IN 1866 I attended the meeting of the Board of Missions in New York. The Board had made no appropriations for Indian missions. At one of the sessions my dear friend, the Rev. George Leeds, offered a resolution "that the Board of Missions express their cordial sympathy with the Bishop of Minnesota, in his efforts to carry the gospel to the Indian race."
I had just come from the Indian country where I had witnessed its sorrows and degradation, and was ill from exposure, besides carrying heavy pecuniary burdens which I had incurred for Indian missions. But I arose in response to this resolution and said:--
"If the object of that resolution is to help the Indians, it is not worth the paper on which it is written; if it is to praise the Bishop of Minnesota, he does not want it. It is an honest fight, and if any one wants to enlist, there is room."
A resolution was then passed appointing Bishop Randall of Colorado, Bishop Clarkson of Nebraska, and myself, a committee to report to the next meeting of the Board of Missions on the condition of the North American Indians. After the Board had adjourned, the Rev. Edward A. Washburne, of blessed memory, came to me and said:--
"Bishop, I believe that you are right. Next summer I want you to take me to the Indian country, so that I can see with my own eyes that you are right; then I will enlist, and Calvary Church will see to it that you are no longer alone."
The next summer we started on our journey, travelling hundreds of miles by canoe and on foot, and visited all the bands of the Chippewas. Our party consisted of the Rev. Dr. Washburne, the Rev. Dr. Knickerbacker, Mr. Mackay, a young English barrister, Enmegahbowh, three Indians, and myself. We had two large canoes. Our route was by Gull Lake, Cass Lake, Turtle Lake, Papushkwa Lake to Red Lake, returning by Cass Lake, Lake Win-ne-be-gosh-ish, Po-ke-gu-ma Falls, Sandy Lake to Crow Wing. We held services at every village. There was much to gladden our hearts and much more to make us blush with shame at the sorrow which they had received at our hands.
The weather was inclement much of the time, and we encountered many hardships and difficulties. It is no holiday march to walk across long portages in dripping rain, or burning sun, loaded down with impedimenta.
After a delightful service at Madwaganonint's village, we camped a hundred yards outside. In the night, when we were fast asleep, a violent thunderstorm came on, accompanied by a tearing wind which carried away our tent, leaving us drenched to the skin. In the almost impenetrable darkness, the chief came to our relief and led us to his lodge, where he built a fire and dried our garments. My beautiful case of surgical instruments was ruined by the rain. At Cass Lake we had an equally severe storm, and sought refuge in an empty wigwam where we were devoured by fleas.
As we approached Pokeguma Falls, one of our Indians pointed to a tree a mile distant, and said:--
"It is twenty miles by the course of the river to that tree. If we were alone, we should cross that floating bog and avoid the long journey, but white men cannot do it."
I boldly said: "White men can do as you do. We will cross the bog."
They looked incredulous as we took off everything but our undersuits and rolled them into a bundle to carry between our shoulders. But alas! while the Indians got over safely, each one of our party made missteps and sank several times over waist-deep in the black ooze. When we at last reached Pokeguma, we discarded our underwear and had the luxury of a lake bath.
At a point below Pokeguma Falls, we saw some Indians on the bank of the river, and told them there would be a service the next day at Sandy Lake. When the time came I recognized in the congregation several of these Indians, one of whom came to me and said:--
"Kichimekadewiconaye, I had a daughter; your missionary baptized her at Leech Lake. The Great Spirit called her. Since then I have often thought that I heard some one whisper to me that I must get ready for the Great Spirit's call. What shall I do?"
I told her of the Saviour's love, and of all that it meant. She listened reverently, and was afterward baptized. This woman was the queen of her band, being the hereditary chieftainess.
After the service a council was held, at which I spoke very plainly of the evils which the fire-water had brought to them. The head chief of this band sometimes indulged in fire-water, and being a cunning orator, he arose and said:--
"You said to-day that the Great Spirit made the world and all things in the world. If He did, He made the fire-water. Surely he will not be angry with his red children for drinking a little of what He has made."
I answered: "My red brother is a wise chief; but wise men sometimes say foolish things. The Great Spirit did not make the fire-water. If my brother will show me a brook of fire-water, I will drink of it with him. The Great Spirit made the corn and the wheat, and put into them that which makes a man strong. The devil showed the white man how to change this good food of God into what will make a man crazy."
The Indians shouted "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and the chief was silenced.
In old times, when the fire-water was brought into the country, the women hid all the guns, knives, and war-clubs until the debauch was over; for the wild man is not less brutal in his drunkenness than his white brother who beats wife and children.
At our first camp below Pokeguma, while we were preparing supper, Dr. Washburne playfully wrote the following lines in my notebook, which he sang to us as we rolled ourselves in our blankets for the night:--
O! cloudless the moon filled the silvery sky,
As we danced the bright rapids along;
The old,giant pines tossed their branches on high,
While they murmured their welcoming song:--
The blaze of the camp-fire flung merrily there
Its deep glow on the river's pale breast:
And fragrant the greensward, and soothing the air,
As the voyagers sank to their rest.
Then rose the gay song, and long stories were told,
While the woodland laughed out with our glee,
Of the wonderful West, and red men of old,
Who roved over the forest and sea---
And mingled were thoughts of the roof far away,
'Neath which nestled our loved ones so dear;
And soft in our dreams, as the evening winds' play,
Their sweet voices seemed whispering near.
Ah! oft in the distance, 'midst pleasures of home,
Or the traffic and turmoil of men,
Thy woods, Minnesota! in fancy we'll roam,
And we'll sail thy clear waters again:
Ah! oft as the footsteps of summer return,
They shall wild, gladsome memories bring;
Again the red glow of the camp-fire shall burn,
While yon pine trees their broad shadows fling.
July 19, 1866.--E. A. W.
My dear brother, Dr. Washburne, although unused to the hardships of the wilderness, won all hearts by his cheerful spirit, and the Indians loved him for his deep sympathy for their troubles.
Below Sandy Lake, where I held several interesting services, we encountered another fearful thunderstorm which lasted till daybreak. We did not dare to pitch camp in the forest, for every little while a tree was shattered by the lightning, so we sat in our canoes through the night, bailing water, with generous water-courses running down our backs.
At dawn we resumed our journey, and at about nine o'clock reached a camp where we found the Indians roasting a bear which they had just killed. Cold and hunger made it a tempting feast.
To decline to eat with Indians is regarded as a gross act of rudeness, and one is therefore often placed in a most embarrassing position. At councils of great importance a dog-feast was formerly held, and to refuse to participate would anger the Indians and defeat one's wishes. But if, when the plate of dog was offered, one put a dollar on the plate and passed it to one's neighbor, the latter took the dollar and ate the dog. From this custom the slang phrase of politicians, "Eat dog for another,", originated. I was once asked to dine on muskrat and expressed my surprise that it should be eaten. The next day when I suggested to Enmegahbowh that we should have frogs' legs for dinner, he exclaimed, with a twinkle in his eye, "Eat frogs! Indians have never come to that!"
From the Chippewa country we visited the Indians on the north shore of Lake Superior.
It was a memorable journey from beginning to end, and I doubt not that through the efforts of my brother much was afterward done to awaken Christian love and sympathy for the red man. He was true to his promise and in his loyalty to me; for Calvary Church came to my relief more than once, and saved the Indians from suffering and myself from heartsickness.
Some frightful scenes had taken place in Colorado; and some terrible wrongs had been committed against the Sioux and the Dakotas. I had investigated them, and as I knew that my brothers, the Bishop of Colorado and the Bishop of Nebraska, had not, I deemed it unfair to make them responsible for my statement, so I said to them, "I will write a report and present it to the Board, and state that I am responsible for its contents."
I read this report at a meeting of the Board of Missions, held in the Church of the Transfiguration, New York, October, 1868. There was a large congregation present; and as I told the awful story, men and women wept. When I finished, Bishop Whittingham, who presided, came quickly to the front of the chancel and said, in tones full of emotion:--
"My brother has not told you all. I have seen him go three times every year to Washington to plead for these red men, and I have seen him going back with his poor, crushed heart." Raising his hands, he exclaimed: "I tell you here, in the presence of Almighty God, that I shall work with him and stay up his hands, that in the day of Judgment their blood shall not be on my head."
On my way to New York to deliver this report I read portions of it to some gentlemen who advised me to omit the blackest charges, on the ground that it might place me in personal danger. I replied:--
"They are true, and the nation needs to know them f And so help me God, I will tell them, if I am shot the next minute!"
At the request of Peter Cooper I read the report in the Cooper Institute to a gathering of clergy of different communions. It led to the organization of the Indian Peace Commission.
The Sioux Indians were removed to Crow Creek in Dakota in 1863, and with them many of our Christian Indians who were joined later by the Indians whom I had taken to Faribault. The Rev. Dr. Hare paid me a visit shortly after the Sioux outbreak, and showed much interest in the welfare of the Indians. He was deeply interested in missionary work, and as the Secretary of Foreign Missions won the love of the Church. I had the pleasure of nominating him to the House of Bishops as the Bishop of Niobrara, and he was consecrated in Philadelphia, January 9, 1873, upon which occasion I preached the sermon and joined in his consecration.
It has been a cause of devout gratitude to God that I was permitted to plant the first mission of our Church among the Dakotas, a mission which has been signally blessed under the wise administration of Bishop Hare.
After a visit of the Misses Biddle of Philadelphia to our Sioux Mission in 1862, Mr. William Welsh of Philadelphia, the founder of the church at German-town, became interested in Indian missions. In the early beginning of the work in Dakota under Mr. Hinman, and afterward under Bishop Hare, Mr. Welsh contributed generous sums of money for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Indians in Dakota, and labored for the reform of the Indian system, which interest was kept up till his death.
For many years I had believed that the Chippewas would be removed to a new reservation. I had asked them where the best lands were in the Chippewa country, and without exception they told me that they were in the tract near White Earth Lake. When the time came to make a new treaty, we were able to secure this country for them. After the treaty was made I visited the Chippewas and was met by a storm of opposition, on the ground that if they left the graves of their fathers it would be the first march toward the setting sun. Nebuneshkung (baptized Isaac Tuttle), the head soldier of Hole-in-the-day, said to them:--
"Kichimekadewiconaye has not a forked tongue. My people are looking in a grave. If we go to this new country we shall be saved. You say you will kill any man who goes to White Earth? "He drew his knife and continued, "You know me--I am going to White Earth, and I will kill any man who would murder me."
A number of Indians stepped to his side and promised to join him. Enmegahbowh went with them to White Earth, and services were held in a log house.
One day Nebuneshkung said to Enmegahbowh:--
"I know that story of the Son of the Great Spirit is true. I have blood on my hands. Can I be a Christian?"
Enmegahbowh again told him of the Saviour's love; and to test his earnestness asked if he might cut his hair. The scalp-lock is worn for the enemy, and when the hair is cut it is a sign that the warpath will never again be taken. Nebuneshkung allowed his hair to be cut, and on his way home was greeted by the wild Indians with shouts of laughter.
"Yesterday," they cried, "you were our leader; to-day you are a squaw! "He rushed to his lodge, and throwing himself on the ground, cried for the first time in his life. His wife, who was a Christian, knelt by his side and said:--
"Nebuneshkung, yesterday nobody dared call you a coward. Can't you be as brave for Him who died for you as you were to fight the Sioux?"
"I can, and I will," he answered. And his vow was kept, for I have never known a braver soldier of the cross.
Another remarkable man was the Mille Lacs chief, Minogeshik, whom we baptized Edward Washburne. He was wont to gather the Indians of his band one evening each week to counsel them. He believed his chieftainship to be a trust, and after he became a Christian, he led many of his band to follow him.
I was present at a stormy council held when the White Earth Indians heard of the sale of their pine. One chief after another spoke in bitter words of the wrong which had been committed, and finally Chief Washburne arose and said:--
"I should not be an Indian if I did not feel the wrong done unto my people; but I am a man who has started on a journey. The place I want to reach is the home the Great Spirit has made for me. If I let myself be angered by things which happen on the way, I may lose the trail. The Great Spirit is our Father. He wants us to tell him of our troubles. When I cannot see, I kneel at His feet." Then turning to me, he said, "When I kneel there, Kichi-mekadewiconaye, the name I never forget is your own."
There are no faces imprinted more clearly on my heart than those of Minogeshik and Nebuneshkung. It was my privilege to be with them in their last hours, and to give them the Holy Communion.
It was naturally a cause for gratification on my part when, after long years of pleading for law among my poor red men, letters like the following one from the eminent jurist, J. B. Thayer, came to me, showing that right and justice were taking form in the public mind:--
LAW SCHOOL OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY,
Dec. 31st, 1891.
Dear Sir: I have received with much pleasure your kind and interesting letter of the 17th instant, and thank you heartily for it and for your kind words about my article. I have since received from the Harpers the book which you mention and have read your burning appeal. Thank you heartily for all. I had only known in a general way about this. It is distressing to read all this now, and consider that nearly a generation has passed and yet the perfectly simple and just demands which were made in your appeals to the President are not complied with. The outbreak of last winter was as distinctly the fruit of our wretched system as that of 1862.
Your labors have accomplished much, and it seems to me that now if we could only get law established among them, the Indians' future would be mainly secure. Nothing, I think, is plainer than the necessity of law upon the reservations, as well for the Indians who are citizens as for those who are not. To expect to civilize men without the laws that tie a community together is a foolish dream.
I wish, dear Sir, that your voice might again be heard urging this measure of law upon the reservations and courts through which it can be enforced. In the present state of public opinion, it could not but help powerfully. It is intended to send our petitions to Washington. If you can help us with any suggestions, they would be very welcome. With much respect,
I am very gratefully yours,
J. B. THAYER.