Letter from an Indian Chief in Dakota

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My Dear Sir:——

Will you Please I have got your letter and I was vey glad—and vey Good letter—and I tell My Indian friends all good men and We are vey glad to see your good paper. And, Now, We Mandans Indian We are maken houses this River south sides and We are farmes And we have Great fields—and We like Vey much the White man Ways—and We are White mans—and We are a Friends to the White, and We hear much talk of you and we are good Indians Mandans. We do not do foolish to the Whites, and We are a good Friends to the Whites——And now I wants to know the Great Fathers Wishes to us. Please good tell me the Great fathers what he say to us—When you get this letter Please Write to me Very soon. Good buy—

I am Very your truly friends,

MR. WOLFE, Chief.

Fort Berthold West, 30 miles from here I live and have 16 acres and I am glad. I have a cow, 6 horses, a wagon, a plow. I have three houses and a store. I live south side this River. Yours,

MR. WOLFE, Chief.

The Indian Problem

A good deal of ingenious ciphering has been done in endeavoring to solve this problem, and, withal, there has been a good deal of honest and efficient work. The Government has largely increased its appropriations from year to year, the Dawes Bill and other valuable legislation have been secured, so that steps looking towards the citizenship of the Indian have been attained. Appropriations have been granted to aid him in farming and other industrial pursuits, and it is not unlikely that in a short time provision will be made for the education in the common English branches of every Indian child.

But all this is not sufficient. The Indian may have lands and citizenship and an English education, and yet, if he has no strong impulse towards civilization, no motive in his heart impelling him to be an industrious, self-supporting citizen—in short, if he has not a new heart looking to a new life as a citizen and a man, he will become a vagabond on the land granted him, and a skeptic in the school in which he is taught. The next few years will constitute a crisis in the rapidly changing condition of the Indian, and it is precisely at this point where the vital element of the Christian life must be infused into his character. To the Christian public, all other questions subordinate themselves to this, and this needs, not speculation, but hard work; legislation cannot do it, the church must; time will not do it, Christian teaching and example alone can. The vernacular question, so much agitated recently, is important only as it may hinder this practical work.

The Indian problem is not perpetual. The Indian must soon be merged into the American, and whether this shall be for good or for ill, the church must decide, and decide speedily. We trust, therefore, that our constituents will aid us to extend, as rapidly as possible, that part of the work entrusted to us. We do not ask for expensive buildings or costly plant. We ask for the means to push forward with the teacher and the preacher among these uncivilized people till, when they come forth from their present anomalous condition, they shall come forth practical Christians, as well as intelligent and industrious citizens.

Mr. Moody’s Missionary Meetings

Mr. Moody’s Missionary Meetings have been a marvel in their conception, in their remarkably large audiences and in the still more remarkably able and interesting class of speakers—some of them from distant mission fields. They show how broad and many-sided is Mr. Moody’s mind and heart.

At the meeting held August 8th, Rev. C.W. Shelton, the Financial Secretary for Indian Missions of the American Missionary Association, was invited to address the meeting. We condense from the Springfield Union an outline of Mr. Shelton’s stirring address, and its effect upon Mr. Moody and others in attendance, with the practical results.

The most stirring address of the morning was delivered by Rev. Chas. W. Shelton of New York City, on the Indian problem. He stated the problem with simplicity and dignity, but when he got worked into his theme, he became eloquent in his description of the position of the Indian people and their strong desire to receive the gospel. While he was illustrating his argument with pathetic incidents in his experience, there were many of his audience in tears.

The speaker described the Indians themselves; their first characteristic was the deep religious nature which swayed their whole life. They prayed oftener and more fervently than Christians, worshipping everything that was unknown and mysterious; of which the saddest thing was that the Indian’s gods were all gods of anger, involving sacrifices. To show the extent to which the Indians would sacrifice themselves to appease their god’s anger, a very touching story was told of a boy torturing himself for the recovery of his sick mother. At the close of the Mohonk Conference, two years ago, our committee went to President Cleveland to petition in regard to methods. He said that he sympathized with all our methods and ideas. “But,” he said, “gentlemen, you may do all you can at Mohonk, I may do all I can here in the White House, and Congress may do all that they can over there, but,” and he turned and picked up a Bible, “gentlemen, after all, that book has got to settle the Indian problem.” (Applause.) And the President was right. Before you can do anything for the preservation of the Indian you’ve got to give him a new hope, a new salvation. I have studied many tribes, and have never found a tribe or village of Indians or a single Indian civilized before he was Christianized.

The speaker next considered the question whether the Christianization of the Indians was possible. This he answered by the case of the 400 Indians taken captive in the Sioux war which followed the Minnesota massacre of 1862. In the fall of that year, a missionary went to their prison, and in the next six months taught 392 to read and established a church with 295 members. Subsequently President Lincoln pardoned all but 39 and the survivors went among the Sioux, and the speaker considered the ten Christian churches and 2,000 Christians among the 40,000 Sioux to be owing to this church of prisoners. In Dakota, every one of the 40,000 Indians was ready to receive the gospel.

On Mr. Moody’s asking how much he wanted, he said that it took $400 to start a station, and $300 a year to keep it up. He then related a very pathetic story of an old Indian who traveled 150 miles across the Territory seven times to get a missionary sent among his people. The difficulty in getting one arose from the society sending the missionaries, whose debt was so large that the executive board had refused to send out any more. (“Board wants more faith,” put in Mr. Moody.) The old man finally went back to his people, saying sadly: “They must die in their darkness; the Christian people of America haven’t interest enough in the poor dying Indian to try and help him.”

Mr. Moody, who had been apparently deep in thought ever since the speaker had mentioned the sum necessary to start a station, now broke out, “Got a mission started where that old man wanted it?” in such an earnest way that it brought down the house. But Mr. Moody wasn’t satisfied till Mr. Shelton answered in the affirmative, and added that what he said of the Sioux was true of the other tribes, 68 of whom were untouched by any missionary efforts. At this point, $300 was handed to the platform to establish a station, and the audience grew enthusiastic. The speaker continued, illustrating the need of Christian work among the Indians and their willingness to receive it by telling a story of a little Indian girl who was converted while dying. She asked of her teacher: “But, lady, how long have you known of this beautiful story?” “Many years,” replied the missionary. “And how long has white man known of this?” “Oh, very many years.” “Lady, if white man has known about God and about heaven so long, what for, why has he not told poor dying Indian about this before? If I could only get well, I would go and tell all my people this beautiful story about Jesus and home,” and with those words, “Jesus and home,” her eyes closed forever.

In answer to Mr. Moody’s questions, he described the stations, little buildings of three rooms, and the missionaries’ life, at home, and teaching the Indians to cultivate the soil, as well as preaching to them; his wife also teaching the women. The audience had become quite enthusiastic by the time he finished his eloquent appeal, and at this moment Mr. Sankey offered $700 to start one station, and shortly after Mr. Moody pledged an equal amount. A lady then handed in $400 to go with the $300 subscribed during the address. Mr. Moody himself then made a brief appeal, speaking of the Indian boys and girls in his school and the high rank they had taken. He offered a short prayer and then dismissed the audience, telling Mr. Shelton to “make himself plenty” around the buildings during the afternoon, and doubtless he would receive more money.

Mr. Shelton did “make himself plenty” around the building, and the result has been that nearly $3,000 were contributed either in cash or in pledges that have since been redeemed. Still other contributions are anticipated as the outcome of this fine address. Three out-stations will be started at once in Dakota, one of them bearing the name of Mr. Moody, another of Mr. Sankey, and the third may be named Northfield or it may bear the name designated by the donor.

A Sketch Of Mission Life On The Frontier

Fort Yates, Dakota

I am alone once more, all my company have gone. The plasterer has just been here and I had to dismantle my house entirely for him; I am therefore too tired to write. I have been putting up bulberry jelly and am trying to get ready for my company, which will come the first of September and stay until we all go together down to Oahe to the meeting.

I feel that aside from the pleasure so much company gives me it will help our work. This is the station farthest out in the wilderness, and now that people know that soon the “native wild man” will be no more, they all want to see him. I have two beds. When ladies come they fill the bedrooms, and so if distinguished gentlemen come. I sleep either in the kitchen or laundry on a blanket or robes. Several times this year my bedrooms have both been full and I have made “down” beds on my sitting-room floor for from two to six gentlemen. As I only have four very small rooms, the kitchen floor is often covered, too, with beds. My table is an extension table and my heart is an extension heart, but alas for my dishes and silver! When Prof. W—— of Oberlin was here the dishes would not go ’round and had to be pieced out; but, after all, the guests have the best I can give them and have it freely, and I gladly give them my services, and they seem to enjoy it.

I put up a log house for a work room and laundry; I helped an Indian boy to make a shutter to the door and window and I did all the dividing and helped lift the logs, and we put up a pretty good room, and it only cost me twenty dollars, I believe; and O! what would I have done without it, with my big washings and ironings and inexperienced Indian woman to work! I secured a little lime from the plasterer and I am going to try to whitewash inside with a broom—I have no brush. The Indians all came home without signing either paper for the Commissioners. They will not sell their land. I am very sorry, for I think it the best thing for them.

The Mohonk Conference

This Conference is unique in its character, and in the place where it is held. Lake Mohonk was born in a great earthquake that sunk it in its solid rocky bed, and piled up around it wonderful ranges of hills and vast splintered rocks. The splendid summer resort built on the margin of the Lake is the work of Mr. A.K. Smiley, a man of creative genius, and of kind manners and a warm heart. The house, or rather the range of houses, is picturesque, and the walks among the hills and down the rocky gorges, and the forty miles of excellent roads, give the widest scope for walking and driving.

The Conference is the invention of Mr. Smiley. To it, he invites annually a hundred or more guests, giving them the freedom of the house; and three days are spent in the discussion of Indian affairs, interspersed with afternoon drives amid the striking scenery. The invitation is extended to those who are supposed to be intelligently interested in the Indians; but within that limit there is the freest range—men and women of all political parties and of all religious denominations being included. The acts of the Conference, like the utterances of a Congregational Council, have only the authority of the reason that is in them; yet it is wonderful what an influence this peculiar body has had on public sentiment. Its utterances have been discussed and have had their weight in the pulpit, the press, in Congress and in the White House. The Indian and the Nation owe much to the Mohonk Conference.

The Sixth Annual Conference, which closed September 28th, sustained the interest of past years in the importance of the topics discussed, in the divergency of opinion at first, and in the complete harmony at the end. The points agreed upon in the platform were arranged under five heads. The first relates to the establishment of Courts of Justice in the Reservations and accessible to the Indians; the second to the important need of education, demanding that the Government shall undertake at once the entire task of providing primary and secular education for all Indian children; the third urges that this education shall be compulsory, under proper limitations; the fourth emphasizes the duty of the churches to furnish religious instruction to the Indians, and the immunity of their work from all governmental interference where sustained wholly by missionary funds; the fifth approves of the co-operation of the Government with the missionary societies in contract schools during the present transitional condition of the Indians. We append the last two items of the report.

  • In view of the great work which the Christian Churches have done in the past in inaugurating and maintaining schools among the Indians, and of the essential importance of religious as distinguished from secular education, for their civil, political and moral well-being, an element of education which, in the nature of the case, the National Government cannot afford, the churches should be allowed the largest liberty, not, indeed, to take away the responsibility from the Government in its legitimate sphere of educational work, but to supplement it to the fullest extent in their power, by such schools, whether primary, normal or theological, as are at the sole cost of the benevolent or missionary societies. And it is the deliberate judgment of this Conference that in the crisis of the Indian transitional movement the churches should arouse themselves to the magnitude and emergency of the duty thus laid upon them in the providence of God.
  • Nothing should be done to impair or weaken the agencies at present engaged in the work of Indian education. Every such agency should be encouraged and promoted, except as other and better agencies are provided for the work. In particular, owing to the anomalous condition of the Indians and the fact that the Government is administering trust funds that belong to them, what is known as the “contract system”—by which the nation aids by appropriations private and missionary societies in the work of Indian education—ought to be maintained by a continuance of such aid, until the Government is prepared, with adequate buildings and competent teachers, to assume the entire work of secular education. In no case should the Government establish schools to compete with private or church schools which are already doing a good work, so long as there are thousands of Indian children for whose education no provision is made.


MLA Source Citation:

Various. The American Missionary, Vol. 43, No. 8, August, 1889. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/letter-from-an-indian-chief-in-dakota.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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