Mormonism, Pan-Indian Alliances, and Native Writing

By November 24, 2014

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

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[7] 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


                                                                                Stockbridge Nation

Benj. Fields Esq.

Cherokee Nation


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.?[8] 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.

[1] See for example Micah 5:8 and 3 Nephi 21:23.
[2] 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.
[3] Clayton, Journal, 1 March 1845, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 159.
[4] Clayton, Journal, 15 April 1845, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 163.
[5] Phineas Young, Journal, 23 April-19 May 1845.
[6] Thomas T. Hendrick, Stockbridge Nation, to Benjamin Fields, Cherokee Nation, 18 May 1845, Lewis Dana correspondence, Church History Library.
[7] 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.
[8] Clayton, Journal, 9 September 1845, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 181.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Race Theology


  1. Very interesting, Jeffrey. I’d love to know more about Mormon preaching to the Stockbridge, a tribe with a long history of openness to Christianity. I wonder if that openness shaped how Hendrick interpreted the message of the missionaries.

    Comment by David G. — November 24, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

  2. Dana was Oneida, and the Oneidas had a fairly close relationship with the Stockbridges. In 1783, a group of Mahicans had accepted an invitation from the Oneidas to settle in New Stockbridge, NY on land adjoining Brothertown. These resettled Mahicans became known as the Stockbridge tribe. In 1802 they also incorporated an influx of Munsees (one of the three major divisions of the Lenape/Delawares) from New Jersey. In 1834 most of the Stockbridge-Munsees, Brothertowners, and Oneidas removed together to Wisconsin, with the Oneidas just west of Green Bay and the Stockbridge-Munsees and Brothertowners along the east shore of Lake Winnebago. I haven’t disentangled Dana’s genealogy yet, but it’s not unlikely that when Hendrick called him his “cousin” he was speaking quite literally.

    1845, when this letter of recommendation was written, was a time of great uncertainty for the Stockbridges and Oneidas. They had recently been removed from their land in New York and now were facing pressure to either remove again or dissolve themselves as a tribe and become U.S. citizens. They divided into an ?Indian Party? and a ?Citizens Party? over this issue. Some of the Stockbridge Papers at Cornell University show them expressing a ?wish to go someplace where the question (of their removal from the land) will not arise.?

    One option they were exploring was relocation with the Mormons and other Native nations to a new pan-Indian homeland. The idea was partly inspired by the great intertribal peace council at the Cherokee capital (Tahlequah, Oklahoma) in 1843. The council, attended by ten thousand people and members of twenty-one tribes, sought to end inter-tribal warfare and revitalize Natives as a people.

    This vision appealed to both Mormons and Natives, and Dana went south as an agent of both. His task was to contact Cherokee Principal Chief John Brown and to invite the Cherokees and their allies to join the Oneidas, Stockbridge-Munsees, Brothertowners, and other unspecified ?Northern Nations who are a party to these our intentions? in migration to a ?suitable place for agriculture and . . . [for] Indian life.?

    Comment by Christopher Smith — November 24, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Chris. This helps round out Jeffrey’s post and illuminate how Mormon and Native interests nearly converged in 1845. Dana’s role in all of this is fascinating–we really need to know more about him.

    Comment by David G. — November 25, 2014 @ 6:35 am

  4. David, I would love to be able to untangled the history of the Mormon missionary efforts among the Stockbridge and as you suggest everything seems to hinge around Dana. Curiously, Dana joins the church in 1840 while on his way west as a representative of his tribe to investigate possible settlement locations in Indian Territory west of the Missouri–exactly a year after Thomas Hendrick and his followers left Wisconsin for the same region. Immediately following his baptism Dana and Dunham traveled to the Stockbridge and sought an audience with Hendrick. Like Chris, I haven’t been able to figure out all of Dana’s history, but I would imagine there has to be some prior connection between the two men.

    Comment by Jeffrey Mahas — November 25, 2014 @ 8:54 am

  5. Thanks, Jeffrey!

    Comment by Saskia — November 25, 2014 @ 10:47 am

  6. What stuck out to me was the reference to “the white path” in the letter, which you explain in terms of peace. I am interested in the context of the letter and such references to “white path” in relation to the efforts of Native American peoples to resist removal through discourse and displays of “civilization.” How was being affiliated with Mormons seen by the U.S. government, other Native Americans, and other denominations?

    Comment by Farina — November 25, 2014 @ 4:02 pm


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