W. W. (William Whites) Graves.

Life and letters of Fathers Ponziglione, Schoenmakers, and other early Jesuits at Osage mission. Sketch of St. Francis' church. Life of Mother Bridget online

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Online LibraryW. W. (William Whites) GravesLife and letters of Fathers Ponziglione, Schoenmakers, and other early Jesuits at Osage mission. Sketch of St. Francis' church. Life of Mother Bridget → online text (page 17 of 20)
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remain until morning. An Indian had the kind-
ness to lend me his blanket. I wrapped my-
self in it, and endeavored to take a few hours'
rest. But it was vain. I never passed such a,
miserable night. The women and the children
recommenced their frightful clamor; the dogs
of the wigwam passed back and forward over
me with such steady regularity, that it would
have been quite impossible for me to count the
number of visits. About daylight, the patient
began to give some signs of life ; but she could
not yet speak. As soon as she recovered her
senses entirely, I made her a short exhortation.
She appeared attentive, and gave signs of real
joy. I .baptised her, and departed. Two hours
after my leaving she was perfectly recovered.
She arose, took her infant, and nursed it.

Not long after, I returned to the same village,
and found myself immediately surrounded by
men, women and children, shouting, unanimous-
ly, Komkai — we are very glad to see you. This
word is used for giving a cordial reception. Af-
ter recounting to me the fact, and the cure of
the sick woman, they brought me twenty-five
children to baptize. "Father," they said to me,
"we believe thy words. We know that baptism
comes from the Great Spirit. We are poor, ig-
norant people ; we cannot read the book that
contains the word of the Great Spirit ; but thou
wilt explain it to us, and we will beheve thee."
I have had very evident proofs of the sincerity
of their good intentions, and of their firm resoltv
tion not to offend God, after having received

About a month ago, I stopped at an Indian

fathb;r bax. 239

wigwam. Its inmates had not been able to go
on the chase, on account of the illness of their
.little daughter. Her mother told me that they
were suffering from hunger, and that they had
not eaten meat for a long time. She added thati
she had seen a stray ox in the forest, belonging
to a white man, and, that she would have
killed it had she not recalled the promise that she
had made at her baptism — rather to die of hun-
ger, to offending the. Great Spirit; and, that if
she had killed the ox, the Great Spirit would no
longer have had compassion on her in her misery.
This little recital pleased and edified me. I could
not refrain from reflecting, that the condition of
the world would be widely different, did all
Christians remember as faithfully and practically
their baptismal vows as did this poor Indian wo-

So far, we have baptized more than five hun-
dred persons. One hundred adults and children
have had the happiness of receiving the sacra-
ment of regeneration before dying. When the
Indians are well taught, we have not much to
fear in regard to their exemplary conduct. The
greatest obstacle for us is in the difficulty that
we experience in acquiring their tongue. It con-
tains very few words, and those quite inconven-
ient for expressing abstract ideas. These peo-
ple have some confused ideas of a Supreme
Being, of the immortality of the soul, of the bliss
or of the chastisements of the future life; but
these ideas are mingled with material and super-
stitious notions. The following is an example:
They believe that those whom the Great Spirit
admits into His happy abode will there receive
an abundance of buffaloes, moose, deer and com ;
that when a person dies his soul continues to
inhabit the place in which it quitted the body;


that souls sometimes return from the other
world, to take and conduct there other souls.
For this reason they fear to travel in the dark,
especially when any one is very ill; they think
that then there certainly is some spirit fluttering
about in the air. Some of their Vig-kontah (jug-
glers) pretend, on many occasions, to have the
power of chasing this spirit, and of saving the
life of the person who is dangerously sick. When
there is danger of death, the most superstitious
have frequent recourse to these "medicine men ;"
a horse, a mule, or even several, must reward
these services. I know one of these imposters
who by this trade had gained, in one spring only,
thirty-two horses. Their efforts tend principally
to persuading the poor Indian not to call upon
us in their maladies. They declare, with the
greatest assurance that they will annul the
efficaciousness of our power.

Last spring I went to pay a visit to the Little
Osages. The day of my arrival, I baptized three
persons who were dangerously sick; they died
the next day. Some days after, a malignant fev-
er broke out, and proved fatal to many. The
jugglers attributed the cause of the scourge to
tny presence, declaring that I had annihilated
their power over the spirits. It is afflicting, but
also somewhat laughable, to see these jugglers
endeavoring to drive away the spirits. They
make themselves as hideous as possible, equip
themselves with all their instruments and weap-
ons, discharge their guns, brandish their clubs
and tomahawks, beat the drum, and have re-
course, in fine, to whatever can produce a noise!
in a word, they employ all imaginable tricks to
deceive those poor Indians. But their power,
which was formerly very great, is beginning to
decline. The esteem which the savages had for


them is daily diminishing. The Indians are at-
tached to us, principally, say they, because we
liave no wives and children. "If you had," they
say, "you would do like the missionaries (the
Presb)rterians) who preceded you, you would
think too much of your families, and you would
neglect the red-man and his children."

I often go and visit them in their villages, and
I am always received with the greatest civility.
A crier precedes me, to announce my approach.
When they are all collected in a large wigwam,
or beneath the wide-spread branches of some
stately tree, I begin my instruction. They listen
most attentively. When I have done speaking,
the chief rises, and addresses his tribe some
words of paternal advice, and repeats what the
missionary has said, or makes comments on it.
One Sunday a chief named Pai-nonpashe, of the
Great Hill \'illage, on the Verdigris River, came
to see his two children, who were boarding with
us. A short instruction, which I sjave after Mass,
produced such an impression on his mind, that,
when returning home, he said to a half-breed
who accompanied him: "I begin now to discov-
er what we must do to be agreeable to the Great
Spirit, and to become happy in this life and in
the other."

The excellent health enjoyed by our children
at the Mission school, greatlv astonishes the par-
ents. Indeed, thus far sickness has been un-
known among them ; not one of them has died
since we have been here. This contributes much
to' augment the confidence which the Indians
feel towards us, and dissipctes all their fears
during the season of great hunts, in which they
are obliged to remove from us for several,

When the frightful ravages caused by the


cholerk along the river Kansas, at Westport,
arid in other places, were known here, the Osag-
es, panic-struck, immediately resolved to go and
seek their safety on the plains. Some desired
to conduct their children with them ; but the ma-
jority opposed it, in the firm persuasion that they
would be in security under the care of the Black-
gowns, and protected by the Son of God and his
Holy Mother. They therefore retired to the
plains, and left their children with us. They had
been but a short time in their new abode, when
the cholera declared itself in the most terrible
manner, and carried off a great number. Perceiv-
ing their error in having fled from the Mission,
they hastened to return, and encamp, as they
said, quite near the kind Fathers. They conse-
quently hastened with such precipitation that
they made no provision, and traveled day and
night. In proportion as they reached their own
lands, the scourge diminished. The last case of
death occurred at fifteen miles from the M'jssion.

The greatest diflficulties we encounter arise
from the half-bloods, almost all of French origin.
They have nothing of the Catholic but baptism,
and an inviolable attachment to their creed, of
which, for want of instruction, they know almost
nothing, and thev practice still less. They have,
again and again, proved to the Protestant min-
isters that their efforts to make them change
their religion were absolutely useless.

Another obstacle for us is the mode of life
that the Indians are obliged to lead, in order to
procure the provisions that are necessary for
their subsistence. They commonly pass six
months of the year in the chase, which forces
them to remove from us, and exposes the mor-
ality of those who would wish to live as ex-
emplary Christians, to great temptations and


dangers. I hope that thiis slate of affairs will
chjtnge; for many are already convinced that
they cannot long rely on the game, and that they
should have already commenced cultivating their
grounds, had they but the means necessary.

A deputation of the nation, composed of the
principal chief, of five warriors, arid an interpre-
ter, went to pay a visit to their "Great leather."
President Taylor received them with great kind-
ness, and encouraged them to commence culti-
vating their lands. I cannot express to you the
gratitude that I experienced when I think of thq
truly paternal care lavished on my dear savages-
by their Great Father, and by all the officers
employed by the Indian department. The sav-
ages have been greatly flattered - by it. I am
fully convinced that great good will result from

This, Rev. Father, is but an imperfect sketch
of the state of our Mission, in which we hope to
gather many fruits of salvation, if it pleases God
that we remain in it. Pecuniary difficulties have
placed, and still place us in very critical posi-
tions ; but. Rev. Father, the assistance that we
sometimes receive from the Propagation of the
Faith, from some generous hearts and friends of
the Indians, relieves us. We hope in divine
Providence for all and in all. "God is faithful."
Commend us to the prayers of your pious con-
gregation, and your kind community in St. Louis.
Reverend and most dear Father,

Your devoted brother in Jesus Christ,

J. J. Bax, S. J.


Mission Among The Osages.

St. Francis Hieronymo, April t8, 1852.

Reverend and Dear Father: — I desired to


write to you much sooner, but we have been for
some time, and are yet, in a terrible crisis. I
have never witnessed aught like it; yet God's
gracious will de done.

About three weeks before the grand solemnity
of Easter, forty-five children of our boarding
school fell sick, in an interval of three days and
a half. At first, we could not discern the nature
of the malady. It commenced by a heavy cold,
attended with a burning fever. After four or
five days, the measles broke out. At first jthe
alarm was not very great, but the measles disap-
peared and was replaced by a putrid fever. On
Passion Sunday, the saddest of my life, we had
two corpses laid out, and about twelve of our
-children in danger of death. Eleven of our
scholars fell victims in a short time, and two will
perhaps speedily follow them. We are obliged
to interrupt the school for some time, until this
terrible visitation be passed. The contagion is
spreading among the Indians, and the mortality
is very great. It will be difficult to collect again
the scattered flock. However, I may say, thafl
never hitherto, either among people of color or
whites, either among persons of the world or
religious, have I been witness to so much piety
and fervor on the bed of death, as were exhibited
by our young neophytes. They may serve as
models. Some, prompted by their own piety,
asked to hold the crucifix in their hands, and
pressed it fervently to them, without being willing
to yield it. during more than two hours. They
wished the statue of the Blessed Virgin to be
placed near the pillows of their beds. They im-
plored the assistance of their holy Mother, and
fixed their dying eyes on her image. I firmly
hope and believe that they already enjoy the
presence of God.


The lyord seems to be willing to gather into his
garner the little that we have sowed here below.
What may be the designs of Providence for the
future, we cannot and dare not conjecture. We
have lost several of our best scholars, and of
those on whom we had founded our greatest ex-

Reverend and dear Father. Your very devot-
ed servant and brother in Jesus Christ,

J. J. Bax, S. J.


The following letter was written by Rev. Fr.
P. J. DeSmet S. J. under date of April i6, 1855,
from St. Joseph's College, Ky. to Father De La
Croix :

You will undoubtedly be gratified to have some
news of the mission of St. Francis Hieronymo
among the Osages, to whom you were the first
to announce the consolations of the everlasting
Gospel. The seed of salvation which you plant-
ed, and which was afterwards neglected, has not
been sterile. You are acquainted with the dif-
ficulties of the Osage mission. Being in the
neighborhood of the boundary line of the United
States, these Indians learn to adopt, very easily,
all the vices of the whites, without joining to
them any of their virtues. They forget the
frugality and simplicity which formerly char-
acterized them, and give themselves up to in-
temperance and the perfidiousness of civilized
life. However, every year a considerable num-
ber of adiilts enter the bosom of the Church; a
great number of children receive baptism, and
as they often die very young, they are so many
innocent souls who intercede in heaven for the


conversion of .their parents, buried in the gros-
sest superstition and idolatry of paganism.

In the spring 1852 an epidemic malady, which
maide great ravages, became for a large number
(although weakening the power of their nation)
a blessed occasion of salvation. The violence of
this disease, against which the Indian cannot be
easily induced to take necessary precautions, the
sufferings of the whole tribe, the universal panic,
the grief — all these miseries presenting them-
selves under different forms — wrung the hearts
of the missonaries. Naught but the reflection
that Providence had sent this terrible scourge for
their spiritual good, was capable of consoling

During this unhappy year, and when the ex-
treme violence of the epidemic had ceased, we
were called to deplore the loss of Father Bax,
who fell a victim of truly heroic charity, exercis-
ed toward the poor savages, in order to soothe
their s'ufferings, and win their souls to God.
Father Rax was born on the iSth of January,
1817, in a village near Turnhout, in Belgium.
The disease, which commenced among the chil-
dren of themi ssion, spread rapidly throughout all
tlie villages of the tribe. Father Bax, by his
knowledge of medicine, and the cures which he
effected, was renowned throughout the nation.
The savages came in troops from every side to
call him into their camps. It would be difficult
to form an idea of all the fatigues he was obliged
to endure. From early morning, after having
given some assistance to the children of the mis-
sion school, he would go into the environs, from
cabin to cabin, bearing gladness and comfort in
his passage. He afterwards would turn his steps
to the other camps of the nation, to offer them
the same blessings. To do the last, it became


necessary to employ several days, and endure
very heavy fatigue in visiting them. The zealous
religious administered the last sacraments to the
dying, baptized the expiring infants, taught the
catechumens, exhorted, and often succeeded in
converting, the most obstinate. He performed
at once the office of physician, catechist, and
priest. He returned to the house of the mission-
aries, exhausted with fatigue, only to renew on
the morrow the same deeds of charity, braving
the inclemency of the seasons — ^the frequent rains
of spring, the sudden and overpowering heat of
summer, with the sudden cold which succeeds the
heat in these sections, at this epoch of the year.

All this devotedness was not capable of hinder-
ing the malice of some enemies — let us rather
say, the rage of hell, irritated at the view of so
many souls rescued from its grasp. The devil
invented against the excellent missionary, and
against the whole mission, a calumny, — extreme-
ly ridiculous, without doubt, in the eyes of the
civilized, but entirely in accordance with Indian
prejudices, superstition, and credulity. A report
was spread throughout the camps, the whites
were the authors of the scourge, the Black-
gowns (the priests) had a magical charm, vul-
garly called medicine, which killed all the
Indians; that this charm was a certain book, in
which they inscribed the names of the Osages,
and thereby obtained a power of life or death
over all those whose names the book contained.
The register of baptisms was meant. They hold
the superstitious belief that whosoever possesses
a book, has an absolute empire over the life of
those whose names are written in it. The cal-
umny spread from village to village, in all the
cabins ; as it was propagated, its details assumed
a darker hue. The malevolent went about exhort-


ing their companions to atta'ck the mission, say-
ing that they would • arrest the course of the
malady, if they could attain the destruction of
the terrible magical charm, by burning the en-
chanted book possessed by the missionaries.
This absurd tale was sufficient to engage several
parents to withdraw their children from the mis-
sion school.

Fortunately, the Black-gowns had influential
friends among the chiefs of the Osages. They
went no farther — on reasoning with the most in-
telligent Indians, they succeeded in appeasing
their rage and ill-will. The Lord, who permits
the rising of the tempest, can calm it at his own
good time!

Heaven accorded its benedictions to the ef-
forts of Father Bax and his companions in his
painful ministry. Of nearly 1500 savages, who
were swept away by the epidemic, all, with a
very few exceptions, had the happiness of being
fortified by the last sacraments of the Church
before dying. Seized, at last, himself with
symptoms of the illness, Father Bax continued
his ordinary labors, and dragged himself around
to visit the sick and dying. His zeal would not
suffer him to attend to himself. Strength soon
failed him. He was dying while still laboring!
He was obliged, at last, to consent to allow him-
self to be transported about forty miles from the
mission, to Fort Scott, a military post, where
one of the most skilful physicians of the United
States army then resided. It was too late ; all the
cares of the doctor, proved useless. The good
religious^ the indefatigable missionary, was a
fruit ripe for heaven. At the end of six weeks
he died as he had lived. His last aspirations
showed still his unfading zeal for the conversion
of his dear savages.


During the five years that he passed in the
missions, he brought back to the faith a great
number of half-bloods, formerly baptized in the
Church, but for want of priests and instructions,
unfortunately perverted by Protestant ministers :
besides, he baptized more than 2000 Indians, as
well children as adults, of every age. He in-
structed his neophytes with the greatest care, and
the most pains-taking assiduity. His charity had
so gained the hearts, that all these savages called
him only by the beautiful word, which in the
Osage language signifies, "the Father who is all

His death excited profound regret. His fel-
low-religious cherished him, and had always been
edified by his example and his virtues; the
whites whom he visited on the frontiers of the
States, whom he fortified and encouraged in the
abandonment in which he found them, loved him
as a protector ; but his loss was especially felt by
the tribe which he evangelized with so much
constancy, ardor, and success.

Some days before his death. Father Bax wrote
me as follows :

"The contagion is spreading among the
Indians, and the mortality is very great. The
difficulty will be, to collect the scattered flock;
however, I have the consolation of being able to
say, that never yet, either among the negroes, or
among whites, or among religious, or among
persons of the world, have I ever been witness
to as much fervor and piety on the bed of death.
Edifying is the death of which our young
neophytes have given the example. Some, of
their own free will, asked to hold the crucifix in
their hands; they clasped it without leaving it
for more than two hours. The statue of the
Blessed Virgin was to be placed by their pillows.


Imploring the assistance of their good Mother,
they fixed their dying eyes on her image. I have
the strong hope that they already enjoy the
presence of God. The Lord seems to wish to
gather into his granary the little that we have
sowed here below. What may be the designs of
his Providence for the future of our mission,
we cannot, and we dare not conjecture. May
His holy will be accomplished!"

This is the last letter I had the happiness of
receiving from Father Bax.

The Osage nation, like the greater part of the
other tribes of the Great Western Desert, which
were formerly so numerous and flourishing, is
rapidly dimishing in numbers. It is now reduced
to 3000 souls, and divided into twelve villages,
situated in different directions around the centre
of the mission. Ordinarily, the Osages dwell or
encamp in the valleys on the rivers, or near some
spring of pure and overflowing water. They live,
for the most part, as in the primitive times, on
the roots and spontaneous fruits of the earth,
and the animals which they kill in the chase.

There are but two Fathers to visit these dif-
ferent villages, situated at the distance of fifty
and seventy miles from each other. The toils
and fatigues of the holy ministry there are exces-
sive. The catechumens must be instructed, the
neophytes sustained, the sick and dying visited,
and continual efforts made to convert obstinate
adults. Amid so many obstacles, so many priva-
tions and difficulties, the missionaries find also
sweet consolations in the fruits which the Lord
deigns to grant to their labors. Every year they
baptize among the Osages about two hundred
and fifty persons.

The missionaries also visit the neighboring
tribes such as the Quapaws, who number only


three hundred and fifty, and of whom one hund-
red and thirty adults and children have been
baptized in the course of the two years. Entire
families have received baptism among the Piorias
aiid the Miamis. The Senecas, the Cherokees,
Creeks, Shawnees, and other nations, situated
two hundred miles south of the mission, can be
visited only once or twice in the year. Notwith-
sta!nding the opposition of Protestant ministers,
there are some Catholics among all these tribes.
A great number of European Catholic families
live dispersed on the frontiers of the States of
Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, which border on
the Indian territory now called Kansas. They
receive, from time to time, the visit and tlie
spiritual aid of one or other Father of the mis-
sion of St. Francis Hieronymo. The sight of a
priest, the happiness of hearing mass, and of
approaching the holy table, draw tears of joy
from these excellent children of the church.
Without these visits they would be entirely
abandoned. The destitution of priests is one of
the principal causes of the detection of thousands
of Catholics, v/ho gradually lose their faith.

Two boarding schools have been established
in the mission of the Osages : one for boys, under
the direction of a Father and of several brothers;
the other for girls, under the direction of the
Sisters of the Loretto, from Kentucky. These
two schools ordinarily contain more than a hund-
red Indians children! They teach them the
elements of literature, with the principles, of
civilization, at the same time that they excite and
cultivate piety in their hearts. These schools
encourage the hope, that the day will come when
these savage tribes may become changed and
civilized and Christian communities. It will be
difficult, above all, in these districts, to bring the


abults to .this mode of existence; they are too
much accustomed to the nomadic life! too proud
of their barbarous independence, and frequently
enslaved to the degrading vices of the whites, and

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Online LibraryW. W. (William Whites) GravesLife and letters of Fathers Ponziglione, Schoenmakers, and other early Jesuits at Osage mission. Sketch of St. Francis' church. Life of Mother Bridget → online text (page 17 of 20)