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“Why don’t you reach your own heathen first before coming to a foreign land!” With the India door shut squarely on the American Board missionary, he traveled back home contemplating the government agent’s sarcastic tone hinged on truth. Why didn’t they have missionaries to those that had not heard in America? Many of the native Indians had surely never heard the truth of the gospel.
Undertaking this challenge, Cyrus Kingsbury appeared at a treaty meeting in Washington D.C. in 1816 to present his mission to educate and evangelize the Cherokee nation. After being formally introduced by General Andrew Jackson, Kingsbury presented the goal of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Affairs to establish a mission school among the Chickamauga Cherokee Indian people. By this time, the Cherokee people were ravaged and weakened by wars, treaties, and disease. The onslaught of John Sevier during the Revolutionary War was brutal when a vast number of warriors were killed. The Treaty of Hopewell had been signed by 37 Chiefs in November of 1785 with the United States Government promising protection from invading settlers; yet, as with most Indian treaties, the promises were empty and the encroachment continued. In 1790, President Washington said that over 500 settler families were in direct violation of the treaty. Despite the invasion of the white man, who many times displayed a less than Christian attitude and testimony with his thieving hands and drunken spirit, by 1800 the Cherokee had adopted many “civilized” ways, purchasing trinkets, knives, and clothing and learning trades, crafts, and farming techniques. This eagerness to learn new ways proved an open door for Cyrus Kingsbury.
After receiving pledged financial support from President Madison, including the help of Indian Agent Col. Meigs and the Secretary of War along with building materials and other necessities, Kingsbury traveled to survey the Cherokee land and present the mission to the tribal chiefs. With much cause, the Cherokee were hesitant to allow the white men into their villages. One chief, Yonaguska, even required that all literature be read to him before distributed among his people. It is told that when the Bible was presented, he listened to portions of Matthew and gave his approval after stating, “Well, it seems to be a good book, but it is strange that the white people are not better after having had it so long.”
Providentially, after Kingsbury explained to the chiefs his purpose to establish a school to train the Cherokee children in “duty to parents, to their fellow creatures, and to the Great Spirit, the Father of all,” the people agreed for the establishment of the mission school and “hoped it would be of great advantage to the nation.”
In its first year the mission housed 44 male students and 31 female students, growing in 21 years to include 40 buildings. A schoolhouse was constructed along with a grist mill, sawmill, barn, orchard dormitory, farm buildings, and cemetery. Financially aided by the government, attended and worked by the Cherokee and guided by the American Board missionaries, the Brainerd Mission, as it came to be called in honor of the great missionary to the Indians, David Brainerd, flourished and achieved much success with the Cherokee people.

Unbeknowing to Kingsbury, during the birthing days of the Brainerd Mission, a father’s gift to his moccasin-clad son would influence the mission and surrounding Indians for years to come. Atsi’s astute watchfulness and eagerness to learn had shaped the young Indian brave. From early days, his father had taught him the ways of the Western North Carolina Indians, and Atsi had become the tribe’s most talented hunter and expert marksman. His father presented him with a cherished gun which Atsi carried proudly on hunting expeditions. About the time of the Brainerd Mission opening its doors, Atsi participated in a hunt that would providentially change the path his moccasins would walk. On that day, all other brave’s returned to their village with sufficient catches, yet Atsi returned carrying only his treasured gun. Humbled and disturbed by this new “position” he found himself in amongst the other braves, he took time away with his father as they traveled to Knoxville. Through the ever-present, unseen hand of God, Missionary Hall, associated with the Brainerd Mission, crossed paths with Atsi and, sensing his searching heart and desire to be educated, he told Atsi of the mission school along the Chickamauga River. Burdened by an intense longing to know more, Atsi journeyed alone for seven days, and on January 24, 1819, new footprints marked the path into the mission. Appearing ragged and dirty, he requested acceptance into the school. Somewhat taken aback by his state, the missionaries agreed, but only on a trial basis and one contingency – he must trade something of value for clothing and board at the mission. His only possession was that prized gun, which until his last hunt had characterized his greatest talent. Now, at the mission door, he stood facing a new opportunity that he suddenly realized he longed for more than restoring his position as chief village marksman.  With sudden clarity he released his grip on this ole’ world and walked through the door that would lead him to NEW LIFE.


His expert hunter hands readily turned over his gun, his only real possession, in exchanged for new clothes and a place at the mission. Atsi, soon called John Arch, relayed his belief in a Great Spirit who cares nothing for those living below him nor made a way for life after death. Yet, in a short time, he came to the knowledge and faith in the true “Great Spirit.” With a solid testimony growing daily, John advanced academically under the tutelage of the missionaries and began assisting in translation and writing work for the Cherokee. He aided in writing the first Cherokee language Spelling Book, traveled as an interpreter introducing other tribal groups to the gospel message, and helped in establishing other mission schools. In 1825, while traveling, he became ill with what was probably congestive heart failure. His one desire was to return to his beloved Brainerd Mission. With the help of friends along the way, he saw his “family” and “home” once again before dying on June 18th. He was buried in the Brainerd Mission cemetery with Rev. Butrick stating at his death: “He was particularly anxious to maintain the honor of the missionary character among his people, and to shield the Christian name from reproach…wherever he went…he left a sweet savor to the honor of his God and the great benefit of his brethren.” Truly his life reveals the miraculous transformation that is evident in a life changed by the truth of Christ.

No doubt, the timing of John Arch’s homegoing was a blessing, in that he was not present to witness the travesties of the closing years at Brainerd Mission. The Cherokee continued to see the white man’s inconsistencies and political agendas. Despite treaties, during the Monroe Administration, Cherokee land shrank from 124,000 square miles to 17,000 square miles.
An increasing, aggressive agenda and lack of Christian morals gave way to land disputes, greed, and prejudice. Wielding political power, Andrew Jackson cut-off financial aid to the American Board for the Cherokee mission in 1830.  One incident significant to Brainerd Mission was taken all the way to the Supreme Court with Worcester v. the State of Georgia in 1832.  Samuel Worcester, leader at the Brainerd Mission, along with other missionaries had been imprisoned for not complying with an overreaching land law instituted by Georgia State. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled the state’s law unconstitutional, upholding tribal authority over their land. However, these findings were passively unenforced by Jackson’s administration, giving leeway to the State of Georgia’s continued encroachment. The dejected missionaries agreed to accept a deal with the Georgia government and despondently began to favor removal of the Indians to the West. While many other tribes complied, the Cherokee stood firm. Through governmental trickery and the coercion and capitulation of a minority of Cherokee, the Removal Treaty was signed under Jackson’s personal leadership. Despite shady methods, the Senate ratified the treaty and regiments of soldiers forcibly removed the Cherokee from their homes, marking the beginning of the “Trail of Tears” in 1838.  Although perhaps the foundation of the treaties signed initially sounded fair with the promise of fair pay-outs for land and safe transportation to the West, the words proved worthless under the hand of corrupt and cruel contractors, traders, and enforcers. History proves that many a blind eye was turned against the unscrupulous affairs, including that of President Andrew Jackson.

The distress and contempt for his own countrymen is evident in the following from Rev. Butrick as he stood witness to the onslaught that swept through the Brainerd Mission and all Cherokee homes.

“Now, in view of the whole scene, how does the United States government appease a great nation, laying aside her dignity and with thousands of soldiers, and all her great men, and all her mighty men, and all her powerful generals, with all her civil and military force, chasing a little trembling hare in the wilderness, merely to take its skin, and send it off to broil in the scorching deserts of the West. O how Noble! How magnanimous! How warlike the achievement! O what conquest! What booty! How becoming the glory and grandeur of the United States! A little hare, a little trembling rabbit, indeed is this poor and afflicted nation, as to power, or a disposition to resist her murderers; though in reality a land of immortal beings, whose Redeemer is mighty, and has already taken hold on vengeance, and should He now condescend to make known His feelings and purposes as in the days of Ahab, the President of the United States would probably hear something like the voice of Elijah saying, ‘Hast thou killed and also taken possession?’ Therefore thus saith the Lord, in the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.’ (IKings 21:19)”

Those Christians who witnessed with their eyes, the degradation and abuse perpetrated by their own fellowmen and government were ashamed and immediately accused the government of corrupt political ends. Many of the missionaries traveled on West to continue ministry with the Indians, yet this government betrayal beginning with the President and continuing throughout his administration severely hindered the gospel message to future Cherokee generations. But for those few who answered the call to care, teach, and share Jesus, perhaps those like John Arch and countless other Cherokee may never have known the power and love of the ONE “Great Spirit.”

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