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Commission on Archives & History

Historical Sites

Site of the Methodist Indian Mission at the Soo

by Ronald A. Brunger
(from the Historical Messenger, March 1979)

Location:  Chippewa County - The site of the early Methodist Indian Mission at the Soo was the present golf course on Riverside Drive.  This is two miles down the river from the Rapids of the St. Mary's River, or the original site of Fort Brady.  John H. Pitezel, early Methodist missionary in the Lake Superior region, in 1857 described the setting of the Soo mission thus:

''It is two miles down the river from Fort Brady.  At the station a large branch of the river breaks off abruptly from the main channel, flowing southwardly.  The current here is very rapid; hence the name of Little Rapids.  The Mission stands on a gentle slope, a few rods back from this channel, in full view of the beautiful river scenery to the east and north and of the mountainous ranges on the Canada shore.  In the rear were the barn and out­houses.  Lining the shore were about a dozen Indian houses, several wigwams, and the schoolhouse."

The mission building stood a little in front of the present country club building, a site marked by the stumps of two ancient elm trees.  The Methodist Historic Site Marker will be placed on this building, and the new Michigan State Historical Marker will be placed down front along the highway.

State historical marker information at: http://www.michmarkers.com/startup.asp?startpage=L0633.htm

About 1831 John Sunday, a Methodist Indian Preacher from Canada, began mission work in the Indian settlement at the Sault Ste Marie Rapids.  In 1832 Rev. John Clark, a missionary from the New York Conference who had just come to Green Bay, heard of the movement at the "Soo" and felt that he should work here.  In the spring of 1833, Clark and his family located at the Soo.  The Indians in council responded favorably and the erection of a school house and church began.

In 1834 Clark reported a school with a female teacher and 35 scholars; three Methodist Classes had been organized with 59 members--40 natives and 19 citizens (whites).  He wrote of his Sunday schedule at this time.  "Preach to the citizens and the garrison in the town on Sunday morning; to the Indians at half past twelve P.M. at the office of the agent; to the garrison at 3 P.M. at the council house in the Fort; and attend prayer meeting at the same place in the evening."  In 1834 Schoolcraft, the Indian agent, gave the Mission a yoke of oxen, a plow, a harness and chains to be used on the Mission farm.

Peter Marksman, whose father was an Indian medicine man, was converted in the log schoolhouse of the Mission under Clark's preaching in 1844.  He became a respected and long-term minister of the Detroit Annual Conference.  In the fall of 1837 the Michigan Annual Conference took charge of the Upper Peninsula missions and appointed D. M. Chandler­ to "Sault Ste. Marie and Kewawenon."   He dared to make the trip from the Soo to Kewawenon, 250 miles, in the dead of winter on snowshoes.  Early the next spring he returned to the Soo by canoe.  In 1838 William H. Brockway was sent as superintendent of the missions and he remained 10 years, serving as chaplain at Fort Brady most of that time.

In 1843 John H. Pitezel came to the Soo as missionary, along with John Kah-beege an Indian local preacher from Canada.  Pitezel found the mission house on a lovely site over­ looking Little Rapids.  One end of the house was frame, the other of logs.  There was a farm of 40 or 50 acres cleared and a fine crop of vegetables that year.  With Indian children resident to attend the mission school, Mrs. Pitezel had a family of 16, besides people employed at the Mission and hungry Indians who stopped from time to time.  In 1844, the Methodists at the Soo had 57 members.

In January 1849 Pitezel preached at Naomikong, on the southwestern shore of Whitefish Bay.  That Fall a mission house was built and a mission established there. As the white settlement at the Soo began to grow in the 1850's (the first state lock was finished in 1855), the Indians moved away.  By 1861 Methodist mission work in the area was concentrated at Iroquois Point, about 15 miles west of the Soo, and on Sugar Island near the Soo Mission site. Peter Marksman in 1863 reported 53 members and 40 probationers, 2 Local Preachers, one church valued at $400, two Sunday Schools with 65 scholars plus 13 officers and teachers.  By 1883 the Indians were on a new reservation, Bay Mills, just northwest of Brimley and the Methodist missionary was appointed to Iroquois and Bay Mills. In 1890 Bay Mills and Iroquois Mission reported 60 members.  According to one report, the mission land at the Soo, totaling 640 acres, was sold in 1863.  Methodist mission work with Indians in the area continued for many years.