The Life and Times of Kateri Tekawitha – Preface

The life and surroundings of “The Lily of the Mohawks,” as an undeveloped theme in literature, was first suggested to me by my uncle, the Reverend Clarence A. Walworth. My interest and enthusiasm were at once aroused. The thought of a mere Indian girl reared in the forest among barbarians, yet winning for herself such titles as “The Lily of the Mohawks” and “The Genevieve of New France,” recurred to my mind again and again, until it led me to a fixed determination to explore so tempting a field of romance and archaeology. The fact that it lay among the hills and valleys of my native State, and was little known except to solitary scholars and laborious historians, incited me still more to the task. I became ambitious to gather from the records of two centuries ago every detail relating in any way to my Indian heroine. While engaged in this work unexpected opportunities opened to gather exact information about her, and more especially concerning the localities connected with her early childhood, and her conversion and baptism in the Mohawk Valley.

If this book, embodying the result of my researches, should fail to interest the reader, it will not be for any lack of enthusiasm on my part, or of kind encouragement and competent assistance from others.

When beginning the work my first call for advice was upon Dr John Gilmary Shea, so well versed in Indian annals, as also in the general history of this country. I found him full of interest in my subject. Guided by the information received from him, and also by the directions of the Reverend R. S. Dewey, S.J., who has long been familiar with the missionary and Indian traditions of the Mohawk Valley, I went to Montreal and secured from the courteous kindness of Father Turgeon, S.J., rector of the Jesuit College there, the use of all the manuscripts I desired. The Sisters of the Hôtel Dieu furnished me with a room in their hospital, to which the good Rector allowed me to transport the entire carton. This contained all the unprinted materials relating to my subject that belonged to the college library.

There, at the Hôtel Dieu, delightfully located with the sisters of an order whose history is closely bound up with that of Montreal, I copied at my leisure the manuscripts most valuable to me.

In Montreal, also, my good fortune gave me interviews with M. Cuoq, the distinguished philologist of Saint Sulpice, whose Indian dictionaries and grammars I had already seen in my uncle’s library. Much I owe besides to Soeur Saint Henriette, librarian and keeper of the archives at the Villa Maria. It was on the boat which shoots the Lachine Rapids that I met Mr. Hale of Philadelphia, the learned author of the “Iroquois Book of Rites,” and enjoyed a long conversation with him on matters of deep interest to us both and to my work. My first visit to the Iroquois Village at Caughnawaga, P. Q., occurred at this time. Here my uncle and I found hospitable entertainment for several days at the Presbytery of the church, presided over by the Reverend Père Burtin, O.M.I. Besides the valuable information acquired from the library of books and manuscripts in his possession, I gathered much from the acquaintance then established with the Iroquois of the “Sault” and in particular with their grand chief, Joseph Williams.

La Prairie was only nine miles distant, with its scholarly curé, Père Bourgeault, and his valuable collection of ancient maps; and about half way between Caughnawaga and La Prairie lay the grave of Tekakwitha, with its tall cross looking over the rapids of the Saint Lawrence. An author with a theme like mine in such localities and with such guides was, indeed, in an enchanted land.

In Albany I received valuable assistance and advice from Mr. Holmes and Mr. Howell, of the State Library, also from Mr. Melius, of the City Clerk’s Office, and others.

I have reserved for a most especial and grateful acknowledgment the name of General John S. Clark, of Auburn, New York. My work is indebted to him for a treasure of information which he alone could give. In the knowledge of Iroquois localities in New York State, particularly those of two centuries ago, and the trails over which missionaries from Canada travelled so painfully to villages where they labored so hard and yet successfully, he is the undoubted pioneer. Almost all we know in this branch of archaeology is owing to him. It was my privilege in company with my uncle, and with General Clark for pilot, to spend a memorable week in search of Indian localities along the Mohawk, from the mouth of Schoharie Creek to the farthest castle of the wolf clan opposite Fort Plain. We visited and verified, under the General’s direction, no less than eleven sites in this one week. An account of the most important of these sites can be found in the contributions of General Clark, as explanatory footnotes, to “Early Chapters of Mohawk History.” This work consists of translations into English of selected letters from the Relations Jesuites. For these translations we are indebted to the lamented Dr Hawley, late pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Auburn. Guided by the wise advice of General Clark, I was able afterwards to make other independent journeys, and familiarize myself with Indian trails passing near my native town, above all those followed by Tekakwitha in her escape to the “Sault.” I owe to General Clark’s kindness the valuable map of Mohawk Castle Sites, to be found in this book and drawn expressly for it by his hand.

Lastly, I recall with pleasure a conversation with the Reverend Felix Martin, S.J., a well known authority in Canadian and Indian archaeology. To this venerable author, the editor of the famous “Jesuit Relations,” the biographer of Isaac Jogues, of Chomonot and of Tekakwitha, I owe a large debt of gratitude. His biography of her, entitled “Une Vierge Iroquoise,” is still in manuscript, never having been published. He was the first to gather and keep together all the manuscripts extant giving contemporary accounts of the Iroquois maiden. He laid a foundation of accumulated facts for others to build upon. I sought him out in Paris in 1885, and found him with some difficulty. The hiding place of this learned old man was in an obscure corner of the city. The schools of his order all broken up, separated from his companions, his books and his manuscripts, and from his old beloved home in the New France, which he would never see again, – how his eyes glistened when I came to him from the western world, a child of the Hudson and Mohawk, to speak to him of Tekakwitha, bringing him even the latest news of archaeological discoveries in those valleys! His face beamed with delight at every new detail. It pleased him much to know that Dr. Shea was, at that very time, translating into English his (Martin’s) French Life of Jogues, and to learn that I was writing, and hoped soon to have published a full account of Kateri Tekakwitha for my own countrymen of the United States. He gave his blessing to me and to my work, a blessing which I prize most highly. His hearty approval is especially gratifying, since I have had occasion to use much of the material he had gathered for publication in French under his own name. Alas! scarcely had I recrossed the Atlantic, when the news of his death reached me.

In conclusion, let me say: I am conscious of many defects in this work. Others may yet be found better able than I to do justice to my theme, but not any one, I think, who will come to the task more anxious to make known to all the whole truth of history concerning the rare and beautiful character of this lily of our forest.

Albany, New York, 2 January 1891.