Priest + Missionary
12 June 1902
From the Satucket Lectionary
In 1851, the Rev. Dr. Breck, a great missionary, whose name must be known to every reader of the “Soldier,” [“Christian Soldier”] began a mission at Leech Lake, among the Ojibwa Indians of Minnesota. This mission, from various circumstances, had only a partial success, and in the winter of 1855-56 troubles with the government agents roused the Indians to such madness that Dr. Breck was forced to leave, and the mission buildings were burned.
Two years later the Rev. Mr. Peake went to Crow Wing to establish another mission, and young Indian deacon, John Johnson, his Indian name Enmegahbowh, came to assist him. This man had beeen a catechumen under Dr. Breck, and had been baptized by him. He must have been born to some position in his tribe, as he had been set apart for a “Medicine Man” in youth, and his Indian name, Enmegahbowh, meant “The man who stands by his people,” a significant name, which in time proved to be a true one.
In 1861 Mr. Peake resigned the mission into the hands of Enmegahbowh. Crow Wing was then a settlement of very bad repute on the frontier. In 1862, the year of the Sioux outbreak, Hole-in-the-day, a leading Ojibwa chief, a bad man, full of craft and cunning, collected five hundred warriors, and prepared for a general massacre of the white people. Enmegahbowh, having prevented, by his influence, some other bands from joining these, was made a prisoner, but succeeded in escaping, and, through the midst of great perils, made his way to Fort Ripley, and by his timely information, such measures were taken that bloodshed and a more fearful massacre than that of the Sioux were prevented.
For a few years the mission work seemed at a stand still. From Canada Enmegahbowh received earnest invitations to go where comfort and hopeful work awaited him, but Bishop Whipple encouraged him, standing in the forefront for an unpopular cause and a hated people, and Enmegahbowh would prove the fitness of his name — he would not desert his people.
At last the government made new arrangements, and seven hundred Ojibwa were moved to what is called the White Earth Reservation, a tract thirty-six miles square in northern Minnesota. Of these seven hundred about one hundred and fifty were French half-breeds, or Roman Catholics. Amongst the remainder Enmegahbowh labored earnestly, the government now aiding in the work by encouraging the Indians in civilized ways. A steam sawmill was built at White Earth Lake, where Indians were taught to run the machinery, and from which lumber was furnished for building purposes. Eastern churchmen assisted the mission, and a church and parsonage were built.
At the time of the consecration of the church in August, 1872, quite a party of the clergy and laity, through the kindness of Bishop Whipple, were enabled to visit White Earth.
The consecration was on Thursday. Friday morning, the chiefs signified to the bishop their wish to meet with him in a council, which was therefore held, that afternoon, on the hillside in front of the church. It was a picturesque scene — the lovely landscape, the sunlight glancing through the tall oak trees on the bishop and Enmegahbowh, who sat in the centre, the chiefs and five or six clergymen grouped around. Behind the bishop three chairs were placed for the ladies of the party — the first time, I think, that ladies were ever admitted to an Indian council.
The chiefs spoke in turn, as they had themselves arranged, and were interpreted by Enmegahbowh. — Christian Soldier.
The Rev. John Johnson was born in Canada and died at White Earth on the 12th of June, 1902, at the age of 95 years.