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Native American leader shared message of Christian outreach at local church

by Jeremy Amick | May 27, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

"Tell them, that the being we all worship, under different names, will be mindful of their charity; and that the time shall not be distant, when we may assemble around his throne, without distinction of sex, or rank, or color!" wrote James Fenimore Cooper in his novel "The Last of the Mohicans."

These words, uttered by the character of Lt. Gen. George Monro -- a British military officer -- might be applied to a Christian faith embraced decades later by a man who became the last Mohican chief and participated in a Lutheran ministry to Native American populations.

In the early 1940s, at a mission festival held at the former Zion Lutheran Church south of Jefferson City, Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth regaled those in attendance with stories of faith among Native American tribes while adorned in traditional tribal clothing.

The Ravenna (Nebraska) News explained in its Aug. 30, 1929, edition that he was "a full-blooded American Indian ... who has adopted the Americanized name of Samuel Miller. ... Uhm-Pa-Tuth is the last Sachem of the Mohican tribe of Indians."

The newspaper continued, "The Sachem is a title given to the first chief of the tribe, and wields great influence among all the braves in his domain."

Born in 1880, Samuel Miller was raised in Shawano, Wisconsin, as a member of the Stockbridge Indians -- the last remnant of the once substantial Mohican Tribe. He graduated in 1902 from Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, a boarding school for Native Americans designed to help assimilate its students into American culture.

In his youth, Miller also attended a small mission boarding school in the community of Red Spring operating under the umbrella of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Then, in 1913, when he was 33 years old, Miller was chosen to succeed his father as the new sachem, bequeathing him the title of Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth.

"About 5 feet 10 inches tall, with erect carriage and keen, intelligent eyes gazing boldly from a kind and strong face, the sachem looks every inch a chief," reported "The Courier" (Waterloo, Iowa) on July 19, 1929.

The newspaper added, "To arouse interest in the (Lutheran) mission and raise funds for its enlargement, (he) has traveled over the United States to lecture before councils of his church and over the radio on the needs of the school."

"Der Lutheraner," a German-language newsletter printed in St. Louis by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, explained the role Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth continued to serve within the synod regarding outreach to Native Americans and fellow Lutherans.

In Volume 86 of this publication printed in 1930, it noted the chief had recently spoken at an event in Albany, New York, and was described as a "fellow believer ... whose ancestors, some centuries ago, lived almost continuously on good terms and peace with the settlers of this region."

For more than a decade, newspapers from throughout the East Coast and Midwest shared stories of Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth's travels to different communities and venues to speak on the interests of Native Americans and the Lutheran church, often adorned in his full headdress.

Many of his talks, whether to large audiences gathered in an auditorium, on radio programs, or at small church picnics and mission festivals, included opportunities for him to share not only his faith, but history related to his tribe.

"The Mohican/Munsee lands extended across six States from southwest Vermont, the entire Hudson River valley of New York from Lake Champlain to Man­hattan, western Massachusetts up to the Connecticut River valley, Northwest Connecticut, and portions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey," explained a history listed on the website of the Mohican Nation-Stockbridge-Munsee Band.

Like many Native American tribes, the arrival of Europeans brought not only disease and war but resulted in Uhm-Pa-Tuth's ancestors being pushed out of their ancestral homelands and designation as the Stockbridge Mohicans.

The tribe eventually settled in the vicinity of Shawano County in Wisconsin and lost nearly all their reservation lands during the 1920s and 30s. Through the Indian Reorganization Act, the "Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians" regained a large portion of their reservation accompanied by the reorganization of their tribal government.

During the more than a decade that Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth traveled in support of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, he came to Zion Lutheran Church near Jefferson City in the late 1930s, accompanied by his family.

Ernest Loesch, who grew up in the Zion community and attended Zion Lutheran Church his entire life, was in his early 30s when the chief visited the congregation, saving souvenir photographs from the event. It was a moment of connection to his great-grandfather, a founder of the church and early settler in the area, who helped carve the Zion community out of the wilderness once inhabited by Native Americans.

Years following his lecture to the Lutheran congregation at Zion, Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth's designation as the last sachem was sealed when the Mohican Nation organized a tribal council with an elected president.

"We were told that the chief's last years were spent quietly at his Wisconsin home near Gresham, when he died at the age of 81 (in 1961)," wrote Waldemar Kautz Merrill in an article printed in the "Country Today" (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) on May 19, 2004.

The Native American leader was interred in Red Springs Cemetery in Shawano, Wisconsin.

An insightful proverb attributed to the Mohawk Tribe notes, "A good chief gives, he does not take."

Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth embraced this sentiment, toiling for many years as a lay missionary for the Lutheran Church and speaking for equality on behalf of his fellow Native Americans living on a reservation.

His legacy resonates through two photographs passed down by the Loesch family and are reminders that the last chief of the Mohicans played an interesting and noble, albeit small, role in local religious history.

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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