Reflections on Early Flambeau, Wisconsin

[The following was submitted by Richard Casey, Las Vegas, Nevada] Father Francis X. Goldsmith, pioneer pastor of Notre Dame parish, Chippewa Falls, attended the spiritual needs of parishioners and Chippewa Indians at Flambeau farm from 1869 to 1879. The parish was then turned over to Fr. Casmir Vogt, O.F.M. In those early days it was necessary to travel on foot or by horseback to minister to the outlying settlements. The following is an account written by Father Goldsmith of just such a journey to Flambeau in 1881. It is from Fr. Goldsmith's book; The History of Chippewa County, Vol. 1, Chicago, S. J. Clarke, 1913.

A CLERGYMAN AMONG THE CHIPPEWAS

It was my good fortune a short time ago to be able to go overland to Flambeau. This is the first time in many years that I have feasted my eyes on this celebrated route during the summer season. True, in the days of the Batteaux and birch canoes, when bridges were many times wanting, and when the roads were few and hard to follow, as a missionary, I have visited this same Flambeau. Not all is changed! The road thither, although bad in many places, affords an ever changing scene of woods and landscape. The deep shade, the solitude the ground carpeted with varieties of mosses, sprinkled here and there with flowers and trailing vines, is beautiful indeed. Then there is that grand hemlock forest, extending from beyond Kelly's stopping place to within a few miles of the Flambeau settlement, which profoundly impresses the lover of nature. The spring, the creeks, ponds and lakes give variety to the scene. We have in the country but few finer water courses to fill with their beauty the eye of artist or traveler, than O'Neil's creek, and a chain of lakes about Flambeau, of which glimpses are caught now and then through openings in the woods, are a treasure to the lover of aquatic sport, or to him who, in the pursuit of the finny tribe, doth love to drop a line.

Rev. Mendel and I caught some "Bullheads" in a little lake or pond near Kelly's, for the grand-daddies of which the hospitable Mrs. Kelly told us, she had some years before placed there herself. My clerical friend, in the excitement created by the accidental "catch," fell into the pond, and, as usual, I caught nothing. Funny it was to see the efforts we both made to take the slimy fish off the hook, and only after putting on gloves did we succeed in disengaging his bullheadship from the line! I am afraid we are sorry followers of the apostles-those celebrated ancient fishermen!

An elevated ridge, near Kelly's over which the road passes in gradual and winding ascent, will be for the future artist of the Chippewa Valley a felicitous point to paint a landscape, worthy the brush of Greuze or Millais. Here we are lifted above even the tall pine sentinels, above the hills, and like a beautiful panorama rises before us the many colored hills and valleys and dales of Chippewa county. Thence the road descends by a succession of hill and vale to Flambeau, but all along in whichsoever direction we look. An enchanting scene lies at ones feet. The lakes upon the one side, the fields of grain on either, the various gradations of green shade in the forest primeval, flecked deeper by passing cloud, darkening the sheen of the sun upon the foliage, and then suddenly, away on the distant horizon is seen a silver thread of two strands, where the Flambeau joins the Chippewa. We involuntarily arrested the speed of our horses, and then, allowing them to walk as they wood, we gazed in rapture, drinking in al this beautiful scene and praising the Creator for having made this world so beautiful.

We arrived at Flambeau just at sunset. Having had commenced, and from both banks of the rivers the scent of new-mown hay was a genuine western aroma, sweeter than all the spices of the Indies, to our nostrils.

Located on the bank of the Chippewa, near the old home of Mr. Langlois, we found the church recently erected by our director of the Indian Missions in the northwest, the zealous and amiable Father Casimir. When lately I saw a portrait of Father Junipero in the Century Magazine, accompanied by a description of the Franciscan missions of California, I thought of Rev. Casimir, who is also a humble son of St. Francis and a worthy imitator of Junipero, indeed a worthy disciple of his on the shores of the frozen sea of the North, Lake Superior. I cannot refrain from saying this in passing, that a great good has been done in this quiet vale by this celebrated missionary order, the Franciscans, who now have charge of all missions among our Chippewas. They have been aided, indeed by the generosity of many of the faithful, and also, in great measure, by the warm-hearted, free giving Chippewa boys in the woods, and this has enabled them to build churches and schools and hospitals at Bayfield, Ashland, LaPointe, Bad River, Buffalo Bay, Packwegan, Courte Oreilles and Flambeau. Here in the last named place is one of their largest and most promising flocks, and here they soon hope to locate a monastery of their order. Soon the notes of a bell, large and sonorous, called us to the dedication of the new church. This bell, which peals the glad notes of Christianity away in this little inland hamlet, is the gift of an admiring friend of the order, who resides in St. Louis.

At the church we met Right Rev. Killian Flasch, the bishop of this diocese, who has been on a tour of inspection, accompanied by one or more of the good Franciscan Fathers, visiting all our Indian missions, and who returned here to Flambeau in time to perform the ceremony of dedication and to preach in a few earnest words, encouragement and consolation to all. The Franciscan, preached a sermon in Indian. It sounds musical indeed despite it's gutturals. The people were in their holiday attire, and I could not but notice the extreme cleanliness and neatness of the Chippewas, both male and female. Their air of somber recollection, not to say piety, in the church, the fervor with which they joined in prayer and song together with the polite, the generous, respectful manner with which they treated their clergy, was noticeable and praiseworthy, indeed. Here, as in many other of the affairs of life, the natural, the honest, the earnest Redskin sets an example worthy of imitation by his white brother.

The bishop confirmed some seventy Chippawas, mostly adults, here at the Flambeau mission. I understand that he confirmed over 200 Chippewas on this trip. The church itself is a well-built frame building, neat in it's proportions, clean and tastefully painted, and has those quaint looking Indian mattings on the sanctuary floor. Most all of the Chippewas in the vicinity are settled on lands which they own and cultivate industriously, besides earning good wages by working for the loggers in the winter, and finding through them, a steady and high-priced market for all their farm produce. We have reason therefore to hope that the Flambeau congregation, this little mission center, watched and tended by the Franciscans in the northern part of our country, has a bright, prosperous future before it.

Years ago these missions were all attended from Chippewa Falls. I have reason indeed, to remember them from the hardships endured, from the difficulties encountered in my trips up the Chippewa to attend them. But memory and gratitude has not faded from the hearts of these simple people, and I was pleased not to have been forgotten by the old Chippewas and settlers, as they crowded about to grasp my hand, or in their respectful Indian manner to kneel for the blessing. The thought that, after all my poor labors among them were not all in vain, gave a new energy to my mind and a sweet thankfulness to my heart. Such scenes are comforts, indeed to the noontide, alas, should I say, the evening, of a Catholic priest's life?

From all that I visited, this splendid meeting of the rivers, the yet only partially exhausted forests, the rich fields on a soil peculiarly well trained and adapted to cultivation, I was led to hope that yon district will yet grow and increase in population, in religious sanctity, and in material comforts of life. When that time comes, we venture to hope that, as was said by the poet of old, "Non omnis moriar," and that the Flambeau-ites will remember their first missionary-the writer of these lines.

 

article thanks to:
Richard Casey
Page created 5/1/98

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