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The Zeba Indian United Methodist Church (Formerly Kewawenon)Zeba

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

Location:  Baraga County - 227 Front Street, between Whirl-I-Gig Road and Peter Marksman Rd, Zeba, Michigan (3.5 miles northeast of L'Anse).  Coordinates: 46°48′09″N 88°24′52″W

State historic marker information at: http://www.michmarkers.com/startup.asp?startpage=L0638.htm

In 1832 John Sunday, the Chippewa Methodist Indian missionary from Canada, came from the Soo to Kewawenon, an Indian settlement north of present day, L'Anse, and spent the fall and winter.  He began educational work with two small girls. Soon he had 15 scholars, and taught them the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, and the Decalogue in Chippewa. Curiosity conquered prejudice and finally adults came to hear him.  Soon a medicine man accepted Christianity.

In the fall of 1833 Thomas Frasier, another Indian preacher from William Case's Canadian Methodist Indian Mission centered at Grape Island, came from the Soo to Kewawenon to spend the winter.1  John Clark the missionary at the Soo, gave him a store of provisions and a net and ammunition to aid him in fishing and hunting for food.  Clark reported to the Missionary Society in New York that "Brother Frasier is a devoted laborer, and left here for his distant field in good spirits."  Clark also noted that the Indians at Kewawenon had been torn by strife, but "during the revival at that place the past year the Gospel of peace has reached and changed the hearts of the two principal men of the opposing parties."

Clark himself came to Kewawenon in 1834.  He baptized 15 persons, and administered the Sacrament to about 40.  At Kewawenon he gave direction and permanence to a Methodist mission by the erection of a log mission house and schoolhouse, and of Indian cabins by beautiful Kewawenon Bay.  By 1840, two missionaries, George King and John Kah-beege, were assigned to Kewawenon, and 35 members were reported.

From 1844 to 1847, John H. Pitezel was stationed here.  He moved here in the fall of 1844 with his wife and small daughter, John Kah-beege, and three Indian oarsmen, in a large bark canoe.  The trip marked by considerable adventure and difficulty, took 12 days from the Soo.  Pitezel 's first job was to put a new roof on the mission house, paint the house anew with good lime mortar and whitewash it inside.  There was a small farm the Pitezels found a store of 50 bushels of potatoes and some turnips to help them through the winter.  There was also a government blacksmith and carpenter located at Kewawenon.  In 1845, Kewawenon reported 58 Indian members and four white members, 25 scholars in the Sunday School, a parsonage and a meeting house.

By 1848 Kewawenon reported 300 books in its library.  A second larger church was built at a cost of $550, and dedicated by Mission Superintendent, John H. Pitezel, as he returned from Minnesota on his annual mission tour, June 19, 1850.  Among the early missionaries here were Daniel Chandler, William H. Brockway, Joseph Holt, John Johnson (Indian), Daniel Jacokes, George W. Brown, Peter Marksman (Indi an), Nelson Barnum, Robert Dubois, J. H. Burnham, and Silas P. Murch (who was immortalized in the novel,"Lady Unafraid'').

By 1860 Kewawenon reported 75 members, one local preacher, 11 baptisms, a church valued at $1000, a parsonage worth $500, 30 enrolled in the Sunday School, and 100 volumes in the library.  That year $350 missionary money was appropriated to support the missionary, and $50 for the interpreter.

Annual camp meetings have been held here since 1880.  John H. Pitezel returned here in 1882 to attend the third camp meeting, which began that year on July 31.  He described the site thus, "Situated near the old Kewawenon Mission, on a delightful plateau, over­looking Keweenaw Bay, well shaded and watered by several living springs.  It would be difficult to select a more lovely summer retreat."  On Monday, Aug. 6, 1882, they celebrated the semi-centennial of ''the introduction of Protestantism among the Ojibways of Lake Superior."

The present frame church, known now as the Zeba Indian Mission Church was erected in 1888. Your editor is unaware of the reason for the change of name from the original Kewawenon.  Work camps of UMYFers in recent years have helped to repair this historic building, which is completely covered with hand-made wooden shingles.  A camp meeting tabernacle, one half mile away, was built in 1924.  For many years, this church has been served by the Methodist minister in L'Anse.  Plans are now in process for a Native American pastor here again.  The youth choir from this church sang for the first time at the Annual Conference in Adrian in 1978!

 


1. William Case who served on the Detroit Circuit, Upper Canada District, New York Conference in 1809-10, stirred up a Methodist following in the Detroit Area and made possible the organization of the first Methodist class in Michigan in the fall of 1810. He gave the latter part of his life to an extensive and very successful mission with the Indians in Canada.