My interest in Native Americans began, I think, with a childhood visit to the site of the Enoch Brown school massacre in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. (Wikipedia identifies the Native Americans as being members of the Potawatomi nation which I will refer to later.) I remember wondering what had roused the Indians to such extreme behavior.
In North Fork, California, I saw a building in the distant mountains that I was told was a school for Indian children. In Florida, I traveled the Tamiami Trail (US 41) through the Florida Everglades and saw the chickee’s of the Seminole Indians.
Recently I heard 83 year old historian John L. Ruth give a pictorial memoir of his life, and I was interested enough to buy his book, “Branches, A Memoir with Pictures,” unique because each of the 210 pages of written material is balanced with a full picture of the event described. The third set of page and picture is of John Ruth standing by the Maxatawny Indian Trail, taken ca. 1975. Ruth explains that the old trail is now “developed” out of existence.
Ruth excels as a historian in telling how it was “once upon a time” and relating the past to how it is now. I see storied change in Ruth’s pictures. For many reasons Europeans moved to America, “purchased” land from the Indians by treaties, and sold it to settlers who moved after them. Anabaptists soon moved from Europe and settled on the newly available land to enjoy freedom of conscience and commerce. This process continued as “civilization” moved west, though it was not always safe as told in the first volume of his historical fiction, “Jacob’s Choice,” by Ervin Stutzman.
John F. Funk was a part of the westward movement. He was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1835. In 1858 he moved to Chicago where he was converted to Christianity at a Presbyterian revival. He became heavily involved in various church activities and became a close acquaintance of noted American Evangelist Dwight L. Moody. In 1860, Funk returned home to Bucks County, Pennsylvania to be baptized in the Mennonite Church and returned again in 1864 to marry Salome Kratz. Also in 1864, Funk began publishing the Herald of Truth in Elkhart, Indiana. In the process he helped found the Prairie Street Mennonite Church.
Last Saturday, May 10, 2014, I attended fifth annual Funkfest sponsored by the Prairie Street church. This year the event brought together the stories of Funk, the movement of Mennonites into Indian Territory, and the impact on Potawatami Indians.
The chief presenter was Potawatami speaker and storyteller George Godfrey, with a variety of short presentations by others and opportunity for discussion. Godfrey told of the impact of the French fur traders and the English army and settlers on his ancestors and their culture.
Nelson Kraybill, pastor of the church and moderator elect of the Mennonite World Conference told how Funk expedited the movement of thousands of Mennonites from the Ukraine, Russia to the Indian Territory from which all Indians had been removed and all title to land had been extinguished by treaties. I spent most of yesterday reading the history of Elkhart in a website with many links of much interest.
James Krabill was the final speaker who spoke on “When Culture Meets Culture.” James is a Mennonite Mission Network staff member and a teacher at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. When “we” meet “them” we may try to co-exist, coerce or crush them, or we may commit to their welfare, connect, converse, confess, commend, and join in creating something new.