Peter Erasmus was a mediator and interpreter and his work with Thomas Woolsey
was crucial in
paving the way for other Methodist ministries. His practical knowledge of
land, languages and people aided the introduction of many Plains
communities to the message of the missionaries, and the missionaries to the
ways of the Plains people. Erasmus' recollections reveal that much of
this occurred behind the backs of both the missionary and the
Hudson's Bay Company and in violation of strict rules against any trade
with Aboriginal peoples. In his words, "The gentleman [Woolsey] was too inclined to
accept his daily prayer for food in much the same way as the Israelites
did with the manna from heaven, whereas I knew from bitter experience that
material provision for your future needs was an important law of survival
regardless of the missionary concept of these things."
As an interpreter, Erasmus worked for the Cree people and the
government. He participated in Treaty 6 negotiations in 1876, and
later was present at the North-West Rebellion, working to maintain peace.
By being able to translate, negotiate, guide and trade,
Erasmus was part of many events that shaped Alberta. He recounted his life story in his
later years and the resulting memoirs, Buffalo Days and Nights,
are a unique perspective in western Canadian history.
Serving as an interpreter and guide during the Palliser Expedition,
Peter Erasmus provided invaluable knowledge. The
three-year-long scientific expedition that began in 1857 was crucial in
opening the West for British North America, as the resulting maps and
reports report were, for some time, the key source of information about
much of the area that spanned from Lake Superior to the west side of the
Place Names of the Palliser Expedition: Part 1
Days and Nights. Calgary:
Glenbow Institute, 1999.