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Revival of St. Mary's

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Revival of St. Mary's--Rejection of Mr. Van Buren as Minister to England--Botany and Natural History of the North-west--Project of a new expedition to find the Sources of the Mississippi--Algie Society--Consolidation of the Agencies of St. Mary's and Michilimackinack--Good effects of the American Home Missionary Society--Organization of a new inland exploring expedition committed to me--Its objects and composition of the corps of observers.

1832, Jan. 31st. I was now to spend a winter to aid a preacher in promoting the diffusion and understanding of the detailed facts, which all go to establish a great truth--a truth which was first brought to the world's notice eighteen hundred and thirty-two years before, namely, that God, who was incarnate in the Messiah, under the name of Jesus Christ, offered himself a public sacrifice for human sins, amidst the most striking and imposing circumstances of a Roman execution--a fact which, in an age of extraordinary moral stolidity and ecclesiastical delusion, was regarded as the behest of a mere human tribunal.

For this work the circumstances of our position and exclusion from society was very favorable. The world, with all its political and commercial care, was, in fact, shut out with the closing of the river. Three hundred miles of a waste, howling wilderness separated us south-easterly from the settlements at Detroit. Ninety miles in a south-westerly direction lay the island and little settlement and mission of Mackinack.

In addition to the exertions of Mr. Porter, who was our pastor, the winter had enclosed, at that point, a zealous missionary of the American Board, destined for a more northerly position, in the person of Mr. Boutwell, who with the person, Mr. Bingham, in charge of the Indian mission at the same point, maintained by the Baptist Convention, constituted a moral force that was not likely to be without its results. They derived mutual aid from each other in various ways, and directed their entire efforts upon a limited community, wholly excluded from open contact with the busy world, and having, by their very isolation, much leisure.

The result was an awakened attention to the truth, to which I have adverted, not as a mere historical event, but one personally interesting and important to every person, without regard at all to their circumstances or position. Severity of climate, deep snows, the temperature often below zero, and frequently but little above, blinding snow storms, and every inconvenience of the place or places of meeting, appeared only to have the effect to give greater efficacy to the inquiry, as the workings of unshackled mind and will. Early in the season, a comparatively large number of persons of every class deemed it their duty to profess a personal interest in the atonement, the great truth dwelt on, and made eventually a profession of faith by uniting with, and recording their names as members of some branch of the church. Among these were several natives. Mrs. Johnston, known to her people by the name of the Sha-go-wash-co-da-wa-qua, being the most noted. Also four of her daughters, and one of her sons, one or two Catholic soldiers, several officers of Fort Brady, citizens, &c., &c.

This statement will tend to render many of the allusions in my journal of this winter's transactions intelligible. Indeed some of them would not be at all understood without it. Historically considered, there was deep instruction "hid" in this event. It was now precisely 222 years since the Puritans, with the principles of the Scriptures for their guidance, in fleeing to lay the foundation of a new government in the West, had landed at Plymouth. It had required this time, leaving events to develop themselves, for the circle of civilization to reach the foot of Lake Superior. Ten years after the first landing at this remote spot in 1822, had been sufficient to warm these ancient principles into life. John Eliot, and the band of eminent saints who began the labor with him in 1632, had been centuries in their tombs, but the great principles which they upheld and enforced were invested with the sacred vitality which they possessed at that day. Two truths are revealed by this reminiscence. 1. That the Scriptures will be promulgated by human means. 2. That time, in the Divine mind, is to be measured in a more enlarged sense; but the propagation of truth goes on, as obstacle after obstacle is withdrawn, surely, steadily, unalterably, and that its spread over the entire globe is a mere question of time.

Jan. 31st. Mr. Wing, delegate in Congress, writes from Washington, that the nomination of Mr. Van Buren as minister to England has been rejected by the Senate, by a majority of one--and that one the casting vote of the Vice-President. A letter from Albany, Feb. 1, says: "Albany (and the State generally) is considerably excited this morning in consequence of the rejection of Mr. Van Buren. Nothing could have more promoted the interest of Mr. Van Buren than this step of the Senate. New York city has resolved to receive him, on his return from England, with all the 'pomp and magnificence in its power, and to show that her 'favorite son' shall be sustained.' I heard this read in public from a letter received by a person in this city."

"A report reached this a few days ago, stating that the 'cholera' had been brought to New Orleans in a Spanish vessel."

"Mr. Woolsey, the young gentleman of your tour last summer, died at New York a short time since." In a letter which he wrote to me (Sept. 27th), on the eve of his leaving Detroit, he says: "Permit me now, sir, in closing this note, again to express my gratitude for the opportunity you have afforded me of visiting a very interesting portion of our country, and for the uniform kindness that I have experienced at your hands, and for the friendly wishes, that prosperity may crown my exertions in life."

Dr. Houghton says (Feb. 8) respecting this moral young man: "The tears of regret might flow freely for the loss of such true unsophisticated worth, even with those who knew him imperfectly, but to me, who felt as a brother, the loss is doubly great. We have, however, when reflecting upon his untimely death, the sweet consolation that he died as he lived, a Christian."

Feb. 4th. Dr. Torrey expresses his interest in the botany and natural history, generally, of the country visited by me last summer. "Your kind offer to place in my hands the botanical rarities which, from time to time, you may acquire, in your interesting journeys, I fully appreciate. It will give me great pleasure to examine the collections made by Dr. Houghton during your last expedition.

"My friend Mr. William Cooper, of the Lyceum, will be happy to lend you all the assistance in his power in determining the shells you have collected. He is decidedly our beat conchologist in New York, and I would rather trust him than most men--for he is by no means afflicted with the mania of desiring to multiply new species, which, is, at present, the bane of natural history.

"You speak of having discovered some interesting minerals, especially some good native copper. Above all the specimens which you obtained, I should like to see the native magnesia which you found in serpentine. I am desirous of analyzing the mineral, to ascertain whether its composition agrees with that of Hoboken and Unst (the only recorded localities in our mineralogical works)."

13th. Submitted, in a letter to the department at Washington, A PROJECT of an expedition to the North-west, during the ensuing season, in order to carry out the views expressed in the instructions of last year, to preserve peace on the western frontiers, inclosing the necessary estimates, &c.

16th. Mr. W. H. Sherman, of Vernon, N.Y., communicates intelligence of the death of my mother, which took place about ten o'clock on the morning of this day. She was seventy-five years of age, and a Christian--and died as she had lived, in a full hope. I had read the letters before breakfast, and while the family were assembling for prayers. I had announced the fact with great composure, and afterward proceeded to read in course the 42d Psalm, and went on well, until I came to the verse--"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."

The emotions of this painful event, which I had striven to conceal, swelled up in all their reality, my utterance was suddenly choked, and I was obliged to close the book, and wait for calmness to go on.

28th. The initial steps were taken for forming an association of persons interested in the cause of the reclamation of the Indians, to be known under the name of the Algic Society. Connected with this, one of its objects was to collect and disseminate practical information respecting their language, history, traditions, customs, and character; their numbers and condition; the geographical features of the country they inhabit; and its natural history and productions.

It proposes some definite means of action for furthering their moral instruction, and reclamation from the evils of intemperance and the principles of war, and to subserve the general purposes of a society of moral inquiry. The place was deemed favorable both for the collection of original information, and for offering a helping hand to missionaries and teachers who should visit the frontiers in carrying forward the great moral question of the exaltation of the tribes from barbarism to civilization and Christianity.

28th. Instructions are issued at Washington, consolidating the agencies of St. Mary's and Michilimackinack--and placing the joint agency under my charge. By this arrangement, Col. Boyd, the agent at the latter point, is transferred to Green Bay, and I am left at liberty to reside at St. Mary's or Michilimackinack, placing a sub-agent at the point where I do not reside.

This measure is announced to me in a private letter of this day, from the Secretary of War, who says: "I think the time has arrived when a just economy requires such a measure." By it the entire expenses of one full agency are dispensed with--the duties of which are devolved upon me, in addition to those I before had. By being allowed the choice of selection, two hundred dollars are added to my salary. Here is opened a new field, and certainly a very ample one, for exertions.

April 8th. The object contemplated by invoking the aid of the Home Missionary Society, in the establishment of a church at this remote point on the frontiers--in connection with the means already possessed, and the aid providentially present, have, it will have been seen, had the effect to work quite a moral revolution. The evils of a lax society have been rebuked in various ways. Intemperance and disorder have been made to stand out as such, and already a spirit of rendering the use, or rather misuse of time, subservient to the general purposes of social dissipation, has been shown to be unwise and immoral in every view. More than all, the Sabbath-day has been vindicated as a part of time set apart as holy. The claims and obligations of the decalogue have been enforced; and the great truths of the Gospel thus prominently brought forward. The result has been every way propitious.

The Rev. Wm. M. Ferry, of Mackinack, writes (Feb. 21): "The intelligence we have received by your letters, Mr. Boutwell, &c., of the Lord's doings among you, as a people, at the Sault, has rejoiced our hearts much. Surely it is with you a time of the right hand of the Most High." "All of us," writes Mr. Robert Stuart (March 29) "who love the Lord, were much pleased at the indications of God's goodness and presence among you."

The Rev. J. Porter, in subsequently referring to the results of these additions to the church, observes, that they embraced five officers and four ladies of the garrison; two gentlemen and seven ladies of the settlement, and thirty soldiers and four women of Fort Brady, numbering fifty-two in all. Of these, twenty-six were adults added by baptism.

At Detroit a similar result was experienced. Mr. Trowbridge writes (April 8th), that about seventy persons united themselves a few days previous to Mr. Wells' church, to which the influence has been principally, but not wholly confined. Among these were many who had, unaffectedly, listened to the Gospel, if not all their lives, certainly no small part of it.

May 3d. Public instructions are issued for my organizing and taking command of an expedition to the country upon the sources of the Mississippi River, to effect a pacification between the Indian tribes, in order to carry out, with increased means, the efforts made in 1831. Those efforts were confined to tribes living in latitudes south of St. Anthony's Falls. It was now proposed to extend them to the Indian population living north of that point, reaching to the sources of that river. This opened the prospect of settling a long contested point in the geography of that stream, namely, its actual source--a question in which I had long felt the deepest interest.

The outbreak of Indian hostility, under Black Hawk, which characterized the summer of 1832, was apprehended, and it became the policy of the Indian Bureau, in the actual state of its information, to prevent the northern tribes from joining in the Sac and Fox league under that influential leader. I forwarded to the Superintendent and Governor of the territory, a report of a message and war-club sent to the Chippewas to join in the war, for which I was indebted to the chief, Chingwauk, or Little Pine.

"Reports from various quarters of the Indian country," says the Secretary of War, in a private letter so early as March 28th, "lead to the belief that the Indians are in an unsettled state, and prudence requires that we should advise and restrain them. I think one more tour would be very useful in this respect, and would complete our knowledge of the geography of that region."

"There is a prospect," says the official instructions (May 3d), "of extensive hostilities among themselves. It is no less the dictate of humanity than of policy to repress this feeling, and to establish permanent peace among the tribe.

"It is also important to inspect the condition of the trade, and the conduct of the traders. To ascertain whether the regulations and the laws are complied with, and to suggest such alterations as may be required. And, finally, to inquire into the number, standing, disposition, and prospect of the Indians, and to report all the statistical facts you can procure, and which will be useful to the government in its operations, or to the community in the investigation of these subjects."

Congress, during the session, passed an act for vaccinating the Indians. This constituted a separate duty, and enabled me to take along a physician and surgeon. I offered the situation to Dr. Douglass Houghton, of Fredonia, who, in the discharge of it, was prepared to take cognizance of the subjects of botany, geology, and mineralogy. I offered to the American Board of Missions, at Boston, to take a missionary agent, to observe the condition and prospects of the Indian tribes in the north-west, as presenting a field for their operations, and named the Rev. W.T. Boutwell, then at Michilimackinack, for the post, which the Board confirmed, with a formal vote of thanks. Lieut. James Allen, 5th U.S. Infantry, who was assigned to the command of the detachment of troops, assumed the duties of topographer and draughtsman. Mr. George Johnston, of St. Mary's, was appointed interpreter and baggage-master. I retained myself the topics of Indian history, archaeology, and language. The party numbered about thirty souls. All this appeared strictly compatible with the practical objects to be attained--keeping the expenses within the sum appropriated for the object.

Some few weeks were required completely to organize the expedition, to prepare the necessary supplies, and to permit the several persons to reach the place of rendezvous. Meantime I visited Michilimackinack to receive the agency from Col. Boyd; after which it was left temporarily in charge of a sub-agent and interpreter, with the supervision of the commanding officer of Fort Mackinack.

4th. The Secretary of War writes a private letter: "We have allowed all it was possible, and you must on no account exceed the sum, as the pressure upon our funds is very great."

Maj. W. writes from Detroit (May 7th): "I am glad to hear that you are about going on another expedition, and that Mr. Houghton is to accompany you. I hope you will find time to send us some specimens collected on your former tour before you start."

Dr. Houghton writes from Fredonia (May 12th): "I shall leave here immediately after the twenty-fourth, and hope to see you as early as the second or third of June. I have heard from Torrey, and have sent him a suit of plants."

The Secretary of War again writes (May 22d): "It has been impossible before now, to make you a remittance of funds, and they cannot yet all be sent for your expedition. Our annual appropriation has not yet passed, and when it will I am sure I cannot tell. So you must get along as well as you can. I trust, however, the amount now sent will be sufficient to enable you to start upon your expedition. The residue promised to you, as well as the funds for your ordinary expenditures, shall be sent as soon as the appropriation is made."

The sub-agent, in charge of the agency at Mackinack, writes (May 22d): "Gen. Brook arrived yesterday from Green Bay, and has concluded to make this post his head-quarters. I was up, yesterday, in the garrison, and Capt. McCabe introduced me to him. I found him a very pleasant, plain, unassuming man. Col. Boyd has handed me a list of articles which you will find inclosed, &c."

"The committee," says the Rev. David Green, Boston, "wish me to express to you the satisfaction they have in learning that your views respecting the importance of making known the great truths of the Gospel to the Indians, as the basis on which to build their improvement, in all respects accords so perfectly with their own. It is our earnest desire that our missionaries should act wisely in all their labors for the benefit of the Indians, and that all the measures which may be adopted by them, or by others who seek to promote the present or future welfare of this unhappy and long-abused people, may be under the Divine guidance, and crowned with great success."

These triple claims, which have now been mentioned, of business, of science, and of religion, on my attention created not the least distraction on my mind, but, on the contrary, appeared to have propitious and harmonizing influences.

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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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