Transcribed by Sean Furniss
THE FIRST CATHOLIC MISSIONARY.
In the spring of 1822 Father De la Croix, chaplain of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, came on horseback from Florissant, Missouri, to preach the gospel to the Great Osages on the Neosho River in Kansas.
The trail to the West crossed Missouri from St. Louis and entered the Indian country at or near where the Miami Indian village once stood. This spot is about eight miles southeast of Paola on the Marais des Cygnes River. It is supposed that Father De la Croix followed the usual trail and entered Kansas at this point. It is worthy of note that he was the first priest to enter this vast region since the days of Father Juan de Padilla in 1541 as far as any written records show.
Miami county claims the distinction of being the scene of Father De la Corix's first labors in Kansas for he, no doubt, tarried among such tribes as lay in his path. His first thought was to bless the land, "beseeching the Lord to visit it (habitationem istam) and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy; he asked that the holy Angels might dwell therein and guard its peace and that this blessing might remain forever?" The good man's heart was filled with admiration at all the natural beauty that lay around him on every side for, as is well known, there is nothing on earth more beautiful than the Kansas prairies in the late spring. Pushing on through this paradise of birds and flowers for a distance of about eighty miles he came at last to the Neosho River and found the object of his laborious searchings--the Great Osage tribe, one of the noblest band of savages within the confines of Kansas.
The following extract from the article published in the St. Louis Catholic Cabinet, November, 1843, gives a delightful account of this and subsequent visit:
"On the occasion of his first visit, as they were about to depart on a hunting expedition, he could only see one village. He was very well received and baptized a great many children. As he had promised to visit all the villages of that nation of Indians, hew was obliged to return last summer. He left Florissant, which is situated five leagues from St. Louis, on the 22nd of July. After traveling twelve days on horseback across prairies, broken by forests and streams, he reached the first village which he had already visited in the spring of 1822.
"They were delighted to see him once again. He was accompanied by several person who intended to trade with the savages. All the warriors came to meet them.
"They were conducted, with great honor, to the head chief and invited to feasts, prepared by the savages, and so were kept going until evening, from cabin to cabin. At these repasts they were presented with a wooden dish, filled with boiled maize or buffalo meat (boeuf sauvage), but each dish had to be duly tasted.
"The head chief and six of his principal warriors offered to accompany the missionary in his visit to the other villages. Ten days were passed thus, and the missionary was received everywhere with the same eagerness. At one of these villages more than a hundred warriors, covered from head to foot with their handsomest ornaments, came quite a distance to meet him. They rode finely trained horses. The occupations of the men are war and hunting. The women are very hard working. They it is who build the cabins, and carry the loads of firewood on their backs. The quantity they take at one time is astonishing. The whole nation is clothed, decently at least. Everyone is covered with a robe.
"Polygamy is practiced among them, for it is the custom that when a savage demands a girl in marriage and is accepted, not only she, but all her sisters also belong to him and are looked upon as his wives. They pride themselves greatly upon having several wives. Another great obstacle to their civilization lies in their strong distaste for cultivation of the soil and for all kinds of work. They care for nothing but war and hunting.
"One day a missionary celebrated the Holy Sacrifice. All the chiefs were present and also as many savages as the place would hold. He has told me that he was greatly moved by the respectful attention which they showed, and the exactitude with which they rose and knelt, raising their arms and eyes to heaven. After Mass he distributed to all the chiefs a number of crosses, fastened to ribbons which he threw around their necks. He also baptized several children.
"For several years Protestant missionaries, sent out and well paid by the American government, had been settled among these savages, and had built up establishments where they cared for the children of this nation for a certain time. But they were not successful, and nearly a year ago the Indians took away all their children, saying that they had realized that they were not black robes, as they had thought they were at first.
"The soil of this portion of Missouri is very fertile, and there are prairies six or seven leagues in extent. In summer the heat is excessive. It was during this journey that the missionary was attacked by a burning fever which forced him to leave the Osages. He was obliged to travel twelve days on horseback, sleeping at night in the woods, not coming across a single miserable cabin. This is how they go about arranging their camp. Having chosen the most suitable place, they unload and unharness the horses, which they let run loose in the woods that they may pasture during the night. They build a hut with the branches of trees, and having gathered wood they light a big fire. Over this they boil a piece of young buck placed on a stick planted before the fire, the meat being turned from time to time. This fire serves also to drive away bears and other wild beasts. After their repast, they roll themselves up in a buffalo skin and fatigue renders this poor bed very comfortable.
FURTHER INFORMATION GATHERED FROM CATHOLIC
The zealous Bishop of Upper and Lower Louisiana directed the views of his ever active zeal towards the unfortunate Indians, especially the Osages. With the co-operation of the Rev. Charles Van Quickenborne, then Superior of the Jesuits of Missouri, two schools were opened for Indian youths in the township of Florissant, near St. Louis; the Indian boys were placed under the charge of the Jesuits, and the girls under that of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart. To enable them to succeed in this undertaking, the reverend gentlemen under whose care the schools were placed, applied to the Government for a moderate annual income from the sum annually appropriated for the civilization of the Indians. This request was readily complied with, but the greatest obstacle to success was found to consist in the unwillingness of the Indian youth to quit their parents' homes, their sports and their games, and to go to a distant place for the purpose of acquiring the learning which they so little valued. It was soon discovered that to establish missionary stations among the Indians in their own country would be a more successful and less difficult enterprise.
In consequence, this having been determined on, the Rev. Charles de la Croix, then Missioner in the State of Missouri, set out on a visit to the Osages--one of the most savage of the Indian tribes. His efforts were blessed with success, and record now before us prove thatthe number of children baptized by him on that occasion was very large and the number of marriages he blessed not inconsiderable. Shortly after, he was followed by the Rev. C. Van Quickenborne, who also visited the Osage nation, and who was particularly successful in inducing the Chiefs and Headmen of the tribe to send their sons and daughters to St. Louis County. The schools, composed of Osage, Iowa and Iroquois youth, flourished for a few years, but were finally broken up, in consequence of the complaints of their parents, on seeing their children separated from them by such a distance, as also of the disinclination of the young Indians to bend under the yoke of discipline. A few years after, the Rev. Joseph Lutz, of the Diocese of St. Louis, visited the wild Kanzas. The courageous efforts of this zealous Missionary appeared likely to be crowned with signal success, and already the headmen of that ferocious nation knelt in prayer by his side, when, after a residence of more than four months among them, the paucity of clergymen in the diocese caused him to be recalled to supply what appeared to be more pressing wants. The unsteady Kanza fell back into his former irregularities.
In 1835, the Rev. Father Van Quickenborne paid a missionary visit to the Miamies, on the north fork of the Osage river. They are the small remnants of four once powerful nations, the Kaskaskia, the Peorias, the Weas and the Piankeshaws. He was received by them with great joy; and many of them, having been baptized in their infancy by the priests who attended the old French villages in Illinois, showed unfeigned readiness to enroll themselves a new under the standard of the cross. They seemed to be indifferently pleased with the Methodist station, established among them, and willingly promised to return to the faith of their fathers, among whom the Jesuit Missionaries had so successfully labored during the early part of the last century. An old woman, whose gray hair and bent up form showed that she had belonged to by-gone times, crawled up to the Missionary, grasped his hand with a strong expression of exultation, and pronounced him to be a true black-gown, sent to instruct her hapless and neglected nation. She had lived a least of score of winters longer than any other of her tribe, but yet she distinctly remembered to have been prepared for her first communion by one of the Jesuits who attended the flourishing mission of the Kaskaskias. His name she could not bring to mind, but she described his dress and features in a manner to show what a deep impression this recollection of her early youth continued to make on her mind. She also gave a description of the old church of Kaskaskias; recited her prayers and sang a Canticle in the language of the tribe. She told the Missioner that her constant prayer had been that her tribe, now exiled and almost extinct, might have the happiness to see a true black-gown among them. She congratulated those around her on the occasion and cried out, like Simeon, that her eyes had seen him now, and that she was ready to mix her bones with those of her fathers. Her death which took place a few days after, was a great loss to the Missioner. As she was the only person who knew the prayers in the Indian language, and the only one who appeared to have kept herself untainted by the general depravity of those by whom she was surrounded.
The few remaining Miamies have never had any permanent Catholic Mission in their situation; yet they continue to be visited at stated times. Among them, however, in their original residence, near Chicago, Father Marquette, the first explorer of the Mississippi, labored as early as 1675. In 1836 the first Catholic Missionary settlement was made among the Indians of this territory.
The Rev. C. Van Quickenborne, of the Society of Jesus opened a mission among the Kickapoos. Suitable buildings were erected, a neat chapel built, and the zeal of the Missionaries was displayed in almost incessant labors by day and by night; but the soil proved for the time ungrateful. It seemed that the hour for those corrupted and intemperate beings had not yet come. The Missionaries, as happens in every great undertaking for God, encountered great difficulties, occasioned especially by the opposition and imposture of one of the Indian chiefs, who styled himself a Prophet, and pretended to be sent by the Son of God. In 1839 some strong hopes of converting these Indians were entertained, but unhappily were not realized. By the exertions of the clergyman then at the head of that mission, the Rev. A. Eysvogels, 30 Catechumens were instructed and baptized in the Catholic Church. The foundation of the congregation thus appeared to have been laid, but it was of short duration. New clouds overshadowed these pleasing prospects, the few Christians who had entered into the pale of the Church emigrated to another settlement, and with the aspect of affairs became more gloomy than ever. The following Jesuit Fathers labored in this mission: Charles Van Quickenborne, C. Hoecken, F. Verreydt and A. Eysvogels. They did not confine themselves, however, exclusively to the Indians; they took charge moreover of six stations among the border settlers of the State of Missouri.
"Through the courtesy of President Rogers of St. Louis University, that great institution of learning, founded by Father Quickenborne, I am enabled to present a list of missionaries who visited this section and made Fort Leavenworth one of their main stations," says Henry Shindler in his "Divine Worship at Fort Leavenworth." "It is as follows:
NOTE--Rev. Father Charles Van Quickenborne, S.J., was born in Peteghem, Belgium, January 21, 1788; died at the mission of St. Francis, in the Portage des Sioux, Missouri, August 17, 1857. He arrived in the United States in 1817, and in 1819 was appointed superior of the Jesuit novitiate at White Marsh, Maryland. After some years he was ordered to transfer his Mission to Missouri. He accordingly set out with twelve companions, and after traveling 1600 miles, arrived at Florissant and began the novitiate of St. Stanislaus. to form this establishment he had no other materials than the timber he carried from the woods and the rocks that he raised from the bed of the river. He was his own architect, mechanic and laborer, and aided by his novices, finally constructed the buildings. In 1828 he set about building a university at St. Louis, and also erected at St. Charles a church, a convent of the Sacred Heart, and a parochial residence. His great desire from the first had been to evangelize the Indians. He, therefore, made several excursions among the Osages and the Iowas, and made numerous conversions. He erected a house and chapel among the Kickapoos, and this tribe became the center of his missionary labors in 1836. He had visited neighboring tribes and formed plans for their conversion when he was recalled to Missouri.
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