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Early Missionaries in Dakota Territory

Stephen Return Riggs was an American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) missionary to the Santee in Dakota Territory from 1837 through the 1870's. Riggs was one of the first A.B.C.F.M. missionaries to work among the Native Americans and is largely responsible for the documentation of the Dakota language. This series of letters, written by Riggs to fellow missionary Samuel Pond, describe the limited connection between the A.B.C.F.M.and its solitary missionaries, in the beginning of its efforts among the Native Americans in Dakota Territory. This situation changed when the second generation of Riggs missionaries worked to create a concrete administrative connection with the east coast-based A.B.C.F.M..These letters are part of the Riggs Collection in the United Church of Christ Archives at the Center for Western Studies.

Lac qui parle March 26, 1839

Mr. S.W. Pond.

Dear brother,
         Your brother expects to have us in a few days to join you. We will be able to tell you all that is interesting at this station, both prosperous and adverse.
         We are sorry to have your brother and wife leave us, and especially in our present circumstances but whatever is duty, we certainly ought to be willing to have them do.
         It has not been altogether clear in mind that he ought to have made the engagement which he has with yourself and Mr. Stevens without first hearing from the Board-or indeed that Mr. S. and yourself had power to make such an agreement. See page 12 sec. 5 of Constitution Laws and Regulations of A.B.C.F.M. If I understand this article the money occurring from any engagement yielding pecuniary profit can no more be voted, to one individual, by the members of a station, than so much money drawn from the treasury of the Board. I do not know how the Board understand[s] this. My fear has been lest they would feel that they had not been treated well in not having been consulted beforehand. Ere this I suppose you have heard from Boston on this point. If so I hope all is well. I have not opposed your brother's going down this spring for the reason that it is impracticable for us at this station to learn the views of the Board in time to accomplish his desires this season.
           May the Lord guide him and us all in the right way.
           When Mr.Gavins leaves us with your brother we shall feel much alone.
           With respects to yourself and Mrs. Pond and the members of the mission.

           I am
           Yr's affectionately
           S.R.Riggs

April 1st

          I have spoken to your brother once or twice on a subject which I am not certain others look at as I do. It is the propriety of his making his arrangements and shaping his studies so that ---- will be consistent at some future time, say two or three years to introduce him into the gospel ministry. My reason for encouraging him to take this course is that I think he may be more useful eventually in that sphere. All who came into the country are not going to learn the language well very soon, is another reason why I would urge him to this course. I would not have him be in haste in this matter. The probability is that in two or three years we may have some kind of an ecclesiastical body in this country--that will be time enough--There will be nothing lost by waiting--we must all learn the language better before we can do much at preaching.

          Yours affy S.R. Riggs