By Jon Reyhner, Jeanne Eder
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There was a consensus, at least among humanitarians, that it was necessary to civilize Indians so that they would live in harmony with the settlers who were taking their lands. In exchange, the Indians would TREATIES AND WESTERN REMOVAL, 1776– 1 8 6 7 41 receive civilization and education. Education would make them independent yeoman farmers, thus freeing up their vast hunting grounds for white settlement. There were only a dozen missionaries left at the end of the American Revolution, but another religious revival, the Second Great Awakening, led to the creation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810 whose purpose was to evangelize Indians and others (Prucha 1984).
Well behaved while with me[,] . . by contact with the vices of their tribes, not more than half preserved their characters unstained. The rest were sunk into as low, savage, and brutish a way of living as they were before and many of the most promise have fallen lowest. (Quoted in Layman 1942, 92) Wheelock’s failure to note that his students’ fall from grace was probably a result of their contact with frontier whites rather than with their own people is symptomatic of missionaries’ general inability to see traditional tribal practices as anything but evil.
According to Daniel Fogel (1988), the missionaries’ efforts to educate the Indians were doomed because they continued to treat Indian men and women like children. The Franciscan order rigidly excluded Indians from the priesthood. Alexander Forbes ( 1972), a British merchant and author of the first comprehensive history of California, described the California missions as a system of “ecclesiastical slavery” wherein the missionary was a slave master supported by a few soldiers, the students were hostages, and the Indians were more interested in food they received for going to Catholic services than the prayers.