Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Michael Tate
Dr. Charles Gildersleeve
Dr. Harl Dalstrom
This is a biography of Reverend William Hamilton, Presbyterian missionary to the American Indians for over fifty years. Bom in Clinton, Pennsylvania, son of a farmer, Hamilton developed an interest in the ministry at an early age. Following graduation from Washington College in Washington, Pennsylvania, and his ordination by the Presbytery of Northumberland, he offered his services to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. As a result, the Board sent Hamilton and his new wife to live and work among the Ioway Indians in the trans-Missouri West. Hamilton labored among the Ioway, Sac and Fox Indians with fellow missionary Samuel Irvin for fifteen years. During that time, the two men erected a manual labor boarding school, learned to read and write in the Ioway language, and operated one of the first printing presses in what would become Kansas. Hamilton was transferred to the Otoe and Omaha Mission, near present-day Bellevue, Nebraska in 1853. When the Omaha Indians ceded the last of their lands to the U.S. government in 1854, Hamilton followed them to their new reservation and oversaw the building of the second Omaha Mission. Upon completion of the mission school in 1857, he resigned his position with the Board of Foreign Missions and spent the next ten years as a private citizen in Bellevue. Hamilton had previously championed Bellevue in its struggle with Omaha for possession of the territorial capital and he now boosted Bellevue in its battle with Omaha for the location of the Union Pacific Railroad bridge. He returned to the service of the Board of Foreign Missions in 1867 and labored tirelessly among the Omaha until his death in 1891. Existing literature treats only small segments of William Hamilton's extraordinary career and this study examines his entire life. The research materials utilized are the letters Hamilton and his fellow missionaries wrote to the Secretaries of the Board of Foreign Missions in New York, government documents, and other contemporary writings. Hamilton's letters vividly portrayed the hardships of pioneer life, the poor treatment of the Indians by the government, the effects of Indian alcoholism, the often arduous relationship between missionaries and Indian agents, and the incessant conflict within the mission family. In addition, his writings treat the white settlement of the Nebraska Territory, the fight for Nebraska's territorial capital, the death of Omaha Chief Logan Fontenelle, and many other events. Although opinions may differ regarding the success or failure of Hamilton's efforts among the Indians, no one will doubt the sincere affection he felt for the Indian peoples among whom he labored for so long.
Gullett, Michelle Cauleen, "If even a few are reclaimed, the labor is not lost: William Hamilton's life among the Iowa and Omaha Indians, 1837-1891" (1994). Student Work. 359.
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