THE CHOCTAW INDIANS;
Or, the Indian imploring that he may not be denied the Gospel of Jesus, in his wandering after another home beyond the Mississippi.
The Choctaw Indians are 20,000 in number. For ages they have inhabited a country east of the great river Mississippi. The gospel was introduced among them in the year 1818 by missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. In 1829, the Holy Spirit was so poured out upon the Missions, that not less than 200 Indians were that year received into the churches. The whole number of Choctaws now connected with the Presbyterian churches in the missions of the Board, is about 340; associated with whom are not far from seven or eight thousand Indians, nominally Christian; i.e. friendly to the propagation of the Gospel, and not pagans. Lately the Choctaws have been induced to consent to a treaty with our national government by the operation of which they are now obliged to forsake the graves of their ancestors, and emigrate some hundreds of miles into the great western wilderness; and the 340 Choctaws in the churches, and the thousands who are nominally Christians, evince a strong desire that at least some of the missionaries may accompany them in their exile, to preach the gospel to them and their families, and direct their weary and afflicted souls to that land 'where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.'
Two missionaries of the American Board, the Rev. Alfred Wright, and Rev. L. S. Williams, just came from the Choctaws, on a visit to the north, have furnished the compiler of this paper with letters and translations of letters, received from their Indian friends, from which some extracts will now be given indicative of the feeling above described.
The letter from which the first extract is taken, was composed by an Indian who has some knowledge of English, and was signed by a considerable number of elders and private members of the mission churches.
March 20, 1831
'To the missionaries of the A. B. C. F. M. now among the Choctaw people.'
'Friends and Brothers;- Good many years ago you came in our nation, and said you come among them in order to teach the children of the Choctaw people. Our people rejoiced to have you teach their children, and were glad to embrace the opportunity. You told us that you had a beloved book, which tells about great Jehovah. The talk from this book we have now heard as we ought to have done. But good Spirit, who is the maker and head of all things; has been pleased to open the years of many of our people to hear the words of this good book. You know all about--we need not make many words about it. But we will appeal what is known to ourselves of our attachment to the schools among us, and more particularly the word which this good book teach us to walk upright before God and man. Also there has been much done for us to have books put in our hand, that many of our people can learn to read in their own language.'
'Friends and Brothers, we can multiply words, and say much on many advantages that we have received. But we will stop, and ask our hearts who has done these things whereof we are glad?'
'Friends and Brothers, when you came among us, good many years ago, you found us not school-no gospel-no songs of praise to Jehovah was heard.'
'Friends and Brothers, we will give glory and praise to Jehovah in sending some here to teach us the way of life. It is your dearest friends, whom the Savior of sinners has been pleased in his own goodness to make you an instrument in his hand of what has been done for us.'
'Friends and Brothers, therefore you see our situation. We are exceedingly tried. We have just heard of the ratification of the Choctaw treaty. Our doom is sealed. There are no other course for us, but to turn our faces to our new homes, toward the setting of the sun. Our rulers have assured us on many accounts it will be best to make preparation to remove next fall; and as many as can get off. It will be done.'
'Brothers, therefore we claim it as our privilege, as members of the church here, and also we have the full assurance of approval of our head men generally--that we humbly request the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to send us many of the preachers to go with us. Those who are here, we would be glad to go with us to new homes. We would offer the same protection and friendship as we have done here. You see us, how we are situated. Unless you do something for us more beyond the great river Mississippi, we shall be in a distressed situation.'
'We humbly ask the prayers of the church which we stand in relation to, (the Presbyterian church.)- We need their prayers, and help from them as we are about to return to the wild woods.'
'We are your friends and brothers in Christ.'
A young native who is a member of the church, writes this to one of the missionaries:
'Do pray to our Heavenly Father for me. I am a sinner--have a wicked heart; therefore, perhaps my white brother will remember and pray for me. If we go over the river oh that he would go with us.-Though our land is gone--as to our souls, they are not gone. If we get to our Heavenly Father's country; we shall be happy.'
Another writes as follows:-
'O my brother, though the people say that our land is gone, it is nothing to me. The good land above--heaven-that good resting place, is reserved for me. This I continually think of. I may perhaps go over the Mississippi-but I do not know. I may first get to heaven-I do not know._ I want you to pray that Jesus would have mercy on me, and I will also pray to our Father above. Jesus is altogether good. Jesus is our Savior. Thinking of this, I greatly rejoice.'
A third thus expresses himself:-
'O my beloved friend. I will tell you my mind. Formerly I did not know my Father above. I lived without a knowledge of the way of life.- Notwithstanding this was the case, my Father above designed that I should know him. I greatly rejoice.- Though I have in some way to die, yet I have been true to my Heavenly Father I shall be happy. Meditating on this, I humbly pray to him continually. O my beloved friend, this short talk I salute you with from my very heart. O my brother?'
'As the gospel has come into my heart I am happy. Although I leave my country and go away, my mind is to follow my Lord Jesus Christ wholly. If I break off from my Savior, sorrow will come upon me. Believing this and standing before Jesus Christ (or in his presence) I write to you. It will be long before we see each other; but our separation will not be eternal. Sometime we shall be seeing each other at the right hand of Jehovah our beloved Father.'
Another of the natives, who had enjoyed the advantages of an English education, uses the following language:-
'O remember this poor people while you are gone, and pray for them. Pray that believers may be strengthened in faith to go on their way to heaven; and pray that nonbelievers may be brought into the kingdom of Christ. We rejoice to think you intend coming back and going with the Choctaws over the Mississippi river to preach to them. O may God have mercy on this poor people, and bless them abundantly with the riches of his grace. Remember poor us before a throne of grace. Pray continually for us, for we need the prayers of good people. Farewell.'
Your Friend and Brother.
Many individuals have asked their missionaries with tears. 'Will you not go with us? Shall we not have the beloved book and our ministers and teachers with us, in that distant land to which we go? You surely will not leave us. How can we go in the right path without a leader or a guide? We shall be like lambs amidst wild beasts.' Others express themselves to this effect: 'You are like our parents. Will a mother forsake her little child? If you leave us we shall be orphans; we beg you to pity us poor Choctaws, and give us the bread of life.' And often do they pray that a God would put it into the hearts of their white brothers, to send the gospel with them when they go to the west.
The removal of the Choctaws beyond the great river, must necessarily break up the missionary establishment among them, and occasion a considerably pecuniary loss to the mission, and it is an event much to be deplored. It is now however, inevitable, and the American people are bound by every consideration of equity and mercy, to see that the blessings of education and of the gospel attend these poor natives of the forest in their exile.
How evident it is in view of the facts above stated, that our missionary efforts among them have not been in vain. Yet, for eight or nine years after the commencement of the mission, these efforts seemed to be almost fruitless. Few were converted from the error of their ways to God. But all this time 'the way of the Lord ' was in a course of preparation, and when it was prepared, the Spirit was poured out. The forest became vocal with prayer and praise, and converts were multiplies. Nearly all of the two hundred natives, who were received into church in 1829 have stood firm through the severe trials to which the nation of the Choctaws has recently been subjected. In common with the great body of their countrymen, they keenly feel the loss of their native country; and when they regard only their temporal prospects, despair not seldom disputes with hope for the possession of their souls. But the gospel has opened to their rejoicing view' a better country that is, as heavenly,' and has assured them, that 'God is not ashamed to be called their God.' and they long to have those accompany them, who shall repeat to them, from Sabbath to Sabbath, and from day to day, the glad tiding of such enduring inheritance and of such a glorious and unchanging Father.
Some of the missionaries, who speak the Choctaw language, will be ready next autumn to accompany the thousands of emigrant Choctaws on their long journey up the Arkansas. And will not those Christian people, who cannot go on such a self-denying errand of mercy, and whose homes are secured to them so that they are not obliged to go, as their brethren of the Choctaws are-will not those who are so eminently favored of God, have compassion on those who in God's inscrutable providence, are so greatly afflicted? Will they not contribute liberally of their substance to supply the Choctaws with the continued blessings of a preached gospel and of Christian schools? School books have been prepared, and to some extent printed in the Choctaw language by the missionaries of the American Board of Foreign missions. Portions of the Holy Scriptures have also been given to the Choctaws in their own language through the press; and larger portions are to be put immediately to the press. The Choctaws must not be deserted, and their plea for Christian institutions and privileges must be liberally answered. Let every man see that he himself actually does something for his red brethren in the western wilderness. Let every woman see that she does something for her red sisters about to be weeping outcasts from home, and to be torn away from those tender associations of the female heart in every condition of life are so dear. Let every child be taught to feel for the poor Indian children who will have to go many hundred miles on foot and sleep on the cold ground, and cry many and many a time because they are hungry and their fathers and mothers cannot get them any food and let them do something to send school books and the Holy Scriptures to the Choctaw children in their new country toward the setting sun. And let the Indians be continually remembered in our prayers, that God may appear for their deliverance from extermination as a race on earth, and especially for their preparation of an everlasting inheritance in heaven.
June 1, 1831.