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An Indian Woman Builds a Church

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

An Indian woman builds a church--Conchology--South Carolina prepares to resist the revenue laws--Moral affairs--Geography--Botany--Chippewas and Sioux--A native evangelist in John Sunday--His letter in English; its philological value--The plural pronoun we--An Indian battle--Political affairs--South Carolina affairs--Tariff compromise of Mr. Clay--Algic Society; it employs native evangelists--Plan of visiting Europe--President's tour--History of Detroit--Fresh-water shells--Lake tides--Prairie--Country--Reminiscence.

1833. Jan. 1st. A remarkable thing recently transpired. Mrs. Susan Johnston, a widow--an Indian woman by father and mother--built a church for the Presbyterian congregation at this place. The building, which is neat and plain, without a steeple, was finished early in the fall, and has been occupied this season for preaching, lectures, &c. Certainly, on the assumption of theories, there is nothing predicted against the descendants of Shem ministering in good things to those of Japhet; but it is an instance, the like of which I doubt whether there has happened since the Discovery. The translation of the Indian name of this female is Woman of the Green Valley; or, according to the polysyllabical system of her people, O-she-wush-ko-da-wa-qua.

2d. Mr. John M. Earle, of Worcester, Mass., solicits contributions to his collection of fresh-water shells. "I have a higher object in view," he remarks, "than the mere making of a collection--viz., doing what I can to ascertain what new species remain undescribed, and what ones of those already described may be only varieties of others; and, in fine, by a careful examination of a large number of shells, brought together from various localities, to fix, more accurately than it has heretofore been done, the nomenclature of the several genera and species, and so particularly to define their specific characteristics as to leave little doubt on the subject. The great variety of our fresh-water shells, exceeding that of any other country, seems to require something of this kind, in addition to the valuable labors of Say, Barnes, Lea, and others, who, although they have done much, have yet left much to be done by others, and have made some mistakes which require rectifying."

14th. Mr. Trowbridge writes from Detroit: "The period intervening since your last visit to this place has been an eventful one to the nation. South Carolina, driven on by a few infatuated men, has made a bold effort to shake off the bonds of Union and Federal Law, and, to the minds of some in whom you and I repose the utmost confidence, a happy government seems to totter on the brink of dissolution. It is a long story, and the papers will tell you all. God grant that the impending evil may be averted, and that the moral and religious improvement of this government may not be retarded by civil war." It is thought that this event, and the course taken by the President, will produce a great reaction in his favor, and that he will be supported by his old political opponents. The governor is much occupied. It is supposed the proclamation is from his pen.

18th. M. Merrill announces the opening of an infant school, in which he is to be assisted by Mrs. Merrill, on Monday next.

21st. Rev. J. Porter, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, reports to the Algic Society, that there is but little in the present state of religion here that is propitious. "Of the little church gathered here during the last year, ten persons are absent, scattered wildly through our land. There now remain twenty-six or twenty-eight communicants. These seem, in a measure, discouraged by the present indifference. The recent apparent conversion of three or four soldiers, and the increasing interest in their prayer-meetings and Bible class, give us some promise. The Sabbath School, taught entirely by members of the church, is now in a state of pleasing prosperity. And the infant school, lately organized under the direction of an admirably qualified teacher, promises to gratify the hearts of parents."

22d. The geography of the line of country between Sault St. Marie and the shores of Lake Huron, opposite to the island of Mackinack, is a perfect terra incognita. It has been passed in the winter only on snow shoes. The distance in a direct line from N.E. to S.W. is about forty or forty-five miles. It is about double that distance by the St. Mary's River and Lake Huron--which is and has been the ordinary route, from the earliest French days, and for uncounted centuries before. Mr. G. Johnston, who has just passed it, with Indian guides on snow shoes, writes: "I reached this place at half-past twelve this day, after experiencing great fatigue, caused by a heavy fall of snow and the river rising. I inclose herein a rough sketched map of the region through which I passed, that is, from Lake Superior to Lake Huron in a direct southerly line.

"The banks of the Pe-ke-sa-we-see, which we ascended, are elevated and pretty uniform. From its mouth to the first fork, is a growth of cedar, on either bank, intermixed with hemlock, pine, birch, and a few scattered maples. Thence to the third fork, denoted on the map, the growth is exclusively pine and fir. This river is sluggish and deep, and is navigable for boats of ten to fifteen tons burden, without any obstruction to the third forks. Its width is uniform, about sixty to seventy feet wide.

"From this point to Pine River of Lake Huron, is invariably level, gently rising to a maple ridge, and susceptible of a road, to be cut with facility.

"The banks of Pine River are very high. The river we found open in many places, indicating rapids. It is obstructed in many places with drift wood. The pine ridge, on either bank, indicates a vigorous growth of the handsomest pine trees I ever beheld. The water marks are high--say ten to twelve feet, owing to the spring freshets.

"I reached the mouth of the river on the Sabbath, and encamped, which gave the Methodist Indian an opportunity of revealing God's Holy Word to Cacogish's band, consisting of thirty souls. We were very kindly received, and supplied with an abundance of food--hares, partridges, trout, pork, corn and flour. We had clean and new mats to sleep on."

Feb. 4th. The American Lyceum at New York invite me, by a letter from their Secretary, to prepare an essay on the subject of educating in the West.

6th. Dr. John Torrey, of N.Y., writes on the eve of his embarkation for Europe: "I shall take with me all very rare and doubtful plants, for examination and comparison with the celebrated herbaria of Europe.

"Your boxes and packages of specimens must have been detained on the way by the closing of the (N. Y.) canal, as I have as yet received nothing from you. The plan of your proposed narrative I like much, and I hope the work will be given to the public as early as possible. Dr. Houghton did not come to New York, but has settled himself (as you doubtless know) at Detroit."

10th. Lyman M. Warren writes from Lake Superior: "Our country at present is in a very unsettled state, caused by the unhappy wars between the Sioux and Chippewas. The latter have been defeated on Rum River--six men and one woman killed. All our Chippewas are looking to you for protection, as they consider themselves wronged by the Sioux, the latter being, and constantly hunting within the Chippewa territory. I am afraid that a very extensive war will commence the ensuing summer, through this region, and the whole upper country, if some effectual method is not adopted to stop it."

This war has all the bitterness of a war of races--it is the great Algonquin family against the wide-spread Dacota stock--the one powerful in the east, the other equally so in the west. And the measures to be adopted to restrain it, and to curb the young warriors on both sides, who pant for fame and scalps, must ever remain, to a great extent, ineffective and temporary, so long as they are not backed up by strong lines of military posts. Mr. Calhoun was right in his policy of 1820.

The Rev. Mr. Boutwell writes from the same region: "We rejoice that you enter so fully into our views and feelings relative to the intellectual and moral improvement of the Indians, and rest assured we can most heartily unite with you in bidding God speed, to such as are willing to go and do them good."

14th. John Sunday, a Chippewa evangelist from Upper Canada among the Chippewas of Lake Superior, writes from the Bay of Keweena, where he is stationed during the winter:--

"I received your kind letter. I undersand you--you want here the Indians from this place. I will tell you what to the Indians doing. They worshiped Idol God. They make God their own. I undersand Mr. D., he told all Indians not going to hear the word of God. So the Indians he believed him. He tell the Indians do worship your own way. Your will get heaven quick is us. So the Indians they do not care to hear the word of God.

"But some willing to hear preaching. One family they love to come the meeting. That Indian, by and by, he got ligion. He is happy now in his heart. After he got ligion that Indian say, Indian ligion not good. I have been worship Idol god many years. He never make happy. Now I know Jesus. His ligion is good, because I feel it in my heart. I say white people ligion very good. That Indian he can say all in Lord's prayer and ten commandments, and apostle creed by heart. Perhaps you know him. His name is Shah-wau-ne-noo-tin.

"I never forget your kindness to me. I thing I shall stay here till the May. I want it to do what the Lord say."

Aside from his teaching among the Chippewas, which was unanswerably effective, this letter is of the highest consequence to philology, as its variations from the rules of English syntax and orthography, denote some of the leading principles of aboriginal construction, as they have been revealed to me by the study of the Indian language. In truth he uses the Indian language to a considerable extent, according to the principles of the Chippewa syntax.

Thus it is perceived from the letter, which is printed verbatim--

1. That the letter t is not uttered when standing between a consonant and vowel, as in "understand."

2. The want and misuse of the prepositions of, from, and to.

3. The use of the participial form of the verb for the indicative.

4. The use of pronouns immediately after nouns to which they refer.

5. The interchange of d for t, and g for k, as in do for to, and "thing" for think.

6. The suppression of the sound of r altogether, as heard in re, and religion, &c.

7. Confounding the perfect past with the present tense.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

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