First Missionary Effort to the American Indians
Presenting the Book of Mormon to the Delaware
This painting depicts Oliver Cowdery preaching to Chief William Anderson and his braves as Parley P. Pratt and Frederick G. Williams listen.
In the Autumn of 1830, about six months after the organization of the Church, Joseph Smith, Jr., received three revelations from God (Doctrine and Covenants 27, 29, and 31) instructing Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson to preach the gospel to the Indians (Lamanites). In October of that year in response to the commandments of God, these four men left Fayette, New York on foot to go to Indian Territory. They had embarked on the Church's first missionary effort west of the State of New York. As they traveled, they preached along the way converting many to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. After being very successful in Kirtland, Ohio, they, along with Dr. Frederick G. Williams of Kirtland, proceeded to Indian Territory on the western boundary of the State of Missouri. The following is an account by Parley P. Pratt of their mission to the Indians as found in RLDSHistory of the Church 1:178–183.
In the beginning of 1831 we renewed our journey; and, passing through St. Louis and St. Charles, we traveled on foot for three hundred miles through vast prairies and through trackless wilds of snow—no beaten road; houses few and far between; and the bleak northwest wind always blowing in our faces with a keenness which would almost take the skin off the face. We traveled for whole days, from morning till night, without a house or fire, wading in snow to the knee at every step and the cold so intense that the snow did not melt on the south side of the houses, even in the midday sun, for nearly six weeks. We carried on our backs our changes of clothing, several books, and corn bread and raw pork. We often eat [ate] our frozen bread and pork by the way, when the bread would be so frozen that we could not bite or penetrate any part of it but the outside crust.
After much fatigue and some suffering we all arrived in Independence, in the county of Jackson, on the extreme western frontiers of Missouri, and of the United States.
This was about fifteen hundred miles from where we started, and we had performed most of the journey on foot through a wilderness country, in the worst season of the year, occupying about four months, during which we had preached the gospel to tens of thousands of Gentiles and two nations of Indians; baptizing, confirming, and organizing many hundreds of people into churches of Latter Day Saints.
This was the first mission performed by the elders of the Church in any of the States west of New York, and we were the first members of the same which were ever on this frontier.
Two of our number now commenced work as tailors in the village of Independence, while the others crossed the frontier line and commenced a mission among the Lamanites, or Indians.
Passing through the tribe of Shawnees we tarried one night with them, and the next day crossed the Kansas River and entered among the Delawares. We immediately inquired for the residence of the principal chief, and were soon introduced to an aged and venerable looking man, who had long stood at the head of the Delawares, and been looked up to as the Great Grandfather, or Sachem of ten nations or tribes.
He was seated on a sofa of furs, skins, and blankets, before a fire in the center of his lodge; which was a comfortable cabin, consisting of two large rooms.
His wives were neatly dressed, partly in calicoes and partly in skins; and wore a vast amount of silver ornaments. As we entered his cabin he took us by the hand with a hearty welcome, and then motioned us to be seated on a pleasant seat of blankets, or robes. His wives, at his bidding, set before us a tin pan full of beans and corn boiled up together, which proved to be good eating; although three of us made use alternately of the same wooden spoon.
There was an interpreter present and through him we commenced to make known our errand, and to tell him of the Book of Mormon. We asked him to call the council of his nation together and give us a hearing in full. He promised to consider on it till next day, in the meantime recommending us to a certain Mr. Pool for entertainment; this was their blacksmith, employed by government.
The man entertained us kindly and comfortably. Next morning we again called on Mr. Anderson, the old chief, and explained to him something of the Book. He was at first unwilling to call his council; made several excuses, and finally refused; as he had ever been opposed to the introduction of missionaries among his tribe.
We continued the conversation a little longer, till he at last began to understand the nature of the Book. He then changed his mind; became suddenly interested, and requested us to proceed no further with our conversation till he could call a council. He despatched a messenger, and in about an hour had some forty men collected around us in his lodge, who, after shaking us by the hand, were seated in silence; and in a grave and dignified manner awaited the announcement of what we had to offer. The chief then requested us to proceed; or rather, begin where we began before, and to complete our communication. Elder Cowdery then commenced as follows:
“Aged Chief and Venerable Council of the Delaware nation; we are glad of this opportunity to address you as our red brethren and friends. We have traveled a long distance from towards the rising sun to bring you glad news; we have traveled the wilderness, crossed the deep and wide rivers, and waded in the deep snows, and in the face of the storms of winter, to communicate to you great knowledge which has lately come to our ears and hearts; and which will do the red man good as well as the pale face.
“Once the red men were many; they occupied the country from sea to sea—from the rising to the setting sun; the whole land was theirs; the Great Spirit gave it to them, and no pale faces dwelt among them. But now they are few in numbers; their possessions are small, and the pale faces are many.
“Thousands of moons ago, when the red men’s forefathers dwelt in peace and possessed this whole land, the Great Spirit talked with them, and revealed His law and His will, and much knowledge to their wise men and prophets. This they wrote in a Book; together with their history, and the things which should befall their children in the latter days.
“This Book was written on plates of gold, and handed down from father to son for many ages and generations.
“It was then that the people prospered, and were strong and mighty; they cultivated the earth; built buildings and cities, and abounded in all good things, as the pale faces now do.
“But they became wicked; they killed one another and shed much blood; they killed their prophets and wise men, and sought to destroy the Book. The Great Spirit became angry, and would speak to them no more; they had no more good and wise dreams; no more visions; no more angels sent among them by the Great Spirit; and the Lord commanded Mormon and Moroni, their last wise men and prophets, to hide the Book in the earth, that it might be preserved in safety, and be found and made known in the latter day to the pale faces who should possess the land; that they might again make it known to the red man; in order to restore them to the knowledge of the will of the Great Spirit and to His favor. And if the red man would then receive this Book and learn the things written in it, and do according thereunto, they should be restored to all their rights and privileges; should cease to fight and kill one another; should become one people; cultivate the earth in peace, in common with the pale faces, who were willing to believe and obey the same book, and be good men and live in peace.
“Then should the red men become great, and have plenty to eat and good clothes to wear, and should be in favor with the Great Spirit and be his children, while he would be their Great Father, and talk with them, and raise up prophets and wise and good men amongst them again, who should teach them many things.
“This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County.
“In that neighborhood there lived a young man named Joseph Smith, who prayed to the Great Spirit much, in I order that he might know the truth; and the Great Spirit sent an angel to him, and told him where this Book was hid by Moroni; and commanded him to go and get it. He accordingly went to the place, and dug in the earth, and found the Book written on golden plates.
“But it was written in the language of the forefathers of the red man; therefore this young man, being a pale face, could not understand it; but the angel told him and showed him, and gave him knowledge of the language, and how to interpret the Book. So he interpreted it into the language of the pale faces, and wrote it on paper, and caused it to be printed, and published thousands of copies of it among them; and then sent us to the red men to bring some copies of it to them, and to tell them this news. So we have now come from him, and here is a copy of the Book, which we now present to our red friend, the chief of the Delawares, and which we hope he will cause to be read and known among his tribe; it will do them good."
We then presented him with a Book of Mormon.
There was a pause in the council, and some conversation in their own tongue, after which the chief made the following reply:
“We feel truly thankful to our white friends who have come so far, and been at such pains to tell us good news, and especially this new news concerning the Book of our forefathers; it makes us glad in here"—placing his hand on his heart.
“It is now winter, we are new settlers in this place; the snow is deep, our cattle and horses are dying, our wigwams are poor; we have much to do in the spring—to build houses, and fence and make farms; but we will build a council house, and meet together, and you shall read to us and teach us more concerning the Book of our fathers and the will of the Great Spirit."
We again lodged at Mr. Pool’s, told him of the Book, had a very pleasant interview with him, and he became a believer and advocate for the Book, and served as an interpreter.
We continued for several days to instruct the old chief and many of his tribe. The interest became more and more intense on their part, from day to day, until at length nearly the whole tribe began to feel a spirit of inquiry and excitement on the subject.
We found several among them who could read, and to them we gave copies of the Book, explaining to them that it was the Book of their forefathers.
Some began to rejoice exceedingly, and took great pains to tell the news to others, in their own language.
The excitement now reached the frontier settlements in Missouri, and stirred up the jealousy and envy of the Indian agents and sectarian missionaries to that degree that we were soon ordered out of the Indian country as disturbers of peace; and even threatened with the military in case of non-compliance.
We accordingly departed from the Indian country, and came over the line, and commenced laboring in Jackson County, Missouri, among the whites. We were well received, and listened to by many; and some were baptized and added to the church.
Thus ended our first Indian Mission, in which we had preached the gospel in its fullness, and distributed the record of their forefathers among three tribes, viz.: the Catteraugus Indians, near Buffalo, New York, the Wyandots of Ohio, and the Delawares west of Missouri.
We trust that at some future day, when the servants of God go forth in power to the remnant of Joseph, precious seed will be found growing in their hearts, which was sown by us in that early day. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 54–61)
For additional information on the first missionary effort of the Church, see the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and Times and Seasons 4.