Gnadenhutten Massacre victims remembered

Gnadenhutten Massacre victims remembered

Image Credit: Teri Stein

Gnadenhutten Museum coordinator Jon Heil was pleased with the turnout for this year’s remembrance of the victims of the Gnadenhutten Massacre. The event saw the largest crowd ever turn out to pay their respects. Approximately 100 people attended.

Heil welcomed the crowd, and then Theresa Johnson of Eelunapeewii Lahkawiit, formerly Moraviantown in Canada, gave a prayer in the Munsee language. Larry Madden, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans in Wisconsin, said a prayer in Mohican, and Levi Randoll of Bartlesville, Oklahoma said a prayer in the Lenape language.

The languages were spoken at the remembrance ceremony so the languages are not forgotten.

“The language we speak in Oklahoma is called the Unami dialect. It’s a little bit different than Munsee. We have three different distinct dialects that were spoken that we speak in Oklahoma. We’re working on the revival of it,” Randoll said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into that.”

They are working with their children and are having success.

“Children are able to pick up language and learn language a little bit faster than adults. But even as adults, we still put forth that effort to try to pick it up and teach it and use the words,” Randoll said.

There have been some misconceptions that Delaware people did not live with people of other tribes, but many of the native communities were mixed.

“We had all people in our communities. Our communities were not only mixed with Delawares, but also the Shawnee, the Seneca-Cayuga and the Wyandot people from this area,” Randoll said. “So we always had mixed villages, and we shared a lot of that language. Delawares were polyglots. A lot of those tribal people back then didn’t just speak Delaware. We had to speak multiple different languages from different tribes to be able to communicate.”

Madden said he came to the remembrance event to celebrate his people.

“For the most part, our history’s kind of forgotten,” Madden said before saying a prayer in the Munsee language. “March 8, 1782, truly a day that should be relived in shame and reviled by Americans, but other than relatives and some good people, this day goes by without remembrance.”

The pain experienced by Madden’s ancestors was evident as he continued to describe their feelings in “a world turned topsy-turvy by powers that were barely understood.”

“March 8, 1782, my ancestors lost their right to exist in the world the creator gave them. March 8, 2022, we gather here to say no — not to say, to shout that you are not forgotten. Your relatives gathered here today along with many good-hearted people,” Madden said. “March 8, 2022, 240 years later, due to hard work your voices long silent have been preserved for years in a respectful manner. Your existence in this quiet valley in what’s now called Ohio, your voices still ring.”

Seemingly referencing recent events, Madden said, “Maybe now louder than ever, as self-righteous men somewhere drive men, women and children from their homes, we look down in shame at our progress as mankind.”

Madden also performed a prayer song, accompanying himself on a drum.

Assistant Chief Jeremy Johnson of Bartlesville, Oklahoma was emotional about his first visit to the site of the massacre.

“I grew up hearing about these people, our relatives. It’s overwhelming hearing the stories of what occurred here. To be in this space right now, I’m overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “They did everything that they were asked to do, and it didn’t turn out well for them. It’s a sadness that we carry to this day.”

Johnson said a prayer in Lenape and then repeated it in English.

Theresa Johnson then gave the story of her connection to Gnadenhutten. While working on a family tree, she and her husband, Larry, traveled to Gnadenhutten a few years ago to see where her ancestors had lived. She knew about the massacre but had never read a list of those who had perished.

“On the way here, I read those names. And when I found out, I just started to cry because that was my family, people whose names are on my family tree — my five times great-grandfather, his wife, and the rest of his family, nieces and nephews,” Theresa Johnson said.

Theresa Johnson comes back to the remembrance ceremony every year and was amazed with the large turnout this year.

Other speakers, Matthew Putnam, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee, and Randoll also spoke in remembrance of those killed in the massacre and how they still pass the story onto their children.

“I have a lot of heartfelt thoughts about this place simply because people in our community they still know the history, that we still talk about Gnadenhutten all these years later,” Randoll said. “This isn’t something that we’ve forgotten all these years. This is something that we make sure our people will still remember.”

Randoll wants to share the day with others in his community who don’t have the resources to travel to see their home lands by sharing photos, stories and other things they learned. He also said the Delaware people had seven different removals from their home lands with many eventually ending up in the Great Plains. He also performed a song.

Speaker Daniel “Strongwalker” Thomas of Anadarko, Oklahoma brought his children with him to the event. He was optimistic the remembrance was a way to heal, unite, and bring about real action and hope that the massacre will never be forgotten and never happen again.

Chief Denise Stonefish of Eelunapeewii Lahkawiit also spoke of the challenges and resiliency of her ancestors and thanked the Moravian missionaries who helped keep the Delaware ancestors together as a nation.

Larry Johnson and Kaakska Kweenow, also known as Gordon Williams, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans in Wisconsin, both performed songs to a drum beat.

Guests were encouraged to say prayers and place tobacco on the burial mound. A feast of traditional Delaware foods was served following the ceremony, and a feast plate was placed on the burial mound for the spirits of the victims.

Later in the day at a private ceremony, some human remains thought to be from the massacre were buried. Originally mistaken for animal bones, the remains had been found at the Cooper cabin and were in the museum until Heil had them tested.

Heil thanked Theresa Johnson for her help and the members of the Delaware Tribe for their attendance and participation at the event.

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