PRATT, CHARLES, Church of England catechist, schoolmaster, and HBC fur-trader; b. c. 1816 into a tribe of Cree–Assiniboin known as the Young Dogs in the Little Lakes area of the Qu’Appelle valley (Sask.), probably the son of a Stony mother and a Cree or Métis father; d. in 1888 on the Gordon Indian Reserve (south of Wynyard, Sask.).
Charles Pratt was taken to the Red River Settlement (Man.) by the Reverend John West* and baptized into the Church of England on 8 June 1823. After receiving an education at the Red River Academy (West was one of his teachers), he drifted into the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1840. He was stationed at Fort Pelly (Sask.) where he remained until 1844. In 1848 he was back in Red River, studying with the Reverend William Cockran*. In the early 1850s Pratt returned to the Fort Pelly–Touchwood Hills–Qu’Appelle River area as a catechist and lay preacher to the Cree–Assiniboin Indians.
Although Pratt had to rely primarily on the buffalo hunt for his livelihood, he still preached the virtues of a sedentary Christian existence and attempted to encourage settlement at Fort Pelly and in the Touchwood Hills area. He also tried to set an example for the Indians, and in 1858 geologist and explorer Henry Youle Hind* found him well ensconced in a log house with a garden and six or seven cows. Unfortunately, Pratt’s efforts met with little success even among the mixed-bloods. Preying Plains Indians, the vagaries of climate, and Pratt’s lack of experience and equipment dictated failure of the agricultural settlement.
Pratt’s status as a catechist among the Indians and mixed-bloods in the Qu’Appelle region was comparable to that of a medicine man, and he developed considerable influence among them. In 1873 he prevented an uprising among the Indians in the Touchwood Hills area and on 8 Sept. 1874 he acted as one of the interpreters at the Treaty no.4 negotiations at Fort Qu’Appelle, in which Paskwāw and Mīmīy participated.
Throughout his career Pratt was sponsored by the Church Missionary Society but despite his strong religious conviction he was unhappy with this connection. He complained frequently of insufficient financial support and considered his position little better than that of a slave. The poor funding and his lack of advancement were no doubt due in part to the racial discrimination which appeared within the society’s operations, though he does not mention it directly. His disillusion reached a peak in 1874 when Joseph Reader, an Englishman, was appointed to head the Qu’Appelle missions in spite of the fact that he could neither speak Cree nor cope with the hardships of living on the prairies.
The church connection had had some social benefits for Pratt. In 1855 he had married Catherine Stevenson whose father was a farmer in the Red River Settlement. Their 11 children were to find modest positions in the church or in the HBC. There is some indication that Pratt may have married again in 1874 but the second marriage was considerably more unstable than the first; apparently his wife frequently abandoned him for lengthy stays with her parents. Always hard pressed to support his family by farming, fishing, or the hunt, with the disappearance of the buffalo he knew hunger and destitution. In 1876, ill and realizing that the west he loved was at an end, he settled on a reservation with the largely mixed-blood Gordon Indian band, where he remained as schoolmaster and catechist until his death in 1888. His last years were bitter for he knew only too well that the best days of the mixed-bloods had vanished.
CMS Arch., C, C.1/0, Journals of Charles Pratt; Journals of Joseph Reader. PAC, RG 10, B3, 4073, file 438876. PAM, HBCA, A.32/49; B.159/a; E.4; E.5; E.6; MG 2, B3; MG 12, B. Saskatchewan Arch. Board (Regina), Arch. of the Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle. H. Y. Hind, North-West Territory: reports of progress; together with a preliminary and general report on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan exploring expedition . . . (Toronto, 1859). Boon, Anglican Church.