In this excerpt, Peter Erasmus describes his initial feelings about George and John
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
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.
Days and Nights. Calgary:
Glenbow Institute, 1999.