Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 20, 2003 - Issue 96


pictograph divider


Reminiscences of a Pioneer Missionary -- By Rev. Chrysostom Verwyst (Part 3)

Reminiscences of a Pioneer Missionary By Rev. Chrysostom Verwyst
Wisconsin Historical Society Founded 1849
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Separate No. 173 - From the Proceedings of the Society for 1916

credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Ojibwe RapidsAfter eating supper I went alone to the crossing mentioned above. There was a small clearing near by in which I noticed a fire burning. Probably the people had been burning brush and chips on the land that afternoon and had fled into the woods or to town when news of the Indian foray came. Seeing nothing suspicious I walked a few rods from the road into the woods, stood my gun up against a tree, and lay down and slept soundly until morning, for I was tired out by the day's work and my trip to the village and return. I learned afterwards that some men, who had been working on the Fox River Canal near Little Chute and whose folks lived in or near Holland-town, had been on their way to this village that night.

When they reached the intersection of the Military Kaukaulo roads they saw the fire and all at once some pigs began to squeal. "Oh! The Indians are there! See the fire! Hear the pigs! They are killing everything!" And my brave countrymen ran at top speed back to Little Chute to tell the terrified people there the fearful news about the Indians' doings. "Of course they had not seen a single Indian, but terror made them imagine all kinds of wild sights. The next day the Indian scare which, I subsequent learned, extended all over Wisconsin was over, and many a ludicrous story was told about what had been done during the universal fright.

This scare on the part of the people of Wisconsin, especially of those dwelling in the northern part of the State, was not without some reason, for at that very time Hole-in-the-Day had planned to attack Crow Wing, Minnesota, and kill the whites there and in that vicinity. The project was frustrated by the efforts of a venerable Catholic priest of seventy-seven years, Reverend Father Pierz [Note: Francis Xavier Pierz was born in Carniola, Austria, in 1785. At the request of Father Baraga, Pierz in 1835 came to the United States and was a missionary at Sault Ste. Marie, La Pointe, and l'Arbre Croche. In 1852 he removed to Crow Wing on the Mississippi where he ministered until 1864. In 1873 he returned to his native land where he died in 1880.] (Pirec was his Slavonian name) who induced Hole-in-the-Day to give up his cruel design [Note: As the writers the Minnesota massacre, either designedly or from ignorance do not mention this fact, I will give the account as it is found in Acta et Dicta, III, 83--84, published by the St. Paul Catholic Historical Society:

"Through his [Rev. Pirec's] influence with the chiefs he frequently averted wars and hostile expeditions among them. He prevented the threatened massacre of the inhabitants of Crow Wing in 1862. From a friendly Indian he received the information that the Red men of Leech under the leadership of Chief Holeda were preparing to attack the above named village. Father Pirec at once set out towards the camp in a dark forest. When approaching the place were the council of war was held he was halted by two heavily armed horsemen, who refused to let him pass the "deadline." The sentinels informed him that no white man was allowed to pass alive beyond that spot. But as the good father insisted, he was lifted bodily from the ground and carried across the danger point. The chiefs were sullen and silent at the approach of the aged black-robe; but after half an hour's convincing and serious talk on the evils of war Pirec succeeded in showing them how useless it is for them to wage war] against the whites. Holeda finally grasped the missionary's hand and promised that the next day the chiefs would come to Crow Wing to make peace. Matters were finally settled in an amicable manner the following day." This is but a summary account of the affair. Many years ago I read a more detailed description of it, but I cannot find it now. There is no doubt that Father Pierz averted -- at the danger of his own life -- the intended massacre of the whites at Crow Wing. He took his life in his hands in daring to go to the hostile Indian camp. What saved him from being killed was the respect they had for him, knowing him to be a kindhearted, good old man. None of the Indians, as he afterwards declared, was Catholic. --C. A. V.].

On November 5, 1865 I was ordained with many others and sent to New London, Wisconsin. The village at that time was small and the inhabitants consisted of Americans, Irish, Germans, and Poles. I think New London was not far from the site of the ancient village of the "Oudagamig" after whom Outagamie County has been named [Note: These Indians called themselves "Miskwakig," that is, "Red Land People," probably from the fact that they inhabited a country where red clay was the predominant soil. They were called by the French, Reynards (Foxes), and their territory seems to have stretched northward from Lake Winnebago and along the Wolf and Fox rivers. They were constantly at war with the Chippewa and later on with the French. Father Claude Allouez, S. J., first visited them early in the spring of 1670 and on March 25 of that year, St. Mark's Day, he said Mass at their village for the first time and hence named the place "The Mission of St. Mark." From Marquette's map of 1674 it appears that the village was located on Wolf River about due west from the head of Green Bay at Depere, which would indicate that it must have been somewhere in the vicinity of New London. -- C. A. V.]. I had the whole of Waupaca County for my mission district and I was almost always on the road traveling from one place to another. The people, mostly Irish, were very kind to their priest and many a pleasant evening I spent with them, they telling me about old Ireland and generally winding up their narratives with some uncanny ghost story. A few days after my arrival in New London I had to go to Waupaca, the county seat, to register my clergyman's certificate. It was a warm, sunny afternoon when, on horseback and but thinly clad, I started for Waupaca via Weyauwega, but the weather soon changed. Shivering with cold I came to Weyauwega where I stayed over night. Next morning I continued my journey, the weather being still very cold. On the way the horse stumbled and fell, throwing me over his head on to the frozen ground. Luckily no bones were broken but my wrists ached from striking the hard ground with my hands. I rode on, however, and about noon arrived at Waupaca. I put up at a hotel and after dinner called upon the proper county official and had my certificate registered. Then I started homeward via Ogdensburg, Royalton, and Northport to New London. The weather was so cold that I was frequently forced to dismount and walk in order to warm myself somewhat; then I would mount and ride until the biting wind forced me again to take to walking. Finally, after dark, I arrived at the house of Sullivan, near Royalton, where I stayed over night. After a good warming up and an appetizing supper, I was shown my bedroom. "Father," said Mrs. Sullivan, "not long ago a woman died in that room and before she died she saw five ghosts coming into it." A creeping sensation of terror came over me at this news of walking spirits. I believe in all my life I never said my bedside prayers as fervently as I did that night; but I was tired out by the hardships of the day and when I got into the warm bed I slept as soundly as a bear, and if ghostly visitors put in an appearance I did not notice them. Next day I returned safe and sound to my residence, which consisted of a couple of rooms in the second story of an old frame house. Later on I built a small parsonage for myself near the church.

Towards the end of December, 1865 I went to Keshena via Bear Creek, Clintonville, and Shawano, riding all the way on horseback and carrying my vestments in a saddlebag. Here and there were small clearings and poor log houses. At Clintonville I saw but one house in the midst of a small clearing. Whether there was a village of the same name somewhere else, not on my route, I cannot tell, but I believe not. At Shawano, which was then but a mere hamlet, I stopped over night at the house of Doctor Wiley, who was married to a daughter of Mrs. Dousman, a half-breed lady, one of whose daughters was a governmental teacher at Keshena.

The Menomonees were first visited by Father Allouez in 1669, and subsequently by Father André, S. J. Father Marquette, who stopped at their village in 1673 on his voyage of discovery and exploration of the Mississippi, says that some of them were Christians. They tried to dissuade him from his intended exploration, depicting in most lively fashion the many dangers which he would encounter [Note: See Reuben G. Thwaites (ed.), Jesuit Relations (Cleveland, 1896-1901), LXIV to LXIX, passim.]. In 1853 Reverend Father Skolla, O. S. Fr. St. Obs. went to them and labored among them about two years [Note: Rev. Otton Skolla, born in Carniola, Austria, in 1805, was ordained in 1831 and came to America in 1841. He was stationed at Detroit in 1842; at Mackinac, 1843-45; and at La Pointe from the latter year to 1853. Thence he was sent to the Menominee Indians for whom he built a chapel at Keshena, Wis. Father Skolla died at Fiume, Austria, in 1879.]. They finally turned against him for various superstitious reasons. Occasionally Father Skolla played chess all by himself in his poor habitation, while some distrustful Indians watched him stealthily through some window or aperture in the wall. Seeing the chessmen of two different colors arranged on the board, fighting one another as it were, they concluded that the game was "bad medicine" used by the whites to exterminate the red man. The Father had also a large cat to which at times he would talk or say some words, and this again was interpreted as "bad medicine," for how could a man converse with a cat if they did not understand each other? At length a pagan Chippewa told them that the Father dug up the bodies of the dead (I suppose also for "bad medicine") and, pointing to a box on which he was sitting, asserted that it contained human flesh. These absurd and malevolent stories turned the people against the priest and he was obliged to leave in 1855, returning to his native land, where he died many years later.

After Father Skolla's departure Father Mazeaud [Note: Father was a French priest who officiated at Keshena, 1863-64. He was arrested and taken to Shawano where he was released and departed for Milwaukee, never to return.] was stationed in Keshena, where he became embroiled with the Indian agent and was arrested for persisting, contrary to the agent's prohibition, in having church services during a season of smallpox. At the time I visited the natives in 1865 and in March 1866, they had had no divine service for some years. The first time I visited Keshena I stayed for some days at the house of the Indian agent, who treated me very kindly. The second time, in March, I stayed at the house of Mrs. Dousman, who acted as my interpreter. Later on Father Maschelein [Note: Father Amandus Maschelein was at Keshena from 1875 until 1880. He built the Catholic Church for the Menominee in 1875. He did not know their language and obliged to communicate through an interpreter. In September, 1880 the Franciscans from St. Louis arrived and the aged priest, Maschelein, retired.] had charge of the Menominee mission for many years, but as he was getting old and infirm the mission was finally given in charge to the Franciscan Fathers. They continue to labor there, having a large frame church and boarding school for Indian children not far from the government school.

In 1868 I was sent by Right Reverend Bishop -- afterwards Archbishop - Henni [Note: John Martin Henni was born in Switzerland in 1805; in 1829 he met Bishop Fenwick of Ohio at Rome, and at his solicitation came to America. Shortly afterwards he was ordained at Bardstown, Ky. In 1843 he was elected bishop of Milwaukee, and having been consecrated, preceded to his diocese, where he arrived May 3, 1844. He became archbishop in 1875, and his death occurred Sept. 7, 1881.] of Milwaukee to Hudson. Here I had a large territory under my care, namely, St. Croix, Polk, and Pierce counties, my mission extending from Long Lake in Polk County to Diamond Bluff, about fifteen miles below Prescott. The principal places were Hudson, Prescott, Big River, Somerset, and Farmington. Hudson was at that time (1868-72) a thriving town with a good farming country adjacent. Before the railroad was built into it the farmers from Erin Prairie, New Richmond, Hammond, Pleasant Valley, and other places used to haul their grain to Hudson and do their trading there. I think the railroad took much of this trade away as thereafter people brought their grain to the nearest railroad station and did their trading at that place.

There are two St. Croix lakes, the upper and the lower. The upper lake extends from Solon Springs -- formerly White Birch -- to Gordon. The Chippewa name is Wigwassikag (Wig-wau-se-kaug), which means a place where there are many white birch trees. They call St. Croix River "Manominikeshi Sibi [Man-no-me-ne-kesh-e-Se-be]," Wild Rice Bird, or Snipe, River. The lower St. Croix Lake, from Stillwater to Prescott, where it empties into the Mississippi River, is called by the Indians "Gigo-Agomod [Ge-go-Aug-o-mod]. [Note: This signifies "something floating."]" An Indian told me the following legend concerning this lake. In the olden time, before the advent of the palefaces, two Indians were hunting on the shores of the Lake. Evening came and they had nothing to eat except two fish, which one of them had caught. "Friend," said he to his companion, "take one of the fish to eat." "Never mind," replied the other, "tomorrow we will get some game. When I eat fish, I become very thirsty and can't stop drinking." At length, however, he yielded to his friend's request and ate one of the fish. He became very thirsty and during the night his companion had to go frequently to the lake and fetch water in a birch-bark vessel; this the thirsty man would hastily drink and fall asleep again. In a short time, however, he would awake and call for more water. Finally, his companion grew tired and fell asleep. His friend awaking called out to him to get more water, but being sound asleep the water carrier did not hear the request; so the thirsty Indian arose and going to the edge of the lake lay down and drank to his heart's content. When his friend awoke he missed his thirsty companion and immediately went down to the lake. But lo! There was no more water in it! The thirsty hunter had drunk all the water, only here and there could be seen some pools of muddy water where some fish were floating about; hence the Chippewa name.

At a very early day there was a French fort or trading post up the St. Croix River, at the mouth of Yellow River, probably built about the year 1686. I suppose it was the French traders who named the stream "St. Croix [Holy Cross] River. [Note: The fur-trade post on Yellow River was built much later than the author thinks. It was established in the latter part of the eighteenth century. See report of a trader there in 1803-4 in Wis. Hist. Colls., XX, 396-471. There were, however, seventeenth-century trading posts on the St. Croix-Brule waterway. Duluth took this route in 1680 and may have established a temporary post at upper St. Croix Lake. Le Sueur had trading posts to protect this waterway in 1693. See id., XVI, 173, note 1.St. Croix River was named for an early coureur de bois of that name who was wrecked at its mouth. Ibid., 185-86.] "

In 1872 I was sent to Seneca, Crawford County, a hamlet of about a dozen houses some twenty-two miles north of Prairie du Chien. The people, about 130 Irish families, were industrious and well behaved, most of them being farmers. I was the first resident priest, the place having previously been attended by the priest from Rising Sun. During my six-year stay there I built a church and a parsonage. Oftentimes I used to go to Prairie du Chien to visit my clerical friends there. Through the generosity of John Lawler a large college was bought and liberally endowed, and a large academy for Notre Dame Sisters established [Note: John Lawler was born in Ireland, May 4, 1832; he came to America at the age of four and at fifteen entered the railway construction business. When the first railroad reached Prairie du Chien in 1857 he was appointed station agent and two years later general agent. Lawler accumulated a fortune in the transportation business, building in 1874 the pontoon bridge across the Mississippi; he was liberal patron of education and was awarded by the pope the knighthood of St. Gregory. He died Feb. 24, 1891. St. Mary's Institute for girls was founded in 1872 on the grounds of old Fort Crawford. The college of the Sacred Heart founded about the same time is now a training school for the Jesuit Order.]. Both institutions are in a flourishing condition and are doing a noble educational work. Lawler was a noble-hearted, energetic, self-made man and a model Catholic. While in Seneca I became acquainted with Walter Fardy, a bright young man, who was then teaching school somewhere in the vicinity. He studied for the priesthood, was ordained, and subsequently was stationed at New Richmond and Superior. For many years he was vicar-general of the diocese of Superior; he died last autumn in West Superior, where he was buried.

As the Indians of the La Crosse diocese had had no resident priest for three years (1875-78) Bishop Heiss, then bishop of La Crosse but afterwards archbishop of Milwaukee [Note: Michael Heiss was born in Bavaria, April 17, 1812. He was ordained at Munich in 1840, and two years later came to the United States. In 1844 he went to assist Bishop Henni at Milwaukee, and in 1868 was made bishop of La Crosse. In 1880 Bishop Heiss became coadjutor of Archbishop Henni, whom the next year he succeeded. He died at La Crosse, March 26, 1890.], requested me to go to the Lake Superior country. I arrived at Bayfield on June 19, 1878 and for about half a year had charge of this place, and also of La Pointe (Madeleine Island) and Bad River Reservation.

The whites first visited the region at the western end of Lake Superior about the year 1659 [Note: The date of the visit of the first white explorers of Lake Superior, Radisson and Groseilliers, is somewhat in doubt; it may not have been until 1661.]. For a decade thereafter-French missionaries made valiant attempts to establish Christianity and civilization in this region. The last of these early missionaries, the famous Father Jacques Marquette, was forced to flee the country with his people in the summer of 1671 through fear of the bloodthirsty Sioux. In July, 1835, 164 years after the departure of Father Marquette from Chequamegon Bay, Rev. (later Bishop) Federic Baraga [Note: Frederic Baraga was born in Carniola, Austria, June 29, 1797. He was a law student at the University of Vienna, took orders in 1823, and in 1830 came to America. From 1831-33 he was missionary at l'Arbre Croche, and from 1833-35 at Grand River, Mich. In 1835 he went to the Lake Superior region and reestablished the mission at La Point where in 1835 he built a church. In 1843 Baraga founded a mission at L'Anse; in 1853 he was consecrated bishop of Upper Michigan and removed his headquarters to Sault Ste. Marie. In 1865 the see was transferred to Marquette where on Jan. 19, 1868 Bishop Baraga died. His linguistic knowledge was great, and he published a Chippewa grammar and dictionary.] came to reestablish there the Catholic church. Of the character of La Pointe and its population in Baraga's time Vincent Roy [Note: Vincent Roy was born on Rainy Lake in 1825, his father being a French trader, his mother a Chippewa squaw. At fourteen, he was sent to school at La Pointe, but he soon entered the fur trade, having an early post of the site of Superior, of which city he was a founder in 1845. Twice Roy visited Washington (in 1852 and 1866) in the interests of the Chippewa tribesmen. In 1868 he established a store at Superior, where on April 2, 1896 he died.], formerly of Superior but now deceased, says in a letter addressed to the present writer:

There were no pure European families in La Pointe at that time (1835-43); European males married into mixed-blood families, with the exception of the families of the Presbyterian mission -- Rev. Sherman Hall and Teacher Sprote (two families). The population varied very much according to the season. In the winter they would number about thirty or forty mixed-blood families, besides a very few pagan Indian families. In the summer the population would about double in all shades of color. It must be borne in mind that La Pointe was pre-eminently the Indian depot for the distribution of goods to the different minor posts, and it was necessarily the headquarters for all engaged in the fur traffic. Fishing was also carried on very extensively. Those who were engaged in this occupation were those who remained at home during the winter, mending their nets and making preparations for the next season's work. Fishing was also a branch of the American fur Company's business.

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!