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Letter from Rev. Asher Bliss to Henry R. Schoolcraft.
Sept. 4th, 1845.
Agreeably to your request I forward you some facts in regard to the establishment and progress of the gospel among the natives of this reservation. The Cattaraugus Mission Church was organized July 8th, 1827, (which is a little more than 18 years.) It consisted of Mr. William A. Thayer, the teacher, his wife, and 12 native members. There have been additions to it from time to time, until the whole number who have held a connection with this church is one hundred and eighteen. Thirteen of these have been white persons and most of them connected with the mission family. Of the one hundred and five native members seven or eight have come by letter from other reservations, so that the number who have united on profession of faith is a little short of one hundred. Twenty-five of these have gone to their final account. Some have died in the triumphs of faith, and we humbly hope and trust that they are among the blessed, in the kingdom of our common Father. A number (as it was natural to expect from converts out of heathenish darkness) have apostatized from Christianity, and returned to their former courses. The proportion of these is not probably more than one in ten. Between sixty and seventy are now connected with some of the mission churches. A few only have removed to Allegany, Tuscarora, while the remainder still live on this reservation.
The effect of the gospel in promoting morality and civilization, may be learned in part from the fact that the public worship of God has been steadily maintained ever since the organization of the church, with members ranging from fifty to one hundred, and some times one hundred and fifty and two hundred as regular hearers of the word. A Sabbath school has been sustained a considerable share of the time. Many copies of the Holy Scriptures, and the New Testament, together with tracts, Sabbath schoolbooks, temperance papers, and religious periodicals, have been circulated among the children and youth. Temperance societies have been patronized by nearly all the chiefs and leading men on the reservation. Pledges have been circulated and received the signatures of a large majority of the population, of all parties, on the Washingtonian plan.
Day schools for teaching the English language have been kept in operation almost without interruption for more than twenty years, under the patronage of the A. B. C. F. M.
During the thirteen years that I have superintended these schools, nearly thirty different persons have engaged for a longer or shorter time, as teachers. For the past year there have been four schools under the patronage of the American Board, and one under the Society of Friends. The whole number who have been instructed in the five schools is probably not far from one hundred and twenty-five. The attendance of a part has been very irregular, sometimes shifting from one school to another, and sometimes attending no school at all. Several of the early pupils in the mission schools are now heads of families, well informed, industrious, temperate and religious, and in good circumstances. Some are interpreters, some teachers of schools, and others engaged in transacting the business of the nation.
You can, sir, best judge of the influence of the gospel in promoting worldly prosperity, when you have fully completed the census which is now being taken. When you count up the framed houses and barns, the horses, cattle, sheep and hogs, the acres of improved land, with the wagons, buggies and sleighs, clocks and watches, and the various productions of agriculture, you can easily conceive the difference between the present, and thirty years ago. I suppose there was not then a framed building of any description, and scarcely a log house, properly so called, no teams, no roads, no ploughed land, and but small patches of corn, beans and squashes. What an astonishing change!
As to the capacity of Indian children for improvement, my own impression is that there is no essential difference between them and white children. The fact that Indian children usually make slow progress in studying English books, can be accounted for in three ways: 1. They generally have little or no assistance from their parents at home. 2. They are irregular in their attendance on schools, for want of order and discipline on the part of parents. 3. Being ignorant of the English language, it is a long time before they comprehend fully the instruction of their teachers.
These circumstances operate to make the school room a very dull and uninteresting place to the scholar, and the reflex influence gives the scholar the same appearance. When they can once rise above these circumstances, and overcome these obstacles, they make good proficiency in their studies.
Believing that these statements cover the ground of your inquiries, I subscribe myself, dear sir,
Respectfully and truly yours,
P. S. Should you desire further information on any of these points, or upon others, which have been omitted, please state your questions definitely, in writing.
Yours, &c., A. B.