The Pawnee Mission Letters, 1834-1851


The Pawnee Mission Letters, 1834-1851

Edited and with an introduction by Richard E. Jensen

716 pages


July 2010


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July 2010


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About the Book

Rev. John Dunbar and Samuel Allis set out in 1834 to establish a mission to Indians beyond the Rocky Mountains. Unable to obtain a guide and with only a vague knowledge of the West, they instead encountered the Pawnee Indians in Nebraska. It was the beginning of a twelve-year odyssey to convert the tribe to Protestant Christianity and New England “civilization.” Dunbar and Allis traveled with the Pawnees on buffalo hunts and spent time at their villages, recording the customs and habits of the tribe. After a permanent community was established, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent additional missionaries and conflicts over conversion methods ensued, nearly destroying the mission community. The mission was eventually abandoned in 1846, when hostilities between the Sioux and the Pawnees escalated.
This collection of letters written by and to the missionaries, as well as their journal entries, illustrates the life of the mission, from the everyday complications of building and maintaining a community far from urban areas, to the navigation of the bureaucratic policies of the federal government and the American Board, to the ideological differences of the Pawnees’ multiple missionaries and the ensuing rift within the community. These writings provide a unique and personal portrayal of this small white community in the heart of the Pawnees’ domain.

Author Bio

Richard E. Jensen is a retired senior research anthropologist with the Nebraska State Historical Society. He is the editor of numerous books, including Here You Have My Story: Eyewitness Accounts of the Nineteenth-Century Central Plains (Nebraska 2010); Voices of the American West, volume 1: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903–1919 (Nebraska 2005); and Voices of the American West, volume 2: The Settler and Soldier Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903–1919 (Nebraska 2005).


"With The Pawnee Mission Letters, Richard Jensen continues his excellent work of bringing the history of nineteenth-century Nebraska to life through the words of those who lived it."—Anne Beiser Allend, Nebraska History

"With the publication of The Pawnee Mission Letters, Richard Jensen has provided historians of church and academy another valuable resource for the study of the complex relationships among Native Americans, U.S. government employees, and Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century."—Bonnie Sue Lewis, Annals of Iowa

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations        
Chapter One: New England to St. Louis
Chapter Two: St. Louis to Bellevue
Chapter Three: The Pawnees and Their Agents
Chapter Four: Travels with the Pawnees
Chapter Five: The Mission on the Loup
Chapter Six: The Investigation
Chapter Seven: Decline and Fall
Chapter Eight: The Aftermath

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