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HOMES OF THE NEW WORLD.
LETTER X XVI.
On the Mississippi, October 15th. Toward sunset on the most lovely and glorious evening, we came out of the narrow little winding Five River, and entered the grand Mississippi, which flowed broad and clear as a mirror between hills which extended into the distance, and now looked blue beneath the mild, clear blue heavens, in which the new moon and the evening star ascended, becoming brighter as the sun sank lower behind the hills. The pure misty veil of the Indian summer was thrown over the landscape; one might have believed that it was the earth's smoke of sacrifice which arose in the evening toward the gentle heavens. Not a breath of air moved, every thing was silent and still in that grand spectacle; it was indescribably beautiful. Just then a shot was fired; a smoke issued from one of the small green islands, and flocks of ducks and wild geese flew up round about, escaping from the concealed sportsman, who I hope this evening returned without game. All was again silent and still, and the Menomonie advanced with a quiet, steady course up the glorious river.
I stood on the upper deck with the captain, Mr. Smith, and the representative from Minnesota, Mr. Sibley, who, with his wife and child, were returning home from Washington.
Was this, then, indeed, the Mississippi, that wild giant of nature, which I had imagined would be so powerful, so divine, so terrible? Here its waters were clear, of a fresh, light-green color, and within their beautiful frame of distant violet-blue mountains, they lay like a heavenly mirror, bearing on their bosom verdant, vine-covered islands, like islands of the blessed. The Mississippi was here in its youth, in its state of innocence as yet. It has not as yet advanced very far from its fountains; no crowd of steamboats muddy its waters. The Menomonie and one other, a still smaller boat, are the only ones which ascend the river above Galena ; no cities cast into it their pollution; pure rivers only flow into its waters, and aborigines and primeval forests still surround it. Afterward, far below and toward the world's sea, where the Mississippi comes into the life of the states, and becomes a statesman, he has his twelve hundred steamers, and I know not how many thousand sailing-boats, gives himself up to cities and the population of cities, and is married to the Missouri: then it is quite different; then is it all over with the beauty and innocence of the Mississippi.
But now, now it was beautiful, and the whole of that evening on the Mississippi was to me like an enchantment.
The Mississippi, discovered by Europeans, has two epochs, and in each a romance: the one as different to the other as day and night, as the sun-bright idyl to the gloomy tragedy, as the Mississippi here in its youth, and the Mississippi down at St. Louis, as Mississippi Missouri. The first belongs to the northern district, the second to the southern; the former has its hero, the mild pastor, Father Marquette; the latter the Spanish soldier, Ferdinand de Soto.
France and England, equally jealous competitors for territorial acquisitions, were the first possessors of the land of North America. The French Jesuits were the first who penetrated into the wildernesses of Canada and
to the great lakes of the West. Religious enthusiasm planted the Puritan colony on Plymouth Rock; religious enthusiasm planted the cross, together with the lilies of France, on the shores of the St. Lawrence, beside Niagara, and as far as St. Marie, among the wild Indians by Lake Superior. The noble, chivalric Champlain, full of ardor and zeal, said, “The salvation of a soul is worth more than the conquest of a kingdom.”
That was at the time when the disciples of Loyola went forth over the world to conquer it as a kingdom for the Prince of Peace, and inscribed the sign of the cross in Japan, in China, in India, in Ethiopia, among the Caffirs, in California, in Paraguay. They invited the barbarian to the civilization of Christianity. The priests who penetrated from Canada to the deserts of Western America were among the noblest of their class.
“They had the faults of ascetic superstition; but the horrors of a Canadian life in the wilderness were resisted by an invincible, passive courage, and a deep internal tranquillity. Away from the amenities of life, away from the opportunities of vain-glory, they became dead to the world, and possessed their souls in unutterable peace. The few who lived to grow old, though bowed by the toils of a long mission, still kindled with the fervor of apostolic zeal. The history of their labors is connected with the origin of every celebrated town in the annals of French America: not a cape was turned, not a river entered, but a Jesuit led the way.”
The Jesuits, Bribeuf and Daniel, and the gentle Lallemand, accompanied a party of barefooted Hurons to their country through dangerous forests. They won the regard and the love of the savages.
Bribeuf, who is said to have been the pattern of every religious virtue, lived fifteen years among the Hurons, baptizing them to the religion of Christ, and instructing them in the occupations of peace. Works of love, selfmortification, prayers deep into the night-such was his life. Yet all the more increased his love for the Master whom he served, and his desire to suffer in His service. He thirsted after it as others thirst after the delights of life. He made a vow never to decline the opportunity of martyrdom, and never to receive the death-blow except with joy.
Such was a faith to remove mountains; and it did more, it implanted the vitalizing love of Christ in the bloodthirsty heart of the savage. The great warrior Ahasistari said, “ Before you came to this country, where I have incurred the greatest perils, and have alone escaped, have I said to myself, 'Some powerful spirit has the guardianship of my days!” And he professed his belief in Jesus as the good Genius and Protector, whom he had before unconsciously adored. After trials of his sincerity he was baptized; and enlisting a troop of converts, savages like himself, “Let us strive,” he exclaimed, “ to make the whole world embrace the faith in Jesus.”*
Further and further still advanced the missionaries toward the West; they heard of powerful and warlike Indian races, such as the mighty Sioux, who dwelt by the great River Mississippi, of the Erie, and Chippewas, and Potawatomies, and others who dwelt by the great lakes. Dangers, fatigues, wildernesses, savages, all stood in threatening array before them, but only the more to allure them.
Hostile tribes overcame the Indians who conducted them. The savage Mohawks took the missionary Isaac Jogues prisoner, and with him the noble chief Ahasistari. Ahasistari had succeeded in finding a hiding-place; but when he saw Jogues a captive, he stepped forth to him, saying, “My brother, I made a vow to thee that I would share thy fate, whether life or death—How am I to keep my vow?" The savages exercised their cruelty upon them for several days and nights. When Jogues ran the gauntlet, he consoled himself with a vision of the glory of the Queen of Heaven. One evening, after a day of torture, an ear of Indian corn was thrown to the good father, and see! upon the broad leaf there were drops of water, or of dew, sufficient to baptize two captive Christian converts !
Ahasistari and two of his people were burned. He met death with the pride of an Indian and the calmness of a Christian.
Father Jogues had expected the same fate; but his life was spared and his liberty granted to him. Roaming through the magnificent forests of the Mohawk Valley, he wrote the name of Jesus on the bark of trees, graved the cross, and took possession of these countries in the name of God. Often lifting up his voice in thanksgiving, consoling himself in his sorrow with the thought that he alone, in that vast region, adored the true God, the God of heaven and of earth.
He returned safely to his own people in Canada, but merely, two years afterward, to set out once more to seek new perils in the same service. “I shall go, but shall never return,” said he, on setting out; and soon afterward was taken prisoner by the Mohawks, who said that he, by his enchantments, had blighted their harvest. Timid by nature, yet courageous through his zeal, he received his death-blow with calmness.
Bribeuf, Anthony, Daniel, and the mild Lallemand, all suffered martyrdom amid such torments as only Indians can devise; suffered it with that pious courage which only the love of Christ can inspire.
The villages and settlements founded by the good fathers were burned, and the Christian converts perished by fire and sword. All the many years' labor of the Jesuits was destroyed, and the wilderness seemed once more to grow over their traces.
Such great adversities might be supposed sufficient to