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Missionaries to the Indians

Early attempts by missionaries to bring Christianity to Nebraska's Indian tribes were not successful. In 1833 a Baptist missionary, Moses Merrill and his wife Eliza, arrived in Bellevue, then a trading post. Rev. Merrill made frequent trips to the Oto village thirty miles away and when the Oto built a new village nearer Bellevue the Merrills joined them. The couple took in Oto children and taught them English and theology. An Oto alphabet was devised and hymnals and school books were printed. When Merrill died in 1840 the mission collapsed.

The largest of the early missions was an effort by Presbyterians and Congregationalists beginning in 1834. Reverend John Dunbar and Samuel Allis made their way to the Pawnee villages. For seven years Dunbar and Allis divided their time between their meager farms near Bellevue and ministering to the Pawnee. When other whites joined them, the missionaries moved to the Pawnee villages in the Loup River valley. The government also sent farmers, blacksmiths, and teachers to help the Pawnee. Soon differing ideologies split the white community into two warring camps. This tension was fueled by the realization that the Pawnee were not accepting Christianity. In 1846 the Sioux raided a Pawnee village and a few shots came in the whites' direction. It provided an excuse to abandon the mission forever.

The first mission to the Omaha was a short-lived attempt by a Baptist clergyman, Samuel Curtis. In the summer of 1838 he and his wife went to the Omaha village near present Macy, Nebraska, but they stayed only a few months.

In 1846 the Presbyterian minister Edmund McKinney and his family constructed a large boarding school at Bellevue for the Omaha and Oto, which operated for many years. After the Indians were placed on reservations and much of their native culture was destroyed, missionaries were more successful.

(May 1996)



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