Gordon's arrival at Reserve was not attended by any ceremony. One
of his parish members, Katie Gohke, is still living there (in 1975).
Katie is eighty-three now and a widow. She remembers the Indian
Katie says, "Father Gordon came to Stone Lake. That's where the
Soo Line was. My husband was working in the store at Stone Lake.
He came one day and asked if I could feed Father Gordon dinner."
said, where is Father?"
is down to the store. I just want to know, will you give him dinner
I said, "I'll feed him then."
So Katie gave Father Gordon his first meal at Reserve. She didn't
remember what she served, probably roast beef. After that she was
busy with her large family and did not have an opportunity to associate
with the priest very much but she says everybody like him.
Katie must have been very busy with thirteen children of her own,
plus two children of relatives whom they raised. She has over a
Other Indians at Reserve also remember Father Gordon. Charlie Coons,
who had a store and the post office, was not a Catholic, but remembers
Father Gordon and said he was a good man. Charlie's friend, Benny
Isham, said he always went to church at Reserve and he liked the
built the church there, but it wasn't finished when he left."
When Father Gordon came to Reserve, the church of St. Francis Solano,
which the Franciscan missionaries had built many years before, was
still standing. It was a log building begun in 1881, complete in
1885, and later enlarged.
The missionaries had converted several hundred Indians from paganism
and two churches had been built on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation,
on at Reserve and one at Post, as well as several, outside the reservation,
which were later given over to white Catholics.
By tribal action, the Indians had voluntarily given lands for the
missions, and the Indians themselves furnished the labor and materials
for the churches.
The Most Reverend Joseph M. Koudelka had appointed Father Gordon
missionary to the Chippewa Indians in January 1918, at the suggestion
of Cardinal Bonzano, Apostolic Delegate.
Among the Indians living on the reservation, were Steve Grover (Go-shens),
Anakwat (The Cloud), and Billy Boy, pagan Indians who became good
friends of Father Gordon. They were greatly respected for their
age and wisdom. The orator of the band was Billy Boy who lived in
Reserve and, as the priest said, was a master of Chippewa language.
is a beautiful and sonorous language, full of original terms of
lofty similes. There is as much difference between the common language
of the reservation and that of the great orators there is between
the slang of our street Arabs and the literary idioms of our best
It seemed logical to Father Gordon to be in charge of six Indian
missions. Besides the one at Reserve, there were two on the Lac
du Flambeau, one at Mud Lake in Rusk County, one at the mouth of
the Yellow River, one at Old Post on the west branch of the Chippewa
As he later wrote in his memoirs, since he was "a Chippewa Indian,
an enrolled member of the tribe, speaking the language, related
by blood to many of the members of the tribe, reared with the Indians
in their own haunts, the appointment seemed fitting and in keeping
with the idea of a native clergy for the aborigines of the country."
He believed he was where he belonged and felt he was conducting
his work successfully. But it was not long before a government investigation
took place. Father Gordon was annoyed and unhappy about the report
from Commissioner Cato Sells. On April 5, 1920, he sent the following
telegram to the Honorable Joseph P. Tumulty, President Wilson's
secretary, and also sent a copy to the bishop at Superior.
report just received from Commissioner Cato Sells an investigation
recently conducted on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, reported
by Inspector Lipps in a most unfair and unjust way. Unless the President
directs within forty-eight hours a reinvestigation to take place
within the next ten days which must be based on fact and reliable
data instead of uncatholic prejudice and malicious anti-catholic
bigotry and gross allegations I must call the attention of the whole
Catholic hierarchy to this rabid anti-catholic proceeding and by
pen and voice tell twenty-nine million Catholics and upright Americans
of our country of this unfair, unjust, un-American, and decidedly
anti-catholic piece of administration; also an apology is due us
from Inspector Lipps for his trying statements and misrepresentations.
Wire me at once in Hayward, Wisconsin."
Father Gordon's good friend, Senator Lenroot, wrote to Cato Sells
on June 5, 1918, "I wish to state in this connection that Father
Gordon can be absolutely relied upon in every respect and that he
is the greatest power of good that there has been among the Indians
since I have been in Congress, whish is now nearly ten years."
is an Indian himself, and a Catholic pries of the very highest ideals,
of absolute integrity and full of enthusiasm for the welfare of
and in matters concerning this reservation you
will find him of very great value in giving to the Department disinterested
information concerning the various problems that arise."
Father Gordon not only cared for his six missions, but he visited
the Potawatomi Indians of eastern Wisconsin, who long had been neglected
by the government and the missionaries. Dr. Carlos Montezuma, a
noted Chicago physician, accompanied him to the Potawatomi reservation,
where they discussed plans for a mission.
Dr. Montezuma was a full-blooded Apache, a fluent writer and speaker
and a 33rd degree Mason. He wore his hair quite long and for this
reason he has a namesake still living at Reserve. When 'Monty' Diamond
was born he had unusually long hair. Father Gordon said, "Here is
a second Montezuma" and that was the name he received.
Among other well-known guests the priest entertained was Eamon de
Valera, who became prime minister of Ireland. He was honored by
the Indians and received an Indian name. In return De Valera presented
a number of rifles to the Indians. These were treasured by the Indians,
and no doubt at least some of them are still being used.
When De Valera died on August 29, 1975, at the age of 90, a St.
Paul paper mentioned the fact that he was an Indian chief.
Father Gordon encountered further trouble. In 1921 the old church
burned. Katie Gohke saw it burn. She says, "Father Gordon was away
at the time. The steeple got struck by lightening and then it went
right down into the church. It was 11 or 12 o'clock. I think part
of it was a log building. It was a big, long building."
The Indian priest now faced the tremendous task of building a new
church in a parish were "a dollar looked like a thousand." He personally
collected $30,000 from friends of the Indians. Clarence Wise, banker
of Hayward, financed large loans on unsecured personal notes. Later,
his son, Tony, did much to help the Indians.
Father Gordon dreamed of a church that would combine the old Indian
symbolism and the ideals of Catholicism. He said this would be a
"connecting link which would sagely bring Indians from paganism
it is the only way to reach the Indian heart."
The Indians were enthusiastic about the new church. They picked
granite rock from the fields and the woods of Reserve, carried them
to the building site and split them. It was slow work and the roof
was covered with building paper until it could be completed. Father
Gordon planned to use rough cedar shingles, called 'shakes' for
the roof. These were to be hand-hewn from the immense stumps that
stood beside the lake on Reserve was located.
The priest's friends were always ready to help. Alexander C. Eschweiler,
Milwaukee, architect, planned the building but the head carpenter
and two masons were Indians.
A newspaper article describing the church said, "
has been taken into consideration in working out the symbolic designs
of the stained glass widows by George W. Mueller of Milwaukee Mirror
and Art Glass Works. Realizing that few of the Indian parishioners
were able to read, Mr. Mueller planned the windows so that each
shall speak to the Indians in familiar terms. They contain the rising
sun, many arrows, crossed calumets and tobacco, and above the pipes
and arrows, the cross."
The hand-hewn rafters in the interior of the church were stained
in brilliant reds and blues and orange, which the Indians loved.
Deerskin hung in front of the confessionals and at the entrance
of the altar. The alter cloths were woven by the Chippewa women
with characteristic designs and Indian symbols woven into the fabric.
Adjoining the church was the pastor's residence, built in the shape
of a teepee, the pointed wigwam of the early Indians. This had a
lighting system and a bath with hot and cold water - unheard of
marvels among the Indians.
All during the building process, Father Gordon was available to
help in any part of the construction. The architects, the window
designers, or anyone else doing any work in connection with the
building, sought his advice in interpreting Indian symbols and suggesting
way in which they could be combined with Catholic teachings.
The roof of the church was not finished when Father Gordon was transferred
and it saddened him to think of the beautiful church as well as
the Indians' souls were being neglected.
my people are dirty, looked at through white men's eyes," Father
Gordon said, "But they have no training or facilities for being
otherwise. Thirty-five percent of them are affected with tuberculosis
and they know nothing of how to stop it ravages."
But he was justly proud of the seventy boys under his care who volunteered
for service in France, seven of whom gave their lives for a cause
which they understood only dimly but which they believed was just
because the good priest said it was.
never want to leave Reserve," he said. "This is the work I love
and understand and I ask as my only reward greater appreciation
on the part of the white men of the Indians' problems. Oh I might
want to go to Chicago once in a while to see Babe Ruth play baseball,
but I hope to live and die among my people."
In spite of all the poverty and sickness, however, the Indians loved
to dance and would continue for weeks in not restrained. The priest's
father was quite modern in his ideas, but his Indian mother loved
the old ways and appeared on ceremonial occasions in full regalia.
The year 1923 was disastrous for Father Gordon. It is notable for
the destruction of the parish at Post when the Chippewa Flowage
project was completed. Father Gordon later wrote: "In 1923, the
Northern States Power Company, a powerful corporation, rendered
useless the other mission church located at Post, Wisconsin, by
reason of the construction of a reservoir which flooded the Catholic
mission grounds and inundated some 250 Catholic graves. The writer
engaged at once with his characteristic vigor and vigilance and
almost overheated vim in correspondence and controversy with the
Indian Department officials at Washington D.C. under whose permission
the reservoir was constructed and with officials of the Water Power
Company' and endeavored in vain to interest the Bishop of Superior
in whose name the church property lies, in the matter of proper
redress for the poor Indians as well as damages and respect for
the sanctity of Catholic graves and church."
A controversy had been going on for years between the Indians and
the company officials. But eventually, Indians were obliged to give
up their homes, Indian graves, sacred to them, were flooded, the
Indian church abandoned and the Indians were grieved and puzzled.
Father Gordon wrote, "Naturally, the Indian pastor was in the midst
of this fight sticking out his neck many times publicly and privately.
A voluminous correspondence is evidence of the tremendous efforts
he made in behalf of the Indians."
too, and naturally, the disfavor of the public utilities with their
corps of attorneys, officials, lobbyists, etc. associated therewith,
was incurred. Still, many new friends were made and thus the disagreement
As an example of the repercussions of such an event, the priest
said, "I was asked to address a district convention of the Women's
Clubs who was meeting in St. Croix Falls. We took the occasion to
ask the women as good citizens to ask for a complete U.S. Senate
investigation of the whole Chippewa Flowage project."
Father Gordon had difficulty continuing his talk because of opposition
from the floor, and just managed to read his resolution (which the
meeting subsequently adopted).
He said, "Following this appearance, the speaker was soundly berated
by two of the members of the convention (females). Later he discovered
that the two good women were employees of the Public Utility at
Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He was accused of obstructing 'progress'
Early in 1923, Father Gordon had been appointed to the Secretary
Work's Committee on Indian Affairs, a committee of one hundred Americans
who were asked to come to Washington to formulate an Indian policy.
The committee was directed to meet in December.
The meeting brought together a rather unique group of Americans
- General Pershing, Rabbi Stephan Wise, Mary Roberts Rinehart, the
authoress, Oswald Willard, Major General Hugh Scott, William Jennings
Bryan, Nicholas Murray Butler, Bernard Baruch, Governor Pruess of
Minnesota, Dr. Charles Eastman and others.
According to Father Gordon, "The activities caused the Indian Bureau
some worry and efforts were initiated to silence the voices crying
for justice. Indians were instigated to complain, allegations arose,
were reported, refuted, 'investigations' made."
At this time, Father Gordon wrote a paragraph for the Superior Telegram,
which was copied by Notre Dame University Bulletin and many Catholic
and secular newspapers.
He wrote, "It is an old trick of the Indian Office to blacken the
character of an Indian that happens, not withstanding the retardation
caused by the Indian Bureau, to rise a little above the ranks. So
as soon as an educated Indian begins to deplore the conditions of
his brother Indians, the Indian Office dubs such a one as a disturber,
an agitator, and lately he is placed in the Bolshevik class. The
whole Indian Bureau system of managing Indian business to the detriment
of the Indian but for the benefit of a few greedy and voracious
whites is the most dramatic autocracy in existence the world over.
Gradually through assistance of the American press, the generous-hearted
and justice-loving American people are learning something of the
present day Indian government humbuggery and deceit practiced by
the Indian Office forces."
He went on to tell the plight of the Indians, but his pleas were
to no avail. Father Gordon was finally retired from the Indian missionary
work. The relentless destiny of the Indian could not be reversed.
In September of the same year, 1923, the last meeting of the Society
of American Indians took place in Chicago. Father Gordon had been
elected president of the organization. The society was violently
anti-Indian Bureau. They criticized the bureau severely and called
upon the American people for its total abolishment. Naturally, the
activities of the group aroused the ire of many government officials
who were working in the Indian office.
But the event, which Father Gordon thought brought events to a climax
came in November 1923. The newly elected U.S. Senator Henrik Shipstead
of Minnesota toured the northern part of his state. He visited the
Chippewa Indians. On his return he asked Father Gordon to meet with
him and talk over Indian matters. They met in the Radisson Hotel
in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The priest said, "Outside of the picture
in the newspaper, not much resulted except that the Senator was
shown to be a fine friend of the Indians."
However two months later, early in January 1924, Father Gordon received
an urgent call from an old missionary at White Earth, Minnesota,
Benedictine Father Aloysius, who had been with the Indians for forty
years. He asked Father Gordon to come up at once and make a private
survey of the deplorable conditions prevailing among the Indians.
Father Gordon responded immediately and after a week's visit, returned
to the Twin Cities with a briefcase full of accounts of extreme
distress and near starvation.
He presented the facts to Clubs, particularly the Catholic Women's
Club in Session in Minneapolis. He also contacted Governor Pruess
and other state officials and even stirred the Red Cross to some
activity on behalf of the Indians in Minnesota.
he said, "the Indian Office was severely taken to task and a controversy
raged, the writer himself was not spared. He was characterized as
an agitator, a demagogue, and a dangerous character.
Despite a multitude of friends, there were factions who opposed
the Indian priest. Interests he had opposed began a bitter campaign
against him, even using some of his own people against him. Although
he had staunch friends, "the shadow of amazing and overwhelming
duplicity of government inspectors and employees often darkened
He describes the termination of his stay at Reserve as follows:
"Meanwhile, in September 1923, some disaffected Indians, mostly
non-Catholic, led by a renegade Indian who had served a term in
State prison and aided and abetted by certain government agencies
filed absurd and ridiculous charges affecting the personal conduct
of the writer. The subsequent 'investigation' of the government
officials disclosed nothing and the Bishop himself conducted and
undertook a secret inquiry
the complainants publicly known
to be irresponsible and even immoral. Two of the complainants have
now admitted by affidavit that the matter was the characteristic
Father Gordon "secured the services of a reputable lawyer, Mr. Felix
Steckymans, 640 Burnham Building, Chicago, Illinois, who carefully
went over the complete charges, (Note: All of the charges were not
known to us until three years later) found nothing criminal among
the allegations and nothing substantiated unless the poor judgment,
too willing to admitted by the writer, he considered worthy of a
charge. Mr. Steckymans made several visits to the Reserve home of
the missionary, conferred with numerous Indians and whites, including
several of the actual complainants and reached the conclusion that
the charges were so indefinite as to be ridiculous and were false.
He so informed Bishop Pinten."
The following January 1924, the Right Reverend Pinten asked Father
Gordon to resign his Indian Mission in Reserve, "for administrative
reason, advancing no other reason except to say, 'you will be sorry'
Thus Father Gordon ended his work at Reserve, as he says, "without
controversy and without complaint and without bitterness."
He returned to other areas of Indian work and in May 1924 he was
appointed pastor of St. Patrick's Church, Centuria, Wisconsin. It
was "a period of unforgettable memories, of total disillusionment,
of anguish of friends."
Father Gordon had been informed that four delegations of Indians
called on the bishop and six or seven hundred signed a pathetic
petition. But their plea to "Come back, our son, come back," was
ignored by the authorities. (The priest believed the number of delegations
was exaggerated and possibly two would be closer to the truth.)