WHEN Matthew Arnold was in America, his soul was vexed with our geographical names. Many of them seemed to him unmusical, unoriginal, unlovely. Fortunately, in our Indian names we have a nomenclature which is original, varied, and musical, and Mr. Arnold surely would have taken pleasure in the name of the town to which Mahlon Gilbert now went--Deer Lodge, Montana--a name uniting the historic and the picturesque.
Bishop Tuttle had given Mr. Gilbert his choice of Utah, Idaho, or Montana, for his work, and he had chosen the last. At this time Montana was still a Territory, for it was not admitted into the Union as a State until 1889. It is in large part mountainous, as the name suggests. Its area includes nearly 150,000 square miles, a vast region, at this time wild and sparsely populated. In recent years its broad plains have been occupied by prosperous farmers, but the first settlers went to the mountains.
Gold had been discovered in 1862, and, before the Territorial Government was organized, prospectors hurried in, forming settlements as rough and lawless as those of early mining days in California. Langford's Vigilante Days and Vigilante Ways gives a lifelike picture of those rude and perilous times.
The Indians were still numerous and aggressive. Not till 1876 did the United States Government try seriously to put an end to Indian raid and slaughter. In that year, brave General Ouster, with a small force, was surprised and overwhelmed by thousands of Sioux under the famous Sitting Bull; but, soon after, General Crook, Colonel Miles, and other United States officers won a series of victories, which put an end to Indian dominion in Montana.
It was, then, to the wildest of the American Frontier that Mahlon Gilbert went in the fall of 1875. Deer Lodge was a town of only 650 people, yet it was one of the principal "cities" of the Territory. It was a good field for one with a stout, warm heart and sturdy common sense, who put little reliance upon the dignity of his office, but went with a divine commission as a man among men.
It was October first when Mr. Gilbert took charge of St. James' Mission. There were at the time only three other Episcopal clergymen in Montana--Rev. E. Gregory Prout, at Virginia City; Rev. Thomas E. Dickey, at Bozeman; and Rev. Eugene L. Toy, at Helena. In order that the work at Deer Lodge might not suffer, the usual year of the diaconate was shortened, in Mr. Gilbert's case, to less than four months; and on Sunday, October 17,. 1875, at Deer Lodge, Bishop Tuttle advanced him to the priesthood. Assisting in the service were the Rev. E. L. Toy of Helena, and the Rev. E. G. Prout of Virginia City, his presenter. A class of nine was confirmed at this service. At this time St. James' Mission had no church building of its own, but used for its services a little log church belonging to the Southern Methodists, and it was in this humble building that the ordination took place.
On taking leave of Mr. Gilbert the Bishop said to him, "I have put you in the hardest field I have." For a man without a good share of Mr. Gilbert's qualifications it would have been a field, not only hard but impossible. To him it was the very place for brave and unselfish service. He threw himself into the life of the people in such a way as to help restrain every evil influence and help encourage every good one. He did not make the mistake which some well-meaning clergymen make of trying in the wrong way "to get down to the level" of their people, whether vicious or fashionable or foolish; but he had a message for all, the merchant, the miner, the gambler, the saloon-keeper, and the community and the whole region soon learned to trust him and to come to him for help in their perplexities and sorrows and in their aspirations for better things.
When Bishop Tuttle made his next annual visitation to Montana less than a year later he was delighted with the progress which had been made in this field.
At Deer Lodge I found Mr. Gilbert in his hired log cabin. And young as he is, I found him an already loved and trusted pastor. His committee (or quasi vestry) are a Campbellite, a Presbyterian, a Baptist, a Quaker, and an Unknown. But they all believe in him, and are loyal to him. And this is the way our mountain work is done. Everything at first depends on the man. If the people like the Minister as a man, and gather around him, then the step is taken on the way that, under God the HOLY SPIRIT, will lead them to be Churchmen and Churchwomen. If they do not like the man, not much, humanly, can be done.
Mr. Gilbert gives one Sunday a month to Butte, a vigorous mining town, forty miles distant. He may want to build a church there by and by. Besides, he looks after Blackfoot, and Philipsburgh, and Missoula, and in fact all Deer Lodge and Missoula counties, a region half as large as the State of New York. [The Spirit of Missions, November, 1876, p. 525, 526.]
The story of the building of St. James' Church at Deer Lodge has been often told, and is well worth telling. As the little congregation grew, the need of a church building of their own had grown more urgent; besides the roof of the log church belonging to the "Methodists South" had begun to leak. Years after, Bishop Gilbert told how the deed was done. When he came, there was a fund of about fifteen hundred dollars for a church to be erected in memory of the Rev. Morrill Fowler, formerly in charge at Helena. By a fair given by the "Ladies Aid Society" and by local subscriptions, this fund had been increased so that there was enough to build a wooden church, but Mr. Gilbert was determined to have a church of stone. Plans were made and the contract for the stone work was given at $4,500.
"Where the rest of the money was to come from," said Bishop Gilbert, "I did not know. I watched the church going up until the very last day, when they were putting the roof on. The men must be paid the next day, and there was only five dollars in the treasury. So I went into the bank, and said to the cashier, 'Mr. Larabie, I need two thousand dollars to pay for the rest of the work on the church. I will give you my note, and pay you as soon as I can. I have no security to offer, and I don't want to ask anyone to go on my note. Will you do it?' He thought a moment and replied, 'Mr. Gilbert, I will!' 'How much interest will you charge me?' A funny look came over his face, as he answered, 'Not one cent! A man who has the cheek to ask a bank for two thousand dollars for an indefinite period, without any security, deserves to have it, without interest!'
"That fall the ladies had another fair, an honest fair, without raffles or 'chances' of any kind (gambling, I call it), and with what I raised by subscription, we had the whole amount within ten days after the opening of the church. When I walked into the bank and paid back that two thousand dollars, I was the proudest man in Montana." [Bishop Tuttle's Reminiscences, p. 376; The Parish Visitor, St. Peter's Church, St. Paul, Minnesota, June, 1896.]
This church is still standing. Its outside dimensions are 28 by 58, and the steeple, above the square tower, rises to a height of 56 feet. The local newspaper of the day describes it as "a substantial and handsome stone edifice, an ornament to the town." The inside woodwork is "groined black walnut," and, "as something new in Montana, all the windows are of stained glass." It was indeed for the time and place an achievement in architecture. Built in the Gothic style, it was a message to the community, reminding many of familiar churches in their old homes across the plains, perhaps across the seas, churches of greater size and beauty, yet of similar structure, and dedicated to the worship of the same great and holy Name.
The cornerstone of the church was laid on Tuesday, June 19, 1877, by Bishop Tuttle, in connection with the "Fourth Annual Convocation of the Clergy and Laity of the Missionary District of Montana, Idaho, and Utah." All the Montana clergy were present, and the Rev. R. M. Kirby had come all the way from Salt Lake City with the Bishop, but no other delegates outside of Montana could attend. (The Convocation of the preceding year had been held at Salt Lake City, with none but Utah delegates in attendance. It was a See of magnificent distances.) The opening service in the new church was on the First Sunday in Advent, 1877. It was consecrated by Bishop Tuttle, on St. James' Day, July 25, 1878, three months after Mr. Gilbert had reluctantly closed his rectorship. The military adventure which is alluded to by Bishop Tuttle in the Introduction is thus told by Mr. Gilbert in a lecture on "Life in Montana" which he delivered a number of times in St. Paul and elsewhere, but of which only imperfect reports are preserved.
In 1877 came the Nez Perces outbreak under the famous Chief Joseph, and then I had a touch of Indian warfare. General Howard had run the Indians out of Idaho into Montana, and we thought they were going to attack Deer Lodge, but they swung away to the South of us and met the Seventh Infantry, about 350 men, under General Gibbon. This was August 7th. Soon after, we got the news that the soldiers had been attacked and were likely to be destroyed. Two companies were hastily formed to go to their relief. I was in the second company. General Gibbon was intrenched 110 miles from Deer Lodge, and we made a forced march, only to find that they had been relieved by General Howard. We took the wounded back with us to Deer Lodge, a slow and painful journey, while the regulars pursued Chief Joseph and finally captured him near the eastern boundary of Montana. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 3, 1895.]
An incident of Mr. Gilbert's first visit to Butte shows the primitive character of the time.
I remember well the first time I preached in Butte. The service was held in Newkirk's saloon, which was crowded. I learned afterward that the other saloons were deserted for the time. The bar had been closed, and boxes had been brought in, with planks resting on them for seats. They were a rough-looking crowd, with trousers tucked into their boots, and there were more weapons in the congregation than the occasion warranted; but the responses were fervid, even if they were not always well-timed. I preached them a sermon, and there was more display of feeling than one could well get in a civilized community. I know that I was impressed myself, and so were the men; but a few hours afterward the saloon was running full blast, and the town took on a new impetus in the way of noise, as though it had been stimulated by having been through the new experience of public worship.
After the service I didn't know where I was to sleep, as the hotels were crowded. However, a man came up to me and invited me to his cabin. There he showed me a row of bunks, one above another, and I was glad to turn in. We slept with the door open, as it was a warm night, and after I had been asleep for some time I woke up and saw a man enter. I inquired of him, "What do you want?" "Oh, I saw the door open, so I thought I would come in and sleep." In the morning when I woke, there were no less than six men who had seen the door open and had come in to find a bed. It showed the hospitality of the people.
Once before a journey to the East, while leaving Butte, a man came to Mr. Gilbert and handed him $250, saying, "Take it, you'll need it." "Where did you get it?" "Well, I'll tell you, Mr. Gilbert. It was this way. I went down to one of the gambling houses, where all the boys are, and said, 'Boys, Parson's going away to-night to see his girl.' 'What parson's that?' 'Mr. Gilbert.' 'Well,' said one of them, 'Take that,' and he wiped all the stakes off the board. That's how I got it." In telling the incident, Mr. Gilbert said:
This touched me very much. Some people have blamed me for being so friendly with gamblers and worse; but I could never have got any hold on them in any other way. I knew perfectly well, when I used to hold services there on Sunday evenings, that four-fifths of them were men from the saloons. They had nowhere else to go. But I also know some of them were awakened to a better life by coming to these services.
A letter bearing date of July 17, 1877, written from Deer Lodge to one of the eastern Church newspapers, shows Mr. Gilbert's feeling at the time with regard to his field:
Ten years ago to-day Bishop Tuttle entered upon his work in Virginia City. Very truly can it be said of him that he has been "in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers." The character of the population in Montana has become materially changed during these ten years; those reckless and desperate characters whose lives were given to deeds of violence have been replaced by law-loving and law-abiding citizens. Homes have grown up, family life has been developed, churches and schools are to be found in almost every settlement. Of course there is still a roughness and recklessness existing here far different from what is to be found in the States, but a change for the better is constantly going on.
In March, 1878, Mr. Gilbert was called to become rector of St. Peter's Church in Helena, and consulted his Bishop, to know what he would advise. His answer was, "They have no church building in Helena, and I think you should go and build one." Accordingly he resigned his charge at Deer Lodge, and held his last service as rector on Easter, April 21.
During his term of office the communicants of St. James' Mission had increased from ten to thirty-nine; he had presented twenty-four for confirmation at Deer Lodge, and nine at Butte. The baptisms numbered sixty-two and took place over a wide territory, and there had been numerous marriages and burials. Parochial statistics alone do not show the spirit of parish or parson, but in the light of other evidence these figures show something of the untiring, earnest service of the ambassador of Christ.
Before entering upon the new work, Mr. Gilbert took a well-earned vacation, and visited his home in Morris and other parts of the East. On July 14, 1878, he held his first service as rector of St. Peter's Church in Helena. Helena is the capital of Montana and its chief city, its population at this time being about three thousand.
The city was then divided by a deep gulch called "Last Chance." Some of the Church people lived on the east side and some on the west, and they could not agree where to build their church. On accepting the invitation to become rector, Mr. Gilbert wisely insisted that the congregation should agree upon a site for the church, and as Bishop Tuttle had already secured a lot on the east side, that seemed the natural place.
As before, Mr. Gilbert wished to build with enduring stone. He had seen in Grand Rapids a church, costing only five thousand dollars, which suited him well, and hoped to build one like it. Accordingly plans were drawn and bids were asked for its construction, but the lowest sum named proved to be $14,000. Mr. Gilbert with good courage clung to his ideal. The plans were simplified until $10,000 was fixed upon as the cost; friends came to his assistance, as usual, and the work went forward.
The Helena Daily Herald of May 5, 1879, gives the following particulars of the laying of the cornerstone:
On Saturday afternoon, the 3rd inst., the cornerstone of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, corner Warren and Edwards streets, was laid with appropriate ceremonies, by the Grand Lodge of Montana, A. F. and A. M., conducted by the M. W. G. M., John Stedman. There was a good turn out of the fraternity, and a large number of citizens witnessed the ceremony. A short but impressive oration was delivered by the able pastor of the church, the Rev. M. N. Gilbert. . . .
The dimensions of the building are 34 x 60 feet, with a seating capacity of 250, and recess and chancel in rear for pulpit, choir, and vestry. It will be 28 feet from the floor to the ceiling. . . . Stained glass for all the windows is now en route.
The work of building progressed so rapidly that on Sunday, October 19, of the same year, the opening service was held in the new church. A good report is given in the Helena Daily Herald of October 20:
The house was filled to overflowing. The Rev. M. N. Gilbert, rector of the parish, assisted by the Rev. E. G. Prout, of Virginia City, conducted the services. Mr. Gilbert preached the sermon, and took for his text: Genesis, 12th chapter and 8th verse, "And there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord," and the first verse of the 122nd Psalm, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." The sermon was able and listened to with undivided attention. The argument was to show that in all ages and among all people the religious sentiment existed, and found expression in some form of worship, and that from the simple altar on which sacrifices were laid and around which the worshippers knelt in the early ages of the world to the present day, some kind of structure was erected for the accommodation of the people and dedicated to the worship of the God or superior power in which they believed. As people grew in knowledge and wealth, churches, temples, and cathedrals grew in beauty and grandeur, and were dedicated to the living God. After many years of hope and hard struggles, the congregation were able to meet for the first time in their beautiful building constructed by their liberality, aided by that of other churches and the good people of Helena, who were most heartily thanked.
Mr. Gilbert said after concluding the sermon, that the church cost about $10,000 and was in debt about $3,000, and when that was paid it would be formally consecrated by Bishop Tuttle. It was against the laws of the Episcopal Church to consecrate churches in debt.
The singing on this occasion was very fine. The excellent choir was assisted by a portion of the Helena silver cornet band. The anthems, "Heavenly Father, Sovereign Lord," by Farmer, and "Daughter of Zion, Awake from thy Sadness," were performed exquisitely.
The noble chants, "Te Deum Laudamus" and Addison's grand hymn, "The Spacious Firmament on High," etc., as executed, satisfied the ear of the most exacting. The acoustic properties of the church are perfect. The church edifice is the finest building, architecturally, in Helena.
This contemporary account is quoted at length, not only for its general interest, but also for the report of the sermon. Very few of Mr. Gilbert's sermons have been preserved, but the accounts of his preaching preserved in such notices as this uniformly show his power as a speaker. "Personal magnetism" was the phrase in use a few years ago for the power to "grip an audience" and hold them fast. Whatever it is called, Mr. Gilbert was rapidly becoming a persuasive and an inspiring preacher. "Undivided attention" was the rule when he spoke. Direct, sincere, kindly, rapid in utterance, carrying his hearers with him, he came to be recognized more and more widely as a great speaker, welcome and ready on any occasion to say the fitting and the inspiring word.
The Lenten leaflets for St. Peter's Church for 1879 and 1880, show something of his custom at this time in parish services. The rule for Sunday was, Morning service at eleven, Sunday school at half past two, and Evening service at seven. There is as yet no mention of early Celebrations of the Holy Communion, and there is daily service only in Holy Week. With frequent services in various other towns, a daily service, even in Lent, was out of the question. The chief Lenten services were on Wednesday and Friday evenings, to permit the attendance of the men of the parish. The subject of the Wednesday lectures for 1879 is "Personal Religion"; for 1880, "The Christian's Foes, and how to fight them." The Friday lectures in both years are on "The Church."
In the parochial report for the first year at Helena, Mr. Gilbert notes that he has held occasional services in Deer Lodge, Butte, Blackfoot, Fort Shaw, Jefferson, and Unionville. He was thus still a missionary at large. In his annual report for 1879, Bishop Tuttle as usual comments on the work in various parts of his wide field: Mr. Gilbert at Helena presented twenty-three to be confirmed; and he is building a substantial "St. Peter's Church" of stone, and hopes to occupy it in October. And better, under God's blessing, he is building, with wisdom and success, in this capital of Montana, the spiritual structure of a strong, earnest, Churchly congregation. All around about, also, along a radius of one hundred miles and more, places and people call upon him for Church services. I have therefore resolved, if possible, to secure an assistant for him. [The Spirit of Missions, 1879, p. 423.]
This plan was soon put into operation, and for a time the Rev. Slater C. Blackiston was "nominally assistant minister of St. Peter's Church, Helena." Practically, he was "missionary in a wide field," "traveling over five hundred miles every month in the stagecoach," making Helena "rather his point of departure" than his home."
We are fortunate in having two letters, written from Helena by Mr. Gilbert during his rectorship, which describe vividly both the romantic and the dangerous side of travel in the far west at this period.
To enter a dilapidated stage coach and ride one, or two, or three hundred miles, over rough mountain roads, or through the clouds of Utah dust of the great Snake River plain, oppressed by day with the heat, and irritated by night by mosquitoes, is far less attractive than to be whirled over the blooming prairies of Illinois in a luxurious palace car. However, one can accustom himself to almost any condition, and find enjoyment) even under the most trying of circumstances. The exhilarating mountain air, the glorious mountain views from the summits of lofty ranges, the gorgeous sunsets, all combine to cheer and rest the weary traveler. I know of nothing more healthily exciting than to sit high up on the "box" with the driver of a coach, with four or six horses in front, and to be rapidly rolled down a steep grade, and around sharp turns, with rocks towering far upward on the one hand, and a bright clear stream dashing over the rocks hundreds of feet below, on the other. You feel yourself watching with a vital interest that right foot of the driver as it presses the brake, and wondering if it is going to slip; you feel yourself rapidly calculating if that next turn can be made successfully; but when you look up to the calm, confident, weather-beaten face of the man who holds the reins, your doubts disappear. The horses are controlled by a master. Anyone who has ridden over and down mountain divides, will understand the feeling perfectly. Many years' experiences have not made me any the less conscious of this peculiar feeling." [From a letter on "Mission Work in Montana," written to The Living Church, by M. N. G. (Mahlon Norris Gilbert), February 16, 1880. Mr. Blackiston soon found such a welcome at Fort Benton that it seemed best for him to make that his center of work. After three years, in 1883, he became rector of St. John's Church in Butte, a position which he filled ably for nearly thirty years.]
Another letter describes "the uncertainty and danger of winter traveling in Montana." ["From the Far West. Over the Hills and Far Away--Staging In the Rocky Mountains--Annual Convention of Montana, Idaho, and Utah." M. N. G., Helena, Mont., July 26, 1879., The Living Church, August 7, 1879.]
Several months ago I wrote you something about summer missionary work in Montana. Now, I would tell you something about winter work. It is quite another thing to ride through the valleys and over the mountains, when the air is balmy, and the roads excellent. Yet, as a rule, the mildness of Montana winters is something seemingly remarkable. You must remember that we are very far to the northward and five thousand feet above the sea.
The winter thus far has been, on the average, a pleasant one. There have been vast falls of snow all along the mountain ranges, and a temperature as low as fifty degrees below zero; but neither the storms nor the severe cold have been frequent or protracted. It is owing to these heavy snowstorms and days of fearful cold, that traveling becomes so trying. The approach of a storm, or of an arctic wave, is always unheralded.
A few years ago, as I was riding over the lofty Cable mountain, between Philipsburg and Butte, in western Montana, although the sun was shining brightly when I left Philipsburg, yet before I reached the top of the divide, a most terrific snowstorm struck me full in the face, blinding and bewildering me to such an extent that I soon lost the road. For hours, my faithful horse struggled bravely on, in the deep snow. The sun went down, and darkness came upon us, with no prospect of finding our way to the little mining camp of Cable, which I had hoped to reach before night. When I had become thoroughly discouraged, and my horse utterly wearied, I saw through the darkness (for the storm had then abated), a faint light, which, as I soon discovered, proceeded from a miner's cabin. There I received a warm welcome, and was made comfortable for the night, with a pair of blankets and a rude bunk--the best the miner had. [The Living Church, March 18, 1880.]
With experiences such as these, there was little danger of monotony in the life of the rector of St. Peter's, Helena. Of the spiritual work done, or of his social influence upon the community, there is little record, save that which is written in Heaven. Those who are not familiar with the work of the ministry often suppose that a clergyman has little to do except to prepare one or two sermons and preach them on Sunday. In reality, a faithful parish priest is usually busy like his parishioners, from Monday morning to Saturday night, and works Sunday besides. He is called upon of course to visit the sick, and to bury the dead, and for occasional baptisms and marriages. But in addition, the clergyman who has shown himself a friend has constant appeals to his friendship. He must find a home for motherless children; arrange for nursing the sick; provide for the aged in their declining years; give counsel in trying situations; help to look after wayward boys and girls; perhaps visit the courts, and the jail; in hundreds of ways, some of them strange, and unexpected, amusing, and tragic, the pastor who fulfills his ordination vows is called upon to guide, to warn, to cheer, to bless.
Such a ministry was Mahlon Gilbert's. With a kindly influence extending far beyond parish boundaries, wherever he went, men looked upon him as at once a personal friend and a man of God. He fulfilled wonderfully that ideal of the mission of the Christian Church, summed up by Phillips Brooks in the words, "to bring to the people the life of God."
In May, 1880, Mr. Gilbert went East on a very important errand, his marriage, which took place on the 20th of May. One who knew both Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert intimately has given the following particulars:
While rector at Helena Mr. Gilbert was married to Miss Fanny Pierpont Carvill, a charming young lady of Faribault, Minnesota, whom he had met and courted while a student at the seminary. Her father was George G. Carvill, of English descent, and a native of New York. He was a man of sterling integrity. Retiring from active business, he moved to Faribault at an early day and died there.
Her mother was Ann Augusta Brown, a lineal descendant of Major Hackaliah Brown, of Westchester, who took an active part in the Colonial wars, and was himself descended from Sir Anthony Brown, who was knighted at the coronation of Richard II.
Miss Carvill completed her school-days at St. Mary's Hall, under the regime of Miss Sarah Darlington. Her father and mother were both dead, and she was living with an aunt in Philadelphia, when her marriage to the Rev. Mr. Gilbert was celebrated. The ceremony took place in Holy Trinity Church, Philadelphia, and was performed by the Rev. C. A. Poole, an old friend of both bride and groom, now professor in Seabury Divinity School.
Mrs. Gilbert was naturally of a retiring disposition. She had hesitated long before her marriage, saying that she was not fitted for a clergyman's wife. She had no desire for prominence in parish work, and preferred to leave to others that leadership which has often been demanded of the wife of a pastor. Her fears proved groundless. In her husband's work as rector or bishop no constraint was placed upon her to undertake any work for which she felt herself unfitted. Her care was given almost entirely to the home, and she was recognized as a woman of high refinement and character.
After visiting Morris and New Berlin, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert took their long wedding journey to Helena, where they received most kindly welcome. Their home, however, was not to be long in Helena. Before this, Mr. Gilbert's growing reputation had brought him a call from St. Mark's Church in Minneapolis, which he had felt unable to accept. The new church in Helena was not yet complete and much of the cost was still to be provided. In November, 1880, a call came from Christ Church in St. Paul, and this summons he felt could not well be declined. The altitude of Helena had proved injurious to Mrs. Gilbert's health, and a change was necessary.
At this very time, by coincidence, his dear friend Bishop Tuttle was laying down his work in Montana, retaining charge of Utah and Idaho. At the Seventh Annual Convocation of the District of Montana, Idaho, and Utah, held in Helena in August, 1880, a committee of three had been appointed, of which Mr. Gilbert was one, to petition the House of Bishops to divide this immense jurisdiction, and provide an additional bishop. This petition was acted upon favorably, and on the eighth of December, 1880, that noble and wise worker, Leigh Richmond Brewer, was consecrated Bishop of Montana.
With deep reluctance Mahlon Gilbert said farewell, not only to hundreds of friends in Montana, but also to frontier life, with its hardships, its joys, its perils, its enthusiasm. In after years, as often as possible, he returned to Montana for his summer outing; there camping in the invigorating air, he would gain strength for another year of earnest work.
His last Sunday as rector in Helena was the second of January, 1881. The Helena Herald of January 3rd gives this notable tribute to his ministry:
Rev. M. N. Gilbert delivered last evening his farewell discourse at St. Peter's Episcopal Church to a crowded congregation, every Christian denomination in the city being represented among his hearers. His sermon was a very able one, and the closing part, which referred to his three years' pastorate in Helena, was received by the congregation with much emotion. Next to Bishop Tuttle, Mr. Gilbert is the ablest and most eloquent divine who has ever administered in the Episcopal pulpit of Montana. He has been a most zealous, indefatigable, and we may add, successful worker. . . . His departure, soon to take place, is a loss not only to the Episcopal congregation, but to the community of Helena, and it will be a difficult matter to replace him by any pastor capable of winning so high a niche in general regard and popular esteem. We express the sense of this people in saying that Mr. Gilbert leaves behind him in these mountains only friendly hearts, and he will carry forward with him to Minnesota the most sincere good wishes of this entire people.