Native American

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Records on Microfilm at the Family History Library

Type of record

Dates Covered

Film #

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1885-1895

0583067

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1896-1902

0583068

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1903-1911

0583069

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1912-1920

0583070

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1921-1929

0583071

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1930-1933

0583072

Uintah & Ouray Agency Records

1934-1939

0583073

Ute Mixed Blood Rolls

0928522

Land Office-Register of cash receipts

1905-1906

1320559 Item 1


An Indian Christmas

By Grant M Ford
A strange situation for a church! But here it is, together with a small parsonage and hospital, close up against a sandstone cliff which rises sheer up 800 feet. On the cliff just over the church many wildcats have their lairs. If you should say that you had met three or four coyotes ambling along the high road within fifty feet of the church, your statement would awaken no surprise, and only the very mildest appearance of interest.

On the beach at some distance are three or four houses; but nowhere, near or far, can be seen the suggestion of town or village. A strange situation for a church! The water-barrel in front of the parsonage has in it a small plug where no plug should be. Two holes of the same size as the plug pierce the walls of the hospital. Bullet holes! Along the backs of the pews of the small church, on Sunday mornings, are rows of uncovered heads with hair parted in the middle and hanging in two braids on the breast on either side of the head. In an Episcopal church do they so disregard the mandate of the fathers that women must remain with covered heads? Yes, but it is men that wear these braids, Uncompaghre Ute Indians.

Winter is always " a long and dreary winter" to these Utes. There is absolutely nothing for them to do, and they do nothing. a struggle to keep body and soul together ends, both for ponies and Utes, only when the grass begins to grow. Two events of any interest stand out in this barren winterlife, the "annual payment" in February, when the Utes receive the trifle due them, and "Mr. Hersey's Christmas," as the Indians term it. For weeks before the time the Utes ask white men, "When Mr. Hersey's Christmas? The Rev. Milton J. Hersey, a missionary to these Utes, as he has been among various tribes, is a friend of the Indians and they know it. Sound man this! Vigorous of mind and sturdy in body. A sound sermon, full of sound doctrine and sound sense, fitted in words and illustrations to the minds of the attentive Utes, may be heard on Sunday. And on Monday, if the public school needs wood, the Rev. Mr. Hersey will not disdain to take one end of a two-handed saw, if you will take the other. But you will have something to do if you try to tire out this sturdy gentleman.

"Mr. Hersey's Christmas" is rather behind time this year. Big boxes must first arrive from Chicago, St. Paul and elsewhere, and freight comes late or never in this out-of-the-way corner of Utah, sixty-seven miles from the railroad. When the time does come two days suffice to spread the news to every part of the reservation. News travels in a really wonderful manner among these Indians. It passes from mouth to mouth and reaches every corner. Rumor truly here has many mouths. Shaggy, obstinate looking Indian ponies, with every kind of saddle-cloth, from Navajo blankets to old pieces of canvas, are tied in front of the church; comfortable family parties come in wagons and strange-looking sleighs. The church is filled, the squaws and children in front, the bucks by themselves in the read. Bright colors joined in every combination line the pews. A blanket with broad stripes of yellow, red, green and purple is common. Each squaw wears her flaming blanket even on the hottest summer day, and would deem herself immodestly dressed without it.
Navajo beaten silver earrings of the largest size, finger rings, bracelets and necklaces are numerous. Squaws' heads indoors and out-of-doors at all seasons are almost without exception uncovered, showing the smoothly combed, thick black hair hanging free to the shoulders and there cut square across. Here and there a painted face, but not many in this church, for the Rev. Mr. Hersey stops at such a one in his progress down the aisle, and ridicules it with gentle irony. No congregation could show better behavior. Dignity, quietness, serious composure, together with alert attention, is characteristic of a Ute assembly.

The steps and platform of the altar are heaped with gifts, useful articles and toys. The white people, children or not, cannot conceal their interest in that mass of desirable possessions. Not so the Indians. A polite indifference, real or assumed, marks every face. Respectful attention prevails as the worthy missionary, in black cassock, reads the simple story of the first Christmas from "the Book of books," and then in easy words carefully explains to these Utes that the gifts are not from him but that they come from their good friends of Grace Church, Chicago, and from other churches in northern Minnesota. Then are the gifts distributed with careful hand by Mr. and Mrs. Hersey, each selected and suited to the recipient; for well Mr. Hersey knows the various needs of these old friends, many of whom he has followed since they were children. Candy, nuts and apples for all, big and little. Dolls of all sizes and shapes, of the best, for every child; games; every description of toy.

No loud talk, no boisterous laughter! a gentle smile of satisfaction lights the faces of the older Utes as the children receive their gifts. The Utes all love children. They are kind and indulgent to them on all occasions. The worst Ute is a good parent and his children love him. In this distribution of gifts one thing is noticeable; no envy or jealousy is shown, or felt. The Ute does not covet his neighbor's goods, be that neighbor Indian or while man. This truly Christian quality is joined to another. They share with one another all that they have. No Ute can be truly prosperous, for what he has another may claim of his hospitality. You may eat the last morsel in his house and he will show no sign of discontent. The Uncompaghre Ute has many faults, but there is no low meanness in his nature and it is not difficult to admire him. His face and hands are always clean and his hair is in order, his teeth perfect. He has always a well-brushed hat and good shoes. His table manners are good. He eats much, but with propriety. He does not beg. He often borrows, but rarely fails to pay. he can see a joke and enjoy it, but generally behaves with gravity. All things pertaining to Indians are of lively interest to him. Good pictures of Indians he will travel miles to see. The outside world he is indifferent to. Nothing will make the great majority of Utes work. Necessity does not persuade them. Sooner will they die, and they are dying.

Thirty years will see almost the last of them. "Holy Spirit Church" is doing much for the Indians. They may go to Mr. Hersey and he will never refuse counsel or aid, within his power. It may be that a squaw is dying of old age and she is beyond any aid of medical science. Whose business is it? Mr. Hersey's, of course. Carry her to the hospital, where she is washed, clothed, fed and cared for by Mr. and Mrs. Hersey, as a matter of course. If she dies, Mr. Hersey with his own hands makes her coffin, places her in it and buries here with the rites of the Church in consecrated ground. Nothing at all remarkable about that! Of course, Mrs. Hersey may be sick abed for a couple of months after it is over. But as soon as she is strong again, she is ready for the next helpless one. The Rev. Mr. Hersey is never sick. Somebody may need him at Vernal, thirty-five miles distant, or at White Rocks, twenty miles, or at Theodore, forty miles. Very well, out come the two stout little horses, and Mr. Hersey is on the way.

A city observer, used to city ways, might say that this sturdy gentleman should be removed "to a field of larger usefulness." But after all, is any usefulness greater than that which gives of the best to those who need it most?
 
From " An Indian Christmas," by Grant M. Ford, The Spirit of Missions
(Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society: May, 1907), Vol. CXXII, No. 5, 368.
-Contributed by Marilyn Hersey Brown 
See also the biography of Reverend Milton Hersey

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Last Updated: 06.16.2015