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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 VIII

IN journeying through the Indian country it was necessary to have a good supply of courage and good nature to meet the annoyances and difficulties which were sure to be encountered. On one of these expeditions I was accompanied by Mr. Gilfillan and Mr. Percival, a cousin of the Earl of Egmont. My time was limited, and to save three days of travel we took Indian ponies and went from Red Lake to Cass Lake by an abandoned road. We found the bridges gone and in the first river a mud bottom. Knowing that our ponies could not draw the loaded wagon through, we prepared ourselves for the plunge, and up to our shoulders we waded across with our provisions and luggage. The next river had a gravel bed, and blocking up our wagon-box we started bravely in. But the river was high and the current like a mill tail, and in the middle of the stream the water suddenly lifted the wagon-box from the fore-wheels and we were swept into a big hole. Bags and robe-cases were filled with water, and everything that could be dissolved at once became so, and we were left without sugar, salt, or bread. Mr. Gilfillan, who is a splendid swimmer, succeeded in saving the other provisions; and the next few hours were devoted to drying our wardrobe and rescuing what remained of our larder by spreading it in the sun to dry. Mr. Percival asked me if "such episodes were frequent in the experiences of their Lordships, the Bishops of America."

Upon one occasion I received a message from the Mille Lacs Indians that they desired to see me. The Rev. E. S. Peake, Enmegahbowh, and two Indians were my companions. It was at the time of a heavy thaw. Our route lay across Nine Mile Lake, where the ice was covered with a foot of snow and slush. It was a weary tramp for the wind was in the north, and just before sunset it became bitterly cold.

When a cold wave strikes northern Minnesota one is never sure where the thermometer will go. The old settlers have a proverb, "It would have been colder if the thermometer had been longer."

However, when we prepared our camp for the night we made a roaring fire of pitch-pine logs, built a stockade of pine branches, and were soon comfortable, for there is no bed more luxurious to a weary traveller than one of fir and spruce boughs. As a border-man once said, "Talk of comfort, I tell you there is nothing so good after a hard day's pull as to stretch yourself on a bed of green boughs and feel the tired going out of you."

It began to snow heavily in the night, and in the morning we found a deep snow covering the forest. As we strode wearily on with our packs I said to our guide, "Shall we reach Mille Lacs for dinner? "

As an Indian never makes an assertion if there is the slightest doubt, there is no word used more often than that which answered my question:--

"Ka-win-ka-na-batch." (No, perhaps.)

After lunch I asked, "Shall we get to Mille Lacs before sunset? "

"En-do-gwen-ka-na-batch." (I don't know, perhaps.)

Just before sundown I asked, "Can we get to Mille Lacs to sleep?"

"Me-nun-ga-ka-na-batch." (Yes, perhaps.)

We often travelled twenty miles on the frontier journeys without a sign of habitation. On one of my visits to the Sioux Mission in 1861, I reached New Ulm at noon. The thermometer was thirty-six degrees below zero, and there were indications of a severe storm. I stopped at the house of Louis Robert, a French Indian trader, a man who, once being asked if he knew Bishop Whipple, replied, "Yes, he's a sky-pilot and always straight."

When I told Mr. Robert that I had promised to be at the mission the next day, and reminded him that Indians call men liars when they do not keep their word (the Indians say: "You said you would be there. You did not come. You lied "), he made a quick inspection of myself, looked at my horses and said: "Bishop, with that buckskin suit and fur coat you'll go through all right, only I'll give you three pairs of moccasins to put on in place of your boots. One never knows what sort of storms will come up on the prairies. The first seven miles of your journey you will find three houses but none after that for twenty-three miles. Let your horses out at their best speed when you reach the prairie; you can easily follow the road as the grass will be high on either side." Without a moment's delay I pulled on my moccasins and started, driving at a rapid speed until well out on the prairie, but suddenly I discovered that the grass had been burned before the snowfall, and there was nothing to define the road. I found by the hard stubble which showed itself where the snow had been driven off by the wind, that I was hopelessly out of the track. The windstorm which had already set in had obliterated the road over which I had come as completely as it had the stretch before me. In passing through several of the coulees with which the prairies abound my horses were breast-deep in the snow.

A starless night came on and with the howling wind sweeping the snow first into almost impassable drifts and then levelling them to the bare ground, I had to confess myself lost.

Until one has encountered a western blizzard the word has little meaning. The Indians have always paid me their highest compliment when they have declared that I could follow a trail and find the points of the compass as well as any Indian.

I now kept my horses headed in the direction which I thought to be that of the Agency. I said my prayers, threw the reins over the dash-board, let the horses walk as they would, and curling myself up under the buffaloes, hoped that I might weather the night.

Suddenly Bashaw stopped. I was confident that the wise fellow had struck a landmark, for he knew as well as I did that we were lost. I jumped from the sleigh and could just distinguish in the darkness something under the snow that looked like a huge snake. It proved to be an Indian trail. The Indians always walk single file to avoid an ambush, and in the loam of the prairie these trails are several inches deep. Bashaw followed it, and when his mate was inclined to turn out he put his teeth into his neck and forced him into the path.

Mr. Hinman was so sure that I had started that he had kept a light in the window of the Agency, and when Bashaw saw it he leaped like a hound from her kennel. When we reached the mission and Bashaw, comfortably stalled, turned his great eyes upon me, his whinny said as plainly as words, "We are all right now, master."

Bashaw was own cousin to the celebrated Patchin. He was a kingly fellow and had every sign of noble birth,--a slim, delicate head, prominent eyes, small, active ears, large nostrils, full chest, thin gambrels, heavy cords, neat fetlocks, and was black as a coal. He was my friend and companion for over fifty thousand miles, always full of spirit and gentle as a girl. The only time I ever touched him with a whip was on the brink of a precipice where the path was a sheet of glare ice and as the wagon began to slide I saved us both by a lash, but the blow hurt me more than it did Bashaw. He saved my life when lost on the prairies many times. In summer heat and winter storm he kept every appointment often by heroic effort. Patient, hopeful, cheerful, he was a favorite of all the stage-drivers, and upon coming to an inn, cold and wet, I was always sure to hear a kind-hearted voice cry, "Bishop, go into the inn; I know just what the old fellow needs."

A few months before he died at thirty years of age, I sent him to a friend in the country to be pastured. One day some colts in the same meadow were racing and Bashaw, who had been noted for his speed, with all his old fire joined in the race, beat the colts, and dropped dead. I wept when the news came to me.

No wonder that men who have passionately loved these intelligent creatures of God have believed in their immortality, as did John Wesley and Bishop Butler. It was God our Father who gave them those wonderful intuitions, those marvellous instincts, that true, unwavering love. These sentient creatures of God have the strongest claims upon us who have been made their guardians. They suffer because of man's alienation from God; their wrongs cannot be righted in this world. They have memory--memory which binds our lives in an harmonious whole--which has the prophecy of a future life. They are a part of that creation which, marred by Satan, waits for redemption. When man finds his true place at his Saviour's feet his love overflows to these dumb creatures of God who share with us His protection and love.

Sympathy is often expressed for a pioneer bishop's life of hardships. It is true that in the early days a visitation was rarely made without encountering some new difficulty. One often came to depressions in the prairies which the inexperienced traveller was tempted to cross, wondering, meanwhile, why others had chosen to prolong their journey by making a circuit of miles; but he was suddenly enlightened by the sinking of his horses' feet, and it was a fortunate ending if he escaped with whole wagon and harness.

Bishop Clarkson once had an appointment at a ranch, and, his time being short, he attempted to cross one of these sloughs. His wagon-tongue suddenly broke, and wading out with robe-case in hand, he mounted one of the horses and found his way to the ranch, well bespattered with black mud.

"Is this Mr. Smith's place? "he asked of the first man he met on the ranch.

"Yes," was the answer.

"I am Bishop Clarkson and I have an appointment for a service here."

The man looked at the bishop from head to foot and then answered with a gasp:--

"Stranger, you don't look as I thought a bishop would look, but if you are a bishop, you shall have a chance. Sail in! "

But the sunshine comes as often as the clouds. The hospitality of those early pioneers was unbounded. However poor, they were always ready to share their all with the traveller. I have enjoyed the hospitality of palatial homes in many lands, but nothing has ever exceeded the true kindliness of my welcome in some of those one-roomed log huts, where my bedroom had to be improvised by partitioning one end of the room with a sheet. Many of the frontier settlers were people of refinement and culture who, in some financial panic, had lost everything and had pre-empted homes in the West, where they lived in independence, scorning to apologize to their bidden guest for their meagre surroundings. A piece of rare old silver or a bit of fine table linen would often speak volumes. From many of those homes I have gone forth refreshed in mind and soul, and thanking God that I was permitted, as apostles were of old, "to minister to the Church in their house."

I once stopped at an inn to hold a first service, and in the night a freshet came, overflowing the river so that I could not get away for four days. Every evening I held service in the school-house. Upon my departure, when I asked for my bill, the landlord looked at me reproachfully and said, "Bishop, I am a wicked man, but I haven't come to that!"

The genuine pioneer may be a rude man, but he is seldom an infidel. He is brave, self-reliant, and expects to bear hardships in order to make a home for his loved ones. After a sermon in which I had alluded to the folly of unbelief, one of these men said to me: "Don't think we are infidels, Bishop. A man can't live all alone with God, as we do, and say there is no God."

I recall one of the true-hearted pioneers who once showed the greatest kindness to one of my clergy, taking him to his home and caring for him through his last illness. When I expressed my appreciation of his goodness to my brother, he answered gruffly, "I only did my duty."

"Yes," I replied, "but there are many men who are not doing their duty. And, my friend, you will not forget that you must go down into the same valley through which my brother has just passed, and there is but one hand to lean upon!"

"I know that," was the quick response. "I do pray, for I've faced death a good many times, Bishop. Once I was on a steamer, and in a storm she ran agin a rock and punched a hole in the bottom. They all thought they were going to be lost, and you would never have dared to go aboard that steamer if you'd known the kind of critters they had there. All night they were crying and confessing their sins like mad."

"And what did you do? "I asked.

"I went to dipping water," was the reply. "I stood in line forty-eight hours, bailing her. I thought God would think just as much of me if I was dipping water to save those miserable critters, as if I was a whining and a snivelling over my sins."

After some conversation I said, "But, my dear friend, there is one thing which you have forgotten. The Saviour asked you to be baptized. The night before He died He made a feast and asked you to come to His Holy Communion because He had something to give you,--His grace and help. Will you not think this over and when I come again be ready for baptism and confirmation?"

At my next visit his first words of greeting were: "Bishop, you were right about that. It's all there as plain as print, and the old woman and me are both going to be baptized."

When the time came for the baptism the poor man, owing to rheumatism, found it difficult to kneel down. He looked up as artlessly as a child and said, "Bishop, I put it off too long; I ought to have done it when my knees were limberer!" No one smiled, for it was the simple expression of one who was as true as Nathaniel of old, in whom was no guile. In his own expressive border language, he has "passed over the Divide," and some day we shall meet again.

I once heard on the frontier an Evangelist denouncing the validity of infant baptism. On the front seat sat a mother holding a beautiful child in her arms. I cannot forget the look of relief and comfort which came over the anxious face when, in answer to a request from the congregation that I would give my views upon the subject, I said, "I have stood by the graves of many children, but it has never been necessary to tell the mother of the safety of her babe. Suppose that one of these babes, having grown to childhood, asks the mother if she is a Christian. The answer comes, "Yes, my child."

"Am I a Christian?" is the child's next question.

What will the mother answer? If she believes what you have heard to-night, she will say: "No, you are not a Christian; you are the child of the devil. I have taught you to kneel and say, ' Our Father/ but God is not your father. I hope that you will be a Christian some time, or you will be lost."

As I finished speaking, a gray-haired patriarch of the Presbyterian Church arose and said, "Thank God that you have come to tell us of Christ's Covenant for little children! "

Often, expressions of appreciation at the close of these frontier services were clothed in language which would have provoked a smile had they been less sincere. After a sermon preached in a town where spiritualism and many other "isms "had robbed the people of faith, an old man grasped my hand and exclaimed, "Bishop, the gospel sounds good, but there is a lot of stuff preached here which is only the poorest kind of physic." Another time an old woman said to me, with tears in her eyes, "Thank God, I got a good boost, to-day!"

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