Father Francis M. Craft, Missionary to the Sioux

By Thomas W. Foley | Go to book overview

XIX
WAS FATHER CRAFT INSANE?

The question needs to be asked. Agent James McLaughlin at Standing Rock was among the first to assess Craft’s sanity, advising Herbert Welsh of the Indian Rights Association that the priest’s imagination was developed to the point where not only did fiction become his reality but he was entirely capable of convincing others of its legitimacy1 Commissioner Thomas J. Morgan, a prominent target of Craft’s verbal assaults, wrote that the priest was “considered a very weak if not an unbalanced man mentally.”2 And in a letter to Mother Katharine Drexel, Bishop John Shanley also raised the specter of Craft’s derangement: “Father Wilhelm’s remarks about Father Craft are somewhat misleading. Poor Father Craft labored very faithfully for many years at Fort Berthold—up to two years ago— when his mind became diseased. The lonely life at that mission is enough to drive anyone crazy.”3

Father Wilhelm was Joseph B. Wilhelm, an alcoholic priest who succeeded Father Craft at Fort Berthold. Often in trouble himself in previous missionary assignments at Dickinson, Glen Ullin, and Devils Lake, he lasted less than two years before he was removed again at the request of the agent at Fort Berthold.4 Unfortunately, neither Father Wilhelm’s comments regarding Craft nor his letter to Mother Drexel have survived. In his reminiscences, Bishop Shanley expressed conflicting views concerning the morals charges laid against the priest as he fled from the Dakotas: “He is a freak, but—I believe he is moral.”5

Craft’s suspected mental instability was hinted at more than a few times

-137-

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Father Francis M. Craft, Missionary to the Sioux
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xv
  • I- The Formative Years 1
  • II- Path to Priesthood 6
  • III- Spotted Tail’s Quest 10
  • IV- Conspiracy on Rosebud 17
  • V- Conflicts on Standing Rock 24
  • VI- Settling in on Standing Rock 31
  • VII- Missionary Labor and Sacrifice 48
  • VIII- Humor and Whimsy 59
  • IX- The Land Boomers 67
  • X- Fort Berthold 71
  • XI- A Special Envoy 78
  • XII- Wounded Knee 87
  • XIII- Bitter Aftermath 94
  • XIV- The Origins of the Indian Sisterhood 100
  • XV- The Death of Sacred White Buffalo 107
  • XVI- Illusions of Success 114
  • XVII- A Malicious Assault 119
  • XVIII- A Strategic Retreat 127
  • XIX- Was Father Craft Insane? 137
  • XX- Homecoming 154
  • Epilogue 160
  • Notes 161
  • Bibliography 179
  • Index 185
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