EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cochrane Ranch (located near Cardston in Southern Alberta) was sold to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1906. The following event took place after that when Bishop Parker, Bishop of the Mountain View Ward, was the manager of the Ranch.
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It was late September, already the autumn tints had begun in the foothills and along the river. The hill tops were brown and the atmosphere hazy with the calm restful quiet of the "Indian Summer" days.
Toward evening a band of Cree Indians pitched camp on the banks of the river. They were tired and anxious, for they had journeyed far, and had met with much abuse from the white settlers who had driven them from the camping grounds with curses and with insults to their wives and daughters. Four hundred miles they had traveled from the north in search of a people whom the Great Spirit had shown in a vision to one of the young men of the tribe--a people who could tell them of their forefathers and the Great White spirit, of whom they had learned in their legends that were told by the old men of the tribe when they were peacefully gathered around their camp fires at night. The Great White spirit, who they said, would come some day, and bring happiness and freedom. These would be the signs by which they would know when they had found this people: The men would be honorable and would not seek to destroy the virtue of their wives and daughters; they would be made welcome to the homes and camping grounds of these people; they would be given food.
It had taken many days to make the journey, and much faith to push on under the trying circumstances. Now winter would soon be upon them, and they were quite unprepared for winter. Little wonder that hope began to fail, and a feeling of sadness was with them. Hurriedly they prepared for the night and for rest, for when morning came they might be ordered on to find new camping grounds.
While they are asleep, let us draw near the camp and learn a little more of who they are and where their journey leads them.
The "Crees" are a tribe of Indians of high intelligence and high moral character from northern Alberta. At the time when the different tribes were placed on the reservations, the Crees refused to be confined to a reservation, and as a result they are free to roam about from place to place. But they have no home and no help from the government as the other Indian tribes do. So they must make their own living which makes them more industrious and capable. As the white people settle more thickly, times become harder for them, good hunting grounds are more scarce and they have many hardships.
There was only one part of the tribe camped on the river banks that night--about sixteen teepees and probably two hundred of the tribe. The rest were back in their camping ground in the northern wilderness, east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Yellowface, chief of the tribe, had come with his family and others, because of a strange incident that had occurred, back in their summer home, to one of the young men of the tribe who, during a severe illness, realizing he was about to die, begged his people not to bury him until every spot on his body was cold. Then he apparently died and for three days they kept him in the wigwam. Under his left arm, over his heart, there remained a spot of warmth and they hesitated to bury him for they had given their word they would not. At last, on the fourth day he revived again and told his people that he had been to the spirit world. That he had been given a message for them - that there was a people to the South, who had a record of their forefathers, and they must go and find this people. He also gave them the signs where by they might know them. He gave them a description of the man to who they must go, and to none other, and told them many things about the Spirit World and the Great Spirit. After a few days he died and was buried.
Then the Indians proceeded as soon as they could get ready to do as they had been bidden. They had traveled south to what is known as the "Church Ranch", a tract of land or a ranch in Southern Alberta - a beautiful stretch of prairie land from three to five miles wide and some thirty miles in length - in all, sixty-six thousand acres. It was bounded on the west by the Coutney River, on the south by the Rocky Mountains and on the east by the Belly River, running from one to three thousand head of cattle. This beautiful ranch belonged to the L.D.S. Church and Bishop Parker, bishop of Mountain View Ward was the manager of the ranch.
The Indian camp was on the Belly River within a short distance of the ranch house. In the following morning three or four of the cowboys: Ole Olsen, Jim Anderson and others from the ranch spied the smoke from the Indian camp and out of curiosity, rode down among them. The Indians were afraid that they had come to order them to move on, but the boys were friendly. They bought some moccasins, gloves etc. from them, paid no undue attention to the women and on leaving invited them to come up to the ranch house as Mr. Olsons wife was in charge at the ranch-house.
Here with joy, the Indians witnessed the first sign fulfilled. Had not these young men manifest a spirit of kindness and honor? Their faith was renewed, a council was held and two women were sent over to the ranch-house, apparently on a friendly visit, but possibly to make sure that the sign was certain.
There was a man and his wife Olaf, and Charlotte Olson, living in the Ranch-house ,who had charge while Bishop Parker was absent (which was quite often, for he had Ward duties and his own family, many times he was absent for days at a time.)
The squaws were made welcome by Mrs. Olson, who talked with them as best she could with their limited knowledge of English. But she liked their way. These squaws did not beg, but, not knowing why she did it, she gave them food, meat, bread and dried fruit when they were leaving.
Oh! How great was their joy and the joy of the tribe on their return. The second sign was fulfilled and they were fed by the hands of this people.
It was necessary then to make an effort to find the man to whom they were to go for the information they were seeking.
On the following day the chief himself and some of his men with an interpreter went to the ranch house. On seeing Mr. Oslon, they knew he was not the man they were looking for. But they asked permission to camp on the river. Mr. Olson told them they had permission to camp until the boss came to see about it. "What does the boss look like"? they inquired and upon getting a description they knew at once that their search was ended for they had only to wait until the boss came. Surely that would not be long.
But disappointment was once more to try their faith and patience, for Bishop Parkers' visits were always hurried ones. The Ward and home were seven miles from the ranch and the fastest means of going and coming was horseback, so that although he had been told that the Indians were very anxious to see him, he had supposed they were only wanting permission to hunt and trap, or some other of the many favors that other Indians were always asking. He had made no special effort to see them. They had moved their camp up the river a mile away from the ranchhouse, and when they came to the ranchhouse, he was not there. When at the ranch he did not stay at the house, but was out on the range with men and cattle. At last they made it known to Mrs. Olson, that they had a very important message for him. Several weeks passed and it was November.
One day there was a blizzard so severe that to ride the range was useless. The snow fell so thick and fast that only a few feet around could any object be discerned. Bishop Parker was at the ranch, and after lunch he proposed to Mr. Olson that they go down and see what it was that the Indians wanted. Mr. Olson was only to glad to go, for he and his wife had witnessed the anxiety of the Crees, and had been curious to know what it could mean.
The two men arrived at the camp, smoke was rising from the teepees. These people too were not venturing far from their shelter. Outside the tepees two furbuyers were bartering with Yellowface and the men for some furs and hides and no one noticed the approach of the visitors until Mr. Olson spoke, telling Yellowface that he had brought the boss. Yellowface turned, and an expression of joy covered his face, and he shook hands with the men. For he recognized Bro. Parker from the description. Then he gave two shrill yells, which startled the visitors. He dismissed the fur-buyers without ceremony and led the men to his own big tent in the center of the enclosure. They noticed as they went toward the tent that everybody was hurrying in the same direction. The yells of their chief must have been a signal for them to assemble. At the tent door they noticed quite a commotion going on inside. Several dogs who had been enjoying the shelter and warmth of the tent were being driven out by the chief's squaw with a big stick and so much force behind it that they were losing no time in making their getaway. The chiefs' two daughters were cleaning up the tent, and they arranged a seat by spreading a robe on the floor and placing a box upon it, then spreading over this a beautiful robe of mountain lion skin. When all was ready, Yellowface took Bishop Parker by the arm and seated him upon the seat, placing his interpreter at one side of the tent, standing, and himself standing opposite where he could see the faces of both men. Mr. Olson squatted down beside brother Parker. At a signal all of the others crowded into the tent and sat upon the ground. The two daughters of Yellowface sat directly in front of Bishop Parker with their needle-work. All was done with wonderful order, and then all was still. Yellowface spoke, nodding to Brother Parker,"You talk" he said. Brother Parker had not dreamed of the nature of their mission and he felt a peculiar feeling all during the time they had been gathering themselves about him. What did it mean? Why all this honor? Then he answered, "no, I came to hear you -- to see what it is that you want to see me for, they said you had a message for me. "No, said Yellowface "you have a message for us,tell us about our fore-fathers." "You have a book--that tells of them long ago."
Bishop Parker was so surprised and so thrilled at the experience that he knew not what to say or where to begin. His life and his work had been on the frontier. He had never been a student of the scripture, not given to study to great extent. He had read the book of Mormon, knew it was true and its worth. But to tell about it now, as he was expected to do, he felt wholly unable. But offering a silent prayer to his Heavenly Father for help, he began the story of Lehi and his family leaving Jerusalem, speaking in a few sentences, then waiting while the interpreter repeated the story to them in their own language. It was a never to be forgotten sight-those dusky faces upturned to him, watching every movement of his lips, drinking in with, oh, such interest, every word he spoke! Not one movement. They seemed like statues. For five hours they sat, listening to the story of their forefathers. Yellowface stood raised to his full height. He was tall, and straight as an arrow, his arms folded across his breast. He did not move, only asking a question now and then, or offering an explanation as he did to tell why they had come, and of their trials and the signs which they had received. His daughters, with their needle work in their hands sat motionless for the 5 hours, without even moving a muscle in their face it seemed.
The story progressed with wonderful success, for the Lord did indeed help with his spirit and power to bring to the memory of the relater, things long forgotten, to give him power when he had to wait for the interpreter to repeat his words to the Indians in their own tongue and his interest had been diverted in watching their expressions and interest - to take up the story again without hesitation and to make the story impressive to the ones to whom it ment so much-- who were they, where they came from, and why they were dark skinned, and what the future held for them.
When Brother Parker had told his story, Yellowface turned to his people and in their own tongue talked to them for half an hour in very serious tones, and although Brother Parker could not understand the words he felt the spirit, and knew he was teaching them and exhorting them to live good lives. Then, speaking again thru the interpreter, he held his right hand up and said he knew what had been spoken was the truth, "For the Great Spirit has told me, HERE," he said, laying his hand upon his breast.
Then he told many things of the legends of his fore-fathers, of the Great White Spirit ministering to his people. He also told experiences of his own father, with visitations of the spirit world. Things which he considered very sacred and begged the men not to repeat them to anyone, less they might not be told exactly as they were, and some might not believe.
Night comes early in that country in November, and it was with regret that they had to leave and return to the routine of life. But they were happy, all of them, in the blessings of the day, and they met again many times.
Often in the evenings, old Yellowface with interpreter and others of the tribe could come to the ranch-house and Sister Olson would read aloud from the Book of Mormon to them. They listened intently, and tears of joy would run down their faces, as they listened to the words and promises made therein. A Book of Mormon was given to them and there were those among them who could read English.
Yellowface and Brother Parker became great friends. The Cree Indians camped all winter where they were (on the Church Ranch) and as long as Brother Parker was manager there he was able to give them assistance in many ways when times were hard for them.
Brother Parker, and both Ole Olson and Charlotte Olson have signed this story.
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