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.

Strieter Autobiography: The Franconians

[Continued from Part 10. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Seminary

J. K. W. Löhe

J. K. W. Löhe

In the first half of the [18]40s the men sent by Löhe1 came with their colonies. First came Ernst and Burger.2 Burger soon died, leaving behind a widow and two little boys. The oldest eventually married the daughter of my youngest sister, Margaretha, and currently still resides in Adrian, Michigan. Then came Hattstädt to Monroe, Michigan.3 He and Sievers are, to my knowledge, the only ones in our synod who never left their positions. Crämer and his Franconians came and established a colony on the Cass River, fourteen miles east of Saginaw.4 Gräbner and his Franconians came and “settled” [„settelten“ sich] eight or so miles north of Frankenmuth5 – the name they gave to the place just mentioned – and they named their settlement Frankentrost.6 Sievers and his Franconians came and settled on the western shore of the Saginaw River, opposite Lower Saginaw, and they called their place Frankenlust.7 Clöter was in Upper Saginaw.8 Kühn came with Franconians, but they stayed in Detroit for the most part; only one family and a number of bachelors came along to Frankenmuth. Kühn was to establish the colony of Frankenhilf.9 Friedrich Lochner also came with Sievers.10

Hattstädt, Crämer, and Lochner traveled to Ann Arbor to Pastor Schmidt and held a conference with him. Schmidt made a very Lutheran impression and uncompromisingly professed his loyalty to the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church. They established fellowship, and the mission was to be run jointly, for Crämer was also doing mission work among the Chippewas.11 Missionaries Auch and Meyer now entered into close brotherly fellowship with the Franconian pastors and held conferences with them. But it wasn’t too long before Schmidt separated from the Franconians and went his own way again. Indeed, the Franconians were decried as half-Catholic: They burned candles at the Lord’s Supper; the pastor chanted at the altar; he turned his back to the people; he made the sign of the cross. Especially the sign of the cross was regarded as the living Satan. Missionaries Auch and Meyer, however, remained with the Franconians. In 1847 our synod, the Missouri Synod, was called into being in Chicago, and now the Franconians joined this synod, including Missionaries Auch and Meyer. Thus the mission in Sebewaing and Shebeyang came into our synod.12

The mission house in Shebeyang was built; I helped as much as I could. A long log house made from squared fir trunks, the house was divided in the middle, one half being the missionary’s residence and the other being the church and school. It was dedicated. Baierlein from Bethany preached;13 Jacob Graverad translated. His father, an Englishman, a liquor dealer among the Indians at one time, was Auch’s translator at first. But the Indians who already understood some English told Auch, “Graverad does not say what you say at all. He often says the opposite.” So Auch dismissed the elder and employed the younger. The tall Jacob, however, knew well how to speak good Indian, but was bad at English. He called everything “she”.

Endnotes

1 Johann Konrad Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872) was a confessional Lutheran pastor in the village of Neuendettelsau in Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, from 1837 until the end of his life. In 1841 Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken traveled around Germany pleading the cause of the spiritually needy Lutherans in America. From his small village Löhe answered the plea in a big way. (See the following endnotes.) One of his men, Wilhelm Sihler, sent over in 1843, founded what would become Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in September 1846, which was eventually entrusted to the Missouri Synod, in whose founding Löhe played a large role. Löhe separated from the Missouri Synod in 1853 over the doctrine of church and ministry. He helped found the Iowa Synod the following year.

2 Adam Ernst (1815-1895), formerly a journeyman shoemaker, and Johann Georg Burger (1816-1847), one of Ernst’s friends, were two volunteer helpers whom Löhe sent to America in 1842. Ernst eventually became a member of the Ohio Synod, and Burger eventually ministered in Hancock and Van Wert Counties in Ohio.

3 Georg Wilhelm Christoph Hattstädt (1811-1884) was sent to America by Löhe in 1844.

4 Friedrich August Crämer (1812-1891) met Löhe in 1844 and was sent to America in 1845. He was pastor in Frankenmuth until 1850, when he accepted a call to be a professor at the seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. See also next endnote.

5 All the names the Franconians gave their settlements were personalized paraphrases for God. Frankenmuth means the (Source of the) Franconians’ courage. A Historic Site sign outside of St. Lorenz Evangelical Lutheran Church on West Tuscola Street tells the story of Crämer and the city’s founding.

6 Johann Heinrich Philip Gräbner (1819-1898) was sent to America by Löhe in 1847. Frankentrost means the (Source of the) Franconians’  comfort. Today Frankentrost is a small unincorporated community about eight miles east of Saginaw, identified by Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church (LC-MS) on the southwest corner of MI-46 and Mueller Road.

7 Georg Ernst Christian Ferdinand Sievers (1816-1893) was sent to America by Löhe in 1847 and became pastor in Frankenlust, Michigan. Frankenlust means the (Source of the) Franconians’ joy. Today the location of the original colony is marked by St. Paul Lutheran Church on the southwest side of Bay City on the southern corner of Westside Saginaw Road (MI-84) and Ziegler Road.

8 Ernst Ottomar Clöter (1825-1897) was sent to America by Löhe in 1849. He was installed as pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Saginaw by Pastor Sievers (see preceding endnote) on November 30, 1849.

9 Frankenhilf means the Helper of the Franconians. Eventually this colony was founded in 1851. Today it is the village of Richville.

10 Strieter is in error here. Friedrich Johann Carl Lochner (1822-1902) came with Crämer in 1845, not with Sievers in 1847. Lochner was first the pastor of a “United” congregation in Toledo, Ohio, but left when he failed to have it constituted as a Lutheran congregation. He then served Lutheran churches in Madison and Macoupin Counties, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Springfield, Illinois, where he was also an instructor at Concordia Seminary.

11 In a letter dated November 21, 1845 – which Pastor Schmid appears to have written in stages – he wrote: “In a very surprising but very pleasant manner, brotherly participation and help was offered us from Bavaria, without any request on our part or knowledge thereof. The Lord arranged to have real help from the old fatherland in our Indian mission, which in this part of the world has received very little support up to this time. A small colony of believing souls, with their own preacher, arrived here last summer in order to work as a mission colony among the Indians, and to be as a light to them. They occupied a fitting location on the Cass River in Saginaw County, buying a piece of land which I had selected before their arrival. There is also a piece of land for the mission. … Reverend Mr. Löhe, who wrote us concerning the whole matter, expressed his wish and the wishes of many other participating friends, namely to spread the kingdom of Christ also among the poor Indians. In doing this, he asked nothing of us up to this point which would be contrary to our conscience and conviction; pure teaching and adherence to the Lord and the Holy Sacrament, according to the creed of our Evangelical Lutheran Church, is his condition, with which we, who for many [sic] years have founded a Lutheran synod, are in agreement, convinced that up to this point our Evangelical Lutheran Church has remained pure and true in her teaching and the administration of the sacraments, adhering to God’s holy word, and in doing so we here have never been led into controversy with either the Reformed or the Lutherans. As far as forms and customs are concerned, we shall continue to love them and will put incidentals in their relation to the great prime things, and I would never like to render judgment of any sort about our brothers who call themselves Evangelical… If the brothers of Bavaria do not ask anything which is contrary to our conscience, then we can very well carry on our work of the Lord with them… A colony has settled on the Cass River about 25 miles from the above-mentioned [mission] station [in Sebewaing]. Pastor Crämer, who suffers from fever a great deal, hopes in a short time to begin a school for Indian children. At the present time they are very busy erecting a building for a mission house…”

12 In his letter dated January 31, 1848, Pastor Schmid gives no hint of any strife. But his next letter to the Basel Mission Institute, written three years later, on April 29, 1851, he records the breakup from his perspective: “For nearly eighteen years I have served numerous congregations here with the Holy Word and Sacrament, in which there are Lutheran and Reformed from the homeland. Yet I have never had to experience the slightest criticism on the part of the Reformed because of teachings and creed. As far as church practice is concerned, I maintain everything according to our Württemberger church, except that we from early times did not have Communion wafers. If the divine truth is proclaimed in a godly and powerful manner and the pastor lives in the strength of the gospel, then the truth-loving and the truth-seeking people of both confessions can get together through the strength of the Word; and this will also occur without any attempt to force a union. For that reason there are, I think, many in the congregation here whose parents were Reformed, but I am not certain of it. I do not inquire about it, for they are united and happy with and through the proclaimed Word of the cross and the holy sacraments. Firmness in the teachings and in the creed is required here, and if this exists, then the Spirit of the Lord will be with his Word… As far as the rigid Old Lutherans are concerned, with whom I have come into contact without learning to know them, I respect their sound teachings, but these people are mostly lacking in living faith, and for that reason there is so little love and so much harshness toward others. Their rigid ceremony and their strong condemnation of others are terrible things to me. … I could not join this synod [the Missouri Synod], out of conviction. We too had a synod among us here, but it lacked firm foundation and therefore collapsed; some wanted an organization strictly Lutheran, others not so strict, and as a result a lengthy paper was drawn up but when one wanted to follow its path, the wind blew it away. … That we have erected a mission here and that we have already worked a year among the Indians with blessing in this state is already known, and that our missionaries joined the Old Lutherans and that they demanded from us what we couldn’t do, you probably also know. Thus we had no choice but to turn over the mission with its missionaries to the Old Lutherans, and thus our mission endeavor is restricted.” In a letter dated February 9, 1857, Schmid reports that he had joined the Ohio Synod the previous fall, but in a letter dated November 14, 1859, he says that the Ohio Synod did not suit him because of “their stiff and strict forms and ceremonies,” and on March 19, 1861, he reported that he and several brothers had resurrected the Michigan Synod (the so-called Second Michigan Synod) in December 1860. Pinpointing Schmid’s theological position is difficult. He certainly seemed to breathe an evangelical spirit, and it seems that the early Missourians could have learned something from him in this regard. But the Missourians’ charge of doctrinal duplicity against Schmid is also hard to refute. In the final analysis, Schmid made too big a deal out of the Missourians’ ceremonies (something Schmid himself said earlier he did not want to do) and his accusation against these early Missourians for lacking a living faith is unfounded, as evidenced, among other things, by this autobiography.

13 Eduard Raimund Baierlein arrived in Frankenmuth to serve as a missionary to the Ojibwe in 1847. He labored at the Bethany mission station in St. Louis, Michigan, about 34 miles west of Saginaw, from 1847-1853.

[Read the next part here.]

Strieter Autobiography: Adventures on the Water

[Continued from Part 8. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Translator’s Note

In this section Strieter tells the story of how the lumber for the mission house in Shebeyang (or Shebahyonk) was obtained. See here, here, here, and here. The Historic Site marker at the Indian Mission today simply sums up all the history below with one sentence: “In 1849, Rev. Mr. Auch ferried lumber from Lower Saginaw to Shebahyonk on Wild Fowl Bay, seven miles north of Sebewaing.” But I imagine a capable tour guide could keep an entire audience staring in wonder just at the siding of the Mission for upwards of five minutes, if he or she were able simply to retell the story below.

Youth (continued)

In the spring a mission house was to be built in Shebeyang, for which we needed boards. My brother-in-law [Missionary Auch] and I took our seats in the mission boat, which was 20 feet long with one mast and a sail. We had no wind and had to “pole” the boat, that is, propel it with poles. Toward evening we came to a small little stream, navigated into it, made a tent, brought our blankets and our trunk inside, made ourselves a fire, and cooked tea and eggs. We had bread too. We ate and went to sleep.

During the night the wind came from the other side and drove the water from the little stream out into the bay, and our boat sat there on the sand. We packed everything back in and now worked at getting our boat into the water. We had to go into the water. Boots and stockings came off and now, with our poles stuck in under the boat, we lifted up and pushed them against the side, until the thing was floating. We got in and put our stockings and boots on – people wore boots back then – and off like the wind we went. But the wind was too “close”; we could not reach the lighthouse at the mouth of the Saginaw River.32 We navigate to shore and I say, “I am getting the fever!” That doesn’t help any; I start yawning and getting the chills. We stand there for a while, but night is approaching; we have to get going. We push our boat back until we reach the river. Then Auch took a rope, went up on shore and pulled the thing, and I was supposed to keep it away from shore with a pole. But I wanted to sleep after I got the chills, for it was the dumb ague. Bump, my boat strikes against shore. I wake up and push it back off. The wind is making little ripples, and I think, “That is a turned down bed. You should just go crawl into it.” Bump, my boat strikes against shore again, and I push it off again.

Finally there is a little house on the prairie in the distance. My brother-in-law says, “Those are Frenchmen. Let’s go and find out if they’ll put us up for the night.” We go over; the house is locked. A little ways away is another house; we see light there. Off we go over there. There we find two women, the mother from the first house and her daughter in the second house. Their husbands were out fishing. There were two beautiful children in the cradle, one with the head at one end, the other with the head at the other. One belonged to the mother and the other to the daughter. Auch asked if we could stay overnight. They said sure. Pretty soon the mother takes off with her baby, and the daughter plunders her bed to make one for us on the floor. I slept gloriously. In the morning the woman bakes buckwheat cakes and roasts salt pork and fish. O how great it tasted – better than on the ocean. Auch asks what we owe her, but she doesn’t want anything. I say, “Give her a half-dollar.” He took out his money-bag and gave her a brand new half-dollar. Then she laughed anyhow, and was very pleased as she examined the half-dollar in her hand.

We returned to the boat and were off. We went to the sawmill and my brother-in-law bought wood. But we have to go to Upper Saginaw, because everything else could only be bought there. There I develop my fever again. My brother-in-law brings me to the inn. A fat woman takes me up to a bed. Every moment she comes and wakes me up in English: “You musn’t sleep!” At any rate, we got back up to Lower Saginaw and stayed overnight with a Frenchman. There we had boiled potatoes [Pellkartoffeln], salt pork, and fish.

We now loaded our boat full of lumber, so that it was only a handlength above the water, and we made our way to the bay. A strong wind was blowing, but since we were near the mouth of the river, the wind was too “close” to us and we had to drop the sail and grab for the poles. We work tremendously hard; the waves are always throwing us back against the right shore. Finally we are around the corner.33 In front of us a sailing ship lay at anchor. It had a large float of boards hanging at the side, which were to be loaded in once the water had quieted. We tied our boat to the float and then had a look at the bay. The water was very turbulent, the waves were running high, and there were whitecaps everywhere. The captain appeared on his ship and shouted to us that we should go back into the river. He said the water was much too high for our boat and he could not hold us; his anchor had enough weight to hold already.

My brother-in-law says, “John, what should we do?”

I say, “Not go back; we don’t want to go through all that work again.”

He says, “If you’re up for it, let’s keep going.” He reefs the sail in until it’s a piece as large as a tablecloth. I untie the rope, and he hoists the sail. Whoosh, we whizzed on past the ship out into the open, stormy bay.

At first I felt strange though. When the boat was at the top of a high wave, I would think, “Now it’s going to rush down into the trough and right down to the ground.” But look, just like that it was back at the top of another wave. My brother-in-law began to sing. Then I relaxed and thought, “If you are singing, there must not be anything to worry about.” But the boat traveled so horribly that it tilted way to the front, as if it were going to stand up on its head, and the water was constantly washing in at the front, so that I had to bail water almost continuously. In two hours we were at the mouth of the Sebewaing River, so we had done about thirty miles in two hours.

Endnotes

32 That is, the wind was blowing from the direction they wanted to go.

33 At the mouth of the Saginaw River, there is a projection of land along the eastern bank.

[Read the next part here.]