|By ALISA CRAWFORD
Special to The Sentinel
Recently the Holland Museum had a packed audience for a program meant
to commemorate the departure of the Ottawa (the Native Americans called
themselves Odawa) Indians and the Rev. George Smith family from the Old
Wing Mission 150 years ago. The evening provided insight from various points
of view including that of Arvilla Smith, Smith's Vermont-born wife whose
words reflect a life of hardship and sacrifice as the wife of a Congregational
missionary to the Ottawa for more than a decade in the Macatawa region.
The mission, built in 1844-45 replacing the Smith's log cabin, still
stands on 40th Street, a half-mile east of Waverly Road, and is a private
residence. My thanks to Bill Van Appledorn for gathering and editing this
material. Smith's complete writings are available in the museum collection
at the Joint Archives.
On accepting her husband's appointment to help
Waukazoo's (descendants of the chief prefer Wakazoo) people (1837):
"I fought a fierce battle, for my future
among the Indians looked dark and lonely. Could I fight against God's work?
No, I was ready for sacrifice. Mr. Smith's work henceforth would and should
be the elevation of the oppressed and downtrodden people, who were calling
for his help, and for God's word. I put my trust in Him who leadeth the
way, and prayed for strength. We bid adieu to our loved home and Christian
friends ... not daring to look back."
Reaching their new home (1838):
"Mr. Smith loaded our goods in two boats,
an old scow and a skiff. It was late at night when we were landed for a
three mile walk through the wild forest with no lantern. I had a piece
of birch bark in my pocket and this I lighted. Mr. Smith was loaded down
with beds and bedding, and I was obliged to carry my little ones while
George, my eldest, trudged behind with the bravery of a man. My strength
gave way several times with the children crying. We reached home. I said
home, but what a home! A pile of logs! The doors were cut out, but none
put in, no windows, and the ground was our fireplace. A cold November rain
set in. The river had overflowed its banks and nearly everything that could
float had gone with the current; wash tubs, pails, groceries, and
a sackful of flour was ready-made dough and merely needed cooking.
We had to eat it or starve. Our tables went without for two months."
"His everlasting arms were around us ...
and if we were not shielded from suffering, we were given everlasting
strength to bear our years of sorrow, for our dear little ones to the number
of four, we laid under the shade in the garden. One taken away, seemed
to me like the angel of our household. She was but 3 years old and devoted
to the deepest piety, she sang all the hymns we sang in the family and
her voice was like a bird. Her little words reached many hearts. She sang
during her last moments. I stood weeping over her and she said: "Mama
don't cry, I'm going to Jesus."
Moving to Old Wing Mission and the Hollanders come (1846-7):
"Mr. Van Raalte became an established member
of our family. I had his washing in addition to my own families, and was
soon so overworked that I was but a shadow myself. Mr. Smith had to roam
the woods through the deep snow, and sometimes had to drag the Dominie
(Van Raalte) home, and into the house would come the wailing cry, 'Oh,
Mrs. Smith, I can no more.'"
More families arrived, and "we
found that we must be in submission to them. There was no alternative but
a sacrifice of all regular hours of eating or sleeping."
A bitter animosity sprang up between the Indians and the Hollanders:
"The Indians began selling land and packing
up for the north ... to a place where Dutchmen couldn't find. The Chief
came to me with an earnest appeal. ... 'Your
husband loves us and he is like our brother and you a sister. Where can
we find anyone that will do for us as you have done? You won't say no,
sister?' I told him I would go where my husband
felt it his duty to go. What a hardship again, and my children pining for
society! After all the suffering and privation of social privileges to
again drag them into the wilderness and deprive them of what was dear as
life. The sorrow of leaving my beautiful home and the graves of my children
"We occupied our home at the Old Wing until
the spring of '49, and then came the great sacrifice ... our removal to
Grand Traverse Bay."
Departure from Holland:
"On June 1, 1849, we boarded the 25-ton
schooner Hiram Merrill, destined to take us on our move to Grand Traverse.
My husband Mr. Smith was determined to continue work with the Indians ...
he felt it was his duty to go. I felt weak, sickened to know that we were
again leaving civilization with our children. The new settlers didn't think
we're too smart, shutting our children out from civilized society, knowing
that we'll recede as the Indians advance."
"Our schooner was anchored out in Black
Lake. Rev. Van Raalte and Dr. Wyckoff (from Albany) came aboard with us.
Dr. Wyckoff made appropriate remarks and gave a prayer. Then they boarded
a small boat and left us. Mr. Smith and I were deeply affected, and as
the small boat left the schooner, they struck up a psalm, which as the
distance increased between us the melody died away. When we were out of
hearing distance, each party waved a white kerchief as parting signals."
"The light wind moved our schooner
away from our settlement, and we were inclined to be serious with heavy
hearts. We cleared the mouth of Black Lake. It was a cruel parting, tears
blurring our eyes as we made our final glimpse back. Our boat hugged the
shore, and there was no sign of life until Manistee, where a mill was being
"After an experience of head winds and pouring
rain, we were at last anchored in the peaceful lovely waters of Grand Traverse
Bay, two weeks from the time we left Black Lake. Our new colony was appropriately
Alisa Crawford is director of education at Holland Museum.
Copyright 1999. The Holland Sentinel.