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.
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.
While 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
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*
Lac La Biche
*Source: Hardisty Papers, Glenbow Archives,
McDougall, John. Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie: Stirring Scenes of
Life in the Canadian North-West. Toronto: William Briggs, 1898.