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Abigail Steinhauer was born at Norway House in Manitoba in 1847, the second child of Henry Bird Steinhauer, an Ojibwa Methodist missionary, and Seeseeb Mamanuwartum (Jessie Joyful), a Swampy Cree. As a child, Abigail shared her father's scholarly abilities and began teaching in the mission school when she was only 13. Her formal education, however, did not start until the winter of 1864-65, when she went to school at the Victoria Mission, near present-day Bonnyville, Alberta. There, she met John McDougall and they married-she was 17. In his book, Pathfinding on Plains and Prairie, John McDougall describes their courtship and wedding:

My bride to be was the daughter of the Rev. H. B. Steinhauer. I had met her in the autumn of 1862, when I accompanied Father on his first visit to Whitefish Lake. Our acquaintance, which had grown into a courtship on my part, was now between two and three years old. Our parents willingly gave us their consent and blessings. Father and Peter accompanied us to Whitefish Lake, and Father married us in the presence of my wife's parents and people. Our 'honeymoon trip' was to drive from Whitefish Lake to Victoria with dog-train, when the season was breaking up, and in consequence the trip was a hard one.

John McDougallJohn McDougall's father, the Reverend George McDougall, wished to reopen the Pigeon Lake Mission, first established by the Methodist missionary Robert Rundle. Although he had not yet received approval from the Wesleyan Mission Society, he appointed John to do so and, shortly after their wedding, John and Abigail set out for Pigeon Lake with their supplies-two Hudson's Bay Blankets, 200 bullets, twine for nets, some ponies and two oxen with borrowed carts.

Red River CartWhile Abigail is only occasionally mentioned in John McDougall's writing, one can imagine the challenges she faced as well as the pioneering history she witnessed. Pigeon Lake was remote and distant from Whitefish Lake and the Victoria Settlement where her parents and in-laws lived. She and John had three daughters to raise and mission work to accomplish-on early mission trips, Abigail often accompanied John and helped lead singing during worship. 

Like all pioneering women, Abigail had to rise to meet and adapt to challenging circumstances. In 1869 when abigail graveJohn was asked by the government to prepare the Aboriginal people for treaty negotiations, she moved with her daughters to the Victoria Settlement. In 1870, a smallpox epidemic ravaged the settlement and the entire McDougall family worked diligently to care for the sick, the dying and the bereaved, losing three of their own family members. On April 11, 1871, six months after the birth of her third daughter and with John away in the field, Abigail died. As like much of her life, the cause of her death remains unknown.  

Mortality Figures for the Smallpox Epidemic of 1870*                                      

                               Community                   Deaths

                                               St. Albert                                       320

                                               St. Anne                                          40

                                               Fort Edmonton                               30

                                               Victoria                                             55

                                               Whitefish Lake                                50

                                               Lac La Biche                                   13

                                               St. Paul                                           150

                                               Fort Pitt                                           100

                                               Carlton                                            100

                                  *Source: Hardisty Papers, Glenbow Archives, Calgary.


Citation Sources
McDougall, John. Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie: Stirring Scenes of Life in the Canadian North-West. Toronto: William Briggs, 1898.

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