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Title: Brother Van
Author: Brummitt, Stella W.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                              BROTHER VAN


                  But the Northwest knows him only as Brother Van

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                              BROTHER VAN


                          STELLA W. BRUMMITT

  Illustration:   (‡ Colophon)

                               NEW YORK

                          Copyright, 1919, by

                         To the Best Known and
                       Best Loved Man in Montana

                              BROTHER VAN



     I  A Boy at Gettysburg

    II  Explorers of a Continental Purchase

   III  Westward

    IV  A Sky Pilot’s Race Up the Missouri

     V  Brother Van

    VI  A Brother to the Blackfoot

   VII  The Gospel Team

  VIII  Scouting for Uncle Sam

    IX  New Trails

     X  Great Heart with the Indians

    XI  Brother Van and New Montana

   XII  Seventy Years Young


   1  William Wesley Van Orsdel, known as “Brother Van.”

   2  The Battle of Gettysburg.

   3  A statue in honor of Sacajawea in Portland, Oregon.

   4  Sitting Bull was dressed in full war regalia.

   5  Historic Fort Benton, where Brother Van ate jerked buffalo

   6  Brother Van visiting a Blackfeet medicine lodge.

   7  The ceremony of adoption into the Blackfeet tribe.

   8  Indians were terrifying settlers everywhere.

   9  Brother Van’s dispatch to the Helena _Herald_.

  10  Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Percés at Big Hole.

  11  Dr. Thomas C. Iliff and Brother Van, who had many adventures

  12  Brother Van was “hail fellow well met” with the people.

  13  Brother Van shot the herd leader in the head.

  14  The Van Orsdel Home for Nurses at Helena.

  15  Great Heart with a Blackfoot brother.

  16  A copper mine at Butte.


GRATEFUL acknowledgment is hereby given for the interest and
helpfulness shown by many people in Montana while I was collecting
material for this book. To have known Brother Van better has been a
joy, and to have met his beloved people “out where the west begins”
has been a privilege.

The readers of this biography owe much to the Rev. George Logan and to
the Rev. A. W. Hammer, both old-time friends of the pioneer missionary.
From them have come stories and tales of adventure which could not have
been forced from the boyishly modest preacher himself.

The story is sent out with the hope that through it some young people
may add a new name to their list of heroes.

                                                    STELLA W. BRUMMITT.

                               CHAPTER I

                          A BOY AT GETTYSBURG

“NOW, boy, watch and you’ll see one of the sights of the war! Our
troops are going to charge and take that battery.”

It was the first day of the great battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863;
and the Confederate cavalry leader, General Jenkins, at his post on a
sheltered hillside, was pointing out to a rough-clad, barefoot boy from
a near-by farmhouse the movements of the troops on the opposite side.

As William Wesley Van Orsdel had heard at home of the battles in which
his ancestors had fought, he may have wondered if some time, he, too,
would march away to war. He had never dreamed that while he was still
a boy one of the most important battles in modern history would take
place in the quiet fields and on the wooded hills surrounding the
little farm where he lived.

The opening of the battle found him ready to take his part whatever
it might be, even though he could not be one of the fighters. He soon
found that there was no lack of opportunity to help. Fearlessly he went
back and forth among the men of both the Northern and Southern armies,
carrying water to the wounded no matter what the color of the uniform
they wore, and relieving the distress of many a stricken soldier.

In the course of one of his errands of helpfulness he suddenly found
himself at the side of the dreaded Jenkins, whose cavalry raids had
made his name a terror to all of the farmers of the region because of
the heavy toll of horses, cattle, and grain which he took from them.
Jenkins’ present orders were to guard the baggage train and hospital
of the Confederate army commanded by General Ewell, and as he waited
at his post he chatted easily with the bright and attractive farmer lad
who showed himself to be so interested in all the stirring events that
were going on around him.

William was a loyal Federal at heart and he felt decidedly
uncomfortable in the presence of the Southerner as he followed the
General’s explanation of what was happening on the adjacent hills. It
was a scene of furious struggle and of seemingly wild disorder upon
which they looked. Now the Federals and now the men in gray appeared
to have control. Then suddenly Jenkins shouted, “Now, boy, watch, and
you’ll see one of the sights of the war!”

A fresh and powerful force of Confederate troops was advancing steadily,
and to his dismay William saw that the blue lines along Seminary Ridge
were giving way. It was one of the brilliant actions of the battle, the
charge of a fiery Southern general, Jubal Early, and the boy’s heart
sank as the Federal positions were overrun and their guns captured. He
could catch glimpses of the men in blue retreating through the streets
of the little town of Gettysburg to the slopes of Cemetery Hill. He hid
from the Confederate general his fear lest the attacking forces might
drive the Northerners even further back, but as the afternoon passed,
the fighting became less violent and when night fell Cemetery Hill was
still in possession of Federal troops.

The following two days were filled with thrilling adventures for the
boy as he saw thousands of men struggling desperately in the valleys
and on the hills where he knew every path and almost every tree. It
seemed very strange to him that these familiar places――Round Top,
Little Round Top, Seminary Ridge, and the peach orchard should suddenly
become of such importance. From the gossip of the village, however, he
knew in general what the Federal commanders had to do, and to many a
scouting party he was able to give valuable information about trails,
roads, and observation points.

Everywhere there were wounded men crying for water and all through
the hot days William hurried from point to point, carrying help and
cheer. Often he was in danger from the heavy shell fire, for Gettysburg
saw the greatest artillery engagement that had ever been known. Five
hundred and sixty-nine tons of shells were hurled by the opposing
batteries in the course of three days. The boy had at one time a moment
of breathless suspense when a cannon ball fell near him, but it failed
to explode. Except for some powder marks on his face, he came through
those trying days without injury.

William’s work was not done when he had spent the daylight hours in
going among the wounded on the field. In the evening, when there was
a lull in the fighting, he went into the village carrying news of the
battle and helping friends whose homes were surrounded by the fury
of the conflict. He was saddened by the death of his friend, Jennie
Wade, a girl of twenty, who had been killed by a chance shot that
came through the door of the house. She was the only resident of
the town killed during the whole battle. The home of another friend,
Josephine Rogers, stood where the thickest of the fight came in the
last two days of the battle. William watched over the safety of this
eighteen-year-old girl, and was able to give assistance and comfort in
the hours of danger.

On the first day, as General Carroll of the Union forces fell back, he
saw the girl at her door and exclaimed, “What are you doing here? This
house is in the trail of the greatest battle of the war. Seek a place
of safety!”

“Mother has gone, but I have bread in the oven. As soon as it is baked,
I will go,” replied Josephine.

When she took the fragrant bread out of the oven, there were so many
hungry soldiers that wanted it that she decided to bake more for the
struggling men. This work she continued for three days, and gave bread
to the troops on both sides. Her home became a refuge for the wounded,
and all the delicacies she could find were placed at the disposal of
the soldiers. On the last day of the battle the house was in the line
of General Pickett’s charge against the Union lines on Cemetery Hill.
From the riddled house the bodies of seventeen men were taken, some in
blue, some in gray; but the nurse and benefactress of both came through
the event without a scratch.

When at last the Confederates were forced to withdraw, after having
struggled gallantly but in vain to drive the Union forces from Cemetery
Hill, and from the adjoining hills now famous in history――Round Top
and Little Round Top――it was found that rarely if ever had armies
suffered such a high proportion of losses. Meade, the Federal commander,
went into the battle with eighty-two thousand men. He lost in killed,
wounded, and missing twenty-three thousand. General Lee had moved on
Gettysburg with about seventy-three thousand men and his losses were
as large as those of Meade if not larger.

  Illustration:   Copyright, Brown Brothers.


                  The Battle of Gettysburg was fought among the
                  hills surrounding William Van Orsdel’s home.

The scenes of daring and of strife in those exciting days of battle
and the talks with the wounded men could not but make a deep impression
on such a thoughtful boy as William Van Orsdel. He saw what men were
given power to accomplish when they held their lives as nothing in the
struggle for the things which they believed to be right. The memory of
those stirring days with the acts of sacrifice and of heroism which he
had witnessed made him long for the time when as a man he could engage
in such deeds of action and of daring as those of the soldiers. With
the thoughtfulness which marked his quiet days on the farm and in the
country school, he now began to look forward to some life task that
would call for hardship and adventure and would make his life of the
largest service to those in need.

There was a dauntlessness in William which was partly due to the
fact that he had pioneer ancestry. His great-grandfather came over
from Holland to New Jersey with the early settlers. His grandfather
settled in Pennsylvania about the time of the Revolution, and William’s
father was born there. His mother came from England, and in the little
farmhouse near Gettysburg, William was born on March 20, 1848. Hard
work and heavy responsibilities fell to the boy early in life, for when
he was but fourteen years old, his father died. He then had the care
of his mother and sister and the management of the farm. Two strenuous
years followed; then his mother died and the children were separated
and taken into the homes of relatives.

William was now cared for by an aunt, whose farm was close to
Gettysburg. The change made it possible for him to attend a better
school and he was proud to become a student of Hunterstown Academy.
Eagerly did he grasp this opportunity to prepare himself to render the
greatest service in whatever life-work should open before him.

                              CHAPTER II


AS William pored over his big geography in the firelight of his
Pennsylvania home, that great stretch of territory vaguely called
the “Northwest” filled his mind with interesting visions of possible
adventures. Another name given to it by his elders, and by the books,
was the “Great American Desert,” and the boy could never hear enough of
the tales that came out of it. He always wanted to learn more about the
Indians, with their strange beliefs and customs, and about the great
brown herds of buffalo that roamed over the plains, and that were being
slaughtered wantonly by white man and red man alike. He day-dreamed
of Indian camps, of the long wagon-trains of venturesome pioneers, of
swift, pony express riders, and of the hardy hunters of wild animals in
the mountains.

“When I am old enough, I am going west,” said the boy to his friends.
“I shall come back to Pennsylvania to live, but I am going to see the
land of Lewis and Clark first.”

The adventures of these explorers had a great fascination for the
schoolboys of that period even as they have at the present time. The
great western land of which William dreamed became known to the world
principally through the journeys of these daring men. William loved
to hear about every one of their wonderful experiences. The story of
the Louisiana Purchase, by which most of these territories had been
acquired by the United States, was a favorite, too. He liked especially
to read about the day when the Louisiana Purchase had the unique
experience of flying three different flags in twenty-four hours. In
1803 Spain ceded all this unexplored land to France. France sold it to
the United States. So in one day the Spanish flag came down and, for
form’s sake, the French flag was put up; and in turn that was lowered
for the flag that has floated over the Purchase ever since, the Stars
and Stripes.

President Jefferson made plans at once for the exploration of the new
domain, and chose as the leaders of the expedition two young Virginia
college men of energy, ability, and high character. They were well
fitted for the dangerous enterprise ahead. None but stout hearts could
have completed the venture, of which William Wesley Van Orsdel and
thousands of other boys were to hear and read many years later. Lewis
was President Jefferson’s secretary and a man whom he loved much.
Jefferson has left this fine appreciation of him: “Of courage undaunted,
possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but
impossibilities could divert from its direction, careful as a father of
those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order
and discipline, intimate with Indian character, customs and principles,
honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding, and a fidelity
to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as
certain as if seen by ourselves.”

The maps showed few cities on the Missouri River when Lewis and Clark
started on their expedition. St. Louis was then forty years old; it
contained less than two hundred houses and about two thousand people,
nearly all of whom were French. These men who started up the Missouri
in the fleet bearing the expedition, little dreamed that from the
territory which they were to explore there would be carved the great
states of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota,
Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon――fertile and prosperous states
from which would come the necessities to strengthen nations in need in
the great war more than a hundred years later. Not only wheat, sugar,
and cattle, but timber, and metals to renew the world’s shipping, were
to come from those western fields, forests, and mines.

The fleet consisted of three craft; the largest was a keel-boat,
fifty-five feet long, drawing three feet of water, carrying a sail, and
propelled by twenty-two oars, eleven on each side. It had a forecastle
and a cabin guarded by breastworks to protect against Indian attacks.
The other two were piroques. These were boats bound together side by
side and floored over; one with seven oars, another with six oars, and
both carried sails.

Besides Lewis and Clark, the party consisted of three sergeants――Ordney,
Pryor, and Lloyd――twenty-three privates, two interpreters, and a
Negro servant. The interpreters were Charbonneau and his Indian wife,
Sacajawea. The Negro, whose name was York, was Clark’s slave and
body servant. Many heroes were discovered in that company before it
had reached the waters of the Pacific. There is just one heroine,
Charbonneau’s wife, Sacajawea, or the Bird Woman. By birth she belonged
to the Shoshone tribe. When a little girl she had been taken prisoner
in a war between the Minnetarees and Shoshones and sold to a traveling
Frenchman, who was a roving hunter and guide. He brought her up as a
slave and afterward married her. Sacajawea guided the expedition and
acted as interpreter, all the while giving her baby tender and watchful
care. She received no gift when the party disbanded, but to-day she
lives in the grateful memory of the West as one of its real explorers
and a true benefactress. In the city park in Portland there stands a
statue in honor of this brave Indian matron.

                  PORTLAND, OREGON

The romantic episode of the return of this woman guide to her own
tribe was one of the strange incidents of the expedition. Over unknown
trails the daring scouts went in the untracked wilderness. It is
hard to realize the suffering they endured from hunger, sickness, and
other dangers. Their advance along the upper Missouri is of particular
interest here. One day Captain Lewis, who was traveling on foot in
order to lighten the canoes, climbed a high cliff and there before his
glad eyes lay the “Land of the Shining Mountains,” for such was the
Indian name for the region which was afterward known as Montana. As
they pressed on, the roaring of water sounded in the distance, and soon
the great falls of the Missouri came into view. Here the river drops
over four hundred feet in a ten-mile stretch. The map that Lewis and
Clark made of this section is so accurate that in 1892, when William
Van Orsdel resided temporarily in the town of Great Falls, it was
reproduced in facsimile with the modern improvements added. It was near
the falls that Sacajawea recognized the spot where she had been taken
prisoner by the Minnetarees.

Just at that point in their progress the expedition was in need of
horses for the journey across the mountains, and taking Sacajawea,
Captain Clark set out to find her people and to buy horses from them.
Captain Lewis went with another detachment on a different course. After
much journeying he found Chief Cameahwait and gave him an American
flag as an emblem of peace. The chief took them to a leathern lodge,
smoky and ancient, and seated them on green pine boughs covered with
antelope and buffalo skins. A warrior in splendid attire kindled a fire
in the center of the lodge; the chief produced a pipe and tobacco; the
warriors took off their moccasins, showing the white men that they were
expected to remove their shoes.

When all was in readiness and the circle completed, the chief lit his
pipe. He then made a speech, and at its close he indicated the four
cardinal points with the stem of his pipe, beginning with the east and
ending with the north. He handed the pipe to Lewis, who supposed that
he was to smoke, but the chief drew the pipe back three times, then
pointed to the heavens and to the center of the group. This concluded
the ceremony and Lewis was allowed to smoke.

After the foregoing reception Lewis was permitted to tell how he and
Captain Clark had separated as they started to find Sacajawea’s people,
and how they had agreed to meet at Three Forks but had missed one
another. He explained his anxiety concerning the safety of his friend
and his party and asked for help. Suddenly some Indians came in crying,
“White man! White man!” Eagerly the group seated around the fire left
the lodge, as from its entrance they saw that Captain Clark’s party
was drawing near. Sacajawea approached the watching Indians sucking her
fingers, signifying that they were of her native tribe. As she advanced,
a woman darted to meet her and weeping and laughing alternately
embraced her. It was then found that they had been childhood friends
and now were meeting for the first time since the day on which the
Minnetarees had taken Sacajawea captive.

Captain Lewis and Captain Clark embraced also in their joy at meeting,
and the chief called for the ceremony of smoking. The warriors and the
white men arranged themselves in a circle, and the pipe was about to be
smoked when Sacajawea was sent for to act as interpreter. She entered
modestly and shyly, but when her eyes sought the chief, she suddenly
ran to him weeping once more, for the big chief was her own brother,
from whose side she had been snatched on the day of the tribal war.

After this meeting Charbonneau and Sacajawea were taken to the camp of
the Shoshones. Anything that the white men wanted was easily secured
now. Fifty horses were bartered for and delivered to them, so the
expedition was able to proceed. Sacajawea was eager to go to the coast
to see the “big water” and the “monster fish,” but the time of parting
had come. Charbonneau was paid five hundred dollars and thirty-three
cents for two years’ service, and the little Bird Woman, Sacajawea, was
given nothing but the gratitude and respect of the white man.

The party proceeded with other guides and finished the hard journey
through the mountains to the Columbia River and to the Pacific. They
brought back to the American public a romantic story of strange animals,
of prairies, of rivers, of waterfalls, of mountains, and, above all, of
Indians with their weird, barbaric customs, their strength, and their
eagerness to learn.

As a result of the travels of Lewis and Clark, and of other explorers
and early settlers who followed them, a strong interest in the West
sprang up among the people of the East. Many adventure-seeking boys
left homes of comfort in the older states during the next fifty years
in search of larger opportunities in the opening West. But these
glowing tales of Indian tribes, and of wealth easily gained, had
another effect besides that of luring high-spirited boys to seek
new fortunes beyond the Mississippi; there was also kindled a flame
of missionary endeavor in the churches of the East. Some of the
great chapters of American history are written about the men who gave
their lives to the task of carrying the gospel to the Indians, and to
establishing churches in the new settlements scattered over almost half
a continent.

Growing up as he did in a Christian home, William Van Orsdel heard
the stories of the brave pioneers of the Cross as well as those of
explorers and hunters. It is not strange that as a young man he should
respond with enthusiasm to the calls that were being made throughout
the churches of the East for strong, energetic, and devoted men to
enlist for Christian service in these new and difficult fields.

William had already proved the depth and earnestness of his Christian
faith. When a boy on the farm he had given his life fully into God’s
guidance and keeping. That he had caught the spirit of his Master he
showed to all about him by his many acts of neighborly service to those
who were in need. Although he had to work very hard on the farm even
while attending school, he found time on Saturdays and Sundays to visit
the sick and the unfortunate and to help and encourage them. Thus the
boy who had carried the news of the battle of Gettysburg to the village
people now became the bearer of news of another battle――of the battle
against all that is mean and unworthy in life――and of the Great Captain
of our salvation who gives the victory to those who in loyalty of heart
place themselves under his leadership. The people came to love his
simple telling of the old message and crowded the little churches and
schoolhouses whenever he would speak to them. Soon they began to call
him the “boy evangelist” which was only the first of many honors that
his friends and neighbors were to pay him in the long years of useful
service that lay ahead.

Thus young manhood brought to William the firm conviction that in
the missionary service of his church in those distant regions of the
Northwest, where there was such need for young men who could be at once
both pioneers and Christian leaders, he would find the life-work which
would allow him to be of the largest service to his country and to his
God. Each year brought him a stronger sense of beckoning Indian hands.
To these people of the western plains and forests, he must go and
preach; his decision was clear and firm. His small savings were far
from sufficient to cover the cost of the long and expensive journey,
for he found that the money which he could scrape together would carry
him only as far as Champaign, Illinois. He had faith, however, that if
he made the start, the way would be opened for him to reach his final
destination in Montana. He knew how to do hard work; he could earn his
fare for the remainder of the journey.

So William started on his eagerly anticipated travels. No mother was
there to give a farewell blessing, but he carried with him an abundance
of good wishes from the people in the neighborhood of Gettysburg,
for they had known him since childhood and loved him for his helpful,
friendly ways, and for his sincere character. Tucked away in a safe
pocket was his most highly prized possession, an exhorter’s license
granted him in recognition of his work as an evangelist, a high honor
for a boy of seventeen. Alone and unafraid he pressed on toward the
western land of his dreams.

                              CHAPTER III


THE first task that William Van Orsdel found, as he journeyed westward,
was at Oil City, Pennsylvania. He had a cousin at that place whom
he visited, and who urged him to remain and run an oil-pump. He was
offered more money for the work weekly than the country lad had ever
seen at one time; so in April of the year 1870, and while on his way
to a thrilling career in the West, the boy became a day-laborer. At the
end of the first week in his new occupation, William was surprised to
learn from the foreman that he was expected to run the pump on Sunday.
When he protested against this use of the day of rest, he was told that
it would be all right if he would hire a substitute.

“I’d as soon do it myself as to cause another to work on the Lord’s Day.
I’ll do neither,” was the courageous reply.

William worked through the summer and into the autumn. When he
announced his intention of quitting he was offered an increase in
wages, although he had never worked on Sunday as his co-workers had
done. Instead of earning on that day, he had used his time for the
organization of a Sunday-school, and with true missionary spirit, had
talked of sacred things with his fellow workmen. Just before the time
that William was to leave the pumping job, the “bush meetings” were
announced. Woodmen would go into the forests and cut a road as they
went. When they reached a place fitted by nature for an auditorium, a
rough pulpit would be erected, slab benches put in place, and all would
be in readiness for a meeting.

The first night came and a large crowd, which was both serious and
curious, gathered at the place of meeting, but no preacher arrived. The
young oil-pumper who had organized the Sunday-school, and had talked
with thoughtless workmen, was sought for and urged to preach. Modestly
he assumed the role of evangelist to the waiting people, and three
persons were led to know the saving power of God on that night.

For ten days the meetings continued; many people having their interest
in religion rekindled, and many others made to feel the obligation
of right living for the first time. From these inspiring gatherings
William Van Orsdel went to Walnut Bend, an old settlement where, with
the exception of funeral sermons, no religious services had been held
for six years. Here a great revival occurred which lasted three weeks,
and forty citizens set to work to make their community life mean more
for faith and goodness than ever before.

Then followed meetings for three weeks at Oleopolis, where twenty-five
people renewed their faith and endeavors. Meetings were held at Pit
Hole, and continued for as long a period, and with the same encouraging
result. The three places where successful meetings had been held were
put into a circuit. One hundred and thirty-five members were received,
and the Presiding Elder asked William to take the charge at a good
salary for those days, and it included the privilege of boarding around.

The school-teachers and preachers in former times accepted “boarding
around” as one of the compensations of their calling. They recognized
its social value, even though dreading some of its privations. It
meant that the homes of the community were opened in succession to
the itinerant, who usually spent a week in the shelter of each home,
sharing its luxuries and difficulties as a member of the family. He was
then passed on to the next nearest neighbor until the round of homes
had been made, when the process was started all over again.

But the boy evangelist turned his back on the joys of boarding around,
for again came tidings from the West. The need of reinforcements for
the missionaries in the Oregon territory was related to him, and tales
of the settlers’ needs and of their privations. Stories reached him,
too, of the brave freighters serving the people of the wilderness; so
again the call of the West made the days of the boy preacher restless.
That map of the Louisiana Purchase became very real in those days of

Many years earlier Wilbur Fisk, who had been stirred by a strange story
of the Indians, had made an appeal in the columns of _The Christian
Advocate_. The incident which had come to the knowledge of Wilbur Fisk
would stir the heart of any eager young Christian. In these days when
all churches are giving to home missions as never before the story
must be retold, for it brought the beginning of Christian work in the
section where the quest was made.

Four Indians garbed in their odd dress appeared on the streets of
St. Louis in the year 1832. All through the summer and fall they had
traveled, for they had come two thousand miles in search of the “White
Man’s Book of Heaven,” and to ask that teachers would be sent to Oregon.
General Clark, the distinguished explorer, was then superintendent
of Indian affairs. He had charge of all Indians in the far West, with
headquarters at St. Louis. The Indians were received hospitably by
General Clark and cared for through the winter. He was a Roman Catholic
and they attended the church services regularly. During their visit to
St. Louis two of the Indians died, and the other two decided to return
to their people. A farewell banquet was given to these well-entertained
guests and at which one of them made the following speech:

“I came to you over the trail of many moons from the setting sun. You
were the friends of my fathers, who have all gone the long way. I came
with an eye partly open for my people who sit in darkness. I go back
with both eyes closed. How can I go back blind to my blind people! I
made my way to you with strong arms through many enemies and strange
lands that I might carry much back to them. I go back with both arms
broken and empty. Two fathers came with us. They were the braves of
many winters and wars. We leave them asleep here by your great water
and wigwams. They were tried in many moons and their moccasins wore out.

“My people sent me to get the white man’s Book of Heaven. You took
me to where they worship the Great Spirit with candles, but the book
was not there. You showed me the images of the Great Spirit and the
pictures of the good land beyond, but the book was not among them to
tell us the way. I am going back the long trail to my people in the
dark land. You make my feet heavy with gifts and my moccasins will grow
old with carrying them and yet the book is not among them. When I tell
my poor blind people, after the more snow, in the Big Council that I
did not bring the book, no word will be spoken by our old men or by
our young braves. One by one they will rise up and go out in silence.
My people will die in darkness and they will go a long path to other
hunting grounds. No white man will go with them, and no white man’s
Book of Heaven will make the way plain. I have no more words.”

Among the early missionaries, who became inspired by a knowledge of
the quest for the “White Man’s Book of Heaven,” were Francis McCormick,
known as the “man with the fist and the ax,” and John Kobler, the
first Methodist preacher north and west of the Ohio River. Another
of these leaders was Thomas Hall Pearne, a young man of great culture.
He practically received his commission from Bishop Janes in 1851.
“Go to Oregon; live there; work there and die there for Jesus,” said
the bishop. Young Pearne went west by way of Panama and landed in San
Francisco. William Taylor was then leading the religious forces of the
sunset city, and Pearne preached in the streets of San Francisco for
Taylor; then he sailed to the mouth of the Columbia River and finally
reached Portland.

On the first Sabbath day the new missionary appeared in his wedding
finery, for he had brought a wife to share in his labors, and the
stalwart pioneers looked askance at the silk hat, kid gloves, silk
necktie, and morocco shoes of the new preacher. “You do not look like
the fortieth cousin of a Methodist,” said one of the men frankly. The
young man asked to be given a hearing and preached with such spiritual
power that the people gladly accepted him as their leader. Pearne
erected the first Protestant house of worship on the Pacific coast
from Cape Horn to the Straits of Juan de Fuca. When later this pioneer
became presiding elder, his district included all of the United States
from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, the total area being
1,170,000 square miles, and it covered all that part now known as
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota. The
population was 13,294 white people and 100,000 Indians.

It was toward this vast territory that William Van Orsdel was working
his way. He left Oil City with only enough money to carry him to
Chicago. He stopped at Champaign to see a relative, and then went to
Chicago, where he met with a man who made clear to him just what his
future field was to be. This man was Chaplain McCabe, who was thrilling
thousands by his lectures on the bright side of Libby Prison, and by
his singing of such songs as “The Sword of Bunker Hill.” McCabe was
secretary of the Board of Church Extension of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, and had taken for his slogan, “A church a day,” as he sought
funds for the building of churches in the south and west. To this
man William confided his dreams and desires, and leading him to the
South Park Avenue Church, his new friend invited him to preach. The
Chaplain’s keen eyes twinkled as he listened, and visions came to him
of the churches which this youth would help him to build.

From Chaplain McCabe William learned much of the work to be done in
the west. “You are on the right track, young man,” he said. “Go west to
Montana, and help to build the kingdom in the western wilds.” He backed
his advice with some money and added, “You will realize what Paul
meant when he rejoiced that he did not build on any man’s foundation.
You will not find many foundations out there.” William Van Orsdel did
not feel that he was yet justified in having aid from the Missionary
Society, but he accepted the money as a personal gift from his new
friend. He set out again on his journey for the unexplored land of his

                              CHAPTER IV


IT was a penniless but hopeful youth who came into Sioux City in the
spring of 1872 and made a straight path to the Methodist parsonage.
Pastor Crozier was the minister who received the traveler, and who
found a congenial spirit in him. There was much work at hand, and under
his new friend’s direction, William gave himself eagerly to new, and
yet familiar tasks. Sunday-schools were organized in schoolhouses, and
the religious interest of the community was revived as the happy boy
evangelist sang his songs and preached his earnest message. He was not
idle for a day.

Early in June a minister named Bennett Mitchell returned from New York,
where the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church had been
held, with the news that a Conference of North Iowa had been organized.
Mr. Mitchell had been appointed as its presiding elder and he offered
Van Orsdel a charge in this new field.

“Take the night to consider it,” he said. “Pray about it, and give me
your answer in the morning.”

It was settled long before morning, for William had learned that the
same General Conference had formed a Rocky Mountain Conference to
embrace the territories of Washington, Idaho, Montana, and a part of

“The line of duty is very clear to me. I must go to the mountains.”
Such was the young pioneer’s firm reply on the morrow.

That very day a boat was starting up the Missouri for the Northwest.
The captain was hastily sought and interviewed. The fare was found to
be one hundred dollars.

“I haven’t that much money,” was the missionary’s frank reply to the
statement concerning the sum required.

“Well, I have no through passenger, so I’ll take you for seventy-five.”

“I’m sorry, but I haven’t got it.”

“Well, what in the world are you going to Montana for?”

“Oh, to sing and pray, and to encourage people to be good.”

The captain eyed the would-be passenger wonderingly. “Well, I have been
running this boat for a good many years, but I have never known of a
person going to Montana for that purpose,” he exclaimed. “If you will
sing and preach for us, I’ll take you for fifty dollars.”

The embarrassed young man was forced to admit that he did not have even
five dollars; then he made a venture of faith.

“If you will take me to Fort Benton, you will find fifty dollars
waiting for you here in care of Pastor Crozier when you return,” he

The good-natured captain agreed. When the boat came into Sioux City
again many weeks later, he promptly received the fifty dollars. So much
was he impressed by the incident, that he sent the greater part of the
money to Montana for the missionary’s work――to help “encourage people
to be good.” The debt was paid in a curious manner. A group of friends
back in the oil region of Pennsylvania had been following the western
journey of the young missionary with deep interest but with no real
knowledge of his exact circumstances. They realized, however, that some
money would “come in handy,” and without previous notice or arrangement
had forwarded to Pastor Crozier, at Sioux City, a sum which made it
possible for him to keep the promise which the dauntless Van Orsdel had
made to the captain.

It was on June 12, 1872, that the boat, the _Far West_, started on its
twelve-hundred-mile trip up the Missouri River carrying the missionary
to his new work. This proved to be a notable run, the quickest made
by any boat to Fort Benton. The reason for the unusual speed was the
fact that a rival boat, the _Nellie Peck_, had left Sioux City two days
before, and the captain was eager to pass her. In spite of insufficient
fuel, hostile Indians, and difficult channels, the _Far West_ came to
Fort Benton one hour before the _Nellie Peck_.

On the second day out from Sioux City the tenderfoot missionary on the
boat saw a battle between hostile Indians on the banks of the river,
and the question came to him, “If we are in hostile country so soon,
what will it be when we get to Montana?”

Coming to the Upper Missouri, they found that the woodchoppers had
been either killed or driven away. No coal was used on the river boats
in those days; so whenever fresh supplies of cut wood were not ready
at the usual supply points, the boat roustabouts would rush into the
cottonwood groves near the bank, chop down trees and carry the logs on
deck to be cut into lengths as the steamer proceeded. The pilot-house
and other parts of the _Far West_ showed that the aim of the Indians
was far from perfect as they pursued the frantic workers, for the men
escaped unhurt, while the boat was frequently struck by the shots of
the attacking party.

At one time when the boat was nearly out of wood a landing was made
close to a large cottonwood flat. The plank had scarcely touched the
shore when from all directions there advanced parties of Sioux warriors
in full war-regalia. Two braves with a great following came on board.
One of them was a splendid specimen of Indian manhood. He stood over
six feet high and wore a brilliant bead war-bonnet, decorated with many
eagle feathers; each feather represented a scalp taken in the terrible
warfare which these tribes practised. In one hand he held a tomahawk,
and with the other grasped the folds of his gorgeous robe. It was a
critical moment. If these chiefs should be angered, the boat would be
at the mercy of the band. The captain made gifts of pipes, beads, and
jewelry, and without showing too much anxiety, tactfully persuaded them
to depart.

When the Indians had taken their leave, the boat proceeded as far as it
could go with its scanty supply of wood. Again a stop was made for fuel,
and as the roustabouts were loading it, a remarkable personage suddenly
appeared. He was a tall, athletic, white man, with long black hair
flung back on his shoulders from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. His suit
was of buckskin and he wore a cartridge belt, while on his arm there
rested a fine rifle. As he came on board the vessel, the missionary
watched him wonderingly. It was his first meeting with a man who was to
become world famous for his exploits in the far West, William F. Cody,
known more commonly as Buffalo Bill.

These are not the only names by which this interesting man was called
in the course of his long and thrilling career among cowboys and
Indians. First he was little Billy Cody, the western messenger; then
Wild Bill, the pony express rider, and as a grown man he was known as
Bill Cody, the wagon master. Finally, to the heart’s delight of boys
and girls the world over, he became Buffalo Bill. For many years before
his death in 1917, he was generally spoken of as Colonel William F.
Cody; but to the Indians he will always be their beloved “Pa-has-ka,”
or “Long Hair.”

When Cody was told about the braves having boarded the boat dressed
in full war-regalia, he marveled. “That was the band of Sitting
Bull and Rain-in-the-Face, two Sioux Indian chiefs,” he exclaimed.
“They have five hundred men with them and are out for a lark. It is
miraculous that you escaped, for you have in the boat just what they
most want――food and ammunition.”

  Illustration:   Courtesy of the American Bureau of Ethnology.


Sitting Bull’s life story has been the theme of many writers. This
great warrior was a medicine-man, who preached of a happy day to come
when the palefaces should all be wiped out, and the land which they
had occupied should be restored to the Indians. To this end he greatly
incited his people to murder and devastation, but one thing must be
remembered, Sitting Bull believed firmly that the Indians were unfairly
treated. He sternly declared, “God Almighty made me――God Almighty
did not make me an agency Indian. I’ll fight and die fighting before
any white man can make me an agency Indian.” And he did. He defied
the government up to the very moment of his death in 1890; and his
resistance did not end until he fell pierced by the bullets of the
soldiers sent to take his person dead or alive.

Rain-in-the-Face was a warrior who had met all the tests of the
exacting medicine-man, Sitting Bull. His breast had been slashed,
and rawhide strips passed through it by which he was to hang until
the flesh gave way. Sitting Bull was not satisfied with the test and
maintained that the flesh had torn away too soon. Rain-in-the-Face
thereupon demanded another trial, lest he spend the rest of his life
despised as a squaw. So the strips were passed through the muscles of
his back, and for two days he hung, taunting his torturers, jeering,
and singing war songs. At last Sitting Bull was satisfied, and buffalo
skulls were hung on the feet of the tortured brave so that the folds of
flesh might tear away and release him. After that rather terrible test,
he was counted worthy of the title of warrior. Rain-in-the-Face died at
Standing Rock Agency in 1905.

The voyage in the _Far West_ became more and more exciting as the boat
proceeded. Indian camps came into view peopled so entirely by squaws
and children, that it was evident that the men were out on hostile
business. Great herds of buffalo and numberless droves of deer and
antelope were to be seen roaming on the prairie.

Young Van Orsdel was fascinated by the novelty of it all. His high
spirits, his friendliness, and his willingness to help in every way
made him a general favorite, and he soon won the complete confidence
of the captain and the roustabouts. He gave a hand at any odd job
that offered, singing as he worked, and daily living out his religion
of happiness and trust. When the woodchoppers were at work, he would
climb to some high point where he could watch the wide prairie for the
approach of Indians. In leisure moments as the boat forged ahead he
sang for the crew, much to their enjoyment, for his voice was of fine
quality and persuasive in tone. He became a fast friend of Jack, the
cabin boy, for he helped him to wash the dishes and arrange the tables.
Many were the intimate talks they had about their distant homes and
friends. As a result of this new friendship Jack became a Christian,
and later abandoned the river to take up the varied life of a frontier
preacher. So helpful was the missionary, that by the time the journey
came to its close, he was called the Sky Pilot of the expedition. He
was a friend to every one, from the captain to the lowest laborer.

The voyage contained one other interesting experience. At a landing
near Fort Benton, a typical plainsman clad entirely in buckskin boarded
the boat, saying, “I can’t stay in this place any longer. There are too
many hostile Indians.” This was Jim Dexter, who became one of Montana’s
great landholders and one of its well-known pioneers. From the first
moment of meeting there sprang up a warm friendship between him and
William Van Orsdel. This tie grew stronger in the long years following,
as in their different fields of effort they threw themselves into the
task of building a commonwealth in the wilderness.

                               CHAPTER V

                              BROTHER VAN

ABOUT seven o’clock on the first day of July, 1872, a gloomy, clouded
Sunday morning, the _Far West_ drew up to the landing at Fort Benton
and established the record for an up-river trip on the Missouri,
seventeen days and twenty hours from Sioux City. That was an exciting
Sabbath day for the settlement. The _Nellie Peck_ arrived an hour later;
while from St. Louis came the _Josephine_ after a sixty-days’ trip.

A number of ox-trains were waiting to take the incoming freight to
the towns and settlements beyond; some of these were many days distant.
Wagons drawn by mules and horses were crowded around the landing, eager
for what business might turn up. Cowboys, Indians, and soldiers from
the Fort mixed in the crowd, making the motley assembly which greeted
our Sky Pilot as he stepped on shore. All the white families came from
the tiny shacks of the new town to join in the curious throng as it
welcomed this unusual stir in the monotony of frontier life.

The tenderfoot did not know the terror of “gumbo,” but as he made his
way through the streets in the rain, he found the soil sticking to his
shoes in such quantities as to make walking difficult. It was God’s
day, and in spite of the dismal weather, the missionary trudged through
the town seeking a place to hold services. He was told that he could
use the courthouse. This sounded encouraging and he turned toward the
building eagerly. Disappointment was awaiting him, for it was only an
adobe structure, and the rain had washed holes in the roof and walls
through which muddy streams of water were pouring.

In continuing his search for a place in which to hold worship, William
learned that a Roman Catholic priest, Father Van Gorp, was conducting
a service in a saloon near by. He sought him out and was received
cordially. On hearing the desire of the newcomer, the priest assured
him that he could have the room as soon as his service was concluded,
for he intended to take passage on a boat which was to leave the Fort
in a few hours.

It was at that afternoon meeting of his first day in Fort Benton
that William Van Orsdel received the name of Brother Van. There
was a frankness and kindness in the young man’s manner toward these
strangers before him. The years of unselfish service for others, and
his conviction regarding the work he must do in the West had developed
a magnetic personality. The rough and hearty frontier people were keen
judges of character. They saw at once in the stranger, who had come
among them so naturally and courageously, a sincere, helpful spirit.
“Brother” was just the word that described him. “Van” was as much of
that lengthy and dignified name of his as they felt that they could
take the trouble to say. So, with the good-natured bluntness of the
West, “Brother Van” he became. It now rarely occurs to any of his
friends and neighbors that he has any other name. They would probably
assure you, if you were to raise the question with them, that he was
christened “Brother Van.”

Crowded in the saloon on that afternoon were the steamboat officers,
roustabouts, freighters, cowboys, Indians, and settlers, making a
strange audience for the young missionary’s first Montana sermon. He
would talk for a while, and then, when the attention wavered, he would
sing the songs that some of them had heard back East before they had
come under the hardening influences of the rough western life. Brother
Van asked if they would like an evening service and received an eager
request for one. The news of the arrival of this tenderfoot and of
his message and singing had traveled fast; so in the evening a larger
congregation gathered. Again he gave the message that many of them
had been missing in a long period of separation from church life, and
again hearts were stirred, as for the first time in years the uncertain
voices tried to follow the singing of the gospel songs which had been
sung “back home.”

There is no written record of the sermons of that day; but the simple,
straightforward manner of the preacher made a lasting impression on
the hearts of that strange crowd. The missionary spirit of the zealous
youth so won the respect of the cowboys that they withheld from this
tenderfoot the “initiation” which they were accustomed to give to
strangers. Brother Van was a vigorous youth with a florid complexion
and light hair. The simple directness of his manner and the good humor
showing in his blue eyes, so ready to twinkle with fun, gained fast
friends for him in the odd mixture of peoples.

While the _Far West_ was in port, Captain Coulson extended the
hospitality of the boat to his missionary passenger, though his
obligations had really ceased when he reached the town. When the boat
started back down the river, carrying the only people whom he knew,
pangs of homesickness came to the lonely youth; now he felt himself
truly a stranger in a strange land. But a new friend appeared. A good
woman who had been at the service on Sunday opened her home to him,
and established that night an “institution” which gradually extended
throughout the state of Montana, “Brother Van’s room.” Even in the
newest town where a beginning was just being made, there was always
some home in which a place was set apart to receive the welcome
traveler whenever he could come that way.


On the Monday following that eventful Sabbath, Brother Van set
out to explore the town. The central interest of Fort Benton was its
fur trading. This industry was developed in the United States by the
enterprise of John Jacob Astor. He saw that Canada was profiting by
this trade, and in 1812 he petitioned Congress to establish fur trading
posts within the boundaries of the United States, and to introduce such
goods as were necessary for bartering with the Indians.

Trading posts soon began to dot the vast wilderness of the North and
West. They were all built on the same general plan. A heavy stockade
was made by driving tree trunks into the earth so close together as to
make a wall, the only opening left being a massive double gate. In one
of the sections of this gate was a small door through which in times of
danger the trader could admit a single person at a time. He could open
it and talk with any Indian who came, without allowing the visitor to
enter. Within the outer stockade was an open space; then in the center
was a strongly built log or adobe structure containing the trader’s
quarters, storeroom, and the fort. In the wall of the storeroom was
an opening about eighteen inches square. This was called the “trading
hole” and was protected by heavy shutters controlled from the inside.

When the Indians came with their packs of furs the trader’s men met
them outside the stockade, and took from them all guns, bows, arrows,
tomahawks, and any other dangerous weapons which they might be carrying.
Then, in a group at a time, they were admitted to the stockade and
the heavy gates locked behind them. They were virtually prisoners, and
advancing across the open space between the stockade and the fort, they
would come to the trading hole, where the agent of the fur merchant’s
company was waiting to barter with them.

One by one the Indians would offer to the trader, who was often an
unscrupulous cheat, the beautiful soft furs which had been secured by
trapping and shooting amid the dangers and the hardships of the cold
and lonely North. Gaudy calico, cheap blankets, or the bad combination
of bullets and whisky, were given in exchange for the valuable pelts.
To such traders, to certain selfish and designing settlers, and to some
of the government agents, who have steadily driven the Indians back and
back from wide prairie to a hunting ground, and then to a reservation,
the red man owes much of the degradation and humiliation which overtook

As we look curiously at the straggling herds of buffalo, deer, and
antelope in our parks and preserves to-day, we can scarcely realize
how abundant was the game which the early hunters and trappers found
roaming over the “Great American Desert.” There is evidence of one
herd of buffalo that made the earth brown for a stretch of country
seventy miles long by thirty miles wide. On one of the first railroads
to be laid across the plains of Kansas, a train was once held up for
nine hours while a herd crossed the tracks. Both whites and Indians
slaughtered these vast herds carelessly and wantonly, using a variety
of methods. A government report of 1875 speaks of one hundred thousand
buffalo that were killed near Dodge City, Kansas. Only the saddles were
used for food. The same report says: “It is known that south of the
Arkansas River, west of Wichita, there were from one to two thousand
men killing buffalo for hides alone.” At one place on the south forks
of the Republican River in 1874, there were six thousand and five
hundred carcases from which the hides had been stripped.

Towers for religious purposes, or medicine lodges, were built by the
Indians with the horns of buffalo, antelope, and deer. Some of these
towers were so high that they could be seen for many miles. Father
De Smet speaks of seeing one of them from the Missouri River as he
made his way westward in the year 1846. As a result of this enormous
destruction of the herds, the hide markets became so glutted that
the skins of bulls brought only one dollar, and the hides of cows and
calves from forty to sixty cents each.

Just outside of the city of Fort Benton there was pointed out to
Brother Van a famous cliff about one hundred and twenty feet high and
rising sheer from the river. There the Indians were in the habit of
killing buffalo by a method that is interesting if brutal. A fleet,
active young man of the tribe would disguise himself as a buffalo by
wearing a buffalo skin with the head attached. He was possessed also of
a “Iuis Kini” (i uis-ki ni) or buffalo stone, which gave power to call
buffalo. Before a run to a “falling place,” he spent the night invoking
the aid of the gods by burning sweet grass and sweet pine to draw the
spirits. He purified himself by passing through the smoke of this fire.

When all was ready the buffalo hunter would attract the
attention of the herd by strange antics, and then begin to call:
“Hoo-hoo-hoo-ini-uh-ini-uh.” Men and women concealed behind rocks began
to yell; and the buffalo, terrified, ran with ever increasing speed
toward the decoy, who led them toward the precipice. The herd, which
might vary in number from one hundred and fifty to ten thousand, would
rush blindly forward and plunge over the wall to death in the shallow
water beneath. The decoy would dodge into a crevice previously chosen
in the edge of the cliff.

Brother Van had arrived in this interesting country of Indian exploits
just before an eventful day, the Fourth of July. He was invited to the
Fort as a guest of the non-commissioned officers. The Stars and Stripes
fluttered over the rude barracks every day, but in the town the flag
was displayed to show that it was a holiday. Wild scenes were enacted
in the saloons, and Indians, who were waiting with their hard-earned
furs, learned of the white man’s “fire-water,” which was used freely
in the celebration.

Out in the stockade of the fort a feast was spread. The boat had
brought bread and dried fruit, both of which were great delicacies.
These, combined with the usual western fare, made a sumptuous repast.
The western fare consisted of “jerked buffalo,” which is simply
dried buffalo meat, fresh antelope meat, a great delicacy even to the
westerner, and the best dish of all, dried buffalo tongue.

Speeches were made and weird stories told of the warfare with the
Indians. The eastern youth listened and wondered, and on that day he
pondered over the subject of the red man’s condition. Later he decided
the matter in his own mind; he knew that the Indian had been more
sinned against than sinning, and that the original American had been
greatly misunderstood.

Those days of tarrying were fruitful days for William Van Orsdel. Not
only were the cowboys and freighters won to friendship by his sympathy,
but the Indians’ confidence was gained. Friends, whose helpfulness
was to last through his busy lifetime, became interested in him. Young
Tatton, a tall, vigorous, fighting scout, a member of Company B of the
Seventh Infantry, was one of the men who became one of Brother Van’s
fast friends in those days. He knew the West and understood its joys
and privations thoroughly. He had noticed the new preacher as he faced
the motley crowd that first day in Fort Benton. Though Tatton was a
Roman Catholic, he admired the zeal which had found a way and a place
for religious services on the very day on which the missionary had set
foot on the new soil. With leveled eyes the soldier scout had watched
the crowd as they listened to that first earnest sermon of the eager
newcomer, and to Brother Van he gave his support and a loyal and
lasting friendship.

                              CHAPTER VI

                      A BROTHER TO THE BLACKFOOT

THE first strenuous days in Fort Benton, and the welcome he received
there, might have convinced Brother Van that he had found a good place
in which to settle. It was plain that his ministry was much needed
and the prospects for a growing and useful work were bright. But he
never forgot for a moment that he had taken the long journey from his
Gettysburg home for the sake of serving among the Indians. Hence it is
not surprising that within a week from that exciting morning when he
had begun his Montana preaching career in the crowded barroom, we find
him pushing on toward one of the agencies where he could more readily
get in touch with the tribes. Again his attractive manner and his
earnestness of purpose won for him a lift on his way, only this time he
was to jolt over the rough prairie roads in a heavy wagon, instead of
gliding smoothly along the Missouri.

The Regimental Adjutant from Fort Shaw had brought his wife into
Fort Benton so that she might take passage on the return trip of the
_Far West_. The Adjutant had met Brother Van, and learning of the
missionary’s desire to continue his journey to the West, had invited
him to share the army wagon for the ride back to the post. The eager
young traveler grasped this opportunity without delay. It did not
take him long to stow away his baggage in the army conveyance, for his
scanty wardrobe made only a small bundle. He took his place beside the
Adjutant, and soon they were rumbling over the prairie toward Sun River
settlement and Fort Shaw.

The gumbo was still sticky and tough from the rains of the previous
days, and it was apparent from the first that there was to be a hard
journey ahead. The five army mules drawing the wagon objected to the
heavy traveling of the unbroken roads, and caused delays by their
“objections.” The driver’s patience at last was exhausted, and in true
western style he spoke to the errant beasts. Then he remembered that
there was a preacher in the wagon, and apologized for the language he
had used. Brother Van showed himself to be a very human missionary, for
he laughingly replied, “Why, bless your soul, you express my sentiments
exactly, though I can’t approve of your language.”

Before dark a severe thunderstorm overtook the travelers, and the
only shelter they could find was a lonely, deserted cabin. Here they
spent the night, making the best of such comforts as were found in the
government wagon. The coyotes sang a lonely song, and the prairie-dogs,
their only neighbors, made vigorous protests against the intruders.
This was the initiation of the tenderfoot preacher into the joys of
overland journeying.

On the next day they reached Sun River where no church or schoolhouse
existed; so again a place for Sunday service was sought, and a
Christian home was found which was opened gladly for this unaccustomed
use. Riders were sent out to all the settlements within reach, with
the result that on the following day a fine congregation gathered in
the frontier cabin. Carelessness about habits of prayer and worship
was common among these lonely people of the opening West. Brother Van’s
tender songs and warning words brought a genuine response from them.

After the service the travelers pushed on so that they might reach
Fort Shaw by evening. At this place also, Brother Van immediately set
about making arrangements to preach; and within a short time he had the
soldiers of the garrison gathered about him, talking to them in a manly,
helpful way that won their interest and their respect.

Tarrying but a day at Fort Shaw, he traveled with several companions
north to the town of Chouteau, which was on the Teton River, and
fifteen miles from the base of the Rocky Mountains. He hastened then
to the Indian agency near there where the Blackfeet were settled. This
tribe had migrated from Canada to the prairies of Montana, and it is
interesting to know that they had been first called “Blackfeet” by the
Flatheads and Shoshones, for when they had come to the end of their
long journey, their moccasins were travel-stained and black.

On arriving at the agency, the missionary first made himself known to
the officials and clerks and spoke to a group of them. They received
him cordially and from the beginning of his stay he was given fresh
confidence for his new work by the good will that they showed him. In
his first meetings with the Indians the Blackfeet tribesmen listened
to him stolidly and were apparently unmoved; but they caught the spirit
of brotherhood in this paleface preacher, and they soon began to show
signs of their approval of him. Brother Van was happy indeed in the
new opportunities opening before him, and in the increasing evidence
that the Indians gave of their affection for him. He was fascinated
by the strange life and mysterious customs which he found all about
him. During his stay with the Blackfeet, and through later years, the
missionary loved to study their ceremonies and legends.

One of the oldest institutions of the tribe was the building of the
medicine lodge, a celebration which Brother Van followed with the
keenest interest. It took place at the time of the ripening of berries
in the summer, and lasted through four days and nights. The lodge was
always erected in fulfilment of a vow made by some woman of the tribe
who was in trouble and who wished the help of the gods, perhaps to
bring back in safety a husband or son away at war, or to restore a
sick child to health. Her pledge was made publicly, so that all the
tribe would know that she would build the lodge in case her prayer
was granted. At the proper time the whole tribe would assemble and
set up their lodges in a circle in the middle of which the medicine
lodge was erected. The woman who had made the vow neither ate nor drank
throughout the four days, except once only, and that in sacrifice.
The other members of the tribe gave themselves over to visiting and
feasting with their friends, and, also, to a strange kind of worship in
which they tried to prove the sincerity of their prayers by torturing
themselves in various painful ways.

The lodge was built in accordance with a plan which the Sun himself was
supposed to have given to one of the young men of the tribe in ancient
times. It represented the world, and was made by placing small trees
of uniform size in a circle, and bending the branches toward the center
to form the roof. One half of it was painted red for the Sun, and the
other half black to represent night. In recent years the medicine lodge
is seldom used owing to the effect of modern education in destroying
the superstitious beliefs of the Indians, and within another generation
the ceremony will probably be extinct.

  Illustration:   Board of Home Missions and Church Extension
                  Methodist Episcopal Church.


Brother Van also discovered that the tribal dances were not as simple
as they had appeared to be, but that they were filled with hidden
meanings, and that each had a history of its own. The story of the
Pigeon Dance, which was one of those witnessed by the new missionary,
shows the background of folk tales, dreams, and of the imitation of
animal and bird life from which these dances grew. It is believed by
the people that all of their dances originated in the dream of a seer
of the tribe many generations ago. The custom was for some old man
to go off into absolute seclusion out of sound of any human voice. He
then subjected himself to various ceremonials, and becoming at last
exhausted sought sleep and dreams. The process was continued until
something new and unheard of was dreamed. The seeker for “something new
under the sun” would then come back to the waiting tribe, and patiently
wait and watch for his dream to come true. Not until he saw it in
reality could he call the tribe together and proclaim the glad news.

Once upon a time an old man went away to a quiet spot and after the
proper ceremonials fell asleep and the much desired dream came to him.
He saw a flock of beautiful, many-colored pigeons and as they circled
and whirled, he perceived that they were in truth executing a rythmic
dance. With grace and perfection of motion they performed wonderful
and intricate figures. Their soft cooing made a weird and strange
music which added to the charm of the mystical dances. The old man had
dreamed the dream for which he longed. He came back to the tribe and
said nothing, but he watched for the realization of the vision.

Eagerly he sought the nesting and feeding places of pigeons. One day
he actually saw the birds dancing as he had seen them in his dream.
Immediately runners were sent forth to call the people together. A
great feast was prepared at which the seer announced the vision that
he had seen, and the manner in which the dance was conducted. On the
American nation’s birthday in the year 1917, this strange but beautiful
dance was a part of the celebration at the Blackfeet Indian agency, and
Brother Van, so long a friend of the Indians, was the guest of honor.

The missionary found that through their love of beauty and heroism
the Indians had a peculiar understanding and appreciation of Bible
history. There was much in their simple, wandering life that made them
feel a close kinship with those shepherds, hunters, and warriors of the
ancient East. They had passed through the same great human experiences,
and they shared many of the same beliefs. In their crude and faltering
way they, too, looked up to a Great Spirit who made all things and
upon whose bounty all men depend. As they told Brother Van their tribal
legends, he was struck by the remarkable resemblance which many of
these bore to some of the stories of the Bible. The Blackfeet story of
the forming of the world is peculiarly interesting because it shows the
belief which they have in a Creator.

“In the beginning there was water everywhere. A raft was floating on
which Old Man (the Sun) and all the animals were gathered. Old Man
wished to make land. He sent the beaver to the bottom of the water to
bring up mud. The beaver never reached the bottom. The loon was tried
and he failed. The otter made the perilous journey and failed. At last
the muskrat was sent down. He was gone so long that Old Man thought he
was drowned. Finally he came up and floated almost dead. He was pulled
on top of the raft, and as they looked at his paws, they found a little
mud on them. Old Man dried this mud and scattered it over the water,
and land was formed.

“Old Man then began to make the earth to suit him. He marked places
for rivers to run. Sometimes the rivers ran smoothly and sometimes
with falls. He made mountains, prairies, and timber. He carried a lot
of rocks around with him, and of these he made mountains. He caused
grass to grow on the plains for the animals to feed upon. He marked
certain pieces of land where berries should grow; others where camas
should grow; others for wild carrots and turnips, and others for
service-berries, bull-berries, and rosebuds.

“He made the Big Horn sheep and put it on the prairie, but it was
awkward and slow; so he put it on the rough hills, and it skipped about.
While Old Man was in the mountains he made the antelope. It ran so fast
that it hurt itself; so he put it on the plains and said, ‘This is the
place that will suit you.’

“At last he decided to make a woman and a child. He modeled clay in
human shape and laid the forms on the ground and said, ‘You shall be
people.’ After four days they were changed and he said, ‘Stand up and
walk.’ They walked to the river and the woman said, ‘Shall we live
forever?’ Old Man said, ‘I had not thought of that. We must decide.
I’ll throw this buffalo chip in the water. If it floats, people shall
live after being dead for four days. If it sinks, that shall be the end
of them.’

“He threw the chip. It floated. The woman said, ‘No, I will throw this
stone into the water. If it floats, we shall live always; if it sinks,
people must die.’ The rock sank. Old Man said, ‘You have chosen. That
will be an end to them.’ By and by the child died and the woman wanted
to change the law, but Old Man answered, ‘What is made law must be law.’

“At first people had claws like bears so that they might gather roots
and berries. There were buffalo which killed and ate people. Old Man
said, ‘I’ll change this. From this day on the people shall eat buffalo.’
So he cut some service-berry shoots and peeled them; then he took a
flat piece of wood and tied strips of green hide to it and made a bow.
On one end of each light, straight shoot, he tied a chip of hard stone,
and on the other end he put a feather. He gave them to the men, saying,
‘Take these the next time you go among buffalo. Shoot as I have taught

“When the arrows first struck the buffalo, it called out, ‘Oh, my
friends, a great fly is biting me.’ After the buffalo had been killed,
Old Man saw his people eat the raw flesh. ‘I will show you something
better,’ said he. He gathered soft, dried, rotten wood. He took another
piece of wood and rapidly drilled a hole in it with an arrow-head. A
tiny flame soon sprang up from which he kindled a big fire and showed
his children how to roast the meat.”

The history of the forming of the Blackfeet Indian tribe is also very
quaint, and it could not but have an especial appeal to Brother Van,
for from his early youth his life had been one to encourage clean
living. The story tells how one brave looked with disfavor upon the
tribal vices and misdemeanors, and strove to bring the members into a
finer, cleaner way of living. His own life was pure and good, and his
people recognized this, but they would not heed his pleadings. Finally,
he went off into the silence of the plains to communicate with the
Great Spirit. He told of his desire for his people: that they should
all be pure and strong; that the maidens should be contented; that they
should dwell in a land where game abounded, and where wars should never
come. From this great spiritual leader the Blackfeet tribe was said to
have descended.

As Brother Van pursued his work among his beloved Indians, they became
more and more attached to him. Like the white residents, they, too,
accepted their kind-hearted visitor as a brother. This tie deepened
with the years in which he was known to them, and in time a great honor
came to him. He was adopted into the tribe, and with a picturesque
ceremony he was received into their circle and given a new name,
Amahk-Us-Ki-Tsi-Pahk-Pa, which means “Great Heart” or “Big Heart.”
There was a tribute in the meaning of those queer syllables which any
man might be proud to win――especially from people of a different race.
At the same time he received a gift of a new and beautiful tribal
costume from them. It is Brother Van’s custom to visit the Blackfeet
every year on the Fourth of July when he wears his Indian costume and
celebrates the nation’s birthday with his Indian brothers.

  Illustration:   Board of Home Missions and Church Extension
                  Methodist Episcopal Church.

                  BLACKFEET TRIBE

With the progress of his work on the agency, Brother Van’s indignation
was aroused by the injustice and oppression dealt to the red man.
As he witnessed the system of trading, he came to see with ever
increasing clearness, that the Indians would never have the necessary
opportunities for progress and development unless the white man, and
the white man’s government, could be brought to deal fairly and justly
with these original inhabitants of the plains. The very future of the
Indian race he saw to be at stake. “What is the use,” he asked himself,
“of teaching and training these people when diseases caused by contact
with the white man’s civilization are threatening their existence, and
when their living is being taken from them by the settlement of their

The problem which confronted the missionary has been put briefly in a
more recent time by Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Hon. Cato Sells,
who says, “Before you educate the Indian you must save his life.” As
Brother Van faced the misery, the disease, and the ignorance among them,
he decided that even to save the Indians’ lives, to say nothing of
winning them to Christ, it would be necessary to lead the white people
to change their ways. How could he continue to try to convert and
educate the Indians, when the Indians could see very plainly that the
white preacher’s brothers were very much in need of the same kind of

Gradually Brother Van’s resolution was formed――he must give his first
attention to establishing churches in the new towns that the white
settlers were building. It meant giving up the life among the people
he had come to serve, and who already had shown many encouraging signs
of response to his preaching. His decision led him away from his new
friends and back among his own race, but he continued to come into
contact with the Indians from time to time. His sympathy with them and
his understanding of their habits helped him to teach them successfully.
Through the years he proved himself to be “Great Heart,” a brother to
the Blackfoot.

                              CHAPTER VII

                            THE GOSPEL TEAM

THE unfriendly conditions which Brother Van found growing between the
Indians and the whites led later to the Custer Massacre. While in the
missionary’s mind there was no expectation of such a serious climax,
yet he saw that the idea of a real brotherhood of man must be given
as quickly as possible to the traders, miners, ranchmen, and settlers.
Through their better understanding of Christ’s religion the Indian
through example would be led to know the white man’s God.

It was a fresh quest that made Brother Van set out for Helena,
which was then a comparatively large settlement. The town was in the
proximity of the gold mine called Last Chance Gulch. This mine has an
interesting history. Prospectors had been for long, weary months at
Silver Creek, which was twelve or thirteen miles from where Helena now
stands. Luck had been against them, and they packed their horses and
came down the trail disheartened and “broke.” They resolved to give up
the search and go home. Coming into Helena in the evening, they made
camp close to the tiny town, intending to leave early on the following

On the next morning the horses were loaded, and everything was in
readiness for the start, when the unquenchable faith of the prospector
moved John Cowan to take up a pick and to make one more attempt to find

“Well, boys, here’s our last chance,” he said, carelessly, as he drove
his pick into the ground.

He struck gold. From that mine fifty to eighty million dollars’ worth
of gold was taken. The words of the lucky prospector always stuck to
the section, and it was called Last Chance Gulch. The mine was five
miles long and the vein two hundred feet wide. One nugget was free
from quartz, and was worth two thousand and seventy-three dollars. Last
Chance Gulch has a thrilling record. Scenes of adventure and death took
place there. Men made vast fortunes. Other men lost all that they had
and went away broken in spirit. Gamblers won and lost; prospectors
failed; but always Last Chance paid in gold.

Entering Helena to-day, you will find a thriving, bustling city, proud
of one of the finest hotels in the Northwest. The hotel stands on the
spot where the miner stuck in his pick. Enough gold was found in the
soil to pay for the excavation, and this was taken from the “tailings,”
or discarded earth handled by the early miners. But Helena was a
typical mining town when the Eastern tenderfoot came. He was at the
mercy of the hard element. Only the rare good judgment and a sense of
the fitness of things saved the preacher and made his ministrations

Brother Van made a short stay there, and then, as a missionary
to “everywhere,” he pressed on to Bozeman. There he found the only
Methodist Church building in Montana Territory. It was a brick church
and it had been built through the enterprise of the Rev. Thomas C.
Iliff. This missionary was a great force in the new West. He brought a
dainty, cultured, Eastern bride to the unsettled territory. Through the
inspiration of her companionship and tactful assistance, together with
his own natural courage and ability, he became a notable power for good
in the development of the West.

Dr. Iliff had come to Helena in Eastern finery, and appeared on
the streets adorned with an immaculate linen frock coat, fancy vest,
striped trousers, and silk hat. As he came along the streets, cries of
“Fresh fish! Fresh fish!” greeted him. The silk hat seemed particularly
to annoy the deriding miners who closed in around the preacher.
His fighting blood was up, and the new preacher continued his way,
apparently undaunted by the jeers of the crowd. But early next morning
he stole forth to a hatter’s and purchased a wide-brimmed hat, which
style of hat, by the way, he wore to the day of his death. With the
aid of the obliging haberdasher, the silk hat was wrapped to resemble a
joint of stove-pipe and it afterward became a relic of by-gone splendor.
Brother Van and the hero of the tall hat story became fast friends,
and had many an adventure together in the years of roughing it that

A pony had been given to Brother Van during his visit at Helena. He
was now in reality a circuit-rider, and as he became familiar on the
plains, he and his steed began to be known everywhere as the “Gospel
Team.” They traveled through a large section of the state and when
the anniversary of Brother Van’s arrival in Montana came, it was
an experienced preacher who celebrated it. Such a wonderful year it
had been! Hardships were forgotten in the triumphs, for many “first
services” had been conducted, and scores of “first members” had been
received. The year had brought friends, and his faithful pony seemed to
be a real partner in service. Into the preacher’s pocketbook had gone
exactly seventy-five dollars as the year’s salary, but there was no
thought of quitting because of the lack of stipend. The West had called
him and had claimed him.

On the day that marked the end of his first year in Montana, Brother
Van received from the Conference an appointment as Junior Preacher
to the Rev. F. A. Riggin. The appointment read: “To Beaver Head and
Jefferson District.”

Virginia City in the southwest corner of the state was the center of
this circuit. Beaver Head, Madison River, and Salmon City, one hundred
and fifty miles away, were its three points. Montana had been set
off from Idaho and erected into a separate territory in May, 1864.
Brother Van’s circuit, therefore, extended across the Rocky Mountains
into Idaho as far as Salmon City. The region provided variety in its
characteristics. There were lonely trails to travel over for the pony
and Brother Van, and for his co-worker, Mr. Riggin. There were only
eighteen members of the church in all that large region. The junior and
senior preachers so arranged their work that one man took care of the
regular appointments while the other did the evangelistic work. By this
plan a continuous series of evangelistic meetings was held for seven
months. At the end of their first year in the district, seven new
societies had been organized, and one hundred and fifty new members
received into the church.

Among the long rides which the Gospel Team took was one to the town of
Butte. In describing the occasion Brother Van remarked dryly: “We had
all but ten of the whole town in our congregation on that first night.”
This would be a remarkable statement if it were made to-day; but at
that time the population of Butte was exactly fifty people. The city is
now the most important railway center in the state. It has been called
the “greatest mining camp in the world.” Brother Van’s visit was at the
very beginning of the history of what is now a city of great interest
to America.

When the snow cleared away the Gospel Team penetrated to the National
Park, and one day on coming into the Upper Yellowstone Valley, Brother
Van found a large congregation waiting. One man said: “If a herd of
wild buffalo had run through the streets of St. Louis it could not have
caused more comment than that a preacher had come to the Yellowstone.”
The National Park was then but a year old, and the grandeur of the
“Wonderland of America” was beginning to be appreciated. It was in the
famous place of geysers, deep canyons, and waterfalls, where nature had
combined many influences to produce the beauty of the surrounding scene,
that Brother Van conducted the first Protestant religious service held
in the new park. The missionary continued to go about steadily from
section to section and at the close of his five years of work in
Montana as missionary to everywhere, he received the appointment of
local deacon. It was just about the date of this recognition, that the
trouble brewing between the Indians and the white men developed into
the Indian wars.

The settlers lived in small isolated communities. Some of the pioneers
had seized the opportunity to return east to visit their old homes
while the Centennial Exhibition was in progress in Philadelphia in the
year 1876. In the spring of that year gold had been discovered in the
Black Hills of Dakota, an almost unknown region girt around by what is
known as Bad Lands, or “Medicine Country,” as the Indians called it. At
once there was a rush of miners out of Montana to the new fields. This
move helped to reduce the white population. A spirit of rebellion had
been steadily rising in the minds of the red men until it reached the
open hostility soon to give to American history the fearful story of
the Custer Massacre.

  Illustration:   Copyright, W. T. Ridgely Calendar Co.
                  Painting by Charles M. Russell.

                  TERRIFYING SETTLERS

The Indians objected so strongly to the intrusion of prospectors and
others into their territory, that they sent Red Cloud and Spotted Tail
to Washington to protest, because the coming of the white men into
that region was a clear violation of existing treaties. The government
promised to keep prospectors out, but failed to do so. The Indians
then demanded payment for their lands. The government sent a commission
which reported that force would be the only way to settle the dispute.
The Indians also decided that this was their only method of protest.
It had been seen that the first meetings worked no advantage to either
side, but served only to anger both Indians and whites. A message was
sent by the United States government to Sitting Bull, who had gathered
all the warriors around him in the Big Horn country. He was ordered
to return to the Reservation, or the United States would make war on
his people. He sent this reply: “When you come for me you need bring no
guides. You will easily find me. I shall be right here. I shall not run

He kept his promise. The Indians took their allowance from the United
States government and bought bullets and guns. They gathered along
the Rosebud and Little Big Horn rivers and among the hills and valleys
between. They were led by Rain-in-the-Face while their real leader,
Sitting Bull, was absent making medicine.

The United States troops in the western States had concentrated in
their efforts to check the rebellion. General Custer was in command
of the cavalry under General Terry. Scouts brought word that a band of
Indians were riding rapidly to join the main body. They were supposed
to be Pawnees, and numbering not more than twelve hundred. General
Custer was sent to surround the camp. He divided his men into three
companies as he prepared a well-planned attack. Major Reno was to ride
directly across, but was to wait one hour to allow Major Benteen’s
detachment to go up the river, cross it, and so be above the camp. The
tactics did not allow for the hard traveling which Major Benteen found,
nor for the great force of hostile Indians.

At the end of the hour of waiting, Major Reno attacked and was so
completely overcome and dismayed at the strength of the Indians, that
he fled to the bluffs. Major Benteen arrived at last, but saw that he
could do nothing, so he joined the retreat. This left General Custer
at the place which he had selected with two hundred men to face an
infuriated band of Indians numbering five thousand. When Custer saw the
size of the Indian army, he sent a scout to the retreating men in the
hills, saying, “Come on, big village, be quick, bring packs.” He meant
by packs the extra powder and bullets. With their horrible war-cry the
Indians bore down on the little handful of men, who soon saw that there
was nothing to do but to fight and die.

General Custer saw every one of his men mutilated and scalped, and
he stood at last alone. He received seven wounds before he fell. The
onrushing Indians were abashed and astonished at such bravery; not
a rough hand was laid on Custer’s body, and no tomahawk tore into
the hero’s scalp. On the next day Major Reno and Major Benteen were
followed by the Indians and attacked as they prepared to make their
last stand. But these enemies saw the rest of the white men approaching
under Generals Terry and Gibbon and quickly fled.

On the twenty-seventh day of June, the bodies of General Custer and
his brave men were buried. A monument marks the spot where they fell,
and all America honors the courage that the handful of men displayed
on that summer day. Another people honor those dead. The Sioux Indians
look upon General Custer as a god because of his bravery. His memory is
honored and loved among them, and they call him the “Evening Star.”

In _Lives of Famous Indian Chiefs_, N. B. Wood says that there were two
survivors of Custer’s last stand, Curley, the Crow scout, who put on a
Sioux blanket and escaped, and the horse Comanche, the famous war horse
of Captain Keogh. He was found bleeding from seven wounds, and was
carried back by soldiers on a litter of blankets and poles. Comanche
recovered and lived to the age of forty-five, while few horses reach
the age of thirty-five. His skin was stuffed and is now in the museum
of the Kansas State University.

This massacre at Little Big Horn, now so memorable a part of American
history, threw a gloom over the whole nation. The New York _Tribune_ on
July 3, 1876, said: “It is the eve of Independence Day, the Centennial
Fourth. All the land is ablaze with enthusiasm. Alas! if the tidings
of General Custer’s terrible disaster could be borne on the wings of
the four winds, dirges, not anthems would be heard in the streets of
Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco.

“A great shadow has fallen on the valley of the Big Horn. The youngest
of our guard, the _beau sabreur_ of the Army of the Potomac, the
golden-haired chief whom the Sioux had learned to love, has fought his
last fight. Surrounded by over two hundred and fifty brothers in arms,
Custer lies buried in the field where he fought, and fought until he
could fight no longer.”

But this serious situation of the Indian uprisings did not end with
this calamity which is referred to commonly as the Custer Massacre, and
Brother Van had a full share of the dangers. Later the wars came into
his territory.

                             CHAPTER VIII

                        SCOUTING FOR UNCLE SAM

GREAT excitement prevailed throughout the West over the rebellion
of the Indians. The effect of the disturbances was felt increasingly
severely in the district between Bannack and Sheridan. The Nez Percés
Indians had long dwelt in the beautiful and fertile Wallowa Valley in
Oregon. They resented the new treaty and fled into Montana from the
soldiers sent to force them into the reservations. They were accustomed
to the trails through Idaho and over the mountains as they had often
come to Montana to camp and to hunt buffalo. This tribe had become
known as the Nez Percés (nose pinched) Indians because they wore rings
in their noses when Lewis and Clark found them during their western
explorations. It is claimed by some members of the tribe that this was
a mistake and that wearing nose rings had never been a custom of theirs.

The Nez Percés were a peaceful people and it was this tribe that had
sent the delegation to find the “White Man’s Book of Heaven.” They had
remembered the white man’s religion during the twenty-five years after
the visit of those early explorers and the time of the pilgrimage of
their leaders to St. Louis. They were eager to know the true religion
and had often disputed about it among themselves. Some members of the
tribe held that the white man worshiped the sun, as he had pointed to
the sky when he spoke to them of God. They knew that the book would
tell them the truth.

One of the religious ceremonies of the Nez Percés was the sun-dance.
A pole was set up in the center and the people circled about it. The
priest stood in the center of the circle and held up a fish, berries,
or some other food and said, “Oh! Father bless the fish. Oh! Father
bless us.” The phrase varied, of course, with the food thus held to the
sun. Every one would chant the words after him with their heads bowed
to the ground.

The resentment of these peaceful and worshipful, but now rebellious
Indians showed itself in their acts of defiance. The settlements
were greatly disturbed. Stories of wanton raids on the settlers were
borne back and forth as the swift riders galloped over the prairies.
Stockades were made for the protection of the women and children.
Miners, ranchmen, and settlers were all engrossed in the one big object
of protecting the lives of the scattered whites, and of saving the
property so dearly bought by their daring and toil.

Thus Brother Van found a new job. He gave his services to his country,
and, still preaching, singing, and cheering sad hearts, he became
war scout for General O. O. Howard, who had been put in command of
the troops sent to quell the Indian uprising. Only indecisive battles
were fought. The Indians were not quieted, but were fired to further
violence. Still resenting the presence of the whites on the plains, and
still failing to appreciate the protection of the Great White Father
at Washington, they were moved to many acts of violence under such
indomitable leaders as Chief Joseph, Looking Glass, and White Bird to
command their movements.

The town of Bannack was built on Grasshopper Creek where gold was
discovered in 1862. It was the first capital after the region became
a territory and it was there in December, 1864, that the first
legislature met and divided the new territory into counties.

Fear of the Indians was so intense in Bannack that the town was
picketed, and volunteers were on the lookout at night. Brother Van was
preaching to a large congregation in the courthouse and guards watched
the building in which he spoke.

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide
under the shadow of the Almighty.

“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in
him will I trust.

“Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from
the noisome pestilence.”

These were the words with which the preacher sought to quiet the alarm
in the hearts of the waiting people. At daybreak a swift rider came
into town and one arm dangled as he rode. Then came another rider who
brought the message, “Indians are devastating and killing as they come
and many of the settlers are being killed.”

A quick consultation followed in the grey dawn. Fifteen men volunteered
and the missionary scout was among them. Melvin Trask was elected
captain of the volunteer band. When all were ready a woman came and
asked to be allowed to accompany them, for her husband, Mr. Winter,
was on the plains at the mercy of the invaders. The company absolutely
refused to allow her to go, and she was put under the guard of some
neighbors that she might be protected.

The party set forth with grim, set faces and had proceeded about twelve
miles when they heard a rider approaching from the rear. On guard and
alert against possible surprise, they were astonished on looking back
to see Mrs. Winter, who soon rode into their circle. Declaring that
no power on earth could keep her from her husband, she had mounted the
splendid horse which was her own particular property, and now joined
the party of volunteers. They rode until they reached her home. At the
front door lay the body of a man with four bullet wounds in his head,
and on opening the door, Mrs. Winter found the body of her husband’s
partner, Mr. Montague. Mr. Winter could not be found in the house, so
the party started to search the grounds. By the side of the house they
found the body of a Mr. Smith, and further on discovered a ranchman
named Farnsworth and to him were able to give comfort in his dying

Two scouts now set out to find Mr. Winter. As they departed, the Nez
Percés warriors returned to the scene of devastation, and the little
band of volunteers was forced to ride rapidly toward Bannack, firing
as they went. This left the scouts alone at the mercy of the Indians.
Crawling when they must, running when they could, they evaded the
Indians and came at last to a protected section, where they were able
to make real progress. Here they met the retreating party and the
glad meeting was just over, when to their wondering eyes appeared
a blood-stained, disheveled, white man. Mrs. Winter recognized her
husband, and their joyous reunion took place on the sheltered road.

Cautiously the anxious riders turned back to the Winter ranch. The
Indians had again departed. A wagon was found that could be used,
though the devastating hands of the Indians had touched, not only
the house, but all the property of the ranchman. The four bodies were
tenderly lifted and taken to Bannack for Christian burial. That funeral
is a sacred hour in Montana history. General Howard’s scout, Brother
Van, was the preacher. The terrified people gathered in a great sobbing
congregation. The isolation of the settlers gave them a feeling of
desolation that was disheartening. These four bodies were evidences of
the murderous intent of the red men; surely a large task was set for
Brother Van in helping the terror-stricken on that day.

The services began and the preacher in his own quieting way talked to
the living, for hope was his vital breath. Comfort began to steal over
the waiting throng, when lo, a messenger appeared at the church door.

He said, “The Indians are again approaching Bannack.”

The service came to an abrupt close, for those in attendance hastened
home to protect children and property. All was in confusion. The men
gathered in consultation. They decided that word of the new attack must
be taken to General Howard, who was coming toward the scene and was
even then but twelve miles away.

Again volunteers were called for. Once more Brother Van offered
his services and with John Poindexter set out for help. They rode
through Indian country, and evading every danger, came at last to
the detachment of the regular army. They found the soldiers in sore
straits, for the long march through Idaho had been most disheartening.
Communications with the East were cut, and they were compelled to live
on such scant forage as the country provided. The infantry was without
shoes and the cavalry was tired out with long marches in a mountainous
country. On hearing of the danger that threatened Bannack, General
Howard dispatched a company of cavalry for the town’s protection. He
then spoke to the two hardy, seasoned scouts who had come to him for
help, and asked of them a great service. He told them of the scantiness
of his supplies. He explained the importance of sending information to
Washington concerning the serious situation, and asked them if they
would be his messengers to the nearest point of communication with the

“We are at our country’s service,” was their instant reply.

So, in the lonely watches of the night, John Poindexter and Brother Van
started on another errand of mercy. As they left the camp they could
hear the hoot of the owl and the yelp of the coyote――sounds that were
plaintive and saddening at any time, but to these two scouts they were
now full of deadly meaning. They knew that the hoot and the yelp were
signals given by watching Indians.

As silently as possible they moved, going directly to the south, and
as they journeyed the calls grew indistinct, and at last were heard no
more. The scouts relaxed slightly, for their confidence was somewhat
regained. Suddenly in the dim dawn twelve warriors loomed up before
them. No shots could be fired. The party was small and a shot would but
call other waiting Indians to their assistance. General Howard must not
be drawn into needless battle, for his men and horses were suffering
for lack of rest. The horses which the scouts were riding were fresh
and spirited; so, giving spur and riding in furious haste, the two
messengers outdistanced the Indians, leaving them and the immediate
danger far behind.

At last the scouts reached the stage road, and rode without
interruption to a station. Here the precious message to Washington was
put in the hands of Uncle Sam’s postmen, who drove the stage-coaches
amid such peril and hardship, carrying passengers and letters across
the “Great American Desert.” Their duty accomplished, Brother Van and
his companion returned to the seat of war. They found Bannack ready
for a siege. Captain Bell was in charge of the company of regulars, and
there were also two companies of Montana Volunteers from Butte under
the command of Major W. A. Clark.

When the excitement over their safe return had subsided, Brother Van
again turned his attention toward the church. The town was full of
people and their need of solace was great. A church building had been
started but the Indian wars had halted the work. The missionary scout
determined to finish the church and he found that everybody wanted to
help; soldiers, settlers, and cowboys went at the building with hearty
good will. The little church was thus very speedily completed, and on
a beautiful Sabbath Day another of Brother Van’s first enterprises was
dedicated to the Lord.


What the helpful presence of the preacher-scout meant to the
distressed townspeople in those trying days is shown by a dispatch sent
from Bannack to the Helena _Herald_, August, 1877. The correspondent
reported: “Word also has just arrived that there is a load of guns and
ammunition within fifteen miles of us; an escort has just gone out to
meet it. News also comes that Joe Metlin is on his way from Glendale
with a company of volunteers for our protection, and that he will
arrive in a few hours. It is now midnight, and every now and then some
one keeps coming in, so that if we get the guns here by morning we
will be in better shape. The Rev. Van Orsdel is here doing duty as a
volunteer. He is a whole man. God bless all good men of whatever creed.”

A successful work in this community seemed ahead of the
scout-missionary. A common fear had drawn the people closely together
and nearer to their knowledge of a protecting God. But another work was
given to Brother Van and fresh adventures shortly presented themselves.

                              CHAPTER IX

                              NEW TRAILS

WHILE danger of the Indian attacks was still hanging over Bannack
and the other settlements, new orders came to William Van Orsdel. A
Conference in session at St. Louis had heard an account of the young
missionary’s work; and these wise men seeing how rapidly Montana was
developing made plans for the extension of the work of the church in
new fields. Their maps showed them a great unsettled section beyond the
mountains known as the Bitter Root Valley. It would be a hard piece of
work and no tenderfoot could be sent to open up that section. There was
but one man for the new frontier, and obediently, Brother Van took a
last look at the tiny church just dedicated and bade farewell to the
people of Bannack.

The ride before the missionary covered a distance of about one hundred
and fifty miles through the country where the Indians were carrying
on their warfare with the soldiers. The trail which he followed was
the very one taken by Lewis and Clark in September, 1805, on their way
to the Pacific Coast. The explorers had been most hospitably received
by the Indians, whom they found encamped at Ross Hole. They greeted
the “white gods” with all the awe of their simple natures and a feast
and formal council was held in their honor. They called the newcomers
“So-Yap-Po,” meaning “the crowned ones,” because they wore round hats
or caps.

As Brother Van and his pony traveled through the historic country,
sometimes the long grass would reach to the horse’s head on each side
of the trail; then stretches of barren and rocky ground with patches
of sage brush would be reached, and again they would come suddenly to
steep-banked creeks hidden in the tall grass. The road led up through
the pass, now called Gibbon Pass, but the tragic encounter which gave
it that name had but recently taken place.

When Chief Joseph, the leader of the Nez Percés Indians, fully realized
that the United States troops had been sent to drive him and his band
from their valley, he determined to migrate to Canada. The troops were
in hot pursuit, and finding all direct routes cut off, the Indians came
east through Lo Lo Pass into Montana. At Stevensville they paid for all
supplies purchased and gave notice that all that they wanted was to go
on their journey unmolested. When the soldiers in search of assembled
Indians heard at Stevensville about Chief Joseph’s party, they gave
chase and a number of residents of the place joined them.

The Indians camped at Big Hole and the soldiers, under command of
General Gibbon, suddenly found themselves close to the camp one night.
They could hear the sound of Indian voices; so one of the soldiers
climbed a tree and was horrified to see a great many camp-fires
burning. Precautions were taken at once and no camp-fires were kindled
by the white troops. Hard bread had to be their only fare, a not very
substantial food for their need in the fighting on the following
eventful day, August 9, 1877.

When dawn was beginning to push back the shadows of the night, an
Indian herder came out to look after the ponies; he stumbled over the
waiting soldiers. The alarm was given immediately and the herder was
shot and killed. Instantly all was in confusion. Braves forgot their
guns and fled; ponies broke bounds and ran wild; dogs barked; but the
Indians reformed rapidly and the battle was on. It lasted all day and
the Indians fought like demons. They captured the only cannon and two
thousand rounds of ammunition. They set fire to the grass in which the
troops had hid so that the soldiers were nearly suffocated at first,
but the wind changed and the smoke blew in the red men’s faces. The
troops were cheered by this turn in their favor, and fought bravely
and desperately, although they had been so long without proper food
or sleep.

Suddenly the firing ceased. A captured man had told the Indians that
more “walking soldiers” were coming. Fearing to be utterly destroyed
the Indians fled, leaving eighty-nine dead men on the battle-field.
Chief Joseph was compelled to surrender when only eighty miles from
the Dominion line where strategic measures were used. In his desperate
attempt for freedom, and by the record of his later life, he gained the
high esteem of the United States government for his lofty character.
His people had honorable intentions but they found it hard to submit
to the conquering white man.

  Illustration:   Courtesy of the American Bureau of Ethnology.

                  BATTLE OF BIG HOLE

As Brother Van reached Big Hole on his way to Missoula a scene of
horror greeted his eyes. The bodies of the lately fallen heroes had
been hurriedly buried, for another Indian attack was impending. A
storm had followed which made the earth so soft that the prowling
wild beasts of the plains had exhumed the bodies of the brave men and
were devouring them. The missionary halted in his journey and sent a
messenger to Fort Missoula, which was then in course of erection. From
there a company of men was sent immediately to care for the bodies,
which were taken back to the church for a public funeral. So Brother
Van came for his first service in the new district into a scene of
sorrow and distress. Hearts were tender over the loss of these men and
to the waiting people he spoke words of comfort as he committed the
bodies to the earth. After scenes of terror and bereavement it is not
surprising that a great revival followed, and the new preacher was
again able to find “first members” for “first churches” in that great
section where the dread of the Indians’ fury was always present.

Missoula was the center chosen for the frontier district where Brother
Van was to preach and teach the people. Its name in the Indian language
means “a place of fear” or “at the stream of surprise or ambush.”
The town, which is near the mouth of Hell Gate Canyon, is now a great
distributing point for a farming region and is the site of the State
university. The little church in the settlement of Missoula had been
built by Brother Van’s friend, Dr. Iliff, who had been stationed there
previously for a short period.

Through the busy years spent at Virginia City and Bannack, these two
friends had met and labored frequently together. The experiences of
one holiday journey which they took make a story well worth repeating.
Dr. Iliff, his young bride, and Brother Van drove to Salt Lake City,
where the Rocky Mountain Conference was held in 1875. Although
attendance at the Conference was necessary, their journey was an outing
for them and gave them an opportunity to see civilization once more.
The Presiding Elder had a buggy, and in this the three friends made the
memorable trip. They drove through the wide, dusty prairie and over the
mountains, for they had to cross the main range of the Rockies. Each
night camp was made, and the little wife officiated at the jolly supper
which effaced all memory of the weary traveling.

The twilight hours were the moments when the ties of friendship were
strengthened, and the youthful spirits of the campers prompted many
pranks and contests. As they camped near Idaho Falls one evening the
sport was to determine which could catch the largest trout. This story
will never have a satisfactory ending, for, being a fish story, each
caught the largest, and, of course, no bride could decide against her
husband. The Sabbath days of the outing were taken by the travelers as
rest days for the horses, and as refreshing times for their own souls.
They reached Salt Lake City in good season, and found Bishop Haven
presiding over the Conference, and Brother Van’s old friend, Chaplain
McCabe, singing his way into the hearts of the people.

Conference Sunday came with a rousing sermon by the Bishop. The sermon
over, these two friends felt a longing to explore. Like culprits they
stole away in the afternoon and sought the great Mormon tabernacle.
They gazed in wonder at the huge building with its queer arched roof
which gave the whole structure the appearance of an inverted soup
tureen; then they ventured farther to see how it looked on the inside.
As usual the Mormons were gathering for their great Sunday service,
and the two guests from Montana sat down to listen to the famous Mormon
leader, Brigham Young. The building seats twelve thousand people and
every seat was filled.

After hearing a sermon sharply in contrast with what they had heard
from their own bishop, the curiosity of these Westerners was not
satisfied, so they tarried to examine the building and its surroundings.
When deepening twilight warned them that the time for departure was at
hand, they sought the entrance gate, but lo, the bars were down and no
watchful attendant was there, either to punish the intruders or to let
them out.

Brother Van and Dr. Iliff stood and looked at each other and then at
the high iron fence. Had they come from scenes of Indian troubles and
the hardships of the wide plains to be daunted by such an obstacle
as an iron gate? Off came preachers’ coats. Hats were flung high over
the fence and two agile pioneer ministers climbed over that formidable
barrier and dropped down to earth. Then coats and hats were donned, and
again these inquisitive friends continued their investigating tour.

They found themselves walking along Brigham Street on which stood
Amelia Palace, the residence erected for Young’s favorite wife. As
they looked at the building interestedly, they saw the Mormon leader
himself pacing the walk and followed by two wives. Again the spirit
of adventure prompted them and they dared each other to cross the
street, speak to, and shake hands with the august leader of Mormonism.
No sooner said than done. In a moment the two men were bowing and
introducing themselves as Methodist preachers from the West, and
proffering eager hands. Brigham Young looked at them with an amused
twinkle in his eyes, and cordially shook hands, saying, “I certainly
am glad to shake hands with you. I was a Methodist once myself!”

The friendship of these two young missionaries in the new West grew
deeper and sweeter with the passing days in their work in Montana. At
one time they held united revival services at Virginia City. They rode
into the town unannounced and proceeded to seek a place where they
might hold meetings. The old opera house was secured and there they
began their preaching and singing. The people attended out of curiosity
at first, but a real earnestness came with the passing days, and many
were started on the way toward living a new, clean life.

Billy Blay was one of the men who left off his evil habits. The
evangelists had heard of this notorious drunkard. They went to his
hut with its dirt roof and floor where the poor sot was huddled in his
blankets. They talked with him about other ways of living, and prayed
with him. He promised to come to church, and to the amazement of the
townspeople, Billy Blay not only kept his promise, but he came sober.
During the services he was saved from his sins and took a fresh start
in life. After realizing that his sins would be forgiven, he said,
“Give me pen and paper. I want to write to my wife and children in

That Billy Blay could write was astonishing to the people of the
town, who knew him only as a notorious drunkard. Now he wrote like an
educated man. While he waited for an answer to the letter which broke
a twelve years’ silence, he gave himself into the care of Brother Van
and Dr. Iliff. He had great natural ability, and he spoke to others
about his new experience so effectively that he was at last given an
exhorter’s license and made a third member of the evangelistic group.

After a little time Billy Blay heard from his wife. She was ill, and
had believed him to be dead. Money for his journey back home was raised
in the two institutions of the town that knew him, the church and the
saloon, and the family was reunited. This new preacher gave his life to
missionary work in a logging-camp in Wisconsin, making another link in
the chain of missionary endeavor which will some day bind the world in
a great Christian fellowship.

This first evangelistic trip made by Brother Van and Dr. Iliff
meant much to the new territory of Montana. To-day in making a trip
through the same section, you would travel by rail or automobile, but
everywhere you would find living monuments of the wise pioneering of
these comrade missionaries. Not only new churches, new congregations,
and new members, but in many cases new towns have sprung up where the
partners held a first service.

The two men have always loved to recount the experiences of those
days, and especially to tell about their adventure in crossing Madison
River. After the meetings at Virginia City, the two evangelists had
an itinerary planned ahead. One appointment was at Madison River
schoolhouse. By the mail to Virginia City had come a precious package
from the East for Dr. Iliff’s wife. This little woman had come to the
West gladly with her earnest young husband, but the people at home
had distressing thoughts about the frontier hardships that she had
to endure. There were hardships certainly but of these she never
complained. Now, here was a package from home!

When the evangelists got into the buggy which was to carry them to
the schoolhouse, the precious bundle was carefully stowed away. They
traveled to Madison River, which they had to cross, and found it in
flood with the melted snow from the mountains. The old bridge had been
washed away. So the two young men sat on the edge of the ruins and
talked things over.

“Shall we give up the trip?” asked Dr. Iliff.

“No, we can’t do that. The people are expecting us,” said Brother Van.

“Well, let’s try to cross,” replied his chum.

In they plunged, driving the horses toward the nearest point on the
opposite bank. When they were about one third of the distance across
the river the buggy began to float and the horses began to swim.

“Van, can you swim?”

“Not a lick!”

“Well, you get up on the seat, take that package and keep it dry,”
shouted Dr. Iliff as he jumped out.

He unfastened the horses and they swam to an island in the stream. Then
he began to guide the floating buggy toward the bank. In the meantime
Brother Van sat still, holding the bundle aloft that it might not be
soaked. When they reached the edge of the flood in safety he deposited
the bundle on the seat and climbed out into the water to help push
the buggy up the steep bank. Valiantly they pushed. The buggy went up
slowly and then slid back. Again they boosted and again the slippery
banks failed to hold the load.

“Van, you aren’t pushing!”

“Yes, I am!”

“Well, I’m all played out. Now let us try once more. Now all together!”

They gave a mighty push and the buggy went over. But, alas! the bundle
had slipped out into the water, and as they looked, it was being
rapidly carried down-stream. Iliff, who was standing on the high bank,
called out, “Van, you’d better get that package. It belongs to my wife.”

In the dismay of the moment, Brother Van forgot that he didn’t know
how to swim. Out he struck. With mighty splashes and flounderings, he
overtook the package and brought it to shore. Then those two preachers
stood and looked at each other, wet to the skin, hatless and disheveled,
hands torn and bleeding, sermons no longer dry, and the package
seemingly ruined. In a moment they burst into boyish laughter, and
all was well. While they consulted as to the next move, a ranchman
came along and took them home with him. From a promiscuous jumble
of clothing the preachers were outfitted. When they were dressed and
came into the light of the room and beheld each other, they laughed
again like truant schoolboys. They were comical figures enough in the
makeshift garments of that frontier home. They went to church in those
clothes, and began a revival which meant a great deal to the life of
that community.

The bundle? Oh, that was a fine black silk dress. When the preachers
returned to the ranchman’s home, they found their own clothes dry and
in condition for wearing. The beautiful, lustrous silk found in the
package was hung in rich folds about the room to dry. The water in
Madison River was crystal clear and did not injure the silk, which was
of good grade.

An amazing thing about this evangelistic team was that though of the
East eastern, yet they won immediate favor with the people among whom
they labored. The shrewd Westerners would have detected any insincerity
in the missionaries, and the cowboy’s mission in life seemed to be to
“shoot up” anything not genuine. It is hard for us to-day to imagine
the wild and lawless life on those lonely plains of the great West.
These two men, and many other pioneers for the church, carried on their
ministry in the face of severe handicaps in a frontier region. The
principal difficulties grew out of the isolation of the settlements,
and the slow means of communication with the older parts of the country.

The Missouri River provided the natural means of access to the
Northwest, and as early as 1851 fire-boats began to reach Fort Benton.
For a long period only one boat a year made this hard passage; then
gold was discovered, and there followed a rush of new settlers, so that
in 1866, forty steamers came into the old fur-trading post. For a third
of a century the stage-coach had no rival as the means of travel for
passengers. One of the most famous stage lines was over Mullen’s Trail,
which ran west from Fort Benton for hundreds of miles. This trail was
opened through government land by Captain Mullen and his company of
soldiers for the use of miners. Holliday’s Overland Stage Line played
an important part in the development of the West. It ran from Atchison,
Kansas, to Denver, Colorado, and to Salt Lake City, Utah, where other
lines connected with it. One of these lines extended to Virginia City
in what had been Brother Van’s district, and from there to Helena,
a distance altogether of nineteen hundred miles, usually covered in
twenty-two days.

In order to secure rapid transportation for the mails, the Pony
Express was established in 1861 and maintained for three years. A
band of swift riders, eighty in number, would cover the vast distances
of the prairie in an incredibly short space of time. One rider, for
instance, would leave Sacramento, while another rider started from
St. Joseph, Missouri, at the eastern end of the route. Each would ride
swiftly and as silently as possible, guarding the precious mail at all
hazards, and would come, after fifteen to twenty miles of riding, to a
station where a fresh horse, saddled and bridled, was held by a waiting
agent. The riders were allowed two minutes for the change of horses;
then on they went over the ever-widening prairie to the next station.
The fastest time in which a piece of mail was ever carried was seven
days and seventeen minutes.

Sometimes the station was found to be but a smoking pile of ruins,
and sometimes, alas, the station-keeper would be discovered scalped
by wandering Indians. It is said that only one package was lost in the
three years that the Pony Express was operated. This happened when the
rider was killed after being robbed. Another time, the faithful pony
came in along with the package bound safely to the saddle; his rider
had been killed as he rode.

Omaha was the nearest railroad station, and to reach this distant city
meant a hard journey for the miner who had made his “pile” and wished
to go back home. Gold dust was the only money and it was weighed and
taken at its weight’s value. The traveler could go on horseback or
wagon to Fort Benton and then take passage on a steamboat to Sioux City,
Iowa. Another method of travel was to follow the trail on horseback to
Salt Lake City, and take the train or the stage-coach from there. The
cost of the latter mode of travel can be estimated when it is known
that the sending of a letter in that way cost two dollars and a half.
All travel was dangerous, for with the finding of gold, desperate men
had come west, who robbed and killed for the wealth so hazardously
secured by the miners. Hold-ups were regular occurrences, particularly
between Bannack and Virginia City, a distance of seventy miles.

Miners who had spent months of hard labor in the accumulation of a
few hundred dollars were never heard of again after starting from a
mine to a distant home eastward. Men were robbed in camp, daily and
nightly. Gambling and all forms of evil abounded. Many of the men who
disappeared were found to have been shot ruthlessly. The nature of the
country, with its canyons, gulches, and mountain passes, was especially
adapted to this means of highway robbery. The unpeopled distances
between the mining camps also helped the lawless element to do their
bloody work. Nowhere else on the face of the earth, nor at any period
since men became civilized, have murder, robbery, and social vice
presented such an organized front.

The young territory determined to stop this trade of stage-robbing
and formed a protecting band called the “Vigilantes.” The name is
associated with some of the bloodiest episodes of frontier days. In the
absence of any other protection, the Vigilantes took law into their own
hands, and dealt sternly with the highway robber and murderer. Between
December, 1863, and February, 1864, twenty-four “road agents” were
hanged by the Vigilantes for their crimes against the miners. Two years
later, one million and five hundred thousand dollars’ worth of gold was
taken from Helena to Fort Benton unmolested.

The early Vigilantes were the best and most intelligent men in the
mining section. They saw that in the absence of all law they must
become a law unto themselves, or submit to the bloody code of the
desperadoes by whom they were surrounded. They entered on their work
without knowing how soon they might have to encounter a force greater
than their own. They did their work swiftly and efficiently as
relentlessly they followed the offender. Little mercy was meted out
to the guilty men, and many a lonely tree on the plains held ghastly
reminders of the swift vengeance which overtook the robbers. The
Vigilantes hung many a hardened sinner, giving him first an opportunity
to make his peace with God.

Little by little a change was being wrought in the territory, and the
missionaries were helping to bring about a condition of law and order.
In this period of transformation, Brother Van was “hail fellow well
met” with the people. One gambler said, “I like that old scout, he
plays fair.” His singing helped him to win them, for he would stand
on the hillside and sing, “Shall we Gather at the River,” or “Over and
Over,” and the miners, gamblers, and settlers would come to the service.


Arriving at a typical mining camp one day, the scout-preacher took
possession of a new building for a service. It proved to be a saloon
such as he had borrowed before. It was an ordinary occurrence for
lights to be snuffed out by bullets in a meeting that did not meet with
approval from the men, but they did not put out the lights when Brother
Van spoke. They liked his simple, sweet message, and, above all, they
liked his singing. The song “The Gospel Train is coming” particularly
pleased them, for the railroad language held new and fascinating words
in a community which was just growing accustomed to the railroad. One
of the men said to the preacher, “If you will sing that song to-morrow
night, I’ll bring forty men to hear you.”

“All right, that’s a bargain,” said the singer.

This man was a leader of the gang. He had a hurdy-gurdy which made
his saloon especially attractive. On the next night forty grizzled men
marched in and took their seats. No lights were put out. No disturbance
was made by the forty who had reserved seats, but something did happen:
that “hurdy-gurdy” man got on board of the “Gospel Train” and brought
along a number of his comrades.

                               CHAPTER X

                     GREAT HEART WITH THE INDIANS

MANY acts of service rendered to his new brothers on his frequent
visits to them had made the Blackfeet Indians know that Brother Van
was truly their friend. One incident in particular is now of interest
to illustrate the character of the red men and the manner in which the
missionary won their liking.

One day when White Plume was chief of the Blackfeet and Piegan tribes,
camp was made and the evening meal was prepared. Into this busy and
picturesque scene came the preacher, and with the aid of an interpreter,
he started to speak the good tidings to these people of the plains.
The Indians were interested and listened respectfully. Suddenly a
runner came quietly but swiftly into the group and uttered an Indian
word. Instantly the audience dissolved. They went so quickly that the
astonished preacher inquired of the interpreter as to the reason of
their going. There was reason enough. While these people were listening
to Brother Van, the Crow Indians, a rival tribe, had come and driven
off the ponies which had been turned out to graze for the night.

When the preacher understood the plight of the Blackfeet, he offered
his own fleet pony to them that they might overtake the raiders.
Brother Van always had a good horse. The herd was easily overtaken and
turned back to the camp. Then, much to the surprise of Brother Van, the
Indians returned to the place of meeting and indicated that they wished
the service to proceed.

Early on the following morning a messenger came to Brother Van
telling him that the Blackfeet were going on a buffalo hunt, and a
formal invitation was delivered requesting him to accompany them.
Taking his sure-footed pony, Brother Van joined the riders, and soon
the excitement of their hunt was on. An Indian honor was then conferred
on this, their well-loved guest. After the herd of buffalo was sighted
and had been started on the run, the Indians signified that the white
man was to have the distinction of killing the magnificent specimen
which was leading the herd. Riding toward the front of the stampeding
beasts, the unskilled marksman picked out the herd leader and shot him
in the head. It was a great shot. An Indian could have done no better.
The herd was a large one, containing nearly one thousand of the great,
brown giants of the plains. Once more the preacher by his prowess had
won the favor of the Blackfeet.

With such experiences as the buffalo hunt, an Indian feast, a hurried
visit to the bed of the sick or dying, and the preaching of the gospel,
the years passed. After serving five years as a missionary at large
without ordination, Brother Van consented to become a Conference Member,
that is to say, a regularly ordained traveling-preacher according
to Conference rules. The first missionary appropriation ever made
to Montana Conference was given to Brother Van when he became the
first regular supply. That allowance was three hundred and twenty-five
dollars. He was given the Sun River and Smith River charge as his first
aggressive work in North Montana.

So the Methodist circuit-rider started out once more on his pony with
his little all in his saddle-bags. A journey was still one of many
hazards, for Indians were everywhere and any sign of fear would have
been fatal, while any weakness would have met with scorn from the
cowboys. Brother Van visited Sun River, a settlement on the overland
freight trail between Helena and Fort Benton, where he organized the
first Methodist church north of the mountains. First, Brother Van
held a meeting in this settlement and then started a church building.
Afterward, he had to rescue the church from the sheriff’s hammer, but,
finally, he completed the building――assuming responsibility for the
rest of the debt. By and by there came a great day when he preached the
dedication sermon of a church free from debt.

To this very settlement at Sun River, the tenderfoot Easterner had come
with the Adjutant from Fort Shaw shortly after his arrival in Montana
several years before, and had announced his desire to hold a service.
The service had been held in the cabin home of Mr. Charles A. Bull. Now,
as an experienced plainsman and missionary, Brother Van came again and
built a church, over which through the busy years since then, he has
kept loving watch.

In Philbrook, Judith Basin, Brother Van found that Indians were
stealing horses and terrifying settlers. Prowling bands of raiders
were scattered all through the region. Again the scout-preacher was
frequently in danger as he went about his ministry. Riding one day
along the bank of the Cut Bank River, he saw a powerful Indian in full
war-regalia, making rapidly toward the crossing to which he, too, was
going. Believing that discretion was the better part of valor, Brother
Van turned his horse into a coulee, and rode hastily into the deep
shelter of the ravine. From that vantage ground an approaching enemy
was at the mercy of the watcher.

The Indian pursued him to the entrance and then gave up the chase. Had
he known that the white man was unarmed, this history might never have
been written, for the Indian was out to get revenge upon the whites,
and the story of his pursuit afterward created nation-wide interest. It
is a gruesome story, but has much of value as it reveals some reasons
for the Indian traits which our government has not always understood in
the past.

The first scene was enacted when a troop of United States soldiers
under Colonel Baker who were quelling Indian troubles, came into an
Indian village while the braves were out raiding. They laid waste
the camp and killed some three hundred women and children. When the
Indian men returned they found desolation, and, of course, could not
understand the reason. All that they could think of doing was to set
forth again on a raid of devastation. One big brave, Spoo Pee, made a
vow to kill the first white man he met, for had not the white men taken
the life of his aged mother?

The other scene was enacted when a Canadian prospector having seen
enough of western life came down from the North on his way to the
nearest railway station that he might return to his home in the East.
He drove a fine team hitched to a good wagon. As he journeyed he met
two Indians, one a big brave, the other a stripling of a boy. The
Canadian asked his way. The Indian offered himself as a guide to the
wealthy traveler and as such was accepted.

A friendship seemed to spring up between the white man and his red
companions as they proceeded. The first camp was made and on the next
day they were setting forth again when the boy, Good Rider, spied some
deer in the distance and asked the loan of a gun that he might bring
fresh meat for their evening meal. Walmesley, the Canadian traveler,
promptly loaned him his gun and the boy went on his quest for meat.
Spoo Pee, the Indian brave, now took his own gun and shot the white man.
He threw the body on the muddy bank of the Cut Bank River along which
they had been riding.

With the fine horses in their possession, the two Indians came to Fort
Shaw, a Piegan Agency, where Major Young was in charge. They remained
over night and then went on. These visitors caused much comment at
the agency. Curiosity was aroused because the horses which they were
driving were much finer than red men usually had. They were well kept
and well fed. The second cause for speculation was that the dog which
had come with them stayed behind after the departure of the Indians. An
Indian’s dog is most faithful. He follows in spite of hunger, distance,
or hardships, but here was a dog which preferred the agency to the

One day a traveler appeared who reported finding the body of a white
man on the bank of the Cut Bank River. The Major sent a party to
investigate. Among them was the agency doctor. As the body was examined,
the doctor noticed a peculiar scar on the heel of the victim, and he
exclaimed, “I went swimming with a man once who had a scar exactly
like that one. The man’s name was Walmesley.” Detectives were put on
the case; Spoo Pee was overtaken, and with the boy, Good Rider, was put
into jail. The agency doctor, Major Young, and his daughter became the
chief witnesses.

Miss Young describes the journey to court in the thirty-below-zero
weather. As she was almost ready to start for Helena, an old, dirty
squaw came to see her, and throwing her arms around Miss Young’s neck,
implored her to save her boy. This was Good Rider’s mother. The woman
was unwashed and disheveled, because it was the custom of the tribe
that no ordinary practise of cleanliness should be observed when
an individual was in trouble. Miss Young brought Good Rider back to
his mother but Spoo Pee was committed to prison. From the day of his
sentence to jail no word or sound passed Spoo Pee’s lips for twenty
years. After a few years he was considered a harmless lunatic and moved,
first to Michigan, and then to an asylum in Washington.

One day a party of western visitors came into the corridors of the
asylum. A woman of the party, Mrs. Ella Clark, observed the pathetic,
blank face of Spoo Pee, and began to speak in an Indian language.
The prisoner observed her with something akin to interest. Failing to
secure a clearer response from him, the woman began to croon an Indian
lullaby. She sang as a mother to a child. A look of dazed intelligence
appeared on the face of the prisoner. Eagerly Mrs. Clark ceased
her singing and began to speak to him. She told of tribal wars and
conquests. She repeated traditions held most sacred. The attendants and
keepers watched her efforts interestedly. At last from Spoo Pee’s long
sealed lips there broke an Indian word. The kindly woman’s victory was
complete, and with tears flowing unchecked, Mrs. Clark told the Indian
of his people.

She explained to the keeper the reason that the deed had been committed;
how Spoo Pee had returned to his village on that dreadful day and had
found the women all slain. The prisoner told of his strange vow and
of the long silent years. Spoo Pee was pardoned and he returned to his
tribe but only sorrow was his lot. New and strange customs had arisen
since he had gone away. His family had become scattered. He could not
learn the new ways, and he pined for the friends who had gone. In two
years the broken spirit of the red man went to its long rest.

It was this revengeful warrior that Brother Van had met at the river
crossing, but danger held no terrors for him, and that night in the
coulee, near the scene of the tragic murder of the Canadian prospector,
he took the saddle from his pony, pillowed his head on it, and slept
peacefully with the stars smiling down on him. God’s protection was
with the man who had a vision of the life of peace and righteousness
which could come to the West only through the gospel that it was his
privilege to preach.

The Epworth Piegan Mission is ministering to these Indians to-day
under the leadership of one of Brother Van’s “boys,” Rev. A. W. Hammer,
who, with his talented wife, is continuing the service begun many years
ago. Mr. Hammer is peculiarly fitted for this task because he knows the
habits and language of the people. He was but a youth when he went west
to the plains of Texas as a cowboy in 1877. Later he came to Montana
and worked on a ranch not far from Chinook. He craved the opportunity
to enjoy the finer pleasures of life, and when a literary society was
started at Chinook, he rode in from the ranch to attend it.

One night the meeting place was deserted. Everybody was at the revival
meeting. Taking his pal with him, Hammer went to have some fun. They
sat on the back seat and made flippant remarks about the meeting, but
confessed to each other that they liked the preacher’s singing. The
next night found them on that same back seat. A change came to young
Hammer in this meeting and he altered his manner of life. He joined
the church and took charge of the Sunday-school. He was later given a
preacher’s license. Then he began to want an education that he might
work for his Master more acceptably. He attended school and college and
went back to the range to ride and to serve as a shepherd of people,
instead of as a cowboy. His life exemplifies the ideal missionary to
the Indians.

In Brother Van’s new district were the famous great falls of the
Missouri, which Lewis and Clarke had heard roaring in the distance as
they pushed across the plains. Perplexed as to the cause of the strange
sound that rolled to them over the lifeless prairies, they traveled
seven miles before they reached the spot where the great river takes
its tremendous plunge. The magnitude of the falls astonished them
beyond measure. The largest falls were given separate names later and
became known as Great Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Crooked Falls. It is
claimed by local residents that the water in Crooked Falls runs in
every direction, even upstream. Great power-plants are built along the
river at this point, and they produce power second only to Niagara.

When Brother Van reached the settlement of Great Falls on his first
visit, it was nothing but a great undeveloped possibility. “Here we
must have a church,” said this apostle of first things. An ambitious,
far-seeing group of men constituting the Townsite Company was
interviewed. They gave several lots to the enthusiastic dreamer of a
greater day for Montana. With the assured membership of two devoted
souls and the gift of land, a church was started.

Is this record of “first things” beginning to make you dizzy? Does
the recounting make you weary? But suppose you were the missionary!
Through heat and cold, through drought and rain, over green prairie and
bleak desert, you would have to travel. You would have met plainsmen
and Indians, friends and foes. You would have endured hunger and
thirst. You would have rested under the stars on the open prairie and
in the rude shelter afforded by the ranchmen’s bunks. You would have
been obliged to be the leader in the building of first churches and
first parsonages. All this costs energy and vitality, as Brother Van,
seemingly tireless though he was, once discovered.


One day death seemed about to claim the scout-missionary. He was very
weary and very ill, for mountain fever had him in its firm hold. Then
how the little churches rallied to their friend! After much praying and
after careful nursing, he was sent on a vacation that he might get well.
This was the only sick leave that he has ever had. Forty-five years
Brother Van has spent with his “shoulder against the horizon.” He has
pushed the frontier back and back, and in all those years he has never
been ill but once; then nature demanded a rest.

Leaving his friends greatly concerned over his condition, Brother Van
went to Seattle, Washington, to recuperate. That rest period turned
out to be something of a joke. In an old record of the Battery Street
Church in Seattle, there is an entry showing that certain meetings were
held in the church at this time, and noting that the evangelist was
W. W. Van Orsdel. He had gone away in October. In December he was back
in Montana holding revival meetings from Helena to Glendive, a distance
of two hundred and forty miles.

                              CHAPTER XI

                      BROTHER VAN AND NEW MONTANA

THE building of railroads through the state of Montana brought a rapid
development. The section around Great Falls became a prosperous farming
country. The settlement, therefore, formed a new center for the church,
and Brother Van came to this district, not as a missionary at large,
nor junior preacher, nor circuit-rider this time, he came now as a
presiding elder, or district superintendent for all of that part of
Montana east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Musselshell River.
It was known as the North Montana Mission and was about five twelfths
of the total area of the state. Let us get some idea concerning this
new work with which Brother Van was busy by making a comparison.
The whole of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of
Columbia could be placed within the bounds of the district and still
leave four thousand square miles of territory.

In all this area there were three hundred and fifty-five members of
Brother Van’s church and fifty-three probationers. There were ten
church buildings altogether. This property was valued at twenty-five
thousand dollars. There were four parsonages valued at four thousand
dollars. The twenty Sunday-schools had a membership of nine hundred
and twenty-five. The ten preachers received five thousand, six hundred
and fifty-one dollars a year, or an average of five hundred and sixty
dollars each. The churches gave four hundred and seventy-six dollars to

Many of the people whom Brother Van now served came from Eastern homes
and were familiar with ideals of culture and refinement. They had cut
loose from the East with its old associations and conventionalities,
and had come to face a new life on the frontier so full of promise.
Imagine a town of two thousand inhabitants composed of people from
every state in the Union, and from every civilized country in the world,
of every color, race, and creed, speaking fifteen or twenty languages,
and clinging to varying religious beliefs, and you will then have an
idea of a mining town such as Brother Van found as he traveled through
his district. The West was still, however, the easy prey for evil,
and at every crossroad and station could be seen the sign, “Saloon and
Licensed Gambling.” The gamblers and saloon men were leading citizens,
and they had to be reckoned with. Brother Van had been a prohibitionist
always. He had seen the effect of alcohol in his boyhood days,
especially in the oil regions. As he grew all too familiar with the
dreadful fire-water which demoralized and beggared the Indians whom he
sought to emancipate, a new hatred of the vile stuff took possession
of him.

The Rev. George Logan tells a story of Brother Van as district
superintendent which illustrates the spirit of comradeship that he
shares with all men, even the saloon men and gamblers. On one Sunday
morning Mr. Logan asked for a good collection to make up the district
superintendent’s salary, saying, “If I don’t get it this morning, I’ll
come again tonight.” The collection was not big enough, and true to his
word the second collection was asked for. One man put a stack of six
silver dollars on the plate and so the amount received was sufficient
to make up the sum required for the unpaid salary.

Going down town next day Mr. Logan met the man of the silver dollars,
who with a grin asked, “Did you raise Brother Van’s money last night?”

“I did,” was the pastor’s reply.

“Did you notice that stack of silver dollars on the plate?”

“I did,” said Mr. Logan again.

“Well, I’ll tell you a story if you’ll promise not to get angry about

“I promise,” said the preacher.

“Two men at the service on Sunday morning remembered afterward that
Brother Van’s salary was short, and they agreed to play for the money
in the afternoon. If A. won, the money was to be Brother Van’s; if B.
did, Brother Van lost. Word went around and the saloon filled with
sports to watch the game. If A. won, the crowd yelled, ‘The Lord gets
that!’ and if B. was lucky, ‘That goes to the devil!’”

A. had won, and the unsuspecting District Superintendent’s salary was
paid by the successful gambler. Mr. Logan looked the narrator in the
eye, and said, “I’m so glad I got that money; it has been in the hands
of the devil long enough. Brother Van will put it to a better use.”

It was through many unique incidents and strange experiences that
Brother Van’s work was built up. Steadily the character of the country
changed and another generation was growing up. Stalwart sons and
daughters of the settlers began to try to win a means of education in
the desert. They looked beyond the shining mountains to college and to
seminary. As Brother Van traveled from place to place he pondered over
this problem. No children of his own will look to him for education,
but had he not claimed spirituality in this wide land for the children?
He saw that the boys and girls were eager for larger social privileges
and for a higher intellectual life; so he decided that Montana should
have a Christian school. For thirteen years he toiled to secure one;
other men’s names appeared on the committee formed for the enterprise
and in time disappeared, but the name of William Wesley Van Orsdel
always headed the list. He was not an educated man as far as the study
of books was concerned. Only in the School of Experience and in the
Seminary of Hard Knocks had he taken postgraduate courses. But he was
now determined that the young people of Montana should have first, a
Christian influence, and, second, an education.

Because of that thinking, planning, and praying of the missionary,
there came a day when the capital city, Helena, had a new asset. Five
miles from the center of the town stood a fifty-thousand-dollar brick
building dedicated to the young people of Montana. The campus of
two hundred and thirty-five acres was beautified, and the school was
opened. The distance from town, the newness of the undertaking, the
indifference of the people, all proved insurmountable difficulties
to every one but Brother Van. For ten years the school struggled to
succeed while the trustees felt almost constantly that they must close
it, but Brother Van would not consent. Then a radical measure was
adopted. The school was moved to Helena, where to-day Montana Wesleyan
University stands in friendly neighborliness to the capitol building.
Montana Wesleyan antedated all state schools in Montana for higher

Brother Van watched those two buildings on Capitol Hill with a
peculiar yearning. He remembered the town of Helena as it had looked
when he reached it on that summer day in 1872. He remembered the
first capitol building in Bannack, where it was his lot to bury the
four plainsmen who had lost their lives because the Indians could not
understand the coming of the white man into their hunting ground. The
first legislature was held in two rooms in a log cabin. Tallow candles
emphasized the gloom. Sheet-iron stoves made the pent-up air seem
stifling. One desk and a bench in each room completed the furnishing of
this first capitol. The library was composed of one copy of the Idaho

On February 22, 1889, Montana became a state and Helena became the
capital. Helena of Last Chance Gulch fame had grown rapidly, as its
eastern seekers of gold became housed in cabins, wickiups, shacks, and
tents. Helena became a wicked city, where Sunday was the wildest day of
the wild week. Then came a period of reconstruction. Schools were built,
imposing sites were sought for churches; the dugout school disappeared
from the prairie, and in its place came the little red schoolhouse. The
first public school had been opened on March 5, 1866, in Virginia City.
There were no text-books. Every child brought any book he might possess.
Now schools were becoming common in Montana. Daily papers were needed
and in place of the Montana _Post_ which had been published in the
cellar of a log cabin in Virginia City and dates from May, 1868, came
the Montana _Record Herald_.

Montana had a state pride and no man could surpass Brother Van as
he sang the praises of his adopted state. As civilization progressed
the new State-house now standing on Capitol Hill was needed. This
was a thrilling time in the life of the young state. When the
imposing building was completed and ready to be dedicated, Montana’s
representatives gathered and stood with bared heads as Brother Van
offered this prayer:

“O thou God of our fathers, we draw near to thee in the name of thy
Son, our Saviour, to acknowledge the many blessings of which we are
the recipients, on this our nation’s birthday; the day when this was
declared to be a free and independent nation, and which now stands
out among the nations as a star of the first magnitude. O God, may
thy presence ever abide with our nation. We invoke thy blessing on our
President, and those associated with him in directing the affairs of
the nation.

“We are here in this great new commonwealth, pioneer men and women,
who came here in the earlier settlements and opened up the way for
success; we are here to-day with our children and associates to
honor the state and thee. We are here to dedicate and set apart this
magnificent building, this capitol building, to the purpose for which
it was built. Let thy blessing rest on the exercises of this hour. May
thy blessing rest on the government of the state, the officers, the
capitol commission, and all who have been associated with the planning
and completing of the building.

“Let thy blessing be upon our representatives, on both houses of
congress, on state senators and legislators, who shall meet in this
house from time to time. May we all realize that great is that people
whose God is the Lord. May we flee evil. Amen.”

The walls of the Senate Chamber of that great building are adorned with
paintings done by Mr. Charles Russell, who came to Montana in 1881 and
achieved fame as the cowboy artist. No creation of his brain or brush
ever exploits any theme but Montana and the West. The modern home of
Mr. Russell is at Great Falls and in the spacious grounds surrounding
it stands a log cabin. Let us visit it with Brother Van, who is an
old-time friend of the owner.

  Illustration:   Painting by Charles M. Russell.


The porch has no board floor and is low, so we can see the roof strewn
with buffalo horns and skulls. On the stockade-door the latch-string
hangs out, and it means just that, a true Western hospitality. We pull
the string, the latch lifts, and we stand in the presence of the cowboy
artist. He looks both cowboy and artist. His long hair is thrown back
from a strong and sun-browned face, and this suggests the artist; so
does the scarlet sash that he wears. His flannel shirt is open at the
throat, and his Khaki trousers are thrust into high boots, showing the
habit of the cowboy.

Around that interesting room is a record of the history of Montana.
War-bonnets and tomahawks hang from pegs. In a rack are rifles
which tell the story of firearm progress from the flintlock to the
Springfield, and then to the Winchester. Indian beads, rugs, baskets,
and blankets form a wealth of color on the walls, and before a great
fireplace stands an easel, and lo, the artist is telling our story in
a finer way. There are the figures of Lewis and Clarke on the canvas.
An Indian village is in the background, and in the center we recognize
the woman guide, Sacajawea. She is meeting her childhood friend who had
been taken prisoner when she was.

As he watched Montana develop with the anxiety that a father gives
to the growth of an awkward, beloved boy, Brother Van saw a new need.
Always had he ministered to sick and dying miners, cowboys, and
settlers. But as the years passed he saw that it would be a great
advantage to the state if the sick and dying could be cared for with
all the help that modern medical science affords. He realized the
necessity of placing patients under religious influence and teaching.
The cure of souls was to him even more important than the cure of
bodies; so he began to talk and to pray for a Christian hospital.
Probably fifty thousand dollars has passed through Brother Van’s hands
in the time he has served Montana, but he owns no home or cattle. Even
the pony is no more and a Ford is not its successor. The salary for his
first year’s work was nothing, and for the second it was seventy-five
dollars. In later years he received seventeen hundred dollars. Yet
every Protestant enterprise has had an impetus from Brother Van’s

He interested his church in the need of a hospital, and deaconesses
were brought west and a hospital was started. Every one but the prime
mover became discouraged by the hardships that the project encountered,
but he continued to sing, to pray, to praise Montana, and to work
for Montana. In Great Falls now stands a beautiful hospital, entirely
fireproof and modern in every convenience. In the hall of the building
hangs a painting. It is a western scene, and shows a man riding
furiously toward the leader of a herd of buffalo; Indians ride behind
as interested spectators to the shooting of the large beast. The
inscription below is “Brother Van shooting buffalo,” and it illustrates
the story already told. The artist is Charles M. Russell.

Across the street is the Van Orsdel Home where white-capped and
swift-footed nurses reside, and this is the story of the building.
Once upon a time some gamblers, cowboys, and saloon men decided that
they, too, wanted to tell Brother Van that they wished him well. He
had fought the saloon with a zeal that could not be misunderstood, but
he fought fairly. He hated the business and told its supporters so in
no mincing language; but he didn’t hate the men and they knew that.
They decided to raise one thousand dollars and give it to him that
he might buy a home of his own, or that he might have the money to do
as he wished. The fund was started. At first it grew slowly and then
by bounds. It was put in a bank and as time went by the deposit was
forgotten. A gambler, who was on his death-bed, wanted to see Brother
Van. He answered the call at once, and was able to help the dying
man hear from the Master, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” In his last
moments the man told about the money that was lying in the bank and
accumulating interest. Brother Van drew it out and soon a nurses’ home
was started.

Within the walls of the Van Orsdel Home is a home life of rare culture
and beauty. Many girls are sheltered and trained there who were brought
to the pioneer preacher as infants twenty years earlier that he might
lay hands on them in baptism. At the beginning of each school year
of the Nurses’ Training School, Brother Van greets those uniformed
students with encouraging words and with a tender appeal for loyalty
to the Master whom he serves.

One of Brother Van’s enterprises seemed not to be of God’s planning.
That was the original home of Montana Wesleyan, five miles from
Helena. People spoke of the neglected building as a mistake and an
expensive failure. Boys threw stones through every pane of glass in
the three-story building. A family of lively coyotes occupied the big
dining-room; bats took up their abode in the dark corners; spiders spun
their webs unhindered over the ceiling, and owls seemingly joined the
scoffers in their derision of the enterprise. Occasionally a solitary
figure would come into the building and kneeling in the dust, would
implore God to give him a reason against the prevalent unbelief. He
would ask God to use these buildings for his own service, and for the
Christian uplift of young people. Surely there was some use for them.
The years passed, and this solitary figure began to see another need
for his cherished Montana. The young people had long since been coming
to the university on Capitol Hill, but in the wide expanses of the
state there were yet many children unschooled. There were orphans to
be protected, and other children too far from the district school for
daily attendance. These became a new and dear care to Brother Van.


Again the old pocketbook made a beginning. As the hard-earned money
went for the house-cleaning a gift came to Brother Van; a grateful
ranchman presented him with a cow. It was driven promptly to the two
hundred-and-thirty-five-acre campus which surrounded the neglected
building out by Helena, so that the few children he might gather there
should be fed. The building, so recently the home of the bats and the
coyotes, was cleaned and repaired and put in readiness for its first
pupil, a child whom a dying mother committed to the care of Brother Van.
Others needing school advantages were found and placed in the renovated
building. The title page of the first _Annual_ published by the
students of this school of faith is inscribed: “To Brother Van as an
expression of love from the class of 1915.”

Not all the time was Brother Van building churches. There are one
hundred churches in Montana built by him, and about fifty parsonages
due to his labors, besides six hospitals and two large institutions of
learning, but there is another piece of work which he has been doing
between times for the church he loves. Since 1876 he has represented
the Methodist Church of Montana in the denomination’s great governing
body, the General Conference. At the meeting at Saratoga Springs in
1916, one evening was given over to the two friends, Dr. Thomas C.
Iliff and Brother Van. They recounted the struggles and triumphs
of their western life, and sang the old songs which had carried
inspiration to the people of the west.

A few years ago Brother Van made a long trip across the country and
came again to Gettysburg, where, as a boy, fifty-four years before,
he had witnessed that great battle. A large part of the land where the
battle was fought has been bought by the United States government, and
the government and the states spent seven million dollars in erecting
the memorials that do honor to the men who fell in those July days of
1863. Brother Van saw again the house in which President Lincoln was
entertained when he made that memorable address familiar to-day to
every schoolboy and schoolgirl. He recalled how he had gone to seek
the sad-faced man. He had come into his presence a towsled, barefoot,
awkward boy, and with new appreciation he remembered how that great
man had shaken hands with him. Since then other presidents have shaken
hands with the boy grown into a missionary. Grant, Roosevelt, and Taft
have all done honor to the man so well loved in Montana.

                              CHAPTER XII

                          SEVENTY YEARS YOUNG

THE haze of Indian summer hangs over the prairies of Montana as they
flaunt their golden flowers. There could be no more perfect days than
these for a journey with Brother Van through the great state. One might
almost call it his parish, so closely has he been associated with the
settlement and growth of vast stretches of its territory. He shall be
our guide as we visit the widely scattered villages and thriving towns,
where he is eagerly welcomed by men, women, and children of all faiths
and of none. There are no strangers to Great Heart of the Indians.
Brother Van greets every one he meets with the Indians’ guttural
“Oi-Oi-Oi,” meaning “How do you do!” When we ask why he always uses the
expression, he replies, “Oh, just to show that I’m a friendly Indian.”

We start our trip at Fort Benton, where, in a well kept park, stand
the ruins of the old fort, a crumbling relic of days forever past.
The stockade is gone and only a blockhouse remains. It is carefully
guarded, for inside are precious relics of the past. Let us stand on
the very spot where Brother Van celebrated his first Fourth of July
in Montana by eating a dinner of jerked buffalo meat. Our eyes sweep
the horizon and we try to imagine the scenes of former days when over
those flashing waters of the Missouri came bull-boats or birch canoes,
bringing precious furs to the Northwest Fur Company’s post.

In the town itself we pass the site of the old mud saloon where, on
that far-away Sunday, the tenderfoot missionary preached to a curious
throng. What of the church life of to-day? We spend a Sabbath in the
historic town and go to the old mother church. It is a small building,
simple in style, but we enter it in a spirit of reverence. Repairs are
in progress; with his own hands the minister, a college and seminary
graduate, has painted the woodwork and papered the walls. He has been
aided in the evenings by the earnest men of his congregation.

The days of the Northwest Fur Company seem very remote when the new
generation, with a small group from the older one, kneel to receive
Holy Communion. The life of the trapper and trader, starved and godless,
seems a haunting and an impossible dream. Yet the pastor has his
problems. His church must be enlarged and modernized to meet the social
demands of the little city. He must find means for providing recreation
and wholesome entertainment in connection with the church, so that the
people of the community may not have to depend for their amusement on
the cheap “movie” theater with its sensuous appeals. He must travel
far out on the wide prairie to care for the ranchers who are setting up
homes in these lands that under new methods of cultivation are proving
to be far more fruitful than it was once considered possible for them
to be.

The scout-missionary is still keen about first churches, and we
accompany him on a visit to a little town near Fort Benton. We go to
the schoolhouse. We are early; so we will play janitor. The bell is
to be rung. The songbooks are to be distributed. Brother Van does not
preach this time, but his influence is felt all through the service. He
stands in the closing moments and urges upon the people a new loyalty
to Jesus Christ and a new loyalty to the church as the center of their
common life. All who will so pledge are asked to come and take him by
the hand, and every man, woman, and child in the little group comes
forward. Among them are three soldiers, guards in the uncertain days
of war of the big bridge which swings over the Teton River at the
outskirts of the town.

One of Brother Van’s churches is in process of building in this town.
You may smile at its dimensions. It has one main room and a basement
which is to be cut up into smaller social rooms.

“Well, Brother Van, when is it to be finished?” he is asked.

“Don’t know, Sister!”

“Why not finish it right away?”

“I’d love to, but not one cent of debt is to be placed on this or on
any other church I have anything to do with.”

“But, can these few people build this church?”

“They can and will, with the help of the Board of Home Missions.”

“Ah, if people only knew the need of home missions, we would not have
to see these churches which we try to put in the new centers struggle
and languish as they do,” he adds.

“Why try to have a church so soon, then?”

“Ah, Sister, that is the point. We must claim these new towns for our
Christ. The devil has his agents at work in the saloon and dance halls.
Why should we give up to him?”

In that distant time when Brother Van made his first visit to the
Indian agency, he traveled in an army post wagon. As we seek the
Blackfeet Indians, we travel with him on a railroad train. His vivid
stories of the towns through which we pass make us realize how much the
frontier owes to missionary influence. Brother Van gets off at every
station to look around.

“See that church house,” he exclaims proudly, for he always calls it
that. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

It is small and in need of paint. Compared, however, to the saloon
building in which he had probably held the first service, it is


“Browning! Browning!” calls the conductor. Nothing here but a small

“This way, Brother Van,” calls a voice from the starlit darkness, and
soon we are on our way to the Indian reservation and the parsonage home
of Rev. A. W. Hammer, the cowboy preacher. A cheerful welcome awaits
us in the little prairie home. Here in the shadow of the snow-clad
mountains is symbolized the Montana dreamed about by the boy from
Gettysburg. A home has been established. A trained preacher ministers
to the Indians.

On the following morning we find spread out before us a scene of
rich beauty as we look across the fields from which the grain has been
harvested. All the members of the household gather in front of the
cottage where there stands a straight mountain pine, carefully trimmed
and braced. From a home-made cabinet the oldest daughter has taken a
carefully folded bundle, and now at her bidding it is fastened to the
ropes swaying from the pine tree. A steady pull brings Old Glory up
to catch the breeze while the shining mountains seem to smile approval.
The son places his hat over his heart, while Brother Van, his head
bared, his face transfigured, sings, “O say can you see by the dawn’s
early light” and girlish voices catch up the refrain. No flag raising
in the presence of statesmen and of armies could be more impressive.
Here one sees the loyal soul of the west laid bare. This is the America
that the forces of the Christian church, the Christian home, and the
Christian school are building on the vast plains and through the
mountain valleys of the younger states.

The drive to the church in a lumber wagon is a novel experience, and we
understand why fur overcoats are called “life preservers,” for the air
gives a foretaste of the winter’s cold. The congregation of Indians,
plainsmen, business men, and college graduates gathers. The Indians
interest us the most. These are the adopted brothers of Great Heart.
These are the people whom William Van Orsdel loved before he had seen
them and whom he had left the old Gettysburg home to serve. He has seen
disease, ignorance, and intemperance threatening to wipe out the race,
and he has had to give a large part of his energy to teaching a better
way of life to the white man who is so largely responsible for the
conditions that exist; but he has persevered in finding ways to help
his red brothers.

In the United States there are now three hundred and thirty-six
thousand Indians; nearly one third of these are unchurched. There are
many who have no opportunity to know the living God, yet they were
the first Americans. Their loyalty was proved when nine thousand young
braves entered the army and navy to fight for a world democracy, and
one third of those entered the service through enlistment. These wards
of the nation, though driven back from wide prairie to reservations,
have been taught trades and agriculture. Twenty million dollars
worth of Liberty Bonds were bought by Indians. The war has given the
Indian an opportunity to show his fine qualities of manhood, and to
demonstrate his fitness for those privileges of citizenship which have
been denied him. Hereafter, too, this native American will be a citizen
of the world. “They have learned to step to the drum-beat of democracy,”
says Hon. Cato Sells, “and they will come out of the conflict an
element of real and progressive strength in our National life.” Like
many others who have fought abroad, they will ask the churches and
schools to put into practise the principles that they defended “over

The teachers to succeed Brother Van, Mr. Hammer, and all of that host
of devoted workers who have given their whole lives for the building of
a Christian civilization in the west must come from the young people of
the church. Young men and young women of the new generation must have
a vision clear enough to see the beckoning hands that point the way
to great unfinished tasks. The high purpose of the boy from Gettysburg
must fill other lives that will take up the new tasks, as hard as the
old, perhaps harder, which the changing times have brought to Montana.

Leaving the Indians, we find ourselves on the railroad and bound
for the new frontier. The monotony of the prairie is only relieved
by homes and schoolhouses but these appear at intervals as we travel.
Occasionally we pass small towns clustering around grain elevators,
which show the new day of agriculture. We come at last to the end of
our journey to the new section and from the small station we drive to
a settler’s shack on a claim. Surely tales of frontier life have been
exaggerated, for here are warmth, blooming plants, books, and papers.
The homesteader is a retired preacher.

“We must get the surveyor while you are here, Brother Van, and mark up
that lot for the church,” says our host.

“A church out on this prairie!” we exclaim.

“Yes, do you see yonder that grain elevator and a few buildings?
That is a new town starting and we must have a church. A saloon and a
pool-room are there already. The storekeeper has given us a lot for the
church,” he explains.

This is a wise merchant who realized that the new town would not be fit
for his family unless the church was the central interest. With pick
and compass we go; Brother Van steps off the distance, and the faithful
pick finds the marker.

“The corner-stone will be right here,” says the master of ceremonies.
The spade is stuck into the rich soil while the people cheer; but
Brother Van is silent; his latest church is being started. He is
anxious that the children of the new town shall have a chance of a
Christian education. The government will see to the schoolhouses, but
the responsibility of the churches rests on Brother Van and his aids,
even on you and me.

We continue our sight-seeing tour of Montana and reach Helena at a
time when the city is thronged with visitors to the Fair. Yonder is
the Capitol, and in friendly nearness is a smaller building; it is
Montana Wesleyan University where college is opening. Brother Van has
a tumultuous greeting. The Board of Trustees has just declared for a
fifty-thousand-dollar enlargement of the institution. The students and
President Sweetland are riotously happy. Visitors make speeches in the
chapel. One man does not need the well-chosen introductory speech from
the new president. He is not allowed to finish it.

“Who’s all right?” sings out a yell-leader.

“Brother Van! Brother Van!” comes roaring back from the eager crowd.

No mention is made by the pioneer of his part in the enterprise which
has made the Christian education of these eager students possible. When
he finishes speaking, a demand is made: “A song! A song!” So he sings
“Diamonds in the Rough” for them. Then we hasten to a meeting of the
Board of Trustees, and arrive in time, for Brother Van is never late
for an engagement.

“Now, let’s go to the Fair!” he says. To go to the Montana State Fair
with Brother Van is to become almost as much a center of interest as
the prize pumpkin or the heaviest sheaf of wheat. The hold the man has
on the people of the state begins to dawn on you.

“Hello, Van, old scout.”

“Why, Brother Van, how is the church at ――――?”

“Isn’t this Brother Van?” ask children, shyly, as we pass.

Out in the enclosure a flag is to be raised. They send a messenger to
Brother Van to say that he is wanted to offer the prayer. After the
prayer, Governor Stewart is introduced, and the heart of the Eastern
visitor is stirred to hear from him how great a part this new state
took in the great world struggle for democracy; how great an outpouring
of its wealth there was for the needs of the government and for the
relief of suffering; and how large a number of the boys from these
thinly peopled plains left their homes to take their places in the
ranks of the armies of freedom.

It is a short drive over to the once owl-haunted, coyote-inhabited
building, which for a time seemed to be Brother Van’s mistake.
Children’s voices call a glad greeting, for now it is the Montana
Deaconess School. Out on the campus is an old building which the boys
have fitted up, and which they dignify by the name of “gym.” Class
work which meets the regular school standards is done in this home,
but that is only a part of its work. The development of strong, helpful
Christian character is the great task to which the earnest teachers who
labor here are devoting themselves.

Now we visit the Capitol, a beautiful building of which the young
state is justly proud. We go directly to the Governor’s suite and find
a delegation of citizens there waiting to consult him. The attendant
smiles on one member of our party and then disappears. We resign
ourselves for a long wait, but immediately the messenger returns.
“The Governor will see you, Brother Van,” he says. We then have the
privilege of listening to a conference between the pioneer missionary
and modern Montana’s chief man of affairs.

It is near Helena that Last Chance Gulch is situated and the city still
presents the problems of a mining center. In the old days the miners
came without families. They lived the hard, rough life of the pioneers.
Many were only adventurers. They gambled, and even killed for the lure
of gold. Yet it was they who found and developed the mines which have
furnished so large a share of Montana’s wealth――and that of the nation.

Not only gold, but silver, copper, lead, coal, and iron are found.
Especially rich are the fields of copper, and since 1892, Montana has
been the leading state in the production of this metal. Great smelting
and refining plants costing millions of dollars have been established
around which thriving cities have quickly grown. In the maze of
stacks, mills, ore-dumps, tracks, and surrounding streets filled with
the cottages of the laborers, the visitor who has been to the new
settlements on the plains and to the reservations sees a different
Montana――not that of the rancher and the Indians but that of the
industrial worker.

We have an enthusiastic guide when we travel through the mining regions
with Brother Van. He keeps the spirit of the pioneer. While his work
has led him more among the Indians and the plainsmen, he sees the great
needs that have arisen with the growth of the industrial centers. He
is eager that the Christian forces of America undertake new tasks of
helpfulness for the men who toil underground and in the mills, and for
their families.

  Illustration:   Copyright, Brown Brothers.

                  A COPPER MINE AT BUTTE

                  A new America must be won in the restless, throbbing
                  centers of industrial life.

It is in Butte that we find the heart of the great copper region of
Montana. From the hill north of the city, ore to the value of a million
and a half dollars has been taken. When Brother Van made his first
visit there he found but fifty residents. Not only is it now a busy
city of forty thousand inhabitants, but the character of the community
has entirely changed. The settlers of that period were of American
birth and parentage. To-day the great majority of the miners are from
distant countries. The pioneers of the days of Brother Van’s young
manhood lived the hearty open life of the wind-swept plains; the
newcomers from Europe must toil in the dark mine shafts or amid the
dust and roar of the mills and smelters.

Coming as these workers do for the most part from southern and
eastern Europe, differing greatly in customs and in language from the
older population, they must be given special guidance, if they are to
find the real America of their dreams. They will attain the kind of
citizenship which will make them able to take a really helpful place in
the life of the country only as we interpret Christian ideals for them.
It was for these ideals of democratic brotherhood that the young men of
America went abroad and for which thousands of them gave their lives.
Is America now to show to those who have come as strangers to us, and
who do such a large share of the hard work of our country, that these
ideals of democratic brotherhood are being put into practise for the
benefit of all?

Brother Van found a frontier region when he stepped ashore from the
river boat at Fort Benton on that July morning in 1872. He threw
himself into the life about him, and his years of service have brought
friendship and hope and courage to lonely men and women and to aspiring
young people all over a great commonwealth. Cowboy, Indian, and miner
have welcomed his help, for, as they put it, he “prayed lucky.” There
is need to-day――there will always be a need――for the same ministry that
Brother Van has been carrying on in his founding of new churches, and
in his friendly visiting in lonely homes, and in his preaching anywhere
and everywhere the word of cheer and of faith that his whole life
taught. And as a part of the same great task to which he has devoted
all his years, Brother Van will tell you that there is need for another
kind of scouting to-day in the land of the shining mountains.

This vast development of modern industry calls for new and varied
kinds of service. The thrill of adventure is there, although it may be
different from that which was found in the early days of the frontier,
and the joy of conquest remains. The winning of a new America is yet to
be achieved in many of those restless, throbbing centers of industrial
life where men have not yet learned how to bring the spirit of Christ
into their daily toil; where home life is narrow and harsh; where
growing boys and girls are shut out from the opportunities for
recreation and for training, that a preparation for healthy, capable
citizenship demands.

As we leave Brother Van looking out over the wide plains of his beloved
Montana and gazing at the great black masses of the mills and mines
with the dismal clusters of miners’ cottages around them, we know what
he is thinking about. It is of the new scouts who will come to occupy
these frontiers of modern industrial and community life for the Master.
And we know that only those who are worthy to be called Great Heart
will be able to carry on in the new age of world democracy the tasks
that have been so well begun in the old days of the opening West.

              Other books for all boys and girls who love
                       tales of heroic adventure

                           PATHFINDER SERIES

  Livingstone the Pathfinder
      This story of the life of the great missionary explorer is
      told in a thrilling manner. Every one should know the work
      of this well-known hero.
                              Cloth, 60 cents; paper, 40 cents, prepaid

  The Black Bearded Barbarian
      The life story of George Leslie Mackay, of Formosa.
      _American Youth_ says of it: “All workers with boys should
      welcome this little volume. It has camp-fire stuff in it.”
                              Cloth, 60 cents; paper, 40 cents, prepaid

  Uganda’s White Man of Work
      The story of Alexander Mackay, an engineer, who answered
      Stanley’s call to go to “Darkest Africa.” His adventures and
      the life of the people are vividly told.
                              Cloth, 60 cents; paper, 40 cents, prepaid

  Martin of Mansfield
      This book tells many interesting things about the great
      reformer, Martin Luther, but chiefly about his family,
      friends, and school days.
                              Cloth, 60 cents; paper, 40 cents, prepaid

  Brother Van
      The fascinating story of the life of Dr. W. W. Van Orsdel,
      who has had a long and adventurous career as a home
      missionary in Montana.
                              Cloth, 75 cents; paper, 50 cents, prepaid

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