[Solomon Stevens Burleson, Priest]
ACROSS our continent, together with the onward march of civilization, has gone the religion of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it was the missionary and not the explorer who was the real pioneer of progress. Though ministers of Christ, and living their lives for another purpose than a search for wealth or the acquisition of territory, many have nevertheless found places of imperishable fame in the history of our country because of the service which they have rendered to her. There is scarcely any portion of the West which does not have its story of missionary heroism, and the names of many a locality testify to the deeds of good men who fought their battle in the early days and served their fellows for the love of their Master. To men such as Marquette and Joliet, Hennepin and Marcus Whitman the obligation of the nation is admittedly great.
And beside these great names are hundreds of others, little known or recognized beyond a small circle, yet the names of men who have made possible the Christian civilization of the land, and who, step by step and side by side with the settler and the miner and the cowboy, have gone carrying Christ to His brethren. These have not found wealth, nor much honor, nor great praise of men; but they have been among the conquerors in the battle which the Captain of our Salvation is waging against the powers of this world, and many a community has learned to bless their names and honor their memories.
Of such an one the following pages tell. It is not their purpose to present a biography or depict a life so much as to reproduce the atmosphere in which such service is rendered, and to tell a typical story of a simple soldier of the Cross.
THE missionary who is to succeed in the new and unsettled parts of our land must first of all be a man. It will not greatly matter how many titles he wears before his name or how many letters he writes after it, but that he shall be direct and forceful and unafraid, that he shall be able to stand squarely on his own feet and meet men where and as he finds them,--these things matter very much. The first step, therefore, in the making of a missionary is the making of a man.
Doubtless we can never rightly understand a human life unless we have known at least something of its origin and early history. So we find ourselves, in the year 1833, in a little village of Cortland County, New York, where on the 31st of January a firstborn son came to gladden the home of the young village physician, Dr. Caleb N. Burleson. It was a time when, with rare exceptions, the pages of the Bible furnished names for all the little newcomers into this world, and therefore it was not surprising that the tiny baby was named for no less an one than Solomon.
The boy was a sturdy child and gave early promise of that physique which in later years enabled him to do such hard and telling work. Four years later, upon the birth of a sister, the mother was taken away,--a disaster which caused the father to return with his two motherless infants to his old home in Vermont, where he settled in the village of Franklin among his own people. Here he married, not long after, one who was a good mother to his children and her own; and here the first conscious experiences of life came to the future missionary.
They were rather hard and primitive conditions which the many faced in those days. The comforts and conveniences of modern life were largely unknown. One can see the sturdy boy lying at full length upon the hearth before the open wood-fire, both for the sake of light and heat, as he studied his lessons for the following day; or tramping through the snow to the "little red school-house" with its primitive equipment and old-fashioned teacher who inculcated "readin', writin' and cipherin'",--sometimes with a hickory stick,--and "boarded 'round" to eke out a scanty income. So passed the days of childhood, happily, in spite of what we should count privations, the boy learning to exercise the qualities of leadership both in class and on the playground,--nor was he by any means the last to arrive when mischief was on foot.
It was not long before the resources of the district school were exhausted, and the boy, now fast becoming a man, went to the village of East Berkshire, where lived an old priest of the Church, Rev. E. A. Sayles, who added to his meagre income by tutoring young men for college. Here for the first time the young man was brought into contact with the Church's life and customs. Hitherto he had known nothing but the crudest sort of denominationalism and the Roman Catholicism of the French Canadians. Neither of these attracted him. Methodism was dominant in northern Vermont,--Methodism of the old-fashioned revivalistic and "sanctified" type. Its claims upon his allegiance he could not allow, but the dignity and beauty of the Church's worship made an immediate and strong appeal to his spiritual nature, though the time of his stay was so brief that the impression seemed to bear no fruit, and he went away as he came--an unbaptized man owning no religion. The old clergyman, however, had liked him well, and when he left his tutor presented him with a Prayer Book in which his name was written, asking him to keep it in remembrance of the days they had passed together. Little did the giver realize how important a part this book was later to play in a distant land and under strange conditions.
The tutor had not been able to give the time and assistance needed for a thorough preparation, and therefore the young man entered a New England academy, the predecessor of our modern high school. Here again he took the lead, both in and out of the class room, and became known as a boy who never shrank from a challenge, Jost a fight, or missed a chance for fun. Tradition has it that his brain devised the plan which resulted in the nocturnal shingling of the boarding-house (whose chief article of diet was salt cod), with a lot of over-ripe codfish which had been thrown away by a local merchant. Again, he agreed to go stealing apples with an eager companion only after having arranged with some others of his schoolmates to shoot an old army musket loaded with powder into an empty barrel. Simultaneously with this tremendous report the conspirator fell groaning, and the effect produced on the younger boy as he ran from the scene of the supposed assassination effectively cured him of an appetite for his neighbor's fruit. These and other similar escapades do not perhaps sound like the occupations of a future missionary, but they argue a sense of humor, which is, after all, for missionaries as well as others, a valuable possession.
From the academy to the university the step was an easy one, for the scholastic work had been well done. The young man's purpose was to follow his father's profession of medicine, which throughout his life attracted him greatly. Already as a member of the household of a country physician he had rendered much assistance in surgical cases and had picked up valuable information. He pictured himself, at the end of his college course, as his father's associate and eventual successor in the work of healing,--but quite other things were in store for him.
Life was not to run in the channel he had marked out, nor was it to be as simple and easy as he had dreamed. His father at this time became involved in serious and prolonged litigation. The "law's delays" made expenses heavy, and an unscrupulous opponent gained what seemed an unfair verdict. Appeal was in vain, for influences were manipulated against him, and trickery again triumphed. The matter involved all the savings of his years of labor, and in the end everything was swept away. The oldest son, at the opening of his university course, hearing of the financial difficulty, promptly though with a sad heart turned his back upon college and went out into the world to find some work by which he might help his father in his time of need.
The first honorable occupation that offered took him behind the counter of a country store. Here he gained much experience and many friends. Life in the New England village of that day centered in the country store. It was the post-office, the men's club, the general exchange of every sort. So thoroughly did he gain the confidence and esteem of his employers that a place in the firm was shortly offered him, and he might have remained a country storekeeper but that the power which was shaping his life again turned him aside, by the pathway of hardship and pain.
While helping in the "raising" of a sawmill he received a severe strain. Soon afterward a fire broke out in the village and as usual the young clerk was first among the fighters in the bucket brigade, taking the place of exposure and danger on the roof. The night was cold and he was soon sheathed in ice, but he fought on till the fire was out. The exposure brought on a severe inflammation in the recently strained organs, which for nearly a year compelled him to give up all work. Indeed, he never really recovered from this experience.
The first work which he felt able to undertake after his illness was the teaching of a country school. This he did, for several terms, one of the schools being of the "tough" variety, where the big boys prided themselves on "throwing out the teacher." The previous teacher had been seriously injured by these bullies, and no one cared to take the school. It was offered to Mr. Burleson, and he promptly accepted. The story of what followed we will not record here, further than to say that in the nineteen-year-old teacher, weakened though he was by his previous illness, the hulking boys found a master, and from that time on the district had a school.
By this time Dr. Burleson's financial straits had been modified and it was possible for the son to take up again the preparation for his life work. He returned home and began the study of medicine with his father. In this move, however, he met with the decided opposition of an uncle, Mr. Isaac Bowdish, who was one of the prominent lawyers of the state. He had long urged his nephew, of whom he was both fond and proud, to give up the thought of medicine and study law. The father now added his voice to these solicitations, feeling that, considering the crippled resources of the family, the law offered a readier and better opportunity for his son than did medicine. Thus persuaded he finally yielded and took up the study of law in his uncle's office, but he never lost his love of medical research, always making it one of his relaxations. An able physician once said of him, "He has a very rare gift for accurate diagnosis; it is a crime for him to be anything but a doctor."
During his law course the young man had as his most intimate friend a young printer. Frequent calls at the printing office enabled him to pick up a good working acquaintance with that art; an acquisition which was later to be turned to good account.
Nor was this the only matter of moment in which he was then engaged. He had become acquainted with Miss Abigail Pomeroy, whose father was a substantial farmer near the village of Franklin. Their friendship soon merged into a stronger bond, and before the law course was finished the engagement was announced. Examinations were passed with credit, and the aspirant was admitted to the bar in 1854, and began the practice of his profession. His marriage took place the next year, and in a quiet little Vermont village the young couple began their life together.
IT was a day when the eyes and minds of young men,--especially those living in the rather-narrow confines of New England,--turned eagerly toward the west. Those who had been brought up among the granite hills,--which despite their beauty meant contracted acreage and stony fields,--heard with enthusiasm of the rolling uplands and fertile prairies where a man might plough all day in a single furrow and come back the following day; where, indeed, there was nothing to prevent him from making his furrow 100 miles long, without being compelled to turn out for a stick, or a stone, or a tree. And these goodly lands were to be had for the asking.
The Ultima Thule of that day--the Mecca of thousands of pilgrims--was the state of Minnesota, and thither in 1856, with his wife and new-born son and all his earthly possessions, the future missionary journeyed. Packed away somewhere in the boxes was the old Prayer Book, bearing silent witness to the one time when the Church had, with seeming ineffectiveness, laid her hand upon this young life.
Through the Great Lakes by the steamships of that day to the little port of Chicago,--then a frontier town set in the mud at the foot of Lake Michigan, thence to the Mississippi River by the one existing railroad, and so up the river to the goal of their hopes, journeyed these seekers of the promised land.
It was late in the fall when they reached Wabasha, Minnesota, at the foot of Lake Pepin, where the young lawyer thought to settle. But the lawlessness which prevailed there,--for the town was situated on Indian land, and was a favorite "hangout" for the river raftsmen,--was too great for the comfort of his family, and he moved across the lake to North Pepin, Wisconsin, where he lived for two years, following the practice of law and publishing a newspaper. At the end of this time, the law of the state having now been established at Wabasha, he returned to that place bringing with him his law business and his newspaper.
Those were troublous times, and events of interest,--some humorous, some well-nigh tragic,--followed one another in rapid succession. The practice of the law among a lawless people had its distinct element of danger, while a fearless editor was sure to make enemies among the class which frequented the pioneer town and preyed upon the passing gangs of lumbermen and the inpouring immigrants.
There were domestic hardships also; as for example, when the boat containing all the goods of the household sank at the dock in the middle of the night. Navigation was closed for the winter the following morning by a sudden drop in the temperature, and the obtaining of further supplies or household equipment was impossible. But Yankee resourcefulness asserted itself and with what could be rescued from the wreck the young couple prepared a home for the winter as best they could. The lawyer turned carpenter and built furniture to take the place of that which lay at the bottom of the lake, but one plank across a kitchen chair was the luxurious seat which he and his wife, with the baby son between them, occupied at their meals throughout that winter.
It was during this period that the old Prayer Book reappeared, saved from the sunken boat with the law library, though in a badly soaked condition. There came one day to the young lawyer's office a small deputation of good women who said to him: "We have come to talk with you about the religious conditions of this place. We do not know what your religion is, or whether you have any in particular, but we have noticed that you don't swear as much as most of the men about here, and we know you have been a school-teacher. Now there is, as you know, no resident minister in the place and we haven't even a Sunday-school. Something ought to be done for these little children who are growing up. We women are ready to do our part, but we ought to have the help of at least one man. Wouldn't you be willing to help us start a Sunday-school?"
The young lawyer looked at them in surprise and replied, "Why, I don't belong to any church, and haven't even been baptized. I have been a school-teacher, but have never had any experience in teaching religion. But you are right; and something ought to be done for the children. Of course I would be glad to help; but how?"
A prolonged and rather aimless conference followed, which accomplished little. None of them knew just what ought to be taught in a Sunday-school, or how it should be presented. Yet they felt strongly that something must be done.
Just then the young lawyer had an inspiration. He reached up to a shelf and brought down the old Prayer Book, saying: "Here is a book which an old minister gave me. I think there is some pretty good stuff here for teaching to children; there is a sort of catechism which, as I remember it, sounded good. Let me read you some of it,"--and finding questions and answers. "Now," said he, turning to his listeners, "if that will do I can help you teach it; for it is something that I can understand, and it doesn't ask me to say anything that I don't believe."
The compact was quickly made, and on the following Sunday, in that little frontier village, there was opened a Sunday-school taught by an unbaptized man and a few women of many religions and no religion, but the text book and the ritual were supplied by the Book of Common Prayer, and the course of instruction was the Church Catechism.
Two years passed, and in the fall of 1859 occurred an event full of blessing to the people of the Northwest--Henry Benjamin Whipple was consecrated Bishop of Minnesota, and was soon on his way to his field of service. The only pathway to his diocese lay along the Mississippi River and his first landing was at Wabasha. Finding that the steamer by which he was traveling must stop some hours for freight and fuel, the bishop, with characteristic energy, determined to hold service. Notice was quickly given throughout the town and the news revived in the young lawyer's mind the memory of those devout and orderly services of which he had had a glimpse in the Vermont village so many years before. Returning home for supper he said to his wife: "A bishop is going to preach here to-night. I have always wanted to see what one looked like. Let's get out the old Prayer Book and go." And she, ignoring her inherited Methodist prejudices, replied: "Very well."
The few Church-folk in the town,--a handful of women,--were gathered in the little Baptist house of worship, and the bishop in his robes occupied the platform; rows of men sat silent, though interested, and a few piping voices were waveringly rendering the responses when the young lawyer, with his wife and his Prayer Book, entered. Finding his place he immediately began with full, strong voice to "help the women out." The effect upon the bishop was instantaneous. With a quick glance he located the one man who was joining in the service, and scarcely was his sermon concluded before he had him by the hand, and was expressing his delight at finding a Churchman in the place.
"Bishop," said the young man, "you never were more mistaken. I'm not a Churchman; in fact, I suppose I am what you would call a heathen, for I'm not even baptized."
"But why are you not?" answered the Bishop. "You repeated the Apostles' Creed."
"Pride, Bishop; mere local pride," was the reply. "We are a frontier town and not very long on morals, but I didn't want you to go away from here and say that there wasn't a man in the place who dared to stand up and say that he believed in God the Father Almighty."
"Young man," said the Bishop, noting a subdued twinkle in the eye and a certain seriousness under the seemingly light remark, "I think you know your duty, and I advise you to do it."
"Well, at any rate," replied the young man, "you had better come home with us now and have something to eat before the boat leaves at midnight."
The bishop consented, and before the boat left he had not only been refreshed by the hospitality of the little household but had made a permanent impression upon its members; he had heard the story of the little Sunday-school and had planned another visit to Wabasha, counting upon the co-operation of his new-found friend.
After this encounter changes came very quickly in the life of the young lawyer. Within six months he and his little son had been baptized, and with his wife he had received Confirmation. It was impossible that a nature such as his could do otherwise than throw itself heart and soul into any cause which it espoused. From the beginning the new-made Christian and Churchman was foremost in the religious work of the little community as lay-reader and Sunday-school superintendent, and a letter written by the bishop four months after the baptism contains these significant words: "Sometimes when I have seen how well you love the Lord's work, I have asked myself why my good brother Burleson might not yet become a minister of Christ. Did you ever think of it? I would not urge you to such a step. Such a decision can only be made honestly from a conviction of duty. It is something to be weighed as unto Christ. Be sure that, whether as a layman or not, I shall ever love you. My prayers and blessing go with you."
Whether the thought of the ministry had already been in his mind we cannot say, but at least it was now there with an insistency which never abated, and on August 28th, 1861,--against the advice of many friends but with the steadfast co-operation of his devoted wife,--he was admitted a candidate for Orders, gave up his promising legal practice and moved to Red Wing to take up his studies under the Rev. Dr. (afterwards Bishop) E. R. Welles.
SO at last we see him whom we have been following enlisted for his life work. But the decision was not made without a struggle. It was no easier for him than it has been for others to give up the dreams and ambitions which had cheered him on. In common with the other young pioneers of his day he looked forward to and hoped for prosperity, plenty and wealth as the result of diligent labor in a new land. His family was increasing in number, and he knew that he was turning from all hope of material ease and luxury to a life of hardship and self-denial.
The long years of preparation for the law seemed to be only a loss. Already flattering prospects were opening before him in his profession; he had even sat for a time upon the bench as judge. He had "made good," and was recognized as one of the promising lawyers of the state. But beyond question the imperative call had come to him. Like Isaiah he had heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" and had replied, with manly promptness, "Here am I; send me." The decision once made was for him unalterable, and no one ever heard him regret it.
For three years Red Wing was the home of the family, the father and mother supporting themselves by teaching in the parish school. Here the experience gained as a teacher in the East proved useful in more than one instance. It was always thus,--each step had been a preparation, and each thing learned in the earlier day was to prove itself doubly useful in service rendered, not for personal advancement, but for setting forward the Kingdom of God.
These were the dark days of the Civil War--just before the high-tide of Southern success broke against the heights of Gettysburg. Like most young men of that time, the divinity student was tempted to join the Union army where his younger brother was already fighting with honor. Perhaps the determination not to do so was in some respects a harder one than others understood, for--was it perchance an inheritance from some Irish ancestry or a trace of the unregenerate old Adam?--he did not mind a fight in a good cause. However, family ties withheld him, together with the realization of his duty to the still greater cause to which he had dedicated his life.
It was on September 28,1863, that the young officer was sworn into the Church's army. On that day he was ordered deacon by Bishop Whipple in the chapel at Faribault, being then thirty years of age. With the outlook of a mature man and an experience including both the other learned professions, as well as many business activities, he came to his new work equipped to do yeoman service.
How much the day meant to him may well be imagined, but perhaps its most striking event was not the ordination of that morning. Even he himself, eager as he was to make proof of his ministry and multiply his influence by bringing others to the good things which he had found--even he could not have guessed what was in store for him before the day had passed.
On his return home (for he had driven many miles to be ordained) he was overtaken by a heavy storm, and being new to the country lost his way. Seeing in the distance the light of a farm house he approached and knocked at the door. It was opened by a tall man of venerable appearance who gave him a hearty welcome, dry clothing and a warm supper. As the clerical garments were being spread before the rude fire-place to dry, the host, observing their cut, asked whether his guest were not a clergyman. Receiving an affirmative answer he next asked, "What kind?" and on being told replied, "I thought so."
No more was said at the time, but when the hour came for family prayers the guest was asked to conduct them, and after the others had retired his host said: "If you are not too weary I should like to talk with you." The young man was never too weary for any service that could be rendered, and gladly assented, whereupon the host told his story as follows:
"I am a local minister of the Methodist denomination, and have been so for twenty years. I have always been a Democrat in politics, and am in disgrace with my people and the presiding elder because I will not preach politics. I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of Peace and not of strife, and that a Church that does not promote peace and goodwill cannot be the true Church of God." He further said that his wife had been a member of the Church of England in Canada, that the clergy there did not preach politics, and that he understood the Episcopal Church in this country was like it. Would his guest please tell him something about it?
A long conversation followed, lasting into the small hours. Toward its close the host said: "Have you any books which give a simple statement of the doctrines and usages of your Church from which a plain man like myself could gain a knowledge of them; and if so, will you lend them to me? I promise you nothing, I simply wish to investigate."
After a few days the host received Kip's "Double Witness" and Wilson's "Church Identified." At first he thought the Church too formal, but he was advised to study the Prayer Book and attend the services. In time Mr. Chandler, or Father Chandler, as he was affectionately called, was confirmed, expecting to remain a layman, but soon he became a candidate for Holy Orders, was ordered deacon and later advanced to the priesthood. His entire ministry among the rural people at Bell Creek proved that it was indeed a gracious rain which led the new-made deacon to his roof that night. Father Chandler always used to refer to the young man as "my ghostly father,"--much to the amusement of those who heard him.
In the fall of 1863 Mr. Burleson removed to Faribault and entered the senior class of Seabury Divinity School. Beginning with February, 1864, he held services regularly on alternate Sundays at Northfield and Owatonna, thus gaining early experience in the kind of work that was to fill the greater part of his ministry.
During this winter he made a missionary trip with Dr. Tanner, a clergyman who was teaching in Shattuck School. The bishop had made a series of appointments in the vicinity of Faribault, but just as he was about to fill them Mrs. Whipple was taken suddenly and dangerously ill. Rather than disappoint "the people he asked Dr. Tanner and Mr. Burleson to make the trip for him.
From its intense cold that winter was for years after called "the hard winter," and the travellers had many strenuous experiences. One night, when the two clergymen were together occupying "the spare room"--fireless, of course--Dr. Tanner, who was not strong, complained bitterly of the cold. To relieve him the younger man gathered him in his arms and so they fell asleep. The next morning they found the doctor's hair frozen fast by congealed breath to his bed-fellow's shirt. It was afterward one of Dr. Tanner's jokes to say, "Mr. Burleson and I have travelled together, and slept together, and frozen together." Their host on that occasion owned a number of ducks. When the men went to the stable in the morning they found the ducks huddled together for warmth, but those in the outer circle were frozen stiff.
The days of preparation with their varied experiences and trials were now over. The young deacon had made good proof of his ministry and had demonstrated his fitness for the priesthood. In the spring of 1864 the first class was graduated from Seabury Divinity School, and of it he was a member.
THE first work of the new-made priest lay not far from the seminary where he had been trained. Northfield became his first parish, whither he removed with his family, which now included three children. For a time he also had charge of the church at Dundas, but afterwards relinquished it in order to take up other missions. Round about his central charge were scattered villages and school-houses where, with the energy which always characterized him, he began work, gathering congregations and opening Sunday-schools.
The earnestness and downrightness of the man is illustrated by the following story which concerns one of these missionary trips. It chanced that on a Saturday afternoon in the late spring he had taken a long drive over muddy roads and returned home after dark. Unhitching his horse he left the buggy in the yard. On Sunday morning, realizing its disgraceful appearance, he set himself to clean the vehicle of the mud that had caked upon it. Just then there passed the grave and somewhat sanctimonious elder of a neighboring Presbyterian Church. The good man, observing the operation--which indeed all who passed might see, for the vehicle stood practically in the front yard of the dwelling--coughed quite audibly behind his hand once or twice. Failing to attract the attention of the busy worker, he asked in an accusing tone:
"Brother Burleson, do you know what day this is?"
"Why, yes," came the reply, "it's Sunday, isn't it?"
"It is," responded the elder, "and I am compelled to ask whether you feel that you are setting a good example to the flock of Christ by cleaning your buggy in the front yard?"
"Well," said the missionary, "I suppose that depends upon the point of view. It seemed to me that I should set a worse example to the flock to whom I am to preach at Cross Roads school-house this afternoon, and among whom I am trying to inculcate habits of thrift and neatness, if I appeared there with a vehicle looking like that."
"Ah!" ejaculated the elder, "it may perhaps be so, but--couldn't you clean it in the back yard?"
"Why, yes," responded the missionary, "I could, but you see, the trouble is, it's Sunday in the back yard too."
At that time the only church property in Northfield was a lot. The missionary began at once to agitate the subject of a church building. The people were few, and the war made living hard, but with a faith and zeal which never faltered the work was accomplished. Clad in overalls and "jumper," leading in the work, the carpenters soon admitted that "the parson" could swing a hammer or drive a saw with any of them.
During this time, also, difficulties of a different kind had to be met. Few people to-day can realize the intensity of the partisan bitterness which prevailed "in war-time." Our missionary was a life-long Democrat, and while he was an unfaltering unionist he yet refused absolutely to preach politics, as had Father Chandler. Some of the "stay-at-home" patriots seized on these facts and tried to show their zeal,--which was not sufficient to take them to the war,--by attacking and maligning one who, being a minister, they thought an easy prey. They found, however, that our missionary had not forgotten the zest of his early battles and legal conflicts. Strong in the fear of God he did not know the fear of man. Accordingly it did not take more than one or two experiences to teach his opponents that it was wiser and safer to choose some other victim for their alleged patriotic demonstrations.
Before the church building in Northfield was finished it became necessary to begin a similar structure in Dundas. This building was to be of stone, and the missionary decided to become his own overseer. He accordingly moved to Dundas with his family for a year until the work was satisfactorily completed. No sooner was this done than a similar task presented itself at Cannon Falls. Here the growing congregation now warranted the building of a church, which was done, the missionary again giving to the work his personal oversight. In the case of all these buildings he was architect as well as builder.
A missionary trip in the vicinity of Cannon Falls gave rise to a striking incident. It was just after the spring thaw, and the water had been unusually high. He was driving a horse which belonged to a friend,--an animal highly prized because of its great intelligence. Delayed in starting, night overtook the traveler on the road. To reach his destination it was necessary to cross a plank-and-stringer bridge over a narrow but rather deep ravine. When the horse reached this place he stopped. His driver spoke to him encouragingly, and the animal starting again went slowly and hesitatingly over. When our missionary reached the school house where service was to be held he was hailed with surprise and asked by what road he had come. On replying to the question he was told that his statement was utterly incredible because the bridge on that road was gone. He laughed at the story then but not on the following morning when he attempted to return by the same road. Coming to the bridge which he had crossed the night before he found that all the planks were indeed gone. Only the three foot-square string timbers remained stretched across the raging flood which filled the ravine. The horse had walked on the central one and fortunately the wheels had been of the right span to run on the two others. He did not try to repeat the exploit in daylight, but took a longer way home.
It was while he was at Northfield that Mr. Burleson secured the two "buckskin" ponies who afterward became known all over the southern part of the state as the "missionary ponies." For thirty years they carried him faithfully on his ministrations to the temporal and spiritual needs of his people, and their bodies now rest at the foot of that hill whose summit is crowned by the cross which marks the grave of their master. United in life, in death they are not divided.
AFTER seven years of faithful ministration in his first charge, Bishop Whipple called our missionary to another and a more difficult work. A new section of the state toward the west and south was opening up rapidly, and there was strong desire for the services of the Church. It was a field whose administration would involve great hardship and demand supreme devotion, and the bishop turned to the man who he felt would be equal to the task.
Perhaps there is no more important or difficult work than that done by those who carry the Church's message into the sparsely settled districts of the new West. This work requires men of the highest type. Patience, perseverance, self-sacrifice, the energy and faith which arise from a supreme consecration to the Master's service, and a deeply-rooted conviction of the worth of human souls--all these are essential. Without them no man will long continue in an undertaking which demands so much, and from a worldly point of view returns so little.
The isolation and the crudity of a frontier town, journeys as long and constant as those of St. Paul himself, a flock scattered abroad upon the face of the earth, long absences from home and the rigors and dangers of a severe northern climate--these were involved in the call which came to the young man, happy and useful in his first parish.
There were, of course, compensations. There was the thrill which any strong and loyal man feels when called to undertake high adventure and endure hardship for the cause to which he has pledged himself. There was, too, the sense of having an important though inconspicuous part in laying the foundations of a future commonwealth,--building upon no other man's foundation, hewing one's own path and making one's own tools.
Of course the decision was a foregone conclusion. The answer to the call was promptly made; the ties which bound him to his first and well-loved work were severed, and with his family, now including six children, he took up his abode in Blue Earth City, Minnesota, leaving behind him as material evidences of his labor, three churches and a rectory.
In his new field he found himself the only priest of our Church in six great counties, charged with the care of three definite stations lying many miles apart, and an indefinite amount of territory which must be covered by long drives, where the services must be held in school and farm houses. Indeed the missionary and his faithful ponies found a work laid out for them which taxed even their unflagging energies. Fifty miles a Sunday over the broad prairies, with two services and a Sunday-school, was not an unusual record. This was not so difficult in the summertime, but in the spring "when the bottom fell out," it was hard, and in the winter it was at times well nigh impossible and always full of peril. The road was merely two wheel-ruts cut in the prairie sod, stretching on and on, unmarked by fence or trees, with houses often miles apart. When the dreaded blizzard came suddenly out of the northwest, howling over an unbroken stretch of three hundred miles, it went hard with the unfortunate traveler caught in its path. No winter passed but that at least once, or oftener, our missionary found himself in such case. The snow was fine as powder, filling the air so that he could not even see his team; the cold growing hourly more intense and freezing together his own eyelids and those of the horses; no house within many miles and the numbing cold adding to the bewilderment of the whirling storm. More than once our story would have ended here but for the marvelous intelligence of the faithful ponies. Twice he came to his journey's end a mere helpless bundle wrapped in his robes in the bottom of his sleigh, having to be carried into the house by members of the family whose attention had been attracted by the neighing of the horses as they stood before the barnyard gate, to which somehow they had found their way. Face and hands and feet were frozen, more or less severely, over and over again, and the naturally fair skin was burned by exposure to a deep Indian red, which color he carried to his grave.
But these Sunday journeys between the regular stations were only a part of the work, and not the largest part. In addition there were, especially in summer, frequent trips, now in one direction, now in another, to the limits of his broad field, which comprised 7,000 square miles,--the size of the state of Connecticut, with two Rhode Islands added for good measure. Starting on Monday morning he would travel from village to village, or from school-house to school-house, holding services, administering Sacraments, giving legal or priestly advice, prescribing for the sick, and doing the thousand things which a leader on the frontier is called on to do. The yellow gleam of his ponies' sides was as good as a church bell, for the people knew them and expected that the children would come home from school and say: "The Episcopal minister will preach in the school-house to-night."
And how gladly these people, removed from the opportunity of services, turned out to these schoolhouse meetings. The women and children would gather inside the tiny buildings, where the mosquitoes were fewest; the men outside would join in as they could, and the missionary, standing in the door, would send his prayers and words in three directions,--in, out, and up. The next day he went on again to another district and another service, until the end of the week found him at one of his regular stations ready for the Sunday work.
Many were the striking experiences of this pioneer work. One of them the missionary himself relates as follows:
On one of my drives I saw a man on the road whom I took to be an Englishman. Accordingly I stopped iny team and said: "Can you tell me whether or not there are any people near here who are members of the Episcopal Church?" He answered: "On the other side of that lake lives an old couple who I think belong to that Church." I asked, "Are you not an Englishman?" "Yes!" said he. "Then are you not a member of the Church of England?" "Oh! we were all baptized there when little fellows, but came to this country young and were never confirmed." "And of what nation are these old people you speak of?" He answered: "They are from Scotland, and the old man's name is William Baird. They are fine old people, and if you are a minister of the Church they will be glad to see you." After being told how to avoid the slough I passed on, drove up to the house, hitched my team and went to the door. In it sat one of the finest-looking old men I ever saw. In appearance he was like a son of Anak. I asked, "Are you Mr. William Baird?" "That is my name, sir," he replied. "I am a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, and having been told that you and your wife are members of that Church I am come to see you." The old man's eye brightened and he tried to rise from his chair. Observing that this was difficult for him, I said "Do not rise, sir; you seem infirm." He answered, "I must rise, sir." "It is not necessary," said I; "pray keep your seat." A look of strong determination appeared on his face and he said," But I will rise. It is many a year since a minister of the Church came into my house, and I shall rise." Having gained his feet he reached out his hand, took mine with a hearty grip, and said: "You are welcome, most welcome, sir! Come in."
After a short talk I asked what place in Scotland they were from, and when he answered "Aberdeen," I said, "Indeed! We American Churchmen have a grateful memory of Aberdeen, for it was there our first bishop received consecration." Heretofore he had spoken very tolerable English, but now broke out into broad Scotch. "Aye, aye! We a' ken that weel eneuch in auld Aberdeen. 'Twas in auld St. Andrew's, and John Skinner joined in layin' hands on your Bishop Seabury. And when Mary here and I were marrit 'twas in St. Andrew's we stood on the verra spot where your bishop was consecrated, and were marrit by Weelum Skinner, Bishop o' Aberdeen, son o' the man who helped to consecrate him."
After some further conversation he turned to his wife and said, "Mary, bring oot the auld papers." She brought three; two were certificates of the banns of marriage between William Baird, mason, and Mary, daughter of John Christie, laborer. The other was a letter commendatory, dated March 1834, and signed "William Skinner, D. D., Bishop of Aberdeen, and Senior Rector of St. Andrew's Chapel." You may imagine how startling it was to me to see the past and present of our Church so linked together in the person of one family on this western border, and to have presented to me a commendatory letter written when I was only fifteen months old. Later, by prearrangement, the missionary brought Bishop Whipple and Dr. Welles to see Mr. and Mrs. Baird. It was a red letter day in the old man's life when he entertained a bishop and two priests in his own home.
Though the nature of the work made the establishment of many strong centers impossible, and though the chief occupation was that of searching for and ministering to the scattered sheep, there was nevertheless much to do in a material as well as a spiritual way. Lots were secured in new towns and again the missionary became a builder. Three churches and a rectory stand in this field also to testify to the fact that in prosecuting his work among the scattered, he did not lose sight of the importance of concentration and of providing equipment at the stronger centers. Turning to account the experience of earlier years he again became architect, superintendent, carpenter, and sometimes mason. So well did he accomplish his purpose that when the town needed a new school-house and a courthouse, it was to our missionary that they turned to provide the plans and oversee the construction, for he had a prominent place in the regard of the people, and took an active part in the social and civic movements of the place. As president of the school-board for a number of years he did more than any other person for the educational needs of the community.
These were engrossing and fruitful years,--the hardest, and perhaps the best of this active life; but they brought with them tremendous problems. One of the most serious arose from the great plague of grasshoppers which for three years afflicted this state and devastated large sections of it. The recorded plague of Egypt which God sent by Moses could scarcely have been more dreadful. The land became as much a wilderness as though it had lain in the track of an invading army.
Indeed, they were a mighty army! In clouds that darkened the sun, and with a noise that sounded like the coming of a storm, they would appear unheralded, swoop down upon fair fields and leave them only when nothing remained. The writer has seen such a swarm descend at ten o'clock in the morning upon a field of standing grain three or four inches high, and by three in the afternoon it would look as though the field had been plowed. Not a vestage of green remained; even the stems had been chewed down to the very roots. They would stop the railway trains; not, of course, by interposing a barrier to their passage, but by swarming upon the tracks only to be crushed in such numbers that all friction of the wheels upon the rails was destroyed.
In the fall before being killed by the frosts the creatures laid their eggs in the ground, and the following spring these would hatch into myriads of tiny insects, so numerous and so small that as one walked the face of the earth seemed to be in motion. It was a favorite pastime of the missionary's children to play "the grasshopper-game." This was done by creeping up to a tuft of grass and with a sweep of the hand close to the surface catching as many as possible of the tiny, rising insects. These would be thrown into a pail of water and counted; the one who made the highest record in a certain number of rounds won the game. Bishop Whipple chanced to visit the mission one spring during the continuance of this plague, and the boys asked him to join in their sport. He entered into the spirit of it, crept cautiously toward the spot which he had selected for his venture, made a sudden broad sweep with his long hand, and when he had cast its contents into the pail of water the count was 143. The lads joyfully hailed this as the highest record ever made.
Of course there was great hardship and suffering during these three years. The missionary, whose family now numbered seven children, received only twenty-six dollars in money from his field in one year. The only other resource was the small stipend from the Missionary Board. The hard-pressed people gave what they had; sometimes a little hay, or grain, or meat, or butter, but rarely money, for there was none in the country, and all were having a severe struggle to keep alive until another spring. Thousands boarded up their little shacks and left the country never to return, but the missionary stayed at his post.
At no time during these three years did his annual income equal six hundred dollars (it never in all his life exceeded $1000), and besides the support of the family there were two horses which must be shod and fed and kept in condition for the work. How this was done is one of the mysteries which could only be solved by the father and mother whose self-denial and patience, and New England thrift and resourcefulness, made such things possible.
But after seven years of this life it became evident that a change must be made. The children were growing up, and if they were to receive such an education as the father desired for them he must seek a place where better advantages were nearer at hand. He loved his work and his people and the pioneer life about him. He believed that his was an unusual opportunity to build for the future and to influence conditions at a critical time, but he also realized that the country was filling up and towns were multiplying, and that his field should be divided among two or three men, who would be engaged in a more concentrated and less roving work than his had been.
Taking all these things into account, after weighing the matter carefully he decided to accept a call which had come to him from his friend and preceptor of earlier days, the Rev. Dr. Welles, now Bishop of Wisconsin. Reluctantly he presented his resignation of the prairie field which had grown so dear to him, and reluctantly Bishop Whipple accepted it. So closes a vital and inspiring chapter in this busy life.
FOR twenty years the life of our missionary had been that of the western border with its vivid picturesqueness, its intense activity and its unceasing demands. Fourteen of these years had been given to the Church in the hardest kind of frontier mission work, and though his step was as firm as ever, and his physical vigor seemingly unabated, the hardships of these years had left their mark upon even his vigorous constitution. It was time that he sought less wearing work.
But even so, he--the born missionary--could not settle down to the routine of parish life. He must still be the herald and messenger of his Master among the highways and the hedges rather than in the crowded centers of life. More than once in the years that followed there came to this man of wide experience and good intellectual ability the invitation to become a parish priest. He realized fully how important such a work may be, and the manifold opportunities which it would offer, but his eye turned always to the larger spaces and his heart yearned for the neglected and forgotten. Somehow he could not cease to be an active missionary.
Yet something of the old life he did leave behind when in the fall of 1875 he retraced for a short distance the path that had taken him westward twenty years before, and began his work in the state of Wisconsin. His mission work was to extend over the southwestern county of the state, in the center of which he made his home in a small town which was the county-seat. Here, after the rush of earlier days, the conditions had settled somewhat into the routine that exists in other American towns of two or three thousand people.
Wisconsin was a state of rather unusual history. The blood of more nationalities had entered into its making than was the case with any other state. In its day it was the most polyglot of the entire Union. The unrest in Europe in 1848, which drove so many of the best men of Germany and other nations into voluntary exile, coincided with the settlement of Wisconsin, and from these sources much of her best blood was drawn. Such conditions furnished a promising field for aggressive mission work, though the high tide of opportunity had by this time passed.
Thanks to the good work done a generation before by the founders of Nashotah and the young men raised up by them, Wisconsin had, scattered over its rich counties, many mission stations and little churches dating from an earlier day, which furnished ample scope for the exercise of missionary zeal. To this sort of rural work--far less inspiring than actual pioneering, because it so frequently involves the reviving of things somewhat fallen into decay--our missionary now devoted himself for fifteen years.
In most of the fields which came under his care churches already existed, so that during this period he did less in the way of church building than he had previously done. Rectories, however, were not common, and he still found need to exercise his gifts as an architect and his dexterity as a carpenter. The parish at Lancaster had no rectory. The people were poor and the work difficult. With energy and determination the building of a house was begun, though almost three years passed before it was finished. A large part of it was actually done by the hands of the missionary himself, with the help of his sons and such members of the parish as could give their labor but were unable to give money.
Grant County was the lead-mining region of Wisconsin. In the days of the Civil War it had been of considerable importance, but with the close of the conflict its commercial activities had declined. Many of the mines were abandoned and stagnation overtook the smaller places. It was to these, with his ever faithful missionary ponies, that this herald of the Cross found his way, and in school-houses or townhalls or in churches kindly offered by other Christian folk, he conducted the Church's service and gave his message. Not so wide in extent as his previous field, and with only one chief center, his charge nevertheless extended for many miles in every direction, and the pattering feet of his yellow ponies made a familiar sound in these half-deserted mining towns.
Thus for four years he "went about doing good," after the manner of his Master, and at the end of that time the bishop requested him to take another field which offered an even larger radius of usefulness. Leaving behind him a comfortable rectory as the material evidence of his service, once more the missionary and his wife, with their family, which had now reached its final limit of eight, drove 120 miles across the Wisconsin prairies, behind the ponies, to the new field of work.
This second rural work consisted of a chain of five stations lying in two different counties. It involved Sunday drives of from fifteen to twenty-five miles, with three services. The usual morning service would be held at the central post, a brisk drive of ten or twelve miles would then bring the missionary to his second preaching place for an afternoon service at four o'clock, and another stretch of from five to twelve would land him at the final place of worship. It was much like the work of the prairies except that it lacked the wide horizon and the expectant optimism of a land whose future is all before it, where any little hamlet may become a teeming center of life. Thus both the missionary and the ponies continued their journeyings through summer's sun and winter's cold, the master growing a little grayer and the ponies more sedate, but neither losing their energy nor devotion.
From this rural itinerancy, in his fifty-first year, the missionary was called to work of a different type.
Planted here and there in states of our country are unique little colonies of people who have immigrated together from some country of the Old World and have made their homes in a single center, reproducing on a small scale, so far as may be, the conditions and habits of life with which they are familiar. Even in the older states, such as Pennsylvania, many of these communities still exist, perpetuating to a considerable degree through the lapse of years the customs of their forefathers. This is true also in the west,--conspicuously in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and other states which have experienced a large and diversified foreign immigration. It was to such a colony that our missionary now went.
Fifty years previously, a band of English folk, consisting for the most part of a few large families, had settled in the state of Wisconsin, twenty miles from Milwaukee, and named the place Sussex, after their English shire. Their first act had been to build a church of stone such as had stood in their old English village, and to lay out around it a burial ground after the old-country fashion. At the cross-roads of a little rural neighborhood, which could scarcely be called a village or even a hamlet, stood the church, its sweet-toned bell in the gray stone tower calling the farmer-folk for miles around to worship as their forefathers had done. Beyond the church lay the glebe on which stood an inadequate little rectory, soon to be superseded, through the energy of the missionary, by a comfortable house of his own design and execution.
Here again, in a more restricted sphere, the work was that of seeking the scattered. Back and forth among the farms, now discussing agriculture, now politics, giving suggestions for the treatment of a sick animal or pausing to set a dislocated shoulder, prepared to talk of crops or give legal advice, this pastor of his people went about among his flock, a faithful shepherd, feeding that which was hungry, healing that which was bruised, and gathering that which was driven away.
It was a quiet work, in what seemed a peaceful haven for the declining years which were now not far away, but God was preparing a final task for His servant, and His servant for the task.
Up in the northern part of the state, near the city of Green Bay, was the reservation of the Oneida Indians. In the year 1823 these had been removed from central New York under the leadership of a clergyman of the Church and a member of their tribe, the Rev. Eleazer Williams--who some afterwards believed to be Louis XVII of France, the lost Dauphin. Here the first Church work among Indians was begun in the central West. Here the first consecrated church building in the state had been reared, and in it the worship of God after the order of the Book of Common Prayer had continued uninterruptedly. Noble men had served this mission and had left their impress abundantly for good upon its people. One of the most devoted--the Rev. Edward A. Goodnough--after thirty-six years among them had been called to his rest, and a successor in this unique work was being sought.
It was essential that the man who undertook it should be far more than an ecclesiastic. He needed to be, in a literal sense, the father of his people, and the choice fell upon our missionary. Again it was not easy to decide how this call should be answered. Isolation and hardship and trying labor, the bearing of heavy burdens and large responsibilities were involved. It meant the taking of his family of boys and girls to an Indian reservation where white companionship would be impossible; it meant all the care and responsibility resulting from work among a dependent people who would need to receive much but could give little.
More than once he declined the call, and was asked to reconsider. Equipped as our missionary was, not only with the practical experience of farm-work and carpentry, planning and building, but also as a lawyer and physician, he seemed so preeminently the person for the post that his refusal simply could not be accepted. At length he too was convinced that this call was God's purpose for him, and having once decided thus he acted promptly. Easter Day, 1891, closed his work among the white folk and finished another chapter in his missionary experience.
It had been a varied experience. The pioneer life of the early days with all the crudities, but with the enthusiasm of new beginnings in a virgin land; the broadcast sowing over the wide prairies with their boundless outlook toward a large and hopeful future; the circuit-riding among a group of established missions; the more confined rural work in small and settled towns, closing with a rural parish among immigrants,--this experience had touched almost all possible sides of home mission work. One remained, however, and to this our missionary was now led, becoming at the age of fifty-eight the priest of the Oneida people, and destined to be to the end of his active life their father, physician and friend.
TO the northward, 120 miles, the pilgrimage of the missionary household was now made. Fifty years before James Lloyd Breck and William Adams, accompanied by some of their students from the newly-founded School of the Prophets at Nashotah, had traversed practically the same route, walking through the forest where now were fertile fields, thriving towns and open countryside, that they might be advanced to the priesthood by Bishop Kemper in the only consecrated church building standing within the territory of Wisconsin. This was Hobart Church at Oneida,--so called by the Indians in memory of that great-hearted bishop of the Church who had established the mission among them in their New York home and whose loving interest and prayers had followed them to their new abode.
Nine miles by twelve lay the reservation, with the great limestone church standing at its center. Near this was the little brown school-house in which two generations of Indians had received the simple education which enabled them to become God-fearing, self-respecting and desirable citizens of the United States. Beyond this again was the mission house with its barns and outbuildings, set in the midst of a farm of forty acres. Round about were the rolling lands, covered in part with second-growth timber, except for the clearings in which stood the log cabins that were the Indian homes. In the more open spaces, nestling amid the groups of trees on the uplands and in the valleys were other homes, sometimes more pretentious, even extending to two stories in height and achieving the dignity of clap-boards; but nowhere, in any direction from the church so far as the eye could reach, was there a roof which covered any man with a white skin, except our own missionary and the Methodist preacher at the opposite end of the reservation.
The mission house was also the post-office, and the missionary the postmaster. Indeed, the whole life of the community from the beginning centered about the Church, and to it and its priest the people looked for help and inspiration in every need and difficulty of their lives. With a grave dignity that was deferential without being servile, these tall, fine-looking men addressed their missionary as "father" and his wife as "mother." The existing relation could not have been better expressed, for father and mother they actually became to all the red children of the Church.
One of the more intelligent and thoughtful Indians--John Quincy Adams by name--voiced this when, in greeting the new missionary, he said: "Father Burleson, we know we like big grown-up children; in everything we look to you as father; but we like to be treated as though men and women." Indeed, it was an example of the original and literal force of the old English term "parson," for in every sense the missionary was "the person" of the reservation. It is not strange that they gave to him the name Lo-dyo-gwa-wa-gon, which means "He who holds many people together."
One of the earliest acts of the new missionary was to visit Washington and present the needs of his people to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Here, curiously enough, he found, acting as head of the Pension Bureau, Judge William Lochren, the boyhood chum with whom he had studied law in Vermont and who had journeyed just in advance of him to the Territory of Minnesota where they had intended entering into partnership. Unexpected events separated them, and for years they were lost to one another. When finally they did meet the change of life-work had been made, and our missionary was already a priest in the Church.
To this old friend he told the story of his work and needs. As a result of his representations, measures were taken for the establishment of a government boarding school on the reservation, and for grading one or two highways where scarcely more than a trail had previously existed. A small grant also was made to purchase medicine but nothing could be done to supply medical service.
Returning to the reservation, the missionary, aided by his sons, set about improving material conditions. Roads were laid out, one of which involved the rather serious problem of bridging a river which ran high in the spring freshets. With a primitive level, made by floating a shingle in a pail of water, the elevations were ascertained, and by other expedients almost as unique, a rather remarkable bridge was finished. The mission house also was overhauled without and within. Carpentry, painting and stonework, the building of a cistern and the digging of drains were the order of the day,--indeed, of many days; but as a result the winter found the family comfortably housed and able to prosecute the work of the mission with effectiveness.
Perhaps his most valuable asset for this field of work was the medical training which the missionary had received in his youth. He found that the Oneidas had lost their old knowledge of herb-medicines, having abandoned them (because of the superstitious heathen practices connected with their use) when they became Christians under the teaching of the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in the early years of the eighteenth century. Ten miles of most execrable roads separated them from the nearest physician. They were too poor to pay for a doctor's visit and mileage, and too self-respecting to ask that for which they could not pay. So when ill they got well, or died, without medical assistance.
The call was plain, and the missionary set himself to the task which lay before him. For nearly six years, hither and yon, over the reservation trails, at first behind the little yellow ponies who had already carried him more than sixty thousand miles on missionary journeys alone, and later behind a younger and more vigorous team, went the priest-physician, by day and by night, ministering to both the souls and the bodies of his people. To a man of his age, and particularly to one who was already in the grasp of a fatal disease which is greatly aggravated by jars and jolts, such travel was most trying work. But he did not know how to spare himself in the task assigned to him. It was some time in 1892 that he said to his wife, "It will not take long for this work to kill me; but I would rather be fully useful for a few years than half serve the Master for twice as many."
The following extracts from letters written at this time give a vivid picture of the conditions which our missionary encountered:
From Christmas to Epiphany I slept in a bed only six times; the rest of the nights were spent by the side of sick-beds. Pity it is that my sixty years are beginning to unfit me in some ways for the work which I would willingly do. The hard part is that I cannot trust any of them to do the nursing, but must attend to it myself. Churchmen, Methodists, and Romanists I attend alike. Some of them manifest gratitude, some do not. Perhaps it matters little, but when one gives all that is in him to help another's suffering a little gratitude goes a long way. . . . And yet, there comes to me the memory of the words of a brave little woman, who, after a fearful operation, laid her hand upon my shoulder and said, "Dear father, do you think the good Father in Heaven will let me live?" When I told her that I trusted He would, she said: "Then you will thank Him now in my house, and tell Him when I am well enough I go thank Him in His."
Or again, just after Christmas, I was attending Z--, who was suffering from congestion of the lungs and erysipelas (the fact that he had been in a saloon fight only makes it all the more certain that it was Z--). I had taken care of him all night, and just as it was getting daylight he passed his hand under his pillow and drew, out a prayer book, which he held suggestively. I asked him if he would like me to have prayers with him. Conceive my surprise at receiving in answer an emphatic "You bet!" After prayers he looked up and said: "Your medicine, that is good; but your pray, that is better."
The thermometer registered 20 degrees below zero this morning when I was called to go and see a child sick with pneumonia. It is a desperate case. Eight in the family; one room; cooking, washing, etc., done there; doors and walls reeking with moisture; ice on the bottom of the window-panes an inch thick; the air of the room suffocating,--partly from the foulness, partly from vapor; and a case of pneumonia which they expected that "the doctor" was going to cure at once. This is a sample case of many, and you will not wonder that I sigh from the depth of my heart for a decent place where the suffering can have a fair chance for life. I am well aware that hospitals cannot be erected and sustained without money, a commodity which missionaries never have in excess, but if any one desires to enjoy an honest heart-ache I can furnish him an opportunity in the homes of these poor Indians at any time when it is too cold for them to sleep out of doors.
To meet the most obvious need the first thing planned was the construction of a hospital. When he received for his purpose thirty-six cents, the gift of a young girl, he declared, "We are going to have a hospital. The Good Lord will provide the means, for he knows these Indians need it." And so it came to pass. Money was sent from far and near. The missionary drew the plans, and when work was actually begun gave of the labor of his hands and also of the contents of his own slender purse. With him worked his sons, both in raising funds and in constructing the building. On St. John Baptist's Day, 1893, the corner stone was laid by the bishop of the diocese, and in the spring of 1894 many labors and prayers were crowned by the completion of the building, free of all debt and ready, for occupancy. Supplies and some funds for maintenance had also been procured.
At this point, however, an outside influence intervened, with the result that the missionary did not live to see the first patient admitted to the hospital. This delay was a bitter disappointment. It was necessary for him still to drive many miles to visit patients who should have been in the hospital just across the way from the mission house; but far worse in his eyes was the suffering and death which continued among the people because the hospital was unavailable. The Indian homes, though uniformly neat, are small, ill-ventilated and over-crowded, and therefore furnished no proper place for a person seriously ill. A day or two before his death, however, the key of the hospital was put into his hands with the words, "Here is the key; the hospital can now be opened for patients at any moment," and with feeble voice but radiant face he gave thanks to God.
But it must not be imagined that the whole, or even the chief work of our missionary was that of a physician of the body. The spiritual and moral needs of the people were his constant care. These he was confident would best be met by a faithful administration of the doctrine, discipline and sacraments of the Church. The doctrine proclaimed, though simple, was most positive and direct; the discipline so real as to remind one of the primitive days of the Church; while the Sacraments soon assumed a pre-eminent place in the spiritual lives of the people.
With the conviction that, however useful might be the ministry of a white man, one of their own race could in some ways reach them more effectively, Father Burleson sought to bring one or more of the Oneidas into the ministry of the Church, with the result that finally the last hereditary chief Onan-gwat-go, known by the English name of Cornelius Hill, was prepared and ordained to the diaconate June 27, 1895. After the death of our missionary he was advanced to the priesthood, and died in the year 1907, after faithful service among his own people.
Another important work which marked these years was the completion of the noble stone church in accordance with the original plan. Twenty years before, because of the failure of the bank wherein the Oneidas had deposited $6,000.00--the savings of twelve years,--as a fund for the new church, they had been compelled to finish it without the intended chancel. This was now added under the supervision of the missionary, making a building fifty feet wide by one hundred and thirty-eight long, seating nearly a thousand people and having chancel space for one hundred if necessary. Beneath the new chancel was a fine guild room to which the activities of the Indian women were transferred from the wretched little wooden building which had sheltered them for many years.
Such was the work, that filled the last six years of this missionary record. In it not only the priest but his entire household had their share. Who shall tell the story of the work done and the influence exerted by Ya-gon-donl, "She who is good to the poor," as the Indian women lovingly called the wife and mother. This is not her story, nor is it that of the daughters who taught the school in the little brown building opposite the great church, or cheerfully went about the more obscure ministries within the home. This is not their story indeed, but without them how different the story!
But the end was drawing on. The plans which the missionary had laid had largely been carried out, but into their accomplishment had gone all that he had of energy and heart-blood. His wish--that he might die working, and not resting or waiting--was to be fulfilled. On the 19th of December, 1896, on his return from an unusually long and trying journey in ministering to the sick, even his invincible determination, which was somewhat like the granite hills among which he had been reared, was compelled to give way. At last the disease which he had been fighting for so many years had him helpless in its grasp.
One thing more, however, he was permitted to do. On Christmas Day, with the last display of that indomitable resolution which had carried him through so much in the service of his Master, he was taken to the church, where for the last time he broke the bread and blessed the cup, and gave the Sacrament to his people. This was the end of his serving.
For two months longer the struggle went on. Even the fatal disease was slow in breaking dqwn the hardy constitution of the man. Through all the days of suffering that followed his mind was clear. He saw and talked with many of his Indians; he discussed matters with his wife and children and gave minute directions for his funeral. He spoke much, too, very simply and naturally, of the life in Paradise which he was so soon to enter; and out of the few personal belongings which represented the entire accumulation of this life of service he left to each who had touched that life most nearly some small keepsake, not even forgetting Christine, the little Danish housemaid.
On Sexagesima Sunday, 1897, he received the Holy Communion, which was brought to him at the close of the early service in the church. Immediately afterward he said to his wife, "I wish that this might be my last day on earth." The next morning he greeted her with, "This is Washington's birthday; I think it will be mine, too." And so it was. That evening, soothed by the constant voice of psalm and prayer, after thirty-three years of service at earthly altars, this priest passed quietly and peacefully within the veil.
Clad in the worn vestments which his wife had made for him in the early days of his ministry, with hands clasping the chalice from which for thirty years he administered the blood of the Lamb, and lying in the unadorned pine coffin which by his direction had been made for the purpose, they took his body to the church. There for twenty-four hours his sons, and some visiting priests who had come to do the last offices for their friend and loved companion, took turns in sending up continually from the foot of the bier the voice of intercession and thanksgiving, while Indian men, women and children passed in and out, each pausing with manifest sorrow beside the coffin of their tried and trusted friend.
Father Burleson had requested that his sons should bury him. Such as were then in Holy Orders (for all five are now in the ministry of the Church), read the burial office and celebrated the Holy Communion in the church. A guard of Knights Templar carried the bier to the cemetery where the sons lowered the body into the grave and said over it the words of committal.
A friend and eye-witness says: "As we walked up the snow-covered hill from the church to the cemetery, the Indians in long procession sang in their own tongue their burial hymn, whose weird pathos I wish I could render to your ears. It was thrilling, but heart-breaking with its minor cadences. And so we left him, asleep beneath the snow, 'looking for the general resurrection of the last day,' striving to be thankful that for another faithful soldier 'the warfare is accomplished.'"
On the hill-top which overlooks his latest work, with the Indian folk whom he loved and for whom he gave his life now lying thickly about him, his body rests, and on the base of the granite cross which marks the spot these words are written, which may fitly close the story of that life:
SOLOMON STEVENS BURLESON PRIEST
FOR THIRTY-THREE YEARS A MISSIONARY IN THE CHURCH OF GOD
FOR SIX YEARS FATHER, PHYSICIAN AND FRIEND OF THE ONEIDA PEOPLE
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
IF the life thus described has not already brought its own message, further words will be useless, but if it has done so a further word may give an added significance.
Let this life be considered only as a type, and let those who read see in it--in its variety and activity, its hardships and difficulties, its disappointments and successes--those hundreds of other lives which are being given as freely and faithfully over all the land in order that the Kingdom may go forward and this continent be conquered for Christ.
Another life-story would have done as well,--perhaps better. This one is chosen because it illustrates the variety of our home mission work, and because the record of it was easily accessible. Beyond this it neither has, nor is intended to have, any personal significance. The man who lived it would be the last to desire that his work should be applauded or his achievements chronicled as conspicuous or admirable beyond those of others.
But we are so made that it is through the personal and concrete that the general and abstract appeals to us. By a life actually lived and an achievement actually seen we understand best how all life may be lived and all good achievement aspired to.
The message to us is plain: That the life of service is the life of satisfaction. These have found it true. Being willing to lose their lives they found that they had kept them unto life eternal. They took their Master at His word and He did not fail them.
Along the battle-line which stretches far over the hills and valleys of our country many an officer is standing at his post, rallying his little forces, drilling his company, or making, it may be, his desperate charge, with a single-hearted desire to serve his Master and loyally to finish his work. There they stand, and will stand in the years to come. Toward them let our thoughts and our interest go forth; for them let our prayers and our alms be given; to them let the consideration and honor that is due be paid. For they fight not their own battle, but ours--and the world's--and Christ's.
It chances that on Easter-Even this little story is finished and this final word is penned. Standing midway between such a death and such a resurrection the values of life are altered, and it is not hard to believe that it matters little though one may have lost his possessions, and lost his friends, and even lost his life, if only he has followed his vision and kept faith with his Father.
April 15, 1911.