Sunday, July 07, 2013

Samson Beaver and his Family

I first posted this in 2009, a little show and tell about one of my favourite photographs. Back then it hung on a wall, but now it's in my bathroom where I see it every morning! I'd forgotten the history behind the story, researched when I first posted this and thought that current readers might enjoy it--a story from a time when this land was still being discovered, not so very long ago.

This photograph was taken by Mary Schaffer; artist, photographer, writer and naturalist, in 1907. It is of a Stoney Indian named Samson Beaver, with his wife Leah and daughter, Frances Louise. I bought the photo on a postcard, on a trip to British Columbia and it hangs framed, on the wall I face when sitting at my laptop. I love it.

Don't you just feel as if you could gather Frances Louise up in your arms and cuddle her?

I get a deep sense of peace and happiness when I look at this family, sitting in the grass of a long ago fall. They are dressed in their best, beautiful clothes, but it is their eyes and smiles that capture me; and the leafy twig in Frances Louise's hand.

I imagine the photographer, Mary, lying on her stomach in the grass to take the photograph. It is so hard to imagine that this moment was over one hundred years ago. The people in it seem so vibrantly alive.

When Mary, a native of Pennsylvania, met Samson at the horse ranch of Elliot Barnes in the Saskatchewan Valley, she was looking for an elusive lake called Chaba Imne (Beaver Lake) by the Indians. Samson remembered going there 20 years previously, when he was just 14. From memory he drew a map for Mary.

The following summer (1908,) Mary and her equally adventurous friend Molly, set out on an expedition to find the lake, with the help of guides Billy Warren and Sid Unwin. They had almost given up hope and were beginning to doubt the accuracy of the map, when Sid decided that he was going to climb to the top of the highest peak he could find, to see once and for all if the lake was within 20 miles of where they were. He returned later that night and to their great excitement he had spotted it.

The group spent three days exploring the lake, and during the two weeks spent on or near it, they found no sign of man, "just masses of flowers, the lap-lap of the waters on the shore, the occasional reverberating roar of an avalanche and our own voices stilled by a nameless Presence."

I just wanted to share something that I love and enjoyed learning more about.


Anonymous said...

I too love the picture. How beautiful. It is composed wonderfully. It is so nice to see folks smiling in an older picture. So often (due mainly to the photography system and the subjects having to stay still for so long) people look dour.

Have you ever followed up on the family? Followed Frances Louise's life?

Thanks for sharing.

Belinda said...

Yes, I think that is what makes the photograph so compelling. It doesn't look "old," but you feel as though they could step right out of it and talk to you. I haven't researched more about the family in subsequent generations, although that would be a fascinating thing to do. I did look up Beaver Lake though, and there is a resort there now, very commercialized--not the mysterious lake of 1908.

Charles Turner said...

We visited the area in the Rockies 30 years ago,we saw the postcard,and visited the museum where the original is kept,and managed to buy a large version.The beautiful picture has had pride of place in our house ever since.
The book about Mary Schaffer and her exploration is also fascinating.
Charles Turner

Belinda Burston said...

I can imagine how beautiful a large version of the photo would be. There seems to be something so magnetic and peaceful about it. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your own history with this picture!