Oahe School, Dakota

By Miss Julia E. Pratt

A very sad incident came into our life as a school last winter, which has accentuated anew the ignorance and the superstitious heathenism of these Indian people.

One of our little boys was sent to the dormitory one morning to do some work to which he objected, and, while pretending to obey, he took one of the other little boys with him and ran away. Their absence was not discovered until it was too late to overtake them, and as their home was only ten miles away, and we knew they were good walkers, as all Indians are almost from babyhood, we had every reason to believe they would reach home in safety. They had started before daylight, and without any breakfast, and the little boy who was enticed away had no overcoat nor mittens, but had gone on the impulse of the moment without taking any extra clothing. About ten o’clock, it grew very cold, and as the little fellow had on shoes, to which he was unaccustomed, his feet became so cold and tired that he could not go on. Then the boy who had coaxed him away gave him his overcoat and mittens and went on, reaching home about noon, telling that he had run away, and that he had left Jaran about half way. Jaran’s father did not believe the story, and came back to us, ten miles, to see if it were true. This made us very anxious, but nothing could be done but to await the issue. It seemed as if a series of unfortunate mistakes had combined to bring about this result; and to make everything still more puzzling, Mr. Riggs, our superintendent, was away. He reached home that evening, and the next morning sent the steward to learn the fate of the little runaway. He went on until he found the little boy’s cap and mittens, and the place where he had evidently lain all night. It was a bitter night, and we knew that he could not possibly have survived, in his exhausted condition, and not knowing how to protect himself, even if he had had the means for so doing. This, in itself, was a very bitter experience for us, but the worst was yet to come. Mr. Riggs found it impossible to get an Indian to go to the assistance of these poor people. They were all afraid. Rumors were afloat that the father was going to shoot anyone connected in any way with the school, Indian or white. When an Indian is sorrow-stricken over the death of a friend or relative, he alleviates his suffering by killing some one else.

After the little boy was buried, the family came to the school. The old grandmother brought the clothes he had on when found—and which they had cut off,—spread them out before Mr. Riggs, and reproached him for sending a little boy out into a storm so insufficiently clad; to which Mr. Riggs replied that we had no idea he was going out into the storm, that he was dressed for the house, and had we known he was going on a journey, he would have been dressed for it. She would not be pacified, however, and after bitterly reproaching Mr. Riggs for the death of her grandson, she demanded pay for it, as if money would make up to them his loss.

That afternoon, at the woman’s meeting, we learned that they had given away everything they possessed, furniture, clothing, bedding, dishes, and were absolutely destitute of the barest necessities of life. This is one of their customs. They reason thus: Our child is dead; our hearts are sad; life has no longer any attractions; take all we have. The Christian Indian women in our church each gave something out of her little property to help these poor heathen people, who in their superstitious ignorance had made their lot so wretched. Taking this, they returned home and demanded of the family of the other poor boy a cow in payment for the death of their child.

And there came to me this question: Is it possible that in the midst of this beautiful free land of ours, there lives a people so densely ignorant, so darkly superstitious, sunk so low in heathenism, as this incident shows? And this is only one of many such incidents. May God help us when such things are possible in a Christian land.

Letter from an Indian Boy

June 5th, 1889.
Friends at the East:

It is summer over here now and every thing looks green and nice. The roses are red and beautiful, so every day everybody has a bouquet on his coat. There are lots of more flowers, some of them are white, blue, red, yellow; so everything looks nice.

The girls always decorate the church on Sunday. They get lots of flowers on the hills and down in the bottom. The days have been nice for about two weeks. The sun shines every day, and the wind has not blown for a long time, but to-day the wind blows just a little but not much.

We always play ball, and have nice times playing. But some times we get hurt. The Perkins Hall boys always play ball with the Whitney Hall boys, but the Whitney boys always get beaten.

Everybody on the Reservation has ploughed his field and planted corn, potatoes, onions, squashes, beets, turnips, wheat, oats, flax, beans and melons, so everything is just coming out, and after a while they will grow big and good to eat.

Mr. Lawson went away in May, and the boys had to work up there alone. They worked all right, and when he came back he found that all papers were ready to be printed. He came back with some galley-holders and some cases. After he had been back about two weeks, another machine came; it is the paper cutter. It is a nice machine for the printing office. Seven boys work in the morning and six in the afternoon, so we are getting along first rate.

We always go after tipsina on the hills; some of the people call them wild turnips. They are very good to eat. If you don’t know them, you lose something in your life. You don’t know how they taste unless you have eaten some. They have dark-blue flowers on them which stand about four or five inches from the ground. They are easy to find out, and when we find them, we have to dig them. When we come back, we always get so tired that we lay down under the trees.

Your friend, JOHN BROWN

Indian Contract Schools

The public has been made aware through the press recently that the United States Government aids the Roman Catholics to support 2,098 Indian pupils and assists all Protestant denominations in the support of only 1,146 pupils. Why is this discrimination, and who is to blame for it? If the Roman Catholics give for plant, teachers’ salaries, etc., an amount proportionately greater than that given by the Protestants, then the Protestants have themselves only to blame, and the difficulty can be remedied by their giving an equal amount. But if, on the other hand, the Government gives in proportion more to the Roman Catholics than it does to the Protestants, then the Government is showing a wholly unjustifiable partiality. Figures are in order on this subject. Who will furnish them?

White Men and Red Men

“The Round Up! Interesting High School Commencement Exercises Last Night.”

The above was the characteristic heading in a Dakota paper of an editorial notice of the closing exercises of their High School. Everything takes its color from the peculiar condition of society. A rubber overcoat is a “slicker,” and a native pony is a “broncho.” Not so inappropriate, either, is the term “The Round Up,” for the closing exercises of a school year. It ought to be the round up, a complete circle or sphere of successful work and accomplishment, so far as that period of school-life is concerned. The white men of Dakota are changing perceptibly, I think, in their feelings toward the red men among them, or among whom they are. A sense of responsibility for their Christianization seems to have taken possession of the minds of the intelligent Christian people. One is impressed with the abundance of church buildings in these small white settlements. In one small village of perhaps five hundred people, I counted eight Protestant churches. With Christian churches so numerously planted as they are in these new Western States, we may hope for large help from them in the Indian work of the Association, before many years. They are now falling into line in this great work. I rode on one side of the Missouri River for many miles among the white settlements. Afterwards I rode on the other side of the river a long distance among the Indian villages, and could not help but contrast the condition of life of the two. The Government relations differ materially. If the supplies were withheld from the Indians, and they were compelled to take land in severally, and not hustled over the prairie every month or two weeks for meat, sugar and coffee, I think the change for the better would be perceptible in a twelvemonth. There is general hopefulness on the part of the missionaries among the red men, now that two Christian men stand at the head of the Indian Department.

It was my privilege to take a cordial letter of greeting from Supt. Dorchester of the Government Indian Schools to the A.M.A. missionaries at Santee Agency, Neb. It was an encouragement to these earnest toilers in this far-away field to know that there was appreciation on the part of the Government of the Christian work among these Indians. Great care, intense study, great deliberation of action will be necessary if these new Government officers succeed in bettering the condition of the red men, as they are doubtless sincerely desirous of doing. They must know what they are doing, before they do it.

The Government schools which I visited furnished abundant evidence that considerable time would be necessary to correct the evils existing in these, and to make them what they should be before any radical policy could be safely adopted by the Government in reference to contract missionary schools. The Roman Catholic influence seems to have been a dominant power in the control of these schools for some time.

Wolf Chief, a Mandan Indian, called on me while at Fort Berthold and begged that his tribe be protected against a Catholic priest who, he said, wanted to compel them to send their children to a school that he proposed to establish near them. “We Mandans are Congregationalists,” said this Indian chief, “and we want to send our children to your mission.”

Amusing Incidents

Incidents both amusing and pathetic are of frequent occurrence in this Indian work. Such incidents throw light upon the inside life of the Indians and missionaries, and are often useful in the “Monthly Concert,” and so I record some of them here.

“Cherries-in-the-mouth,” a somewhat aged and highly-painted Indian, was very much taken with one of the missionaries. He came to the Superintendent of the mission and offered eight ponies for her, or, I believe, more correctly, said he would give eight ponies, if he had them. His affection was larger than his pocket-book, as is sometimes true of his pale-faced brother.

“Plenty Corn” was a sweet little Indian girl, who attended the mission at Fort Berthold. She had won her way wonderfully into the hearts of the teachers, and when she died last spring, there were sorrowful hearts in the mission, as truly as in the Indian tepee. The parents had been reached also by the influence of the mission. They permitted the missionary to lay the body in a coffin. The Indians took up the little white casket and bore it to the boat in which it was to be taken across the Missouri River. The father rowed the boat, as the mother sat on the opposite bank waiting for her dead darling, and from the boat there went up the piteous wailing of the father, which was echoed back from the bank in the piteous wail of the mother. It was a sad, sad sight, and emphasized painfully the need of Christian instruction, that the hope of the Gospel may break through the superstitious darkness of these sad lives.


Various. The American Missionary, Vol. 43, No. 8, August, 1889.

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