Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Death of the Tribal Church: Introduction

As the Stockbridge Mohican's white missionary gets ready to leave them, the tribe is divided politically. Although a promising young member of the tribe has graduated from an eastern seminary, his political involvement alienates him from the missionary and others. To what extent is a unified tribal church possible amongst a politically divided tribe? Will a white mission society support Indians without the presence of a white missionary? This is what the present series of posts is about.

In my research on the conflict between Cutting Marsh and Jeremiah Slingerland, I was fortunate, not only to have a chance to look at microfilmed ABCFM records and other primary materials, but I also benefited from reading Roger Nichols' (pictured) thesis, Cutting Marsh: Missionary to the Stockbridges. At least some of the conclusions I've come to were first made by Roger Nichols back in 1959. Although Nichols is now a well-known historian, few people are aware that he ever studied the Stockbridge Mohicans. I'm grateful to be able to present material here which he addressed decades ago.

The young state of Wisconsin created this flag to reflect an economic future that didn't necessarily include Indians.

Death of the Tribal Church:
The Stockbridge Mohicans and the ABCFM
(American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions)


The year is 1848. Over the past fifteen years, what had been the Stockbridge Reservation on the east shore of Lake Winnebago has gone form having no white people to having three whites for every Indian. The brand new state of Wisconsin plans to flex its muscles and have the Stockbridge Mohicans move west of the Mississippi River. in fact, for a number of years the federal government has already been trying to push the tribe west. Treaties and acts of Congress over the past ten years which were purported to be "for the relief of the Stockbridge Indians" have only brought about a complicated and confusing situation and fostered bitterly partisan tribal politics.

One hundred and seventy-seven Stockbridge Mohicans are now recognized as members of the Indian party. The federal government will negotiate a treaty with Indian party leaders which will compensate them for lands lost and provide them with a new reservation in what will become Minnesota. Meanwhile, members of the citizen party have taken allotments of land. They can stay in Wisconsin, but neither the federal government nor the leaders of the Indian party recognize them as part of the tribe politically.

Cutting Marsh, whose effectiveness as the missionary has been compromised by the political turmoil and - at least to some extent - by his own rigidity, decides that it is time for him and his family to leave Stockbridge, Wisconsin. His feelings for the tribe having soured, Rev. Marsh has been advising the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), to withdraw their support for the mission. What will happen to the Stockbridge Mohicans church?

This is the first of a continuing series of posts.

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