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In Their Own Voices

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In this excerpt, Peter Erasmus describes his initial feelings about George and John McDougall:

The Rev. Mr. McDougall soon adjusted his haste to the slow movement of our carts. In fact he became the most talkative of us all, once he had dropped the stiff-backed officiousness of our first meeting. Each day as we traveled he seemed to take a fresh joy out of our camp life and the vast open spaces that lay before his view on every side without a single sign of habitation in our way. He was almost boyish in his exuberance, and I began to form a new opinion of the man. Our first meeting had rankled me sorely.

John was a young man. He could speak Swampy Cree and was an eager listener as his father questioned me as to my knowledge of the tribes with whom I had been in contact. I decided this young man would have no difficulty in grasping the essentials that were required for western living. He had none of the eastern prejudices and had an open mind. He was physically fit to cope with any hardship of trail endurance. There was no question in my mind that he would adjust himself to our people and conditions with far greater success than his father would or could. 

While his opinion of George McDougall improved, the two men did not often agree:

We had just returned from a trip on the prairie to the Victoria mission when a few days later McDougall called me into his study for a talk.

'Peter! You have been with me nearly three years. The expense of starting here has been heavy and I have instruction to reduce my costs in every possible way. I think that you should consent to accept a lower salary.'

I was then receiving $250.00 a year (at that time money was counted in pounds and shillings). I did not make an immediate reply but allowed him to continue his argument in support of his proposed reduction of salary, the tone of which tended to emphasize the great benefit I had received in his service and the favours he had rendered me personally and also the heavenly rewards stored up for all the people who engaged in the work of Christianizing the Indians.

'Mr. McDougall, I would like to ask you one question before you proceed any further. Just how much do you propose to reduce your own salary?'

His reply to this questioning was a clear evasion. He came back with a tirade about ingratitude and a lot of other remarks that reflected on the value of my work while in his service.

I replied with some heat, 'Mr. McDougall, if you think I have not given good value for the money I was paid, I can quit right now. Being a married man, supporting my wife and myself by my own resources I cannot consider your proposal for a moment. I'll prepare to leave your premises as soon as I round up my horses and pack our few articles and clothing.'

The reverend gentleman was very wroth indeed, unprepared for such a definite answer, and he spoke some high words hardly in keeping with his office. I did not interrupt until he was finished.

'Sir, I am surprised at your use of such irreverent words. You forget that I am a free agent and not a bonded slave. A cut in my salary that does not reduce your own is not appealing to my sense of justice. I see no reason why the high objectives and heavenly rewards you expound so forcibly do not apply to us both. I have earned every cent you have paid me and the kind of gratitude you demand from me is not in my being. I will be subservient to no man's will. Goodbye, I will leave this place as soon as it is humanly possible!'

John and I were good friends, and he tried to patch up the quarrel between his father and me, but I refused to reconsider my decision. The old man had gone too far in wounding my pride.

Citation Sources
Erasmus, Peter. Buffalo Days and Nights. Calgary: Glenbow Institute, 1999.

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