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Erik Morstad’s Missionary Work among Wisconsin Indians
    by A.E. Morstad (Volume 27: Page 111)

The Reverend Erik Olsen Morstad, my father, was a deeply religious young Norwegian immigrant, who came to America with his younger brother Ole in 1876 at the age of sixteen. With some help from their father, they arrived in Cameron, Wisconsin. Their mother had passed away some fourteen years earlier, soon after Ole’s birth, and they had been cared for by their maternal grandparents.

At Cameron they were taken into the home of distant relatives, who also helped them to obtain work as section hands on the Soo Line, where they worked for the next two years. The working day was ten hours long and the daily pay was fifty cents. For Ole this was a great opportunity to save money and to buy land, which seemed plentiful to a boy accustomed to the very small farms in Norway. He spent several winters in lumber camps and each spring invested his money in land. Although he never earned more than thirty dollars a month plus board, he eventually became moderately wealthy and owned several farms near the town of Exeland, Wisconsin, not far from Cameron. Erik was entirely different from his brother. He had no love for land or money, and what he saved he intended to use in continuing his education. In addition to his job on the railroad, he worked in harvest fields in the vicinity of Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. In 1879 he enrolled at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In two years he received a diploma and went back to Eau Claire, where he spent his next four years. He did some teaching, and during the summer he again worked in the harvest fields. The self-binder had not as yet been perfected, and there was a great demand for men to bind grain by hand behind the reaper. Proficient binders received top wages - and Erik Morstad became an expert.

This was hard work requiring speed, skill, and endurance. In order to keep up with the reaper, it was customary for men to hurry from one bundle to the next. Erik, however, managed to tie bundles with more speed than most men and thus could keep up without running. On one occasion the owner took the position next to Erik and tried to show him how it really should be done by running from one bundle to the next. When the young man kept up without running, the owner finally said to him, “You are a good binder all right, but that’s all you are good for.” {1}

The work in the harvest fields took Erik to numerous communities near Eau Claire, one of which was the little village of Whitehall, thirty miles to the south. Here he met a young lady, Laura Olson, who had recently emigrated from Solør, Norway. She was working for a farmer to repay him for her passage to America, and it happened that they attended the same church service one Sunday in October, 1881; soon they became well acquainted. Their friendship developed into a courtship, and five years later they were married on February 7, 1886, at Wittenberg, Wisconsin. Of their romance we know practically nothing, as they never discussed it in any detail with their children. The ceremony was performed by Pastor E. J. Homme, at the Immanuel Lutheran Church. Laura later told her children that she thought it would be nice to be married to a man so deeply religious. She apparently did not foresee the hardships that would confront her in raising a large family on the meager income of a missionary to the Indians.

Erik’s two years at Luther College had convinced him that there was a fertile field for missionary work among the Wisconsin Indians, most of whom had never been exposed to Christianity. Their heathen customs seemed abominable to him, as he visited them in and about Eau Claire. He also traveled south to Merrillan Junction and Hatfield in Jackson County. The Indians in that territory were mostly Winnebago. He was apparently undaunted by the fact that he had no money or sponsor, and that, while pursuing his chosen vocation, he had no way of supporting himself. He was still convinced that he should carry the gospel to the Indians, even though they were far more interested in the practices and beliefs of their ancestors. Their war dances and pow-wows were exciting. They were especially so when the Indians got their hands on firewater. Traders who bought furs, ginseng, evergreens, blueberries, and the like from the Indians had long since found that they could get wonderful bargains when they had whisky to offer. Missionaries for more than a century had found that drunkenness was the big obstacle to overcome in bringing religion and education to the Indians.

In spite of the fact that the Winnebago were strongly addicted to the use of liquor, Erik Morstad decided to work among them. One of the reasons was undoubtedly the fact that many of the adults could understand and speak some English, and this was a great advantage to a young missionary who did not know a word of their language.

At Wittenberg in Shawano County, he became acquainted with the Reverend E. J. Homme, who was working to get the Bethany Indian Mission established there for the Winnebago Indians. A church committee met to consider the matter at the Luther Seminary in Madison; there serious objections were raised.

Several points were called to the attention of committee members: “Firstly, both the Missouri and the Augustana synods had started Indian missions and had been compelled to give them up. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to establish a mission among people who are so unsettled and nomadic. Thirdly, it is difficult to find a man who is suited for such work since he must make it his life’s calling, must be willing to endure hardship and self-denial, and must have the ability to learn the Indian language.”

The advocates of the plan also expressed the following conviction: “The work should be seriously undertaken at once, since all mission history proves that the concern for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom among the heathens has had a beneficial effect on the church. Furthermore, it is right to begin a mission among the Indians since we occupy the land which was once their land, and that we are obligated to them. Finally, it would be well to forget some of our abominable church strife by serious participation in such a mission.”

Committee members stressed how important it was for children to get away from pagan influence and to receive food, clothing, and schooling away from home. They also mentioned that the government had changed its attitude toward the Redskins, seemingly believing that it was cheaper to give them the gospel than to kill them. The committee finally arrived at the unanimous decision that the Norwegian Synod should have as its aim the starting of a mission among the Indians of northern Wisconsin. A petition to that effect was signed and delivered to President H. A. Preus. {2}

The Bethany Mission was started in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, in 1884 and on August 22 of that year a call was sent to Erik Morstad to become the first missionary. He accepted the challenge, reported at the mission on August 30, and set for himself a double goal. He would strive to learn the complicated Winnebago language, and he would conduct a school for the Indian children. He found his task most difficult, but he made some progress. A first-hand account of the project appeared the next spring in For Gammel og Ung (For Old and Young). This article gives valuable information how the mission began: “With the help of God, a mission has been started among the Winnebago Indian children in the vicinity of Wittenberg. We have already mentioned in a previous issue that the mission house was completed at the beginning of the year, and that Indian boys came to attend. Mr. Morstad took them in and has looked after them, providing clothing and food.

“The boys have been sorely tempted to leave. Both the Indians and ungodly people have tried to hinder the work. The devil has tried, as is always the case when God’s kingdom encroaches, to disrupt things. But he did not get very far. Through the ungodly white people, they tried to get the Indians to believe that Mr. Morstad was a dangerous person. Every family which sent a child would lose $50 of their annual government payment. The children would be sent across the ocean, and they would not be seen again. Such talk could have caused bad blood, but the Indian boys were not upset, and the suspicions seem to have quieted down. During the conference which was held here last month, a number of pastors had the pleasure of coming out to look at the station. They were amazed at the progress that had been made in so short a time. Within six weeks the boys had learned to read sensibly in a pictorial primer, and in writing they had made more progress than other children would have done in the same length of time.

“But how difficult it must be for Mr. Morstad to look after these children! He does not have anyone to do the housekeeping and must prepare the meals and care for everything. With the help of God, there will soon be a change. The committee which heads the work has decided to build onto the schoolhouse, so that a steward can supervise the housekeeping and Mr. Morstad can give all of his time to instruction and learning the Indian language. Jacob Midboe, who had been teaching in the Wittenberg Orphans’ Home for two years, has accepted the call to be a steward and will move out to the mission house accompanied by his oldest daughter. . . . By the help of God, we hope we can do something for these poor Indians, especially for their children.” {3}

Missionary Morstad found the Winnebago language extremely complicated and difficult; furthermore, there was no grammar or dictionary available. Fortunately, one of the Indian boys who was somewhat older than the others could speak English, and he served as something of an interpreter. Under these conditions, Morstad did not feel that he was making progress, and he entertained the idea of taking time off to attend college to study Greek, German, and English, thus acquiring tools to assist him in learning the Indian language more readily.

The month of September, 1885, was a busy one. On the 16th the Reverend Theodor H. Dahl made a trip to investigate the mission for the church committee. This body met the following day at the parsonage of Pastor Homme. Two days later the official group went to see the Bethany Indian Mission House, some four miles from Wittenberg. On the morning of the next day, it held a meeting at the Northern Hotel in Wausau, Wisconsin, a town twenty-six miles north and west of Wittenberg. Here the Reverend T. Larsen, on behalf of the committee, presented the following questions and statements to Morstad:

“Does Mr. Morstad agree with the committee regarding future studies? Morstad - Yes.

“Is Morstad satisfied with the remuneration the committee offers him, namely, $150.00 a year with the understanding that this would be increased should he get married? Morstad - Yes.

“When reference is made to Morstad’s traveling expense paid by the committee, the understanding is that such trips shall be in the interest of the Mission.

“Morstad is advised to work out sermons which will be looked over by Rev. Homme and to practice public speaking.” {4}

In spite of the many problems and handicaps under which Erik Morstad was working, the difficulty that galled him most was learning the Winnebago language. The committee was unalterably opposed to his idea of taking time off for more education; they feared that such a break in mission work would result in the loss of pupils and be a serious setback for the whole project.

Morstad was not satisfied with the idea of just learning enough of the language to make himself understood. He definitely felt that he would need more education. Therefore, in the fall of 1886, he gave up his work with the Bethany Mission and headed for the Chicago Theological Seminary. We have no information about how he managed to support himself and his wife during the next three years in Chicago, but he did succeed in completing his course in 1889 and was ordained a Lutheran minister. He was not as yet associated with any synod.

It is likely that he had worked in Chicago and had attended the seminary on a part-time basis. A writer familiar with Morstad’s work reveals that the program of the young minister in Chicago followed this pattern. “The Rev. E. O. Morstad,” he wrote, “who studied at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, 1879-1881, and frequented the Chicago Theological Seminary, 1886-1889, from where he graduated, had a heartfelt desire to devote his time to missionary work among the sadly neglected Indians, where among some tribes religious work had never been done or even attempted. Unsupported by any public organization he took up the work among the tribe of Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin with the intention to dedicate his entire time in work for their welfare. However, after some three years of toil and hardship among that tribe, he found that they were of such a roaming nature and so unsettled that it became hopeless to do much of anything for them.”{5}

During the three years that the Reverend Erik O. Morstad and his wife lived in Chicago, the first of their eight children was born. This baby girl, whose birthday was December 1, 1886, was christened Olava Maria. The name Olava was no doubt taken from that of her maternal great-aunt Olava Grondlund. On September 10, 1888, the first son was born and was christened Feodor (later Theodore) Ram Strom. Ram Strom was the name of Erik’s closest friend at Luther College, with whom he corresponded for years after leaving Decorah. At least one of the letters in this correspondence was found among the papers in his library after he had passed away.

Sometime during the year 1890, the Morstad family left Chicago, traveled to Jackson County, Wisconsin, and moved to the small community of Hatfield. This village was just south of Merrillan Junction, where they took a homestead in the woods. Homesteaders were required to erect a house and live there for a specified time before acquiring title to the land. However, it so happened that a building had already been erected on this land, and the family made it their home. Here on September 22, 1890, their third child, a boy, was born and christened Philip Melanchthon. The second name was that of a prominent Lutheran reformer whom the father admired.

The Morstad family continued to reside at Hatfield for three years, a period that was particularly trying for them all. There was no work in the immediate vicinity, and we do not know how Morstad was able to provide for his family. They were quite isolated, had few if any neighbors, and the nearest doctor was miles away. This fact became very critical when an epidemic of black diphtheria spread through that vicinity in the spring of 1891, and it was several days before the doctor was able to cross the Black River because of the spring floods. Before the doctor arrived, the oldest daughter, Olava Maria, had died. The two boys, Feodor and Philip, recovered. Their mother often spoke of this terrible ordeal. She recalled that two officials came to the house, but were apparently afraid to enter because black diphtheria is very contagious. They simply passed a small coffin through a window and took out the baby and the coffin. Little Olava Maria was buried in a cemetery at Merrillan Junction on May 31, 1891.

This was the beginning of the end of the homestead at Hatfield. Mrs. Morstad insisted upon moving to some community where a doctor and medicine would be available in case of illness. Their property was soon disposed of and the family moved to Wittenberg, Wisconsin, in 1892. Here Morstad became acquainted with some members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eielsen Synod, and in 1893 he was invited to attend their annual convention at Clear Lake, Iowa. He became a member of this synod, which agreed to provide some financial aid for his missionary work among the Wisconsin Pottawatomie Indians.

The new location was only a few miles from Bethany Mission for the Winnebago Indians, but he was now working with the Pottawatomie. Several families of the tribe lived within a few miles of Wittenberg with a total of about thirty children. The oldest was sixteen years of age, and none of them had had even a day’s schooling. From now on, we also have a better account of Pastor Morstad’s work, as the Eielsen Synod published a monthly paper in Norwegian that carried an annual account of his activities. This paper was called Den Kristelige Lægmand (The Christian Layman).

A spring issue in 1893 carried the following information: “There are about 600 members of this [Pottawatomie] tribe scattered through northern Wisconsin and Michigan. They are all pagans. They have gone to Washington seeking to obtain a reservation.” {6}

According to treaty provisions in 1833, all of the Pottawatomie, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indians were to have moved west of the Mississippi River many years earlier, but a large segment of the Pottawatomie had refused to leave their homes in Wisconsin and many of them had moved east to Michigan and even to Canada. All these Indians understood and spoke Chippewa, and in 1893 Morstad managed to acquire a copy of the New Testament in this language. The book was a great help to him in learning the new tongue and in bringing the gospel to the Indians.

He reported that in May, 1894, he went with several Indians to the land office in Wausau, Wisconsin, to help them obtain homesteads. Since there were none in the immediate vicinity, most of the tribal members received their grants some seventy miles to the north in Forest, Oconto, and Marinette counties. This, of course, was a hindrance to Morstad’s missionary work and made his task of reaching his people much more difficult. He quotes from Count Zinzendorf who had said in 1739, when people were leaving for America to work among the Indians, “They will not win a whole tribe, but will win them one by one.” {7}

In the spring of 1895, Morstad made a scouting trip to Forest County and tried to carry on religious instruction while living in a tent. However, the nights were so cold that after a few days he was forced to give up this work when he contracted a bad cold and was forced to return home and abandon his plan. Late in the nineteenth century, many of the Pottawatomie Indians from Shawano County were taking up homesteads in Forest and Marinette counties. This area is about seventy miles north of the Morstad home in Wittenberg. The only way he could get to the Forest County Indians was a roundabout one. He had to travel to Shawano, then by the Wisconsin Northern Railroad to Crandon to the Soo Line and east to Armstrong Creek, and by foot south to John Thunder’s homestead on the Rat River. Here in the fall of 1895, he proceeded to build his first log mission house, which was finally finished in April of the next year. Two men aided him in this construction, Dan La Fleur and William King. This building served for several years both as a school and as a church. “He built a temporary schoolhouse where he had the Indian children gathered for instruction and evenings the grown-ups would gather to hear the missionary speak. Year by year he widened his mission field . . . through Oconto, Marinette and Forest Counties.” {8}

Here he started a Sunday school. “But,” he reported, “it is hard to get them to come because for them one day is like the next.” {9} He helped one Indian roll logs while he was clearing, so that the man would have time to come for Christian instruction on Sunday. “There is much superstition and heathen worship among them,” he wrote, “which is undesirable. Let us keep on working.” {10}

His report in 1897 reveals that there had been several sad events and more sources of discouragement than encouragement. Two of his six pupils had died and a third was seriously ill. He also reported that the Indians were spiritually dull, but were nevertheless willing to hear God’s word and to have their children instructed. He was, however, sure that he could make better progress when he had developed more proficiency in the Chippewa language.

Morstad was especially fortunate when, on a trip to visit other Indians at Ashland, Wisconsin, he had been able to borrow a Chippewa grammar, a dictionary, and a book of exercises. He was greatly encouraged by these books and worked with renewed zeal at the task of learning the language. In a later report to the church, he expresses his encouragement as follows: “I hope within a few weeks to be able to preach God’s word in Chippewa.” {11}

Such hopes were premature, however; while he could make himself understood, it was still a few years before he could preach a sermon to the Indians in their language.

In 1905 he was able to spend a part of the summer in Lawrence, Kansas, where he went to study the language at a Chippewa Indian school. Here he had the opportunity to practice conversation and to learn correct pronunciation. By 1906 he was able to serve as an interpreter for Frank C. Churchill, a clerk from the office of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who was sent to Wisconsin to take a census of the Pottawatomie Indians. Thus, after twelve to fourteen years of study, he had managed to acquire proficiency in speaking, writing, and translating Chippewa.

Morstad’s study of languages continued throughout his life. Whenever he traveled by train, he carried several books in addition to his Bible, and several of these were grammars and books of exercises in some foreign language. Even when he went to the barber shop, he always had some book with him to study while he waited his turn.

For German, he purchased a phonograph with cylindrical records and ear phones so that he could listen to the lessons. As an aid to learning French, he also procured a phonograph with twenty-four disc records of lessons. To assist in his study of Hebrew, he acquired a typewriter on which the carriage ran backward. He was always a stickler for correct pronunciation and he worked at it endlessly. It was commonly said among the Indians that he was the only white man who spoke the language like a native.

Unfortunately, there were no manufactured aids to help him with his study of Chippewa, and so he worked for years to produce his own. The dictionary he had borrowed had to be returned; therefore he copied all of it in longhand. It fills a journal book with three hundred pages of 8 x 12½ inches. It was prepared by a Bishop Baraga and published in Montreal in 1878. Unfortunately, it had long been out of print. Morstad’s copy is still in good condition.

In addition to the dictionary, he produced his own manual of the Ojibue language. This he also copied in an 180-page ledger, on 7 ¼ X 11 ½-inch pages. It, too, has been preserved intact.

In one of his later reports, Morstad informed the synod that three of the boys had died and that another was seriously ill. {12} When another family moved away, it was apparent that the mission was not in the right location. Following the suggestion of the synod, he did a good deal of traveling in 1898 and 1899. He visited Indians at Lac du Flambeau, Odanah, Court Oreilles, Crandon, and Stone Lake. At Odanah he found that the Methodists were doing missionary work. On his return, he reported that Forest County was still the best place for a mission. “There are many Pottawatomies there and they are more pagan.” {13} Another important factor was that the Chicago and North Western Railway was completing its line from Green Bay north through Forest County. This would make the territory much more accessible. He found a quarter section of land fronting on Stone Lake, which he tried to buy for the mission - but the railroad was not willing to sell.

To facilitate his missionary work in Forest County, the church agreed that he should move his family there, and it provided the money for the transfer. In the fall of 1901, the family moved to the small lumbering village of Carter. At that time the community had a post office, a general store, a one-room school, a saw mill, and two saloons. The Morstads moved into a two-story log house; the property had a well with the traditional oaken bucket and excellent drinking water.

The family had grown considerably during its nine years in Wittenberg. The four younger members - with the dates of their births - were as follows: Paul Gerhard, December 26, 1892; Laura Maria, February 22, 1895; Erik Alexander, July 31, 1897; and Agnes Ingeborg, April 3, 1900. So the family moved to Carter with six children. Paul was given the name Gerhard; no doubt the father was happy to name one of his boys after this famous Lutheran hymn writer. Laura was named after her mother, and Erik after his father. Erik Alexander never liked the name Erik. He once told his father so, and the pastor enumerated several outstanding men named Erik. However, in school Erik always gave his name as Alexander, to be sure that no one would ever call him by his first name. Ingeborg was named after her paternal grandmother, Ingeborg Morstad. The last child born in the family was Octavia, on August 20, 1905, and that brought the total to eight children, five of whom are still living.

One thought was ever present in the mind of the missionary and of the Indians he served: that was the need for a boarding school which could also serve as an industrial school. The idea is mentioned in each annual report from 1901 through 1904. Even though the expense was far beyond the mission’s budget, there was always hope that the federal government would finance such a project even if it was unable to establish a reservation. The belief was that such a school would tend to centralize the Pottawatomie, thereby making the work of bringing education and Christianity to them much more fruitful.

In the fall of 1903, the Reverend Erik Morstad made a trip to Lake Vermilion in Minnesota and was surprised to find some Christian Chippewa, although most of the tribe there were still heathens. Along with an Indian sent out by the Methodists, he had some meetings with the Christian natives along the way.

The Reverend Morstad was now working out of the village of Carter, which is located in the township of Wabeno. That community in 1904 extended a helping hand by establishing an Indian school. Fifteen acres were purchased just seven miles east of Carter near the home of John Shawano. He was a prominent Indian, who was highly respected and who was later elected chief of the band of the Wisconsin Pottawatomie. He also had a large family of children of school age.

Morstad was asked to become the teacher in the new school, provided that he would qualify himself under the laws of Wisconsin. To do so, it was necessary for him to take two courses in teacher training and education. These studies were taken by correspondence, and he thereby prepared himself to teach a district school in Wisconsin. The county superintendent was pleased to have a teacher who understood the Indians and could speak their language. This was essential as the children knew no English. The school term was seven months in length, and Morstad remained the teacher for three years. Eleven children attended, eight of whom were the children of John Shawano. This was not an easy teaching job; he was forced to walk to the school and back daily, a total of fourteen miles. Part of the distance on an Indian trail and the rest over a rough logging road. In the spring and fall rains, the road was muddy, and winter snow caused him to blaze his own trail. He left home at daylight and returned after dark. Morstad was a good walker who could cover as many miles in a day as any Indian - and more than most of them. N. T. Peterson, in describing the pastor’s work in the back woods of Wisconsin for more than thirty years, writes as follows: “Time and again he walked the Indian trails all day and part of the night in drenching rains or in wet snow coming home all tired out with not a dry thread on his body, but no suffering or sacrifice was too much for him in his ardor or hope to win a precious soul. He was a man of few words, but his work proved his fervency.” {14}

Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 provided that the “utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians.” This was undoubtedly the sincere thought and desire of our colonial fathers and also of the framers of our constitution who approved the ordinance.

However, the Indians occupied the land, a circumstance which brought them into conflict with the American people, who continued to take over and settle one territory after another until our country stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There followed wars between various Indian tribes and between Indians and white men.

The Pottawatomie, Chippewa, and Ottawa were all members of the Algonquin family, which originally settled in Canada just north of the Great Lakes. This group engaged in wars with the five nations of Iroquois Indians, who occupied New York and the Atlantic coast. The latter were a fierce and warlike people; they forced the Algonquins to flee westward. Their route followed a Canadian trail north of Lake Huron. In 1641 the Pottawatomie tribe were located at Sault Ste. Marie - “fleeing before the face of the Sioux.” {15}

In 1639 Jean Nicolet found the Pottawatomie in the vicinity of Green Bay. In 1668 they were all on the Pottawatomie Islands in Green Bay. In the early seventeenth century, some of them were there; two other bands had located in Michigan - one on the St. Joseph River and the other near Detroit. Those on the St. Joseph River remained there until 1830; they finally settled in the vicinity of Chicago, in southern Wisconsin, and north to and beyond Milwaukee. Here they had a choice territory, and they lived there until about 1830, when there was a great surge of movement to the West. {16}

In the forty years from 1790 to 1830, the American population had more than tripled - from four to more than thirteen million - and at this time there was a great land rush in the vicinity of Chicago. The immediate cause of this activity was that plans were being made to connect Lake Michigan with the Illinois and Mississippi rivers by digging a canal. This, of course, would have provided ocean transportation for the great Mississippi Valley and would have sent people scurrying to find choice pieces of land along the proposed canal. Individuals bought lots in Chicago for a few dollars, a keg of whisky - or what have you? In turn, they would resell them within a few days or weeks for several hundred dollars apiece. By 1833 or 1834, some of the lots were valued at thousands of dollars. {17}

The biggest obstacle in the way of this rapid expansion was that much of the land was occupied by Indians who lived in tepees, wigwams, and log huts. They were reluctant to give up their holdings and as a result the western settlers began to petition the authorities to move the Indians.

The federal government sent a negotiator to make a deal with the Pottawatomie, Chippewa, and Ottawa tribes united under Chief Wau-Me-Ge-Sa-Ko or the Wampum. He was a very prominent leader who had played an important part in the treaties of Butte des Morts in 1827, of Green Bay in 1828, and of Chicago in 1833. He lived in Manitowoc, where he died in 1844 at the age of about fifty-five.

The treaty of 1833, ratified in 1835, provided that the Chippewa, Pottawatomie, and Ottawa cede to the United States a tract of land on the western shore of Lake Michigan commencing at Cross Point, nine miles north of Chicago, to the source of the Milwaukee River and thence west to Rock River. By a previous treaty at Prairie du Chien, July 29, 1829, the Indians had ceded to the United States a large tract of land farther south within the following limits: “Beginning at the Winnebago village on Rock River, forty miles from its mouth, and running thence down the Rock River to a line which runs due west from the most southern bend of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

“In 1829 the commissioners for the United States were General John McNeil, Colonel Pierre Menard, and Caleb Atwater. The officials representing the United States in negotiating the Treaty of Chicago of 1833 were George P. Porter, Thomas J. V. Owen, and William Weatherford.

“In consideration for the ceding of approximately five million acres in Wisconsin and Illinois, the three Indian tribes were to receive by the terms of the treaty a tract of land west of the Mississippi in the territory of Iowa and south to the northern boundary of Missouri, to include no less than five million acres. There were also several other terms of lesser value: The United States aforesaid agree to pay to the aforesaid nations of Indians the sum of sixteen thousand dollars annually forever in specie; the said sum to be paid in Chicago. And the said United States further agree to cause to be delivered to said nations of Indians, in the month of October next, twelve thousand dollars worth of goods as a present. And it is further agreed to deliver to said Indians at Chicago fifty barrels of salt, annually, forever; and further, the United States agree to make permanent for the use of said Indians, the blacksmith’s establishment at Chicago.

“In addition to all this, the treaty also gave to various Indian leaders small grants of land in instances when they and their followers were not settled in villages. These grants were generally small ranging from two to five sections. Attached were schedules A and B, intended to satisfy additional claims. Schedule A specified: Hereunto annexed; one hundred and fifty thousand dollars [would be paid the Indian tribes] to satisfy claims made against the said United nation which they have here admitted to be justly due, and directed to be paid; according to Schedule B, hereunto annexed; one hundred thousand dollars to be paid in goods and provisions, a part to be delivered on the signing of this treaty, and the residue during the ensuing year; two hundred and eighty thousand dollars to be paid in annuities of fourteen thousand dollars a year, for twenty years; one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to be applied to the erection of mills, farm houses, Indian houses, and blacksmith shops, to agriculture improvements, to the purchase of agricultural implements and stock, and for the support of such physicians, millers, farmers, blacksmiths and other mechanics as the President of the United States shall think proper to appoint; seventy thousand dollars for the purpose of education and the encouragement of domestic arts to be applied in such manner as the President of the United States may direct.

“The wish of the Indians had been expressed to the commissioners as follows: The United Nation of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie Indians, being desirous to create a perpetual fund for the purposes of education and the encouragement of the domestic arts, wish to invest the sum of seventy thousand dollars in some safe stock, only the interest of which is to be applied as may be necessary for the above purposes; they therefore request the President of the United States to make such investment for the nation as he may think best. If, however, at any time hereafter, the said nation shall have made such advancement in civilization and have become so enlightened as in the opinion of the President and the Senate of the United States they shall be capable of managing so large a fund with safety, they may withdraw the whole or any part of it.” {18}

In 1902, when Morstad had agreed to undertake the task of investigating the Indian claims and of getting the government to recognize them, he made a trip to Madison and spent many days in the State Historical Library there, making a long-hand copy of the Treaty of Chicago of 1833. This copy is fortunately well preserved and the quotations above are from that manuscript.

Attorneys Kappler and Merillat of Washington, D. C., took over after the death of R. V. Belt, who for years had carried the main burden. They asked the Reverend Morstad to summarize some of the earlier efforts on behalf of that band of Pottawatomie Indians who did not move west of the Mississippi River. These people for many years had been denied any of the benefits from the land ceded to the government by the treaty of 1833.

Morstad’s letter written in answer to the request, from his home in Carter, appears in the record of hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee of Indian Affairs of the House of Representatives. Dated January 21, 1913, it reads in part as follows, from the records of the committee.

“Dear Sirs:
“Your letter of the 17th instant I received last night. In this you desire me to make a statement as complete as possible concerning the services of Mr. Belt in the Wisconsin Pottawatomie matter. To this I have to say that it is now nearly eleven years since Mr. Belt took this work in hand for our Indians. He wrote me that in the summer of 1902 he gave up his vacation in order to take up this work. He next drafted a memorial, which I sent to Washington for the Indians, and, from time to time, drafted many of the letters and documents which I forwarded to Washington. The majority of personal letters to him and others concerning this matter I wrote myself, but several of the most important ones he first drafted and sent to me. . . .

“I trust that it will appear that this has been a very difficult and complicated task which fully required the best skill and efforts of an expert like Hon. R. V. Belt to accomplish, that it seemed providential to me that he had you associated with him in it several years before he died, and I should feel much disappointed for Mrs. Belt and yourselves if the fee that you now ask should be denied you, it being but one-half of the fee that was stipulated or contracted for by Mr. Belt originally.

“May I remark before I close that when Senator La Follette asked my opinion as to the attorney’s fee at the conference in Laona, Wis., in 1909, I did not feel prepared to pass an opinion or judgment on it. But having learned since that you offer to accept one-half the amount of the original fee, having also talked it over with friends who know about such things more than I do, and having had more time to think about it, I feel now more safe in expressing my opinion.” {19}

In order to establish the indebtedness of the United States to the Wisconsin Pottawatomie, it was necessary to know how many Indians were in this band. In 1870 a census had been taken by Special Indian Agent D. A. Griffith showing 928 members of the tribe then in Wisconsin. {20} However, as the census was not taken annually, it was impossible to know what the government really owed the Indians. In 1906 it decided to take a census, and Frank C. Churchill, the United States Indian Inspector, was sent to Wisconsin for that purpose. He came to Carter to consult with Morstad. Churchill and the missionary worked together during September and October, 1906, to complete a census.

This census, however, proved inadequate, as it was decided that many Pottawatomie had moved on to Michigan and to Canada and were equally eligible with those in Wisconsin, provided they were not receiving aid with other Indian groups or from either the American or the Canadian government. Therefore it was decided in 1907 to make a more comprehensive census, covering not only Wisconsin but also Michigan and Canada. Dr. W. M. Wooster, a clerk in the Indian Office, was put in charge, and he filed the following report:

“As instructed, I proceeded directly to Carter, Wisconsin, and at once called on Rev. Erik O. Morstad, a Lutheran missionary among the Pottawatomies, who had rendered valuable assistance to Indian Inspector Churchill in his preparation of his roll of the Indians. On consultation with the missionary it was learned that he had inaugurated the movement to prosecute a claim against the United States in behalf of these Indians and that he was personally acquainted with nearly all of their families. It was learned also that the method followed in making the previous enrollment in Wisconsin was to visit the town or village nearest the Indian group or settlement and send an Indian interpreter or guide for them so that their tribal status might be inquired into and their right to enrollment determined; that he, the missionary, had subsequently ascertained that some of the persons enrolled at the various places visited had misrepresented the facts, and consequently misled the inspector into believing that they were entitled to enrollment. It was learned also that there had been some omissions by reason of absence and failure of Indians to remember the names of all of their children, etc.

“On the strong recommendation of Rev. Morstad, Charles Kisheck, a chief of his people, and by far the most reliable and best versed man among them in genealogical matters, was employed by me as interpreter.

“In company with the missionary who was engaged as guide in accordance with your instructions, the group of Indians, some six or eight miles (by trail) east of Carter, Wisconsin, was first visited. At this place some changes in the previous enrollment were found to be necessary by reason of births, deaths, etc. .

“At the Carter group the principal sources of information were Joe Pemma, a full-blood Pottawatomie, 83 years of age, and Chief Kisheck, 65 years of age. In Canada, when reservations were visited the Indian agents were usually found to be courteous and of material assistance to us in our work. Here much was learned from questioning the old Indians. .

“All told, a total of 457 Wisconsin Pottawatomies were enrolled here in the United States. Nearly all are of mixed blood, the band for years having intermarried with the Chippewa and Ottawa. Some few have a small percentage of white blood, but to all appearances are full-blood.

“These Indians, as a rule, have no fixed homes, but roam from place to place, picking berries, digging ginseng and other roots, gathering evergreens, working in lumber camps, etc. A few of them have homesteaded and now hold from forty to eighty acres of public land and have made small clearings and erected rude log houses. In the main, though, they are squatters and have built shelters or shacks and have made small clearings in the forest or on wherever vacant land could be found. All the public land in Wisconsin has long since been settled and lumber companies now own or control the lands on which these nomads temporarily reside. Consequently, when the cut-over lands are sold to settlers the squatter Indians are forced to move and thus lose the few improvements they have made.” {21}

There were numerous problems involved in enrolling some of these Indians, who were fearful and uncooperative, as indicated in Wooster’s report to the Secretary of the Interior: “At some of the camps visited much patience and tact were required to get any information whatever from the Indians. They were sullen and suspicious and still considered themselves refugees and repeatedly said they did not wish to be enrolled. For the most part they feared that their children would be sent to school or that they would be collected and forcibly removed to Kansas by the government. In these cases it was due to the extensive knowledge of Indians possessed by Rev. Morstad, to his unfailing patience and tact, and to the personal influence of Chief Kisheck that the information necessary to complete the enrollment was obtained.”

Since many of the Pottawatomie had migrated to Canada, it became necessary for the census takers to head for that country after taking roll of those in Wisconsin. Dr. Wooster continues: “In view of the peculiar fitness of the missionary and the Indian Chief for the work, and of the valuable assistance rendered by them in Wisconsin, they were again employed as guide and interpreter, respectively, for the trip to Canada.”

Dr. Wooster enrolled all Pottawatomie Indians that were found in Canada, even though they were not homeless and many of them had established their rights under the Canadian government and were residing on reservations there.

After Wooster had apparently completed his work and had returned to Washington, he received a list of 127 additional names from Michigan John of Laona, Wisconsin, who, it was claimed, had been omitted. It was asserted that these Indians were absent and overlooked when the enrollment was made at Laona. According to Wooster: “Concerning the imperfect list of names furnished by Michigan John of Laona, Wisconsin, referred to in my report of the 18th ultimo, I have to say that the list was sent to Rev. E. O. Morstad for investigation and has been returned by him. He says in letters of December 23 and 26, 1907, respectively, that he learns from Chief Kisheck that so far as the names on the list can be recognized they are all on the roll.”

Although the government had not as yet officially recognized the claims of the Pottawatomie who refused to move west of the Mississippi, it was in fact doing it unofficially. The taking of the census in 1906 and 1907 was a direct result of an act of Congress, approved June 21, 1906. This legislation provided for such a census and also called for an investigation of the claims of the Pottawatomie as set forth in their memorial to Congress, printed in Senate Document 185, 57th Congress, Second Session, page 1. The memorial referred to above was drawn up by Attorney R. V. Belt and signed by various prominent Pottawatomie leaders and their missionary, the Reverend E.O. Morstad. {22}

As previously mentioned, by the Treaty of Chicago of 1833, the nation of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie ceded to the United States 5,000,000 acres of land in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, and in exchange were given title to a tract of land west of the Mississippi River and north of the Missouri River containing at least 5,000,000 acres. When ratified in 1835, the Indians were given an additional three years to move. Beginning in 1839, all payments specified in the Chicago Treaty were to be made west of the Mississippi. This, of course, was an inducement to expedite the westward movement of the Indians in which the government was to aid and pay the expense.

The Pottawatomie were loath to move from their homes in Wisconsin to the new reservation west of the Mississippi, although it was really on a fine tract of land. The white men in the westward migration seemed to find this new area to their liking and soon began to occupy it. General D. A. Griffith of the U. S. Army, a special Indian agent, reported as follows: “The Indians soon began to remove to the reservation located on the Mississippi River, as before stated, but before many of them had settled thereon the United States found it desirable to ask them to exchange that reservation for one south of the Missouri River, in what is now the state of Kansas. The great body of Indians were not disposed to remove from their former homes about Lake Michigan. This new request for another change before the removal had been effected under the Treaty of 1833 did not encourage them in the matter of moving to their new home. The adult Indians contended that in such an important matter for so radical a change in latitude, climate, etc., the whole tribe should have been consulted and they did not realize or recognize the binding force of the treaties concluded with the few chiefs and headmen of the tribes. In this situation military force was employed to secure the removal of those unwilling to move. Some were so removed, but many evaded the military escorts and scattered about the country, earning their living by hunting, trapping, picking berries, etc.” {23}

The Indians who came to be known as the Wisconsin Band of Pottawatomie had no desire to be removed forcibly to the west and southwest. They therefore fled to the north. Some went back to Canada, whence they had come, others stopped in northern Wisconsin, and still others found a place for themselves in Michigan.

When the United States government decided to move the Indians from the tract given them in 1833, it was unable to find another five million acres for them, and a new treaty of June 17, 1846, decreed that they should move into what is now Kansas and Oklahoma.

Article 4 of the treaty of 1846 provided for the purchase of 576,000 acres of land which was to form the new reservation for the Pottawatomie. The Wisconsin Indians who had not been allotted lands elsewhere would have been entitled to a share of the land in the western area had they moved there.

This segment of the Pottawatomie wandered aimlessly about for more than a half-century in northern Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada. During all of that long period, they received no part of the payment for the five million acres ceded to the government in 1833. Hence, they were the ones described by Thomas F. Konop, congressman from northern Wisconsin, when he appeared before the Indian Committee: “They are nobody’s Indians. . . . They were in great distress . . . they had nothing.” {24}

The biggest obstacle was that of getting the Department of Indian Affairs to recognize that the Wisconsin Pottawatomie did have a legitimate claim. For years, the department had maintained that, because they did not move west of the Mississippi River according to the provisions of the Treaty of 1833, they had forfeited their right to compensation for their share of the area which they had ceded to the government. This treaty was soon superseded by the Treaty of 1846, and the government promised to deposit in the Treasury of the United States a sum of money in excess of $800,000 to the credit of the Indians, because they were getting only about one eighth as much land as they were losing.

Some years before the turn of the century, a prominent Washington attorney, J. C. Bullock, was retained by the Wisconsin Pottawatomie. For several years, he tried to get the Indian Office to recognize their claims, but after a long period of failure, he dropped the matter. Much of his correspondence was turned over to the Reverend Morstad by the Indians, when they prevailed upon him to take up their cause in 1902. Much of this correspondence is still preserved. It was thoroughly reviewed by Morstad, whose next move was to go to the State Historical Library in Madison, where he spent a week studying the various treaties.

Morstad asked the help and advice of Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, whom he knew slightly. Nelson was well acquainted with Attorney R. V. Belt, who had formerly served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs and was an authority in that field. Nelson asked the lawyer to look into the legal aspects of this case and to advise him accordingly. The attorney made a thorough study of the problem and sent the senator a twelve-page copy of his study. Senator Nelson forwarded the opinion to the Reverend Morstad, who was elated over it. Years later he wrote: “By the sketch he sent me as to the history of the matter, I could see now for the first time that there really was hope for our poor Indians in spite of the department’s repeated denials.”

Senator Nelson could not pursue the matter further, as it really was a Wisconsin problem, and he suggested that Morstad get in touch with Attorney Belt. The latter was somewhat reluctant to accept the case, but finally did take it on a contingent basis and accordingly drew up a contract providing for a fee of twenty per cent of the amount that might be recovered. This document was signed by Chief Charles Kisheck and other members of the Indian Council.

The new contract was later the subject of a good deal of controversy. It was approved by Commissioner Jones, but with the stipulation that compensation should be reduced from twenty to fifteen per cent of the amount recovered. Jones was of the opinion that the Indians had forfeited their rights to any payment from the government, but he felt that they were entitled to counsel. Larrabee had now become Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs; he had served under R. V. Belt as a division chief when the latter was the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs. As a result an exceedingly bitter feud had sprung up between them. Larrabee stated bluntly that Belt should not receive any such sum as fifteen per cent. The contract was then changed to provide for an allowance of $25,000. “Commissioner Larrabee became much incensed and specifically directed that only $5,000 should be allowed to Mr. Belt for his services.”

Attorney Belt proceeded vigorously with his work. He located a similar case in which an Indian tribe in New York had refused to move onto land provided for them. The Indian Office had declared that members of this tribe had forfeited their rights. The case was decided by the Supreme Court, which held that this forfeiture was without warrant of law; furthermore, it was held by Justice Brewer in Richardville vs. Troop “that an executive department had no right or power to declare a forfeiture.” Belt also maintained that the treaty nowhere contained a provision for the forfeiture of the rights of the Indians who did not remove west of the Mississippi. Simply in order to induce them to remove, however, it was directed that the annuities should be payable west of the river.

By 1908 the Indian Office finally recognized the claims of the Pottawatomie, and things began to move more rapidly. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 1909 came to Laona in Forest County to study the Indian situation first hand, and to talk with the Indian chief and other leaders. In 1910, an Indian agency was set up at Carter, Wisconsin, its superintendent being W. H. Bennett.

There was a period of starvation among the Wisconsin Pottawatomie in 1912, and Congress appropriated $7,000 for emergency food which was distributed among them through the agency at Carter. This was not given as a part of their claim, but simply as an aid to starving people. There had been numerous periods of starvation prior to this time, but before the agency was established they had no effective channel through which to communicate their distress and needs. Attorney Belt died in 1910. He did not live to see the fruits of his victory.

In 1910, Congress appropriated $25,000 for the Wisconsin Pottawatomie. This grant was a part of the general appropriations made for various Indian tribes and was not considered part of their claim, but rather as a gratuity. It was labeled for “support, education and civilization of the Wisconsin Pottawatomies.” {25}

The enactment by Congress for land, homes, tools, equipment, and the like was finally passed on June 30, 1913, although appropriations were not made until December of that year. This law provided as follows: “For the purchase of allotments for the individual members now residing in the states of Wisconsin and Michigan, $150,000, said sum to be reimbursed to the United States out of the appropriations when made of $447,339, the said sum last named being the proportionate share of the said Indians in annuities and monies of the Pottawatomie Tribe, in which they have not shared as set forth in Document numbered 830, Sixtieth Congress, First Session, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to spend the sum of $150,000 in the purchase of land in the states of Wisconsin and Michigan . . . provided that the land so purchased . . . shall be divided among the Indians entitled thereto, and patents therefore shall be issued in accordance with the general allotment laws of the United States.” It also provided for $100,000 for the purchase of seeds and other items. This left the Indians a credit of $197,339 in the Treasury of the United States.

As stated above, Attorney R. V. Belt died in 1910, and his two associate attorneys saw the case of the Wisconsin Pottawatomie to a successful conclusion when the appropriation bill was finally passed. {26} It was unfortunate for the Indians, however, that the personal difficulties had developed between Belt and Larrabee, The latter died shortly thereafter, but his influence seemed to prevail, and the attorneys’ fees were left unsettled at this time.

The Secretary of the Interior, Franklin K. Lane, however, sent a letter to the Indian Committee suggesting several amendments to the bill, one of which read as follows: “And provided further, that the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby authorized and directed to pay to Erik O. Morstad of Carter, Wisconsin, who has lived with and cared for said Indians for many years, the sum of $5,000, said sum to be paid from the amount placed to the credit of said Pottawatomie Indians.”

This matter of compensation to the missionary came as a complete surprise to him. In the same report from the House of Representatives it is stated that the attorneys had planned to compensate Morstad for the work that he had done: “Finally, the Indian Office and the Department of the Interior were brought after much labor to a recognition of the fact that these Indians had just claims. The fact is to be borne in mind that the result has been obtained only after seventy years of denial of the rights of these Indians by the Indian Office, and after seven years of labor by one attorney for the Indians and three additional years of labor on the part of two lawyers associated with him. For some unknown and unaccountable reason the Indian Office notwithstanding these facts and notwithstanding the fact that when the fight was begun the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approved a contract with the Indians for fifteen per-cent of any recovery, now takes the position that counsel should have a fee of only $5,000. It likewise recommends that $5,000 be paid to the Rev. Mr. Morstad. Counsel desire to express their appreciation of the services and assistance they have been rendered by the Rev. Mr. Morstad and his fidelity to the interests of the Indians under his charge. They may state that while under no legal obligation of any kind to the Rev. Mr. Morstad who has worked zealously for his people without thought of compensation, that it always has been their intention to render some compensation to this gentleman for the work he has done. They have felt, however, knowing this missionary, that it would be a delicate matter just how to approach him, and that it would be inadvisable to suggest such a course while the matter was pending. They always have intended, as stated, that when a final result was achieved that out of the amount coming to them according to their contract they would make some compensation.”

Eventually some payments were made. In 1917, the Reverend Morstad did receive his $5,000, but at that time Attorneys Kappler and Merillat had not received any pay, and so payments were made in reverse order. Morstad immediately divided his $5,000 and sent a check for $2,500 to Attorneys Kappler and Merillat; in addition, he sent a check for $500 to the widow of Attorney Belt. With the remaining $2,000 he purchased a frame home in Laona, some fifteen miles north of Carter, as the Indian Agency was being transferred to that community at the time, and he felt that he should move his family there.

This was indeed a wonderful victory for the Wisconsin Pottawatomie and for Morstad, who since 1902 had struggled against overwhelming odds on a project that seemed hopeless. Attorneys Kappler and Merillat wrote into the record: “Rev. Morstad . . . has worked zealously for his people without thought of compensation.” {27}

The new appropriation bill provided for land, new homes, some domestic animals, and equipment to help the Indians to become self-supporting. An agent was appointed to assist them in selecting cut-over land which would be suitable for farming. Each Indian family was given forty acres for each of its members.

Individuals of the tribe who were capable of doing so were permitted to build their own houses and were paid a sum of money for so doing, equivalent to what it would cost to have them built. At least two of the more capable Indians who lived nearby took upon themselves the task of building for themselves. Unfortunately, they were not properly supervised. Their houses were both large and warm, but no provision had been made for ventilation, and windows had been simply nailed into place. When cold weather set in, neighbors simply moved in and stayed for most of the winter. Unfortunately, several of these Indians were tubercular, and a great many of the children became infected. Within a year, six of John Shawano’s children died of what doctors called quick consumption. The same thing happened to the family of Chief Charles Kisheck. All of his children died in the course of a year except his oldest son. This tragic situation was overcome when the poor ventilation was corrected, and the Indians were discouraged from crowding so many people into one house. Such conditions fortunately did not continue, as more and more Indians acquired adequate housing.

Theodore Morstad, the oldest son of the missionary, had become a trained carpenter, and he built several of the Indian houses - for Paul Whitefish, George Wabnum, John Kook, Frank Shephard and others. Indian families that so desired were provided with a cow, some chickens, and one or more pigs. They also received plows and other farm implements.

Between 1890 and 1900, the Indians sent two delegations to Washington, and retained a lawyer there by the name of Bullock. They agreed to pay him ten per cent in case he should be successful in increasing their appropriation, and they paid him over $100 in cash. This attorney worked at the assignment for a few years, but neither he, nor the delegations nor members of Congress, to whom letters were addressed about the matter, were ever able to accomplish anything. {28}

In reflecting on this whole matter, the Reverend Morstad recorded: “I remember that it took Mr. Belt in Washington and me at this end some three years at least to make our Representative in Congress, W. E. Brown, of Rhinelander, interested in the matter. Each time I saw him he said he had taken it up with the department, etc. But the last time I called his attention to certain pages of the memorial which Mr. Belt had worked out, he had to admit there and then that the claim was just, and did much to help the matter after that.” {29}

In general, the Indians did not prove to be good farmers. They were not ambitious in the matter of clearing land and cultivating crops. Most of them were rather indolent and irresponsible. Government assistance, however, did provide them with the means of avoiding starvation; they at least had homes and property of their own and were no longer fugitives.


The first twenty years of the new century were indeed hectic and busy for the Reverend E. O. Morstad. They might be referred to as his golden era. Not only was he extremely busy, but at their end he had the satisfaction of seeing his long struggle for the Indian claims bear fruit. He had also completed a book and had performed a good many other services for the church and the Indians. In addition, he had taken part in a number of important other activities.

In 1903 the Elling Eielsen Synod prevailed upon Morstad to edit its monthly church publication, Den Kristelige Lægmand; this he did until 1914. The next year, his synod passed a resolution designating him to write a book on the life and work of Elling Eielsen. This task he undertook, and in 1917 he published the book with the title Elling Eielsen og den Evangelisk Lutherske Kirke i Amerika (Elling Eielsen and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). In preparing for the work, he did a good deal of traveling to places where Eielsen had lived and worked in Wisconsin, and he also went to Norway to gather background material.

It must be wondered how he managed to do all that he did, but of course he did not work or sleep by the clock. His hours were from early in the morning far into the night or the early hours of the morning. He never seemed to tire of study or writing, once he became engrossed in a project. He was called from his office when meals were ready. When he was not away on trips, he was continually at work.

The train which brought mail to him came through Carter at 1:00, and that was when the missionary took his daily walk to the post office. This round trip was slightly more than a half mile, which indeed provided little exercise for a man who had been accustomed to long hikes in his regular work. Needless to say, he aged very rapidly in this type of sedentary routine. He became concerned over the fact that he tired very rapidly if he tried to walk any distance, and he decided to go for a physical checkup to the then famous Dr. Pierce Clinic in Buffalo, New York. There the doctors found nothing fundamentally wrong except that he was not getting enough exercise. When he returned, he brought with him a comprehensive series of physical exercises which became a part of his daily activity. He had little zest for such a routine, and he was often quite neglectful in carrying out this part of his health program.

In 1913 the Department of Indian Affairs agreed to provide an interpreter for Mr. Bennett and the Indian office at Carter, and Morstad selected a Canadian Indian, Henry Ritchie, who moved his family to the community and became the official interpreter. A new missionary was sent to Carter in 1916 to serve among the Indians and to do the leg work which Morstad could no longer do.

Two years later, he reported to the church that fifty new houses “have now been completed in Wisconsin for the Pottawatomie Indians.” This accomplishment was a great source of joy and satisfaction to the church as well as to him and the Indians. He also reported that he had recently made several trips to Green Bay, on behalf of the Indians. Likewise, in 1919 he made another trip to Washington in their interest.

The Indian Agency had now been moved to Laona, fifteen miles north of Carter, and in 1919 Morstad reported that he also had moved there. In addition to being near the agency, he said that Laona was a larger community with better educational opportunities for his children.

It was decided in 1920 that Morstad should make another trip to Norway. This journey was to have a twofold purpose. His newly completed book on Elling Eielsen was to be presented to the many friends and admirers of the synod leader in Norway. It was also hoped that such a trip would improve Morstad’s health. On June 27, he attended a meeting of Haugesvenner (Friends of Hauge) in Oslo, and it was here that he suffered what seemed to be a heart attack. He never regained consciousness and died on June 30, 1920, at Rikshospitalet.

Instead of notifying the family, his friends in Norway informed the church of his death. The synod in turn expected to hear from the family. Before his children found out about their loss, he had already been buried in Vestre Gravlund (West Cemetery) in Oslo. Although his passing was sudden and unexpected, it is interesting to note that he was laid to rest in the land of his birth in a beautiful cemetery, which also included the graves of several of his blood relatives.


The missionary’s daughter, Agnes, Mrs. Glen Haskin of Lind, Washington, relates a few recollections of her father: “He was a tall and impressive looking man. He walked as straight as a ramrod and usually carried a knotted cane that accented his even steps. You might know that he paid his bills on the day they came due and always lived within his means. He never took up a collection in church, nor did he expect anything for the extra services he rendered. I liked his independence. No man owed him anything and he had no claim on the rich. If a poor man could not pay him, that was all the same, as he knew that the Lord would provide. The men that he dealt with in Congress soon learned to know him as a man of unusual integrity. The Indians knew him as their friend and benefactor.

“He knew the feeling of fear too. One evening at dusk, as he was walking home from his Indian school, a huge black bear stepped out into his path. Not knowing what to do he remembered that he had a paper lunch bag with him. He set fire to it and the frightened bear ran away.

“On another occasion a deranged man walked into his school house and wanted to spend the night there with him. Father told him that he was just ready to leave for home and invited him to come along, which he agreed to do. They had not gone far before the man took off as suddenly as he had come.

“Another incident comes vividly to mind. Father was in Washington in 1909 when the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs was about to travel to Laona, Wisconsin, to study the case of the Pottawatomies first hand, and they were to travel in special coaches. Senator Robt. M. La Follette invited father to travel back home to Laona in a special coach. He thanked Senator La Follette, but declined the invitation and came back on half-fare at church expense. We were amazed, but his explanation was simply this - ‘I couldn’t stand those off-color stories that those senators were always telling.’”


The story of our home is really the story of our mother who was both its heart and soul. While our father was dedicated one hundred per cent to the matter of saving souls and bringing the gospel to the Indians, she was equally dedicated to the task of making the best possible home for the family that a very meager income could provide. Both worked extremely hard, and both were imbued with a driving force that seemed to know no limits. Both were in every sense true pioneers who in the line of duty knew no such thing as stop and rest, and as a result of this rugged pace both went to their graves quite prematurely.

The Morstad’s oldest daughter, Marie, Mrs. John Pierce of Orlando, Florida, writes of her mother: “There is no way to measure a person of her caliber. She was so sequestered in her life-time that only the immediate family can estimate what her life really meant to us all. She never went anywhere or did anything for her own pleasure. She worked constantly trying to stretch a meager income from month to month.”

Marie also tells of her mother’s death in 1916: “When she became very weak and quite ill, and we knew that she soon would be leaving us, I could scarcely realize that life could go on without her. When she passed away, we had some difficulty in locating father who was attending a church conference out west. Mother passed away before we could locate him. We finally contacted him in North Dakota and he was able to reach home in time for the funeral. Her passing was a terrific loss to us all, as she was a gifted and a devoted homemaker. We were indeed grateful that she could be with us until her youngest child was then thirteen years of age.”


To the Reverend Morstad it was a crushing blow to lose the most devoted associate in his entire missionary project. His wife had never opposed what he proposed to do, even to the very end. When he left for the church conference meeting, just before she died, he did so hesitantly, but as usual she encouraged him to go where he was expected to be and assured him that she would be all right. His success and his accomplishments for the Wisconsin Pottawatomie Indians and for the Eielsen Synod of the Lutheran Church are in a large measure a tribute to his partner in life.

Notes

<1> This story was told by the Reverend E. O. Morstad to his son Alexander, the author of this article.

<2> Committee Minutes, in A Brief of History of the Bethany Indian Mission at Wittenberg, Wisconsin, 4. This booklet was printed for the 60th Anniversary Program held on June 25, 1944.

<3> This article from the April 15, 1885, issue of For Gammel og Ung, a monthly church publication, was translated by Pastor E. W. Sihler, archivist at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Paul.

<4> A Brief History of Bethany Indian Mission, 6.

<5> Nelson T. Peterson, “A Brief Sketch of the Mission Work among the American Indians by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Eielsen Synod,” 1. This unpublished article was written at Taylor, Wisconsin, in 1920 at the time of the death of the Reverend E. O. Morstad.

<6> Den Kristelige Lægmand, May 28, 1893. As a missionary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eielsen Synod, Pastor Morstad sent an annual report of his activities to this paper for regular publication. The summaries of these reports included here were translated by Pastor E. W. Sihler.

<7> Den Kristelige Lægmand contains Morstad’s report of his mission work for 1894.

<8> Peterson, “A Brief Sketch,” 1.

<9> Morstad’s report of 1896 is in Den Kristelige Lægmand.

<10> Morstad’s report of 1897 appears in Den Kristelige Lægmand.

<11> Morstad’s report of 1900 is in Den Kristelige Lægmand.

<12> Morstad’s report of 1898, in Den Kristelige Lægmand.

<13> Morstad’s report of 1900, in Den Kristelige Lægmand.

<14> Peterson, “A Brief Sketch,” 2.

<15> New York Colonial Documents, 9:153.

<16> New York Colonial Documents, 9:226.

<17> New York Colonial Documents, 9:161.

<18> E. O. Morstad, “The Madison Manuscript.” This document of about fifty pages was copied from materials in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1902. It is in the possession of the author.

<19> Hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee of Indian Affairs, in House Document 1776, 64th Congress, First Session, 1916, p. 53.

<20> Report of the Commission of Indian Affairs for 1906, p. 373, a Report of Investigation of Claims of the Pottawatomie Indians of Wisconsin, prepared by the Secretary of the Interior and published in House Document 830, 60th Congress, First Session, 1908, p. 190.

<21> House Document 830, 60th Congress, First Session, 1908, pp. 13, 16.

<22> House Document 830, 60th Congress, First Session, 1908, pp. 17, 22.

<23> House Document 1776, 64th Congress, First Session, 1916, p. 23.

<24> House Document 1776, 64th Congress, First Session, 1916, pp. 4, 40.

<25> House Document 1776, 64th Congress, First Session, 1916, pp. 11, 53, 54,

<26> U. S. Statutes at Large, 63rd Congress, 1913-1915, vol. 38, part 1, p. 102.

<27> House Document 1776, 64th Congress, First Session, 1916, pp. 49, 66-67.

<28> The Bullock correspondence is in the possession of the author.

<29> “The Madison Manuscript,” 1902.

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