Address at the Annual Meeting in Chicago

By Rt. Rev. H.B. Whipple.

I accepted the kind invitation of my good brother, Rev. Dr. Strieby, to address you, because I do believe that if the hedges which have been built in the garden of the Lord are ever taken away, it will be by hearty, believing work for our Savior. The history of the North American Indians is a sad story of wrongs. You may begin far back in the days of our Puritan fathers, when Christian men marched to the music of a fife and drum, with the head of King Philip on a pole, and then after prayer, decided that the sins of the father ought to be visited on the children, and therefore sold his son as a slave to Bermuda; and you may follow down to where the saintly Worcester, a Congregational missionary, was tried, sentenced, and went to the Penitentiary in Georgia for teaching Indians to read; and so on to where a Moravian church of Christian Indians were cruelly tortured and murdered; and so on to the last of our Indian wars, and it is a dark story of robbery and wrongs—we have spent five hundred millions on Indian wars, and have killed ten of our own people to every one killed of the Indians. Thank God that by the efforts of Christian men, the heart of the Nation has been touched, and to-day willing hands and hearts are laboring for their Christian civilization.

When I went to my diocese thirty years ago, there were over twenty thousand Indians in Minnesota. They had sunk to a depth of degradation their heathen fathers had not known. Friends told me it was hopeless, that they were a perishing race. I said if they are perishing, the more reason to make haste to give to them the gospel. The picture was dark, but not darker than that drawn by the pen of divine Inspiration in the first chapter of Romans. I carried it where I have learned to take all which troubles me, and at my blessed Savior’s feet I promised I would never turn my back on the Indian whom God had placed at my door, and I have tried to keep the vow.

I can tell you the story of Indian missions by relating one incident. Some years ago, Rev. Lord Charles Hervey went with me to the Indian country. We had delightful services. After the Holy Communion we were sitting on the green-sward near a house. The head chief said, “Your friend came from across the great water; does he know the Indian’s history?” I said “No.” He said “I will tell him.”

“Before the white man came, the forests and prairies were full of game, the rivers and lakes were full of fish, the wild rice was Manidou gift to the red man. Would you like to see one of these Indians?” There stepped out on the porch an Indian man and woman dressed in furs, ornamented with porcupine quills. “There,” said the chief, “my people were like those before the white man came.”

“Shall I tell you what the white man did for us? He came and told us we had no fire horses, no fire canoes, no houses. He said if we would sell him our land, he would make us like white men. Shall I tell you what he did? No, you had better see it.” The door opened, and out stepped a poor, degraded looking Indian, his face besmeared with mud, his blanket in rags, no leggings, and by his side a poor, wretched looking woman in a torn calico dress. The chief raised his hands and said, “Manido Manido, is this an Indian?” The man bowed his head. “How came this?” The Indian held up a black bottle and said, “This was the white man’s gift.” Some of us bowed our heads in shame.

Said the chief, “If this were all, I would not have told you. Long years ago a pale-faced man came to our country. He spoke kindly, and seemed to want to help us, but our hearts were hard. We hated the white man and would not listen. Every summer when the sun was so high, he came. We always looked to see his tall form coming through the forest. One year I said to my fellows, ‘what does this man come for? He does not trade with us, he never asks anything of us. Perhaps the Great Spirit sent him.’ We stopped to listen. Some of us have that story in our hearts. Shall I tell you what it has done for us?” The door opened and out stepped a young man—a clergyman—in a black frock coat, and by his side a woman neatly dressed in a black alpaca dress. Said the chief, “There is only one religion in the world which can lift a man out of the mire and tell him to call God ‘Father,’ and that is the religion of Jesus Christ.”

We have had many deferred hopes, and sometimes it has been dark as midnight. After nearly three years of hard work, I had both of my Indian missions destroyed, church and mission house burned, and our western border for three hundred miles desolated by an Indian massacre, which destroyed the fairest portion of our State, and left eight hundred of our citizens sleeping in nameless graves. It was needed to teach us that nations as well as individuals reap exactly what they sow. We began again. Here and there some Indian would listen, and the gospel was the same to him as to us. One day an Indian came to our missionary and said, “I know this religion is true. The men who have walked in this new trail are better and happier. But I have always been a warrior, and my hands are full of blood. Could I be a Christian?” The missionary repeated the story of God’s love. To test the man he said, “May I cut your hair?” The Indian wears his scalp lock for his enemy—when it is cut it is a sign he will never go on the war-path again. The man said, “Yes, you may cut it; I shall throw my old life away.” It was cut. He started for home and met some wild Indians who shouted with laughter, and with taunts said: “Yesterday you were a warrior, to-day you are a squaw.” It stung the man to madness, and he rushed to his home and threw himself on the floor and burst into tears. His wife was a Christian, and came and put her arms about his neck and said: “Yesterday there was not a man in the world who dared call you a coward. Can’t you be as brave for Him who died for you as you were to kill the Sioux?” He sprang to his feet and said, “I can and I will.” I have known many brave, fearless servants of Christ, but I never knew one braver than this chief who is now in Paradise.

I wish I could take you to a Christian Indian’s home. You might see nothing but a plain log house, and you might wonder why the tears came in my eyes as he said to me, “That is my daughter’s room; the boys sleep up stairs; this is for me and my wife.” They are tears of joy, for I knew them when they herded as swine, in a wigwam. It is the religion of Christ which has brought respect for womanhood.

I want to take you far away in the forest to Red Lake. The head chief, Mah-dwah-go-no-wind, was a remarkable man as a wild man, true, honest and brave. He came and asked me to give him a missionary. I loved him and we were warm friends. I said “I cannot give you a missionary for the American Missionary Association has a missionary now in that field.” The chief came again and again to see me. He said: “I want your religion. If you refuse I will ask the Roman Catholics.” I wrote Rev. Dr. Strieby, and told him the situation. I said “The field is in my diocese. I have the right to send a missionary there, but ask your consent because I will never be a party to present Christian divisions to heathen men.” After due deliberation, the Association consented. I am happy to tell you that that old chief and nearly all the adults of his band are faithful communicants. At my last visit, the chief came to me and said, “My Father, since you were here, my old wife with whom I have lived fifty years, has gone to sleep in the grave. I shall go to lie by her side. I have heard that white Christians bless the place where they sleep as belonging to God. Will you bless the place where my wife sleeps and ask God to care for it until he calls his children out of the grave?” We formed a procession of the Indians, the clergy and the old chief and myself, and marched around the place singing in Ojibway, “Jesus lover of my soul”; then I read appropriate scripture, made an address and offered prayer, and asked blessing on this “acre of God.” After the service the chief said: “I thank you for telling me I have a Savior. I thank you for blessing the place where my wife sleeps. I have your face on my heart. Good bye.”

I could keep you longer than I ought telling you of the lights and shadows of missionary life. The North American Indian is the noblest type of a wild man on the earth. He recognizes a Great Spirit, he loves his home, he is passionately devoted to his people, and believes in a future life. The Ojibway language is a marvel. The verb has inflections by thousands. If an Indian says “I love” and stops, you can tell by the inflection of the verb whether he loves an animate or inanimate object, a man or a woman. The nicest shade of meaning in St. Paul’s Epistles could be conveyed in Ojibway, and I have heard a missionary say, “A classic Greek temple standing in the forest would not be more marvelous than this wonderful language.”

The Indians are heathen folk and will often come to the Christian life fettered by old heathen ideas, and some may stumble and fall; they did in St. Paul’s time; but I can say that some of the noblest instances of the power of religion I have ever known have been among these poor red men. I can recall death-beds where an Indian looked up in my face and said, “The Great Spirit has called me to go on the last journey. I am not afraid to go, for Jesus is going with me, and I shall not be lonesome on the road.”

I am happy to tell you that the clouds are breaking. Thousands of this poor race are rejoicing in the light of the Gospel. The heart of the nation has been touched, and thousands are laboring for their salvation. The Indians are not decreasing. It is due to the absence of internecine wars, to their protection from dangerous contagious diseases, to better medical care and a wiser administration. In the future, Indians must have citizenship, but not until they are prepared for this precious boon. The ballot cannot redeem humanity. I was asked by President Cleveland what I thought of making the Indian a voter. I said, “It has been tried.” Under an old territorial law, any Indian who wore the civilized dress could vote. I have heard of an election where a tribe of Indians were put through a hickory shirt and pair of pants, and we know how that election went. The Indian must have the protection of law. In his wild state he has the “lex talionis.” He becomes a Christian. A drunken wild man kills his cow or insults his wife. He could punish the brute, but we have taught him that he must not revenge his wrongs, and so the Christian Indian is pitiably helpless. I can take you to an Indian village where property and life are safe, where childhood, womanhood, and old age are cared for, and it is due to the Gospel of Christ.

While missionary work must be carried on in the native tongue, the schools ought to teach the English language—if schools are conducted only in the heathen tongue, you not only have no Christian ideas, but when the child has learned to read, he has no books. He should be taught in a language which opens to him the literature, the science and the Christian teaching of the Christian world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will do for the Indian what it has done for others through all the ages—give him home, manhood and freedom.

Lastly—we are living in eventful times. One hundred years ago the people who spoke the English tongue were less numerous than some of the Latin races of Europe. To-day one hundred and fifty millions of people speak the English language. When we remember how God made the Greek tongue the language of the world to prepare for the first preaching of the Gospel of His Son, may we not believe he designs to use our English tongue to prepare for the second coming of our Lord?

Brethren, we hear a great deal about Indian problems, Negro problems, and problems which hinder all work for God and man. When General Sherman and other officers of the army were sent out to investigate that awful massacre in Colorado, they wrote in their report: “The Indian problem, like all other human problems, can be solved by one sentence in an old book—’Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

Letter From Miss Collins

I went to Oahe to take two girls to school, and was gone eleven days. I traveled nearly three hundred miles, driving my ponies myself, and last Sabbath held the services for Spotted Bear in the morning, as Mr. Riggs was absent; taught a class in the afternoon, and returned to Cheyenne agency on Monday, to find that the Indian man who went with me had returned home. I visited the Government school there, and witnessed Major McChesney issue the annuities to the Indians; found a party of Indians coming this way as far as the Itazipco camp on the Moreau; came with them so far —about forty-five miles from here—and from there Bessie, Jumbo (my ponies) and I came on alone. I drove the forty-five miles in one day, arriving here at dark.

At Cheyenne a number of fine-looking, well-dressed young Indian men came up to me and addressed me in English. I did not recognize some of them, and they told me they went to school to me in ’75, ’76 and ’77. I remember them as dirty little long-haired, blanket Indians. It made my heart strong to take these manly young men by the hand and to hear them say, “You were my first teacher.”

One night, when I was coming home, we got into camp, and the Indian tent had on one side a man and his wife, his son and daughter, and his baby twins. On the other side of the fire, another man, wife and child, four dogs, two puppies, and back of the fire a man and his wife and two young men and myself. When supper was ready, the dogs were put outside, the children hushed, and the head man said, “Winona pray.” They were all strangers to me but two of them, so you may know I was surprised. I prayed, and when I finished, all said, “Ho, ho, ho,” that is, all the men. I was again surprised at the universal consent or endorsement of the petition. I had some rich experiences, many hardships new to me, but I sowed seed which I doubt not will spring up. A half-breed Indian, Joe Hodgkiss, and his wife, were very kind to me.

When I got in sight of the house here, men stood all along the road waiting to shake hands with me. I should not have undertaken the trip, but the girls were about fifteen years old, and if they were not in school this winter they never would be. I could not see the good material in them wasted. Mr. Reed could not go, and he did not want Elias to leave his school to go. So I hired a team and went. I am glad I did. God meant me to get into the homes and hearts of those strangers, and I had no fear but that he planned it all.


Various. The American Missionary, Vol. 43, No. 8, August, 1889.

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