The Great Spirit Descends
Circuit rider James B. Finley (1781–1856) had a successful ministry with the Wyandot Indians of Ohio. In this excerpt from his Sketches of Western Methodism (1854), he glowingly describes an 1828 camp meeting he held among them. His mission ended when the U.S. government coerced the tribe to sell their land and move west.
The Indians came with their camping apparatus, to the number of one hundred and fifty. A place was assigned them for pitching their tents, so that they might all be as near together as possible. The Indians being more expert in pitching tents than the whites, they, of course, were ready at an earlier hour to engage in religious exercises.
It is characteristic of the Indian to devote exclusive attention, for the time being, to whatever pursuit or employment he may take in hand. If it be fishing, or hunting, or sugar making, or corn planting, nothing else is allowed to interfere in the time allotted to these things. So in regard to religion. The time devoted to God was the most sacred.
Soon the Christian chiefs, and queens, and all, were formed into a circle, and the voice of praise and prayer made the forest arches ring. After singing one of their Christian songs, only as Indians can sing, they fell simultaneously upon their knees and lifted up their faces toward heaven, as if they expected to see the Great Spirit descend in blessings from the parted skies. One of their number would lead in prayer, and when the Indian words tamentare and homendezue would escape the suppliant’s lips, a deep amen would be uttered in concert by all the circle.
Tears, Groans, and Shouts
The Indian has strong faith, and when he makes preparation for a sacrifice to the Great Spirit, he expects with the utmost ...