What we had long anticipated of the sufferings of the Indians began to manifest itself as the spring drew on. Its extent was first brought to our knowledge by those who came in little parties begging for food.
As long as it was possible to issue occasional rations their Father continued to do so, but the supplies in the Commissary Department were now so much reduced that Colonel Cutler did not feel justified in authorizing anything beyond a scanty relief, and this only in extreme cases.
We had ourselves throughout the winter used the greatest economy with our own stores, that we might not exhaust our slender stock of flour and meal before it could be replenished from “below.” We had even purchased some sour flour which had been condemned by the commissary, and had contrived, by a plentiful use of saleratus and a due proportion of potatoes, to make of it a very palatable kind of bread. But as we had continued to give to party after party, when they would come to us to represent their famishing condition, the time at length arrived when we had nothing to give.
The half-breed families of the neighborhood, who had, like ourselves, continued to share with the needy as long as their own stock lasted, were now obliged, of necessity, to refuse further assistance. These women often came to lament with us over the sad accounts that were brought from the wintering grounds. It had been a very open winter. The snow had scarcely been enough at any time to permit the Indians to track the deer; in fact, all the game had been driven off by the troops and war-parties scouring the country through the preceding summer.
We heard of their dying by companies from mere inanition, and lying stretched in the road to the Portage, whither they were striving to drag their exhausted frames. Soup made of the bark of the slippery elm, or stewed acorns, were the only food that many had subsisted on for weeks.
We had for a long time received our own food by daily rations from the garrison, for things had got to such a pass that there was no possibility of obtaining a barrel of flour at a time. After our meals were finished I always went into the pantry, and collecting carefully every remaining particle of food set it aside, to be given to some of the wretched applicants by whom we were constantly thronged.
One day as I was thus employed, a face appeared at the window with which I had once been familiar. It was the pretty daughter of the elder Day-kau-ray. She had formerly visited us often, watching with great interest our employments—our sewing, our weeding and cultivating the garden, or our reading. Of the latter, I had many times endeavored to give her some idea, showing her the plates in the Family Bible, and doing my best to explain them to her, but of late I had quite lost sight of her. Now, how changed, how wan she looked! As I addressed her with my ordinary phrase, “Tshah-ko-zhah?” (What is it?) she gave a sigh that was almost a sob. She did not beg, but her countenance spoke volumes.