Friday, October 29, 2010

Reverend Joseph Goiffon, Hero

The nip of fall is in the air and off on the horizon the darkening clouds gather, plotting cataclysmic hailstorms, squalls, and blizzards. Yes, my friends, winter storm season is upon us. The lazy debauch of summer with its sickening golden hue is a mere memory. Nights are lengthening, flowers are dying, and rodents are scurrying for their rodent holes. Oh, happy day!

Along with the triumphal changing of the seasons, a sensational true story--a most fulfilling scrap of history, a 16 oz ribeye of knowledge--arrived on COACISSW's doorstep courtesy of friend-of-the-blog GregLog. It's a tale of survival and redemption. A man of God facing the raw power of nature and emerging with three of four limbs.

It takes place in 19th Century America: a time when lonely pilgrims braved the raging snows of the high plains with nothing but a horse and their steely will for company; a time when men's brows were bushy with virility and their lips were thin with resolve; and a time when fiery-spirited settlers of the frontier cut open animals and crawled inside to survive storms in the wild. Put yourself there, dear reader. Let your mind travel back to those simpler days. Feel the itch of your woolen long johns and the weight of the knife on your belt. Test your voice: it booms with strength. Gather your eyebrows together and let the bristles connect--how bushy they are! Peer out from beneath them. Make your gaze as flinty as a bear trap. Fill your powerful lungs with crisp clean prairie air and read on, my friends, read on.

"In late August of 1860 Father Joseph Goiffon received a letter from the Vicar General requesting him to travel to St. Paul and to meet with him. Father Goiffon was disturbed by the summons because he feared that he would not be able to return to Pembina (his parish in the great survivalist state of North Dakota) before winter. He left Pembina quickly by oxcart train and arrived in St. Paul in September. The train was to return to Pembina during the first week of October. Father Goiffon thought that he would be ready to return with his friends but he was delayed. He left St. Paul a few days later and hoped to join up with the oxcart train. On November 1 he reached the Great Salt River beyond the present City of Grand Forks and spent the night with other travelers who were encamped there. They urged him to wait until the rain would stop. The winter cold was also beginning to set in. But Father Goiffon was anxious to reach his parish and went ahead by himself on the horse which he had purchased while in St. Paul. The rain turned to snow and quickly both horse and man became hopelessly lost. The horse died in the bad storm, and TO SAVE HIS OWN LIFE THE PRIEST CUT OPEN THE CARCASS AND CRAWLED INSIDE. When Father Goiffon was found he was still alive but one leg was badly frozen."

-from The Michel Houle Family of Centreville, by Bruce Houle (Croixside Press)

Again, big thanks to GregLog for sharing the above text and image.


  1. Who’s to say that this was a better outcome than the horse cutting open The Rev Goiffon and crawling inside of HIM to survive the storm? I’m reporting this website to the ASPCA.

  2. Anonymous,

    As well as being morally repugnant to me as a God-fearing American, your suggestion has a couple of glaring logical fallacies.

    First, horses are laughably incompetent with blades of any kind. I spent much of my sixth summer attempting to train a horse to be a worthy pirate foe, and learned that no amount of poking, prodding, or wedging will get a hoof to grip a pirate saber. Horses lack the fundamental ability to cut through anything, let alone a priestly ribcage.

    Second, chest cavity size. This is a topic I've discussed extensively on this blog (I especially recommend you check out the posts on Whales and Giant-Whale-Eating Whales). To successfully crawl inside an animal to survive a storm in the wild, that animal must have a chest cavity large enough to accomodate you. Horses are larger than priests (which is why Reverend Goiffon was able to crawl inside the horse--though, admittedly, sans one leg), thus the shelter provided would be inadequate. However, as I noted in the Squirrels post, several smaller animals can be cut open and smooshed around one if no better option exists. Meaning, I suppose, that if our magical knife-wielding horse were able to track down several priests he might have a shot at weathering the storm.

    But I think you'll agree this is getting a little ridiculous.

  3. MTL,
    I should amend my previous comment. Rather than a literal ‘cutting open’ of the Reverend, I envisioned a hoof to the head; quick, painless, unexpected (if administered from behind), perhaps while the Reverend was crouching to sharpen his blade. (Bear in mind, this would only be necessary if the horse foresaw the Reverend’s plan and knew that his own life was at risk.) The horse could have then simply draped the (God-rest-his-soul) Rev around his neck like a mink shrug to, you know, garner the last of his living warmth, and galloped on to safety. You see, this story claims ‘both horse and man were lost’ but that is impossible to know for certain, isn’t it. My guess is that The Reverend’s vanity prevented him from actually admitting to the horse that he was lost; slitting his throat and cowering within his ribcage seemed the better option. So our only remaining problem with this scenario is your small-minded assertion that man is more deserving of life than horse. I would love to see you look a Shetland pony in the eye and try to explain that to him.

  4. Would this Blog be considered a dead animal, since it has not moved for over a month.....I wonder if you could crawl inside of it....

  5. Jordan,

    Cutting open an animal and crawling inside to survive a storm in the wild is a rather specialized field of knowledge. As such, you can't expect such knowledge to be posted every day.

    In fact, I suspect that MTL has been trapped in the wild with his horse and has been forced to live what he preaches.

    He's the best of us all.

  6. I wish MTL is still alive and will show us the way again soon!