The History of Our Cradle Land
by Thomas H. Kinsella

Transcribed by Sean Furniss

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Of the Pottawatomie Mission at Sugar Creek.
[Part 1 of 2]

(This diary has been in the archives of St. Mary's College and it is now printed for the first time. A pretty close translation of the original Latin will leave it to speak for itself, with its own authority. The narrative is written in the third person, as is usual with Jesuit annals; nevertheless, in two or three verbs the ending of the first person slipped inadvertently from the pen, a mark which alone would reveal the authorship, even if we had not the assurance of tradition. The mission was started at "Pottawatomie Creek" (near Osawatomie), usually named Osage River, and by some authorities "Marias des Cygnes," a tributary of the Missouri River.)

Begining of the Mission on Pottawatomie Creek, Miami County, Kansas.


A. D. 1837, a band of Pottawatomie Indians, in number about 150, came to this place from Indiana, where some of them had long before been baptized in the Catholic Church by Revs. Stephen Badin and Deseille. A few months after their arrival in this territory, their chief, Nesfwawke, learned from somebody that there were Catholic priests residing in the Kickapoo settlement. At this news, the chief immediately went to a trader and asked him to write to the clergyman at the Kickapoo village, to get information for him on the matter he had at heart. The trader did so, and the letter was brought to the Kickapoo settlement towards the end of the year 1837. The Fathers at that time stationed at the Kickapoo mission were Revs. Felix Verreydt and Christian Hoecken, S.J. The latter, as soon as he understood the purport of the letter, prepared for the journey without delay, and set out for the mission, glad at heart; all the more so because they had been a long time laboring among the Kickapoos without fruit.

This occurred in the beginning of the year 1838, in the month of January. It was midwinter and the intense cold made it scarcely possible to travel. Yet though progress was slow, the Father was buoyed up with hopes of success, and held on his way cheerfully. It took eight days to reach the river called by the Indians Pottawatomie Creek. There he found the band of Indians, referred to above, miserably situated; some were living in tents, others in hovels constructed of logs and bark. Their destitution was visible in their food and clothing, as well as in their huts. The possessed nothing, and had no means of subsistence beyond the corn and meat supplied by the government, however, this did not lessen their veneration for the priest, whose arrival was greeted with a warm and cordial reception. But, mindful of the old adage, "Si Romane fueris, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi," he was obliged to suit himself to the surroundings, and when he got breakfast, well and good; and when he got none, he was satisfied. Some days he had his supper, other days he went without it. Yet so overjoyed and recreated in soul was he at the sight of those faithful Catholic Indians, that his exhilarated spirit did not feel the need for bodily refreshment.

First Mass Under Difficulties

A few days after the Father's arrival, the Holy Sacrifice was to be celebrated, and an altar and sanctuary prepared--an undertaking of no little difficulty under the circumstances, for the Father had brought with him but a few linen cloths, barely necessary as altar cloth, corporal, etc., and the Indians, scantily clothed themselves, had no linen to spare for decorations. At length after much deliberation and consideration, they succeeded in fitting out a place for saying Mass. In the middle of the semi-circle that was inclosed with strips of old calico, and open to the skies, a barrel was set up, with a log thrown across it for the altar--such a thing as a plank was not to be found--and old rags and trappings were hung for ornaments. But the greatest difficulty was to dispose and steady the altar, so that the chalice could stand on it safely. As there was only one candle stick, a bottle was use to hold the candle.

The work done, the chief and his family squatted down on an Indian mat directly in front of the altar. At this signal, the priest began to recited the divine office, in preparation for the sacrifice. He was vested and about to commence, when lo! the bottle candlestick toppled over and ignited the drapery behind the altar. At once the priest rushed forward to smother the flames, and succeeded in burning one hand badly; but the Indians soon saw his predicament and running up quickly extinguished the blaze. After this the priest proceeded with the Mass, and at its conclusion he discoursed them on the Ten Commandments of God.

The rest of the week the Father spent in visiting the sick, who were not a few; he baptized many infants and several adults, and also re-validated irregular marriages.

After staying about a fortnight, he took leave of the chief, promising to visit him again soon and retracted his steps to the Kickapoo village.


1838--In May, 1838, the Superior of the Missouri Jesuits, Rev. P. J. Verhaegen, paid a visit to the Kickapoo mission. While there he decided to make an excursion with Father Hoecken to see how the Pottawatomies were situated. They set out together, and after a journey of several days arrived at their destination. The delight of the Indians was great; and encouraged by the visit they pressed Father Verhaegen with entreaties to leave the other Father with them. To satisfy them, the Superior consented so far as to leave Father Hoecken there for some time, but not permanently. So Father Hoecken remained to console them. And to secure their good will, he made himself serviceable by healing their diseases. One of these cures is worthy of notice for its happy consequences. There was a boy afflicted for a long time, and reduced, I might say, to the point of death. His parents came in haste to the above mentioned Father, saying, that they were desirous to devote their son to Religion. The Father went to visit the boy; and in a few days restored him to health. On witnessing the cure, the parents offered to the Religion not only their son, but all their sons and daughters and themselves likewise. Accordingly all the family received the sacrament of Baptism. And to this day they have persevered faithfully in the practice of their religion.

The Father was thus occupied about three weeks, baptizing the infants on his rounds, and a good number of adults in danger of death. This done, he returned to the Kickapoo Mission.

Some weeks after his return, he received a letter from his Superior, Father Verhaegen, granting him permission to go and labor among the Pottawatomies, near the river Osage, or (as it was then called) the Pottawatomie Creek. Wherefore the Father got ready as soon as possible, and departed immediately for his destined mission at the aforesaid place.


In the meantime the Pottawatomie chief had built himself a new hut, which he at once offered to me. His offer I accepted, on condition that he would continue to occupy it with his family. In this hut was the Divine Sacrifice celebrated every Sunday, and often during the week; and on such occasions the chief used to assemble his people by blowing a good-sized trumpet, which sounded with a loud noise over the prairies. Though not very musical, the chief's horn was a good church bell.

This was the condition of things for nearly two months or so, during which intervals many infants and some adults were regenerated at the sacred font of Baptism, when another band called the Wabash and St. Joseph Pottawatomies arrived; it was November 4, 1838. They came here along with the Rev. B. Petit from Indiana. The Father had been among them about six months, and he remained with me two months, (propter infirmitatem) to recover his health and strength, and then departed from this place January 2, 1839.

By the advise of their pastor, these Indians immediately constructed a church 40 feet long and 22 feet wide; and by means of wood and bark and canvas they raised shanties for a temporary shelter, until they could select a fixed abode. For this purpose, we determined to explore the country, soon after the late addition to our members, and setting out we discovered the land which we now occupy at Sugar Creek. We chose this locality for several reasons; because it afforded sugar and abundance of timber, and especially as a place remote from American settlers and from other Indian tribes addicted to intoxication. We remained, however, on the old ground at Pottawatomie Creek until March, 1839. From November 4th to the end of the year 1838, we had 300 confessions and 200 communions.

1839--In March, during the season of Lent, all of our Indians moved off to the river called Sugar Creek. The first work done at the new settlement was to build a log church. It was the fourth Sunday of Lent, when I called the tribe together and told them all to come on Monday, to work at building a church. They were on hand promptly, and in three days the church was finished, so that I was able to celebrate Mass in it on the Thursday following. From that on, I had thirty communions every Sunday, and many more confessions, including the catechumens whom I heard every day. Up to the middle of July, 1839, I had baptized a hundred catechumens.

Towards the end of April, Rev. H. Aelen, S.J., arrived; but he worked among the Ottawas, Peorias, and Weas (probably the Iowas) and other tribes until July, when he returned and found Father Hoecken prostrated by sickness. On return of Father Aelen, Father Hoecken went to St. Louis to recruit his health and treat with the Indian Superintendent on important business.

Father Hoecken had received certain papers from Rev. B. Petit, promising, on the part of the government, to build a church and a priest's house on the new reservation in Kansas. As soon as he arrived at St. Louis, he went to see Mr. Pilcher, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and inquired about the grant signified and pledged in these documents. This gentleman was very kind in his manner, and assured him that he would attend to it. And not long after, he sent to Father Hoecken $2,000 for the church.

The Indians were sorely tried by sickness and disease after the departure of their father and physician; and, being without medicines, they died in great numbers in this and the succeeding year--1840.

Towards the end of the year 1840, several hundred more Indians arrived from Indiana. For their accommodation a new church was built, which was blessed on Christmas Day, 1840, by Father Aelen.

In July, 1841, a new cemetery was blessed.

For a period in 1841, about the months of May, June and July, Father Eysvogels was assisting Father Aelen on the mission.

Father Aelen baptized a good many Indians while he was directing the mission, receiving into the Church at different times, up to the month of September, 1841, in all 220 souls.

On July 8, 1841, Father P. J. Verhaegen brought to the mission four ladies of the Sacred Heart, to educate and christianize the Indian females. On July 15, a school was opened for girls by these good religious, viz., Mother Philippine Duchesne*, Mother Lucille Mathevon, Madam A. O'Connor, and Sister Louise Amyot. The school was attended with success from the beginning, Mother Duchesne did not remain long; for on account of her advanced age, (73) she was recalled to St. Charles, Mo., in 1842.

NOTE:--This apostolic religious is worthy of further notice. When Mother Gallitzin, the assistant general of the Sacred Heart Religious in America, visited the Sugar Creek Mission in March 1842, she saw that Mother Duchesne was too old and feeble for this life of hardship, and persuaded her to return to St. Charles, where she died at the age of 84, having spent thirty-four years in the hard and edifying service in the United States. Mother Duchesne was the pioneer of the ladies of the Sacred Heart in America. It was her ardent desire to save and civilize the poor Indians savages that brought to this hemisphere the blessing of that religious and successful body of educators, whose refinement and graces of heart and soul has since diffused themselves over the best families far and wide throughout the country. On May 29, 1818, Feast of the Sacred Heart, Mother Duchesne arrived in St. Louis, leading a band of five, and established the first Home of the Sacred Heart at Florissant, Mo. As Superior of the order she opened the first Convents and Academies of the Sacred Heart, beginning with St. Charles and St. Louis, Mo. When relieved of the Superiorship in 1840, her fervent spirit exulted in going to Sugar Creek as to the promised land; the greatest longing of her life was going to be fulfilled among her simple and docile savages on a real Indian mission. We may judge of her disappointment when the body, at the age of 73, was unable to keep pace with the brave devoted soul. But God took the desire for the deed, and in her place raised up many heroines molded after her example, though for so short a time the mission was edified by her solid virtue, and was, no doubt, helped by her prayers during her long preparation for death in a distant city.

Moreover, on August 29, 1841, there arrived at this mission, Revs. Felix Verreydt and Christian Hoecken with two lay brothers, Andrew Mazelia and George Miles.

After this the Indians took heart and showed signs of new life, having their physician restored with a supply of medicines and other necessaries that were wanting before. So they began to build houses and to labor in fields and to do other work with renewed energy. They likewise greatly increased in numbers, by additions from other places, and partly by natural increase.

On June 19, 1842, Rt. Rev. Dr. Kenrick, the Bishop of St. Louis, came to this place to administer the sacrament of Confirmation. Many of the Indians had been confirmed in Indiana, whence they emigrated. About three hundred received the sacrament on this occasion; 260 on the first day, and the rest on the 20th of June.

In the year 1842, 235 Indians were baptized. About this time Father Aelen left this mission. In his place come Fathers Eysvogels and Adrian Hoecken. Father Eysvogels went to Platte Purchase, remained there till December, 1842; Father Adrain Hoecken departed in May, 1843, for the Rocky Mountains Missions. In 1843 the Fathers P. Verheydt and Soderine spent a short time at the mission.


A school had been built for boys as early as 1839, but was not opened till 1840, and then only for a short time. Another school was erected towards the close of 1841, and in the beginning of the year 1842 it was well attended; and it continues so up the present day--January 31, 1844. In 1843, 145 Indians were baptized. (In 1843 the Catholic Indians of the mission were reckoned to amount to 1,200) .

Two other ladies of the Sacred Heart arrived in 1843 to assist in the schools, Mother C. Thiefry, as Superior and Madam Xavier.


In 1843, Rev. F. Verreydt organized some of the Indians into an anti-liquor brigade, under the leadership of Brother Francis Van der Borght. They were instructed to keep watch that no liquor was brought into the village; and if anyone was observed with liquor, they were to go out immediately, surround the place, search for the liquor, break the bottle and spill the liquor. This they constantly did, and the custom is kept up to the present day.

The Arch-Confraternity, in honor of the Pure Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the conversion of sinners was started in the month of May, 1843, by Father Verreydt; and many had themselves enrolled in this confraternity.

In November of this same year, another society, called the "Society of Jesus and Mary," was set on foot; but it was not well organized till January, 1844. Several hundred heads of families were inscribed in this society.

1844, April 1, Rev. Father Verreydt has set the Indians to work hewing and preparing lumber for the extensions of the church. April 2-4, the same Father preached a triduum, which was well attended. It was given in English and in Indian. April 12, fourteen Indians of both sexes made their first Communion.

April 15, Rev. Father Verreydt sent one of ours to the village of the Ottawas to instruct some catechumens. In March preceding, a catechist had gone on the same mission. April 23, Rev. Father Verreydt visited the Osages, at a place called Osage, to make arrangements for establishing a new missionary station.


On the advice of their priests, the Indians have organized themselves into working bands for the purpose of helping one another in manual labor. This is the plan of organization: In each band an overseer is appointed who arranges the work and gives directions to the rest--where, when and how they must work. The overseer also presides at the prayers, which were said in common.

May 12, Father Provincial, Rev. J. Van de Velde, arrived on his annual visitation, according to the custom of the Society of Jesus. He remained up to May 29. During his visitation Major Thomas Harvey, the Indian Superintendent, was also our guest for ten days, from May 18 to 28. He promised several favors to the Indians before going away.


June here, as everywhere around, it has been raining for forty days in succession, and great floods covered the country. The damage, however, was not great.

June 14, the Association of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was established.

July. Father Verreydt undertook a journey to Independence, Mo., to administer the sacraments to the Catholics there and in the adjacent district. July 31 being the feast day of our holy found, St. Ignatius Loyola, the Sacred Heart Ladies distributed rewards for good conduct to the girls attending school. Also during this month, preparations for building a new church were going on, in felling trees, splitting logs, making posts, etc.

August. The school statistics were cast up in form and sent to St. Louis, to comply with the government regulations requiring an annual statement from the school teachers on the Indians' reservations.


August 22. On the octave of the Assumption of the B. V. M., the Indians drew up a code of laws, which were unanimously agreed to and were put in writing to impress their observance. Moreover, they elected constables to see to it that these laws were well observed. August 25, a solemn procession took place in honor of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin. The attendance was large and their devotion was manifest. August 20, Father Verreydt made another excursion to Independence and also to Westport (now part of Kansas City) to visit the Children of the Faith.

September 13. The Indians, having received their annual allowance in money from the American government, have set apart a certain sum ($109.50) for medicines and the sick, to be given out by the hands of the Priest. September 16, Rev. Father Verreydt went with the Indian Superintendent to the town of the Osages to select a site for school buildings.

September 20, Mr. Charles Findlay contributed $20.00 for the poor. September 21, Mr. Joseph Sire, as a contribution to our church building, has promised to supply the nails and laths or shingles, enough for the whole church: i.e., 40,000 shingles and two or three barrels of nails. September 26, Rev. Father Verreydt has gone to St. Louis to consult with Rev. Father Provincial about the Osage Mission.

September 27, premiums were distributed in our school for boys, on the feast of SS. Cosmas and Damian, the anniversary of the first confirmation of the Society of Jesus.

October 20, a new Indian agent visited the mission in company with Mr. Joshua Carpenter, who was lately put out of office by the American government.

On account of great abuses growing out of the laws which the Indians framed for themselves some time ago, I was compelled, by my responsibility as their pastor, to have those laws abolished. October 31, Father Verreydt returned from St. Louis with Rev. Francis Xavier de Coen, who has been sent by Father Provincial to do work on these mission.


November 4, I started on the missionary excursion to Council Bluffs, Iowa. While there I baptized twenty-one infants of the Indians, etc. (i.e., besides the usual works of zeal, as opportunity offered) received from friends some donations for widows and orphans, which I divided among them after my return from Council Bluffs, in December. In the month of November Father Verreydt made a journey to Deep Water, to break the bread of life to the German settlers; and in December he again visited the American and French Catholics residing at Independence and Westport.

December 25. On Christmas day the feast of the Nativity of our Divine Lord Jesus Christ was solemnized with unusual splendor. The communicants at Mass were very numerous. We gave a dinner to the members enrolled in the "Society of Jesus and Mary," recently established.


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