Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Who's out back at RiverBend (5)

Whether or not Rev. John Flute was musical, I don't know; but his name itself is multi-cultural. His father, or so says this marvelous slab of Sioux Quartzite, was Flute Player, described here as a "chief." What little I could find Dad indicates he was an early signer of treaties, maybe the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, signed on the Minnesota River just outside of St. Peter, MN. Chief Flute Player probably didn't name his son "John"--I'd guess that naming came later, probably when John himself became a Christian.

By the way, that 1851 treaty created the Dakota Reservation, the twenty-mile wide strip along the river that became, thereby, the special reserve for the Dakota people. If I'm right about the chief's having signed that particular treaty, it was signed the same year the good Reverend Flute, the chief's son, was born.

The inscribed wooden cross at the head of the grave is relatively new, as is what looks to be some kind of votive candle holder beneath it. The beautiful stone is too. It's lovingly hand-decorated and bolted to what appears yet another slab of Sioux Quartzite beneath it. 

Look close. I'll adjust the color a bit so you can read the careful lettering more easily.

Reverend Flute died in January of 1933 ("D.O.D. 01-03-1933"), but what's perfectly clear by way of the sweet tribute of this renewed grave site is that someone out here in rural South Dakota is making perfectly sure great-grandfather is not forgotten. Honestly, it warms the heart.

In 1909, a comprehensive article in the Assembly Herald, the official magazine of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, describes that denomination's Native American mission efforts across the length and breadth of this country and includes a roster of preachers and evangelists in the church's many, many mission outposts. "Christian Indians in the Making," it's titled, and the roster it includes describes this very pastor, John Flute. 
The church at Mayasan is under the care of the Rev. John Flute. He has a large family of children whose mother is totally blind. The devotion of the girls to their afflicted mother is very touching. Mrs. Flute is a lovely character and the home is a fountain of hospitality. 
It couldn't be the children who keep up the gravesite, of course; it almost has to be grandchildren these days. But the writer's glowing admiration of Mrs. Flute's attentive children must be a trait that didn't disappear through the generations. 

There's more:
John Flute is nearly a white man in appearance. His features are fine and his smooth, silvery hair gives him the effect of some old-time German musician. Especially in prayer he seemed to lead the hearts of the people. When he speaks, the steady, wise counsel of the matured pastor is manifest. He is deeply beloved as a preacher and a brother.
And great-grandfather, we might add. 

There may well be more to the story--there always is, I'd guess. But that dear description sounds just right at this beneficent grave site. Someone really cares. That's very dear.

Rev. Flute may well have been baptized as an infant in 1851, but it's unlikely. Converts to the Christian faith existed within that newly created reservation on the Minnesota River, but there weren't many, despite almost three decades of mission work by dedicated people. The oldest Santees remembered in the cemetery at River Bend Church in Flandreau, South Dakota, are almost certainly among those hundreds who, as if en masse, converted to Christianity when their uprising failed. Even at the time, some who saw what happened claimed those hundreds and hundreds of Santees came to Jesus because it seemed to them their own gods had failed them in a war that ended almost as quickly as it had begun.

Rev. John Flute was a missionary among his very own Native people in Sisseton, South Dakota, at a time when Native missions were flourishing, churches being born and led by indigenous preachers like himself. Read over those passages about them. There's rapture in the writing style. The author is describing an outreach that's as sturdy and strong, as beautiful--and as red--as the stone a loving family proudly placed over the grave of a man whose memory is too precious to be forgotten.

Seems ironic really, doesn't it? The old cemetery at First Presbyterian, the RiverBend Church, is perfectly alive with stories.

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