IN June, 1859, I one day returned from visiting my parish and found my dear friend, the Rev. Dr. Clarkson, walking up and down in front of my house. He ran toward me and throwing his arms around my neck exclaimed, "My dear brother, you have been elected Bishop of Minnesota."
I cannot attempt to describe my feeling at this announcement. I felt and said that I could not accept the grave responsibility of this holy office. I received letters from Bishops Kemper, Whitehouse, De Lancey, the Rev. E. G. Gear and from clergy and laity, both East and West, all advising me to accept the election.
The letters of D. B. Knickerbacker, James Lloyd Breck, E. R. Welles, and others breathed a spirit of affection. The letter of the committee of notification expressed confidence and the hope that I would accept. I had great searchings of heart and sought council from my Heavenly Father. When I learned the history of the election, I felt that it was a providential call from God. Several of the clergy of Minnesota had written to Bishop Horatio Potter, asking him to name a suitable person for their bishop. He named the Rev. Dr. John Ireland Tucker, of Troy. Others had selected as their candidate the Rev. Dr. A. B. Paterson, rector of St. Paul's Church, St. Paul.
There was a provision in the constitution of the diocese that the clergy should nominate and the laity confirm, but if a candidate were twice chosen by the clergy and rejected by the laity his name could not again be presented. The Rev. Dr. Tucker was twice nominated by the clergy, but not confirmed by the laity. The clergy asked permission to retire for council and prayer. It was then proposed that each clergyman who had not voted for the Rev. Dr. Tucker should give his reasons for his vote, and that other names should be presented. The Rev. Dr. Paterson, said: "As I came through Chicago the Rev. John W. Clark asked me whom we were going to elect Bishop of Minnesota. He told me of the work of the Rev. Henry B. Whipple of Chicago, and said, 'If I lived in your diocese I should vote for him.' I voted for Mr. Whipple."
After conference it was proposed that they should spend some time in prayer. Rising from their knees they returned to vote. The Rev. A. B. Paterson received four votes, and I received fourteen votes. Judge E. T. Wilder of Red Wing, H. T. Welles, and Judge Isaac Atwater of Minneapolis urged the laity to confirm the nomination, and it was done. I was unanimously confirmed, receiving twenty-one votes. Believing that the call was from God, I accepted it, subject to the confirmation of the General Convention.
I was consecrated bishop, Oct. 13, 1859, in St. James Church, Richmond, Virginia. The Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper, Bishop of Wisconsin, was the Presiding Bishop. The Rt. Rev. William Heathcote de Lancey, Bishop of western New York, the Rt. Rev. Henry John Whitehouse, Bishop of Illinois, were my presenters. The sermon was delivered by the Rt. Rev. George Burgess, Bishop of Maine. The above named bishops and the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Hamner Cobbs, Bishop of Alabama, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Fielding Scott, Missionary Bishop of Oregon and Washington, the Rt. Rev. Henry Washington Lee, Bishop of Iowa, the Rt. Rev. Thomas March Clark, Bishop of Rhode Island, the Rt. Rev. Samuel Bowman, Assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania, united in the consecration. The attending clergy were the Rev. Dr. W. D. Wilson, and the Rev. Dr. A. B. Paterson. Morning Prayer was read by the Rev. Dr. E. G. Gear and the Rev. Dr. I. V. van Ingen.
Those who have not passed through the experience cannot understand the overwhelming tide of feeling which comes to one, as he realizes the awful responsibility of the administration of such a trust, and his own unworthiness for an office borne by martyrs and saints. Never did I so long to cast myself at the feet of the Saviour and cry, "Lord, help me." I was deeply impressed by one passage in the sermon of the gifted bishop, where he spoke in glowing words of the tender sympathy with which his heart went out to one "who from this day gives up the blessed ties which unite a pastor to his people; who will henceforth bear heavy burdens and often find no help but in Jesus Christ; who will have to build up waste places, to heal heart-burnings, and be a wanderer until called home by the Great Shepherd." I did not then know all that was meant, but often on the lonely prairie, in the wild forest, in the heat and burden of the day, the words have come back to me.
Bishop de Lancey had confirmed me, ordained me deacon and priest, instituted me, and now presented me, and consecrated me a bishop. Truly he was my spiritual father as he was my dearest friend. After the service he came to me in the vestry and, putting his arm around me, said impressively, "My dear brother, I want to give you some advice that will save you much trouble." My heart was full, and expecting some spiritual counsel to fall from his lips, I looked up earnestly. "Never allow yourself to be separated from your luggage." He had once said to me, as a presbyter, "Always carry a sermon in your bag, unless you have one in your heart."
This General Convention met at the time of John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, the beginning of our Civil "War. Its sessions were marked by loving union and godly concord, and we often looked back to it, in the days when deadly strife had separated the North from the South, as the prophecy of reunion.
I held my first confirmation, at the request of the bishop, in my parish in Chicago, where I left my family for the winter. My first service in my diocese was on the tenth of November, at Wabasha, where I baptized an infant. This was a missionary station of the Rev. E. R. Welles of Red Wing. It was beginning in the right place, in missionary work in a missionary diocese.
November 23, 1859, I visited the Indian mission of St. Columba, Gull Lake. From my childhood I had felt a deep interest in these brown children of our Heavenly Father. In my native town there was an old man who had been captured by the Indians when a child and had lived many years with them. I delighted in listening to his stories of Indian life, and insensibly my heart was touched and prepared for the love which I was to feel for this poor people. On this first visit to Gull Lake I was accompanied by the Rev. J. L. Breck. No words can describe the pitiable condition of these Indians. A few miles from St. Columba we came to a wigwam where the half-naked children were crying from cold and hunger, and the mother was scraping the inner bark of the pine tree for pitch to give to her starving children.
Our Indian affairs were then at their worst; with-out government, without protection, without personal rights of property, subject to every evil influence, and the prey of covetous, dishonest white men, while the fire-water flowed in rivers of death.
Mr. Breck had begun a mission among the Chippewas at Gull Lake in 1852, and in the summer of 1856 he went to Leech Lake to found a mission, leaving Gull Lake in the charge of the Rev. E. Steele Peake. For a time Mr. Breck was hopeful of this new field; but the following year, in the dead of night, he was attacked by drunken Indians and ordered to leave the country. He could gain no honor for his Master by allowing himself and family to be murdered by drunken savages, and he left the mission. The Leech Lake Indians told me long after, AS an excuse for their conduct, that the agent had told them that one religion was as good as another, and if they did not want the missionary they could drive him away.
We found a few Christians at the Gull Lake mission (the Indian name is Ka-ge-ash-koon-si-kag, the place of the little gulls), the wife of White Fisher, the wife of Minogeshik, Manitowaub and wife, William Superior and wife, Susannah Roy and two aged Indians baptized Abraham and Sarah. The service was read by Enmegahbowh (baptized John Johnson) whom Bishop Kemper had ordained deacon in Faribault in 1859. On account of the unsettled condition of the Indian country, Mr. Peake had been compelled to reside at Crow Wing, leaving the mission in the immediate charge of Enmegahbowh. The service was in the Ojibway language. I preached through an interpreter, which is at first difficult, but it compels the use of simple language in order to reach the heart. I confirmed several persons, and never can I forget that first Indian communion. I was overwhelmed by the thought of the joy which would come to the Divine Heart of the Saviour as He looked down upon these men of the trembling eye and the wandering foot, kneeling at His feet.
We spent several days visiting from wigwam to wigwam, and the gleams of light which occasionally penetrated the darkness strengthened my heart for the work before me. An Indian mother asked me to bury her child, and the service never sounded sweeter than it did in that musical tongue, when the little lamb was christened dust to dust in the acre of God. The next day the mother brought me a lock of hair and said: "Kichi-me-ka-de-wi-con-aye (great black-robed priest), I have heard that when a white mother loses her baby, she has its hair made into a cross to remind her of the baby who has gone and of Jesus who has taken her. Will you have my baby's hair made into a cross?" I had the cross made; I learned that an Indian mother's heart is like that of a white mother. '."
I was saddened on my return when good men advised me to have nothing to do with Indian Missions, on the ground that the red men were a degraded, perishing race. Our late presiding bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Williams, said at my first missionary address in his diocese, "They are a heathen people and the picture is very dark, but not as dark as that picture drawn by the pen of Divine Revelation in the first chapters of Romans. They are. a perishing people, but the Son of God came to save a perishing world; and if the red race is perishing, the more reason to make haste and carry to them the gospel."
I knew all that men could tell me of difficulty and danger, but when I bowed my head at the foot of the cross I believed that there was room for all men, and that if it were dark in the Indian country it was light above. I resolved that, God being my helper, it should never be said that the first Bishop of Minnesota turned his back upon the heathen at his door.