The Hopefulness of Indian Missions

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The people of America are determined to press the Indian problem to a speedy solution. Provision has been made for giving lands in severalty, and the next great movement should be to induce the Government to provide secular education, and the churches to furnish religious instruction to all the Indians. The American Missionary Association, during the year, has responded to this new impulse by enlarging its work—in the opening of new stations, in the erection of new buildings, and in the appointment of more missionaries and teachers.

At the Santee Agency, Nebraska, our oldest mission station and school has had marked prosperity in its normal, theological and industrial departments, and, better than all, in a deep and wide-spread religious interest that has pervaded the school and the church. The new building, named Whitney Hall—from its giver—has been erected, affording accommodations for twenty-two of the larger and more advanced pupils, and furnishing rooms for the treasurer’s family. A liberal gift from Mrs. Henry Perkins, of Hartford, Conn., provides, for the present at least, for the running expenses of the Boys’ Hall, and, in appreciation of the gift, and of the interest in the school which the gift implies, the building will hereafter be called Perkins Hall.

At Oahe, Dakota, on the beautiful Peoria Bottom, both the school and church have prospered. The school is crowded to its utmost capacity and a greater number of pupils has been granted in the contract with the Government. A new building is urgently called for. The closing exercises of the school were attended by a picturesque group of three or four hundred Indians, who were encamped around the station. Some of these came a hundred and twenty-five miles to attend the exercises.

One marked feature in the enlargement of the work has been the opening of two more Central Stations: one at Rosebud Agency, the other located at Fort Yates, near the junction of the Grand River with the Missouri. The new mission house has been built, and by the aid of special gifts from benevolent friends at the East, a commodious building has been erected for a hospital.

A peculiar and very interesting feature of our Indian work is the out-stations, located remote from the Central Stations. These stations, numbering twenty-one, have been hindered and also enlarged during the past year. The hindrance came from the interference of the Government. In its well-intended zeal for the introduction of the English language, it surpassed the limits which experience had fixed, by requiring that the vernacular should not be taught, nor even spoken, in any Indian schools on the Reservation including these mission stations, which were wholly sustained by benevolent funds. Under this ruling, thirteen stations were closed from September to January. But the remonstrances coming from almost every denomination of Christians in the land induced the Government to modify its orders, and the schools have all been re-opened.

Some new buildings have been erected on this part of the field—a new house for dwelling and school on the Grand River, and a cheap structure at the Cheyenne River Agency, in which religious services are held at the times for the disbursement of the rations, when large numbers of the Indians assemble and remain for many days. A new impulse has been given to this out-station work by contributions received at one of the missionary meetings in Northfield, Mass. Four new stations were provided for at that time by the contribution of $400 for a building at each station, and $300 for the support of the teacher. One was the gift of Mr. Moody, another of Mr. Sankey, whose names these two stations will bear.

Fort Berthold, in the northern part of Dakota, has authorization from the Government for a larger number of pupils under contract than last year. But our exigencies require for this only a few and inexpensive repairs and additions to be made on the buildings.

The Skokomish mission continues its stable progress. The missionary, Rev. Myron Eells, has been tempted during the past year by several calls to enter more lucrative fields of service, but his attachment to the work, begun by his most honored father, and continued by himself, is so great that he prefers to remain with his people, and to aid them in their progress in civil and Christian life.

The Indian school at Santa Fé, New Mexico, has had some changes, but the arrangement between the Association and the trustees is continued, and the school, under the charge of Prof. Elmore Chase, maintains its useful service in the training of the children of the Apaches, one of the most hopeful and promising tribes of Indians on the continent.

Report On Indian Work

It is not the intention of your committee to spend more than a moment of the time allotted to it in speaking of the details of the work of this Association among the Indian tribes.

It is a pleasure to note in the Executive Committee’s report that it is in the fullest sympathy with the increased and increasing interest in the solution of our Indian problem. It has more scholars under its care than ever before, and is steadily increasing its buildings and its facilities for doing its work. The four new stations provided for at the Northfield gathering call especially for our gratitude. But why enlarge upon these particulars?

The work of this Association has been spread before the Christian world in so many reports that all know of its great success. Its preachers and teachers, who have given their lives to this work with such courage and devotion, are also known, and it only needs to be said in a word, that the year that has closed and whose review is now being taken, has been one of great blessing and power. We approve of what it has done and we commend it for the future without reserve.

We would rather occupy our time, if we may, in looking at this whole Indian question, hoping that we may arouse a more universal interest, and cause, thereby, to flow into the treasury of this Society the funds which shall enable it to enlarge and broaden its work and hasten the complete Christianizing of our Indian tribes.

For let it be said while I have your freshest attention, that it is the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not education or civilization, that is to solve this problem; and all I have to say is to lead up to this thought. Wherever modern civilization without religion has touched the barbarian it has been to curse him.

The blood of every American ought to tingle at the thought of the foul stain upon our national honor because of the treatment the Indian has received.

General Sherman has told us that we have made more than one thousand treaties with him, but the United States Government has never kept one of these treaties, if there was anything to be made by breaking it; and the Indian has never broken one, unless he has first had an excuse in some cruel wrong from the white man. No wonder that the Sioux have hesitated to sign their treaty. Do you not blush at one of the reasons for this hesitation? Because they doubt whether we can be trusted. This boasted American Republic is to them a nation of liars.

I am glad to speak for these men who have been, so cruelly wronged. Here before we had any rights, they have been steadily driven back before our civilization as it has advanced from the Atlantic and Pacific shores. While our ears have ever been open to the cry of distress the world over, the silent Indian moan has passed, too often unheeded. We have made him a prisoner upon the reservation, and when we have wanted his land we have taken it and put him on some we did not want just then. His appeal, when in suffering and distress, has been stifled by those who can make the most money out of him as he is; and if hungry and in desperation he leaves his reservation, we shoot him. We have put him in the control of an agent, whose authority is as absolute as the Czar’s. We have kept from him the motive to be different and he has been literally a man without a country and without a hope. Multitudes of people say, “Oh, yes, the Indian has been wronged,” but it makes very little impression upon them. It is much the same feeling that the worldly man has who acknowledges, in a general way, that he is a sinner, but it does not touch him sufficiently to lead him to act. Will you bear with me in giving some facts, with the hope that all may feel that this is not a merely sentimental, indefinite sort of a subject for philanthropists and “cranks,” and a few women, but one in which each of us has some personal responsibility. He is your brother and mine, in need, and we owe him a duty. Some years ago Bishop Whipple went to Washington pleading in vain for the Indians in Minnesota. After some days’ delay the Secretary of War said to a friend, “What does the Bishop want? If he comes to tell us that our Indian system is a sink of iniquity, tell him we all know it. Tell him also–and this is why I recall this fact, more true than when it was first spoken–tell him also that the United States never cures a wrong until the people demand it; and when the hearts of the people are reached the Indian will be saved.” Then let us try to arouse the people to demand it.

And I beg you to notice, that the wrongs are not of the past, but of the present. Those who say otherwise have either not examined the facts or else they are deceived. While there has been much progress made since General Grant’s administration, the machinery of our Indian affairs in its last analysis seems to be largely yet a scheme to plunder the Indian at every point. Its mechanism is so complicated that there are comparatively few who understand the wrong, and these seem almost powerless. While there are many men in the Government employ of the best intentions, there is always a “wicked partner” who contrives, somehow, to rob the Indian.

He is wronged:

  • In his person. Let me illustrate. Go with me to Nebraska. An Indian, upon one of our reservations, injured his knee slightly. There was a physician who was paid a good salary by the Government, but when asked to visit this man he refused to go. The poor sufferer grew worse and worse, till the limb became rotten and decayed: his cries could be heard far and near in the still air, yet the physician heeded not. A friend was asked to take a hatchet and chop off the limb. In agony he died, the physician never having once visited him. That was a brother of yours in America. A short time ago, in Southern California, lived an Indian in comfort, upon a lot of ten acres upon which he had paid taxes for years. The land about him was sold, but no mention was made of his lot, as his lawyers told him it was not necessary and the purchasers promised he should never be disturbed. Within a few months, however, a suit was brought for his ejectment, and in the midst of the rainy season, this old man of 80, his wife and another woman of nearly the same age, were put out of their home. They were thrust with great cruelty into a wagon, left by the roadside without shelter and without any food, except parched corn, for eight days. The wife died of pneumonia, and the old man is a homeless wanderer. Why this cruelty? Because there was a spring of water on his land which the white man wanted. This was in America.
  • In his property. Let me illustrate again. In North Dakota one of the tribes asked that they might have some barns. The request was granted: the lumber, valued at $3,000, was bought in Minneapolis, and the freight charges, which ought to be about $1,500, were $23,000. A little clerk in Washington that belongs to the “ring” “fixed it” in this way.
    In the Indian Territory an Indian worked hard all summer, and in the fall carried his grain to market, delivered it to an elevator, and than the owner turned around and refused to pay him, and the poor man had to go home without one cent. It was the worst kind of robbery. If that man had been a German, or Swede, or a howling Anarchist of any nation under the heavens, we would have protected him, but an Indian has no rights in America.
    A man who has been the private clerk of one of our highest Government officials was appointed an Indian Agent. The Indians on that reservation were having their lumber taken from them at a price much less than its value, and notwithstanding their protests, it went on, the Agent refusing to listen. They complained then at Washington, and the Government appointed one of the most corrupt of men as an inspector. When he visited the reservation he asked for the witnesses at once. They asked for a reasonable time to get them together. This was refused and they asked for two days, and when this was denied they asked for one. In their dilemma and haste they got one Indian near-by to testify. The Agent himself broke down this man’s testimony, because he had been at fault two or three years before, in a way which did not affect, in the slightest degree, his statement now, and the inspector at once returned to Washington and decided against the Indians! It was a fraud and a farce.
  • 3. In the helpless condition in which we have left him, he has a new wrong now, because when he votes he is of political importance. If you will read “Lend A Hand,” you will find an illustration where the Indians in North Carolina had become citizens and had votes, and because those votes were cast against the powers that be, they were willing to go all lengths, even to closing the schools, in order to accomplish their purposes.
    And this is to be more and more a vital question, as more and more they are becoming citizens. We talk about “dirty politics!” Is it not a proper name, when, in order to get votes, schools are to be closed and children left in ignorance?
  • 4. There is no earnestness of purpose in a majority of the Government officials to protect him from wrong. To show exactly what I mean; recently, in Southern California a lot of land grabbers took from the Indians their land. When private individuals ascertained the facts, complaint was made and an order was issued for their removal. The time fixed was March 1st. On July 1st inquiry was made, and the agent said the order had been carried out. But individual examination showed the settlers to be there still, and five saloons open in defiance of law.

In a similar way recently, the representative of one of our philanthropic societies had arrested an agent who had committed a crime. It was so clear a case that he was found guilty at once. Let us hear this travesty of justice. The law required a fine and imprisonment both. The fine was placed by the Judge at twenty-five cents, which the Judge paid himself. The term of the imprisonment he made one day, and told the Sheriff to allow the jail, in this case, to be the agent’s own comfortable home. Shall we be obliged to constitute Law and Order Leagues to see that the laws of the United States are executed?

This is the awful background as the starting point for this discussion. Some people question whether or not there is a personal devil. If any man would study the Indian question he would be convinced there was not one only, but a whole legion of them.

But, friends, so long as these are facts, there is an Indian question, and there is going to be one until these things are settled. There is nothing ever settled in this world till it is settled right. In the progress that has been made in opening up the possibility to the Indian, of civil rights, we may be inclined to relax our efforts in his behalf. The passage of the Dawes Land in Severalty Bill was, indeed, a great day for the Indian. It opens the door by which he can have a home on land of his own and become a citizen, with all the privileges thereof. Here, at last, is solid ground upon which he can stand. But we must not forget that that bill is but the commencement of what is needed. He is but a child with new rights truly, but in his ignorance he does not know what they are. He is surrounded by enemies as before. While he has the law and the courts, the nearest Judge may be one hundred to three hundred miles away. He must be brought more under the care of the judiciary.

The Indian Bureau, as at present constituted, cannot do for him what he needs. This is a part of the political machine, and its appointees are selected because they have done good service as ward politicians. It has been well said that such a Bureau is no more fitted to lead these people aright than Pharaoh was to lead the Israelites out of their house of bondage.

To show how even some good men fail to comprehend the situation is evidenced by the proposed “Morgan Bill,” which in its practical working would give the Indian Agent–already a despot–even more power than before. By that bill he is made chief Judge, with two Indians as associate Judges; and the agent is given power to select the jurors when a jury is demanded. What a travesty of justice, to make the present agent a judge and give him power to select the jury. With such a bill the friend of the Indian may well say: Oh Lord, how long! We must demand that all Indians, whether on the reservations or not, shall be given full protection of righteous laws, and that the tyrannical methods of the past shall forever cease.

But, with the solid ground of the Dawes bill beneath, and the further protection of the judiciary certain to be given at no distant day, he needs, more than all else besides, the Christian school and the Christian church. He now has “Land.” If we are earnest and persistent he will soon have “Law.” But, most of all, does he need “Light,” and that light which is from above. All the laws we may enact the next hundred years will not change the character of a single Indian. To a considerable extent he is a superstitious pagan still. He needs Jesus Christ. He needs to learn the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. As it is a part of the Indian man’s religious belief that his god does not want him to work and he will be punished if he does, it is especially necessary to touch his religious nature first. When he accepts the Christian’s God, then he will be ready to go to work for himself. The taking up of the hoe and the spade is his first confession of faith. What has already been accomplished through the new laws giving him his civil rights, puts an added responsibility upon the church. It is the Indian’s last chance. Our further neglect is his certain death. Shall we leave him with his “Land and Law” without God? Do we realize that we have lived with these original owners of our soil for more than two and one-half centuries, and yet, today, there are sixty tribes who have no knowledge of Jesus the Christ? Shall we allow longer such a stain? I know well the pressure of various claims in religious work at home and abroad, but in the light of what has been said, is not the duty of Christianizing the Indians a debt of honor, a “preferred claim,” which should take precedence over others? In this way only can we partially atone for our “century of dishonor.”

The history of the past few months, and the famous order with regard to the use of the vernacular, ought to arouse the church to new efforts. The probable instigators of it are known to friends of the Indian, and it shows the necessity of increased activity on our part. The order was despotism itself, and would have done credit to a Russian Czar. It was a blow aimed at the Indian’s highest religious interests, and the President of the United States, instead of explaining and translating it, should have recalled it as an act unworthy of Christian civilization in the nineteenth century. Everything is still done to hamper the Protestant missionary work. The A.M.A. has a theological school, and the Government allows (?) it to teach a theological class; but, when the students are chosen and ready to come, the Government agents prohibit their coming. We have a young man who has been waiting for a year for a permit from Washington. The same obstructive policy meets us when we try to get pupils under the Government school contracts. And even after we have obtained the order from the Government to procure the pupils from a given agency, the Government will, at the same time, instruct the Agent to let no pupils go till the Government schools are full. In this way the Christian Indian parent has taken from him the right to send his child where he desires, for the Government stops his rations and annuities if he refuses to send to the Government school. The vote recently passed at the General Association of Congregational Churches in South Dakota ought to be taken up and echoed through the land, protesting against the assumption, by the Administration, of the right to control our missionary operations, dictating what pupils may attend our schools, or what language may be used in them.

In conclusion, let us gird ourselves anew for the struggle that is before us, to fight the enemies of Protestant Christianity, entrenched as they are in our Government, the Indian ring, the cattle kings, the land grabbers and the thousands whose selfish interest it is to keep the Indian ignorant. This is no holiday affair; it means earnest, determined work. We must give the Indian the Gospel of the Son of God as his only safeguard for the life that now is as well as that which is to come. Civilization, education alone can never lift the Indian to his true position. You may take a rough block of marble and chisel it never so skillfully into some matchless human form, and it is marble still, cold and lifeless. Take the rude Indian and educate him, and he is still an Indian. He must be quickened by the breath of the Almighty before he will live. It is religion alone which can lead him to the truest manhood, which will quicken his slumbering intellectual faculties and prevent him from being an easy prey to the selfishness and sinfulness of men. Let us support this society in its grand work, by our money, our sympathy and our prayers. Let us join in the fight, and by-and-by we will share in the triumph. Dr. Strieby, you can remember just before this society was formed, that it was a disgrace to be an abolitionist. It is a glory now. The day is not far distant, yea, its light is already breaking in the western sky, when it will be considered equally glorious to have helped save our Indian brother, by leading him back again to God. And while we are doing it, and as a means to this end, we must try to get this Indian ring by the throat and strangle its life. It has lived long enough on the blood of the Indian; let it die, and we will never say “the Lord have mercy on its soul,” for it has none. If you have never been interested in the matter before, begin to-day; if you have never helped before, help now. Get in somewhere, get in quick, get in all over; do not stand around the edges looking on and criticizing others; be sure you get your pocket book open, and send the Treasurer of the Association double what you did last year; do something, do anything. We have been playing at missions long enough. With our great wealth it is a disgrace that this work was not completed long ago. With an aroused and awakened Church the whole problem will be solved, for there will be no more Indians, but only brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Let us fear nothing, God is with us and we shall triumph. “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

The Hopefulness of Indian Missions, As Seen in the Light of History

The contemplation of the past sometimes weakens the energies for action in the present. But when the present is a consequence of the past, we can scarcely do our work rightly if we neglect the lessons of experience.

The history of missions among our Indian tribes has lessons in it which may be wisely heeded.

When the first settlers of this country left their ships, which had been freighted with the destinies of a continent, and faced the perils of a wilderness, they met at the outset a strange people. No one knew who they were, nor how many; they themselves did not know. They had no history. They had become vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Ignorant as to the past, their theory of the future was vague and shadowy. Their spirits would exist after death. The heroic and brave and worthy would go to the happy hunting-grounds, where would be pleasant climate and fair weather, and where abundance would be exhaustless and satisfactions complete. The unworthy would wander without in a state of misfortune and restless discontent. For their religious ceremonies, a priesthood existed, and those who composed this were devoted to it from their childhood. The howling dervishes of Turkey and the pagan priests of the South Sea Islands, may be compared with the pow-wows of the North American Indians.

It is impossible to estimate the number of this aboriginal population. Doubtless the popular impression is an exaggerated one. It would be safe to say that, all told, there were never at any one period, more than half a million of these people, occupying the present territory of the United States from ocean to ocean. They were widely scattered, so that there were great stretches of forest and prairie lying between the different tribes.

There were many groups, distinct in their languages, which yet bore a general resemblance to each other in construction, so that the several tribes could at least easily learn to understand each other. I think that the weight of authority is, that they belong to one family of nations, and are derived from one stock, while they display considerable diversities in language and customs.

The motive of the early settlers of New England, which took precedence over all others–as they declared–was “_a desire to advance the gospel in these remote parts of the world, even if they should be but stepping-stones to those who were to follow them_.” Finding these barbarous tribes here, the Pilgrim Fathers bartered with them for peaceable possession, which they did not always secure. As civilization encroached upon barbarism, the colonists kept their homes often only by the defenses of war. But peace was in the hearts and purposes of the early settlers.

As early as 1643, the Rev. John Eliot, who had been educated at the University of Cambridge, England, and who had come to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1630, wrote that he had “been through varieties of intercourse with the Indians, and had many solemn discourses with all sorts of nations of them.” It was his theory that they were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. He acquired their language. It was an arduous undertaking, but he said “Prayer and pains through faith in Christ Jesus will do anything.”

In 1660, he had visited all the Indians in the Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies, and preached the gospel to them, and the first Indian church was then formed.

In 1661, he had translated the New Testament into the Indian tongue, and in 1663, the Old Testament. This Indian Bible was published at Cambridge, and was the only Bible printed in America until a much later period. Besides this, Eliot instituted schools, and induced large numbers to give up their savage customs and habits, and to form themselves into civilized communities.

The zeal of Eliot quickened that of others, and in 1674, there was a missionary circuit of 14 villages and 1,100 praying Indians.

At this same date, through the sacrificial labors of Mr. Thomas Mayhew and his son, there were 1,500 praying Indians in the Island of Martha’s Vineyard and vicinity. The next year came war–King Philip’s War. It meant extermination of the whites, or conquest of the red men. Civilization was too strong to be resisted by barbarism, and then began the long catalogue of organized Indian miseries. The General Court ordered the removal of the conquered Indians, and they were pushed away before the aggressive steps of a stronger race. In 1743, the Rev. David Brainerd was propagating missions among the Indians with success in various places. Idolatrous sacrifices were altogether abolished; many heathen customs lost their sanction, and sincere converts were made whose pious lives and peaceful deaths attested to the influence of the spirit of God in their hearts.

At this period of history the Moravian Church began missions in Pennsylvania among the Delaware. Christian Rauch soon won the confidence of the savages and excited their astonishment. And observing him asleep in his hut, an Indian said: “This man cannot be a bad man, he fears no evil, he does not fear us who are so fierce, but he sleeps in peace and puts his life in our hands.” There was a remarkable acknowledgment of this mission in converted souls. The Moravian Missions in various sections of the country, from the early date of 1740 until now, have been characterized by courage, activity, humility and devotion. In the midst of these scenes of devastation and murder, the Moravian missionaries have wandered in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, never relinquishing their purposes, and they have obtained a good report through faith.

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which began its existence in 1812, adopted measures in 1815 for carrying the gospel to the Indians. One hundred thousand of these people, as untamed as when the Pilgrims met them at Plymouth, as ignorant in most respects, and as truly heathen as were their fathers centuries before them, were then supposed to be living east of the Mississippi River. The first mission was among the Creeks and Cherokees. Three missionaries and their wives began the work. In character it was a compound of mission boarding school and agricultural college. In eighteen months, the Indian boys could read the Bible, and nearly a score of them could write; five converted heathen were members of the church.

Next, in 1818, missions were begun among the Chickasaws and the Choctaws. Here, also, the first work was that of the school. So eager were the Choctaws for instruction, that eight children were brought 160 miles across the country before the missionaries were ready for them, and in one year from that date the Choctaw Nation voted to devote to the schools their entire annuity of six thousand dollars, from the sale of their lands to the United States.

The missionaries were subject to unceasing hindrances from renegade whites, who are always on the borders of civilization, and have usually been the enemies of missionaries.

But among the Cherokees no year passed without conversions. Those who appeared to the missionaries so wild and forbidding that they were received with fear, came under the gospel power and were clothed and in their right mind. In six years the Church had largely increased. Indians traveled a score of miles to attend the services. As yet, there was no Cherokee written language. This mission was eight years old when the four gospels were translated into the Cherokee tongue, and in three or four years more, one-half the nation could read. There were now among the Cherokees and the Choctaws, eighteen missionary stations.

In 1826, the Board began work among eight other tribes in different parts of the country.

It next took charge of the Stockbridge tribe, whose ancestors had enjoyed the ministry of the celebrated Dr. Jonathan Edwards. They were originally in Massachusetts. They were pushed back hundreds of miles to Central New York, then pushed further back hundreds of miles to Indiana; then pushed still further back hundreds of miles to Michigan, and finally pushed back once more and allowed to rest in the remote West–in Minnesota. During all these cruel removals, they had themselves kept alive a school, and had among them exemplary Christians. Now, after one hundred years of such history, the American Board put a mission among them. The church survived, and the whole settlement took in the spirit of civilization and took on its forms. A year later were added the missions to the Chickasaws, and now, about the close of the year 1830, it seemed as if the fruitage of this Indian missionary consecration were at hand. Half the Cherokees in Georgia could read. Civilized life had taken firm hold on them, and they were governing themselves with Christian laws. Eight churches were in life and power among them. The Chickasaws had their church in Arkansas, and the Cherokees there, another. The churches of the Choctaws had received to their communions that year two hundred and fifty members who were hopefully converted, and in all the Indian Missions of the American Board there was a steady increase of hopefulness, while the members in tribes were also increasing.

“Everywhere the fruits of the missions among the Indians were abundant. No more docile pagans were ever approached with the gospel than some of these peoples.”

Nevertheless, from this period of time, Indian missions cease to be successful for a generation.

The mission to the Chickasaws was abandoned in 1834; to the Osages in 1836; to the Stockbridge tribe, in 1848; to the Choctaws, in 1859; to the Tuscarora, in 1860; and to the Cherokees, in 1860; until at last but a single mission remained, that among the great Sioux tribes or the Dakotas. Twelve missions and forty-five churches, which reached about one hundred thousand Indians abandoned in twenty-six years!

The question now asks itself: “Why were not these hopeful missionary efforts to these pagan tribes more permanent? What turned the tide of success and left the missions stranded?” Here comes the story of dishonor. The Indian was here when the white man came. The Christian white men recognized the Indian’s right of occupancy as a right. They did not hold that half a million savages had a right to dispute the ultimate sovereignty of civilization, but they agreed that when civilization should move forward and barbarism should retreat, the Indian should have Christian justice and not un-Christian wrong. He should not be oppressed. He should be treated equitably. His rights should be acknowledged, and if the demands of the greater number and the greater life asked for a surrender of his rights as original occupant, then there should be fair consideration, compensation and honesty. It may be the providence of God that barbarism shall be crowded out by civilization, that the Indian’s hunting-ground shall yield to the railway and the marts of commerce. It may not be right that a continent of eight millions of square miles, more than twice the size of all Europe, fair and beautiful and rich in resources, should be kept for game preserves for half a million savages. It is right that the forest should fall to make room for New England villages, with their churches and school-houses and industry. The rude stage of existence must make way for a higher. But the higher has no right to be wicked in its onward movement. It has no right to rob or cheat. It has no right to make compacts and violate them. It has no right to break its faith with the weak. It has no right to outrage the principle of justice.

The history of Indian wrongs by the whites in the inevitable advances of civilization, need not be recited here. Unscrupulous greed has hovered about the Indian reservations as waiting buzzards hover near the wounded creature upon whose flesh they would fatten. Lands guaranteed to the Indians were encroached upon by white people. These encroachments resisted led to wars. Savage nature, wrought up with a sense of injustice and burning for revenge, swept down upon guilty intruders and innocent settlers alike, with indiscriminate massacre. Then the Government called out its soldiery, and Indian wars with less than half a million savages have cost the United States $500,000,000, enough to plant missions among all the heathen tribes of the world.

Frontiersmen who have coveted the Indian reservations, when they already had more land than they could use, without the possessions which they desired to secure, have satisfied themselves that a degraded race of savages had no rights which they were bound to respect; and how could the missionaries prosper, when the ignorant saw such exhibitions of character and life on the part of the people from whom the missionaries came? These wars have led to cancellation of treaties, because of inhuman violence, and then, the reservation taken up, the savage is removed still further back. Thus the Indians have been planted and uptorn, re-planted and uptorn, and re-planted, until they are now removed, not hundreds of miles from the grounds of their fathers, but thousands of miles. A tree will not grow if uprooted and transplanted every few months, and this will in brief tell us why the missions which began with the Moravians and the American Board, and which were so hopeful, were one after another abandoned. These constant removals were as disastrous to missions as they were unjust to the Indians. It was remarkable that there should be the degree of spiritual fruitage through all this period of Indian removals and Indian wrongs, which characterizes the labors of those who often, at peril of life, labored on for the red man’s salvation.

The American Board began its work among the Dakotas in 1835. It was one of the most powerful tribes on the continent, numbering over 40,000. Their hunting-grounds extended from the 43 degrees to the 49 degrees of latitude, and from the Mississippi River to the Black Hills west of the Missouri. This was a territory equal in extent to that of Scotland. The name Dakota means the “allied one,” and indicates the bands that united to form the tribe. The missionary work, which was initiated under Rev. T.S. Williamson, Rev. J.D. Stevens and Rev. S. Riggs, with their wives, and lady teachers, began prosperously, and in six years forty-nine persons were formed into a church. For some years the accessions were mostly women. The acceptance of Christianity was more difficult to the men. The change in the manner of life involved in it was greater. It meant entire reconstruction of their ideas of life, and in the manner of it, the abandonment of polygamy, the adoption of civilized dress, the spirit of obedience and industry. These were the contradictions to centuries of tradition and custom, and meant to an Indian brave the becoming like a woman. At length, however, the gospel did take hold of the warriors. The work and the faith of the missionaries were thoroughly tested by the opposition this aroused, but the gospel won its way. At last, when the rumors of the Civil War between the Northern and the Southern States came to the Indians, it set their hearts aflame for battle with their white neighbors, whose encroachment they resented.

Then broke out the dreadful Minnesota massacre, when the missionaries were compelled to flee for their lives, and the missions were abandoned. Twelve hundred United States troops at last scattered the savages and took about five hundred prisoners. They were incarcerated at the Mankato prison in Minnesota, where thirty-eight were hung in one day. The remainder in prison were visited by the missionaries, and the prison house became a chapel. Soon it was a Bethel, a great revival began, which lasted all winter, and in the spring, two hundred Dakotas were added to the church in one day, and when they were transferred to the prison at Davenport, they went out in chains, but singing the 51st Psalm to the tune of Old Hundred. They carried the fire from heaven with them to the Davenport prison, and when, in 1886, the prisoners were released, more than four hundred were hopefully converted, and when they joined their families in Nebraska, these gathered together in one communion, and called it the Pilgrim Church–about two hundred years after John Eliot, of the Pilgrims at Boston, gave his life to the Indians of Massachusetts. A people as remote from civilization as were the Indians of 1640 founded their Pilgrim Church.

Now at length the Dakota missionaries began a new life among these tribes. By the wonderful and strange providence of God, there had been prepared in prison native teachers and preachers, and the way was opened for expansive work.

After a period of ten years of this work, the American Board transferred its Indian missions to the American Missionary Association. This Association, thirty years previous to this, had Indian missions in the northwest, with twenty-one missionaries. Various causes had led to their abandonment, the chief one being the demands of the newly-emancipated slaves after the war.

Six years before the transfer of these missions to this Association, it had an interest in Indian missions in Washington Territory and in Minnesota. The transfer on the part of the American Board brought under our care the mission at Santee, Nebraska, with its large school and industrial departments; the Fort Sully mission, those on the Cheyenne River, and at Fort Berthold, Dakota. These have since been developed, until now, the facilities for missionary work and the force of workers have been greatly increased.

There are at the present time in the United States, exclusive of Alaska, 247,761 Indians. Our missions are chiefly among 40,000 of the Sioux or Dakota tribe, in the great Dakota reservation; among the Ponca in Nebraska, and the Gros Ventre and Mandans on the Northern Missouri.

At the Santee Normal School, we are teaching about two hundred Indian youth of both sexes. We are instructing them also in agriculture and trades. There is a department for theological study, where missionaries are prepared from the Indians for the Indians. Sixty-one missionaries and teachers have caught the spirit of Eliot, Edwards and Brainerd, and are earnestly serving Christ among these tribes.

A Christian civilization is wedging its way in until eighty thousand Indians are now clothed in civilized dress. Forty thousand have learned to read English, and nearly thirty thousand are living in houses. There are forty thousand Indian children of school age, and about fourteen thousand enrolled as pupils, leaving between twenty and thirty thousand children for whom as yet there are no schools provided. Sixty-eight tribes remain without a church, a school or a missionary, absolutely destitute of Christian light.

It has been said that these heathen tribes are a vanishing people, destined to decline and finally to disappear. Certainly their condition for two hundred years has tended to decrease them, and yet, when Columbus discovered America there were not double the number that there are now. In happier conditions than formerly, there is a decided increase in the Indian population, as there is betterment in their customs and modes of life. Their missionary teachers find them with the ancient characteristics unchanged–rude in thought, though with a marked intellectual power. The open book of nature, the Indian knows well. He will tell you the habits of bird and beast and tree and plant. He will tell you the time of day by looking at a leaf. But the life of civilization comes hard to him. He does not know the value of time, nor the value of money. It is hard for him to measure his days or to provide for the future, or to care for to-morrow. He has not the heredity of civilization and Christianity, hence missionary work sometimes seems slow in progress, but it is surely gaining upon this almost dead past of half a century. Thirteen Missionary Boards are now pressing forward to teach them the way and the truth and the life.

The doors are wide open as never before. The hearts of the Indians are friendly as never for two hundred years. If the majority of them show as yet no deep desire for that which Christianity brings, they are not, in this, dissimilar from other heathen. But this desire is growing. The Government at last is seeking to redeem the past. It has appropriated for the Indian tribes reservations larger, in square miles, than the whole German Empire. The Republic of France must re-annex considerable of its ancient possessions before it will own as much land as is now the property of the Indians in the United States. Under these conditions, the hopefulness of the past argues for a more hopeful future of missionary work.

Our mission is to raise up teachers, preachers, interpreters and a native agency that shall work for the regeneration of their own people. It is a mission that is hopeful.

It means a good deal to teach those who come to us in moccasins and blankets, arithmetic, algebra, the elements of geometry, physical geography, natural philosophy and mental science. It means much to give them an industrial training that shall show them how to live rightly, and enable them to do it. But above all, in all and through all, is the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to their salvation. Perhaps no missions to the heathen have been more blessed than many of these to the wild, painted savages. Thousands who were barbarian in heart and in deed are now true disciples of Christ. Where heathenism held its revels, now the church-bell calls the red man to prayer, and the war-whoop is being exchanged for songs of Christian praise. Wigwams are being transformed into houses, and coarse and cruel people are illustrating home piety and virtues. The prayers of God’s people have been well directed, and there is every reason why they should be increased, the wilderness and the solitary place being made glad for them. The missionaries among them behold the time when God will make for them a way, even a highway, that shall be the way of holiness, in which the redeemed shall walk and the ransomed of the Lord shall come to Zion with joy and gladness.



MLA Source Citation:

Various. The American Missionary, Vol. 43, No. 8, August, 1889. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 22 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-hopefulness-of-indian-missions.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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