Perishing Heathens: Stories of Protestant Missionaries and Christian Indians in Antebellum America

By Julius H. Rubin | Go to book overview

4
The Question of K
“The First Friend of the Osage Nation unto God”

On January 26, 1827, an eighteen-year-old Osage Indian was involuntarily committed to a New England asylum for the insane, brought in chains and manifesting cycles of religious mania and melancholy. In this chapter we will explore how this youth, whose father had been killed in the wars with the Cherokees, who was the nephew of the important peace chief Tally, was given at age fourteen as a token of goodwill, diplomacy, and alliance to the Union Mission School. The Osages called him Hal-Bah-Chinto.1 Reverend William F. Vaill gave him a Christian name, the namesake of an important supporter of the cause of missions; and we will call him K to shield his identity as a psychiatric patient. The Osages recognized his value should he become literate and accomplished. He was expected to return to his people and assist in their trade and negotiations with the U.S. government. The missionaries anticipated that K would become both “civilized” and converted—an invaluable auxiliary to their cause as a bilingual translator, teacher, and missionary who would return to convert and transform the Osages. Sadly, in K’s short life, we have nothing in his own voice where he might have related his experience of conflict, anomie, culture shock, confusion, and marginality as he traveled from the familiar Native ground into the perplexing Euro-American worlds.

The title of this chapter is derived from a work of Jonathan D. Spence,

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