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.

Advertisements

Strieter Autobiography: To Fort Wayne

[Continued from Part 13. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Seminary (continued)

Crämer told me he had a call to be a professor in Fort Wayne, and that I should now go home to Freedom, bid my siblings farewell and adieu, and then meet up with him in Detroit for the continued journey to Fort Wayne. My brother-in-law had made me a trunk. I shut my things inside it and we were to make the trip with that and Crämer’s luggage. I took just a few things with me and marched back to Ann Arbor. In the evening I arrived there and rode with a man to my old home. It was late when I arrived at the farmyard. My brother had a large, handsome dog, white with large yellow spots; he had gotten it from a “nigger”25 from the South. Everything was already dark in the house. The dog began to bark. I said, “Penter, come!” He stopped barking and came. I knock.

“Who’s outside?” I heard my brother say.

I said, “Your brother.” He got up out of bed; his wife did too and opened the door. The dog went inside with me, posted himself in front of me, began to sniff me up until he had reached my face. He lets out a loud bark and starts licking me all over; I could not escape.

I visited my siblings in Freedom and Bridgewater. They provided me with a number of other items and I took my leave. My brother brought me to Ann Arbor, and I boarded the railroad car, for the first time in my life. A railroad ran from Detroit to Jacksonburg.26 It was nighttime when I arrived in Detroit, where guys were standing in front of a chain and hollering dreadfully; they wanted people for their hotel. I waited till everyone was gone. Then a man came to me and asked if I wanted to spend the night. I said, “Sure!” He took me along. When I was with my siblings I had also bought myself a suitcase [Büchsenranzen] and I had put all my effects in it. He took my case for me, hung the strap over his shoulder, and off we went. We marched a good stretch, then he turned to the side, opened a door, and there we were.

I heard Irish voices coming from the kitchen. The man asked if I wanted to eat. I said, “Sure!” He went to the kitchen and soon came a piece of beefsteak with potatoes and bread. The steak was tough and bloody, but I was hungry and enjoyed the meal. Pretty soon he asked if I wanted to go to bed. I said, “Sure!” Now he took a tallow candle – that was the only kind we had back then – opened a door, and we went up the stairs. Right in front stood a bed and behind it a few more. By the first bed he said I should undress. I lay my paints on the chair, hang my waistcoat on a nail along with my pocket watch, and climb into bed. He grabbed my pocket book out of my pocket, took my watch, and laid both of them under my pillow for me and left. In the morning I ate again and paid just 25 cents.

I now went to find Pastor Schaller.27 On the slope not too far from there, toward the river, stood a large, simple, old frame house. Here lived Pastor Schmidt’s brother-in-law,28 and upstairs, Pastor Schaller. The latter was just coming down the stairs, and I introduced myself to him. He had a cobbler friend in his congregation, married, but without children. He directed me to him. Eight days I stayed with those folks. They lived quite a ways out, in the upstairs at a Catholic tailor’s house. He was a strict Catholic. One time I’m chopping some kindling for my hostess with a small hatchet. Over yonder across the fence, in the next lot, stood an old, single-story frame house, from which several women would come out. One woman, fairly young, stations herself in front of me, lays her hands on the fence and her chin on top, and stares at me without saying a word. I keep pecking away at it, and the wench won’t leave. I toss my hatchet to the side and run inside to the tailor: “I say, what kind of people are actually over in that place?”

He says, “Those are whores, who want to entice you over there.” And now he also gave me a speech, warning me never to get mixed up with bad women folk.

In my host’s shop I also bought myself a new pair of boots. They were definitely somewhat large, but the cobbler said, “You are still growing. I have made these myself. You are getting a good deal!” And he was right.

After eight days Schaller told me I should head out on my own. I went down to the river and boarded the ship, took deck passage though, since I didn’t have a lot of money. The ship set sail for Toledo, where I wanted to go. Soon I noticed a young fellow who was my size and age, who was dressed like a sailor with a little sailor cap on his head. He immediately made my acquaintance and told me that his home was between Tecumseh and Clinton.29 He said his father was a farmer, but he could not stand it on the farm; he was now a sailor. He was now going home for a visit. When it was midday and the meal was taken below for the sailors, he slipped down into an opening and motioned for me to follow. Below we ate a marvelous meal together, but he told me afterwards that we now had to treat the guys; we did that too. He asked me where I was from and what my name was and where I was headed and what I wanted to be. I told him. Then he cried, “Oh, you fool! Go with me to my parents, and when I go back to the ocean, I will take you along and make a fine sailor out of you. You don’t need to be afraid of me; I’m no bad guy.”

I found the fellow extraordinarily pleasant and I was always happy when I was on a ship. My favorite picture as a child was a ship with three masts in full sail. We arrived in Toledo, grabbed the fellow’s trunk at both ends, and went to the hotel. We ate and slept in the same bed. In the morning he paid the bill. “Now John, what do you say?”

I said, “I’m still going to go to Fort Wayne.”

He said, “Then good bye.”

I got on the canal boat and rode to Fort Wayne.30

Endnotes

25 This was a common way of referring to African-Americans at the time, both by those who wished to refer to them disparagingly and by naïve immigrants who simply heard others using the label and didn’t know any better. The word itself originates from the Latin word niger, meaning black (man). Strieter’s quotation marks indicate his own uncertainty about the appropriateness of the term.

26 Jacksonburg(h), Michigan, was founded in 1830. Its name was changed to Jacksonapolis and then shortened to Jackson in 1838, but apparently it continued to be called Jacksonburg informally.

27 Johann Gottlieb Michael Schaller (1819-1887) came to America in 1848, largely at the encouragement of Löhe. After accepting a call to Philadelphia in 1848 and Baltimore in 1850, he accepted a call to Trinity in Detroit in 1850. He had joined the Missouri Synod in 1849 and was won over to Walther’s position on church and ministry at the synod convention in St. Louis in 1850. He was the father of the eventual Professor John Schaller of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, who authored Biblical Christology.

28 From Pastor Schmid’s letter dated March 19, 1861, we know that Pastor Hattstädt (rf. endnote 3) married a sister of his. But Strieter is likely talking about a different brother-in-law here, since Hattstädt, as Strieter notes earlier, remained in Monroe for the duration of his ministry.

29 More than 50 miles northwest of Toledo in Michigan

30 Via the Maumee River

[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.]

Strieter Autobiography: Emigration

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

Youth (continued)

In 1837 my father formed his emigration ideas. The choice was between Russia and North America, the United States. It was said that the Russian tsar was very kind to German Lutherans and helped them to find a home. But my father still decided in favor of America, and he had in fact selected Ann Arbor, Michigan, as his destination. Pastor Götz sent for my father and urged him to stay. He showed him on the map a body of water that was called Lake Erie. He told him that we would have to cross it, and that it was a very turbulent body of water where a very large number of ships sank. My father related this to us, but cheered us up by saying, “Our dear Lord God is also on the water.”

We got ready for our departure. Another family and a few young men from Affalterbach and several families from the surrounding villages also got ready to go. My father hired a coachman with two big old horses and a large wagon covered with white fabric; that’s where everything was packed up. Mother and we small children were allowed to sit up top; the others had to walk. Now we were off to America. When we came to the Ochsen, the innkeeper ran to the wagon with a flask of wine, managed to grab hold of my father, wept and cried out, “Now our prayer-man is leaving us.”

We traveled to Bremen. It was a long, deplorable trip! The cover over us got cracks in it here and there, and the water would drip through them when it rained. The coachman was a drunken wretch. In every single inn, especially where he was lodged for the night, he drank, and no one could get him away from it. If the young men had not looked after his horses, the poor animals would have died.

Finally we arrived in Bremen. My father soon became acquainted with Christian brothers, especially a certain Kalbfleisch family. At a synod convention, I believe the location was called Collinsville,11 an old lady invited me over and told me that she had gotten acquainted with my father in Bremen. In Bremen they loaded us on a small vessel on a river12 and now we were headed to Bremerhaven. That’s also where we thought we were going to die; at one point our small vessel was sitting on the ground. After a while the water was coming toward us like a mountain, and we thought it was going to cover us.13 In the harbor two ships were ready – a beautiful new vessel with three masts, a speedy sailer called Louise, and an old vessel with two masts which was called Leondine. We really wanted to take the Louise, but there was no more room on it, and so we had to board the Leondine in disappointment.

We were off and so too began the seasickness. My poor mother almost never left her bed. We ate sailors’ fare – black, tough hardtack. On the upper deck there was a walled-in firestove on which a large kettle was stored. The cook handed it over for cooking every day. If the girls did not feel well, then the young men did the cooking. They had beans which were put in the water in the kettle, along with a nasty piece of salt pork. Then they were cooked. The beans on the bottom were burnt, and those above them were hard. And then there was the grease on top, as thick as a finger. When midday came, then the people came with bowls and took their portion. But we Swabians had never eaten such food. In Affalterbach, in the morning we had a bread soup with fried potatoes, at midday millet gruel [Hirsbrei], creamed corn [Welschkornbrei], potato wedges and spaetzle [Kartoffelschnitz und Knöpfle], fried spaetzle and salad, pancakes and salad, steam dumplings [Dampfnudeln, a kind of roll], yapper slappers (Maulschellen, filled rolls), meatballs or sausage balls, depending on the circumstances, and so on. We didn’t have a lot of meat, but we did have some, though we never had salt pork.

My sisters took our portion of pork raw, then they roasted it well and filled an entire metal tub [Blechstipig] with it and brought it over to us. They broke the hardtack into pieces with the hammer, put the fragments in a bowl and poured hot water over them and melted them, and thus made a good soup that we could eat.

We had a good trip. No one died, and a little girl was born, who was baptized Leondine. Only once were the hatches closed on account of a storm. There was one time during the night that something slid past against us and our ship tipped way over to one side. In the morning the captain – he was still rather young, a short and most delightful guy – told us: “Another ship was sailing toward us and would have just about drilled us into the ground.” From then on the young men had to blow a signal. They had a long brass reed available and they positioned themselves at the front and one of them blew until he was out of breath, then the second one blew, then the third and so forth, the whole night through, in order to warn the other ships to stay away from us.

On Sunday it was always quiet. My father would go onto the deck; everybody gathered around him. Even the sailors had to be quiet. The captain would lean against a mast. There a hymn would be sung, and my father would read a sermon from Ludwig Hofacker14 and would pray.

We were about halfways there when the captain showed us a ship over yonder and said, “That is the Louise.” We arrived happily in New York, and two days later the Louise did too – the beautiful, new speedy sailer.

Endnotes

11 In Illinois

12 The Weser River

13 Strieter is describing what it looked like to him when he approached the sea for the first time.

14 Ludwig Hofacker (1798-1828) was a pietistic Lutheran pastor in Stuttgart and Rielingshausen. He was renowned for his passionate Christ-centered preaching; his church would often already be crowded an hour before the service began.

[Read the next part here.]