8.75" by 5.5"
Wood, Paper, Leather
19th Century Culture; Religious Beliefs; Native Education
Soon after his return from Chicago, John Kinzie headed out on Agency business to Detroit. This left his wife, Juliette, in charge of affairs back home. While preparations had already been made for the construction of a house for the Agency blacksmith, Juliette decided to take matters into her own hands to expedite the building of it. She convinced the Agency’s staff to build the house before John’s return as a surprise. The completion of the house—which would become the Kinzies’ temporary quarters until their own house could be constructed—would afford the couple a much-desired reprieve from the discomfort of their present accommodations at the agency.
Although they were in a hurry to complete the structure, the builders halted the work on Sunday for a time of worship and Bible study. It happened on that day that a Ho-Chunk man named Four Legs (a different individual than the one described in an earlier Artifact Ambassador post) arrived with his wives for a visit at the Agency. His first remarks to Juliette and her company revealed his amazement over their idleness, likely having seen the incomplete structure on the nearby hillside. Juliette’s mother-in-law explained to the Ho-Chunk visitors that “we devoted [Sundays] to worshiping and serving the Great Spirit, as he had commanded in his Holy Word.” Four Legs responded with “a nod of approbation,” seemingly pleased at this expression of devotion. He explained that he and his wives were also devoted to their duties to the “Great Spirit,” but in their own cultural ways. Juliette remarked that while he was appreciative of this shared dedication, he had no interest in hearing how her beliefs differed from his own.
This exchange typifies the intersection of cultures as the native tribe was increasingly exposed to various aspects of European-American society and vice versa. The Ho-Chunk were often pleased by noticing similar social and religious priorities in both traditions, as well as fascinated and even amused by the differences. This did not, however, translate into acceptance or assimilation.
Today’s Artifact Ambassador is an 1825 Bible owned by William and Christina Curtis who settled in Wisconsin in 1848. It represents much of what the Ho-Chunk witnessed in the Kinzies’ culture. Learning through reading—using the Bible as a textbook—and worshiping God according to the revelation within its pages were key components of the convictions which Juliette brought with her from the East.
Both education and Christianity were presented to the Ho-Chunk at the time of the Kinzies. Missionaries, however, quickly discovered that while the tribe firmly agreed with the need to worship God, they believed that each culture had to do it in its own unique manner. Similarly, John was directed by the government to request that the Ho-Chunk leaders allow for the education of some of their children. The Ho-Chunk response gets to the heart of the tribe’s struggle to cope with changing times: “If [the Great Spirit] had seen proper for us to be educated, he would not have made us different from the white men….We wish to remain in the same state as we have ever been….[I]f we were to commence educating our children, the Great Spirit would be angry.”
Thus, our highlighted artifact represents a time when the Ho-Chunk were endeavoring to digest the new ways of life entering their realm and respond to the pressure to conform. They admired both human devotion to God and a pursuit of knowledge in people of any heritage. However, they stood firm in their belief that the culture handed down by their forefathers had been custom-made just for them. In their view, to live any differently would signify ingratitude.