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The Work of Bishop Whipple in Missions for the Indians
by the Hon. Charles E. Flandrau

An Address on October 14, 1901.

Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 1904, pp 691-696.

Gentlemen of the Executive Council of the Historical Society: I have been honored by an invitation to say a few words on the subject of the late Bishop Whipple, in regard to his mission work for the Indians. While I am glad of the opportunity of adding anything to the admirable record of that pure and noble man, I feel my inability to do him justice, never having had any very close relations with the church he represented, or in fact with any other. I can recall only two circumstances that afford any justification for my saying a word on the subject. In the first place, I have known Bishop Whipple perhaps longer than any other man in our State, and, secondly, I have had a good deal of experience and contact with the Indians of the Northwest.

I first became acquainted with Bishop Whipple when he was a young clergyman in charge of the Zion Church in Rome, New York, about the year 1849. I was residing in the same county, and became quite in touch with him through a brother of mine, who was a young doctor in the same place. One of them ministered to the spiritual, and the other to the physical wants of the multitude of poor inhabitants of that locality; the work was purely missionary.

In 1856 he was called to Chicago, and established the Free Church of the Holy Communion, where he remained until he was chosen Bishop of Minnesota in the year 1859.

Up to the time that Mr. Whipple went to Chicago, the Episcopal Church did not reach the poor as closely as other Protestant denominations, and free churches of that faith were practically unknown. It was for the purpose of reaching this class that the young divine made his church free, his support coming entirely from the free offerings of the people. Chicago then had among its people many railroad men whom he desired especially to cultivate. He visited every shop, saloon, and factory in the city, personally, and left invitations to attend his services; and he went so far as to study books on the structure and workings of the steam engine, in order to become en rapport with the railroad operatives. His efforts on these lines were eminently successful and gained for him, as a missionary worker, a fame which extended far and wide, and which ultimately became the most prominent factor in securing his election to' the bishopric of Minnesota.

Prior to 1859, Minnesota was part of the Diocese of Wisconsin, presided over by Bishop Kemper. This venerable man of God used occasionally to visit this part of his domains and minister to the spiritual wants of his people. The first time I remember attending his services was in the early fifties, at St. Peter, in the unfinished "shack" of Captain Dodd, when there was but one Episcopalian within one hundred miles and the congregation all wore moccasins. This condition of things was fairly representative of all of Minnesota outside of St. Paul and St. Anthony. I mention these things to show that, at the advent of Bishop Whipple in 1859, he found a splendid missionary field awaiting him, particularly adapted to his inclinations, experience, and cultivated talents in that line of work.

I remember very well when the convention was called in 1859, to meet in St. Paul to elect a bishop for the new diocese. It was composed of two Houses--the clergy and the laity--which had to concur in the choice. Any clergyman of the Church was eligible to the position. Dr. Paterson: and Dr. Van Ingen, both of St. Paul, were the two oldest Episcopal clergymen in the state. The former represented the lower town, and the latter the upper town, and they were both logical candidates for the office of bishop. When the voting commenced the Rev. John Ireland Tucker of Troy, N. Y., developed considerable strength, and others were voted for, but no one received the requisite number of votes for election. On each ballot, Henry B. Whipple, of Chicago, received one vote. No one seemed to know much about him, until Dr. Paterson, having become satisfied that he himself would not be the choice of the convention, announced the peculiar characteristics of Mr. Whipple, which made him a desirable candidate, and laid especial stress upon his missionary work in Chicago. The result was his election, and thus Minnesota secured the best man for the position to be found in the entire Church in America. As near as it is possible to ascertain at this remote date, the delegate who cast the one vote for Whipple, which introduced him, was General N. J. T. Dana of St. Paul. Dr. Paterson had no personal acquaintance with Mr. Whipple, but in passing through Chicago shortly before the Minnesota Convention, he had been told of his missionary work in that city by the Rev. John W. Clark, who advised him to vote for Mr. Whipple for bishop.

Bishop Whipple was consecrated October 10th, 1859, at Richmond, Virginia, at a great convocation of Episcopal dignitaries, assembled at St. James' Church, and presided over by Bishop Kemper of Wisconsin.

As I have stated, Minnesota presented a splendid field for missionary work when Bishop Whipple took possession, even had there been no Indians among its population. But this element was all that was needed to call into action the strongest characteristics of the Bishop's mind and nature. Here was a people numbering about seventeen thousand souls, 8,000 Sioux, 7,800 Ojibways, and 1,500 Winnebagoes. They were absolutely heathen, with a very few exceptions. Much work had been done for them by missionaries in their attempts to Christianize them, but, so far as I am able to judge, without much substantial result.

I have always had serious doubts whether any full-blooded Indian, who had attained the age of manhood before receiving Christian ministration, ever fully comprehended the basic principles of Christianity. In support of this opinion, I will relate a circumstance which occurred at my agency when I had charge of the Sioux of the Mississippi. The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions had established an extensive mission at the Yellow Medicine river in this country, among the Sioux. It was conducted by the Rev. Dr's. Riggs and Williamson in the most approved manner of missions at that date, which embraced all the experience of a long series of years. To the mission was attached a civil government among the Indians, with a written constitution and officers of their own selection, which was a potent factor in the teaching of Christianity. They had a beautiful little church with a steeple on it, and in it hung the first bell that was ever brought within our limits. The missionaries had given a biblical name to all the principal members, such as John, Paul, Peter, and Simon, and things both in the Church and the Republic were progressing swimmingly, when, to the horror of the good missionaries, Simon, one of their most intelligent and zealous members, announced that an Indian had arrived from the Missouri, who about eight years before had killed his cousin, and he' felt it was his duty to kill him in return. The missionaries pleaded with Simon, prayed with him, and exhausted every means in their power to show him the awfulness of the crime he proposed to commit. Simon acquiesced in all they said and did, but always concluded with the remark, "But he killed my cousin and I must kill him." So deeply had this law of revenge become incorporated into his very nature, that all the teachings of Christianity could not eradicate it. He took a double-barrelled shot gun and killed his enemy. Simon was ever afterward quite as good a church member as he had previously been. He was one of the Bishop's special favorites, and performed many acts of friendship to the whites in the trying times of 1862. If he ever became truly converted, it was through the wonderfully persuasive efforts of the Bishop, who seemed to be able to perform miracles in that direction.

Whether my doubts about the true efficacy of the Christian religion ever penetrating the heart of an Indian, be well founded or not, is of very little importance to anyone but the Indian; and if my understanding of that mysterious power is correct, his inability to comprehend its teachings would not militate against his salvation. One thing I can confidently assert, and that is that very many of the Indians who professed Christianity became exemplary citizens, proving their sincerity by lives of devotion to the whites and the performance of many good works.

Missions had existed among the Indians of the Northwest many years before the arrival of the Bishop. They had been established as early as 1820 at Mackinac and La Pointe, and extended west with the growth of the fur trade and exploration. They were located at Fort Snelling, Sandy lake, Leech lake, Red lake, Lac qui Parle, Traverse des Sioux, lake Calhoun, Kaposia, Shakopee, Yellow Medicine, and other points, both in the Sioux and O jib way country; and history hands down to us many honored names of men and women who devoted their lives to the cause of Christianizing the Indians. Prominent among these good, self-sacrificing people, are the names of Morse, the father of the great inventor of the telegraph, Ayer, Boutwell, who coined the word "Itasca," Terry, Williamson, Pond, Riggs, and Adams, who with his wife is still a citizen of St. Paul, and about the only remaining reliable authority on the Sioux language. Another honored missionary was Father Galtier, who erected the little Catholic chapel on the bluff and called it "St. Paul," thus naming our capital city, which up to that time had been called "Pig's Eye." There were many others to whom the present generation of whites is deeply indebted for the good work they did in the early days.

Success in missionary work, and especially among savages, depends very much upon the personality of the missionary. One man might talk and teach theology forever and never gain a convert, while another could endear himself to his pupils in a short time and impress upon them the value of his teachings with hardly an effort. I think Bishop Whipple was the best equipped missionary I ever knew, and I have lived with and studied them quite extensively. He captured everybody he came in contact with, and made them his firm and devoted friends. He was generous, zealous to a fault in his work, and absolutely sincere and truthful in all his teachings and dealings with the Indians. He was called by them "Straight Tongue," in distinction from "Forked Tongue," a name they apply to all liars.

The field presented by this horde of unenlightened people was just what the Bishop had sought during all his life, and it opened up to him a most attractive arena for his life work. He entered upon it with all the zeal and activity of his ardent nature, and, while diligently caring for his white parishioners, he soon planted his seed in this promising ground, with great hope of reaping a rich harvest. His labors were principally among the Ojibways, although he gave much care and bestowed much labor upon the Sioux, and I can truthfully say that he surrounded himself with hosts of devoted friends and followers among both these aboriginal peoples.

In speaking of his attractive personality, and the winning methods by which he gained popularity and made friends, I will relate a circumstance which occurred during the Indian war of 1862. After the battle of New Ulm, I brought away about eighty badly wounded men, and distributed them between Mankato and St. Peter, turning every available place into hospitals for their accommodation. I was hardly settled before the Bishop came up from his home in Faribault, some fifty miles away, entirely unsolicited, equipped with dressing gown, slippers, and a case of surgical instruments, and camped down among us, where he remained, caring for the sick and wounded, and praying with the dying, until the last man was provided for.

While not wishing or intending in the slightest degree to detract from the well merited fame of the many good missionaries who preceded him, I can, and cheerfully do say, that Bishop Whipple was the most successful worker among the Indians of Minnesota, of all who have served them in that capacity. I wish I had time to say all I would like to on this interesting subject. I hope we may enjoy his equal in the future; I know we will never have his superior.

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