Search For The Bible

For centuries, the Indian tribes of North & South America had prophetic stories that, one day a strange people would arrive with God's book. Great was the excitement from tribe to tribe as the first White Men arrived with stories of their churches and 'The Bible'. This is one of the best known events, which I have copied from Stories From Indian Wigwam's and Northern Campfires by Egerton Young. One notable discrepancy though. Young describes the Indians as four men from the Flathead tribe. I understand that there were several in the delegation who were Nez Pierce. Most, if not all, were chiefs. It was in response to this tragic story that the Whitmans, who become martyrs, and the Spauldings, went to the Nez Pierce in the early 1800's, and under the Presbyterians began, what became the most successful Christian work among the American Indians as far as an established Native church with Native pastors, that continues strong until this day. I have been there and spent time with them, read the testimony's on their tombstones, stayed in their homes, and attended their services and preachers meetings.
Long years ago (about 1818), in the depths of winter, there appeared in the city of St. Louis four Flathead Indians. They carried in their persons the evidences of many hardships and of the severest privations. Bronzed and scarred were they by the summer's heat and winter's pitiless blast, for many moons had waxed and waned since they had commenced their long and dangerous journey from their own land, which lay not far from the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Their trail had led them through the domains of hostile Indian tribes. Thrilling indeed had been their adventures, and many had been their risks of losing both their scalps and lives. For weeks when crossing the broad ranges of the Rocky Mountains, where gloomy defiles and dark recesses abound for hundreds of miles, they had ever to be on the alert, lest in an unguarded moment there should spring out upon them the panther or mountain lion, or rush upon them the more dreaded grizzly bear.

But although their very appearance bore pathetic evidence of their privations and sufferings, yet very little had they to say about themselves or their personal sorrows. An all absorbing longing had got into their hearts to be the possessor of one thing, and this passion had dwarfed into insignificance everything else to them. There had been implanted by some chance seed-sowing such a craving for something to satisfy their spiritual natures that in order to get this for which their souls now longed they had unflinchingly faced all the storms and dangers of that fearful journey. Yet to the thoughtless white men to whom they first addressed themselves very strange and meaningless seemed the importunate request or petition of these gaunt, wearied red men. They came, they said, from the land of the setting sun; across the great snow-clad mountains and the wide prairies for many moons they had traveled; they had heard of the white man's God and of the white man's book of heaven; a stranger had visited them and told them things that had excited the whole tribe. He had told them of the great God who had made all things, and that the white man had a book which told all about him and what they were to do to have his favor. So that they might obtain this book they had come from their home far away across the Rocky Mountains. Thus strangely they pleaded for a copy of the Word of God.

Some persons, becoming interested in the appearance of these strange Indians and their remarkable request, took them to the commanding officer of the military post in that city, and to him they told their simple story and besought his aid. The general was a kind hearted man. So when he took them to the bishop and priests, while they were received with greatest hospitality and shown the pictures of the Virgin Mary and of the saints, they were steadily denied their oft-repeated request for the Bible. Caring for none of these things, importunately did they plead for the book, but all in vain. So exhausting had been the journey that two of the Indians died in St. Louis from their sufferings and hardships. The other two after a time became discouraged and homesick and prepared to return to their far-off home. Ere they left the city a feast was gotten up for them and speeches were made, and the general and others bade them "Godspeed" on their journey. During the addresses at the close of the feast one of the Indians was asked to respond. His address deserves not only to rank among the models of eloquence, but should be pondered over as an expression of the heart-cry of very many of the weary, longing souls who, dissatisfied with their false religions, are eagerly crying out for the truth. They want the book. In this English version, like all of these highly figurative poetical Indian orations, it loses much in the translation. He said:

" I came to you over the trail of many moons from the land of the setting sun beyond the great mountains. You were the friends of my fathers, who have all gone the long way. I come with an eye partly opened for more light for my people who sit in darkness; I go back with both eyes closed. How can I go back blind to my people? I made my way to you with strong arms through many enemies and strange lands, that I might carry back much to them. I go back with both arms broken and empty. Two fathers came with us. They were the braves of many winters and wars. We leave them asleep here by your great water and wigwams. They were tired in many moons and their moccasins were worn out. My people sent me to get the white man's book of heaven. You took me where you allow your women to dance as we would not allow ours, and the book was not there. You took me where they worship the Great Spirit with candles, but the book was not there. You showed me images of the good spirits and pictures of the good land beyond, but the book was not among them to tell us the way. I am going back the long, sad trail to my people of the dark land. You make my feet heavy with gifts, and my moccasins will grow old and my arms tire in carrying them, yet the book is not among them. When I tell my poor blind people after one more snow in the big council that I did not bring the book no word will be spoken by our old men or by our young braves. One by one they will rise up and go out in silence. My people will die in darkness, and they will go on the long path to other hunting-grounds. No good white man will go with them, and no white man's book to make the way plain. I have no more words."

How sad and pathetic are these words, and how unfortunate it was that these Indians should have fallen into the hands of those who refused to give the blessed book to the people. However, a young man who was present was so impressed with the address of this Indian that he wrote to friends in the Eastern States an account of this strange visit and the pathetic appeal of the Indians for a Bible. Some earnest Protestants became much interested in the matter, but it was two years before a missionary started with the Bible for that land which then lay many hundreds of miles beyond the most western shores of Anglo-Saxon civilization.

Editors note: The famous painter Catlin met the Flatheads on their way home and painted their portraits, which are #207 and #208. Yet another one died before returning home. The Flatheads became embittered, and went from a condition of eager longing to accept the teachings of the Good Book to despair. However the work among the Nez Pierce was met with great success.

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