Told by Eliza Webb
Translated and transcribed by Brian Webb
I was there when a white man arrived at our camp. This was at Ahchigunigip (Seal River). It was during the fall goose hunt. For those who’ve seen Ahchigunigip, the tents were on top of the hill. The hill is clear of bushes. Below the hill is where the cabins are today. We had our tent pitched there. Our two tents were joined together. The late John and Violet Snowboy were living with us. Other tents were pitched on top of the hill.
On Saturdays, people cleaned up their homes. Even though there were no boughs to use as flooring, people used blackberry shrubs as flooring. This was the flooring being replaced every Saturday – changing the blackberry shrubs used as flooring. People went out and gathered the blackberry shrubs. These shrubs are thick and lush – these are what the blackberries grow on. Not all shrubs had berries on them. People would go out and collect and gather this. They were pulled from the ground and used as flooring. They were used exactly like spruce boughs.
This was what people did on Saturdays. People would clean their homes and replace the flooring. The blackberry shrubs would be totally dry and all the needles had fallen off. I helped in the gathering of blackberry shrubs. We’d carry them on our backs. A thin sheet was used and the shrubs were wrapped in the sheet. This was how people carried them home.
This is what I clearly remember. I don’t remember every detail. It was in the evening. I suppose it was a Saturday. My aunt Caroline Menarick came to our home. My brother Simon was still a young boy. She asked Simon to come with her to get blackberry shrubs. “You can throw stones at birds,” she insisted. Simon was eager to go. So, the two of them left. The rest of us remained at our tent.
Then I saw them walking back. I also seen them quickly walking back. My aunt walked quickly holding Simon’s hand. Simon was still very young. I don’t know how old he was. They brought nothing back with them. I can tell that she wasn’t carrying a bundle of berry shrubs. They arrived and we could see the worry in her face.
She said, “We saw someone over there. He’s walking towards us. He isn’t wearing a hat and his hair is totally blond.” The news spread quickly. Our grandfather was still alive at the time. He was called Bishdigoyau Chshayyu (Old Frenchman). His name was Joe Snowboy. His old wife was still alive as well. Her name was Mina. That was Sandy Snowboy’s mother. She had married him. Their tents were pitched on the hill. They had their four tents joined together. We were living below the hill. Other tents were pitched below the hill as well and others had their on top. A lot of people where there during that time.
We could see him walking towards us. All of us went up the hill. We could see him coming from the east. There are two peaks in that direction. These are snowy owl perches. The one closer to us is not very high. The higher peak is farther away. These are called snowy owl perches. Logs were erected there to place traps for snowy owls. That is why they’re called snowy owl perches. There were two of them. This was where this person was coming from.
I don’t know if all the men were in camp during this time. This was a Saturday. He came closer. We could tell that he was not a Cree person. He stood there in the distance and sat on a boulder. He sat there slumped over. It seemed he couldn’t walk very well when he got up again.
Our grandfather, Bishdigoyau Chshayyu, said that he would go meet him. He didn’t speak English himself and couldn’t communicate with the stranger. It seemed the man was wary to approach the camp and wasn’t sure what the people would do to him. I guess he was also afraid.
He finally came to our camp. Apparently, he was a white man. His clothes were tattered. Our grandfather, Bishdigoyau Chshayyu, supported him as they walked. They went into their tent. They had four tents joined together. This was where he took him in.
Everyone else was astir, trying to get a view of this man. I remember being in the crowd too. Our grandfather ordered that this man be given food and bannock to eat and tea to drink. A prayer was said first. This was a common practice back then. Our grandfather said a prayer.
The stranger ate. But I think we were all so astounded to see him. We must’ve been gawking at him because he was shy to eat. This was the man who arrived at our camp. He stayed in the old man’s tent. He stayed in Sandy’s tent.
The reason why he couldn’t walk very well, he apparently had a cut. He took off boot and his sock. There was a huge gash on his foot. He had stepped on a sharp rock while barefoot. His sole had an open wound and this was what made him limp.
He wanted the gash on the sole of his foot to be sewn shut. Violet Snowboy and Flora (Bobbish) were the ones who communicated with him. They were the ones who knew how to speak English. He spoke to them and told them what he wanted. He wanted the needle and thread to be boiled first – to be boiled in water. This was what he wanted. All the women refused to do this when they were asked to sew his foot.
There was an Elder named Moses Menarick. He was my mom’s older brother. He sewed the man’s foot. I don’t know how many stitches he made.
Apparently, he walked from A Mihchtawayach (Cape Jones). This boat had broken up on the rocks. He had sailed from Moosonee. I don’t know where he wanted to sail to. I don’t know if he was sailing out in the bay or if he stopped at Fort George. He had started sailing from Moosonee. His boat was brought there by the train. This was what people said.
I don’t know how long it took. His foot was sewn up. It took a while for the wound to heal. Another thing I remember used to heal him was seal blubber. My mom tended to his foot. Eventually, his foot was completely healed. He was able to walk around again.
Another thing I remember is he wanted to be taken to Bîshibuyyshdigw (Roggan River) to get supplies. There was a trading post there. This was where he was taken. A canoe was used. Willie Spencer was the factor at that trading post. Or maybe it was Walter Pachano who was the factor at that time.
He was taken there. They left in the morning. They arrived the same day. He had filled that canoe. They only paddled and had filled the canoe. He was given everything he wanted without hesitation. I don’t know if he was working for the government because of how much he was given from the trading post. Even the women’s implements used for sewing and hair clips and hair brushes – he was able to give something to everyone. Even the girls and all the women. I don’t know what he gave to the boys. He gave something to all the boys and the men. He gave a gift to everyone. This was what he did when they went to the trading post.
Even the food from the post, such as flour. All the food he brought was distributed among the people. This was the food that was available from the post. There wasn’t much variety during that time. There was only flour, lard, sugar, tea and baking powder. I suppose this was what he brought back. He wanted all this to be distibuted among the people.
We started living with him. He stayed with us. We then moved up the river to the place called A Utichibudach. This was where he lived with us. He stayed with Moses Menarick.
There was an epidemic at that time. The people were very sick. Some people didn’t make it. He said that there was medication at A Mihchtawayach – medication to help people. He instructed Moses to go there to get the medicine.
Slush was already coming down the river, but the river had not frozen over yet. Moses was taken across the river. He instructed him to go where his ship was and to look for the medicine. He left for A Mihchtawayach.
He told him not to stop. This was because of how sick the people were. My younger brother Simon was very sick too. His throat was so sore. He would ask for water because of his thirst. But when he was given water, he couldn’t swallow because of how sore his throat was. He would only cry. His throat was very painful. This was how he was.
The white man instructed my uncle not to stop walking even when night fell. We were camped on the southside of the river. He had been taken across to the northside of the river. He told my uncle that he would keep a constant look-out for him, even at night. “Make a fire across the river so I’ll know that you’re back and we’ll bring you back across.”
This was what my uncle did. He came back during the night. Or maybe it was at dawn, I don’t know. He walked all the way to A Mihchtawayach. He brought back the medicine. And this was what helped the sick people.
Mid-winter arrived and he was brought to Fort George. And I suppose that white man flew back home from here. Of course, he was given a nickname. He was called Ga Baygushit (The Loner). They called him Ga Baygushit. I don’t know his English name.
He used to sing. He started to sing well in Cree. He sang a song about a puppy. He would sing in Cree. He would visit the sick children and sit with them and sang songs to them. I guess it was Violet and Flora who taught him how to sing the children’s songs. He would sing “My puppy with the short tail”. The children became good at singing his songs too.
He would come in our home. My grandmother was still alive at the time. He would sing beside Simon. He sang children’s songs and sang songs in Cree. When he left, that was the last we saw of him. I don’t know but I’ve heard that he had already passed away. I have an idea of what his name was, but I don’t want to say it because I’m not totally sure. That is why I don’t want to name him – the one called Ga Baygushit.