Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Stockbridge Bible 1931-1975

In recent years, the Stockbridge Mohicans have made a historical trip out east almost annually. During one of the tribe's earliest organized trips back to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (I believe it was in 1975), tribal members were invited to a party at the home of Norman Rockwell and his third wife, Molly. At that time the artist happened to be working on a painting of Rev. John Sergeant and Captain John Konkapot. Rockwell died in 1978 and the painting you see below was never finished.

Not many of the Stockbridge Mohicans knew what happened to their tribal Bible. When one small congregation - made up mostly of Indians, but also some whites - decided to sell the two volumes to a museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, they didn't bother to ask the rest of the tribe permission. Why should they? As they saw it, the Stockbridge Bible was the property of their church.

Since the Presbyterians felt no shame in selling what they believed was their own property, they had no reason to keep the sale a secret. Nevertheless, it seems that only a few non-Presbyterian Indians (such as Samuel Miller) knew that the Bible was back in Massachusetts. There was some protesting, or at least complaining, of what had happened, but by that time the relics were already gone.

The first well-known historical trip to Massachusetts by a family of Stockbridge Indians was in 1951. That year James Davids (an uncle of Clarence Chicks) brought his family east to see the sights of the town that their ancestors came from. Thelma Davids Putnam (a sister of James Davids) recorded that event (pages 57-58):

To their great surprise, they found the great two volume Bible was in the old Mission House in that town. In the vague rumors we heard they maybe were at the Smithsonian Institute. The Davids' were delighted to see the Bibles...

Since that time others have traveled to Massachusetts and have had the wonderful experience of seeing the land of our forefathers and have viewed our Bibles...

At that point (page 58) Thelma Davids Putnam tells of groups that went to see the Stockbridge Bible in 1968 and 1972. The next trip was made in 1975 with the following people loaded into four cars: The adults: Dorothy Davids, Ruth Gaudinas, Bernice Miller Pidgeon, Margaret Rausch, Sheila Moede, and Linda Kroening. The youth: Kay Miller, Fran Miller, Jackie Miller, Mark Davids, Renee Granquist, Vickie Bowman, Carmen Cornelius, Nikki Moede, and Leslie Kroening.

It was the young people of the 1975 trip who were the first to suggest that the tribe should try to bring the Stockbridge Bible back to the reservation in Shawano County, Wisconsin.

*Thanks to Dorothy Davids for an e-mail in 2003 in which she responded to my question about the unfinished Norman Rockwell painting.
*Thanks to JoAnn Schedler, Interim Director of the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Museum in the fall of 2003 for letting me have a copy of the unfinished painting.

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