Philip Gordon was growing up the Spirit Land of the Ojibway was
fast disappearing. The young man was soon to experience the discrimination
and degradation suffered by his people, and with realization came
a determination to help them.
When the railroad came, the Indian's way of life was doomed. The
appalling factor was the swiftness and cruelty of it all. The sudden
bewildering adjustment is hard for the white man to comprehend.
In one generation the heavy forests, which had supplied the Indian's
home, his food, and his clothing, were swept away. In 1899 there
were 1,033 sawmills in operation in Wisconsin and lumbermen 3,389,166,000
feet of lumber, more than two-thirds of which was white pine from
the northern forests.
Philip Gordon was ambitious and worked to acquire the education
he desired. He experienced life in a lumber camp during one winter
where he helped with scaling and tallying. Later he worked for a
period in a sawmill as a handyman, then tending a conveyor and picking
According to a brief note he jotted down late in his life, he was
"fired and called down by George Moore, worked in company store
for maybe two years. Deliveryman and clerk. Sickness: Sore knee,
poor health. Other manual labor: Timekeeper when government furnished
funds for road repair."
The rough and rugged life in the woods apparently helped to improve
his health. He became well known in the Chequamegon Bay District
as a baseball player. His notes also include brief reminiscences
of baseball players and teams - "The Silver Dollar Baseball Team,
Bert Walker, Basil Gordon. The Red Shots, The North Stars, Jocko
Starr, Swan, Ed Walker, Hafaday, A. Gordon, and Sharlow. To north
of Bad River several times, while in Odanah went to Minneapolis
to see the Wisconsin & Minnesota game in the old Northrup Field
with Dan Morrison and Mike Auge, the Pauly Hotel."
His baseball team competed with Arbor Vitae, Iron River, Washburn,
Ashland, Saxon, Hurley and Hayward. The last game he played before
entering St. Thomas College was at Hayward against his cousin Carley.
These notes were little reminiscences that came to a mind many years
later and were rather rambling: "Two falls at public school. Teachers,
Miss Dahrke or Mrs. Donohue. Away on Milwaukee trip for Donahue.
Learned several Protestant Hymns, Blessed Assurance. Annual Methodist
Camp meeting, Reverend T.C. Thomas, Reverence for Men of God, Indian
Medicine dances, Lost Lake. In Superior for Normal School during
Odanah stay, At parties, To Gordon for first return visit."
Years later, Fred Holmes and Dan Wallace considered writing a book
about the Indian priest and encouraged hi to prepare an outline
for a biography. They wrote, "Although he experienced the life of
an adolescent in a lively reservation mill town, Philip never learned
to dance, did not smoke and never tasted intoxicating liquor, and
was looked upon as a 'good boy.'"
After a year at Superior, Phil attended Northland College at Ashland
for a year. He established a friendship with his roommate and fellow
athlete, Dan Brownell, who later became president of Northland College.
It was at the college that Phil became aware of girls. First there
was Lena for a short time. Then there was Emma Heany. According
to h is notes, he dated Emma for two winters and one summer in Ashland.
They enjoyed ice cream socials in the Old Council Hall, went to
the circus, and picked berries on the Ashland Road.
One of his college friends, John Medegan, a theological student
and also a Chippewa Indian, suggested St. Thomas College, St. Paul,
Minnesota, Minnesota, to Philip.
There were other Indians, including some of Philip's brothers, who
were recognizing the need to adopting the white man's life and receiving
an education in various professions. One of his brothers would become
a doctor, one a lawyer and one a dentist.
Philip was concerned about the many Indians who could not be convinced
they would have to change their way of life. Years later he was
to say, "Indian traditions must be preserved, but in books."
The early French traders had always been friendly with the Indians
and found them honorable and faithful in keeping their treaties
and other obligations. They realized their fur trading business
depended on preserving the forests and their good relations with
Later settlers, however, desired land and lumber. Years of controversy
and broken treaties followed. They expected the Indians to change
in a few years to a point of civilization, which had taken their
own ancestors centuries to accomplish.
By 1871 almost all of the Indians lands had been acquired. Most
of the Indians were settled on reservations and repression was causing
many problems - apathy, irresponsibility, drinking and delinquency.
The Allotment Act of 1887 was to be the final solution of the problem.
Each family group would receive 180 acres of land, which would be
inalienable and tax-free for a generation. By that time the Indians
were expected to have broken tribal ties and turned into ordinary
farmers like their white neighbors.
The government soon realized that some might need more than one
generation to get started as farmers, and provisions were made requiring
that the Indian be declared competent to farm before the acquired
his land patent no matter how long a time since he got his allotment.
By 1900 Indian population had increase so that the allotments were
divided among more and more heirs with people inheriting small pieces
of different allotments, widely separated from another. They could
not compete with the larger, mechanized farms, which were increasing
at this time. Once again the Indians were at the mercy of unscrupulous
In 1852, Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, had written:
"The embarrassments to which they (the Indians who resisted deportation
and absorption) are subjected, in consequences of the onward pressure
of the whites, are gradually teaching them the important lesson
that they must ere long change their mode of life, or cease to exist
at all. It is by industry or extinction that the problem of their
destiny must be solved."
Now it seemed that extinction would be the solution. Lea did not
foresee the results of the crushed spirits of the Indians.