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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

"They did not wish to learn to talk on paper"

Editor's Note:

Keokuk (ca.1780-1848?): Younger than Black Hawk, Keokuk ("The Watchful Fox") was not a chief by birth but rose to power through influence in the community. He led the faction of Sauk and Fox Indians who thought resistance to white occupation of their lands was fruitless. He voluntarily relocated his bands west of the Mississippi in the late 1820s, and did not participate in the Black Hawk War of 1832.

In the autumn of that year, about 18 months before Marsh's visit, Keokuk had welcomed the exhausted remnants of Black Hawk's band to his village near the mouth of the Des Moines River in an emotional speech recorded here. He represented the Sauk in later treaties that pushed them ever further west, and this, combined his lack of heriditary credentials, led many Sauk and Fox to oppose his leadership and ignore his agreements with U.S. officials. The county seat of Lee Co., Iowa, is named after him, and located near the site of one of his villages; he is buried there, in Rand Park.

Dr.Williamson: Rev. Thomas S. Williamson was another recently appointed missionary, based in Ohio. He left Ohio in April and ascended the Mississippi to modern St. Paul, then came back via Prairie du Chien to Rock Island. His purpose was to collect information on whether the Sioux would be likely to welcome a missionary. He returned to Ohio after traveling a couple weeks with Marsh, and later became a missionary in Minnesota, where he died in 1879.

29th [June 1834] Sab[bath]

Was awakened early this morn. by the arrival of a Steam Boat ascending the river and bound to Galena. The agent, Mr. D.[Davenport], returned, he having been down by previous appointment to meet the Sac and Fox chiefs. At breakfast obtained an introduction, and found him quite an agreeable man - somewhat reserved in his manner yet intelligent and in [the] view of the world apparently a very respectable man.

By him I was informed that the chiefs, particularly Ke-o-kuk [Keokuk] gave a negative answer to the application of Dr. Williamson to establish schools amongst them. Ke-o-kuk said the Gr[eat] Sp[irit] had given them mouths to speak with and they did not wish to learn to talk on paper. Felt somewhat disheartened... Perhaps it is on account of the pride of my heart that God seems to thwart my designs.

Ascertained that they hold no [religious] meetings on the island. I crossed the river and went up near the head of the Island and found the people collected for a meeting. They are chiefly Methodists, altho the man Mr. Wells at whose house the meeting was held had formerly been a Congregationalist... Was invited to preach... the audience very solemn and attentive.

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