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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


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The Indian Priest
Father Philip B. Gordon
Chapter 2 - Ancestry

by Paula Delfeld
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Famous historical characters were among Reverend Philip Gordon's ancestors. In 1636, John Dingley migrated from England to Massachusetts. His daughter, Mary, married a son of Miles Standish. Seven Generations later, Daniel Dingley married Isabella La Prairie (Musk-ko-dence) who was half French and half Chippewa Indian. Isabella was the daughter of a clerk for the Northwestern Fur Company mentioned in Curot's Journal for 1803-4.

Sarah, one of Daniel and Isabella's five children, became Philip's grandmother. Sarah was born in 1827 at Cadot's trading post at the mouth of the Yellow River in what is now Burnett County, Wisconsin.

When Sarah was a young girl the family prepared for a long journey to a new home in St. Joseph, Michigan, on the east shore of Lake Michigan. They were careful in the construction of a canoe for the journey. It must have be light as possible because there would be many portages where Sarah's father would carry the canoe over paths through forests abounding in pine, spruce, fir and birch. Isabella would pack a few belongings on her back.

Game, fish and berries were plentiful; available for the taking so there would be no need to carry many provisions, so there would be no need to carry many provisions. They would take some wild rice from the previous year's crop and a supply of furs for trade at posts along the way. Mink was plentiful and cheap but Dingley had other furs - muskrat, beaver, otter, but especially fox which was the most valuable at the time.

Dingley was fortunate in being in an area where birch was readily available. It was the most satisfactory material for a canoe, being light and pliable. A completed craft was easily carried by one man.

It was necessary to cut down the tree to obtain the thick sheets of bark for a canoe. When the family made their preparations, it was spring and the bark was at its best for canoe building.

It was necessary to cut down the tree to obtain the thick sheets of bark for a canoe. When the family made their preparations, it was spring and the bark was at its best for canoe building.

Daniel was experienced in canoe construction. He had prepared material in advance. Several days before, he had split cedar trees and these were soaking so they would be ready for the framework when needed. He began making the canoe by laying out the birchbark sheets. He placed a wooden frame on them and held them down with stones. Then he bent up the edges and drove posts into ground around the outside to hold sides in place.

When he put in the cedar gunwales, Isabella made holes around the edge with an awl made of quartz and then sewed them in place with strings she prepared from spruce roots. Ribs were fashioned from the cedar they had soaking. Daniel then inserted braces, known as thwarts, to rigidly hold the sides in place.

While they worked, spruce gum was being heated. They used this to seal the seams and make them watertight. They would take along a good supply of spruce gum to make repairs along the way. In an emergency, the gum could be chewed to soften it instead of being heated.

Now they had a craft like that of which Hiawatha said, "I, a light canoe will build me… that shall float upon the river, like a yellow leaf of autumn, like a yellow water lily!'

The family traveled much of the summer to reach their new home. The rivers, which were rushing torrents when they began their journey, gradually slowed to a calm rhythm as summer advanced.

When the Dingley's reached St. Joseph; Daniel opened a large trading post. It was Father Gordon later described in some handwritten notes as a "religious arrival (or revival)" - even after being highly educated, Father Gordon was noted for his poor penmanship - Daniel Dingley and his partner, "with a written form of self-dedication to God, brought the Indian women with whom they had been living according to Indian custom, and were legally married" in 1829.

One day Daniel Dingley packed a deerskin pouch with some wild rice, loaded his powder horn and shot pouch, shouldered his rifle and stared out on a hunting expedition. He was never heard from again.

The family stayed at St. Joseph for a time, then moved to La Pointe on Madeline Island in Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior.

Sarah experienced the ceremonial fast and isolation as every Indian girl did when she reached the age of sexual eligibility and adult importance according to her Indian Mother's tradition. She had learned her many skills from her mother. She learned to weave, tan hides, make articles of birchbark, and how to gather and prepare wild foods.

Sarah was a dark-eyed sixteen-year-old when she met the enterprising French and Indian fur trader, Antoine Gaudin. Sarah was well prepared for her marriage to Antoine.

Antoine's father, Jean Baptiste Gaudin, who was Philip's great-grandfather, was a Frenchman who was born at Trois Rivieres in the Province of Quebec. He was employed as a voyageur from La Pointe. He roamed the forests as far west as Mille Lacs in what is now Minnesota. While there he married A-we-ni-shan (Young Beaver) a sister of Hole-in-the-Day, The Elder. This was the beginning of Philip Gordon's Indian heritage. A-we-ni-shan's nephew, Hole-in-the-Day, the Younger, (Pug-o-ne-gi-jik), became a noted figure in Minnesota History. He was the acting head chief while Buffalo was hereditary chief of the Chippewa or Ojibway tribe.

When Antoine was twelve years, old he went to Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, with his family. A few years later they returned to La Pointe where the American Fur Company had its headquarters under Michel Cadot, the "Great Michel" as the Indians called him. Michel fraternized with the Indians and married Equaysayway, the daughter of Chief White Crane; but like the other traders, he exploited the Indians, buying the raw furs at ridiculously low prices. Michel Cadot did business of about $40,000 annually.

Antoine married Sarah Dingley and in 1845 he opened a trading post and remained at La Pointe for ten years. Besides the post, he acquired an interest with Vincent Roy of Superior in the schooner Algonquin. The ship had been built in 1839 at Black River, Ohio; now know as Lorain, for the Ohio Fishing and Mining Company. In 1845 it had been portaged around the Soo Rapids by use of timbers and rollers, block and tackle and ox team.

Although there had been other sailing vessels on Lake Superior before the Algonquin, she was the first of importance to carry cargo on the lake. Gaudin hauled logs from the Bad River area and returned with lumber and supplies for his trading post at La Pointe.

Antoine moved his family to a farm near the present site of Washburn in 1855 when William, who would become Philip's father, was only five years old. He eventually sold his interest in the Algonquin and in 1860, he lead a group of French and Indians in two long, slim birchbark canoes down the St. Croix River.

The St. Croix and its tributaries had long been a trade route and warpath of the Chippewa and Sioux tribes. The last great battle between the two rivals was fought on the St. Croix. The river ran red with Sioux blood when the Chippewa Chief Buffalo and his warriors, although fewer in number, outwitted and defeated the Sioux.

Gaudin proceeded to St. Croix near the mouth of the Snake River, taking a stock of trade goods for trade with the Indians. Cadot had a post there as well as at Yellow River and Pokegema Lake to the west. (You will remember the Yellow River post was the birthplace of Sarah, grandmother of Father Gordon.)

Although the population in the southern part of the state was growing at a rapid rate, northwestern Wisconsin was still an untamed wilderness, covered by seemingly inexhaustible pine forests. The pines thrived on light, sandy soil deposited in the St. Croix Valley by glaciers. There were less than six people per square mile.

Lumberman looked longingly at the vast north woods but transportation of timber was impossible. The Indians had lived here for centuries, sustained by the resources of forest, lakes and streams. They lived in harmony with Nature, or existed at its mercy, taking of its abundance only what they needed for their survival. If they exhausted the resources of one area they had but to move on to better hunting grounds and the area they left would soon replenish.

When the lumbermen penetrated the densely forested area they found that white pine was the most prized for lumber. It was easy to work with and was light and easily transported. Before the coming of the railroad all the logs were floated down the rivers. Pine would float, whereas hardwoods sank to the bottom.

Historians referred to the area as the Folle Avoine Sauteur (literally, Wild Oats Jumping). The wild oats was actually wild rice, not a grain at all but a type of grass, which grew profusely in the shallows along the rivers. The Indians said wild rice must grow with its feet in the water and its head dry.

Gaudin later planted rice for the Indians at Mulligan Lake, and he is known as the first conservationist. His descendants have harvested wild rice ever since; more than five thousand pounds a year have been taken from this lake. Some of his plantings can still be seen.

Antoine stayed for a while at Lost Post: but with the lumber business in mind, in 1862 he landed at the junction of the Eau Claire and St. Croix Rivers at a place the Indians called Amick (the Beaver). He sold his interests at La Pointe and purchased 40 acres of land from the Wisconsin Land and Improvement Company and Henry Rice Land Company.

The log building Gaudin erected on the Eau Claire River was his home and trading store and became a boarding house for travelers as well. Winters were severe and often a time of want and privation with below-zero temperatures and deep snow. Gaudin gave shelter to Indians who were in need. He became their counselor and spokesman and acted as mediator between the wandering bands.

Some of the trade goods for the store were hauled from St. Paul by ox team or horses, pumping along the stage route over stumps and ruts. The stage line had been established in 1860 through the wilderness by widening the old foot trails.

The alternate route was up the Brule from La Pointe, navigating the canoes for about thirty-five miles, then carrying them over the Brule-St. Croix Portage, a distance of two miles over a pine ridge.

During their long absences, the missionaries urged the people to build a chapel or church where they could meet Anton Gordon, familiarly known as Tony, paid most of the expenses in the construction of a little log church in Gordon in 1874.

Recognizing the need of education for the children, he erected a log building in 1883, across from the trading post and next to the church. Here he taught both white and Indian children to read and write during the week and provided religious instruction on Sunday. Gordon had only three months of formal education, but he believed in education and learned to speak English, French, and Chippewa. He also read Latin and understood the Sioux tongue.

Gordon's contact with the brown-robed Franciscans was largely responsible for his education. When he was a young man in La Pointe he had been choirmaster and interpreter for Bishop Baraga, the famous missionary. The Bishop had written a grammar and dictionary of the Chippewa language.

It was only through the influence of his Indian mother that Anton did not pursue his aspiration to become a priest, a dream fulfilled many years later by his grandson, Philip.

Before his death in 1907, Tony Gordon had served three years as the first postmaster of Gordon; he was the town supervisor for six years and school treasurer for ten years. He was healthy and alert in his old age and operated the store until 1905.

Tony Gordon hired George Stuntz, who surveyed much of the territory, to lay out a town. When the Northern Wisconsin Railway was built in 1862, Gordon deeded the right-of-way and a depot was built. Around the turn of the century a village was established and named for its first settler, Tony Gordon. His wife, Sarah, was often called upon to act as midwife and on some occasions she was transported by handcar on the Northwestern Railway.

This was the place to which William Gordon had come as a child with parents, and where he married his Indian wife and fourteen children were born to them. Among them were seven sons, of whom Philip was the youngest. This was the village where began the life which was to take him far from his wilderness home. He became the friend of the great and famous in all walks of life - statesmen, cardinals, soldiers, scientists, businessmen, and people of all nations.

Philip's Indian name, "Ti-bish-ko-gi-jik," meaning "Looking into the Sky" was prophetic of his life's calling as a "Sky Pilot." Did he plan his career as a young boy? Catherine Gordon McDonald tells this story:

"My dad was Father Gordon's brother, Joe. They lived out in the country and they went into town one day. Phil was supposed to watch the younger children. When his parents came home, some of the children were crying. Phil had taken the curtains off the windows and made himself a priest's robes. The children said, 'Ma, Phil made us pray all day.'"

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