The History of Our Cradle Land
by Thomas H. Kinsella

Transcribed by Sean Furniss

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"The names of the first Americans who cast in their lot with the country of their adoption made a roll of honor of Catholic heroes. There are the great discoverers, Columbus, the Cabots, Americus Vespuccius. There are the master explorers like De Soto, Balboa, Cortez, Champlain, Joliet, Cartier, LaSalle. There are the bold colonizers like Iberville, Bienville, Cadillac, Duluth, Vincennes, not to mention the English Lord Baltimore. There are the missionaries from Las Casas and the priests who sailed with Columbus and Cabot, to Father Juniper Serra, and his brother apostles of California. These missionaries were often scientists as well as saints. With the name of LeMoyne stand those of Roche d'Allon, Mare and other priests, Franciscans and Jesuits, as the geologists and botanists who identified our herbs, and found the salt springs of Onondaga, the oil-springs of Pennsylvania, the copper of Lake Superior, the lead of Illinois, our beds of coal and our mines of turquoise. Among the philologists of the Indian languages, stand out Fathers Rales, White, Sagard, Pareya, Bruya, Garnier, Garcia, Le Boulanger, Cuesta, Sitjar, who for almost two centuries before the Revolution were publishing dictionaries, grammars, catechisms and prayer books, in the tongues of the Abnaki, Mohawks, Senecca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Illinois, Wyandot, and the tribes of Florida, Maryland, Texas and California. Among the apostles and martyrs who have left us the earliest history of our land in the Jesuit Relations, are numbered Fathers Marquette, Hennepin, Isaac Jogues, Raymbault, Menard, Allouez, Breboeuf, Lallemand, Daniel, Biard, Rale, Masse, and many more, of whom Bancroft could say: "Thus did the religious zeal of the French bear the cross to the banks of the St. Mary (Sault Ste. Marie) and the confines of Lake Superior and look wistfully toward the homes of the Sioux in the valley of the Mississippi before the New England Eliot had addressed a tribe of Indians that dwelt within six miles of Boston Harbor." *

*From "The Catholic Religion" by Father C. A. Martin.

As early as 1541 the soil of Kansas was hallowed by the blood of Father Juan de Padilla, who died a victim of his zeal for the conversion of the Indians during Coronada's famous expedition. He was America's first Martyr.

In fact it is commonplace to state that the early missionaries of the Christian faith left enduring monuments in every country of the civilized world. Their heroism and self-sacrifice have been the theme of the chronicler, the historian, and the poet, as well as the source of much of the legendary lore of every people. This is no less true of the New World than of the Old. America has had its own great missionaries--men of heroic mould, whose labors and sacrifices wrought, as it were, a second Pentecost, and won to Christ and to civilization the savage races of this Continent. They laid the foundation of all the future glory of this new land by their explorations and discoveries; by their plans for colonization, for education, and for everything that contributed to change the country from a wilderness to a land of happy homes, of beautiful cities, and cultivated plains. They were, in truth, the pioneers of civilization in America.

With a single mind, with a purpose that could not be diverted, the bands of Spanish missionaries gave themselves over to the noble work of teaching and Christianizing. Century after century this work went on until finally the people of South America and of Mexico took their place at the Council Tables of the other great nations of the world.

While this work was underway in the Southern Hemisphere and in Mexico, the French missionaries blazed their way through the snowclad forests of Canada, through those vast regions known today as New England, through the country surrounding the Great Lakes, and, finally, along the mighty rivers that led to the Gulf of Mexico.

All this, however, may be regarded as our ancient history. It extends over a period of nearly three hundred years from the days of Columbus to the realization of American Independence. The modern history of the Church in the United States begins about 1776. Much of the great expanse of territory now known as the United States was then an unexplored wilderness. Here and there along the Atlantic seaboard the English colonial settlements had grown in power and wealth since 1620. The war for independence found these colonies isolated from the entire world. At their back was the trackless, limitless forest, peopled with savage life; in front was the great ocean bristling with the war-ships of a vindictive and powerful Mother Country; on the South was the Spaniard, on the North the Frenchman--both hostile or, at least, indifferent.

In this dark hour the colonial cause found its only support at the hands of Catholic France, Catholic Spain, Catholic Ireland and Catholic Poland. This is all a matter of historic record and need not be dwelt on here, but the fact will throw much light on the position which the Church assumed in the affairs of the New Nation, and the esteem of the more enlightened amongst its people. In the formation of the Executive Division of our Government the Benedictine Rule for the government of monasteries was closely followed; in the Legal Division, the spirit of Magna Charta and the common law of Catholic times in England were retained; finally, freedom of worship as practiced in Catholic Maryland was incorporated into the Constitution of the New Government and afterwards was embodied in the Constitution of each state admitted to the Union.

The foundations for peace and prosperity were thus laid and the Church began her career in the New Commonwealth under most favorable auspices.

The Most Reverend John Carroll was appointed first bishop of the United States and was consecrated in England on August 15th, 1790. Baltimore, Maryland, became the first See. New York became an Episcopal See in 1808, and Boston and Bardstown at the same time. Upper and Lower Louisiana came next on the list. Rt. Reverend Louis William Dubourg, D.D., was consecrated in Rome on September 24th, 1815, and thus became the bishop of Upper and Lower Louisiana. The most of the territory now known as Kansas fell within the limits of this vast diocese. Providentially, Bishop Dubourg was led to St. Louis in 1818, and there established his residence.

Bishop Dubourg came to America in 1817. Bishop Flaget of Bardstown, Kentucky, and Francis Niel, a student in theology, made the celebrated journey with him down the Ohio and up the Mississippi, land at St. Louis January 5th, 1818. January 6th he took possession of his See, which he held until August 13, 1826.

The vastness of the field entrusted to his care was thus impressed upon his mind. No tongue or pen could have revealed this to him. No European mind could have grasped the vastness of the newly acquired territory known as Louisiana. It began at the Gulf of Mexico but where it ended no one seemed to know.

In coming to St. Louis, Bishop Dubourg saw the need of a supreme effort to meet the situation. He was poor and helpless--almost friendless when he came to S. Louis. He conceived the idea of returning to Europe to beg for help--for men and means to aid him in his vast missionary labors amongst the white settlers as well as amongst the uncounted thousands of aboriginies. He searched Italy, France, and Belgium to find men who might be willing to devote their lives to the conversion of the Indians. His visit to Europe was only partly successful. In the ultimate results, however, that visit produced marvelous fruit. We can now see very clearly the finger of God in it all. Bishop Dubourg was an instrument in the hand of Divine Providence to "make straight the way of the Lord." He was as one crying in the wilderness with unfeigned confidence that, "every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; that the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain, and all flesh shall see the salvation of Israel."

A few truly great men and noble women harkened to the call of the Apostolic bishop, but what were these among so many? Unknown to Bishop Dubourg, however, God was directing the course of events so that his most sanguine hopes were fulfilled in an unexpected manner. The Revolutions in Europe had sent to our shores a band of young Belgian Jesuits who found shelter with their brethren in Maryland. They were waiting to be called into the vineyard, anxious to go forth like St. Francis Xavier to spend and to be spent for the glory of their Divine Master. This band of young Jesuits--exiles and refugees as they were--are destined to figure largely in the following pages as they figure in all subsequent literature of historic value throughout the Western States of North America.

The first Catholic priest, however, to enter the mission field in what is now known as the State of Kansas was Reverend Charles de la Croix in 1822. He was not a member of the Jesuit Order, but a worthy precursor, a brave and zealous priest who, all alone, penetrated as far as the Neosho River and converted many of the warlike tribe known as the Great Osages. Father de la Croix in after years returned to Belgium and ended his days as a Canon Regular in the city of Ghent.

The path thus made was afterwards followed in 1827 by the renowned Jesuit, Father Charles Felix Van Quickenborne. He labored amongst the Osages, the Miamis and the Kickapoos. He was the first if not the greatest of the Jesuit missionaries.

No less glorious is the name of Father Christian Hoecken, S.J., the providential link between the dead past of paganism and the living present. God called him to be the Apostle of the Pottawatomies and his labors bore fruit and that fruit remains, as the sequel will show.

The co-laborers and successors of Father Hoecken were the Jesuit Fathers, Felix L. Verreydt, Anthony Eysvogels, Herman Gerard Aelen, Francis Xavier De Coen, Henry Van Mierlo, Charles Truyens, Oliver Van de Velde, John Schoenmakers, John J. Bax and Paul Mary Ponziglione. All these splendid men labored at one time or other in this part of Kansas and within the confines of what is now known as the parish of the Holy Trinity at Paola.

In 1851 the Jesuit priest, John Baptist Miege, was consecrated at St. Louis bishop of a wild and almost unlimited territory beyond Missouri. He found shelter at Father Hoecken's Mission at St. Mary's and his first Cathedral was a log chapel built by the Pottawatomie Indians. From that humble hut came the Church of Kansas.

The following pages make but a single chapter in a beautiful tale as yet untold. Let us, therefore, "gather up the fragments lest they be lost."

What may seem to slight importance now will grow with the years into items of historic value, or may enter as an element of truth into the legends that are inseparable from the twilight days of every people's history.

The records of the Indian Missions are preserved in those marvelous Jesuit Relations that are gradually coming to light in our day, but with the formation of the new Territories and States came the white man with his methods of government--ecclesiastical and civil, which evolved a new era and a new form of history. The family, the parish, and the diocese keep their own records, often meager and seemingly unimportant but as generations pass, these records assume an importance fare beyond the dreams of the humble chronicler.

It is here that the "History of Our Cradle Land" may seem prosaic or overburdened with details, but the reader will be patient; coming generations will value every scrap of history here set down and will thank us for the efforts made to preserve the story of the pioneers, of their priests and bishops who lived and labored with them and for them, and who "died unwept, unhonored and unsung," during the turmoil of the formative period on these vast plains.

The grateful remembrance of posterity is due the men who "trod the winepress alone," and toiled in sunshine and storm to carry the message of hope and to break the bread of life to a famished people. Good shepherds truly they were, and they gave their lives for the sheep; but wherever they ceased to guard, guide and cherish the flock the Faith died out and the spirit of indifference prepared the way for every evil. Worldliness, social climbing, mixed marriages, secret societies, extravagance in dress and amusement, saying nothing of graver crimes soon accomplish what ages of persecution failed to attain. The landmarks of Faith are soon frittered away and men come to despise even their own race and nationality.

What took place in many parts of the South in other days is now transpiring in sparsely settled districts of the West, and all because of a lack of priests, schools, and churches, or in one word, because of a lack of that Catholic atmosphere which is necessary to the well-being of the home from which the future generations issue fort the weal or woe of the Kingdom of God on Earth.




Establishment of the Catholic Missions in the Indian Territory--Direct
Fruit of Bishop Dubourg's Exertions and Immediately Connected
With the Jesuit Fathers at Florissant.

From The Catholic Cabinet, St. Louis, Mo., November, 1843

The government of the United States having deemed it good policy to concentrate the aborigines of the country, commonly called Indians, assigned for this purpose a territory, beyond which, within a distance of 1500 miles, no suitable habitation for white man can be made. This Indian territory is bounded by the States of Missouri and Arkansas towards the east, by the so-called American desert on the west; by Texas on the south and by the Missouri and Platte rivers to the north. It has been assigned as the permanent abode of the various Indian tribes scattered throughout the Union. (This was in 1830.)

The Pawnees, Omahaws, Kanzas, Osages, and Missourians roamed at large over the lands of this territory, before this plan was adopted by our Government, which as a necessary consequence of the new appropriation, was obliged to confine them within certain limits; and to persuade them to cede part of their lands to their red brethren east of the Mississippi. In consequence of this arrangement the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Chreokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Senecas, Pottawatomies, Ottaways, Chippeways, Otoes, Miamis, Shawanees, Delawares, Kickapoox, Loways and Foxes, emigrated--some by force, others by persuasion, but all most unwillingly from the various States of the Union to the respective portions of the territory assigned to them by the U.S. Government. The original inhabitants of this territory are called the indigenous tribes, and are savage and wretched to the extreme; the emigrant tribes are more or less civilized, according to the different relations they have ad with the settlers of the States.

The whole number of the Indians of this territory amounts to about 80,000 souls. With regard to their numbers, it may be observed that they appear gradually to decrease, owing to their inordinate mode of living, their vicious habits, the unsuitableness of the soil, the change of air by emigration, etc. So that they may be said, in the language of the Prophet Osec. (c. 13.3), "to disappear as early dew that passeth away--as the dust that is driven with a whirlwind out of the floor--and as the smoke out of the chimney." Of their character, it may be said in general, that "they are the sinful nation," described by Isaias (1:4), "a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children." It is true that the emigrant tribes have some civilization; but, generally speaking, with all the vices of the white men, they have brought few or none of their virtues over to the Indian wilds.

The state of our Holy Religion is truly deplorable among these unhappy people. Almost all the tribes are in favor of Catholic Missioners, and feel a kind of natural aversion to Protestant preachers. And yet, in the absence of the former the latter are almost everywhere to be found, and the whole territory has about 30 Protestant Missionary establishments. But every plantation not made by the hand of the Father shall be rooted out. Vain are the efforts of these unsent apostles to make proselytes among the Indians.

They may, indeed, scatter hundreds of Bibles among the savages; but these are neither prized nor understood. The principle that faith is to be conceived by the Bible--and by the Bible alone--proves quite incomprehensible to the illiterate and savage mind; and the consequence is that all the Protestant congregations of the Indian territory do not amount to 500 souls.

While a few of the Indians, whose devotion is bought and paid for, like any other marketable commodity, are nominal adherents to Protestantism; while thousands daily worship their Manitos, and indulge in all the excesses of unbridled licentiousness; the voice of the Catholic Church is almost unheard, except on the banks of Sugar Creek, a tributary stream of the north fork of the Osage river. We would, however, willingly indulge the hope that within a few years a line of Catholic Missions may be established from the Missouri River down to Texas--a plan by no means difficult of execution, and one which would be of incalculable advantage to religion. The field is large and the harvest promising, but the laborers are by far too few.

YEARS FROM 1822 TO 1826.

The order chosen by Bishop Dubourg for the evangelization of the Indian tribes of the West was the Society of Jesus. The Government of the United States was glad to receive the co-operation of the Catholic Church these barbarians, who were liable to cause endless trouble; and the Church gladly accepted the proffered aid of the Government.

John M. Odin, then only in deacon's order, wrote to the Director of the seminary at Lyon, March 30, 1822:

"Bishop Dubourg, en route for Baltimore, stopped at Washington, to confer with the President of the United States, concerning the mission to the savages which he is planning to establish. The question was carried to the Senate, and although nearly all the members were Protestants, they resolved to grant a sum of money for the furtherance of this project. They promised, moreover, to pay a small pension to the missionaries, and to furnish them with the necessary agricultural implements. the savages themselves show the most favorable dispositions."

On October 21, 1822, Father Odin wrote from the Barrens in regard to earlier efforts made for the conversion of the Indians:

"We have the consolation of seeing a mission opened, or at least, begun, among the savages. Father LaCroix, chaplain to the Ladies of the Sacred Heart of Florissant, near St. Louis, has made two journeys to the Great Osages. He was cordially received, and conceived great hopes of seeing the faith prosper among this tribe. Forty persons, children and old people, received the waters of baptism.

"The second visit was short. He preached, however, before the entire tribe and the chiefs, answering, said that they were happy to hear the word of the Great Spirit. He pushed on further, also, along the banks of the stream, a hundred leagues beyond the nation of the Osages, among a great number of other savages. The fever, from which he suffered almost constantly, during this second mission, prevented him from prolonging his sojourn, and obliged him also to abandon his intention of building a church in this part of the country. The poor savages exist in great numbers. There are thirty or forty thousand very large tribes between the Arkansas river and the Columbia river and the Pacific Ocean.

"Their affection for the black-robes is touching, especially for the French priests. Some time ago, a great number of savages were in St. Louis. One of them was taken on some errand to a house where the Bishop happened to be. The moment he perceived the Bishop, he ran to him, seized his hand and kissed it with every demonstration of friendship, Having departed without remembering to go through the same ceremony, he recalled his mistake, only when already at some distance from the house. he turned back immediately, running all the way, and uttering loud cries, kissed the Bishop's hand and departed once more."

Bishop Dubourg himself writes on this subject to his brother in Bordeaux March 17, 1823:

"Providence deigns to grant a success to this negotiation, far in excess of my hopes. The government bestows upon me two hundred dollars a year for each missionary and that for four or five men, and it promises to increase the number gradually, and I am sure that it will do so. For an enterprise such as this, it was essential that I should have men especially called to this work, and I had almost renounced the hope of ever obtaining such, when God, in His infinite goodness, has brought about one of these incidents which He alone can foresee and direct the results. The Jesuits of whom I speak had their institution in Maryland, and finding themselves excessively embarrassed for lack of accommodation, were on the point of disbanding their novitiate, when I obtained this pecuniary encouragement from the government. They have seized this opportunity and have offered to transport the whole novitiate, master and novices, into Upper Louisiana and form there a preparatory school for Indian missionaries. If I had had any choice, I could not have desired anything better. Seven young men, all Flemings, full of talent and of spirit of Saint Francis Xavier, advanced in their studies, about twenty-two to twenty-seven years of age, with their two excellent masters and some brothers; this is what Providence at last grants to my prayers.

"Near the spot where the Missouri empties into the Mississippi, outside the village of Florissant, already so happy as to possess the principal institution of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, I have a good yielding farm, excellent soil, which if well cultivated (which it is not at present), could easily provide sustenance for twenty persons, at least, as far as the important question of nourishment is concerned. True, there is only a small house on the place, but in this country a big cabin of rough wood, such as will be suitable for the apostles of the savages, is quickly built. It is there that I will locate this novitiate, which will be, for all time, a seminary especially intended to form missionaries for the Indians, and for the civilized and ever growing population of Missouri. As soon as the actual subjects are ready, we will commence the mission, in good earnest. In the meantime, I propose to receive in the seminary a half-dozen Indian children from the different tribes, in order to familiarize my young missionaries with their habits and language, and to prepare the Indians to serve as guides, interpreters and aides to the missionaries when they are sent to the scattered tribes."

NOTE--"For forty-one years, from 1773, the Jesuits were suppressed and disbanded. On August 7, 1811, they were officially restored by Pope Pius VII. After their restoration, the Maryland Jesuits were the first to organize in the United States. In 1823, Bishop Dubourg of New Orleans, whose jurisdiction embraced Upper and Lower Louisiana, applied to Very Rev. Father Charles Neale, S.J., Provincial of the Jesuits in Maryland, to supply him with Jesuit missionaries for educating and civilizing the Indians in the territories west of the Mississippi. Accordingly, on April 11, 1823, under the guidance of Rev. Charles Van Quickenborne, S.J., superior, and of Rev. Peter J. Timmermans, S.J., assistant superior, six Jesuit scholastics, and some Jesuit lay brothers, set out from Maryland, and arrived at St. Louis on May 31, 1823. The Jesuit scholastics were: F. L. Verreydt, F. G. Van Assehe, P. J. Verhaegen, P. J. De Smet, J. A. Elet, and J. R. Smedts. In June, 1823, the two Jesuit Fathers, with their six novices and the lay brothers, took possession of a farm near Florissant, Mo., donated to them by Mr. O'Neil of Florissant, and there established their Novitiate. Of those six novices, two--P. J. Verhaegen, and J. R. Smedts were ordained priests in 1825. The other four were ordained priests in 1827. Father Van Quickenborne made occasional visits during the years 1828, 1829 and 1830 to the Osage Indians in Southern Kansas; but the Osage Mission in Kansas was not permanently established until 1847. Father Van Quickenborne also established the Kickapoo Indian Mission near Fort Leavenworth in 1837. That same year (1837) Father Van Quickenborne died (August 17) at Portage des Sioux, Mo. In 1838, Father De Smet, with the assistance of Father Verreydt, established a mission among the Pottawatomie Indians at Council Bluffs."

(From the notes of Rt. Rev. John Joseph Hogan, in Catholic History Review, Vol. III, P. 326 (1917) by Very Rev. Wm. Kellenhof, V. G.)


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