Midland Historian Reveals Research On Mission Begun a Century Ago
Daily Times News, October 23, 1961
By Harold Moll
The fall of 1961 is the one-hundreth year anniversary of the building of a Lutheran church in Isabella County. If you would
ask a local Lutheran member concerning this, he would probably know nothing about the church because the history of the
present Mt. Pleasant congregation dates from 1991 when the parish was organized by Rev. J. F. Mueller.
The history of the Lutheran mission played an important pary in the early settlement. Although it flourished for ten years
from 1859 to 1869, the mission is rarely mentioned in the histories of the county probably because all of the white personnel
connected with the mission left the area, all church records were destroyed in the 1871 Chicago fire and records
available are written in the German language.
The author of this article became interested in Isabella Lutheran Indian Mission while collecting information on the Gruet
(Grewett, Gruett) family. All of the Gruet's who have lived in the area can trace their genealogy to a Frenchman, James Gruet
St., who was part owner of a fur trading post named "Gruet and Laframboise" of Mackinac. Two of his sons by his Chippewa wife,
James and Peter, came to the Saginaw Valley in 1833 where they became active as guides and interpreters.
James married Mary, half French-half Chippewa daughter of voyager Louis Mashue. In 1847 he became the official
interpreter for a German Lutheran Mission just established at Frankenmuth.
Frankenmuth was established in 1845
by August Craemer as an ideal county among the Indians. The seventeen
immigrants had hoped that the pagan Indians would be attracted to their way of life. This plan did not materialize, the
Indians not being attracted and the settlers becoming involved in their own problems of living. This mission station was moved
to and re-established by E. R. Bairerlein at Bethany in Gratiot County in 1848. It prospered and grew during his 5
years of directorship. Baierlein was recalled to Germany in 1853 and his assistant, Ernst G. H. Miessler, was made the
director. The mission was enlarged to several hundred acres of land, and each Indian family that joined the mission
received 15 to 30 acres of land which they were to clear and pay for by return of produce.
James settled there, interpreting
and aiding in the composition of a Chippewa grammar and reading book,
Okinoadi-mezinaigan, that was published in 1852.
His children, members of the Bethany Mission church, settled in the St. Louis and Mt. Pleasant area. Two grandsons
operated a minstrel show that traveled world wide and had the distinction of starting Joe. E. Brown in his well known career.
A portrait of James bachelor son, Bill holds an honored place in the Post Office at St. Louis. He being first to carry the
mail from the south to the new settlement on the Pine River. The name holders of Old Jim's descendants have all died, the male
having the name being an adopted great-grandson.
October 24, 1961
Gruet's Grandson Was Agriculturist At Lutheran Indian Mission School
Peter Gruet, somewhat younger than
James, had the distinction of leading Douglas Houghton, father of Michigan's
geology, to the salt springs near Sanford in 1837 where the first attempt was made to drill la well for salt in Michigan.
Peter first married Peen-du-gay (Christian name Magdelena); daughter of Pine River's chief Pammes-se-ke (Bemassikeh)
and sister of Henry Ashman's wife. Ashman is remembered as the area's first lawyer and representative.
Peter and Peen-du-gay's son Philip,
was trained for the ministry in the Lutheran Seminary at For Wayne, Indiana.
his last year, he contacted a severe case of rheumatic fever that left him permanently disfigured.
Because of his sickness he was
forced to return home later becoming a successful lumberman, hiring only Indians
cut a large share of the timber stands in Isabella County. His farm, now the Bowerman place, is located west and south of
Philip and Sarah Chattfields Gruet's
only son, Samuel, is remembered by residents as the disciplinarian and
agriculturist of the Indian training school. Here again the family name, Gruett (Philip added the second t) will apparently
die out, only daughters showing in the sixth generation from the chief.
Half French-half Chippewa Peter
again married, this time a French girl, Abigail Tromble, and lived on part of
old Bethany Mission property near St. Louis. However, this portion of the family, some who adopted the name Grewett,
were never connected with the mission project.
October 26, 1961
With the beginning of the Isabella
Reservation, called the Reservation of the Chippewa of Swan Creek, Black River
Saginaw Indians, the attraction of 40 to 80 acres free to each Indian plus the high wages the educated Indian youth
of the Bethany Mission could receive soon left the mission with only a few widows and very young children.
In 1857 Miessler's wife died in her
second childbirth and the director buried her in the little Bethany cemetery.
This cemetery, about 2.5 miles north of St. Louis on the Pine River, marks the last visible reminder of the devoted
missionary's zeal. She with her little baby boy in her arms are the only white people buried in this cemetery.
The Isabella reservation was
sponsored by the Methodist, being prior to the division in the Methodist
its leaders were certain to see that Miessler and his Lutheran Mission did not become a part of the reservation. Miessler
was not allowed to settle on the 6 reservation townships so he purchased 160 acres (NW 1/4 Sect. 23 T 14 NR 4 W) now
SE Mt. Pleasant and established it as the mission farm.
He also purchased two 40 acre tracts
across the road, now called Mission Avenue or M 27, for his own use as
well as several other tracks in the city and in Shepherd. By this time, Miessler had acquired enough of the Chiippewa
and Ottawa language that he felt that he could reduce costs by not continuing the use of an interpreter.
So for two years he and James Gruet
spent their time in an intensive study of the language and prepared a
Chippewa grammar, Chippewa - English and English - Chippewa Dictionary. He sought to publish the voluminus
work but could not find the necessary money. However, about that time Catholic Father Baraga published his
dictionary and grammar and sent copies gratis to his Lutheran friend.
In Miessler's unpublished
autobiography, written in Gothic German, he tells of his many problems in
serving his people. In the fall of 1861, one hundred years ago, he built a little log church and school about six miles
across the country from the mission farm but 10 miles by wretched road, located among his parishoners that had
moved from Bethany.
He says further in a letter written
to friends in St. Louis, Missouri, that the agent permitted him to purchase an
acre of land for a church and school from an Indian. The location of this first Lutheran church in Isabella County
has been the subject of an intensive search for the past several years.
While visiting with some older
residents of the city, the author was shown a list of lands assigned to the
that dates from about 1860. The list contains the names of the chief followed by all his subjects and their lands.
By selecting the chief of Bethany's group and plotting their land on the map of Isabella County, they were found
to center around an area 3 miles east and 3/4 miles south of Rosebush.
Miessler further states in one of
his reports on the Mission to the Synod headquarters that the government
asked for permission to use his new church for a school and that he would be permitted to teach, a request that he
could hardly turn down. Further reports show that the church was only used about two times in the early spring of 1862,
once for Easter service and again for a couple of times that fall as the pastor was confined to bed with illness
during the fall, winter and summer.
The building was then abandoned as a church because the Lutheran Indians moved away but continued to be
used as a school. Questioning of the older residents of the area show that indeed there was an old log school that
was used until around 1880. One of the residents tells of eating lunch in the old church and school when a boy to
avoid the spring showers while herding his father's cattle.
Because this building was not built
by the government it does not show on the early maps as the land was
not government owned. The land appears to have reverted back to the original Indian owner as the deeds were
not ratified until 1864. Meanwhile, Miessler had abandoned the church building project.
Isabella County Mission Disbanded; Missionary Becomes Physician
Miessler spent the next few years
holding Sunday services at the scattered members homes,
teaching in the government schools and operating the mission farm. His second wife had contracted
tuberculosis and was in poor health and needed medical attention.
The younger members of his church
left the area to take jobs as interpreters and clerks in other parts of the
state and the older members passed away. The church group had become very small and expenses had risen until
the mission board was forced to abandon the project. Miessler moved to Saginaw where he taught in a
Lutheran day school.
The missionary, dedicated to helping
mankind, felt that he could better work for people as a doctor so in 1870
he moved to Chicago to attend medical school. While here his second wife passed away and he lost his total
belongings in the great Chicago fire.
He was able to re-establish himself
by the sale of his private lands around Mt. Pleasant and Bethany. The
160 acre mission farm was transferred to the Fort Wayne Theological Seminary, who sold it at a handsome
The only remaining link between the old mission endeavor and the present local Mt. Pleasant church was
Philip Gruett. The church record shows his death and burial in the early 1920's.
The author has obtained or studied
many documents relative to the mission project. Recently at his
request the Clarke Historical Collection obtained some of the obscure and original documents relating to
the mission work of the Lutherans in the Mt. Pleasant area, such as copies of Baierlein's and Craemer's
grammar, copies of Miessler's original dictionary and autobiography, and a complete set of the Lutheraner
from 1844 to 1900
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