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 XXVI

I WAS a member of a Commission to make a treaty with the Chippewas. It was drawn so as to protect them in property and to provide for their civilization. "It is a fine treaty," said a prominent opponent, with an oath; "not a dollar for the trader! "It was not ratified by Congress, but I have received scores of letters from Indians, saying that it was the best treaty ever offered them. And so it was.

One difficulty with the solution of this Indian problem is that doctrinaires would solve all difficulties by special legislation. When I was a young man, a number of bills had been under discussion in the legislature to prevent intemperance. A quaint farmer arose and said:--

"I think I have a bill which will satisfy all parties. I ask the unanimous consent to read it. 'Be it enacted by the Senate and Assembly that intemperance be abolished.'"

The law which gives lands in severalty is an excellent provision. No man becomes civilized until he has something which he can call his own. But what if the land is on the western plains of Dakota, without water, or on the sandy waste of the pine forest? There is no prerogative of citizenship clothed with more honor than the ballot. But what if a man has no knowledge whatever of his duties and his vote is to be bought and sold? President Cleveland once asked me what I thought the effect would be of making the Indians voters. I told him that we had tried it, at which he expressed surprise.

"We had a territorial law," I explained, "that Indians wearing civilized dress might vote. At an election some one said,' Wait till you hear from Pembina!' When they heard from Pembina they learned that a band of Indians had been put into hickory shirts and trousers between sunrise and sunset, and had become voters." The President smiled and said, "I see how it may work."

I found President Cleveland ready at all times to hear a plea for the Indians and as far as possible to redress their wrongs. During his first administration, I asked Chief Justice Waite his opinion of President Cleveland. "I believe," he answered, "that the President wants to know the truth, and when he knows it he will defend it." He" then offered to go with me to the White House to introduce me, for I had come to Washington in behalf of the Chippewas at Minnesota.

I told the President, briefly, that the Indians had had their fisheries and rice fields destroyed by dams, erected by the United States Government on the Mississippi, which had overflowed ninety-one thousand acres of pine land, and that I had plead in vain for redress.

The President sent for the Secretary of the Interior and said:--

"Bishop Whipple has told me a story of a great wrong. I have asked him to put it in writing. Will you make a memorandum of this, and send the bishop's letter to me at the opening of Congress. We will try to have justice done to these Indians."

When Congress met, the President sent my statement in a special message, and Congress promptly made the appropriation. The wrong for which I had plead for years was rectified.

It was President Cleveland's invariable course, and I owe him a debt of personal gratitude. In 1895 I was appointed by President Cleveland a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, which office I accepted.

In my Indian work I have had the love and sympathy of the Society of Friends. The annual meeting of the Orthodox Friends was held in Baltimore at the time of our General Convention, in 1871, and I was invited to address them. There were present delegates from all parts of the United States. They removed their hats in token of respect as I came to the platform. It moved me deeply as I looked into the faces of these men and women who have had a clean record in all their dealings with the Indians. In the darkest hours they have stood by me. A few weeks later I was asked to deliver an address on the Indian question at the annual meeting of the Hick-site branch of the Friends. I was introduced by Benjamin Hallowell, the Patriarch of the Society,--a scholar, a pure patriot, and a generous philanthropist. Among the pleasant memories of those days are my visits to his home at Sandy Hill, with my friend Allen Bowie Davis. In my frequent visits to Washington I have found a quiet resting-place at Mr. Davis's home in Brookville, Maryland, where the old traditions of Southern hospitality were kept up.

After my address to the Hicksite Friends, Lucretia Mott thanked me for the words spoken for the Indians, and said with a smile," Thee must feel strange among so many Friends; we have no bishops."

"But when your children leave the Society of Friends," I answered, "they always come to us."

With quick wit the response came: "I am thankful that thou hast such good material among thy people. An Indian bishop can well be the bishop of the Indians' friends."

One of the warmest friends of the Indians was Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson; at her request I wrote the preface to "A Century of Dishonor," a book to which Col. Higginson pays a just tribute.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS., Sept. 22d, 1880.


Dear Sir: You are perhaps aware that Mrs. Helen Jackson, now of Cloud, has written a book on our Indian policy, called "A Century of Dishonor," and it is now passing through the press of Harper Brothers. During the absence of Mrs. Jackson in Europe, I am correcting the proofs, at her request. She is very anxious that you should write a preface to it, and I have therefore asked Messrs. Harpers to send you some sample sheets. I am not an expert on Indian questions, but I know good literary work, and can assure you that the book is admirably done; and it shows a freedom from exaggeration and over-vehemence that quite surprises me, in view of the author's generous and ardent nature. It is very thoroughly justified with facts and citations, and I am sure that you need not shrink, as far as the character of the book goes, from endorsing it.

Very respectfully,

Indians, like many other human beings, often return evil for evil, but they rarely forget a kindness. I was once passing down the Mississippi River near Rabbit Lake, when an Indian woman beckoned to me from the shore. It proved to be the woman to whom I had once given a cross made from her child's hair. Having heard that I was to pass Rabbit Lake, she had walked twenty-five miles to bring me mokuks of maple sugar and dried berries.

At the time of the Sioux outbreak in 1862, Hole-in-the-Day had sent a message to the Leech Lake Indians to kill the imprisoned traders. Chief Buffalo, who was their friend, said in council:--

"I am older than you. We have received a message to kill the white men. White men have wronged us and perhaps they ought to die. Hole-in-the-Day says there is war, that the Indians will drive the white men out of the country, that these men must be killed. If we go to the white man's settlements and find that there is no war, we shall be asked by the Great Father what has become of his white children. We shall look foolish when we are hanged. We can kill these men as well next week as to-day."

The Indians shouted "Ho! Ho! "and the council ended. That night Buffalo released the prisoners and sent them out of the Indian country.

One of the first Pembina Indians that I met was the chief of the Turtle Mountain band, who said to me:--

"I am a wild man. I knew that the Indians East had perished. I was sad for my children. My fathers told me that there was a Great Spirit. I have gone into the woods and have tried to talk to Him. I could not take hold of His hand. I heard the new message which you had brought into the country. I went to your spirit man, Enmegahbowh. I sat at his feet, and I have all that story in my heart."

I had many conversations with this chief, whose questions showed the deepest thought. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs told me that on a visit to Turtle Mountain with Rev. Dr. Knickerbacker they walked over on Sunday morning to the village, and as they drew near an Indian lodge, they heard a voice praying, and then an earnest exhortation. It proved to be my Pembina chief, who said to the commissioner: "I promised Kichimekadewiconaye that on every Praying day I would gather my people in my lodge, and would tell them all I know about the Great Spirit. We hope we shall some day have a missionary."

When the Indians attacked Forbes's trading-post and wounded George Spencer, Wakinyantawa rushed through the crowd of savages and carried Spencer to his tipi; and when they threatened to kill him, Wakinyantawa said quietly: "Two of you die if he dies. He is my friend." Day after day Spencer was watched over and cared for by Wakinyantawa, who afterward became a scout in the army and was killed. George Spencer remembered his defender by caring for his widow and children.

At the time that General Ouster was sent to make a reconnoissance of the Black Hills, he wrote to us to send him thirty scouts, adding that he should leave Fort Abraham Lincoln on the following Wednesday, and that the scouts must reach him before that time. This letter reached Santee Sunday morning. After service Mr. Hinman told the Indians present of General Ouster's request, and the thirty volunteers whom he accepted, by travelling all night, reached Sioux City in time for the morning train for St. Paul, where they connected with the Northern Pacific Railway,--which at that time was by way of the Pacific Junction near Duluth,--and reached the fort in time. When they returned in the autumn, General Ouster sent the following letter:--

I cannot permit these Indian scouts to return to you without bearing my testimony to their fidelity. I do not say, simply, that they have been good soldiers, for I doubt if any village in our country could turn out thirty more exemplary men. Among other pleasant incidents, I remember one Sunday, as I sat in my tent, I heard in the distance the familiar hymn, "Bock of Ages." Knowing that cavalry-men were not noted as hyinn-singers, I followed the sound, and you may judge of my surprise when I found that the only men who were engaged in the worship of God were the sons of those who had roamed over the prairies in barbarous wildness. May the good work go on.



It was a beautiful tribute to the Christian Indians from this brave officer, who with his entire command was killed by the hostile Sioux. I have in my possession a buffalo skin ornamented with battle-scenes by the warrior Gall, who was reputed to have killed General Ouster in battle.

It is no wonder that the Indians hated the white men for the destruction of game which they say the Great Spirit provided for his red children. Forty years ago the buffalo were found on the western borders of Minnesota, large herds of elk on the prairies, and moose, deer, and bear were abundant in our Northern forests. In 1874, Dr. Daniels, while in the country of the Upper Missouri River, rode three days in sight of one herd of buffalo.

On missionary journeys our larder has been supplied by the fish so abundant in the lakes of northern Minnesota,--wall-eyed pike, pickerel, bass, croppies, perch, and, in a few lakes, white fish and salmon trout of excellent quality. The muscallonge, king of northern fish, had its home in the Mississippi. We took one weighing forty pounds.

Minnesota extends over one hundred and fifty miles northeast of Duluth. I have fished in every stream on the North Shore as far as Prince Arthur's Landing, and also in the far-famed Nipigon. From boyhood I have been a disciple of the "gentle Isaac." I once relieved the somewhat over-anxious mind of a friend who expressed surprise that I should find pleasure in fishing, by reminding him that it was apostolic, and that the man of the College of Apostles who betrayed his Master did not come from the Sea of Galilee, but from Kerioth, a trading town in the southern part of Judea.

Trout weighing over five pounds each were taken in the Nipigon by every member of our party on one occasion. There is nothing which sends such a thrill along an angler's nerves as to feel a four-pound trout on a six-ounce rod, not even the taking of a tarpon, the silver king of Southern waters. I celebrated a recent birthday by taking a tarpon which weighed one hundred and twenty-four pounds and which measured six feet and eight inches in length. He was taken on the Caloosahatchee River, below Fort Myers in Florida; a river two miles wide and about twelve feet deep. The line used was a number eighteen bass line, with large hook and wired snood, and the bait, a third of a mullet. The cast was about one hundred feet from the boat.

It is often weary waiting for this prize, but expectation fills the soul. At last the line moves; waiting until the bait is swallowed and the slack out, a quick sharp jerk is given and the monster is hooked. He makes a leap five feet out of the water, and is then off like a racehorse. The boatman takes up the anchor and rows after him. Like an eagle one watches the line, feeling the tension. If the fish slacks his speed, one reels in, and if he rushes, the line is given him. Again and again he leaps from the water. The one here mentioned was fresh from the sea; he made twelve leaps and took me over a mile. At last he gives up the battle and is at the boat gaffed and safe. One is left weary, but with a sense of triumph at having won laurels for his fisherman's brow.

A silver coin fresh from the mint is not more brilliant than the scales of a tarpon, which are coated with a silver sheen and are from one to three inches across. Lest male anglers should be overfull of pride, it must be stated that the largest tarpon ever taken was taken by a woman. It weighed two hundred and five pounds and measured eight feet and two inches in length. After Mrs.------had played him a long time, her husband offered to take the rod, but with true pluck she exclaimed, "If you touch that rod I shall apply for a divorce."

I have caught salmon in Scotland, bluefish off Nantucket, kingfish in the Gulf, tarpon in Florida, trout in the Yellowstone Park, but for the perfection of the angler's craft, give me the clear sparkling waters of the streams which flow into Lake Superior. Many daydreams, many plans of work, many sermons have come to me as I have waded those crystal waters.

At one of my visits to the Mission of St. Columba, Enmegahbowh made an address to his people in which he pronounced the following eulogium upon myself. He had been speaking of the love which God had put into my heart for his people, and then he continued:--

"And the bishop has a library of hundreds of books which he has treasured in his heart; he is a great theologian; he is honored by his white children everywhere; and at Washington the Great Fathers always listen to his pleas for his red children. The Queen of England has listened to his story of the Ojibways; "and then he came to the top stone of a well-rounded character: "and besides all this, my friends, he has caught the largest fish ever caught in Minnesota. I know this, for I saw it with my own eyes. I have heard that he caught the largest fish ever caught in Florida. I do not know that, because I did not see it, but I believe it, because I know he could do it."

Not an Indian smiled. It seemed to them a fitting climax to all that had gone before.

After recovering from the Sioux massacre, there were a few years of great prosperity. Then followed a plague of locusts, which for several years destroyed the crops in the western part of the state. They came in clouds, obscuring the sun at midday. I have seen fields of wheat six inches high in the morning, and in the evening not a blade left. After much suffering from this desolation, Governor John Pillsbury appointed the twenty-sixth day of April, 1877, as a day of fasting and of prayer. "That it may please the Heavenly Father to remove from our borders, this plague." Infidels ridiculed the proclamation. The day was solemnly observed, places of business were closed, and all classes of men attended the public services.

The day of the 25th was bright and beautiful, and the young locusts were revelling in their work of devastation. On the following day, before the sun went down, a violent storm of sleet and snow came and every locust was destroyed.

This plague was a great calamity to the Indians who had begun farming. One old Indian woman who had a small garden upon which she depended, went out to fight the locusts with her broom, and as she fought she prayed again and again, with tears rolling down her cheeks, "O Lord Jesus, Thou knowest how much I love Thee. I am a poor Indian woman. I have only this garden. Drive off these devil's pests and save my crops." This garden was the only one saved in the village.

My beloved diocese has passed through great trials. Cyclones have brought destruction at New Ulm, Sauk Rapids, Rochester, Leroy, and in the western part of Goodhue County. No words can describe these awful visitations,--the clouds dark and lurid, shaped like an inverted cone, and the roar as of a hundred railway trains. They travel at the rate of fifty miles an hour, destroying everything in their path. At Sauk Rapids, a bell weighing eight hundred pounds was carried more than two squares away. Thin pine shingles were driven into oak trees. A horse was lifted across a field and landed, unharnessed, in the top of a tree, from which he was lowered by ropes, uninjured. A wagon wheel carried twenty-five miles across the Mississippi, was found in Wisconsin.

In 1894, a forest fire accompanied by a cyclone destroyed villages and burned to death four hundred and sixty persons.

It is not for man to interpret these providences of God. Where we cannot see we must trust and hold fast to our faith, believing that He, whom Jesus has said is our Father, cannot do wrong to his children. When we see how these sorrows break through the crust of selfishness, drawing hearts together and knitting again the ties of brotherhood--yes, even helping the sufferer to cry to God his Father--we can see light in the darkness.

After one of my returns from the Indian country, a most singular incident took place, one of the many instances of God's care for me in a time of peril. Some months before, one of my professors had recommended to me a young clergyman who desired to enter our Divinity School and to receive Orders in the Church. He presented his papers in due form, and became a candidate for Orders. A few months before the close of the school year he had shown signs of an unbalanced mind, and I was obliged to tell him that our missionary work was full of hardships, and as he was not well, I felt it would be wiser not to ordain him with his class. I offered to provide a home for him until he had regained his health, and he most amiably acquiesced in my decision.

I reached home on Saturday, and was advertised to preach in the Cathedral on Sunday morning. Late Saturday evening the Rev. Mr. Edson, who had been with my mother in her last illness, arrived in Fari-bault, and I invited him to preach in my place. Before the sermon, as notice was given that the bishop would preach in the evening, the student in question, whom I had not seen for some time, started from a pew near the door and came toward the chancel, as I supposed to take his seat in the choir where the divinity students sat during term time. On reaching the chancel arch, however, he stopped, and taking a revolver from his pocket, pointed it at me. I felt what was coming before the revolver appeared, and knowing that the young man was short-sighted and that he would probably wait until sure of his aim, I walked with quick, long strides through the chance], which is very deep, grateful that I had been an athlete in younger days, and at the chancel steps made a leap, seizing the young man by the collar and turning him sharply round with my knee at his back, while I said to the congregation, "Will some one take charge of this man,--he is insane."

It all happened so quickly that no one moved till then. The poor fellow was led out and the service went on. It was found that the pistol had a hair trigger, and that all the chambers were loaded, making it a marvel that no tragedy had occurred.

Some time after, I was returning from a General Convention, when an awful disaster took place at Rio, owing to a misplaced switch. The front sleeper was crushed, and one of the passengers who attempted to pass through came back crying, "For God's sake, Bishop, come and help these people who are burning to death." Half dressed, I followed to a scene of horror. It was a cold night and the stoves were at a red heat, so that when the crash came, the live coals were scattered through the car, which was in a blaze. One poor woman, pinioned to the floor by the wreck, had only time to 'hold up her two children, with the words, "Take them to my husband in Winona," before the fire swept over her. Two sisters of charity, with the flames curling round them, were kneeling in prayer. In spite of every effort, twenty-five persons were burned to death, and we who were saved owed our lives to the engineer, Thomas Little, who, at the risk of his own life, stayed by the engine. In recognition of his faithfulness, I had a gold medal made at the United States mint, bearing on one side an olive wreath with the name of the hero, and on the reverse side, "For saving the lives of passengers at Rio, October 28, 1886."

"Thomas is a good man," exclaimed his wife, when I went to his home to present this medal, "and a communicant of the Church. He lives according to the lesson of the old catechism,--'to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.'"

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