Thursday, July 23, 2009

Collectors and the Stockbridge Bible

By 1990, when the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed, there was a long history of Indian artifacts coming into the possession of various museums and collectors. To put things in simple terms, things that once belonged to Indians were being "discovered" and claimed by whites as their stuff. Many, or arguably all, of those artifacts were sacred or had been sacred to the tribes that once possessed them.

The Stockbridge Bible was another sacred item that went from Indian hands to white hands. As you may remember, there was a time when the Stockbridge Mohicans were particularly vulnerable. They were (arguably) not recognized by the federal government. As a tribe they were given up for dead as far as white people were concerned. The movement for reorganization couldn't have been much more than an impulse at that time.

When Jameson "Sote" Quinney brought the Stockbridge Bible with him to Milwaukee to show other Presbyterian elders and clergy, the article about it that appeared in The Milwaukee Sentinel (October 10, 1915) stated that "offers of several thousand dollars" had been made for the two-volume Bible. As a result of the vagueness of that report, one theory that I have is that Sote Quinney may have exaggerated the amount of money offered for the tribal Bible when he spoke to the reporter. It would have been a way of saying that the Stockbridge Bible was not for sale at any price.

Whether or not serious offers to purchase the Stockbridge Bible were actually proposed to Sote Quinney or Rev. Kilpatrick will never be known for certain. However, Rev. Fred Westfall's statement on the same subject in a (4/28/1930) letter to Mabel Choate, was more convincing. Westfall reported having been approached by two ministers, one who wanted to put the Stockbridge Bible in a museum in Green Bay (about fifty miles away) and another who wanted to take the Bible to the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia.

It's been my impression that Sote Quinney treated the Stockbridge Bible as sacred tribal property. However, as was stated in an earlier post, no other Stockbridge Mohican (except possibly Sote's wife, Ella,) was willing to take the responsibility for keeping the Historic Bible as Quinney's death drew near.

Ultimately, as you may know, the Stockbridge Bible would wind up here (see photo above) in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, at the Mission House Museum, the home of Rev. John Sergeant [Sr.] which was moved from its original location (also in Stockbridge, MA), and restored by Mabel Choate. In addition to Mabel Choate and the people who worked for her, and those mentioned in this post so far, there was another collector on the trail of the Stockbridge Bible. That and other details of how the two volumes wound up back in Massachusetts are the topic of (a) future post(s).

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