to the village to get my dinner. I was always so hungry in those blessed days."

"After the lake was open and I had bought all the furs I stored them in the loft of my house, as I could not ship them until May, the sales at the Mincing Lake Salesrooms taking place in June. I had, if I remember rightly, some 1,200 muskrats, but of other furs not anything of any account, thirty-four or so fox, and some half-dozen raccoon. In those days furs were so cheap that by the time one had packed them and shipped them and paid brokerage at the salesrooms, there was little or nothing in it. I did little more than make expenses, I remember, but hoped to do better next time."

"In June the Indians went up to Pinetree Point where they had a concession from the Government. At the time I speak of they went there to fish for about six weeks; it was a beautiful spot and adjoined the property of the late Rev. George Bridges which Mr. Finlay had bought from him. Several of the Indians asked me to come along, and as I had heard there were plenty of groundhogs and foxes I determined to go for a week anyway. Packing my camp outfit and rifle I started a few days after the rest and went up there; almost the first person I saw was William Anderson who had a camp close to the shore with his family. The encampment was the most animated and picturesque scene. There must have been quite forty or fifty Indians there, the most of the camp was cotton tents, but there were two or three birch-bark lodges; and these, besides being larger from their shape and size as well as the colour of the bark, made the camp a good deal more interesting. I made a drawing of this encampment, and subsequently, an oil painting, which owing perhaps to a brilliant sunset sky, has been quite admired.

I found one reason for William Anderson being so desirous to greet me was that he wanted to borrow the largest of my nest of camp kettles which held all the rest to keep water in. I lent it to him on the understanding that, when I was going away, it should be returned. If I remember rightly, I stayed only about four days. I never did care about trolling, and I did not care much for shooting groundhogs which generally got away down into their hole to die miserably, so I soon tired of it, and started for Gore's Landing.

I wanted to consult McBride about the boat he was to build for me. Before I went, Mrs. William Anderson very honestly returned me the big water pail but I did not see William. I soon returned to my home at Hiawatha, and I think it was some two weeks after my return that I met William on the lake. He paddled up to me in great haste, all his urbanity gone; "Mr. Drayton, what sort of a man are you anyway to give me the camp kettle and then go and take it away again, that ain't no gentlemanly trick.' I got riled and told him that he knew that can was a part of my camping kit, and I had only lent it to him, and that his wife brought it to me herself. 'Very well,' says William, 'I don't want to have no dealing with you.' 'All right', I said, 'I am quite agreeable.' And I paddled away; but his huff soon passed, he wanted tobacco or something, and he came to me, and got it."

Mr. Drayton recounts a second visit back to England. Few ships made a regular winter crossing in those days due to ice in the lower St. Lawrence.

"I embarked again for Canada, I think on one of about the last two sailings for Quebec, and after a stormy passage booked my place in a Pullman car for Cobourg. That was, if I remember rightly, very late in October or early November 1879. For several weeks I was unsettled and went up to see Philip and my friends at Simcoe, and then on my return took the old Gabetiis house from Tom Harris, and soon settled down again. I found but few changes since I went away. Old Alfred Harris, Tom's father, had died, and now Tom Harris had the house and hotel, while Ned had the store.

In September of this year I made my first expedition to the North country after deer. We went to the first lake, Stoplog Lake, in the Deerbay Creek waters. There were three of us, John Muskratte, Wilbert the young son of Tom Harris, and myself; and we had a hard time in getting to our destination. This was, I now recollect, Mud Turtle Lake. We had a wagon on which we carried the canoe and baggage, and ourselves."

The writer then tells of the discomforts of such an expedition; that John Muskratte shot a deer, a doe; and the rest partridges; he himself shot a deer which the wolves reached first, and left of it only the hide.

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