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The Pawnee Mission Letters, 1834-1851

Edited and with an introduction by Richard E. Jensen

Publication Year: 2010

Rev. John Dunbar and Samuel Allis set out in 1834 to establish a mission to Indians beyond the Rocky Mountains. Unable to obtain a guide and with only a vague knowledge of the West, they instead encountered the Pawnee Indians in Nebraska. It was the beginning of a twelve-year odyssey to convert the tribe to Protestant Christianity and New England “civilization.” Dunbar and Allis traveled with the Pawnees on buffalo hunts and spent time at their villages, recording the customs and habits of the tribe. After a permanent community was established, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent additional missionaries and conflicts over conversion methods ensued, nearly destroying the mission community. The mission was eventually abandoned in 1846, when hostilities between the Sioux and the Pawnees escalated. This collection of letters written by and to the missionaries, as well as their journal entries, illustrates the life of the mission, from the everyday complications of building and maintaining a community far from urban areas, to the navigation of the bureaucratic policies of the federal government and the American Board, to the ideological differences of the Pawnees’ multiple missionaries and the ensuing rift within the community. These writings provide a unique and personal portrayal of this small white community in the heart of the Pawnees’ domain.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 10-11

I would like to thank Houghton Library, Harvard University, for granting permission to publish the letters of the American Board of Foreign Missions archive, ...

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pp. xi-xxxiv

In the spring of 1834 Rev. Samuel Parker, Rev. John Dunbar, and Mr. Samuel Allis set out from Ithaca, New York, to find a suitable location for a mission to the Flathead Indians west of the Rocky Mountains. When they reached St. Louis in early June, they discovered that the fur traders and trappers who they hoped would guide them to the Flatheads had left for the West in May. Unable to ...

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1. New England to St. Louis

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pp. 1-46

The whole world evidently presents a field white for the harvest; 2 and the heathen themselves are chiding Christians for their negligence in not obeying the command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” From my first entering upon the ministry, I think I have had some of the missionary spirit. For about four years, I labored as a missionary in what were ...

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2. St. Louis to Bellevue

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pp. 47-86

Arrived at St. Louis, May 23d, 6 o’clock P. M., and took lodgings for the night at the Missouri Hotel. Next day was introduced to Mr. Torode and his lady, with whom Mr. Allis and myself remained, till our departure from the City. Mr. T. is a member of the second Presbyterian church, and a warm hearted christian. He keeps a chamber for the prophets of the Lord to turn into, when they pass ...

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3. The Pawnees and Their Agents

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pp. 87-118

The Pawnees are divided into four distinct bands. These are the Grand Pawnees, the Republican Pawnees, Pawnee Loups, and Tapage Pawnees. The Grand Pawnee village is on the south side of the Platte 130 miles from its junction with the Missouri. Tapage and a part of the Republican band live in the same village on the north side of the Loup fork of the Platte 30 miles above its mouth. ...

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4. Travels with the Pawnees

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pp. 119-278

To day Mr. Allis and myself started on our winter’s tour. It was 10 in the morning before we could get all things in readiness to leave. We now set forward with our unaccustomed travelling companions. We had not proceeded more than a mile from the agency, when our conductors took different routes, and we were compelled to separate — a thing we had not anticipated before reaching one of ...

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5. The Mission on the Loup

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pp. 279-422

At length I am permitted to address you from the country of the Pawnees. We started from Bellevue on the 30th. of April and came to this place May 17th. Our progress was slow on account of the badness of the traveling at that season. The low grounds were yet wet and soft and we could pass over them in many places only by doubling our teams or unloading and taking part of a load ...

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6. The Investigation

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pp. 423-496

Personally appeared before me, James Mathers, who being duly sworn, deposes and says as follows, to witt: that in relation to the charges prefered by Samuel Allis and others, against this deponent George B. Gaston and others, bearing date the 20th Sept. 1844, that some of said charges convey erronious ideas, and others are absolutely untrue that a portion of the Republican Band of Pawnees ...

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7. Decline and Fall

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pp. 497-546

On the 28th Ultimo. (By writing) I suspended from pay and Duty James W. Cleghorn as Interpreter to the Pawnee Indians to take effect from and after the close of the past year. The aforesaid Cleghorn has been for some twenty or thirty years with the Pawnee Indians, is equally slothful and indolent as an Indian; Is an exceedingly dangerous man now, having enlisted under the Banner ...

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8. The Aftermath

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pp. 547-580

Dear Sir — Yours of 10 April was received at the Pawnee Mission. Mr. Dunbar wrote to you a few days since and probably gave an account of the circumstances in which we left the Pawnee country. As to ourselves it is now a serious question what course to pursue. I have in my family four Pawnee children some or all of which must be sent back to heathenism if the Pawnee mission is entirely ...


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pp. 581-628


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pp. 629-638


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pp. 639-676

E-ISBN-13: 9780803230446
E-ISBN-10: 0803230443
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803229877
Print-ISBN-10: 0803229879

Page Count: 716
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 649913998
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Pawnee Mission Letters, 1834-1851

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Pawnee Indians -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Whites -- Nebraska -- Loup River -- Correspondence.
  • Loup River (Neb.) -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Nebraska -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Nebraska -- Description and travel -- Sources.
  • Pawnee Indians -- Missions -- Nebraska -- Loup River -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Missionaries -- Nebraska -- Loup River -- Correspondence.
  • Allis, Samuel, 1805-1883 -- Correspondence.
  • Dunbar, John, 1804-1857 -- Correspondence.
  • Parker, Samuel, 1779-1866 -- Correspondence.
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