The Souvenir of Western Women/What Christianity Has Done for the Indian Woman
Song of the Klootchman
BY DENMAN S. WAGSTAFF
Cold blows the wind on Neah Bay shore,
Yet softly the Klootchman sings;
In its rustic cot the baby sleeps
As the cradle swings and swings.
Does the Klootchman dream of olden days
Does she hope for her baby there
In its swinging nest 'neath the old tree-top—
Does she build it a future fair?
Ah no, methinks on Neah Bay shore
Where the cradle swings and swings,
The Klootchman ends her daily task
When the babe sleeps as she sings.
What Christianity Has Done for the Indian Woman
By MISS HELEN CLARK,
Missionary at Neah Bay. Wash.
CHRISTIANITY means everything to the Indian woman; not only life and light, but also love and hope. It found her chattel, it made her owner; it found her man's slave, it made her his companion.
An Indian who knew all the depths of woman's wretchedness among his people said: "The poorest white man makes a better husband than the best Indian."
"She is mine, I bought her, I can do as I like with her," is often heard.
On this plea of ownership even an educated Indian, unchristianized, kicked and ill-treated the pretty little woman who had been bought for him.
When an Indian woman becomes a Christian, her whole life proclaims it. As a daughter in a Christian family she has many privileges denied her less favored sisters. With her brothers she shares the love and care of both parents. She is no longer regarded as a piece of merchandise to be sold to the highest bidder. Her wishes are consulted in the choice of a husband, and her father, instead of receiving gifts, helps the young people to start in life. She is mistress in her new home. If she does not please her husband in every particular she is not liable to be traded or sold, as in the old days. Neither is she required to share her home with two or three women with equal rights. Her husband no longer eats the best of everything while she waits upon him. They sit together, and share what provisions they have, and want bites him as well as her. When he visits friends she accompanies him. In everything she is his companion and counsellor, and purse holder as well.
Even a heathen husband appreciates a Christian wife. He knows such a one can be trusted, and she is more industrious. Not a few Indian men have been won to a new life through their Christian wives. One good woman came in tears because she had not been living a true Christian life before her heathen husband. She said he would find fault and she would get "high." He would laugh and say, "I'm better than you; I don't get mad at everything." She said with evident emotion: "I don't want to give Jesus a bad name. I want my husband to be a Christian."
Insofar as they know the right they strive to do it.
If a Christian Indian woman takes the burden of the work, it is because she desires to do so. Some of them still think it a disgrace for the men to do certain kinds of work. They are like an old Scotch woman in the bygone days, who indignantly asked: "D'ye think I'd see my mon under a coo? Nae, nae, I'd reyther milk twal coos alane every nicht." This pride dominates some Indian women. They look up to their husbands find serve them still, but the love that prompts it is wholly unlike the old slavish fear. They work as hard, but with a new motive.
The Indian woman now knows the children playing about her door will not be torn from her". In heathenism time if a woman had no children, or her children died, it was considered a sufficient reason for putting her away for a younger, stronger woman. This is not allowed by Christian Indians. The only living child of a Christian chief had no children. He wanted to follow the old custom and put his wife away, but his father would not permit it. He said: "If God thought you could take care of children He would have given them to you. Keep the wife you've got."
An old woman, talking about her family, said: "I do not know why my children died." Then she added: "Perhaps they were tired." She was as good a shot as her husband, and day after day she trudged by his side in the chase with her babe on her back. In the evening she prepared the campfire and cooked while he rested. Her work was varied. Sometimes she examined the traps and skinned the animals she found therein; at other times she laid low the prowling bear or lordly deer and prepared their hides for market. Altogether it was a "hard life." When her babe, sickened through its mother's incessant toil, fell asleep, it was she who stripped the birch of its covering and in the soft fold of the birch bark laid her little one, and buried it in a grave dug by her own hands. She would tell you her husband was not unkind; it was only the custom. Her mother heart was wrung when she laid it away. "It will be mine, mine, mine there." she said, pointing her long, bony arms upward.
Christianity means the breaking up of old customs and the bringing in of new duties. When an Indian woman ceases to do a man's work, she learns the household arts. It is an interesting sight to see her seated on the ground with a child on each side whom she is teaching to sew. Their Christianity may be crude, but it leads to a new life, and the brightness of this new life is vivid when contrasted with the impenetrable gloom of the old.
Mrs. Jane Gage Goodhue Thomas contributes this interesting incident of crossing the plains: "The road was strewn for hundreds of miles with discarded things from overloaded wagons—food, bedding, wearing apparel, even trunks full of ball dresses, books, furniture, machinery—everything, in fact, that could be mentioned. On the Platte River, where we camped one evening, we noticed a white tent in the bushes near by. Upon examination there was found pinned to the tent a note which read, 'Died of cholera.' Inside was a neatly-made bed and a trunk full of woman's clothing. Beside the tent was the grave. The dead were buried by putting in a layer of earth and then a layer of prickly pear, alternately, to prevent wild animals from digging the bodies up. At Fort Laramie the wagons were searched and all liquors confiscated."