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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

A Debate on the Merits of Civilization

Editor's Note:

On this day Marsh filled more than a dozen notebook pages with a hypothetical dialogue between himself and an Indian, privately rehearsing how he would later respond to their questions about religion, literacy and learning.

The objections to Christianity and education which he rebutted here were presumably based on his conversations with Dr. Williamson, agent Davenport, trader Phelps, and others with whom he talked, as well as from the conversations he had had for four years among the Stockbridge.

Too long to give in its entirety here, we have excerpted the parts of the dialogue that reveal the most about Indian and missionary values. Many more details on the missonary's state of mind and motives, and common Indian objections to them, are in the original manuscript entries.

This rehearsal served Marsh well, since similar questions were in fact raised when he got to meet with Fox chief Appenoose a couple weeks later.

July 19th Saturday

Subjects of talk with the Indians

Ind[Indian]. The Great Spirit has given us the game to subsist upon and we wish still to pursue the chase.

Ans[Answer]. Has he not given you the soil also? In its bosom he has hidden riches and better things than you can find on top of it in the chase, and which with proper pains you may find in abundance in every year for yourselves and families. Besides the deer, the bear, and buffalo will soon all be killed, but you may find for hundreds of years, year after year, enough on the same spot of ground to supply all the wants of your wives and children without ever having to go hungry.

Ind. We have always pursued the chase and now we do not wish to change our mode of life.

Ans. The times have altered. But a few years ago and game was very plenty. You could easily kill a plenty of it and eat the meat yourselves and with their skins buy blankets &c. But it is very scarce, you have to go a good ways for it, and do not take half as much as you did 5 or 6 years go. It will keep on growing scarcer and what will you do in a few years for something to live upon; ?? your annuities will not support. In a few years your great father will have paid you all the annuities that he has agreed to and when you have no money nor skins the white men will not trust you.

The Great Spririt has made us different from the white men and we do not wish to become like them.

Ans. How are you different? Have you not bodies, hands, feet, arms, a mouth, tongue, eyes and ears just like the white men? Do you not eat, drink and sleep like them? Are you not born like them and do you not die the same as they do? If you say your color is different, what then? That is only skin deep, that is not the man. Besides, I have seen white men who live far at the South almost of the same color as Indians. By this you may see that in every important aspect the Indian is like the white man. This shows it to be true what the Great Spirit has said in the Good Book, that he has made of our blood all nations of men, etc.

Ind. Why does not the Great Spirit speak to [white people] with his mouth and not on paper whch may be torn to pieces?

Ans. When man was clean before he had done what the Great Spirit told him he must not, he did speak to him in this way and loved him very much, but since then he has turned away his face and he never talked with them as he did before. And a great while ago he wrote his commands himself on two tables of stone and gave them to a good man to read to his children. We have the same commands now written on paper. And he told him messangers whom he sent to speak to the people from time to time, not only what to say but to write it in a book so that all might read. Besides men soon forget, or die, but what is written never forgets or alters or lies and if taken good care of may be kept hundreds of years. And when it is like to be worn all out, then another just like it may written and kept instead of the other writing. In this way God's Book has been preserved for many hundreds of years.


Ind. We think the white man's religion very good for him and that ours will do as well for us.

Ans. The Great Spirit has prepared but one good place for all his children, whether red or white and that is his dwelling place. And as all have broken his commands and he is angry with them on account of it, there is only one way to which any can again get his favor and be saved, and that is by being sorry for their sins and believing with all their hearts in his Son and doing as he commands. And this only way he is now willing to make known unto you and your people.

... Ind. But our fathers have always walked in this path and have taught us to do it and we do not wish to forsake it.

Ans. But if you had on an old dress which was good for nothing and a kind friend seeing it should offer you a good new one, would you look round and say, well, my father gave it to me and I choose rather to keep it then have a new one? Or if you had found out that your fathers had walked in a path which was dark and not good, and a friend shows a better path, full of lights and happiness, would it be wise in you not to forsake the old path but still go on because your fathers whose hearts were dark had walked in it?

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