Alexander Faribault's Photo

Bishop Henry Whipple's story: 1867
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks

Alexander Faribault's story: 1855
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


Mary Whipple's_story: 1862
Before the Story
After the Story
In her tracks


Taopi's story: 1864
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


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Henry Whipple's Story
Faribault, April 1867

The story below is an example of historic fiction. The story takes place at a real place and time in history. It includes real people who lived at that time, but some of the characters’ actions and thoughts were invented by the author. You can use the links within the story to take A Closer Look at the history facts and ideas the author used to create the story. You can find more facts about Henry Whipple by reading about his life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to him by following In His Tracks.

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A traveler and his horse in a snowstorm. A traveler and his horse in a snowstorm. Photo courtesy of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bishop Henry Whipple didn’t like having his eyelashes frozen together, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened. However, it did make seeing rather difficult. Not that the view was so great. All he could see were the fine snowflakes blowing sideways just before they stung his cheeks. The spring snowstorm had hit just a few miles outside of Faribault. Now he couldn’t tell if there was a town or house for miles. He would just have to trust God and Bashaw to guide him home. He believed both were reliable.

As if he could read Henry’s thoughts, Bashaw whinnied softly, tossing his head to shake the snow from his mane. It had been a long trek over the past weeks to Gull Lake and the northern missions, and Henry sensed Bashaw was as eager to be home as he was. Although Henry still could see nothing, the horse began trotting, clearly headed for an invisible goal. In a minute, Henry saw the ghostly outlines of a house through the icy lumps on his lashes, and then another, and another. Bashaw had done it again. Soon the buildings formed rows on either side, and, finally, the large X made by the boards on Henry’s very own stable doors appeared in front of them. One door was open just a crack, and Bashaw nosed it open farther, pushing it against the snow that had accumulated on the ground. The horse entered with just enough room on either side to avoid brushing Henry off his saddle.

But then, Henry didn’t really think he could ever get out of the saddle, anyway. His long legs seemed frozen into place on both sides of the horse, his hips and back too stiff to move after the long ride in the icy cold. Bashaw stood patiently, probably appreciating the respite from the howling wind as much as Henry.

The barn door banged, and a light appeared in the dark space.

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“My word, Henry,” Cornelia gasped. “You look like the children’s snow man.” Henry turned his head to smile at his wife. She held the lantern high, the shawl wrapped around her shoulders inadequate protection from the storm outside. “I came out to check why the dogs were barking so frantically,” Cornelia said, “but I can’t believe you really rode through this storm!” She hung the lantern from a hook on the stall post and rushed to Henry’s side. “Here,” she said firmly, “lean on me.” Henry was reluctant to place too much weight on his slight wife, but with one hand on her shoulder and one grasping Bashaw’s harness, he let himself slide sideways out of the saddle, landing with thump on the hay-strewn stable floor. He sat up, grinning at his wife and rubbing his legs to bring back the circulation.

Henry Whipple was a tall man, and, as a young bishop, wore his hair long in back. Henry Whipple was a tall man, and, as a young bishop, wore his hair long in back. Photo ca. 1859. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

"It was quite a ride, but Bashaw knew I couldn’t wait to get back home to you, my dear.”
Cornelia shook her head scoldingly, blushing ever so slightly. She tried to melt the worst of the ice out of Henry’s long hair with her hands.

"The children have been asking when you’d be home,” Cornelia told him.

"And I have been wanting to see them,” Henry replied, slowly unfolding his legs to stand. “I’ll unsaddle Bashaw, rub him down and feed him. He deserves some extra-special treatment, and then I’ll be right in.”

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Henry stood beside the desk in his study, his leather traveling pouch open in front of him. Beyond the study doorway, he could hear the many noises of home. Someone was practicing a Beethoven sonata on the piano in the parlor. He could hear the murmur of a shy student rehearsing poetry in the drafty hall, and the occasional chanting of several girls conjugating French verbs as they did their mending in the sewing room. As the housemother at St. Mary’s School, Cornelia allowed no shirking when it came to learning. Although the school had been open but a few months, Henry’s home was filled to the rafters with thirty-three young ladies, three fine teachers, household help, and his own children, who numbered six when they were all at home.

St. Mary's School and the Whipple family home in Faribault, ca. 1880. Photo by A.F. Burnham. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Henry heard a slight noise and turned to see nine-year old John hanging on the doorknob, his feet braced against the door as it swung open, catching a ride.

"John, you’ll break the door!” Henry exclaimed. John released the knob and landed on his feet. The door banged into the wall.

"Oops,” John said without much concern. “Can I come in, Papa? What did you bring? Did you get another birchbark basket? Can I have it for my stone collection?”

Henry smiled as John bounded to his side. As their youngest child and one of the only boys in a house full of girls, Henry knew John missed him deeply when he was gone.

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"I was just unpacking,” Henry said. “Let’s see what I have in here. The oddest things tend to accumulate in this bag.” He reached in and took out a long, stiff bundle wrapped in birch bark, which he looked at with a bit of concern. “It's not a basket, but it's a good thing we’re unpacking now,” he told John. “Your mama hates it when I forget walleye in my bag.” He placed the bundle absentmindedly on the desk and began peering into his bag again. John lifted up the flaps of the bark, his eyes widening.

"These are really big fish, Papa!” he exclaimed. “How many did you catch? Did they give you a big fight?”

Henry leaned toward his son. “Don’t tell your mother, but if they hadn’t been biting, I would have made it home before the storm,” he whispered conspiratorially. “They were hungry and strong, and I filled the whole canoe! I left most of them with Enmegahbowh for the mission, but these were the biggest. I think they’re close to four pounds each! Should we have them for breakfast?”

"Oh yes, please!” John loved fresh fish – almost as much as his father loved fishing. He was about to ask another question when his attention was caught by another item emerging from his father’s bag. The long, slender metal pieces met in the middle and had small metal squares at one end. John grabbed the object and moved the pieces by the handles, open and shut. “What’s this, Papa?”

Henry looked at him sternly. “Be glad you don’t know what these are,” he told his son. “These are forceps. I use them to pull out bad teeth.” John’s eyes widened.

"Whose bad teeth, Papa?”

"The Indians’,” Henry replied. “They have no doctors or dentists to help them, so I bring medicines and instruments with me to help where I can.” He opened showed John a small black case which he pulled from his bag. Inside were a number of small stoppered bottles and a few gleaming scalpels. John grimaced and took a step back. He didn’t care for the look of the scalpels, and he knew for sure he didn’t like the taste of medicine.

The next thing Henry pulled from the bag was a pair of finely crafted moccasins. He placed them on the desk and John ran his fingers over the soft leather, and then over the slight texture of the colorful beadwork across the instep. He imagined that wearing moccasins would be like going barefoot, which he loved to do in summer to escape the hot leather of his heavy boots. Mama didn’t particularly care for him going barefoot, however. She was afraid he would cut his foot on something, or step on a bee, or another imagined horror.

Henry cleared his throat and John looked up at him. “These were a gift from an Indian woman at Gull Lake. I baptised her child,” he told John. “They seem to be about your size.” With a whoop, John plopped on the floor to pull off his boots. In the moccasins, he felt light enough to float across the study floor.

Henry took a few bundles of clothing from the bag, none of it particularly clean. The last bundle was very damp, and John took a step back as it emerged.

"That stinks!” he cried, holding his nose.

"Yes, I guess it does,” his father said, as he shifted the bundle in his hands. “It smells like bog, I guess. We had to cross one. But I took off most of my clothes, so it’s really only this underwear that’s ruined.”

Cornelia entered the room bearing a tray with steaming soup. Although she could have sent one of the girls to bring Henry’s supper, she had hoped to steal a few more minutes with him before he began immersing himself in the serious correspondence that she knew was laying on his desk. She stopped dead inside the doorway. “Henry Benjamin Whipple,” she cried in alarm. “Did you bring back an entire swamp in that bag again? I smell wet things! And… and fish!”

John scooped up the birch bark bundle and glided over to his mother in his new footwear. Cornelia peered down, shaking her head. “I should have known,” she murmured resignedly. “To the kitchen with that, John. Right now. And then to bed.” John began to protest, then looked at his father as Henry cleared his throat.

"All right, Mama,” he agreed. “Good night, Papa. I’m glad you’re home.”

"Good night, John,” Henry replied. “Thank you for helping me to unpack my bag.”

John disappeared, and Cornelia made room for the tray on a small table to the side of Henry’s desk. They sat in companionable silence as Henry ate his soup.

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"Is it still bad, Henry?” she asked when he sat finished at sat back in his chair. Henry looked sad, and tired as he answered.

"These are sorrowful people,” he told his wife. “They are surviving, but little more. Terrible wrongs have been committed against them, and the nation needs to know about this. I have to tell them, even if I am shot the next minute!"

Cornelia was silent a moment. She herself had seen the terrible conditions in which the Indians lived. Every day she encountered children from these tribes whose only hope, she thought, was her husband, his schools, and his determination. She was frightened, but not surprised by Henry’s words. She knew that many people, even her neighbors, did not agree with the Bishop. She smiled at him gently, standing to pick up the tray and his bowl.

"I’ll leave you to work now. Let me know if I can bring you anything else.” Henry smiled in response, and then turned to his desk.

By the time she shut the study door behind her, he was deep in thought over the papers before him. Two girls left the parlor, crossing the hall noisily to the kitchen, where Cornelia had promised a taffy pull. Cornelia put her fingers to her lips, and the girls quieted immediately. They knew there was a great and unusual man at work behind the study door.

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You can find more facts about Henry Whipple by reading about his life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to him by following In His Tracks.

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