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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Metoxen's Conversation with Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

Rev. Marsh remained convinced that his mission failed in large part because trader George Davenport had told the Sauk and Fox to have nothing to do with missionaries. He told his sponsors the following year that Davenport "expressed a belief in the doctrine of universal salvation, and labored almost always when I conversed with him to show 'how happy the Indians were in their present state.' To the inquiry whether he thought a mission amongst those Indians a good thing, he replied... that 'missionaries would only make them worse.'"

Marsh attributed the resistance of Indian elders to Davenport's interference, as well as the lack of a trustworthy interpreter. "Having such obstacles to surmount," he concluded, "it will not appear strange to the Board that our attempt to establish a mission amongst the Sacs and Foxes entirely failed of success."

That the Sauk and Fox might have had good reason to believe in their own religious tradition with the same passion that he believed in his was, of course, beyond Marsh's understanding. "The Indians are themselves strongly prejudiced against any change of life, as a general thing," he wrote to his sponsors, "and appear more strongly attached to their superstitions than most Indians with whom I have met. Still, these are not so formidable obstacles as those first mentioned [the influence of trader Davenport and the lack of a good interpreter]." (Wisconsin Historical Collections 15:112-114)

In subsequent decades the Sauk and Fox were pushed ever further westward, and their wealth and population both declined dramatically. But they refused to embrace Christianity for several more generations, and preserved their indigenous religious beliefs and practices into the 20th century and beyond.

Rev. Marsh remained with the Stockbridge until 1848, when his sponsors stopped supporting his efforts. He then became an itinerant minister and helped start Protestant churches in communities throughout central Wisconsin as it filled with immigrants. A summary of his career is given in Wisconsin Historical Collections 15: 25-39.

Oct. 13th [1834]

Interview with Mr. Metoxen.

Mr. M. stated that on his return from Ke-o-kucks village upon the Iowa he met Black Hawk and his band at a trading house, about 30 m. below Rock Island, and that B. H. was very anxious to have a talk. He stated how well he was treated by the white people. "In no place, says he, did I see the white men and white squaws drinking together as our people do, and when I passed through your town it was just so. I saw none of your people drinking together as ours do, and I want to have my people just like those good white people, for I see where they do not drink that they do better and live better."

BH. What do you think is best about receiving missionaries?

Metoxen. By all means receive them for they will do you good.

BH. But Mr Davenport the trader told me not to have anything to do with the missionaries, for they will only make you worse.

This Bl. H. said that Mr. D. told him in that visit to the island.

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