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Ioway Cultural Institute : History :
General History

Margaret Margraves letter, circa 1880, on the Ioways and lifestyle

I transcribed the following letter found in the Kansas State Historical Society collections (#42655). It was in handwriting, on the letterhead of "William A. Margraves - Stock Grower and Dealer in Cattle, Horses, and Mules. - Reserve, Kans." It is entitled "Reminiscenses of a pupil at the Iowa, Sac & Fox Ind[ian] Miss[ion]." I have edited it only slightly for readability, with some clarifications added [in brackets].

There was no date on it but Sandy Reed was still alive in 1865. The events the author, Mrs. Margraves, describes occurred about 1840-1860. The letter may have been written in the 1880s.

Lance Foster

At the time Father Irvin and wife came to the Territory of Kansas, the Indians were very wild and totally uncivilized, and these brave young missionaries were in danger of their lives. At the time they were building the Mission they lived in a little log house across the branch.

I remember Mother Irvin telling how one day she lay down to rest; when she awakened there stood three big Indians at the foot of her bed looking at her. They said "How," shook hands with her, and went away. They never at any time were molested by the Indians, though had the Indians [been] so minded they could easily have killed them as they were far from any white people. God was their protection through all.

They had to go to St. Joe for their mail. They got it once a month or not so often when the weather was bad. All the lumber used in the Mission building had to be hauled from St. Joe, and mail, provisions, in fact everything had to be [brought] first by boat from St. Louis to St. Joe, then freighted to Highland.

At the school were children from many different tribes. Ioways - Sac & Foxes - Sioux - Omahas - Winnebagoes - Pawnees - Otoes - were some of them. The Indians brought their children to the Mission and left them in Father and Mother Irvin's care serving to trust them implicitly.

The teachers were many and constantly changing. Jos[eph] Williams taught for a while. Miss Maggie Potter or afterwards Mrs, Wm [William] Bayless who came from Ohio. A Miss Turner from New Haven came. Miss Fuller from Penn[sylvania]. Miss Lizzie Diamond and many others. The Rev. Robertson and family took charge of the Mission when Father Irvin moved to Highland..

The Indian children were trained rapidly, being especially gifted in writing, drawing, singing, which seemed to be natural to them. They were taught all the common branches, also housekeeping for the girls and farming for the boys.

The girls were taught homemaking and housekeeping under the personal supervision of Mother Irvin herself, especially butter-making at which she was expert, canning, preserving of fruits etc.

Mrs. Rachel McCreary- "Aunt Rachel" as we were taught to call her- was seamstress and taught the girls to sew, mend, and knit. They knit all of their own stockings and made their dresses by hand. Aunt Rachel was a sister of Mother Irvin's; her son Mr. Jefferson McCreary still lives and is a resident of Highland vicinity.

The cooking was taught by Mrs. Jos[eph] Williams, "Aunt Letty," another sister of Mother Irvin's. The laundry work was done by the older girls, Mary Childs, Eliza Nohart [No Heart], Rachel McCreary, who also assisted with the cooking. Rachel is still living; she lives in the Territory.

The boys were taught farming, gardening, care of stock etc. under the supervision of an industrial teacher. They had to cut wood and carry it to the house for the three great fireplaces.

There was plenty of fruit of all kinds on the place.

The children's spiritual welfare was especially cared for, religious services were held twice on Sabbath besides Sabbath school, and morning and evening, family worship, all conducted by Father Irvin. The Indians used to come to these services from their camps.

Father Irvin learned to talk the Ioway language. He preached, prayed, and sang in that language. He translated hymns into Ioway. He went out among the Indians in their homes and camps and taught them. He was assisted by Rev. Wm [William] Hamilton in this work. Rev. Father Hamilton afterwards went to the Omahas as their missionary and died there.

There were a number of converts in the school from time to time. One in particular, "Sandy Reed," an Ioway boy, had quit school and gone away for several years. He was slowly dying with consumption. He sent for Father Irvin, saying he wished to talk with him. Father went to him and Sandy told him that he had given his heart to God through his teachings, and that he was ready to die. He died that night a Christian's death.

Another boy "Thorpe" by name, died while on his knees at prayer. These are only a couple of incidences. Father and Mother taught how to live as well as how to die. They were noble true Christians and did a great deal of good, and though they have fallen asleep [died], their work goes on and will go on till Eternity. "Their works do follow them."

[Signed] Margaret Rubati [?] Margraves
(Mrs. Wm. A. Margraves)

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