The Life History and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, 1847
In the spring we were out of provisions, and had to fish for a living for about three weeks. Brother Spates taught school, and cousin Johnson and myself visited the wigwams daily, for the purpose of singing and praying, and reading the word of God. They always received us kindly; and soon their minds and hearts began to feel serious, and they inclined strongly towards Christianity It was not long after that many of them professed to have made their peace with God, and expressed their determination to obey the precepts of Jesus. Here we must acknowledge that God “made us glad according to the days wherein he has afflicted us.” We had “not labored in vain, nor spent our strength for’ nought,” although we had to confess that we were unprofitable servants. While conversing with a chief upon the importance of true religion, he became much troubled, and admitted that his own religion was not as good as the religion of the Bible; but, said he, “I will embrace your religion when I shall have returned from one more battle with the Sioux; and I will then advise my people to embrace it too.” What a struggle this poor fellow had within! His name was Bah-goo-na-ge-shig (Holein-the-sky.) He had always been kind to me and mine; in the spring he presented me about eighty pounds of sugar; observing at the same time, “I have brought this from the Sugar Bush to-day; you will require some for your family; and I cheerfully give it.”
Brother Brace and his family now arrived from Prairie Du Chien. What tales of sufferings did they communicate! They had traveled six hundred miles in the midst of winter; and were exposed to all winds and weathers! But, thank God, now they were with us. Their clothes were almost in strings, and their children were in rags! Expecting to find enough to live on as soon as they arrived, they brought nothing with them. Thank heaven, we were just enabled to keep them and ourselves from starving.
The Indians desired us to visit several other places, and establish ourselves there. The whole country seemed ripe for the Gospel. It was thought best that Brother Spates and myself should go down to St. Peters, by water, and obtain provision. We were four days going, and, on our arrival, a war party was just on the eve of departing for our mission, where they intended to murder all the Ojeb was they could find. I requested Brother Spates to accompany me back by land, to inform the Indians of the intention of the Sioux. He said, “there would be too much risk in going before the War Party.” But my wife and sister were there; they, as well as my poor people, might be barbarously murdered. After repeated efforts to get some one to accompany me, but without success, I was determined to go alone. I trusted in the God of battles, and with his aid I was confident that I could prevent these merciless and blood-thirsty warriors from imbruing their hands in the blood of my nation. I was ready for a start; and went to chief Little Crow’s village, to tell him that I was going to the Rabbit River Mission. Not thinking, that I was in earnest, or had courage enough, he said “Tell Hole-in-the-sky, I am coming to get his scalp.” This took place three hours before they were ready to march. In the midst of jeers and war-whoops, I left their mission house. They did not believe that I intended to go farther than Fort Snelling. As soon as I was out of sight, I began to run as fast as I was able. I called at the Post Office, which was nine miles from the Crow Mission, got my papers and letters, and ran about seven miles over the prairie, without stopping. I bought a pony on the road, of a Frenchman, and having no saddle, I rode but three miles of the whole distance. I tied my pack on his back, and made him run all the afternoon. In the night I slept without a fire. I was so anxious to get home, that I had no appetite for eating, the first two days. I went at the rate of about seventy-five miles per day, and arrived home at noon, on the fourth day; having walked two hundred and forty miles, forded eight large streams, and crossed the broad Mississippi twice. My coat and pantaloons were in strips. I crossed the Mississippi just in front of our mission house, and, as soon as possible, I told the chief that the war party were now on their way to our mission, to kill them. I advised him to lead away the women and children, which they did, and the next day they all left us. We, that is, my family, myself, and the other missionaries, were now left to the mercy of the Sioux. But they did not come, although they sent spies. Brother Brace, Cousin Johnson, and I, now ventured to take our families down to St. Peters. We left in a large bark canoe, and had only one loaf of bread, two quarts of beans, and two quarts of molasses. Brother Brace was so sick, that we had to lift him in and out of the canoe.
We saw tracts of the war party, on our way to St. Peters. They watched us on the river, as we heard afterwards. We encamped about one mile and a half this side of their watering place, during the night, and did not know that they knew this fact, as will be seen in the sequel. They came and held a council just across the river from our encampment; they could see the light of our fire. The war chiefs agreed that four of the warriors should swim over to us and take us all prisoners. One was to take the canoe to the other side of the river, to bring over the rest of the party. They were to kill me and my cousin Johnson. But the chief said to them, “If you kill these men, the Great Spirit will be angry, and he will send his white children to kill us, and our children.”
One of the warriors told the chief that he was a coward, and that he ought to have remained at home. Tó this the chief replied, “I am no coward; and we will see who are cowards when we come in front of our enemies.” Thus they disputed, and even quarrelled, among themselves, till day-light. The same morning, we left without breakfast, and on the morning following, we were beyond their reach.
We saw where they had raised a number of logs, so that they might lie in ambush. I ought to mention, that we were perfectly ignorant of all their plans and actions, until we arrived at St. Peters. The chief, himself, communicated to us what has been stated above, in the presence of his warriors.
This country, is, indeed, a dangerous place for the Ojebwa Missionaries; but not so for the whites, for they never pretend to interfere with them, in any way.
Before Conference, and while I was obliged to be at their mission, for there was no other road for us to go, the Sioux tried to intimidate me by pointing their guns to my breast, and by flourishing their war clubs about my head; they would say, “I wish you had longer hair, so that I could take a good hold of it and scalp you.” I cannot describe my feelings, on this occasion, better, than by quoting, with a little alteration, from the immortal bard of Avon:- “They were so terrible, that they shook my soul, and made my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature; cold drops of sweat hung on my trembling flesh, my blood grew chilly, and I seemed to freeze with horror.” I would often go and see them in their Tepees (wigwams;) this was good policy. They frequently showed me some of the scalps of the Ojebwas, and danced the scalping dance, What awful noises they made, as they danced in their fantastic dresses, with their faces painted black. They zeminded me much of his Satanic and fiendish majesty, rejoicing over a damned spirit entering hell.
During this summer, I accompanied brother Kavanaugh to Sandy Lake Mission, at the head of the Mississippi I returned by the Falls of St. Anthony, while Brother Kavanaugh went by the way of Lake Superior, he having business with the American Fur Company. When I arrived, I learned that the elder son of Brother Kavanaugh had been drowned; he fell from a ledge of rocks. Sister Kavanaugh felt deeply, this mercifully severe dispensation. Brother Kavanaugh now arrived; poor man! he could not speak to me for some time. I met him some distance from his house; he had heard of the circumstance, but had not, as yet, been home. “How unsearchable are God’s judgments; and his ways past finding out.” Yet, withal, in such dark hours, many a Christain sees parental Love. Ah! we may often exclaim, in the language of good old Jacob, “All these things are against me,” but we may also say, God orders every thing for the good of his own.
That summer we went to Conference, which was held in Platteville. I was then appointed to establish a Mission at Fon du Lac, at the head of Lake Superior. Brother James Simpson was appointed school teacher.
We traveled from the Sioux Mission up the St. Croix River, crossed over to Burnt-wood River, and thence to Lake Superior. Having provided food, I departed with Mrs. Copway and her sister, John Jacob, Massey, and Brother Simpson, about the fifteenth of September. We were two weeks on the St. Croix River; and part of this time I was so sick as to become delirious. I was just able to walk over the two mile portage to Burnt wood River. The other men, therefore, had to carry the large canoe two miles; this was hard, but it was impossible for me to help them. We were now out of provisions. I have been told, by good authority, the following singular fact. There is but one spring which forms the two rivers;— the St. Croix which runs down to the Mississippi, and the Burnt-wood River which runs down to Lake Superior.
In going down the Burnt-wood river, our progress was slow. We were out of provisions from Thursday, till Sabbath morning, when we arrived at Fon du Lac. On Saturday, Mrs. Copway and her sister had a small piece of bread between them; the rest lived upon hope. In the afternoon, we rowed about twenty-eight miles, and on Sabbath morning just at day-break we had to start for our station, Fon du Lac; about twelve o’clock we arrived there, and saw John Laundree, the trader, who was celebrated for his hospitality. I shook hands with him; he asked me if I was sick; and said, “You look pale.” I told him, we were all hungry, and had had nothing to eat but a small piece of bread since Friday evening. “Ah, indeed!” said he, “I will soon have breakfast for you.” Mrs. Laundree, after a few minutes, had every thing necessary for our cheer and comfort. While eating, I thought, that whatever might be said of Catholics, this was a truly Christian act; and heaven will not let it pass unnoticed.
In the evening I addressed a company of traders and Indians. I found the Indians in a miserable state; the cause of which I attribute wholly to their intercourse with the traders, the principal part of whom are notoriously wicked and profane. I felt very thankful, however, that we were here; yet I was filled with anxieties; for how should I begin my labors? Brother Simpson and I commenced by fitting up the old mission house, formerly occupied by the Rev. Mr. Ely, who had taught many to read and write. The school house, also, was fitted up, and in it Brother Simpson taught, till the spring Our prospects seemed to brighten up, and we had good reason to think that the Indians were glad to have us with them; for they sent their children regularly to school, and our religious meetings were well attended. During the winter several became seriously and religiously affected; and in the spring, a few believed that they had experienced a change of heart. This encouraged us much. I can never forget the happy seasons I enjoyed, in any visits from house to house, and in the woods. I endeavored to seek out all; and the good Master was gracious to me. I have often traveled about among them on snow shoes, weeping for joy Often, 100, did I sleep alone in the woods, having had to dig away the snow to prepare a place to lie on. Though frequently hungry, faint, and lonely, I enjoyed the presence of the Lord. On one occasion I was sorely tried: I accompanied one of the traders about one hundred and eighty miles, to purchase cattle for our place. I bought a cow for my own immediate family; and in the spring it was killed and eaten by the Indians. Had they been in want, there might have been some excuse for such an act. We expected her to come in” in about three weeks, and her milk was to be our chief dependence. It was a cruel piece of work. After having traveled, too, three hundred and sixty miles for the purpose of obtaining her, and then to be thus deprived, was a hard case truly. Had she lived, many of the children of the Indians would have shared in the milk. When will the poor Indians be instructed in right principles?
From a long experience and close observations among the Sioux and the Ojebwas, in regard to the hostile feelings existing between them, I have been brought to the following conclusions:
1. That Christianity and education alone, will check their malevolent and hostile feelings, and thus put an end to their bloody wars. For this end missionaries must be sent to both nations.
2. That it is useless to send missionaries without suitable interpreters to assist them.
3. That missions should be established in the vicinities of the borders of the neutral grounds of these two powerful and savage nations; because in these places there is but little, if anything, to excite them to revenge.
4. That wherever a mission is once established, it must never be abandoned.
5. That where any Protestant mission is established in any village, no other denomination should establish another in the same place, or interfere in any other way.
6. That missionaries ought to assist each other whenever they happen to fall in each other’s way, or are requested to do so.
7. That missionaries ought not to preach their own peculiar doctrines, to the disadvantage of other denominations; for this not only lessens their own influence, but likewise that of others.
The scenery near the head of Lake Superior, is almost as splendid as that of the beautiful Hudson. There is a magnificent fall about eight miles above the mission. The Indians often kill moose, bears, and deer, in this region. In the spring, summer, and fall, they live on fish. As we had no salt, we were obliged to preserve our fish by hanging them on poles, with their heads downwards, and in this manner they would freeze. When the spring arrived, they began to thaw, and becoming soft, would fall from the pules. Late in the fall, white fish ascend the rapids, and can be scooped up with nets. In the spring, fish of every kind, and in great abundance, ascend these rapids.
On the 9th of April, 1842, it pleased the Lord to bless us with a son. This was our first child—a fine healthy boy. We thanked God for his goodness and mercy in preserving all our lives in the desert, and while surrounded by savages. I committed and com. mended him to God. May he live to take his station in the missionary field.
Brother Kavanaugh was kind enough to visit us; he returned by the way of Sandy Lake Mission. I accompanied him over the first Portage; here we knelt down on the green, and worshipped the God of Missions. We now parted; but I still hope to see this affectionate brother again, even in this world. But if we shall never meet on earth, I trust we shall in heaven, “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
“Where we shall forget our sorrows and pain,
And with our Redeemer in glory shall reign,
Shall sing the anthems resounding on high,
And bathe in the ocean that never shall dry.”