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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Summer 1834: A Preacher Among the Indians

Editor's Note:

Rev. Cutting Marsh (1800-1873) moved to Wisconsin in 1830 to serve the Stockbridge Indians, who had themselves moved west from New York in 1821. At first he lived with the Stockbridge at their settlement along the Fox River, and in 1834 moved with them to a new location on the east shore of Lake Winnebago. Marsh's annual reports to his sponsors (1831-1848) provide a rich source of information on the tribe's life in Wisconsin and their treatment by white settlers and government authorities. After nearly two decades advocating for Indian welfare, he concluded, "I am ashamed of my country."

Marsh was later instrumental in organizing the Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee (1837) and in Green Bay (1838). After 1848 he worked as an itinerant minister among white settlers in Wisconsin, traveling extensively through the eastern part of the state. He made Waupaca his headquarters, and from 1848 to 1856 served as pastor-at-large to a number of parishes. He retired from the ministry in 1856 and lived in Waupaca until his death.

The only detailed study of his career is an unpublished master's thesis done in 1959 at the University of Wisconsin: Cutting Marsh, missionary to the Stockbridges, 1830-1848 by Roger Louis Nichols.

Each summer the Wisconsin Historical Society streams out through RSS the transcript of a historic diary. This year we have chosen the 1834 travel journal of Rev. Cutting Marsh (1800-1873) as he crossed Wisconsin to visit the Sauk and Fox Indians. The Black Hawk War had ended less than two years before, and his diary contains a wealth of detail about these people whom Wisconsin soldiers had recently fought. It also lays bare the philosophical and cultural conflicts that arose when two very different societies came together on the frontier.

Because Marsh faithfully transcribed so many conversations with Sauk and Fox Indians, his diary gives us rare insight into the Native American view of the white society that forced them out of their traditional homelands and way of life.

The manuscript pocket diaries that Marsh carried that summer ended up in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives (Wis Mss AU), and are reproduced in color at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. Marsh also wrote a report based on this diary that was printed in Wisconsin Historical Collections (vol. 15: pp. 104-155). Marsh wrote often but haphazardly, occasionally skipping pages which he would fill in days or weeks later with information out of context (sometimes even written upside-down). He interspersed notes for sermons, drafts of letters, and spontaneous prayers amid his routine daily entries, using the volumes as a common-place book.

Between June 12 and Oct. 13, 1834, he covered more than 300 pages with interview notes, observations, and reflections, including what the Indians told him about their motives for fighting the Black Hawk War, transcripts of two conversations with Black Hawk himself, and dozens of pages of ethnographical observations on Sauk and Fox life and customs.

He also met and described early settlers in Wisconsin and Iowa, including Indian agents, traders, entrepreneurs, and speculators. A deeply religious man, Marsh was not shy about passing judgements in strong language on the vices that he encountered along the Wisconsin frontier.

Because the diary is too long to give in its entirety, we have selected and transcribed here only those passages that we thought would interest a wide audience. In selecting and transcribing, we make no claim that our typed version is ruthlessly faithful to the original; it has not been closely proofread , for example, nor have the standards of professional textual editing been applied to it. If you want to view a faithful reproduction of the original, simply open up the complete manuscript text of the original diary at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

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