Project Canterbury

Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate
Being Reminiscences and Recollections
of the Right Reverend
Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Minnesota

New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899.

Chapter VII

I MAKE the following extract from an early diary written at the time of my first visit to Red Lake, showing the itinerary of a traveller in the Indian country:--

August 4. Left Fort Ripley for Red Lake accompanied by William Spencer, sutler of the Fort. Reached Crow Wing at 10 o'clock A.M. where we were joined by the Rev. E. S. Peake. At 1 P.M. left for the Mission of St. Columba. Left August 5, 7 A.M., and reached Four Mile Bridge ten minutes before eight. Lakes on both sides but only one in sight; outlet flows into Gull Lake. One mile on a lake of one portage, outlet flowing west; half a mile on a lake on west side.

Here I asked William his age; he answered, "I don't know." Asked him how old he was when General Cass came in 1824. He answered, "A boy, and had one breech cloth."

Seven miles from Gull Lake came to Twin Lakes, fifteen miles; crossed two streams few rods apart running east; Spring Creek and Grass Lake on west side; two miles on camped for dinner at Pine River at 1 o'clock, twenty-one miles from Gull Lake. Left at 2 P.M. and reached Mountain Lake, two miles from Twenty-four-mile Creek, where we camped at 6 P.M.

August 6. God be praised for this glorious day! A little cloudy. Left camp at 4 A.M., after repeating the Creed and Lord's Prayer in Chippewa. Breakfasted at High Mountain Lake, where we saw one wigwam of Indians. Reached Leech Lake at 1 P.M. Were hospitably entertained by Messrs. Sutherland and Rutherford. Made an appointment for service on Thursday of next week. Left Leech Lake in two canoes,--number one, Peake, Spencer, William Superior, and Ke-chi-gan-i-queb (the man with wavy hair). Number two, the bishop, Enmegahbowh, Manitowaub, and Ah-yah-be-tung (the man who is continually sitting). Reached point of mainland at 8 P.M., and for one hour travelled west and then due north. Reached Kah-pah-ka-seeh-ke-pah-wah-wang (the river that branches off), at 11 P.M. Enmegahbowh killed a mallard duck. Saw thousands of acres of wild rice. The channel is very winding--sides marshy with scattering rice. Saw many white and yellow lilies. Had a severe walk with packs on back over a two miles' portage; land poor and sandy; crossed a small lake of two miles, and a one-mile portage, and reached Cass Lake at 3 P.M.; passed through an old Indian Mission, and camped for the night in an empty wigwam. Supped on a fish caught at the mouth of the lake. Our voyageur cooked a dish I should call "choke-dog." Met here a hungry household whom we fed. Had prayers, slept, thankful to God for His care.

Rose at 5 A.M., cooked breakfast, saw only five Indians; rest gone for berries. After prayers and talk with Indians, left at 7 A.M. Began raining; camped on branch of the Mississippi called Gnat River (Pin-guish-i-wi Sibi) where we cooked famous dinner of bacon and hard bread.

Camp initiates one into the mysteries of Indian life. We want a candlestick; Enmegahbowh splits a stick, twists a piece of birch bark into it, and we have it. We want a box for our berries; Manitowaub makes a mokuk of birch bark and strips of willow. The stories of Shaganash are amusing. He says that long before Indians lived at Red Lake an old woman lived on the banks, and in a fearful storm her canoe was driven from the shore; she plunged in and a sea-serpent carried her to the middle of the lake to her canoe and brought her back to shore. The snake was as long as a large pine tree. He religiously believes it, and says that such a serpent lives in Leech Lake and has been seen by many Indians.

Shaganash said to Enmegahbowh: "When I hear you talk I cannot believe you were ever wild Indian with breech cloth. I can't believe you ever like us."

Enmegahbowh replied: "All that makes me unlike you is the religion of Christ. I was once like you, but the Great Spirit gave me little light; I followed it and more came and it made me all I am."

Shaganash answered, "The Indian mind well; they all dark, no light; they would follow white man's religion if they wise." After that he was silent and thoughtful.

From Gnat River across Gnat Lake; killed a crane; reached portage at 6 P.M.; crossed two miles and camped on other side. After prayers and religious conversation we slept.

Beautiful moon last night. Nothing can be wilder than the scene at the camp-fire,--some cooking supper, others drying moccasins or mending clothing; the blazing fire, the tall pines, the groups of part civilized and part wild men make a picture worthy an artist's pencil.

We have in our party a working church,--a bishop, a priest, a deacon, two Christian Indians, and one Christian white man, and the heathen to be converted. God grant that some poor souls may be led to Christ by our efforts!

The night was cloudless, and the stillness unbroken save by the hooting of an owl, the cry of a loon, or the bark of some wild beast. Rose at 4 o'clock, had prayers and breakfast, and left at half-past five. Entered a beautiful lake having a wonderful echo. Entered an outlet where water flowed north,--a branch of the Mississippi. At 9 A.M. reached a one-mile portage to Turtle Lake, a tortuous sheet of water; crossed another portage of half a mile to Lac du Mort, which empties into Hudson Bay. This last portage is a dividing ridge; to the left is a small lake from which, it is said, water flows both ways, to the Atlantic and to Hudson Bay. Killed a sand-hill crane; crossed a portage of a mile to Pa-push-kwa Lake (Open Clear Lake). A wolf without any hair was seen here. The portage here is the dividing ridge between the waters of Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Reached a small lake; dragged our canoes, waist-deep in rushes, until we reached a small sheet of water which having crossed we reached the last portage. Here we left our canoes and luggage in charge of William Aiken and started on foot for Red Lake, a distance of fifteen miles. After four miles we reached a long portage, a point to which Indians come in high water; four miles, we reached a creek, and two and a half miles, another creek. We walked another hour and rested fifteen minutes, but the walking was very bad, the trail winding, and the roots and snags difficult. I wrenched my ankle badly and severely bruised my feet.

Half a mile from Red Lake we met Mr. Shubway's son with a pony, and soon we received a hearty welcome from Mr. Shubway, who has been here since 1823. He came as a clerk in the employ of the American Fur Company. He is a hale, hearty Canadian Frenchman, and has a wife and seven children. Gave me many interesting facts about these Indians. There are here about eight hundred, about two hundred at Pembina, and several hundred scattered about Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods. He thinks the Indians have not decreased since he came among them. They are poor, but cultivate a large amount of land. They have corn of last year, one Indian having forty sacks. Fish in abundance.

Mr. Shubway gave me an interesting account of the dealings of the Fur Company, and the life of voyageurs who made one journey each year to Mackinac or Detroit. They left the scattered posts in this upper country in June and returned in October. As far as Fond du Lac they use batteaux, but above, canoes capable of carrying fifteen hundred to two thousand pounds. They carried these loads and canoes over portages, and made from twenty to twenty-five miles a day. Mr. Shubway thinks that no one has ever dealt so well with the Indians as the American Fur Company; for although this company charged a great price for goods and paid small prices for fur, they sold no whiskey, and their employees were generally men of good character and friendly to the Indians.

We had a bountiful supper of corn-bread and molasses. After prayers we slept, camping on the floor. I had the luxury of a comfortable rest.

Sunday, August 10. Rose at 6 o'clock. Spent some time in reading the Bible; prayers; breakfast. Held service at 11 A.M., and celebrated the Holy Communion. After this, held service for the Indians. The large room in Mr. Shubway's house was filled, and a crowd stood at the doors and windows. They seemed deeply interested. It was a strange congregation and would have been grotesque if less solemn. Every variety of ornament was worn; several had the entire rim of the ear slit off; others had it cut to represent ear-drops. Some wore large brass clock-wheels in their ears, and others wore the common Indian ear-drops. They were all in blankets, paint, and feathers.

My sermon was the simple story of the love of Jesus Christ with its practical application, that the object of the gospel was to show men how to live in this world so that they would be fit to live in the Great Spirit's Home hereafter.

There is nothing more heart-moving than to look into a sea of heathen faces, with the thought that they know nothing of the love of Christ, and then to feel the thrill that comes, as a gleam is detected on some face showing that the story has taken root.

After service Mr. Shubway gave an account of an attempt, the year before, to make a treaty for the sale of the Indians' land. It failed because the head chief, Ma-dwa-ga-no-nint, was not satisfied with the small sum offered, and because of the enormous claims of the traders against the Indians. After the council had adjourned the chief said to his people: "Our Great Father at Washington has sent these men, but they have forgotten his words. They want to cheat us. To-morrow at daybreak we leave quietly for home. No treaty will be made." Turning to the other chiefs, he said, "If you sell my land it will be void." The trader heard of it and told the agent, who came to the chief and tried to persuade him to change his mind. The answer was: "My father, you split my heart to-day. It is too late. I cannot make a treaty." And no treaty was made.

Mr. Shubway informs me that the claims of the traders against the Indians at this time were one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. He says that the way these claims are put through is by a division of the spoils. I read Mr. Shubway my letter to the President in behalf of the Indians. He asked me to read it to the head chief, omitting all passages which reflected upon the Government. The chief was much pleased.

Mrs. Shubway has not been out of the Red Lake country since she came here over twenty-five years ago. When I asked her if she were not afraid, she said: "No, the Indians are very kind to me. While the old chief, Wa-won-je-gwun, was alive, he came every day, whenever my husband was absent on his one or two months' trips, to inquire if we were well, or if any of his people had trespassed upon us, or if he could do anything for us. Since his death the present chief, Madwaganonint, or his brother, continues to do the same. Why should I be afraid of such people? "This is a touching evidence of Indian fidelity.

I am consulted frequently by sick Indians, and in most instances I have the proper medicines for their relief.

Monday. Had a long interview with the head chief in the presence of his old men who are his counsellors. He made the following speech:--

"There was a time when my people were strong. Since the white man came we have grown poorer and poorer. We are going to sell our lands; we want to be like white men. We are afraid when we sell our homes we may be like the poor Indians below. Your words are true like the words of a Spirit; we want to know more than we do. All we understand of your words is pleasant to us. We shall some day hope to see you here. We hope you will give us a teacher and a school. The Indian is like a blind man. He cannot see for he has no teacher. When you come you will be welcome. Good-by, I am done."

The chief then asked me to go with him to see the Indian gardens. We rode four miles on the banks of the lake, and I never saw a more beautiful sight than these gardens, extending for miles. There is hardly a lodge which has not corn of last year. In one lodge we counted twenty-nine sacks of old corn. Everywhere there were signs of plenty. The tenth of August we had new potatoes and green corn from Indian gardens.

The condition of this people is so unlike that of Indians in treaty relations with the Government, that one cannot fail to see at a glance the iniquity which lies at the door of the Government. As I looked into the anxious face of the chief, I could not help a great throb of pity for the helpless man who felt the pressure of a stronger power, knowing that he must sell and yet fearing that the sale of his land to a great Christian nation would be his people's doom. God in mercy pity a people thus wronged, and help them!

The shores of Red Lake are bold and beautiful. The view extends for miles and miles away, with the dim outline of the distant shores', and luxuriant gardens with their rude fences festooned with the wild cucumber which grows everywhere in profusion. To give up such a home, to leave the graves of their fathers to go, God knows where, and be subject to the merciless treatment of corrupt agents, is a doom to which I would subject no enemy.

Purchased to-day some bead bags and pipes of the Indians. The black pipe-stone quarry of the Chippewas is at Rainy Lake. The stone is said to be in great abundance, and the pipes made from it find their way through the whole Indian country. These people are generally fine looking. They use beads profusely in their ornaments but are loath to sell them as money is of little value so far in the Indian country. It is valuable for what it will buy at the Indian traders', and that is very little.

Monday, August 11. Left Red Lake at 10 A.M. Mr. Shubway kindly loaned Spencer and myself ponies, and one was hired for Mr. Peake from the chief. The road is very wild, descending into ravines, skirting lakes, and threading tamarack swamps. Much of the way the land is poor, but there is little which would not repay cultivation. The timber is maple, birch, ash, basswood, Norway pine, tamarack, cedar, and spruce. We saw quantities of the wild plum, cherries, currants, gooseberries, whortle and blue berries; also black and red cherries, and the finest hazelnuts I ever saw. The Indian pink, Scotch bluebells, harebells, phlox, and a tall white flower grow in wondrous profusion.

Reached the portage where we left our canoes at 3 P.M.; cooked and ate our dinner, and left at 4 P.M. Entered small lake, and in order to avoid the place where we dragged our canoes, waist-deep, made a short portage, quarter of a mile over a narrow neck of land which divides the two lakes, and entered Papushkwa Lake, which is beautiful, the shores gently undulating, and richly colored with a most luxuriant and variegated foliage. The great variety of forest trees shows that the land is very rich. For seventy-five to one hundred miles, from Leech Lake to Red Lake, the wilderness is now uninhabited by white men; no one threads the narrow trail of the route save the red man, or the adventurous half-breed guide who is hardly more civilized than his heathen half-brother. Once a year the trader or his agent visits these remote bands to buy the furs taken in their winter hunts, usually at half or less than half their value.

We travelled about two miles through Papushkwa Lake and crossed a mile portage, which was well named "mosquito portage," for the havoc these torments made upon us was fearful. Entered Lac du Mort, a beautiful sheet of water, with the same luxuriant foliage, sloping shores, and indented with hundreds of small bays. This lake is the first of waters which flow toward Red River and Hudson Bay. When we cross the next short portage the waters flow to the Gulf of Mexico. There is no tradition as to the origin of the name, Lac du Mort; the Indians say it was so named because an old Indian died here, but if this were the case the name would be in the Chippewa tongue. Probably some of the early French voyageurs lost their lives crossing this lake.

We made about one and a half miles on this lovely sheet of water and came to a portage which is the dividing ridge of the waters of the northern part of North America, a ridge nowhere with an elevation of over one hundred feet or over an eighth of a mile across. On our right we saw a small lake at the foot of the hill with its main outlet into Turtle Lake; it has an outlet also into Lac du Mort.

What a whirl of ideas! A stick cast on one side of this ridge might find its way to Hudson Bay, and on the other into the Gulf of Mexico. Regretted that we could not examine this lake more carefully, but the night drew on and hunger called for the routine of camp life. The scene at camp-making is a busy one, all occupied in the preparation for night--one building a fire, another cutting poles to fasten the mosquito bars, another brewing tea, another preparing the venison, and so on till each man has a place.

There is nothing which so tests a man's temper as this wild, rough life. If he has any cross-grained material about him it will come out, or if disposed to shirk it will be revealed.

Found on this ridge a lavish growth of the wild sweet pea, the convolvulus, and the climbing honeysuckle.

After supper and prayers we lay down to rest. I had no sooner entered my mosquito bar than I overheard William Superior in earnest conversation with our two wild Indians. He said, "I was once a wild, foolish, Grand Medicine-man, but God showed me a better way, and if I keep in it I shall grow better all the time and reach the Great Spirit's Home." Shaganash said, he "would try to follow the trail, and if he could be near a missionary he believed that he could be a Christian." He asked many thoughtful questions, and then came to the one so often asked by heathen men: "Why are there so many religions among white men and only one Book? We have only one Grand Medicine."

Rose at 5 A.M., had prayers, and left before breakfast. After a mile and a half on Turtle Lake we passed through a narrow rice-field into another part of same lake. Scenery still wild and beautiful; more pine mixed with the hard wood; the bays are deeper. Reached end of lake at half-past six, and after a short portage and some small lakes entered the lake north of Cass Lake, thus making a continuous channel to the Mississippi. Followed this channel one mile to Echo Lake, the most beautiful of the chain. Crossed a two-mile portage of sandy pine land and entered Gnat Lake, five miles long. Next into Gnat River at 11.30 A.M. The banks of this river are generally low, with small bays filled with wild rice, called by the Indians, "Manomin." It is found abundantly throughout the Indian country, and is a great blessing to the Indian. It grows in water from two to four feet deep, and ripens about the first of September, standing as thick as wheat at thirty bushels to the acre. The crop seldom fails, and the Indians always leave enough ungathered for seed. It is a little like oats in appearance, the top of the stalk a yellowish red. It is now in the milk. Killed mallard and wood ducks on the river. Halfway through Gnat River we passed a field of not less than two hundred and fifty acres of wild rice. Stream is now low, and it often requires great skill to avoid the rocks on the bottom.

Camped for dinner of fried duck at 2 P.M. I failed signally at making corn-bread for breakfast. Have killed no wild game, although we have crossed the tracks of bear, moose, and otter. Half a mile above drank from a spring strongly impregnated with iron; saw traces of bog ore in great abundance; four miles from camp saw four bear tracks. Indians are quick to detect signs of wild game. They have a wonderful vocabulary of signs to convey information which would be unintelligible to a white man. There is a chief of Cass Lake who is following us and desires to overtake us. To-day at the first portage Enmegahbowh made in the sand a dial to show the chief the hour we passed that point.

At half-past five we entered Rice River, a small sheet of clear water, with its bays waving with wild rice. It is truly wonderful to see the kind provision of God for these wild men. There are thousands of bushels of wild rice growing in this northern country.

At 6 P.M., reached short portage from second Rice Lake to a small lake, half a mile wide, which emptied by a short outlet into Cass, or Bed Cedar Lake. Here we camped for the night in a wigwam and had a fine muscallonge for our supper.

Rose at daybreak and went out to explore the shores of Cass Lake, where we had been told coal could be found. I found a large number of pieces but no indication of a vein. I think the pieces must have been drifted on shore by ice. After breakfast I visited a wigwam where I had gathered all the Indians. I talked to them very plainly of their besetting sins. I told them of the folly of the Grand Medicine, of how it deluded their people, that they had no word of the Great Spirit, no message of mercy, no knowledge of a home beyond the grave. When I had finished an old man said: "You have spoken true words. We are poor and growing poorer. The Great Spirit must be angry with us, or our people would not fade away. When I was a young man we had game and plenty; we were a pure people. Since the payment came all is changed. The Great Spirit gave you words to speak to us to-day. They sound plain. We want to know more. We are blind. Our sins come from our poverty. We must have light or we will perish."

A woman then said: "A few years ago I was baptized; the priest gave me a cross and some beads; he told me to look at the cross and count the beads and I would be good Christian. I lost cross and beads and I no more a Christian; I forgot all."

From Cass Lake we went by canoe down Cass Lake River to Lake Wi-ni-bi-gosh-ish. River filled with fish. I stocked our canoe with beautiful walleyed pike, weighing from two to four pounds each. At the mouth of the river we found some half-famished Indians whom we supplied with fish. They shouted, "Mi-gwetch, mi-gwetch! "(Thank you, thank you!) Found the wind blowing a gale on the lake, but when I asked the Indians if it were safe to cross, they answered, "Yes, for you, the Great Spirit's messenger." After a stormy passage we reached the nine-mile portage. It was an experience to remember. The thermometer was well up in the nineties, and we were loaded down with our impedimenta and wearied by the long trip. At last we reached Leech Lake and crossed to the old Agency, where I met some of the Indians who had driven Dr. Breck from the country.

I held service and they asked me to come again, and some said that after they heard more about the new trail I had brought into the country, they would walk in it.

During this journey several Indians came to me and said, putting their hands to their cheeks, "Wi-bid-akosi" (my tooth is sick), and asked if I could extract it. I was obliged to say "No." But on my next visit to Chicago I called on my old friend, Dr. W. W. Alport, a celebrated dentist, and asked him to teach me to pull teeth. He smiled and said: "It is a very simple matter, Bishop, if you will remember three things. First, be sure to separate the ligaments around the tooth; second, be sure to grasp the tooth firmly with the forceps; and third, pull!" A few minutes later a patient came in to have a tooth extracted. I watched the operation and said to the doctor, "I think I can do it." He gave me a set of forceps which I stored away in my travelling-case, with the feeling that I possessed a new means of reaching the hearts of my red children.

On my next visit I held service at White Fish Lake. After the service a chief came to me and with his hand on his cheek, said, "Wibidakosi." With a not unmingled sensation I boldly answered, "I will help you." He opened his mouth, and to my dismay I saw that the sick tooth was a large molar on the upper jaw. But "in for a penny, in for a pound." It was a comfort to remember that Indians never show signs of pain, no matter how great the agony. I followed to the letter all the good doctor's directions and I did pull. In spite of appearances I knew it was the "ligaments "and not an artery that I had cut, but I used salt as heroically as I did the forceps, and it was with no small degree of satisfaction that I heard the old chief telling his people that "Kichimekadewiconaye was a great Medicine-man."

At this time there was no physician in the Chippewa country, and I found it necessary to carry a small case of instruments and a supply of simple medicines, by which, in God's good Providence, I was able to relieve much suffering."

From Diary of 1862.

Project Canterbury