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Missions to the Oneidas

By Susan Fenimore Cooper

Serialized in The Living Church

Number VII. March 13, 1886, page 753.

Mr. Cadle resigned the mission in 1835, after faithful service.

The following year in 1836 there was important change. A large migration from the eastward took place, and the Rev. Solomon Davis, accompanying his flock, joined the people already in Wisconsin. By this migration few Christian Oneidas were left on the old ground. The little church consecrated by Bishop Hobart was left bare and empty. A few years later it was sold, taken to pieces, and removed to the village of Vernon, where it was rebuilt for the use of a sect which rejects the Apostles' Creed.

In 1820 the Methodists had formed a society of their own among the Oneidas. But it was not until after the departure of Mr. Davis, and the breaking up of his mission, that much progress was made by them. In 1841 they erected a church building of their own, and at the present day it is said that the few Oneidas still found on the old ground are chiefly Methodists.

Some two years after the arrival of Mr. Davis in Wisconsin, an agreement or treaty was made by which the reservation was placed in its present condition; each actual settler received one hundred acres of land; there were then 610 souls in the little colony, and the tract of land consisted of 61,000 acres. Of this amount about one-fourth, following the banks of the stream, was gradually brought under cultivation, the remainder was covered with a valuable growth of timber, forming a belt or forest wall about the whole settlement. The land was held in common, each individual taking up as much of his hundred acres as he could cultivate. The houses were scattered at irregular distances throughout the entire length of the Reservation, a distance of twelve miles, on either side of the stream, the Duck Creek, as it was called by the whites. The Indians soon built themselves bridges over the stream, whose average breadth is about thirty yards. These bridges were solidly constructed. The little clearings were in sight of each other, but there was no village or hamlet. Near the centre of the reservation, or about five miles from its eastern border, stood the government school-house, and on the opposite side of the road was the little chapel of squared logs--Hobart Church. This had now become entirely too small for the congregation who gathered there every Sunday. It was decided to build a neat frame church on the same site, or very near it. The people had recently sold a portion of their lands to the government, reserving only the 61,000 acres for their own use. In solemn council it was resolved to devote $7,000 of the money accruing from this sale to the building of the church. The Rev. Mr. Davis superintended the work, and a neat wooden church was soon completed; the windows were arched, there was a low tower or belfry over the entrance, and the whole building was neatly painted white. A little cottage, a story and a-half high, was also built for a parsonage, not far from the church. The congregation gathered for worship in the new church with great regularity. The progress of Christian civilization among the people continued to be slow, but gradual and encouraging. During the ministry of Mr. Davis, from 1836 to 1847 there were 239 Baptisms. All were now Christians. There were no more avowed heathens among the people. One old man had continued obdurate for a long time, keeping aloof from the church, and the missionary. He was considered to be in a semi-pagan condition. But at length there was a change. His heart opened to religious instruction, the scales seemed to fall from his aged eyes. He became a believing and penitent Christian. After a satisfactory examination the missionary proposed to baptize him. "My father, that is not necessary, I have been baptized already, when I was a little child, by a missionary of your Church from beyond the salt water, when this country was a colony of the King of England." He named two very old women still living who had been present at his Baptism. They were called in as witnesses, and testified to the truth of the assertion. In this instance as in many others, the baptismal prayers offered over the infant were now answered in peace in the closing years of a dark and stormy life. The services of the Rev. Solomon Davis closed in 1847. During the eleven years of his ministry there were 238 Baptisms, 133 Confirmations, 169 communicants, 88 Marriages, and 104 funerals.

In 1848 the Rev. Franklin Haff entered upon the duties of the mission. These last two missionaries met with much opposition from certain semi-pagan chiefs; one of these boasted that by his plots he had driven away Mr. Davis, and that he intended to drive away his successor. Mr. Haff remained until 1852. During those five years there were 119 Baptisms; 56 Confirmations; 157 communicants; 24 Marriages; and 80 funerals.

The period covered by the services of Mr. Davis and Mr. Haff, was in one sense, of especial importance. In the year 1835, only a few months before the final migration of the Oneidas to Wisconsin, the Rev. Jackson Kemper was consecrated as the first Missionary Bishop of our Church. His diocese was a vast region. Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska were included within its limits. The Bishop threw himself into his duties with admirable devotion of heart and life. During the first eleven years he had no home. He had not even a study. His books were not unpacked. He travelled hundreds of miles on horseback, and hundreds of miles on foot, over the rudest roads, and the wildest paths, swimming many a river in his constant journeys. During the thirty-five years of his episcopate, the good Bishop never allowed himself but one day in each year that he called his own; Christmas he always passed with his motherless children. He seemed indefatigable in his holy duties; there was no work too humble, no hamlet too remote, or too small for his visitations. And all his duties were performed so lovingly, he was so kind, so fatherly in his manner. Very early in his Episcopate he turned his eyes towards the Oneidas. At his first visitation in 1837, fifty-four were confirmed. He held these visitations among the red people almost yearly, and entirely won their hearts by his sympathy and fatherly interest in them. The Oneidas gave him the name of "Ha-re-ro-wa-gou;" he who has power over all words. Their church was consecrated by him. He was in constant communication with their missionary, and on many occasions his kind hand was stretched out to help them. Though relatively a poor man, the Bishop is said to have been by far the largest giver in his diocese, giving more to missions than half of the parishes of that diocese. This great generosity in giving was brought about rigid economy, denial of all self-indulgence, and freedom from debt. He had a real horror of debt. His sympathy with the Indians generally was always sincere and deep. He felt strongly the obligation of our Church and nation, to render a just and faithful Christian service to those whose place on earth we have taken.

After the solemn services of the consecration of Bishop Whipple, who relieved him from the care of the diocese of Minnesota in 1859, Bishop Kemper in turning aside from the chancel, said with the sweetness and earnestness of manner peculiar to him: "My brother, I pray you never to forget that there are heathen men in your diocese who are going down to death without the knowledge of Jesus Christ." For the Oneidas he had a peculiar feeling, from the fact that they were already Christian brethren, although still sorely in need of fostering care. As he sat in the chancel of their little church, his eye would wander with fatherly sympathy over those dusky faces and wild figures, all of whom were personally known to him, by name and feature, while he himself unconsciously presented a beautiful picture of Apostolic dignity, his revered kindly face beaming with holy feeling, his white hair making a halo about his venerable head. After the resignation of Mr. Haff in 1852, the Bishop was sorely troubled to find a clergyman willing to take charge of the Oneidas. Matters had reached a crisis. The religious prospects of the people were growing darker with every week. It appeared as if the mission were about to be wrecked. Many of the people became lukewarm. Drunkenness and immorality were increasing. The evil-minded among the white traders and speculators, were rejoicing over the degradation of the Oneidas, hoping to drive them still farther into the wilderness, and add a few thousands to the money already in their own pockets by taking possession of the Indian Reservation. Good Bishop Kemper was sorely grieved. He looked about through the length and breadth of his vast diocese, but no clergyman was unemployed. After a vacancy of some months the Bishop published an appeal in The Church Journal, in the summer of 1853. Happily an answer was received--and from his own diocese.

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