Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Will it Take to get the Stockbridge Bible Back?

Years had gone by since the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians first asked The Trustees of Reservations to return their tribal Bible. What seems to have began as a polite disagreement deteriorated into a standoff in which the two sides either didn't communicate at all, or else did so only through their lawyers.

Legal avenues had been explored early on, but by the late 1980's, the tribe was seriously ready to take The Trustees of Reservations to court.

The church that began with John Sergeant Sr. and the Housatonic Mohicans still exists (in Stockbridge, Massachusetts) to this day. It is now known as the First Congregational Church of Stockbridge (their current building is pictured here). When the Stockbridge Indians were planning their historical trip in 1975 they asked the church if any of their members would be willing to let them stay in their homes. Bob Henderson and his wife stepped forward.

Bob Henderson was a businessman who respected the legal obstacles that the Trustees of Reservations faced, but believed that the Indians' moral claim to the Stockbridge Bible was of greater significance. Like the efforts of everybody else, Henderson's efforts to return the Stockbridge Bible back to the tribe in the mid-1980's were essentially of no consequence.

Reggie Miller was elected Tribal Chairman in 1987. On May 2, 1989 he wrote to Bob Henderson and informed him of the tribe's intent to take the case to court that summer if out-of-court action wasn't going anywhere. In that letter, Miller also asked Henderson if he could help get negotiations started with the Trustees of Reservations. Henderson's May 19th reply to "Chief R.C. Miller" stated that he had spoken with Rush Taggart and Stanley Piatczyc, requesting a meeting.

On June 23, 1989, three Stockbridge Mohican delegates, Chairman Reggie Miller, Tribal Historian Bernice Miller Pigeon, and her daughter, Linda Kroening, met with Stanley Piatczyc, Henry Flint and Davis Cherington of the Trustees of Reservations in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. To make a long story short, the three delegates came away from the meeting believing that the Trustees were "looking for a method to return the Bibles without creating for themselves a legal problem under their Trust responsibility."

From that point on, getting the Stockbridge Bible back was a matter of formalites and waiting.

* Telephone interview with Bob Henderson, January 25, 2004.
*Photocopies of the following documents kept at the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Museum: correspondence between Reggie Miller and Bob Henderson, and a summary of the June 2, 1989 meeting in Massachusetts.

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