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hands. Moreover, he probably buried more of their victims than any
other chaplain. But he had a sense of fair play, strong enough to help prevent an atrocity against some friendly Indians near Fort Phil Kearny, and to express an interest in their welfare on the Verde Reservation. And some Indian leaders with whom he became acquainted respected him enough to give him 12 buffalo robes after he had opened a peace conference with prayer.
White had re-entered the Army in 1866 and was “deeply impressed” that his separation from his family might be “a final parting”; he prayed, “O God preserve our health ... and permit us to all meet in the flesh. Keep us from sin and grant us a happy meeting in heaven.” 33 Shortly thereafter, his premonition almost became reality. While he was traveling with a wagon train along the Bozeman Trail from Fort Reno to Fort Kearny, he and his companions knew that they were in hostile Indian country and that Red Cloud's Sioux warriors might attack them at any moment. White was armed with an "old-fashioned 'pepper box' seven shooter pistol," and the 28 other men including five officers, 10 enlisted men, an Army surgeon, nine wagon drivers, and three civilians were also armed. The rest of the party was unarmed and consisted of three women and two infants. Arriving at Dry Creek, the party discovered a dead Army courier, “filled with arrows, scalped, and multilated.” The corpse served as a grim reminder that they were in dangerous territory, and after a quick burial, probably by Chaplain White, the wagon train moved on.
On the morning of 21 July the wagon train arrived at Crazy Woman's Creek and was suddenly attacked by Indians. No one with the train was hurt in the first assault, but two officers who had gone ahead were wounded, one of them fatally. After the surviving wounded officer returned to the train and a defensive position was established, another fusillade of arrows showered upon the party from a nearby ravine and wounded three men, including Chaplain White, whose wound was slight. It was later reported that at this point the ladies and some of the civilians started to pray rather loudly, but that Chaplain White, “an eminently pious man, quiet and dignified ... the last person in the world you would select for any dangerous undertaking,” said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a time for praying, and . . . as we may gather from Holy Writ, a time for fighting. This is a time for fighting! God aids those who are willing to aid themselves. Now, stop praying and turn in to make some ‘good Indians It was also reported that the effect of his remark was
“electrical” and that even the women were stirred to heroism, loading the guns for the men." These reports may have been exaggerations, the natural result of telling and re-telling a war story; in any event, Chaplain White and a private named Fuller then volunteered to clear the Indians from the ravine. Undaunted and angry they ran into the ravine, and shortly afterward there was a volley of rapid shots from White's "pepper box.” Several Indians climbed out of the ravine, exposing themselves to fire from the wagon train while dashing for a ridge, and at least one of them was hit. White and Fuller appeared about 50 yards down the ravine and shouted that they had killed “two of the devils” —White shot oneand that the ravine was clear as far down as the creek. While the two men held the ravine, a detail from the wagon train slipped down it to get water from the creek for the wounded.
The Indians became cautious and took no more chances in the ravine, but they continued to assault the wagon train, killing one member and wounding several others. When the Indians withdraw from range for a conference, those in the wagon train decided that “if it came to the worst,” they would mercifully kill all the wounded, the two women, and then themselves. White, however, believed that someone should try to “cut through the Indians” and ride back to Fort Reno for reinforcements, and he and a private named Wallace volunteered to make the attempt. Two officers offered their fine horses, and White and Fuller, properly mounted and armed, rode away "amid the prayers and God speeds of the little band.” Miraculously, they accomplished what they set out to do, though the horses died from exertion. Moreover, their trip proved to be unnecessary, because upon their return with a detachment of mounted infantry, a detachment of the Second Cavalry Regiment had already rescued the wagon train.“ Strangely enough, Chaplain White did not mention this incident in his diary, and in his monthly report he merely said that his “considerable delay” in reporting to Fort Kearny was "occasioned by the hostility of the Indians.
A few months after his arrival at Fort Kearny, Chaplain White found further reason for thinking of the Indians as savages. Red Cloud's warriors were still very hostile, and on 6 December they attacked a wood train near the fort, killed an officer and an enlisted man, and wounded five others. Three days later the chaplain buried the dead. On 21 December the Indians attacked again, killing and mutilating Captain William J.
Fetterman's detachment of 81 men along the frozen flats of Peno Creek, and five days later White buried the victims in a mass burial service.39
Although White considered the Indians to be savages, he showed compassion toward those who were friendly, and on one occasion helped prevent an atrocity against nine Cheyennes. These Indians—three chiefs, five warriors, and a squaw-came to Fort Kearny to ask Colonel Henry B. Carrington for permission to hunt in the Tongue River Valley, and he granted their request. He also gave them some coffee and bacon and suggested that they camp nearby for the night. His generosity, however, did not sit too well with some of the enlisted men, who suspected that these Indians had earlier in the day killed and scalped an enlisted man while he was cutting timber near the fort. They were skeptical of the Indians' friendliness and talked openly of revenue. Being closed to the men tha nany of the officers, Chaplain White heard these threats, and went to report them to Carrington. While he was doing so, a soldier opened Carrington's door, and shouted that the "men were killing the Indians.” The colonel immediately went into action with his guard detail and found nearly 90 of his men near the Indian camp, their guns cocked and ready to kill the Indians. Caught in the act and anxious to avoid recognition, these men dashed for the fort but were halted by two shots from the colonel's pistol. They turned out to be some of his best men, and they "quickly realized the disgrace that would have fallen upon the post and regiment had they perpetrated the massacre.” After reprimanding them and cautioning against such conduct in the future, Carrington ordered them back to their barracks.
Five years later, Chaplain White was stationed at Camp Verde, Arizona. By then he had spent considerable time on the frontier and given some thought to Federal Indian policy and the red man's welfare, so he wrote to special Indian commissioner Vincent Colyer. President Grant had directed Colyer to go to Arizona and New Mexico in 1871 and take measures to locate the Apache Indians upon suitable reservations, feed them, and clothe them. In addition, knowing the Army's general dislike of Indian commissioners and agents, Grant had instructed the War Department to give Colyer its full cooperation. After consulting with Army officers, Indian agents, and the Apache chiefs, Colyer selected four reservations and invited the Indians to come and live on them. They came in large numbers and began to live peaceably. Upon Colyer's return to Washington, the President and his Secretary of the Interior approved
the measures he had taken, and General Sherman gave directions for their permanence." It was after Colyer's visit to Arizona that White wrote to him, congratulating him on the success of his mission to the Indians on the Verde reservation and reporting that the Army "in good faith” had given rations to the Apaches on the Verde reservation and that the Indians appeared pleased. He said that there was "little danger in traveling anywhere on account of Indians” and that he made the 50 mile trip alone from Camp Verde to Prescott. Obviously pleased with White's letter, Colyer included it as part of his report." But it may not have pleased the Arizona populace and newspapers, who referred to Colyer as “Vincent the Good” who tried to “mesmerize the Apaches into peace,” nor General George Crook, who was privately contemptuous of Colyer.In any event, it was during this period that White began to experience difficulties with his commander and was almost transferred to Alaska, ostensibly because of remarks White made in his monthly reports about the moral condition of Camp Verde.“ White apparently had other communication and some disagreement with Colyer, for later, the Weekly Arizona Miner quoted White as saying that he had been placed in “a false position” in Colyer's book, What He Knew About Apaches.45
Another chaplain, Toussaint Mesplie, entered the Army in 1872 after serving for 23 years as a missionary to the Indians in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. While a missionary, he learned the prevailing dialect of the Northwest Indians, befriended them wherever he traveled, and baptized a considerable number of them into the Catholic faith. Moreover, he dissuaded many of them from taking the warpath against the white man and informed military authorities of plots by hostile tribes. He also opposed President Grant's Indian policy, which placed the Indians under an Indian commission and parceled the Indian agencies at the reservations among the various denominations; he believed that the policy was inequitable to the Catholic Church and prevented Catholic missionaries from visiting their converts. He even journeyed to Washington, D.C., to discuss the matter with government officials, including President Grant, but he was unable to bring about a policy change.'
During his 12 years as a chaplain, Mesplie also continued his ministry to the Indians, and as a result of his influence with them, his military superiors sent him on a peacemaking mission in the summer of 1877. He was to dissuade the Umatilla Indians from taking the warpath with Chief Joseph and other Nez Perce bands, and apparently he was successful. He met with the principal chiefs and several of their people at Cayuse Station,
Oregon, and they assured him of their continuing friendship with the white man. In April 1878 the Army-Navy Journal reported that Chaplain Mesplie was in Washington, D.C., “in consultation with the President on matters connected with the Indians,” and that the President and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs requested him to go on another mission to the “disaffected bands of Chief Joseph's Nez Perce, the Blackfeet, Spokanes and others.” The same article also said the chaplain did not hesitate to say that the Indians, particularly the Nez Perce, had been “very badly treated” by the Government and the people who had taken possession of their lands, and that the control of the Indians should be placed in the War Department rather than in the hands of Indian agents.
Whatever the mission of Chaplain Mesplie to the Northwest Indians, the Idaho Statesman, one year later, reported his attendance and the results of the "Council”; it said that the Indians were not altogether satisfied with the results of the Government's dealings with them, but would “accept the terms agreed upon, and conform to the same." Apparently the terms were related to Indian lands, for the same article also reported that the Indians were “disposed to take lands, in severalty as offered." 48
During the 1890s when Federal Indian policy was assimilation and education, some chaplains attempted a ministry to the Indians on or near their posts—the scouts, soldiers, and prisoners of war. Newly commissioned Chaplain Edward J. Vattmann reported for duty at Fort Meade, South Dakota, in February 1891, just after the battle of Wounded Knee and the other skirmishes which brought the protracted Indian war to its conclusion. The Adjutant General would have been hard pressed to have recruited a man better qualified for that assignment. As linguist who could understand Greek and Hebrew and converse freely in Latin, German, French, and Italian, Chaplain Vattmann was able to talk to the soldiers and civilians who were of foreign extraction and could not speak English. Moreover, he was able to learn rather quickly the Teton dialect of the Sioux language and communicate with the Sioux, who, along with other Indians, were being assimilated into the Army at the rate of one company or troop for each white regiment stationed in the West.
On 8 November 1891 an Indian troop—“L” Troop of the Third Cavalry Regiment-reported for duty at Fort Meade. Three weeks later, Chaplain Vattmann conducted a Thanksgiving Sunday service for a mixed, standing-room-only congregation of 120 soldiers. Afterward he reported that “Soldiers and Sioux, who on last Thanksgiving day stood,