Samson Occom and Pasquala



When we read about American Indians, we usually only read about negative things.  We are told of how little money was exchanged for Manhattan Island, how settlers considered the half-dressed Natives savages, and that they were forced into Christianity.  

It is true that Native Americans were treated cruelly when they were forced out of their lands, and died on the trail of tears going to a reservation.  This was indeed a dreadful thing that happened in American history.

Yet, there are also a plethora of good “Indian” stories.   Stories of Native Americans who became true Christians (known as “the praying Indians”), who enjoyed living with the new white people, and who were missionaries to other Indian tribes.  They were happy to be converted to Christianity because they believed the Gospel message, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and was resurrected, and that no one could get to the Father without going through Jesus, the Son of God.

Reverend Eleazar Wheelock taught Native Americans how to read and write English. Upon hearing this, Samson Occom, a handsome Mohegan from Connecticut who had accepted Christ and wanted to become a preacher and missionary to other tribes, went to Mr. Wheelock and asked him to teach him. Seeing that Samson was sincere and intelligent, he housed and taught him for the next four years. When Samson left in 1747, he had a thorough knowledge of the Bible, the English language, and how to speak publicly, and later, in 1759, he became a Presbyterian minister.

This was also the start of Wheelock’s Moor’s Indian Charity School (founded with Joshua Moor’s money), to train Indians to become missionaries to other tribes. As the school grew, Wheelock’s dream grew bigger. He told the famous British evangelist George Whitefield his dreams of ministering to more Native Americans, and was told to contact the Earl of Dartmouth to support the school. The Earl sent back a generous reply which included 10,000 pounds ($12,500 in that day). Thus, Dartmouth College was founded.

Samson Occom went to England and preached hundreds of sermons there as well, and told people about Wheelock’s ministry. He came home three years later with another 10,000 pounds from the people of England to help support the Indian College. Then, Samson went to the Oneida tribe to minister to them.

During the time of the American Revolution on the east coast (1770’s-1780’s), on the west coast in California missions were being built by the Catholic Church. Father Junipero Serra was the most well known, and the Native Americans came willingly in the beginning, though later in some places, after Father Serra’s death, were forced onto Mission land.  The modern books we read make a point of telling us how the Native American’s way of life was taken or stolen from them, and how they were pushed into a new religion. 

What we rarely hear about is the fact that many, many “Indians” came willingly.  They enjoyed farming.  They liked the peaceful days of mission life.  They were truly converted to Christ and believed he died on the cross for their sins. 

Another reason many Native Americans turned to Christ is it meant an end to the Indians warring with each other in the New England lands, and on the west coast, it meant an end to their spiritual guides and traditions which inflicted pain.

I have a nice collection of really old books about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, books that used to be read in our school systems in the 1900’s to 1950.  These older books go into great detail about Indian life. 

One main reason that many Indians in the west liked the missions, is because with their belief in Christ they no longer had to go through their hunting rituals.  To hunt, men and boys would fast, and then paint their bodies and faces.  No big deal, right?  But then, they would STING themselves all over with nettles!  They even opened their eyes and pushed in nettle leaves!  They said this would make them more watchful and clearer sighted.

Next, they would lay down on hills of red ants!  They would put handfuls of ants on their bodies and faces, especially around their eyes.  They would then swallow live ants! This, they said, would make them strong and able to endure pain.

And when they were hunting, which could take days, they also wouldn’t eat.  So they would fast, and then walk for hours without a nibble.  When they came home, they wouldn’t eat what they killed…only what someone else had killed. To eat his own game meant bad future luck in hunting. 

Christianity put an end to their self-inflicted torture. All who became Christians gave this up willingly.

Before living at a Mission, the women didn’t have to clean house or wash dishes or clothes, or even sew clothes, scrub or sweep. 

No, before Mission life, all they had to do was:

  • Clean and cook all the animals the men brought in. 
  • Gather, and prepare, ALL of the other food. 
  • Since they did not farm, the women had to find seeds, nuts, roots, grasses, berries and plants.  They wandered far from home each day to find food. 
  • They had to store enough for winter. 
  • They had to cook the bitter food until edible. 
  • They had to make baskets to carry the food and baskets to store the food.
  • They also had to spin thread from nettles,
    • and make bags,
    • and nets,
    • and fishing lines. 
  • They made fishhooks from bones or shells,
    • and knives from cane. 

When the men weren’t hunting, they rested.  Women never got a day off.  They worked hard every day to keep their families from starving. 

At the Mission, food was easier to come by, work was shared, and the women and men got to rest from their work each Sunday.

We have a book called Pasquala of Santa Ines (affiliated link).  It was adapted from the actual writing of a Padre from Mission Santa Ines, about a little Indian girl named Pasquala, in 1824.  She and her family loved Christ, and enjoyed living on the mission grounds. 

Approximately 700 Indians were living at Santa Ines in its village of white adobe huts. The padres directed the building of an irrigation system, which brought water from the mountains to the orchards and vineyards worked by the Indians. They also learned to make saddles and did silver crafting.  They enjoyed farming and loved living a peaceful life at the mission – no warring with other tribes. 

But Pasquala’s father’s brother was the Chief of the fierce Tulare Indians.  He did not like his brother dishonoring him by living at the Mission.  Over and over he warned his brother to leave, but they would not.  Finally, after years of threats, one day the Chief killed Pasquala’s father, and kidnapped her and her mother.  Her mother died shortly thereafter, but Pasquala lived among the Tulares’ for another four years. 

Then one day she realized the men were going to make war on her beloved mission and padres and fellow Christians.  She knew that the men would be powwowing all night to get ready for war, and she was able to sneak away.  She knew she had to go down the mountain and that it would be a journey of 2-3 days.  She had a great head start on the warriors and walked all night until she couldn’t see the path, and then rested in a cave. 

The next morning there came the awful moment when the road down the mountain divided.  She knew one road led to the mission, and the other to the sea.  But which road should she take?  To take the wrong road meant death for the mission inhabitants.

What should she do?  She would pray.  At the crossroads she got down on her knees and bowed her head and pleaded with God to show her the right direction.  When she opened her eyes the first thing she saw was a small white rock on the side of one path, and she remembered that when the Padre had taken them to the ocean he had followed a trail marked with white rocks!  That was the ocean path, and this one led to the mission!  Thank you, Lord!  She ran the rest of the way, and when she saw the mission rooftop she began yelling, “Padre, Padre, War, War!!!”

She collapsed in her Padre’s arms.  She had saved Mission Santa Ines!  The soldiers prepared for the Indian attack, and the Tulare Indians backed off. 

Sadly, she died a few days later.   She was given the highest burial honors in the mission courtyard, and you can visit her grave today.  The Padre wrote down her story of courage and devotion for future generations to read. But they will no longer teach her story in the failing California school system, so I thought I would share it with you.

A sketch of Mission Santa Ines, founded in 1804 in Solvang, CA. It is the 19th of 21 missions.

A plaque, above, commemorates Pasquala’s deed in the Santa Ines (aka Santa Ynez) Mission garden, below.

You can see pictures of the interior and gravesites here: I grew up near the San Gabriel Mission and the interior of the chapels are very similar.

One wonderful reason to visit this mission is because it is located in the darling Dutch village of Solvang, CA, in the Santa Ynez Valley. They also have a tiny museum about Hans Christian Anderson.

I’ve been to many of the 21 missions, because when you go on vacation in California, you pass by most of them. I’ve been right across the street from the Santa Barbara mission several times with friends, but no one ever wants to take the time to go in with me! People want to eat and get back on the road to our “real” destination. Or they say, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” but that isn’t true; some are more spectacular than others. It’s always been my goal to see them all, and one day after my son has graduated, I’m going to blindfold my husband, put him in the car, and force him to go with me 🙂

May God bless you as you dig deeper into the truth of history, and not rely on our failing public schools to teach your children.


Here is an excellent synopsis of each mission: The California Missions Trail



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