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Requirements of a Missionary Laborer

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Requirements of a missionary laborer--Otwin--American quadrupeds--Geological question--Taste of an Indian chief for horticulture--Swiss missionaries to the Indians--Secretary of War visits the island--Frivolous literary, diurnal, and periodical press--Letter of Dr. Ives on this topic--Lost boxes of minerals and fresh-water shells--Geological visit of Mr. Featherstonehaugh and Lieut. Mather--Mr. Hastings--A theological graduate.

April 21st. Missionary labor requires an energy and will that surmount aft obstacles and brave all climates and all risks. A feeble constitution, a liability to take colds on every slight change of temperature, a sick wife who fears to put her feet on the ground, are the very last things to bring on to the frontiers. The risks must be run; the determined mind makes a way for everything. To ponder and doubt on a thousand points which may occur on such a subject, is something in effect like asking a bond of the Lord, in addition to his promises, that he will preserve the man and his family in all scenes of sickness and dangers, in the forest and out of the forest, scathless. Such a man has no call clearly for the work; but he may yet labor efficiently at home. There is a species of moral heroism required for the true missionary, such as Brainerd and Henry Martin felt.

These feelings result from a letter of this date, written by a reverend gentleman of Phillipsburg, N.Y., whose mind has been directed to the Mackinack field. He puts too many questions respecting the phenomena of temperature, the liability to colds, and the general diseases of the country, for one who has fearlessly "put on the whole armor of God," to invade the heathen wilderness. The truth is, in relation to this position, the climate is generally dry, and has no causes of disease in it. The air is a perfect restorative to invalids, and never fails to provoke appetite and health. It is already a partial resort for persons out of health, and cannot fail to be appreciated as a watering place in the summer months as the country increases in population. To Chicago, St. Louis, Natchez, and New Orleans, as well as Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, I should suppose it to be a perfect Montpelier in the summer season.

May 6th. In the scenes of domestic and social and moral significancy, which have rendered the island a place of delight to many persons during the seclusion of the winter, no one has entered with a more pleasing zeal into the area than a young man whose birth, I think, was not far from the Rock of Plymouth. I shall call him Otwin. I invited him to pass the winter as a guest in my house, where his conversation, manners, and deep enthusiastic and poetic feeling, and just discrimination of the moral obligation in men, rendered him an agreeable inmate. He had a saying and a text for almost everybody, but uttered all he said in such a pleasing spirit as to give offence to none. He was ever in the midst of those who came together to sing and pray, and was quite a favorite with the soldiers of the garrison. He wrote during the season some poetic sketches of Bible scenes, which he sent by a friend to New York in the hope that they might merit publication. Dr. Ives, of N.Y., to whom I wrote in relation to them, put the manuscript into the hands of the Sabbath School Publishing Committee, which appeared to be a judicious disposition. It was, probably, thought to require something more than moral didactic dialogues to justify the experiment of printing them. Otwin himself went into the missionary field of Lake Superior.

10th. The Indians have brought me at various times the skins of a white deer, of an Arctic fox, of a wolverine, and some other species which have either past out of their usual latitudes or assumed some new trait. Elks' and deers' horns, the foot, horns, and skin of the cariboo, which is the C. Sylvestris, are deposited in my cabinet, and are mementos of their gifts from the forest. One of the questions hardest for the Christian geologist to solve is--how the animals of our forests got to America. For there is every evidence, both from the Sacred Record and from the examination of the strata, that the ancient disruption was universal, and destroyed the species and genera which could not exist in water. One of two conditions of the globe seems necessary, on the basis of the Pentateuch, to account for their migration--either that a continental connection existed, or that the seas in northern latitudes were frozen over. But, in the latter case, how did the tropical animals subsist and exist? The Polar bear, the Arctic fox, and the musk ox would do well enough; but how was the armadillo, the cougar, the lama, and even the bison to fare?

This question is far more difficult to solve than that of the migration of the aborigines, for they could cross in various ways; but quadrupeds could not come in boats. Birds could fly from island to island, snakes and dogs might swim, but how came the sloth and the other quadrupeds of the torrid zone? Who can assert that there has not been a powerful disruptive geological action in the now peaceable Pacific? It is replete with volcanic powers.

15th. Chabowawa, an Indian chief, a Chippewa, called to get some slips of the currant-bush from my garden, to take to his village. Although the buds were too near the point of expansion, in the open and sunny parts of the garden, some slips were found near the fences more backward, and he was thus supplied.

25th. I have long deliberated what I should do with my materials, denoting a kind of oral literature among the Chippewas and other tribes, in the shape of legends and wild tales of the imagination. The narrations themselves are often so incongruous, grotesque, and fragmentary, as to require some hand better than mine, to put them in shape. And yet, I feel that nearly all their value, as indices of Indian imagination, must depend on preserving their original form. Some little time since, I wrote to Washington Irving on the subject. In a response of this date, he observes:--

"The little I have seen of our Indian tribes has awakened an earnest anxiety to know more concerning them, and, if possible, to embody some of their fast-fading characteristics and traditions in our popular literature. My own personal opportunities of observing them must, necessarily, be few and casual; but I would gladly avail myself of any information derived from others who have been enabled to mingle among them, and capacitated to perceive and appreciate their habits, customs, and moral qualities. I know of no one to whom I would look with more confidence, in these respects, than to yourself; and, I assure you, I should receive as high and unexpected favors any communication of the kind you suggest, that would aid me in furnishing biographies, tales or sketches, illustrative of Indian life, Indian character, and Indian mythology and superstitions."

I had never regarded these manuscripts, gleaned from the lodges with no little pains-taking, as mere materials to be worked up by the literary loom, although the work should be done by one of the most popular and fascinating American pens. I feared that the roughness, which gave them their characteristic originality and Doric truthfulness, would be smoothed and polished off to assume the shape of a sort of Indo-American series of tales; a cross between the Anglo-Saxon and the Algonquin.

28th. Switzerland enters the missionary field of America for the purpose of improving the condition of the aborigines. This impressed me as well. We leave the red man sitting in every want, at our doors, and rush to India. It is true, that field counts its millions, where we can thousands. But an appeal to the missionary record shows, if I am not greatly mistaken, that the proportionate number of converts from an Indian tribe is greater than that of the tribes of Asia, and that an infinitely greater sum is expended by our churches for every convert to Christianity made among the heathen of Asia than of America. The Rev. Henry Olivier, from the Evangelical Society in Switzerland, visited me, this day, with a companion in his labors. He detailed to me his plans. It is his design to select the Dacotah tribe, on the Upper Mississippi, as the object of his exertions.

June 2d. Commenced setting new pickets in front of the agency lot, and removing the old ones of white cedar, which, tradition says, have stood near half a century.

15th. The editors of the Knickerbocker Magazine (Clark and Edson) solicit contributions to its pages. This periodical has always maintained a respectable rank, and appears destined to hold on its course. I am too far out of the world to judge well. The conflict of periodicals appears to increase; but I do not think that the number of sound readers, who seek useful knowledge, keeps pace with it. I think not. We seem to be on the eve of a light and trifling kind of literature, which is hashed up with condiments for weak stomachs.

July 2d. The weather, for the entire month of June, was most delightful and charming. On one of the latter days of the month the fine and large steamer "Michigan" came into the harbor, with a brilliant throng of visitors, among the number the Secretary of War (Gen. Cass) and his daughter. The arrival put joy and animation into every countenance. The Secretary reviewed the troops, and visited the Agency, and the workshops for the benefit of the Indians. He, and the gay and brilliant throng, visited whatever was curious and interesting, and embarked on their return to Detroit, after receiving the warm congratulations of the citizens. I took the occasion to accompany the party to Detroit.

4th. The debasing character of the light and popular literature which is coming into vogue, is happily alluded to in a casual letter from Dr. A.W. Ives, of New York. "I regret," he says, "that the well directed labors of the excellent Otwin cannot be made available, but the truth is, there is such an unspeakable mass of matter written for the press at the present day, that all of it cannot be printed, much less be read. I think it one of the great toils of the age. Indolence is a natural attribute of man, and he dislikes intellectual even more than physical toil. Most men read, therefore, only such things as require no thought, and consequently there is a bounty offered for the most frivolous literary productions....

"Your isolated position prevents your realizing, to its greatest extent, the evil of this superfluity of books; but if you were constantly receiving from thirty to forty daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals, besides one or more ponderous volumes, every week, I cannot but think that, with all your ambition and thirst for knowledge, you would wish rather for an Alexandrian conflagration than an increase of books.

"Every man who thinks he has a new thought, or striking thought, thinks himself justified in writing a volume. Of this I would not complain if he would have the ingenuousness to inform the reader, in a nota bene, on what page the new idea could be found, so that, if he paid for the book, he should be spared the trouble of hunting for the kernel in the bushel of compiled and often incongruous chaff, in which the author has dexterously hid it.

"But the labor and expense of new publications are the least of their evils. You cannot imagine what an influence is exerted, in this city, at the present time, by 'penny newspapers.' There are from fifteen to twenty, I believe, published daily, and not less on an average, I presume, than 5000 copies of each. A number of them strike off from 10,000 to 20,000 every day. They have no regular subscribers, or at least, they do not depend upon subscribers for a support. They are hawked about the streets, the steamboats and taverns by boys, and are, for the most part, extravagant stories, caricature descriptions, police reports, infidel vulgarity and profanity, and, in short, of just such matter as unprincipled, selfish, and bad men know to be best fitted to pamper the appetites and passions of the populace, and so uproot and destroy all that is valuable and sacred in our literary, civil, and religious institutions.

"A spirit of ultraism seems to pervade the whole community. The language of Milton's archdevil 'Evil, be thou my good,' is the creed of modern reformers, or, in other words--anything for a change. What is to come of all this, I have not wisdom even to guess. It is an age of transition, and whether you and I live to see the elements of the moral and political world at rest, is, I think, extremely doubtful. But our consolation should be that the Lord reigns--that he loves good order and truth better than we do--and, blessed be his name, he is able to establish and maintain them.

"This is the anniversary of our national independence, and ought to be celebrated with thanksgiving and praise to God. Alas! how it is perverted."

22d. Mr. Green, of the Missionary Rooms, Boston, again writes about the Mackinack Mission. "I believe that my views accord very nearly with your own, as to what it would be desirable to do, provided the suitable persons could be procured to perform the work. There is a great deficiency in well qualified laborers. We can generally obtain persons who will answer our purpose, if we will wait long enough, but it often happens, in the mean time, that the circumstances so change that the proposed plan becomes of doubtful expediency. We have been continually on the lookout, since Mr. Ferry left Mackinack, for some one to fill his place, but as yet have found no one, and have no one in view."

28th. Mr. W. Fred. Williams, of Buffalo, communicates information respecting three boxes of specimens of natural history, which I lost in the fall of 1821. "My conversation with you having made me acquainted with the fact that you once lost two boxes of minerals and one of shells, I have been rather on the lookout for information respecting them, and am now able to inform you as to what became of them, and to correct the statement which I made (as I said) on supposition of the manner in which Edgerton became possessed of them.

"In the spring of 1832, a stranger from Troy or Albany came to Mr. Edgerton, at Utica, and told him that he had two boxes of minerals which he had received from Mr. Schoolcraft, and that if he (E.) would label them, he (E.) might take what he wished to retain for his trouble. He said, also, that he was about to establish a school at Lockport, but, knowing nothing of mineralogy, he wished to get the specimens labeled. Mr. Edgerton unpacked the boxes, took a few for himself, labeled and repacked the rest, and returned them to the stranger.

"The box of shells was left at the tavern of Levi Cozzens, in Utica, where they remained two years, waiting for some one to claim them; about this time Mr. C., closing up his concern, opened the box and gave the shells to his children for playthings, and sent the mocock of sugar (which had your name on or about it) to his mother. If the person who had the minerals still remains at Lockport, perhaps they may be recovered, but the shells are all destroyed."

The minerals referred to consisted of choice and large specimens of the colored and crystaline fluates of lime from Illinois, and the attractive species and varieties of sulphates of barytes, sulphurets of lead, radiated quartz, &c. &c., from Missouri, which I had revisited in 1821. They were fine cabinet specimens, but contained no new species or varieties. Not so with the fresh-water shells. They embraced all the species of the Wabash River, whose entire length I had traversed that year, from its primary forks to its entrance into the Ohio. Among them were some new things, which would, at that time, have proved a treat to my conchological friends.

8th. Mukonsewyan, or the Little Bear Skin, visited the office, with a retinue. He asked whether any Indians from the Fond du Lac, or Upper Mississippi, had visited the office this season. I stated to him the renewal of hostilities between the Sioux and Chippewas, as a probable reason why they had not. He entered freely into conversation on the history of the Sioux, and spoke of their perfidy to the Chippewas. I asked him if they were as treacherous to the Americans as they had been to the British--several of whose traders they had in former days killed. He said he had seen the Sioux offenders of that day, encamped at Mackinack, while the British held it, under the guns of the fort, and all the Indians expected that they would have been seized. But they were suffered to retire unmolested.

14th. I went to Round Island with Mr. Featherstonehaugh and Lieut. Mather. Examined the ancient ossuaries and the scenery on that island. Mr. F. is on his way to the Upper Mississippi as a geologist in the service of the Topographical Bureau. He took a good deal of interest in examining my cabinet, and proposed I should exchange the Lake Superior minerals for the gold ores of Virginia, &c. He showed me his idea of the geological column, and drew it out. I accompanied him around the island, to view its reticulated and agaric filled limestone cliffs; but derived no certain information from him of the position in the geological scale of this very striking stratum. It is, manifestly, the magnesian limestone of Conybeare and Phillips, or muschelkalk of the Germans.

Lieut. Mather brought me a letter from Major Whiting, from which I learn that he has been professor of mineralogy in the Military Academy at West Point. I found him to be animated with a zeal for scientific discovery, united with accurate and discriminating powers of observation.

Among my visitors about this time, none impressed me more pleasingly than a young gentleman from Cincinnati--a graduate of Lane Seminary--a Mr. Hastings, who brought me a letter from a friend at Detroit. He appeared to be imbued with the true spirit of piety, to be learned in his vocation without ostentation, and discriminating without ultraism. And he left me, after a brief stay, with an impression that he was destined to enter the field of moral instruction usefully to his fellow-men, believing that it is far better to undertake to persuade than to drive men by assault, as with cannon, from their strongholds of opinion.

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

Thirty Years with the Indians


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