When I was young, my parents would “tuck me into bed.” As any parent knows, kids hate to go to bed at night — in fact it’s quite amazing to hear the excuses your kids will come up with — drinks of water, trips to the bathroom, anything to delay the inevitable. I remember saying “will you tuck me into bed?”

I found the source of that saying which dates back to the Saulteaux native Americans. “Tucking in” was a life-saving event before falling asleep.

I was reading a book about the Cree and Saulteaux Indians. These tribes lived in the Northwestern Territories of Canada, up by Hudson’s Bay, above the Great Lakes. (My husband’s ancestors link up with these tribes — hence my desire to read about them.)

A young Methodist missionary recorded his travels with his wife in the 1850’s, sharing Christianity with the native people. In the winter, the missionary and his Indian guide would travel by dog sled over the snow and frozen rivers. Temps would drop to below 50 degrees some nights.

One particularly cold night, after prayers, they prepared to sleep in the open air (no tepee.) The Guide being in charge —

‘Now, Missionary, I will make your bed.’

 This was his work, and he was adept at it. He first spread out a layer of evergreen boughs, and then on these he laid a large buffalo robe, and upon this a heavy blanket. Then, placing my pillow so that my head would be farthest away from the fire, he would say to me

 ‘Now, if you will get into bed, I will cover you up and tuck you in.’ (By Canoe and Dog-Train ) (by Egerton Ryerson Young)

The missionary would wrap up in a heavy overcoat (over his clothes), put on long buffalo skin boots, fur mits, cap, cape, and big mufflers. Then he would lay down on the boughs and the guide would throw a heavy blanket and fur robe over him and then

“very skillfully, and in a way most motherly, he would begin at my feet and carefully tuck me in. Rapidly and deftly did he proceed with his work, and almost before I was aware of what he was doing, he had reached my head, which he began to cover completely up with the heavy robe which he seemed to be crowding down under my back and shoulders.”

The first night, the missionary could not understand, and threw back the covers, thinking he would be smothered. The guide responded,

‘I know it must be hard work for you white people to sleep with your heads completely covered up, but you will have to do it here, or you will freeze to death.’

So, now, I understand why my son likes to sleep with the covers over his head. Must be in the genetics.


Tuck me in meaning
native americans