Converting the Rosebud: Catholic Mission and the Lakotas 1886-1916 (Native American Nonfiction - Book)

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When Andrew Jackson’s removal policy failed to solve the “Indian problem,” the federal government turned to religion for assistance. Nineteenth-century Catholic and Protestant reformers eagerly founded reservation missions and boarding schools, hoping to “civilize and Christianize” their supposedly savage charges. In telling the story of the Saint Francis Indian Mission on the Sicangu Lakota Rosebud Reservation, Converting the Rosebud illuminates the complexities of federal Indian reform, Catholic mission policy, and pre- and post-reservation Lakota culture.

Author Harvey Markowitz frames the history of the Saint Francis Mission within a broader narrative of the battles waged on a national level between the Catholic Church and the Protestant organizations that often opposed its agenda for American Indian conversion and education. He then juxtaposes these battles with the federal government’s relentless attempts to conquer and colonize the Lakota tribes through warfare and diplomacy, culminating in the transformation of the Sicangu Lakotas from a sovereign people into wards of the government designated as the Rosebud Sioux. Markowitz follows the unpredictable twists in the relationships between the Jesuit priests and Franciscan sisters stationed at Saint Francis and their two missionary partners—the United States Indian Office, whose assimilationist goals the missionaries fully shared, and the Sicangus themselves, who selectively adopted and adapted those elements of Catholicism and Euro-American culture that they found meaningful and useful.

Review by Anita:

This is a study on the origins and the early history of Saint Francis Indian Mission on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Like many other missions of the late 19TH century, Saint Francis came to be as a result of the reforms in Indian policy. The federal government asked Christian denominations to help solve the “Indian problem.”

The Catholic Church viewed the Government’s agenda of reservation-based assimilation as a means for achieving the goals of saving Indian souls. It wasn’t long before the Catholic Church started voicing their objections about the Protestant-controlled Board of Indian Commissioners not giving them their fair share of Indian Reservations. Whether reservations would remain the centerpiece of reform policy emerged as the major theoretical dispute between Catholic and Protestant Indian missionaries. The Catholic hierarchy believed in the importance of reservation boarding schools. It was even asserted that they have “proved to be the most effective, if not the only means of removing (the Indian) from paganism and instructing them in Christianity and teaching civilized customs.” The success of the Catholic Church in tapping government funds for the schools added fuel to the flame of Protestant hostility toward reservations.

In the summer of 1877, Spotted Tail traveled to Washington D.C. with a delegation of Lakota and Arapaho Natives to meet with President Hayes. During this visit, the Chief asked for Blackrobes (Catholic Priests) to replace the Episcopal missionaries. This was requested because the Episcopals were not teaching the Lakota children to read and write, despite disregard for the catholic faith education was the objective. It was because of the request for the Priests that in 1877 Abbot Martin Marty visited the Spotted Tail Agency. By the spring of 1885, Marty would recruit Priests to work on the Rosebud Reservation to begin the work of Christianizing and civilizing the Sicangu Lakota.

“Converting the Rosebud” traces the St Francis Mission from its founding in 1886 to the fire in 1916 that turned it to ashes. Author Harvey Markowitz shows the complexity of the church-state network that was used to convert the Lakota on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. This book also explains how the Sicangu responded to the process of the Mission. Though it burned in 1916, the St. Francis Mission is alive and well today.

Harvey Markowitz is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Washington and Lee University.



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Additional Info

Additional Info

Harvey Markowitz
Publication Details:
University of Oklahoma Press (March 8, 2018)
Book Details:
Hardcover, 303 pages