Treatment of Indians

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.’

The difficulty 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 demons.

There are many things one sees in the Indian country to stagger your faith and to perplex you, to make you tremble when you remember 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 by sentence…

with much love, Yours ever faithfully, H.B. Whipple


Alexander Faribault

Faribault's French House
Fur Trade
Making the Town Grow
Site of the Bluffs
Trading Post

Mary Whipple

Bed Bugs
Divinity Students
Emma and Eva Havens
Emma Willard School
Eva's Death
Hastings to Faribault
Hawaiian Fever
Letter of August 25, 1862
Longed to Travel
Mary's Wedding
Sandwich Islands
Soap to Sausages
Some Clothing
Sound of Bells


Big Woods
Fort Snelling
Saving Others
When it Started

Henry Whipple

Back Home
Bad Teeth
East to School
Gull Lake
Loved to Fish
Six Children
Time of Crisis
Treatment of Indians
Youngest Child

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