A Closer Look
In August, 1860, Henry Whipple wrote a letter to his teen-aged
daughters attending school in the East. He told them about his
trip to the northern missions, about his mission work and about
the government’s treatment of Indians. You can read parts
of the letter below.
Faribault, Aug. 10, 1860
My dearest daughters,
Mother is busy today baking some cake for
you and preparing a box to send on Monday by Mr. Hinman, a candidate
for Holy Orders who
will be ordained in September. I sit down to write you something
of my visit to the Indian country as I think it will interest you
and the dear girls of St. Mary's Hall [in Burlington Vermont] who
have so kindly taken an interest in my work.
I first visited all
my parishes on the Mississippi as far as Crow Wing. From here I
went to our Mission at Gull Lake and by the way
of Lake Kadikomeg, Crooked Lake, Little Boy Lake to Leech Lake,
then down the Leech River to mouth of Winnbegoshish river to Pokegamah
Falls, Sandy Lake and back to Crow Wing. The whole distance was
about 500 miles by canoe. There were some portages over which
we had to walk and no slight task to travel through woods or bog
in a July sun with 70 or 80 pounds on your shoulders. We were blessed
with good health and protected against all peril.
The poor Indians
are indeed in a sad case. Besides poverty…not
a ray of light from the Gospel. The game is very scarce in the
Indian country, and as it is often the only resource of the tribe,
it grows more scarce. The Indian has abundance at certain seasons
while at others he almost starves. In the spring he lives on maple
sugar and little else. A little later in the summer comes the berry
season when they have the usual supply of wild berries, often in
great profusion. Then in the fall the wild rice which grows in
lakes very like southern rice, altho a darker kernel like barley.
Then comes the winter hunts. Between these times they have nothing
but fish and if a violent storm prevents fishing they are reduced
almost to starvation. I have seen many places in the forest where
Indians have scraped the inner bark from the pine tree to eat.
The Indians have a general feeling that they
are fading away and they see that the vices of the whites are
a curse. They know that
civilization is better than their wild life but they are like blind
men reaching out their hands to find a path they cannot see and
doing this without the settled purpose and will of a higher race.
As a chief said to me, ‘My Father says we ought to be civilized.
They are easy words for him to speak but hard for us. All is dark
to us. Our eyes see no way. We have no axes. No plough. No oxen.
No cattle. No horses. We don’t know how.’
grows out of the policy of our government which treats the Indian
as an equal, pays him for his lands at the annual
payments, which does him little good and often fails to keep him
from the deadly traffic in firewater. Whiskey and rum are bad enough
among white men to drag body and soul to death but they make Indians
There are many things one sees in the Indian country
to stagger your faith and to perplex you, to make you tremble when
that God is just.
I saw many things which pleased me very much.
My custom was to
hold service right in the morning…first said in English and
then translated in Chippeway. …The sermon is translated sentence
with much love, Yours ever faithfully, H.B.