A Missionary’s Demise at Sea

By J. J. F. Auch

Translator’s Preface

In January of 1850, a 20-year-old Johannes Strieter set out from Freedom Township, west of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and headed north to Saginaw to pay his sister Dorothea and her husband, Missionary J. J. F. Auch, an extended visit. In Saginaw Missionary Auch picked Strieter up in his sled and drove him to their home in Sebewaing, on the western coast of the “thumb” of Michigan. There Strieter helped out as much as he could with the Lutheran mission to the Chippewas there. He also spent time with Missionary J. F. Maier at the Shebahyonk station, about seven miles northeast of Sebewaing.

Strieter clearly enjoyed his time there, including his time with Missionary Maier, who had a good sense of humor. Missionary Maier was also married to a Dorothea, the sister of Missionary Auch who had been confirmed with Strieter at Salem Lutheran Church in Scio. When Strieter left with Friedrich August Crämer to begin his pre-seminary studies in Frankenmuth in the spring of that year, after helping to build the new mission house in Shebahyonk, the parting was a sad one.

In the article below, Missionary Auch describes the tragic demise of Missionary Maier in the fall of that year. By that time Strieter was actually attending the seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Although Strieter doubtless heard of the tragedy, he does not mention it in his autobiography. Still today and even in English, Auch’s emotion is palpable.

You can view Missionary Maier’s grave at Find A Grave.

Mission News

Sibiwaing [sic]
November 28, 1850

Most Reverend Mr. President!1

A difficult task has been assigned to me by the Lord, that of informing you and our entire synod of the terrible misfortune that befell our mission on the fifteenth of this month. Mr. Missionary Maier and another man by the name of Haushahn, a resident here, found their grave in the Saginaw Bay on the just-mentioned day. They set out from Sibiwaing on the 12th with the purpose of bringing winter provisions back home and set sail from Lower Saginaw2 for the return trip on the 15th with a favorable, though very strong wind, and when it grew stronger and stronger, and there was also such a thick fog on the sea that they could only see a short distance ahead, they came right into the worst spot of breakers on the entire east side of the Saginaw Bay, and here they were shipwrecked, perhaps a half mile from shore and six miles from Sibiwaing. Just as I was returning to Sibiwaing from Shiboyank [sic],3 Mr. Missionary Maier’s place of residence, where I had held divine service in his absence, I found a man at my door with a note from a merchant who had been so kind as to bring the boat’s cargo into his custody. This note contained the terrible news. Mrs. Missionary Maier4 was actually staying with us during her husband’s absence and was now notified of her husband’s misfortune at the same time we were. I will not describe the heart-rending scene that followed. May the Lord from whose hand this distress came also comfort us according to his great mercy. To him be praise, thanks, and honor for such mercy!

The next day I rode out to the spot and found things as they had been reported to me, the mast on the boat broken off, the boat itself overturned, and the cargo scattered over a half-mile stretch of the shore. Although I rode back and forth along the shore nearly eight miles, the only thing I could find was Mr. Maier’s cap drifting along the shore. How horrible I felt! The day after that I went back to the spot of the accident with our German settlers here, who proved very devoted and sympathetic to the cause and flipped the boat back up in the water. But after we had once again searched all around in the water for the bodies for a long time and to no avail, we returned home to Sibiwaing with the badly damaged load of flour.

I then discontinued any further searching until last Monday, the 25th. On that day, I once again went out to the spot in the company of our interpreter, Mr. Maier’s brother, who had made his way here at the news of his brother’s death, and with another man. Two miles above the site of the accident, I and Mr. Maier’s brother climbed ashore and, while the other men continued in an Indian boat, we went searching along the shore. On the way I found a coat belonging to Mr. Maier, in addition to other small articles from the boat. Finally we came to the place where we had found the most flour and as I turned my gaze forward, I saw Brother Maier on his face in front of me, his coat over his head, the waves beating against him, lying on the shore in water perhaps four inches deep. Calling out to his brother, I hurried over. Ugh, what a sorry sight! We turned him over, his hands were washed snow-white, his face was puce, his skull bashed in. Maier’s brother was wailing dreadfully. I did my best to comfort him with God’s Word, but the pain my own heart was in to see my brother-in-law in that condition right there in front of me—there are no words to describe it. We also found the other man just sixty paces away from Mr. Maier. We returned home. On the next day we buried them and thereby sowed the first seed corns on the mission property here in Sibiwaing that are looking forward to a blessed resurrection [cf. John 12:24,25].

Mr. Missionary Maier was faithful in his calling. I can vouch for this on his behalf in good conscience. He lived to his Lord in faith, and so we also have the assurance from God’s unchangeable Word that he has also died to the Lord [cf. Romans 14:7-9]. He lived to the age of 27 years, one month, and 11 days.

His death has left a gaping hole in our mission. Who is going to fill it? — Our Indian congregation is very sorrowful. When I comforted them with God’s Word, the chief told me, “Yes, we now have a spiritual shepherd under us, who is proclaiming God’s Word to us; I sincerely rejoice with my people in that fact. I was intending to see myself soon put into a position where I would be able to teach God’s Word myself, but what are our prospects now? Night and darkness now surround us again, when I think of going to school. Yet I do believe what you told us from God’s Word, that ‘for those who love God, all things must serve for the best.’”5

“…”

I have now taken over Shiboyank again, trusting in God’s assistance. I have promised to hold service there every Sunday and, when the weather permits, once during the week too. I have also started up Indian school again. Here in Sibiwaing I am responsible for the Indians and perhaps eight German families. Consequently there is not a single hour in which I do not see myself surrounded with work on all sides. Oh, how unfit I feel for such a serious calling! There are many times I almost do not know how to keep my faith from dwindling. If God’s Word were not my comfort, I would surely perish. I therefore ask the entire synod and especially you, dear Mr. President, to remember me in your petitions to the Lord as your lowly fellow brother. May the Lord show mercy and provide another shepherd for the abandoned sheep in Shiboyank in the near future! These sheep have begged me to please earnestly stress to the synod how dire their situation is, along with the request that they be sent another spiritual shepherd in the near future. God grant it, etc., etc.

J. J. F. Auch.

Source
Der Lutheraner, vol. 7, no. 8 (December 10, 1850), pp. 63-64

Endnotes
1 That is, the president of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (today the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), namely F. C. D. Wyneken, who was also serving as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis at the time

2 That is, Bay City. According to Herman Zehnder, the name of this sailing vessel was the Huron (Teach My People the Truth, p. 79).

3 Now usually spelled Shebahyonk. The location of this Native American community and mission station is today roughly identical with the unincorporated community of Weale, about seven miles northeast of Sebewaing near the mouth of Shebeon Creek.

4 The author’s sister (see Translator’s Preface)

5 The author seems to be quoting the chief of the Chippewas at Shebahyonk. We have conflicting reports on this chief’s position with respect to Christianity. His name is variously spelled Nocktschikome (letter from Friedrich August Crämer to Wilhelm Löhe, July 25, 1845), Nage-Dschikamik, Nage Dschickamik (both in Strieter’s autobiography, describing events of 1850 predating the events of this article), and Meganigischik (Herman Zehnder, Teach My People the Truth, p. 83, apparently citing Frankenmuth church records from 1849). Strieter says that his name meant Great Chief, and he describes a powwow he attended, sometime around early spring of 1850, at which the chief denigrated the Christian God in favor of the great spirit of the Chippewas and their dancing rites for worshipping him. When Strieter went back to the spot the following morning, “there lay the chief dead-drunk, with his squaw sitting next to him, watching over him.” However, we do know that the chief’s brother converted (taking the Christian name Sam) and was married in the Lutheran church in Frankenmuth, and perhaps this article is indication that the chief himself also converted later in 1850. Perhaps it was precisely because of the chief’s decidedly unchristian character and conduct earlier that same year that Auch was left speechless in response to his strong affirmation of Christian faith here.

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Strieter Autobiography: Seminary Life in Fort Wayne

[Continued from Part 14. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Seminary (conclusion)

Ft Wayne Seminary 1860

The campus occupied by the Fort Wayne Seminary from 1849-1861, as depicted in a 50th anniversary publication by Concordia Publishing House in 1896

Upon arriving [in Fort Wayne] I went to find the seminary right away. Steinbach31 later told me that when they saw me approaching with my suitcase, they thought, “What kind of hobo do we have here?”

The gentlemen students directed me over here to Dr. Sihler.32 He was sitting in the kitchen and was right in the middle of fixing a pony for his son Christian; he was tying his colorful, silk handkerchief on one of its legs. I said who I was, where I came from, and why I was there. He asked about Crämer; I had no information to give him. I arrived in Fort Wayne on October 10, 1850, and dear Crämer ended up arriving on the 24th. Dr. Sihler called upstairs, “Rauschert!” Above his small study the Dr. had a room that was also our lecture hall. Two students who boarded with Sihler lived in it, Rauschert and Werfelmann.33 Rauschert came down. Sihler said, “Bring Strieter to Mrs. Bornemann, sir.” She was a widow who foddered me for some time. “Do you have money, sir?” the doctor asked me.

I said, “No.”

He said, “That’s fine. Payment is due every quarter-year. When it’s due, go to Mr. Griebel and he will give you money.” And that’s how it worked. Every quarter cost three dollars, which I went and got from my patron. The people in the country brought us a whole bunch of stuff – whole or half hogs and a lot of fine sausage. I soon filled out at the seminary.

That was where studying really began though. It was almost enough to drive a man insane! Crämer gave the twenty of us guys a dreadful amount of homework. Many a night I only slept for two hours. We soon contracted a lot of headaches. It started around eight; around ten there was a piece of bread, but dry. At midday we always had beans; around one back at it until four; then down to the river, behind the milldam for a bath. Occasionally the doctor came and took one with us.

Ottmann34 and I were the best swimmers. One time when the water was very high, Ottmann said to me that we should try to swim across. Off we go. Once we reach the other side, he says he should try to see how close to the dam we can swim past. Off we go, but that took some work. When we came to the middle, the water wanted to take us away. We breasted the water and at the same time worked our way sideways. We finally arrived, but completely exhausted. We looked at each other and said nothing. That night the water conducted a tree trunk with roots and branches, but left it lying on top of the dam. Sommer,35 whom I had already gotten to know in Sebewaing, a very friendly and very active person, tried to replicate our work of art the next day. But when he came to the middle of the current, it dragged him away and left him hanging in the branches of the tree trunk. He sat down on the trunk and began to sing. But we hollered at him, “Okay, just get over here; we all know what it’s like now.”

He worked his way over to us along his tree, and once he was on dry land he started in: “O you dear brothers, do not do that again. That is putting God to the test. If the tree had not been there, the water would have taken me away, and death would have claimed me by now.” He was alluding to the large boulders down below. Later Pastor Kalb, who was supposed to become a professor at the teacher seminary, drowned at that spot; Fleischmann,36 who tried to save him, almost did too.37

I had been in Fort Wayne for six weeks when I had to teach a Catechism lesson on the Seventh Commandment. We had to go over to Dr. Sihler’s residence several times each week. There the lectures and Catechism lessons were given up in Rauschert’s and Werfelmann’s room. The catechist in question had to go and get six to seven students from Teacher Wolf. They would come up here and sit down on a bench; the seminary students would stand around them against the wall. The doctor would sit on a chair and Mr. Catechist in front of his boys, and now we were ready to go. That gave us some angst. I had already gotten to know the Seventh Commandment pretty well from experience. I explored everyday life with the students and showed how all people are thieves no matter what their station. At the conclusion the doctor would ask everyone for his criticism one by one. He himself went last. To my knowledge no one criticized me, not even Mr. Doctor; instead he praised me highly for being so practical. I was pleased and encouraged by that. Soon I also had to give a lecture on the false teachings about the Lord’s Supper. For that, however, I borrowed from a lecture by Ottmann, which I utilized well. Dr. Sihler praised me again, but he didn’t know that I had plowed with someone else’s heifer, and I said nothing about it either.

One time I had to do a funeral for a child in a house in the bush country. When we were singing, two people behind me were looking over my shoulders and singing along robustly, but in the middle of the verse they sang differently and knocked me off the saddle. I had the music book and was following along too casually. During the next verse it happened to me again, but during the third verse I watched what I was doing and went at it fearsomely, also turned my face towards them a little; now I stayed on track.

I also catechized in the surrounding area. One time I had to mount Sihler’s pulpit to give a funeral sermon. Another time I had to go to Huntington to preach for Pastor Stecher at festival time. For that Dr. Sihler advised me to borrow a horse from a farmer. The man gave me a large, black nag that was still young. I get on, put my umbrella under my arm, and start out. I’m riding on the tow-path for the canal. It starts to rain and I open my umbrella, but now my Black takes off. Fortunately I soon came to a quagmire; my nag got all fours stuck up to his belly. By the time he worked his way out, I had my umbrella closed. The man told me later that he had forgotten to say that I should not open any umbrella, because the horse could not stand that. —

Crämer accepted a call to a congregation on the side and made me his vicar; it was called Nothstein.38 A man lived there whose name was Nothstein. Others lived in the surrounding bush country. It was twelve miles away. Every fourteen days I had to go out there. In the morning I headed out on foot, preached and held Catechism instruction with the little children, and headed back here in the afternoon. I was relieved by others twice, otherwise I kept my arrangement. One time the river was very swollen. Behind Rudisill’s was a small bridge over a brook that came from the marsh, but now the river had torn the little bridge away, and the water was flowing in reverse from the river into the marsh, and with considerable momentum. What now? I looked for a staff, found a branch, took it in hand, and started off into the water. In the middle it just about knocked me over, but I got across anyway; the water went up to my waist. I still had two miles to go, but now I ran.

Endnotes

31 Friedrich Steinbach from Saxe-Weimar

32 Wilhelm Sihler (1801-1885) was won over to confessional Lutheranism from rationalism. After serving as a private tutor for a number of years, he came into contact with Löhe and came to America in 1843. He initially joined the Ohio Synod, but left it in 1845 due to its lax confessionalism and unionistic practices at the time. With the support of Löhe he started a Nothelferseminar in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1846. Nothelferseminar literally means emergency assistant seminary. Its purpose was to train pastors quickly so that they could provide the pastoral care urgently needed by the many immigrants and fledgling congregations. Often Nothelferseminar is more euphemistically translated practical seminary, as opposed to a theological seminary, since the students in Fort Wayne were given instruction in confessional Lutheran doctrine and pastoral practice, especially preaching and teaching, but received no instruction in the Hebrew and Greek of the Scriptures. This seminary was deeded to the newly formed Missouri Synod in 1847. Sihler was president of the seminary from 1846-1861. He was also Vice President of the Missouri Synod and overseer of the synod’s congregations in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan from 1847-1854.

33 Jakob Rauschert from Franconia and Heinrich Werfelmann from Hanover

34 Friedrich Ottmann from Franconia

35 Wilhelm Sommer from Saxon Lusatia

36 Philipp Fleischmann (1815-1878) was a professor and director of the teacher seminary in Fort Wayne from 1857 until his resignation due to eye trouble in 1864.

37 The opening article of the July 27, 1858, issue of Der Lutheraner (vol. 14, no. 25), penned by Dr. Sihler, details the tragic death of Pastor J. Paul Kalb (1828-1858) on June 8. He was bathing in the spot Strieter mentions here, between 4 and 5 p.m., with Professor Fleischmann. Fleishmann, “some distance away from [Kalb], all at once saw him disappearing and hurried over to his rescue, since he is skilled at swimming.” But “after he had already succeeded in expending all his energy in bringing his dear friend close to the shore, by God’s ordaining his arm suddenly became paralyzed on him and he was robbed of his senses in such a way that he could no longer hold on to, no longer see his friend, no longer tear him away from the deep into which he had now sunk, and only with the utmost effort, more dead than alive, did he himself reach the not too distant shore, where he lay powerless for some time and could only still manage one loud, prolonged, agonizing cry from his constricted chest.” Kalb’s body was not found until ten days later, five miles downstream.

38 There is a Notestine Cemetery, established in 1834, at 10521 St Joe Road, just north of the intersection with Notestine Road, about nine miles northeast of Fort Wayne along the St. Joseph River. Without knowing the history or people of the area, it is difficult to determine where exactly Strieter’s preaching station was, since he goes on to say a) that it was twelve miles away (presumably from the seminary), and b) that it was two miles from a brook that flowed from a marsh into the river. The station was perhaps located along what is today Notestine Road near the intersection with Wheelock Road.

[Read the next part here.]