Some narratives are valuable chiefly for their interest of style and manner, while the facts themselves are of minor account. Other narratives secure attention by the weight of their facts alone. The author of “Mary and I; Forty Years with the Sioux” has our thanks for giving us a story attractive alike from the present significance of its theme and from the frank and fresh simplicity of its method.
It is a timely contribution. Thank God, the attention of the whole nation is at length beginning to be turned in good earnest to the chronic wrongs inflicted on the Indian race, and is, though slowly and with difficulty, comprehending the fact, long known to the friends of missions, that these tribes, when properly approached, are singularly accessible and responsive to all the influences of Christianity and its resultant civilization. Slowest of all to apprehend this truth, though with honorable exceptions, are our military men. The officer who uttered that frightful maxim, “No good Indian but a dead Indian,”—if indeed it ever fell from his lips,—needs all the support of a brilliant and gallant career in defence of his country to save him from a judgment as merciless as his maxim. Such principles, let us believe, have had their day. They and their defenders are assuredly to be swept away by the rising tide of a better sentiment slowly and steadily pervading the country. The wrongs of the African have been, in part, redressed, and now comes the turn of the Indian. He must be permitted to have a home in fee-simple, a recognized citizenship, and complete protection under a settled system of law. The gospel will then do for him its thorough work, and show once more that God has made all nations of one blood. He is yet to have them. It is but a question of time. And the Indian tribes are doubtless not to fade away, but to be rescued from extinction by the gospel of Christ working in them and for them.
The reader who takes up this volume will not fail to read it through. He will easily believe that Anna Baird Riggs was “a model Christian woman,”—the mother who could bring up her boy in a log cabin where once the bear looked in at the door, or in the log school-house with its newspaper windows, “slab benches,” and drunken teacher, and could train him for his work of faith and perseverance in that dreary and forbidding missionary region, and in what men thought that forlorn hope. And he will learn—unless he knew it already—that a lad who in early life hammered on the anvil can strike a strong and steady stroke for God and man.
The reader will also recognize in the “Mary” of this story, now gone to her rest, a worthy pupil of Mary Lyon and Miss Z. P. Grant. With her excellent education, culture, and character, how cheerfully she left her home in Massachusetts to enter almost alone on a field of labor which she knew perfectly to be most fraught with self-sacrifice, least attractive, not to say most repulsive, of them all. How hopefully she journeyed on thirteen days, from the shores of Lake Harriet, to plunge still farther into the wilderness of Lac-qui-parle. How happily she found a “home” for five years in the upper story of Dr. Williamson’s log house, in a room eighteen feet by ten, occupied in due time by three children also. How quietly she glided into all the details and solved all the difficulties of that primitive life, bore with the often revolting habits of the aborigines, taught their boys English, and persevered and persisted till she had taught their women “the gospel of soap.” How bravely she bore up in that terrible midnight flight from Hazelwood, and the long exhausting journey to St. Paul, through the pelting rains and wet swamp-grass, and with murderous savages upon the trail. But it was the chief test and glory of her character to have brought up a family of children, among all the surroundings of Indian life, as though amid the homes of civilization and refinement. All honor to such a woman, wife, and mother. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Forty-one years after her departure from the station at Lake Harriet, the present writer stood upon the pleasant shore where the tamarack mission houses had long disappeared, and felt that this was consecrated ground.