people from St. Paul, Minnesota, who vacationed at summer resorts
or private cabins at the lakes in his parish, became acquainted
with Father Gordon. Among them was the family of Louis Villaume,
descendant of one of St. Paul's pioneer families.
Their names are still on the register at The Shores Resort (formerly
Calderwood Springs) on Bone Lake. On June 23, 1925, the Villaume
family is listed, with Father Gordon directly underneath. The next
year the name of Thomas Gibbons appears. He was the world heavyweight
contender who fought and was defeated by Jack Dempsey. He was there
to buy land that later became St. Luke's Camp for St. Luke's Church
in St. Paul. He became a good friend of Father Gordon.
Paul Villaume vividly remembers the priest. He says, "My first memory
of Father Philip Gordon was in 1925 at Calderwood Springs Resort
at Bone Lake in Polk County. Father Gordon came on Sunday morning
to conduct Mass on the front porch of Mr. Calder's summer cabin.
At that time he had already begun to form a Boy Scout troop and
my brother Louis was one of the original members."
All the Villaume children were confirmed in St. Patrick's Church;
and Paul says, "It was a great honor to have William Gordon, the
priest's father, as my sponsor."
After his confirmation, Paul Villaume made the first of many trips
with Father Gordon to the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, near
Hayward, Wisconsin. The Indians gave him the name Ka-wah-din, which
is the Chippewa name for the 'North Wind.'
was an informal ceremony," he says. "'The Chief' and a number of
Indians beat the drum. I was thirteen years old, and I'm sure I
was more impressed than they were about the occasions." The priest
was affectionately known by the family as 'the Chief.'
Late, Paul's ego was somewhat deflated when his father told him
his Indian name actually meant 'Hot Air.'
From 1929 to 1936 the Villaume family spent the summers at Perry
Mound on Balsam Lake. They became close friends of the Indian priest
and Paul was often in his company. In fact, he had a room at the
rectory for many years. At that time William Gordon was the housekeeper.
He was 75 when his priest son was assigned to St. Patrick's.
The Chief later reminisced, "My father was a great cook. Good, plain,
substantial cooking-the sort he used to do when he was a cook in
the lumber camps. I don't believe there was anyone who could bake
a pot of beans lumber camp style like he could. That was his specialty.
I think of him still, out there in the kitchen, frequently stirring
the pot of beans in the oven so that they would be just right. And
when it came to cooking wild game he was the equal of the best."
The was always wild rice on the table, an Indian staple from which
Father Gordon was never far removed. He made may visits to the reservation
and kept in touch with his Indian friends and their customs. He
also frequently visited his mother, who had gone back to the reservation.
He liked to hunt and fish and would always be seen wearing a hat,
but still he suffered a sunburned nose. He often wore a hat on other
occasions, too, and especially liked a straw hat known as a 'sailor.'
Even with all his activities the priest had not forgotten his old
college days. On May 21, 1931, he was among 175 former St. Thomas
athletes who attended the first annual homecoming of the Monogram
Club. Athletic teams from as far back as 1896 were represented in
the group. They decided to make the reunion an annual affair. Before
the 1933 reunion, when Father Gordon was to be given an honorary
Doctor's degree, he wrote to Reverend W.F. Cunningham, C.S.C., Dean
of Studies at St. Thomas, "It is indeed a great privilege for me
to be associated with the activities of the Holy Cross Fathers in
their educational work at my old College. Of course, it is a matter
of extreme pleasure to me to think that I have been designated by
the Administration for the honor of an honorary degree. I feel myself
an unworthy candidate for such a distinction. In reply to your suggestion
as to ordering a Doctor's gown, I should lke to have one at the
minimum price. The specifications you asked for are as follows:
Weight 220; Height 5'11 ½
Size of Hat 6 7/8 or 7. As I expect to participate in the Monogram
Banquet. I shall endeavor to have a check for the gown to give you
It was apparent from the letter he no longer had the trim athletic
figure of his college days. One of his classmates had been urging
him to write a book on the religious opportunities among the Indians
or any related subject. He chided the priest, "Next to my solicitude
to have you regain your previous athletic slim figure, this other
ambition of mine to have you write, ranks second."
Paul Villaume says, "The Chief was a big man. In the 1930's and
early 40's he weighted in excess of 200 pounds. He always drove
a big car. The first car I recall he had was an Auburn touring car.
Then he had a Chevrolet coupe', the first one the made in 1926,
the car he loved most, I think because of the color, was a Lincoln
Zephyr coupe' which was fire-engine red. One of the local chiefs
wanted him to paint it another color because in those days they
didn't have red automobiles. Father Gordon claimed that since red
was an Indian color he thought he would keep his car red. When anybody
saw a red car it was either Chief Gordon or the fire chief."
The priest's reputation as a driver was not the best' but he never
had an accident, which was probably only accountable to the sparse
traffic at the time. Paul told his father, after a trip with Father
Gordon, "I'm going to become a priest because I could drive on either
side of the road and get there."
In 1934, Father Gordon and Paul Villaume sailed on a three-month's
trip to the Mediterranean. Everyone realized what a splendid opportunity
this would be for a young man of eighteen. Among the letters he
received was one from his mother, which shows the high regard the
family had for the priest. She sent the letter so he would receive
it as his ship sailed.
dear boy: When you receive this letter, you will have started on
one of life's great journeys. You are a very lucky boy to have a
friend like Father Gordon. It means much in life to know such a
person. We are all happy to number him among our friends and it
is our wish that you do all in your power to make Father Gordon's
trip a perfect one."
am so glad you father will be able to wave to you as your boat departs
as it does so warm the heart
the most of each day and have rest and be happy. We shall all miss
you. Love your Mother."
A friend in the mayor's office, Catherine Aynsley, wrote at length
of the "marvelous opportunity," Se said, "
I know you are
going to see many sights and learn many things to enrich your mind
that you will carry through your entire life. You are most fortunate
in having so fine a traveling companion as Father Gordon and I wil
be glad if you will give my best wishes to him."
are traveling a long ways from the home territory and I know there
will be days when you will wish you were under your home roof, but
try and get as much as you can out of each day and your friends,
as well as your family, will be most glad to welcome you back to
our fair city when your journey is ended."
hope the 'bombardment' now going on in Austria and France are going
to be over and settled soon so as not to interfere with your plans."
are still enjoying the same mild sunshiny sort of weather and it
is beginning to look like we aren't going to have any winter, but
I think a good old fashioned Minnesota snowstorm should be most
and your friend Joe Kilroy, are sill running the P.S.P.A. with a
little assistance from Mr. Roosevelt."
ever best wish for you and I just hope this wonderful opportunity
that has come to you will be followed by others and bring to you
much happiness throughout your life."
Paul said, "If we couldn't get in somewhere, we used use the letter
from the mayor's office. It looked official."
There were two items, which Paul carried all over during their trip.
One was his mouth organ and the other was the priest's Indian headdress,
which he transported in a wooden box. Father Gordon wore it on any
and all occasions.
Paul recalls, "He wore it to a dinner which was given in honor of
the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States and the ambassador
delighted in it. Another time that stands out in my memory was on
Easter Sunday, 1934, the day after Father Gordon's birthday. We
visited St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. I suggested he put on his
headdress and 10,000 people followed him out onto St. Paul's Square.
It was the first time they had ever seen an American Indian headdress
other than in American movies."
Although Paul had not learned the prayers or even attended a Catholic
school, he served Mass for the Chief during the three months of
One of the memories, which Paul says is indelibly printed in his
mind, was when Father Gordon was given special permission to say
mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site of the
crucifixion and burial of Christ.
It was an unforgettable journey for two pals with thirty years difference
in their ages. They sailed from New York and shared a stateroom
on a North German Lloyd liner, the Columbus, which was the largest
ship until the Bremen and the Europa were built.
Paul recalls, "the fare at the time was $346 round trip. The ship
was our hotel. We visited Maderia, Casablanca, Gibraltar, went back
to Algiers, Tunis, to the French Riviera, Nice, Monte Carlo, Tripoli,
the island of Malta, Sicily, Naples, over to St. Louis where King
Louis of France died. Then we went all the way to the end of the
Mediterranean to Lebanon. Then to Palestine where they were building
the city of Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem to Cairo, came back and
caught the ship at Haifa, to Alexandria and then to Constantinople,
through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. We came to Athens and
through the Yugo-Slavia, Albania, Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence,
Milan, Switzerland, Paris, Lisieux and sailed from Le Havre."
They met many interesting people wherever they went and had numerous
adventures, some rather exciting. One of these is describe by who
wrote under the name of Paul Light in the Pioneer Press. He was
a good friend of Paul Villaume and often mentioned Father Gordon
in his column.
In his column of August 29, 1946, he wrote: "Father Gordon and Paul
Villaume (the latter accompanied by his constant companion, a mouth
visited Mediterranean countries a few years ago. The
priest says he almost lost Paul at Casablanca. The latter decided,
as long as he was in the Moroccan metropolis, he should call on
the Moroccan sultan. SO he went to the palace and rang a bell in
the grille doorway.
turbaned, bloomered servant responded. Paul showed him a letter
from Bill Mahoney, then mayor of St. Paul. The letter bore a gold
seal of St. Paul and a red, white and blue ribbon. Paul thinks the
servant thought he was a high French official because of the ribbon.
The servant admitted him
was a long delay during which Paul felt many eyes peering at him
he heard a beating drum. Then he saw a huge Moroccan approaching.
Once glance told him it was not the sultan. The man was in uniform
of the sultan's guard. He was swinging what was probably the biggest
knife in the world."
departed immediately for elsewhere. He decided the only person in
Casablanca he wanted to see was Father Gordon."
latter was surprised when Paul returned to their hotel with his
head still attached to his body
When he returned home, Paul's mother wrote, "How I should love to
be there to greet you upon your arrival in your own country which
after all is the finest in the world."
The year of the Mediterranean tour was also eventful for Father
Gordon's brother who made headlines for a trip he made. James Montreal
Gordon, a World War I veteran, known in the American Legions circles
as 'Mike,' built a birchbark canoe and learned first hand the arduous
journey his ancestors had made from Lake Superior on the Brule and
the St. Croix Rivers.
He found the route had not changed too much since his voyageur ancestors
arrived in northern Wisconsin. Even today, paddling against the
current up the wild Brule, portaging around falls, over the continental
divide, down the St. Croix, drifting at times, but backstroking
much of the time against the swift current, was strenuous.
He then traveled the entire length of the mighty Mississippi and
continued by way of the Inland Waterway to Miami, Florida to attend
a convention of the American Legion. An article in the Badger Legionnaire,
November 10, 1934, described some of his experiences on the trip:
Mike, as we call him - and by which name the Miami crowd
will remember him to their dying days - started on his "See Wisconsin
First" missionary career when he decided to attend the Miami Convention,
and to transport himself there by the means employed by his forefathers;
namely, the birchbark canoe. He went up the Brule, portaged to the
St. Croix and thus to the Mississippi. He paddled down the to New
Orleans and by canal into the Gulf to the west cost of Florida to
the east coast and down to Miami. He spent 81 days paddling 2,939
his way down Mike had 22 speaking engagements before cambers of
commerce, high school and college classes, stressing in each the
beauty of the good old Badger state which gave him birth, and explaining
the ideals of The American Legion of which he was a proud and faithful
Orrin McGrath, who was eighty-four in 1975, lived in northern Wisconsin
and knew the Gordons. He says, "Jim was a smart fellow. He stared
out with a big supply of post cards, pictures of himself with his
canoe. He sold these and then the various Legion Posts took care
of him along the way. He was a congenial cuss. Before he left Miami,
he auctioned off his canoe and if I remember correctly, he got somewhere
between $350 and $400 for that canoe. He was the last canoe builder
that I knew."
After their return from the Mediterranean countries, Paul traveled
many places with the Chief - to the reservations, to the North Shore
of Lake Superior, to Sault Ste. Marie for ceremonies honoring St.
Isaac Jogues, the great Jesuit missionary martyr. In 1941, Paul
was chairman of a trip from St. Paul civic leaders to Prairie du
Chien, Wisconsin, for the 100th anniversary of the first Mass to
be said in St. Paul by Father Lucien Galtier who is buried in front
of the church and Father Gordon gave the blessing over the grave.
The Indian priest always attended the Bastille Day celebration in
St. Paul, and event originated by Paul. He was interested in all
the ethnic celebrations. He was proud of being an Indian and so
he understood why the Germans were drinking beer and singing and
why the Irish had a big parade. He always like to celebrate with
In a letter he wrote, "I was much interested in that Bastille Day
idea, Good idea, Paul. More than one have asked me why we couldn't
have another such blowout. You go ahead and arrange it and I will
be there. Could get Father Frank Burns there to make another speech
in French and many other things could happen. By all means, get
things going for such a gathering. Incidentally, it would please
your Dad. Of course, there is supposed to be a ban on non-essential
driving but a meeting like that is a help to the war-effort
After the eighth annual celebration, the Pioneer Press published
a photo of some of the participants - Father Gordon: Henri Melancon,
New Canada; Paul Villaume, chairman of the celebration; and Dr.
Thomas Gehan - with the caption "Bon Conversation, B'Gorra - You
could hardly see the Frenchmen for the Irish
French descent followed their traditional policy of inviting friends
of various nationalities to help mark the 159th anniversary of the
storming of the ancient Paris prison during the French revolution.
Friends conversed amid mix choruses of 'La Medelon' and 'My Wild
Paul Light continued to write an occasional item about Father Gordon.
In one he mentioned a rain drum Dan Wallace had in his collection
of Indian artifacts.
once belonged to Two Moons, one of the four Indian Chiefs who participated
in the Custer massacre. 'It always rains the day after it is played,'
Dan insists. 'Father Gordon is very covetous of it. He even offered
to take it to Rome and have it blessed by the Pope. But I'm afraid
if I let him he won't bring it back."
drum only failed Dan once
when he let Father Gordon play it
as an accompaniment to some Chippewa songs. It didn't rain, but
on the following morning a 3-day blizzard that blocked all road
says Dan, 'you will see the potency of two such medicine men as
myself and Father Gordon.'"
Another time the column read, "If you want to order cranberry pie
in the Chippewa Indian tongue you ask (approximately) for maski-nin-bash-ki-min-a-si-gun-wi-we-ga-si-gun-pa-kwe-ji-gun.
It's about the longest word in the Chippewa language, I use the
word 'approximately' because Father Philip Gordon wrote it down
for me and I had some difficulty reading his writing
letter word translates something like this: 'Swamp-berry-cooked-till-it-bursts-wrapped-in-dough-sliced.'"
The priest had a ready wit and zest for life, but his main interest
was always helping those in need - first of all Indians, but also
Blacks, and the farmers.