This installment in the JI’s Mormonism and Natives Month comes from Jeffrey Mahas, a researcher for the Joseph Smith Papers and a graduate student at the University of Utah.
As David G. pointed out in his earlier post, it is often difficult for historians to come to terms with how Natives interpreted and reacted to nineteenth-century Mormon proselytizing efforts. We know that American Indians held a unique place in Mormon theology as the “remnant of Jacob”—descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon whose destiny was to unite with the gentiles converts to the gospel and build the New Jerusalem together. We can even reconstruct how many of the Mormon missionaries who carried this message to Indians interpreted this message but it is far more difficult to know how Native peoples reacted to these teachings. Although Mormon proselytizing to American Indians began almost immediately after the formal organization of the church and continued intermittently throughout Joseph Smith’s life, there were few Native converts and fewer written texts from their perspective. We are often left with the writings of the Mormon missionaries who carried their message and then face the difficult task of trying to reconstruct a possible Native perspective from the impressions of the missionaries.
One intriguing exception to this trend is a letter of recommendation for a group of Mormon missionaries written by the chief of the western Stockbridge Nation to an acquaintance among the Cherokee. In 1845, according to William Clayton, a half-dozen missionaries were to be sent to Indian Territory with a charge to “proceed from tribe to tribe, to unite the Lamanites and find a home for the Saints”—an echo of the Mormon expectations for the building of the New Jerusalem. Throughout the spring, their plans continued to evolve and ultimately four men—Mormon-Indian convert Lewis Dana, Jonathan Dunham, Charles Shumway, and Phineas Young—were appointed to travel to the west. Between 23 and 24 April 1845 the missionaries left Nauvoo and began traveling south-west to the region surrounding Fort Leavenworth. There, according to Young’s journal, the missionaries tarried for ten days among the western Stockbridge and Kickapoo before continuing their journey south. Thomas T. Hendrick, chief of the western Stockbridge, was especially hospitable to the missionaries and when they left he provided the missionaries with a letter of introduction to an acquaintance among the Cherokee.
Stockbridge May the 18 1845
Revd. Sir——-Mr Benjamin Fields Esq.
I wish to introduce to you My Friend and Cousin Lewis Dana by way of letter, as he will be the bearer of it himself, this letter of recommendation, to your honor.
Dear Sir, I will Say to you, that the friends that are with My Cousin a traveling to the South, are true friends to the Indian Nations. I wish them to be used as friends and Brothers. I wish you to introduce them to your friends. their Mission to you, is of great benefit to you you, and all nations, both temporally and Spiritually. Their mission will serve to make our Union Stronger and Stronger. Our path brighter, and brighter.
The white path that was laid out in the year 1843 by the Seneca, Cherokee, and other Nations. I wish these my friends to travel the whole length of the white road to the South, and back again, unmolested or disturbed in the twenty one Nations
My best respects to my beloved friend.
T. T. Hendrick
Benj. Fields Esq.
Additional missionaries were sent to the Stockbridge in the Fall of 1845 and in September, when the Council of Fifty convened to hear their report, Clayton commented on the success the missionaries had enjoyed among the Stockbridge, noting that “this tribe manifested great kindness towards [the missionaries] and the Mormon people. They have considerable knowledge of the Mormons and of what is going on; their interest seems to be identified with ours.” Typically, it would be difficult for historians to determine whether Clayton’s account of the receptivity of the Stockbridge was an accurate assessment. In this case however, Thomas Hendrick’s letter of recommendation confirms the reports of the missionaries and allows us a glimpse into what he found so compelling about the Mormons and their message. Notably, Hendrick avoids any mention of Mormons or Mormonism and makes only a single reference to any form of spirituality whatsoever. Instead, Hendrick is captivated by the Mormon attempts to “unite the Lamanites” and cultivate a pan-Indian alliance. It was this portion of the Mormon message which Hendrick highlighted for Fields, hoping that it would be “of great benefit to . . . all [Indian] nations, both temporally and Spiritually” and lead to a “brighter and brighter” future for the Indians.
 See for example Micah 5:8 and 3 Nephi 21:23.
 See Ron Walker, “Seeking the ‘Remnant’: The Native American During the Joseph Smith Period,” Journal of Mormon History 19, no. 1 (Spring 1993):1-33.
 Clayton, Journal, 1 March 1845, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 159.
 Clayton, Journal, 15 April 1845, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 163.
 Phineas Young, Journal, 23 April-19 May 1845.
 Thomas T. Hendrick, Stockbridge Nation, to Benjamin Fields, Cherokee Nation, 18 May 1845, Lewis Dana correspondence, Church History Library.
 This language was used to describe a “white path” of peace in contrast to a “red path” of war or bloodshed, not a racial path.
 Clayton, Journal, 9 September 1845, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 181.