'What the Church can do for the Missionary among the Indians' handwritten article by Cyrus Walker on Tshimakain, Warm Springs and Native beliefs


'What the Church can do for the Missionary among the Indians' handwritten article by Cyrus Walker on Tshimakain, Warm Springs and Native beliefs


Cyrus Walker was the oldest son of the early Oregon Territory missionaries Elkanah and Mary Richardson Walker. He grew up at Tshimakain in the 1830s-40s, where he learned the native Spokane language. After joining the U.S. army during the Civil War and then attempting to make a living as a farmer, he became a teacher at the Warm Springs Indian Agency. These letters, documents and clippings shed light on his experiences as a missionary, a soldier, a pioneer and a teacher at Warm Springs. This collection was donated to Pacific University by Betty Thorne, a descendant of the Walkers.


Walker, Cyrus Hamlin

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Cyrus Walker Binder 2






Donated by Betty Thorn, Walker Family descendant.



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What the Church can do for the Missionary among the Indians
By Cyrus H. Walker

I can aswer only as it applies to the North West Pacific Coast tribes though doubtless it applies in a gneral way to all the American Indians. 

Even one hundred years ago while the blessed light of the Gospel was shining along the Atlantic Shores of North America, the North Pacific Coast was shrouded in heathenish darkness. The first dawn of light evidently was in 1904 [sic, should be 1804] when Lewis & Clark made their famous visit to the Oregon Territory. When these overland explorers reached the Nez Perce Indians in the eastern part of said territory, they told them of what the Indians aptly named, "The White man's God and the white man's Book of Heaven." These so interested them that they wanted to learn more about this religion. They received the promise of Lewis and Clark that religious teachers would be sent out to them. 

After the fur traders came about 1811 some of them instructed the Indians further of the true God, so that previous to the arrival of missionaries in 1836, the Cayuses had learned to assemle on the Sabbath for worship. 

Anxious to get the Bible, other trader and trappers had sold them cards telling them they were the BIble, but the Indians concluded that men who could get drunk and kill each other, do not love the true God. Captain Bonneville, one of the early Oregon explorers, states "that among the most pleasant scenes in his life, he spent in 1832 among the Nez Perces, while teaching them Christianity in answer to their earnest questions."

Their desre for instruction became so great that in 1832 a deputation of five Nez Perce young braves made their way across the trackless plains to St. Louis. They found Captain Clark the old explorer, then Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the whole Northwest and made known their wants to him, but he did not make the facts public. It is said he was a Catholic and if so, of course did not want the Protestants to get the start of his organization. 

These Indians having waited until they were wearied, one of them is said to have uttered a plaint, which was heard by a Christian man and thus ade known was answered by two missionary societies, that of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, then made up of Congregational, Presbyterian, the Dutch and the Associate Reformed Churches. 

In June 1833 Rev. Jason Lee of Canada was orgained in New England and appointed by the Board of the M.E. Church to superintend the missions in Oregon. In March 1834 he with his nephew Daniel Lee and two lay members Cyrus Shephred and P.L. Edwards crossed the continent, the journey across the plains being on horeseback. These men were aided by the expedition of Captain Nathaniel Wyeth who was intendeing to engage in the fur trade in Oregon. The four missionaries began their work in the Willamette Valley. 

In 1836 the American Board [of Commissioners for Foreign Missions] sent out Dr. Marcus Whitman & wife, and Rev. H. H. Spalding and wife, who also crossed the plains on horseback. Dr. Whitman started the work among the Cayuses at Wai-il-it-pu (place of rye grass) and Rev. Spalding among the Nez Perces at Lap-wai, on the Clearwater River. Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Spalding were the first white women to cross the [Rocky Mountains]. 

In 1838, my father Rev. Elkanah Walker and mother Mary R. Walker, Rev. Cushing Eells and wife, Rev. A.B. Smith and wife and Mr. W.H. Gray and wife, all of the American Board [of Commissioners for Foreign Missions] also crossed the plains on horseback. Dec 7, 1838 I was born at Dr. Whitman's. Spring of 1839 Messrs. Walker & Eells established a mission among the Spokane Indians at Tshim-a-kain (place of a spring), where they worked until the Whitman Massacr of Nov 29, 1847, broke up all the Protestant missionary work east of the Cascade Mountains. 

In the meantime, reinforcements for the Methodist missions arrived from time to time and the work progressed in all the western Oregon Territory. 

Since those early years there has been a marvelous change of conditions. Desert wilds have been transformed beneath the magic touch of Christian civilization and made to blossom as the rose. Most of our Indians have been [page torn, words missing: perhaps 'persuaded to'?] adopt the habits of our civilization and more or less have accepted the Gospel teachings. 

In most cases it was a long weary and a seemingly hopeless task to effect the change. A perfect infatuation for strong drink, "fire water" in Indian parlance, was one great obstacle. This is happily now well removed for the Old Oregon Territory is now all under Prohibition, and the states are helping the government in it long time policy of forbidding sales of liquor to Indians. Still happier will be the day when the U.S. enacts National Prohibition, and its prohibition extends to all classes. Oregon has the most far-reaching laws of all the States against sale and use of spritous liqours, and the clarion note "dry as a bone" resounds from the hills. 

For all the grand advancement in Indian Missionary work, there is yet much to discourage the missionary but not to the extent of the earlier efforts. When my father and mother & Rev. Eells & wife left the Spokane Mission in Spring of 1848, there had not been one [page torn, but likely: convert] after 9 years of labor. Later however the seed sown bore a rich harvest.

The great hope of today is among the younger generations, who are not so fully saturated with the superstitions and practices belonging thereto among the old Indians. It is quite impossible to entirely eradicate the same, especially that of belief in their Indian "medicine men." During my sojourn of 15 years at the Warm Springs Agency in all of which I took an earnest interest in the Christian work, though a Congregationalist by early teaching and affiliation, we found this dread of Indian doctors the hardest thing to contend against. When Captain John Smith, who was U.S. Indian Agent for 18 years, [word missing] took charge spring of 1865, he found the Indians practicing polygamy. At his earnest persuasion mainly they gave up their plural wives.

After I went there in Aug 1877, I went with Agent Smith to visit the Warm [words missing: probably "Springs tribe] proper, who were in their winter's camp along the Warm Springs river. He told them if they would go up to the Simnasho Valley and fence in a common field he would issue them half of the annual Government supplies as agricultural implements etc. They consented, and as Agency Clerk I saw that the promise was carried out. 
This settlement started a move for a Boarding School [i.e. the Warm Springs Indian School], the lumber for which was hauled 12 miles by the Indian free of charge. 

These Indians had a practice after burying a warrior to shoot down his favorite horse over the grave, evidently for him to have a steed in the "happy hunting grounds." We persuaded them to abandon this.

Oh! There are so many points of [word partially missing: disadvantage?]. A missionary, to be successful, should love the work, even though so difficult and discouraging among Indians. He should have his mind made up to stay in the work a long time, for the work is so different than among [word missing]. Of all the workers sent to [words missing - Warm Springs?], the Rev. R. W. McBride & wife I believe rendered the longest continuous service, he taking charge in the fall of 1884. He had two stations to supply, one at the Agency, one at Simnasho, 20 miles north. I often assisted him, especially in going to Simnasho. 

The church should urge the government to is possible send Christian teachers only, for its well equipped Indian Schools. Provide plenty of funds not only enough to pay the missionaries salaries, but to keep the old and feeble Indians who are often considered as "in the way." Soe of the whites are bad enough, so the Indian cannot well be blamed. Above all things give earnest prayers for God's blessing upon the Indian mission fields, remembering the promise, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."

[The paragraphs that follow are revisions of some of the previous text.]

In closing will say that nearly all if not all Indian tribes believe in a hereafter, a condition that they are want to describe as their "happy hunting grounds." In the burial of their dead it was the practice to bury with them articles of value they possessed in life, and hang upon a pole set over the grave, some cooking utensils etc., evidently having in mind a future life where they would be used.

Among the Warm Spring tribe proper [here he is contrasting the Warm Springs tribe with other tribes at the reservation, e.g. the Wascoes], when a warior was buried his forse was killed over his master's grave, evidently to furnish him a steed in the happy hunting grounds mentioned above. 

It can be seen from this how difficult was the missionary work among them. Of all the workers sent there Rev. R. W. McBride & wife rendered the longest service, he taking charge in the fall of 1884. He had two stations to supply, the one at the Agency, the other among the Warm Springs at Simnasho 20 miles north of the Agency. They left their impress upon all the tribes among whom they labored. Under Mr. McBride's oversight a parsonage was built at the Agency, and the church built by Agent Smith fully completed and furnished. 

During the winter of 1878-79 I accompanied Captain SMith in a visit to the Warm Springs at their usual winter's camp by the Warm Springs River, where were located the hot springs 8 miles north of the Agency. Agent Smith assured them that if they would go up to the Simnasho (Thornbush) Valley and start farming by fencing in the valley miles long and one hald a mile wide, thus having a common field, he would see that the they received their share of the supplies furnished by the government as plows, wagons, harness, etc. etc. 

They complied with his request and from this started a government Indian Boarding School [the Warm Springs Indian School].