Project Canterbury

Missions to the Oneidas

By Susan Fenimore Cooper

Serialized in The Living Church

Number XV. May 29, 1886, page 139.

An error occurs in a recent paper of this series, regarding the "totem" of the Oneidas. Originally, throughout the Iroquois tribes, there were but three "totems" or bands, the Turtle, the Wolf, and the Bear. At a later period other bands were formed, under the leadership of prominent warriors, and these assumed names or "totems" of their own, making the number up to eight. These younger bands were called "Pine Trees," that grew of themselves, and could not boast of the same antiquity as the original three. It is remarkable what an important place the tortoise or turtle held in the rude mythology of the red race of this part of the world, not only among the Iroquois, but in many other tribes. The tortoise is Au-waul, in Oneida, the wolf, O-tai-you, the bear O-qual. A few more Oneida words are given to show the character of their language: Butternut tree, Hay-kay-wha-tha; Duck Creek, the place of many ducks, Ta-long-go-wa-nay; Green Bay, the home of many men, Hau-ha-ta-lik-ong-gay; a tree, Kail-he-tay; forest, Kail-ha-gon; oak tree, Oto-geu-ha-kail-he-tay; pine tree, Onayta-kailhetay; ash tree, Kan-lone Kail-he-tay; flowers of all kinds, O-gi-gi-a.

As years passed over, steady progress in civilization continued among the Oneidas and was remarked by all who visited the mission. The moral and religious tone was very encouraging. "The mission is in a prosperous condition," wrote Mr. Goodnough to a friend in 1869. "The people are doing well. When we look back fifteen years, and compare the condition of things then, with the present, we can hardly restrain our expressions of wonder and thankfulness. God has wrought wonders. We have enemies now, as we have always had, and must expect always to have, but they have not seriously injured us."

The venerable Bishop Kemper, although now growing very aged and infirm, continued his visitations regularly, and was always received by the Oneidas with the utmost respect and affection. They thronged out to meet him on the road--men, women and children. He was indeed to them a beloved father. A few years earlier he had made an appointment to visit the mission in autumn; a worthy old woman gathered a very large basket of blackberries in August, slung it at her back by the burden-strap passing around her forehead, and walked twenty miles to Appleton, where she sold them for eight cents a quart; with the money she bought a very pretty cup and saucer costing $1.75; this she brought to Mrs. Goodnough, and said: "These are for our father, the Bishop, to drink tea out of." They were shown to the Bishop, when he came, and he was greatly pleased. Whenever he came they were placed on the table for his use. In 1869, they were not on the supper table. "Where is my cup? is it broken" he asked. It had only been forgotten, and was soon placed before him. "Now I can drink my tea in comfort," said the good Bishop. He had always been very kind to the mission family, and in conjunction with the Rev. Dr. Adams, was then educating the eldest boy. This was the last visitation of their dear old Bishop to the Oneidas. He died the 24th of May, 1870, in his 81st year.

Only a week later, May 30th, after a short, but severe, illness, Ellen Goodnough was taken from her husband and children, and the people she had served so faithfully. But a few hours before her death she exclaimed: "I love dearly to teach those children," meaning the Oneida children; and after her death an envelope was found addressed to a friend at a distance, prepared for a letter she had written in defence of the Oneidas, who were at that date included with other tribes in the threat of extermination! This threat was in consequence of the terrible Indian massacres perpetrated in revenge for many abuses, by the heathen tribes to the westward. Had there been no abuses on the part of our Government and people, there would have been no massacres by the Indians. The threat of extermination was raised in passion by a portion of our people. Those whose memories carry them back to that period can recall with shame this cry of extermination of a whole race, repeated by many newspapers, and heard, alas, in some instances under philanthropic roofs. The bloody revenge of the barbarous Indians was horrible. But still more horrible would have been the barbarous revenge threatened by a portion of our people. Of course the government never contemplated any measures so disgraceful to Christian civilization. But the Oneidas, quiet, peaceable, industrious, and in a great measure civilized, were included in the outcry against the race. To defend them against accusations in their case utterly false and unjust, Ellen Goodnough, with warm-hearted, generous indignation, wrote her last letter. There was a wail of the deepest grief throughout the Reservation when one who had been as a mother to the people breathed her last. The Oneidas were heart-broken. Many gathered about the Mission House during her last hours, praying and weeping day and night. From the moment of her death they kept vigil about the house, singing mournful chants and hymns from the Church services, until the hour of the funeral. When the simple and most touching procession moved from the house, husband, children and weeping people, the Oneidas began a beautiful, but most mournful chant, singing in their own melodious and musical tones, until the church door was reached. The service was performed by the Rev. Mr. Steele of Green Bay. His sermon was translated for the Oneidas, and is said to have given them much comfort. Ellen Goodnough was laid to rest, in the quiet mission cemetery, beside the little boy she had lost, whose stone bore the Indian name his Oneida friends had given him, and surrounded by many Christian graves of the people she had so faithfully served. Strangers who had come from a distance to offer their sympathy and respect to the bereaved missionary, were much impressed with the respectable appearance, the depth of feeling, the devotional manner, and the very touching singing of the Oneidas.

The first celebration of the Holy Communion after the death of Mrs. Goodnough is said to have been a remarkable and most impressive service. The church was crowded by the people, all showing deep feeling, bowed down with grief. At the close of the service, the Celebration itself, the missionary's voice failed him; in distributing the holy bread and wine, he could not speak in an audible tone, but passed in silence from one of the mourning people to the other. A friend who was present declared that the overpowering grief of the people, their fervent devotion, and the solemn silence, rendered this the most impressive service she had ever attended.

About four years before her death Mrs. Goodnough began a diary, recording the little events of mission life among the Oneidas; this was written for the information of two friends, living at a distance, who were much interested in Indian missions. Some extracts from this diary will be given after the closing paper of the present series of sketches has appeared next week. The diary will be found very interesting from its truthfulness, giving an accurate idea of mission work among a peculiar people, as seen from within.

In the month of October, 1871, occurred the terrible forest fires which destroyed many small hamlets in Wisconsin, and in which not a few lives were lost. These fires were raging with great fury at no great distance from the Oneida Reservation. Small settlements and farms were destroyed, and broad reaches of forest entirely burned. The air was thick and oppressive with smoke. A constant watch was kept up on the Reservation day and night. The flames reached the Oneida forests and destroyed much timber. But no buildings of any importance were injured. The fences at the mission were burned, and the Church parsonage and school-house in much danger. They were only saved by vigilant watchfulness, day and night. In some parts of Wisconsin the waters became so much impregnated with lye from the burnt districts that for several months they could not be used. In the lumber country streams a hundred feet in width became useless, and during some months of the following winter the men were compelled to use snow for drinking and cooking.

Several errors have occurred in these papers owing to the fact that the writer was at too great a distance to correct the proofs. Should the sketches be collected in a book form the necessary corrections will of course be made. But one error must not remain longer without correction. The Methodist portion of the Reservation, now in very good condition, covers two-fifths, and not three-fifths, of the land and population.

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