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Mayhew, Brainard, Elliot, and Monroe Missions
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From 1822, to the time they were dispossessed of every foot of their ancient domains, and driven away to a then wilderness, the schools increased in numbers, and the ordinances of religion were augmented, and a deeper interest manifested every where over their country never witnessed before; as they, previous to that time, had had intercourse with the debased of the White Race, by whom they had been taught in the school of vice, and nothing but vice: therefore the North American Indians have been accused, from first to last, of having no conception of an over-ruling providence the Creator of all things, and an effort has been made to sustain the charge in that they believed in the supernatural power of their rainmakers, their fair weather makers, and the incantations of their doctors. But the charge is utterly false. ‘Tis true, they relied on their rain-makers, fair weather makers and the conjuring of their doctors, through the belief that, by prayer and supplication, those person ages had been endowed with supernatural powers by the Great Spirit, (their God and ours), in whom all Indians believed, and with greater veneration than the whites, and I defy successful contradiction. They sought the aid of the rainmakers, doctors, &c, just as we do the prayers of our preachers in behalf of our sick, and for our rain, etc. Now, what more did or do the Red Race than the White? Nothing. Yet the Indians must be called infidels; though there are today, and always have been, ten thousand white infidels’ to one Indian, and always will be. The Indians have also been called savage, and are still so called, because he suffered himself to be tortured with fear and anxiety in the belief of the existence of witches and ghosts, and that many were slain because they were believed to deal in witchcraft. But say you, “Remember Illichih!” I do; but also point you back to Cotton Mather. The slayers of poor Illichih knew nothing of the injunctions of the Bible, and were called savages; but Cotton Mather was an expounder of the Bible, and his adherents the professed believers of its teachings, but he and they are called Christians. Now judge ye, (if ye can do so impartially) if “savage” is recorded in heaven against the slayers of Illichih, is “Christian” also recorded there against the slayers of those charged with witchcraft in Massachusetts? Is it just that the North American Indians alone must still be held up to view by the stigmatizing name Savage, though years ago, they freed themselves, as a people, of all such nonsense; while thousands of the White Race among the civilized nations, our own included, are today the slaves of that most foolish of all foolish superstitions, yet demand to be called civilized and a Christian people?
Mayhew, the second mission established among the Choctaws, as before stated, was located on the eastern border of a magnificent prairie that stretched away to the west and south in billowy undulations presenting a scene of fascinating loveliness unsurpassed, when arrayed in its dress of summer’s green, dotted with innumerable flowers of various colors; and the country in all directions for miles away, was rich in all the boundless extravagance of picturesque beauty, where Nature’s most fascinating “features everywhere presented themselves carelessly disposed in wild munificence, unimproved, and indeed unimprovable by the hand of art. Truly the lovely situation of that mission is still fresh in memory, though more than a half century has passed away; and today, as of that long ago, the eye of memory sees the far extending prairie on the south and west, and the boundless forests on the north and east, with their hills and vales of romantic loveliness, and creeks and rivulets combining to give a moral interest to the pleasure derived from the contemplation of Nature in her brightest, happiest and most varied aspect. Ah! the imagination could but fold its pinions, and stand in wondering admiration amid the sublime solitudes of the grand forests of that day, while hill and dale seemed as entrancing to the eye with their beautifully draped garments of green as the weird music of the winds amid their branches was to the ears of fairies played on mystic Memnon’s harp tuned to audible minstrelsy under the glancing rays of the morning and evening sun.
Their horses, cattle and hogs, which they possessed in great numbers, were fed alone from Nature’s ample store house filled at all times with the richest varieties of proven der-grass, cane, acorns and nuts; while game of many varieties roamed over their forests undisturbed only as necessity demanded their destruction. Birds of many kinds, and of various plumages, added their enchantment to the scene.
The missionaries found the Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws in their native state that of mortality unadorned; yet struggling into the dawn of civilization as those who had heard afar the roar of the world’s civilization and roved impatiently to the shore; and they soon learned that even the despised, defamed and down-trodden Indian rejected not God’s law improvement; nor was wanting in ability, while their sentiments found .an expositor, and every feeling and oracle in his untutored breast. Therefore, they sought to make them religious through their best feelings rather than their worst; through their gratitude and affections, rather than their fears and calculations of risk and future punishment; and they found by giving them the least advantage of instruction they glided into refinement; and also found that there was that sentiment in the Indian that gives delicacy to thought, and tact to manner; for they listened and caught knowledge in the natural way of beneficence and power of God; of the mystic and spiritual history of man; and philanthropic missionaries were charmed by their attention. How rue that, in the nature of man the humblest to the hardest there is something that lives in all of the beautiful or the fortunate which hope or desire have appropriated, even in the vanities of a childish dream! At the time of the advent of the missionaries, the Cherokees, occupied the now State of Tennessee, the Chickasaws the north part of the now State of Mississippi, and the Choctaws the south part including also the western part of the now State of Alabama and the eastern part of the now State of Louisiana. Those early missionaries (both men and women), who offered their lives to the cause and thought no more of themselves, were of strong character, firm resolution and of fine tastes and ideals; and of those missionary women it may be truthfully added, they were intelligent and elegant as they were heroic; and the lovers of missionary lore oft read with delight the ideal romance of their lives.
They first studied and made themselves acquainted with the various dialects of the Indians complicated languages difficult because of the combination of signs and words that cannot be reduced to any known rule; they administered to the wants of the sick and dressed the wounded; they braved sickness and death and preached the tidings of peace oil earth and good will to men; and today, though, long since, all have gone to receive their reward a blissful immortality amid eternity’s scenes yet their names and deeds of righteousness stand triumphant and revered, while over them and those whom they taught and led, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Cherokee, the Seminole waves the white banner whose only symbol is the Cross of the Worlds Redeemer.
But in their early labors of love among the above named people what did those self-sacrificing men and women find? They found the Indians confidence was easily gained, and as easily retained by just and humane treatment, they found that he was not vicious nor bloodthirsty, an untamable savage, as he was and ever has been so unjustly represented to be; they found that, unlike his white defamer, he never was profane. He took not in vain the name of his God, the Great Spirit, nor the names of the subordinate deities, to whom his religion taught him the supreme Great Spirit dele gated supernatural powers among men. Whatever he loved, he called it good; whatever he hated, he called it bad. Of whiskey he said: “O-ka-ki-a-chuk-ma, Water” not good, that was all.
They found the men to be, to a great extent, even as the whites, good husbands, loving fathers, and the most faithful of friends; the women, devoted wives, adoring mothers, and equally true as friends, and both men and women, truthful to the letter, all scorning a lie and a liar.
They found among all the men the attributes of the heroes, in truth, honesty, fidelity and patriotism, unsurpassed in the annals of the human race, all sustained by in controvertible testimony for two centuries past; yet, with many foibles common to the fallen race of man, but with few of the prominent and debasing vices of the White Pace.
They found them to be a race that defied the tortures of an enemy to produce a groan, to shed a tear or manifest pain. Stake man or woman to the ground and burn them to death by degrees, and they would expire without a moan chanting his or her death song defiantly to the last gasp.
They found them, in the literal sense of the word, to be communists. Whatever they had was cheerfully bestowed to any needy of their tribe. “Will I let my brother suffer when I have plenty?” replied an Indian to a white man who advised economy by saving his superfluous meat against the scarcity of winter instead of dividing it among his fellows. His generosity and his hospitality were extended even to an enemy whose life was safe if he entered his cabin and par took even a drink of water; for the Indian laws of hospitality were inviolate. The religion of Jesus Christ fell upon the ear of the Red man as a bright and beautiful elucidation of his own vague but often sublime conceptions, and, under the mild teaching’s of the devoted missionaries, he adapted himself to the spirit of the age and accepted his new surroundings because the power which led him on to civilization was that of the Soldier of the Cross instead of the sword.
The missionaries also found them with the knowledge of good and evil; they too were imbued with the eternal principles of love and hate; feeling that they were by Nature in tended to be free, yet feeling that they were slaves to circumstances alike with the human race seeking the good yet too oft finding the bad; but not being able to attribute both the good and the evil to the same All-Wise Being, they imagined that these gods were alike anxious to do them service the one to give them pain and sorrow, and the other prosperity and pleasure; the one ever thwarting them in their undertaking, the other encouraging and assisting them; they, therefore, desired, and very naturally, too, to appease the one and please the other, and this desire, as a natural consequence, influenced them to the worship of both the god of evil and the god of good; yet those holy men of God also found, that the Indians thoughts (the wild ivy of the human mind) could be trained upward until they too were hung around by the tenderest associations and the recollections of all that is” sweet and solemn in man s nature, as it points up wards to a blissful immortality in the skies; and that their spirits and hopes at once began to mount up from earth in the pathway thus indicated by the light of truth; to reach the blissful home so timely suggested by those men and women of God.
But, alas, for the Choctaws!
The white man soon disturbed the long and deep rest of their happy lives, not for their moral and intellectual improvement and advancement in Christian civilization, but alone for their banishment from their ancient domains of contentment and bliss to impoverishment and humiliation in a distant wilderness in the west, with the injunction “Root pig or die,” where there was actually nothing for which to root.
There were many things, which served to awaken in the minds of the early missionaries to the present Five Civilized Tribes, when living in their ancient domains east of the Mississippi river, sad and melancholy reflections. They beheld all around them indubitable evidence of the former existence of a large population who lived long prior to the people among whom they labored, and had in the years of the long ago performed their part upon the stage of life, and unremembered, passed into the secret chambers of oblivion. They felt that they walked over the graves of a long succession of generations ages before moldered into dust; the surrounding forests were once animated by their labors, (as their rude and moldering fortifications testified), their hunting’s and wars, their songs and their dances; but silence had drawn its impenetrable veil over their entire history; no lettered page, no sculptured monument told who they were, whence they came, or the period of their existence.
But how strange the scene presented to the Cherokees at Brainard, to the Choctaws at Elliot, and the Chickasaws at Monroe, (the names given to the missionary stations, the first established among the peculiar but appreciative people!) How incomprehensible to them was the conduct of the pale faces then and there. How different from all others they had ever seen or heard, the white traders, whiskey peddlers, stragglers and refugees from justice! In all their previous knowledge of whose race, they had seen the same motto inscribed upon all their flags “Traffic and trade, War and strife;” but now they came disrobed of every appearance of greedy gain and all implements of war and strife, and teaching the strange tidings of peace on earth and good will to man. Nor were the missionaries scarcely less astonished to find the people who had been represented to them by the tongue of calumny as a set of savages, to be quite the reverse even a remarkable people in many respects; first, for their native moral principle, their innocence of all hypocrisy, lying and all forms of deceit, in all their social relations with each other; secondly, for their virtue, their fair mindedness, their great and abiding paternal and parental affection; thirdly, their respect for the right of property and the sacredness of human character from slander and vituperation.
This is not an over drawn picture. Nowhere among any people was property, life, and human character more sacred, and hypocrisy and lying less known, than among the ancient Choctaw and Chickasaw, Cherokee and Muskogee people. I speak from personal knowledge. And the Missioners found them, to their agreeable surprise, as little meriting the title, savages, which ignorance, prejudice and imbecile egotism had applied to them, as any race of unlettered people that were ever known to exist; and, in viewing” them in the light of a true catholic spirit, saw much that was touching and beautiful in their manners and customs. They also found them to be a people with immovable faith in a Supreme Being, and possessing a great reverence for powers and abilities superior to those of earth; though, to some extent, materialistic in their conception, but totally ignorant of the white man’s ideas and views of Christ and the Father. They regarded the Great Spirit as the source of general good, and of whom they asked guidance in all undertakings, and implored aid against their enemies, and to whose power they ascribed favors and frowns, blessings, successes and disappointments, joys and sorrows; and though their faith may have seemed cold to us, and their ceremonies, frivolous, ridiculous, and even blasphemous in our eyes; but in such lights they had truly walked, with ready and sincere acknowledgement of human dependence on superhuman aid and mercy. Can we say as much for ourselves? Do we walk according to the light we have as truly and faithfully as the unlettered Indians did?
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