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Perils of Missionary Life
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Rev. T.L. Riggs, our missionary at Oahe, Dakota, thus describes the loss of a team and the peril of his fellow missionary, Rev. J.F. Cross:
“I wished to cross my team on the ice to the west side of the Missouri and keep it there for use during the breaking up of the river. Being very busy with some writing, I asked Mr. Cross to take my team over when he started to return to the White River, sending a man with him. Mr. Cross’s team went over safely, but mine, which Mr. Cross himself was driving, broke through and were drowned, in spite of every effort of the two men. Mr. Cross had a narrow escape. He managed to save the wagon, but the horses went down with harness on as they were driven. Mr. Cross took the loss so to heart, that together with the strain and agony of the moment, it quite prostrated him. He started for White River in a day or two after, though I felt that he was hardly fit to go.”
Rev. C.L. Hall, Fort Berthold, Dak.
In the fall of 1879, a young Gros-Ventre Indian named Dahpitsishesh, “The Bear’s Tooth,” began to attend the day school at Fort Berthold, and although he was over twenty years old and not very quick to learn, he surpassed the younger pupils by his industry. He attended the day school, in the day time or in the evening, quite regularly during the winter, and became a help to the missionary in translating parts of Scripture into the Gros-Ventre language.
He wore his long hair braided behind, and banged and plastered with clay in front so that it stood upright, and he dressed in blanket, breech clout, leggings and moccasins, and the lower joints of several of his fingers were cut off in accordance with the Indian custom of mutilating themselves at the burial of a friend. His first appearance to a new teacher who came the following spring caused her no little trepidation, but she soon learned to prize him as her best pupil, and the next year the influence of God’s word upon him was seen by his saying, after recounting some of his Gros-Ventre religious fables, in which his belief had been shaken; “I have been coming to school now more than a year. Since reading these books about God and angels I cannot sleep at night, but have had dreams. I think some harm will come to me. I am poor and cannot help myself, but I pray God to keep me from harm, and I want to trust him.”
From that time on, we hoped he would take a decided stand for Christ. As yet, none among his people had been converted. A few passages of the Bible and a few words of song had been given to the Gros-Ventre in their own tongue, and every Sabbath there were attentive Indian listeners, but would there ever be a Gros-Ventre convert? “The Bear’s Tooth” continued to come to us, and learned to understand quite fully the requirements of our faith. He became a trusted helper in charge of the mission cattle and the milking, working regularly as few Indians would do at Berthold, and he soon had stock of his own in which he took great pleasure. He read the Bible on Sabbath afternoons with one who was soon called to her reward; it was almost her last prayer that he might be saved. He came in spite of dissuasions, jeers, and even persecutions from his people, and yet he took no stand for Christ. Three years after, there were Indian inquirers, and he helped to explain to them the demands of Christ, but they all felt that “the way was too hard for them” and “went away sorrowful.”
Some of the young people who had been taken away to school and removed from the opposition of their people had confessed Christ, but there were none to face it here and say that they loved him. “The Bear’s Tooth” took a wife in the Indian way, unwilling to marry, and removed, as it seemed, away from our influence, to a claim forty miles up the river from our mission station.
But God dealt with him and afflicted him in the loss of his babes, and of his stock, so that he said, “It seems as though I could acquire nothing. Explain it to me; the Indians say it is because I follow your teaching.” I taught him from the book of Job, and the words of Christ. His soul was hungry, and when he came once in two weeks for his government rations, he sought the bread of life at the mission. Finally, after nearly eight years, one summer day he came and sat on a bench in the shade of the house in a little flower garden, and after we had talked awhile, he said to the missionary: “Good Voice, now I can; I will be faithful to my own wife, I will keep Sunday, I will pray and avoid the dances and other heathen customs; when you think best I will come down and be received into the church.” That was a glad moment. To clasp the hand of the first Gros-Ventre brother in Christ, won through a strange tongue and from a people who had sat in darkness for eighteen hundred years since the great light shone in Galilee!
I said, “Bring your wife and friends with you to Christ.” He went home but soon returned, saying sorrowfully: “My wife and my friends are none of them willing. If I join I think it must be alone.” “Well,” I said, “let it be so,” and it was. His clothes were second-hand and old, and he had no natural attractiveness of appearance; but in a simple, manly, determined way, he made his confession and was baptized before an audience of Indians in the little mission chapel, (July, 1887), a poor Indian, but another Daniel standing alone.
Then, as the man of Gergesa, he went home to tell his neighbors what God had done for him. He had a Bible in Dakota, of which language he understood something, and a few Gros-Ventre translations in writing, and some attempts at hymns, and some pictures. With these he preached, in neighbors’ houses, and then he would report to me of his reception, and ask me questions about the Christian life. A veritable man “Friday” had come to me; I was no longer alone. Then why did his health fail, and he forty miles away where I could not see him? But so God willed. Soon they brought me the word: Your friend has gone. I gathered up his last words, questioning his wife and lame old father. He wanted to see his friend and tell him some things. He thought he did see him come in and then go out before he could speak. He said, “I thought it was difficult, but I joined with those who pray, and I find now it is only a short way. I am going above.” With his last breath and his Bible open, he asked to be shown the way, that he might go in it.
The influence of a genuine life is strongest at home, and so it comes that the wife is seeking to follow her husband. There are other converts with us now, but we shall never forget this first Gros-Ventre “friend,” (madakina); and although the story of his life is not a peculiar one to white men, nay for that very reason, we are glad to write this record of a once lowly, but now glorified, believer.
Rev. T.L. Riggs, Oahe, Dakota.
Early in the winter, I had a pleasant day of work regarding which I want to write you. It was the day appointed for the observance of the Lord’s Supper at the out-station about ten miles from home, and as the river had not frozen over thoroughly, I thought it better to go down in the saddle rather than drive the cart. This made it impossible for Mrs. Riggs to accompany me as she sometimes does.
I brought out my saddle camp-pouches (small square cases that strap to the horn of the saddle) and emptied them of their camp furniture, and in these were placed the bread and wine and also the service for the communion. My pouches are so small that I could take but one glass and a little china pitcher for our service. Usually I am able to take a china plate as well, but this time there was no room.
I went early in the day, and after some little difficulty the river was safely crossed, though my poor horse, not being shod, fell upon the ice more than once. He was not hurt, however, and I followed the river shore down to the out-station which is on the west side of the river.
I found the people gathered, and we had a morning session of nearly two hours. It was rather a preparatory service, and I talked familiarly with those present, individually as well as collectively. There were three men and their wives who wished to be married. Seven applied for admission to church membership, and there were also several infants to be baptized.
After dismissing the morning gathering, I arranged for communion service. I had no plate, so I sent a boy to his home to get one. He returned saying they had none, and I sent him to another house, from which he returned saying he could not get in. Then I decided to use the best I had, which was the card-board back broken from a hymn book. This I covered with a napkin and it answered very nicely. I had not prepared for any applications for baptism and had to send for a bowl, instead of which a tin cup was brought just as we were ready to begin service.
After the opening of service, I first married the three couples, (one of these consisted of an old man and woman nearly seventy years old, both of them gray-headed). The applicants for Christian fellowship were asked to give some public expression of their faith and were received into membership and baptized together with the infants. We, also, at the close of the service elected a deacon, who holds office for two years, and then I talked to them regarding the duties of another year. When dismissed, all went to their homes. I, too, went to a house near by and drank some coffee, for by this time I was quite faint. After this I rode home, reaching there just as the family were separating from the tea-table.
It seems odd to speak of men and their wives coming to be marriedit is meant that they are husbands and wives after the Dakota custom. When they come to understand Christian marriage, and especially if they desire to unite with the church, they ask to have the marriage solemnized in a Christian manner. Sometimes a man and woman who have several children, perhaps a baby in arms, present themselves for marriage.
It is required of married candidates for admission to the church, that they be married in a Christian way. This sometimes seems hard, as in a case which has been before our Oahe church for some time. A woman of fine character whom we believe to be a sincere Christian, desires to unite with the church. Her husband, who is a veritable heathen, refuses to marry her. He says he never has had another wife and does not intend to take one, but he is a Dakota and does not wish to adopt white people’s ways. They have a large family of children, and the wife does not feel that it is best to separate from her husband, though she really desires to do her whole Christian duty. In such cases, this regulation seems hard, but in the early days of the Dakota Mission, anything else brought confusion and trouble into the church, and this method of action was decided upon.
Miss M.C. Collins, Fort Yates, Dak.
There is a time in our work, if it progresses as we would like, when it seems to go beyond us. The work here now is at that point. When I came here the people were beggars. Their acquaintance with the Agency people and the Army people had been such as to cause them to think that white people were all wealthy, and that one had only to ask for a thing to receive it. I have labored diligently to induce them to earn what they have. It is very seldom now that any one begs, but I am over-run with applications for work. Each individual is jealous of another, if I give one work and refuse another. If I hire a woman to wash, I must hire another to iron, another to bring in my wood, another to wash the floor and still another to clean up my yard. If I hire a man to make some repairs, I must hire another to cut wood, another to haul water or ice, and so it is. This is very expensive, and yet I see no way to avoid it. I cannot say to a man, “It is a disgrace to beg bread for your hungry child,” and then refuse to give him work. Now, let some of your wise people in the East who are friends of the Indian try to remedy this great difficulty. Let a part of the Indian money be spent in educating the Indian in his home to work and to earn something. The church or the Government ought to devise some plan by which Indians at their homes can earn money. I do all I can, but the expense is more than I can bear. There is no market for the Indian, and no work to be done by which he can earn anything, and no man can become self-supporting until he is provided with a way to support himself. What can we do about it?
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