The History of Our Cradle Land
by Thomas H. Kinsella

Transcribed by Sean Furniss

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Rev. John Schoenmakers, S. J.

Ten years have now passed since Father Christian Hoecken made his memorable journey from Kickappo to Pottawatomie Creek in 1838, and the following ten years were destined to see even greater marvels emanate from Osage Mission on the distant Neosho River. Fathers Schoenmakers, Bax and Ponziglione were the Jesuit priests most conspicuous during this period. Mother Bridget Hayden and her band of Loretto Sisters from Kentucky figured largely in the educational work of that mission.

Following in the footsteps of Fathers De la Croix and Van Quickenborne, the Fathers from Sugar Creek, Linn County, visited the Osages as regularly as possible from 1839 to April, 1847.

About this time the Osages themselves made a request to Rt. Rev. Peter Richard Kendrick of St. Louis for a school to be established amongst them. The Jesuit Fathers gladly accepted the undertaking and appointed the Reverend Fr. Schoenmakers, S.J., to that difficult task wherein he labored unceasingly for thirty-six years. He himself as well as Fathers Bax, Ponziglione and others "attended to the daily multiplying missionary stations. They had a very big task before them," says Father Ponziglione, "and were kept traveling most all the time under great difficulties. Their line of excursions beginning from the southeast corner of Cherokee County, was going as far north as to Miami County, from that point turning westward would extend as far as to Ft. Larned in Shawnee County. Next coming down to the counties along the state line, having visited these they would return to St. Francis church. It was indeed a slow and laboring work of having been the first priests that brought the good tidings of the Gospel in thirty of the counties included in the territory just described.

"Besides they also now and then would visit the Indian Territory south of Kansas, forming missionary stations at the Indian Agencies as well as at the military posts, as far as to Ft. Sill near to the line of Texas."

Father Schoenmaker's name appears on an old record of Miami County Indian days for 1850, 1854, and 1857. On November 9th of this latter year the last baptism of the old Jesuit Missionaries is recorded by Father Schoenmakers.

From St. Paul (Kas.) Journal.

Father Schoenmakers first visited the Indians in the autumn of 1846, selected the site for his future home and returned to St. Louis for supplies. On April 28, 1847, (some authorities say April 29, 1847), he arrived here to make it his permanent home, and remained here until his death, July 28, 1883. He was a native of Holland, was born in the town of Waspick, November 20, 1807. He was ordained a priest in 1833, celebrating his first mass on April 16, that year. He longed for the life of a missionary, and that his longings might be realized he came to America, landing at New York on Christmas day, 1833. He went to Georgetown where he joined the Jesuit order January 16, 1834, and in July of that year left for St. Louis. He labored in and around that city until his appointment as a missionary among the Osages which brought him to sunny Kansas, then the home of the Osages, where he laid the foundation of the present city of St. Paul and started what has developed into the grand and magnificent St. Francis church. He was accompanied by Fr. John Bax and three Jesuit brothers to assist him in his work. .

Travel in those days was different from what it is now. Railroads were scarce in the west, and boats navigated only the large streams. So the journey of Fr. Schoenmakers and his little band to their chosen home was far from a pleasant one. Leaving St. Louis they went up the Missouri river by boat to Kansas City, from which place the remainder of the journey was made overland. Instead of the fast horses driven by the people of today, Fr. Schoenmakers had two or three teams of oxen which made the trip through the then wild and uninhabited country a long and tedious one. There were no houses where he might pass the night, and when he and his little company lay down at night for a little rest there was no shelter over them, save one, the broad canopy of heaven. After seven days of travel they reached their new home and received a most cordial welcome from the Osages. The first two houses here were built for Fr. Shoenmakers by the government. In them he took up his abode and opened a manual labor school for the Indian children May 10, 1847. The school prospered from the first and new buildings had to be erected to accommodate all the children who applied. As the white settlers began to arrive their children, too, attended the school. Thus it grew until May 7, 1870, when St. Francis Institution was chartered, and which flourished until the death of its illustrious founder.

He died full of merits for heaven on the 28th of July, 1883, having reached the 77th year of his age, and is buried in the Catholic cemetery at Osage Mission, now St. Paul.

One of the last of the Jesuit
Missionaries to Labor in Miami County.

Paul Mary Ponziglione was born February 11, 1818, in the city of Cherasco, in Piedmont, Italy. He was of noble descent on both sides of the house--his father, Count Felice Ferrero Ponziglione de Borgo d'Ales, and his mother, Countess Ferrero Ponziglione, nee marchioness Ferrero Castelnuovo. But the only nobility the good father acknowledged was that he belonged to "the noble family of Adam." When ever his lineage was mentioned, he would peremptorily dismiss the subject with a quick, vigorous shaking of his right hand, making his long, slender fingers appear like so many missiles caught in a whirlwind, and exclaiming, with an impatient turn of his head, "Vanity, vanity, vanity."

Father Paul, as he was commonly called, was christened Count Paul M. Ferrero Ponziglione de Borgo d'Ales. After his preliminary education, he entered the Royal College of Novara, and later he attended the College of Nobles at Turin, both being Jesuit institutions. The degree of bachelor of arts was conferred upon him by the University of Turin. After taking his degree at the university, he studied jurisprudence for more than a year. But there seems to have been with Father Paul an inborn manifest destiny for the priesthood. A religious instinct controlled him from the earliest years of his life.

On March 25, 1848, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal-Vicar Constantine Patrizi, having studied for orders at San Andrea, the famous Jesuit novitiate at Rome. Leaving Rome, he first went to Turin to settle his family affairs, thence he went to Paris, and finally to Havre, where he boarded the first vessel for New York. The voyage across the ocean was a long and perilous one and we can well imagine, the unbounded pleasure with which Father Paul beheld the land of his future labors. Soon after arrival, he was appointed to missionary work in Missouri and Kentucky. He spent two years in this field, and now commenced his labors as a missionary among the Indians. Thus was the dream of his life being realized. In March, 1851, accompanied by Rt. Rev. Miege, S.J., bishop of Kansas, he left St. Louis for his far western mission. While his home was to be at Osage Mission, and his particular charge the Osages, his missionary labors extended from Kansas to Fort Sill, I. T. The principal scope of his work in Kansas extended from Cherokee County, north to Miami County, thence to Fort Larned, Pawnee County, and on through the counties along the southern state line, back to the home mission. He was the first to spread the Gospel in thirty of the counties of the state, including the circuit just mentioned. He also penetrated the wild regions of the Indian Territory and established missionary stations at the Indian agencies and military posts as far as Fort Sill, near the Texas line. So this noble Father and his self-sacrificing co-workers starting from the Mother Church at Osage Mission, within forty years, established 180 Catholic Missions, 87 of which were in southern Kansas, and 21 in the Indian Territory.

A chapter in "Kansas Historical Collections" is devoted to an interesting sketch of the life and labors of Father Ponziglione, (Vol. IX. P. 19) from which the foregoing biography has been taken:

Gradually the greatness of the man is dawning on us; time will reveal more fully his wonderful personality as well as his genuine sanctity. He was exceedingly kind and condescending to all and lived the life of the people amongst whom he moved. With the poor Indians he was very much at home, his love for those so-called savages won their confidence and even affection. He never tired in his labors from year to year and when the white men came to settle on these lands, they found in Father Paul a polished gentleman, affable and pleasant, exceedingly friendly and as kind to non-Catholics as to those of his own Faith. He was of a quick, nervous temperament, rather slightly built, finely proportioned, with a splendid head and the most beautiful hands imaginable. When Father Paul visited the Peorias at this point in the summer of 1851, he seems to have been won by their manifestations of good will. They had been well instructed by Fathers Aelen and DeCoen and were baptized by the saintly Father Hoecken himself, in 1847. Thus in the first fervor of their conversion to Christianity the Peoria tribe, in the person of their chief, gave the young Blackrobe a hearty welcome, not suspecting that he, too, was a chief and a scion of one of the greatest tribes of the old world. This, of course, did not enter the mind of the young missionary, his zeal for the salvation and civilization of the red man absorbed all other considerations. he was now enjoying the fulfillment of his hopes so long deferred.

The Peoria tribe was still in a primitive state of civilization, living in wigwams or in huts and shacks in the surrounding woods. The place was without a name unless one wished to call it a village or the "Peoria Village." Father Paul usually rested here before turning to the West in his long circuit of Mission stations. A well founded tradition has it that Father Paul gave the name "Paola" to the Peoria Village. This word is Italian, in the feminine gender, to agree with the noun "Citta" understood. The full form of expression as used in that language is "La Citta di Paola"--the city of Paul. As no other Italian ever visited these parts, it seems conclusive that the honor of giving to our city its beautiful name, redolent of the primitive days and unrivaled in its soft musical cadence, belongs to this Italian Noble, Paul Mary Ponziglione. .

NOTE--The origin of the name "Paola" has been the subject of discussion for many years and has given rise to various conjectures. There is no record of the name being chosen by any official body of settlers or even by the original town company itself. Naming a new town was and still is an important event in every community, yet there seems to be no proof whatever that such an event ever took place in the case of Paola.

It is Paola now as was Paola when the first settlers came on the scene in 1854-5. The Indians had been calling their village by that name and the few white people who arrived after the territory was opened up simply followed suit. The name was Paola and nobody questioned its source or even its meaning.

The oldest citizen, the Venerable Judge Ezra W. Robinson, who came to Paola in 1856, says that the name was in use when he arrived and that he did not know its origin or whence it came. In after years, however, people began to say that it was called after Baptiste Peoria, the Indian chief, for no reason but because there was some similarity in the sound of the two words and that the Indians, when pronouncing the word Paola, meant Peoria. It is strange that the tribe could not pronounce its own name. Moreover, why change "e" to "a" and "r" to "t" and "ia" to "a"? the transformation is too radical to carry conviction and doubtless was accepted by many for want of a better explanation. One thing that it does show, however, is that the Indians used the word first. Where did they get it?

Another version of the origin of the name, Paola, is given in these words, "Paola founded in 1855, named after Pasquale de Paoli, the Corsican patriot who led his countrymen against Genoa in 1755 and 1789." It is safe to say that the Indians never heard of the gentleman from Corsica.

The third and more plausible origin of the name is given by the venerable John Chestnut, who came to Osawatomie in 1854 and is now a citizen of Denver, Colorado. he states that Paola is called after a town on the west coast of Italy. It is true there is such a town on the coast of Calabria in southern Italy. It is also true there is a monastery and a hamlet connected with the great Church of St. Paul beyond the walls of Rome called Paola, but it would take no other than an Italian to suggest these obscure places as a name for a wigwam village on the plains of Kansas in the middle of the last century. That Italian was Paul Mary Ponziglione, S.J., the great Indian missionary who came to these parts in 1851, and was especially beloved by the Peorias. His own name suggested that of his patron, the Great Apostle of the Gentiles: hence Paola. He did not have to go to the wilds of Calabria for the suggestion; it was within his own heart.

The following excerpts are taken from the obituary notice of Father Paul as published in a Chicago Catholic Weekly:

"Father Paul Ponziglione has left a legacy of rare value and interest to the historical literature of the United States. It is made up of his letters, diaries, papers on Indian history and traditions and unpublished documents relating to the early missions and military posts of the frontier, all written during a forty years' scout on the plains from Fort Sill in Indian territory to Fremont's peak in Wyoming, in the days when history was making itself under ambush and at pony express speed.

"When it is all gathered up and put into shape, as some is already, there will be found not only reliable information pertaining to the various Indian tribes with whom the Jesuit father labored, but descriptive paragraphs full of a beauty and tenderness which show that he got well into the feel of the great plains and the sense of the mountains. For instance, when he started out from the Osage mission in Neosha county, Kas., at the time when the Fifth cavalry was in the field, when Wallace, Dodge, Lyon, Leavenworth and Laramie were the pegs on which the ropes were knotted to loop in the Kiowas, Comanches, Cheyennes and Arapahoes, Father Paul took up his blanket, haversack and chalice and calmly went forth alone on his pony, unarmed, through country that even Bill Comstock and Cody were wary of, and he wrote the following:

Went Out Alone.

" 'I now turned my way toward Greenwood county. I had to travel some forty long miles, and night overtook me on a very large and high prairie dividing the waters of the Verdigris and Fall rivers. I had to put out on the green grass, which was plentiful and offered excellent food for my horse. The moon was most brilliant and the stars seemed to be invested with new brightness; no tree, no bush, no rock in sight. Fortunately I had an iron pin and a long lariat with me; this enabled me to secure my horse for the night. All was silence around me, and I sat down to eat my supper, which consisted of some dry bread and fruits. If found both very good and by no means heavy on my stomach. My mind felt very light and free. Had I been a poet that would have been a good moment for inspiration. As I was rather fatigued I lay down wrapped in my blanket and passed as comfortable a night as if I had been lying on a feather bed.

" 'At the dawn of day I was up, and, seeing that all was right about my horse, I thanked God for it, and having taken my breakfast, which was as frugal as the preceding supper, I was again on my way about sunrise, traveling along through the interminable prairies.' "


Some idea of the life of a Jesuit missionary may be gotten from the following extract from one of his letters written from St. Stephen's mission in Lander, Wyo.

"The weather in Rawlins was very cold and the surrounding mountains covered with snow showed to great advantage under the bleu canopy of heaven. Here I had to stop one day to secure a place in the stage, which during the season takes only two passengers at a time. Fortunately through the assistance of Rev. Father James Ryan, the parish priest of that town, I succeeded in getting room for myself and baggage. My only companion happened to be a gentleman of old acquaintance who keeps a large store at Fort Washakie, thirty miles west of this mission. And lucky was I in meeting him, for he, being an old settler and used to traveling over these mountains, was well provided with buffalo robes and blankets, so we had plenty of coverings to make ourselves comfortable. Had I not met with this good man I would have suffered a good deal, for, supposing that the stage company would supply passengers with such wrappings and blankets as are indispensable to travelers during winter, I had nothing with me but my overcoat and a comforter around my neck.

"In the best of spirits we left Rawlins on the 13th of April at 8 o'clock a.m., the only thing that gave us uneasiness being the thought of what kind of weather we would have on the coming night, during which we would have to pass through the highest part of Sweetwater mountains, traveling for a length of some seventy-five miles, now on a sled and again on a common lumber wagon. this is the most difficult part of the journey between Rawlins and St. Stephen's mission, a distance of 175 miles. What makes the crossing of these mountains not only difficult but dangerous is the sudden rising of windstorms carrying immense volumes of snow, which, being drifted against wagons or trains, will sometimes cover them and fasten them to ground, so as to render it impossible to move them any further. An instance of this kind took place but a few days before we reached Rawlins. Tow freighters' outfits, one belonging to Fort Washakie above mentioned and another belonging to our mission, were snowed in, and all the teamsters could do was to unhitch their teams and run for their lives to the nearest station. Every year somebody perishes in such storms. This year we lament tow cowboys, who were lost in one of these storms. You see, therefore, that we had reason to be a little uneasy about what might happen to us. But He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb did also take care of us, and though the mountain zephyrs that were kissing us at intervals all along the way were rather cold, yet we could not complain, and, taking all in all, our condition was by no means as bad as it might have been.

"At noon we reached the second postal station from Rawlins, a place called Bull Creek, and on alighting were told by our driver that dinner was ready. But please, said we, show us the place, for we do not see any sign of a house. To our inquiries he answered by pointing out with his whip a poor dilapidated cabin, covered with snow from the ground to the roof, the entrance to which was through a large cut made in the snow, which stood up frozen on both sides like walls. We went in through this gap and to our surprise found a good dinner.


"Here we left the stage. All our baggage was well secured on a sled, which was nothing else than an old wagon-box fastened upon two beams. On this primitive kind of conveyance there was only one seat for two persons. Resigned to our lot and trying to make ourselves as comfortable as we could, we took possession of the seat and were fixing our blankets around us, when, lo! the driver, a tall, corpulent, jolly fellow, informed us that he was going to share the seat with us, and so saying, he wedged himself in between us, and whopping like a wild Indian, he started his horses at a full gallop. To say that it was a most insufferable kind of traveling would never convey the real idea of the situation. We thought our life would be squeezed out of us during that memorable night, such was the position under which we were. The night was one well suited to astronomical observations, for without a telescope one could see millions of most brilliant stars moving through their orbits. The wind, which generally rages very high, left us that night alone, and the temperature was very mild. So we went on from peak to peak, changing horses every fifteen miles. At last, after crossing the highest pitch of the Sweetwater range, we saw the morning star peeping out of the far horizon, and glowing like a distant electric light. By the time we reached the summit of Beaver mountain we saw the day dawning in all its majesty. Its appearance robbed the stars of their majesty, and one after another they dwindled out of sight. To our great consolation the light was now rapidly increasing; for we needed daylight in order to see our way in descending the mountain. Our descent, thanks be to God, was safe. It was sunrise when we arrived at a postal station at the foot of Beaver mountain, thirty miles from Lander. Here, taking a stage again we were more comfortable, and succeeded in getting a good sleep--as good, I mean, as the circumstances would allow.

"As I stepped out of the stage I found myself in the midst of may old friends whom I had not seen for three years. So I had to go through a regular gantlet of handshaking, and had to answer the welcomes and compliments of those good-hearted people. I found the mission considerably improved since I left it three years ago. So also did I find the country improved, though not very much. The best of all improvements that have been made is the telegraph, which now unites Lander with the rest of the world. Our community here consists of Father Ignatius Panken, a superior, and myself. We have also living with us a secular priest, Rev. Frank Scollen, who has been for many years a missionary among the Indians of Canada as well as the Rocky mountains. We have also a young man acting as servant and farmer. In our house, which is the same old frame house I fixed up when I first came here, we have thus far neither chapel, kitchen nor refectory, but go to say Mass and taker our meals at the convent. This is a magnificent brick building built by Friar F. X. Kuppend. I can assure you that it stands at a canonical distance from our house, for there is about one mile between the tow, which distance we have to walk three times a day, besides the extra calls which in an Indian mission like this are frequent. Now these daily excursion are quite a feat, especially when the mercury fall 30 degrees below zero and when the ground happens to be covered with four or five inches of snow or with a thick layer of mud. Sidewalks being a refinement not yet introduced in this part of the country, it follows that our situation, taken at best, is by no means convenient. But we console ourselves by considering that the kingdom of heaven is worth this and much more. However, if we view these excursions from a sanitary standpoint, we are bound to acknowledge that in the long run they will prove highly beneficial.

"On the feast of St. Gabriel we opened our school with eight children boarding with us and today we count twenty-nine boys and girls. The Arapahoes now show us more confidence and our prospects grow brighter day by day."

In after years Father Paul was appointed chaplain of the Bridewell of Chicago. In the city jail he had to minister to a new kind of savage--the "Hoodlums," a tribe that compared very unfavorably with his dear Osages, Peorias and Sioux, but he never despaired, for "where sine abounded the grace of God abounded more."

On the 25th of March, 1898, he celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the holy priesthood at Chicago, and just two years later he passed to his eternal reward in the eighty-second year of his age. Thus ended the days of the last representative of the noble houses of Guerra and Ponziglione. All the wealth, the honors, the social distinction, and everything that the heart of man craves, were but the "fleeting shadow" in his eyes. In preference to the life of an Italian nobleman he chose the humble, yet nobler life, of a Jesuit missionary among the American Indians. His work for the moral and religious welfare of this country, and especially for the State of Kansas, is deserving of a prominent place in the pages of American history. He was a great missionary, a nobleman in the Church of Christ, and his life-work is a true type of what Christ, through His Church, has done for humanity.


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