by Jack Hoehn, October 28, 2015:    Jack retells a story about an Advent Prophecy in the Pacific Northwest.

I live on the Columbia Plateau. The Snake River joins the Columbia River not far from my town, and then flows in quiet majesty to the Pacific Ocean 300 miles away.    This Plateau, formed from volcanos in long ages past, is still rimmed on the west by the volcanic Cascades from Mounts Baker to Rainer, to St. Helens, to Adams, to Hood.  St. Helens spectacularly reminded us of these facts in 1980, but still puffed as recently as 2008.  But the 500 feet of topsoil in my backyard is all volcanic ash Basalt_Mapcarried by the winds and deposited by thousands of eruptions for thousands of years.  The rolling Palouse hills made of  deep layers this rich volcanic soil cover the most fertile parts of this plateau. The Ice Ages carved some of this Plateau but as the glaciers receded monster floods worthy of a Noah have sculpted this land as ice dams broke.  Gigantic lakes backed up into Montana carried some of our soils hundreds of miles away to the Pacific Ocean where even today underground sediments from this plateau and its massive floods stretch many miles up and down the Pacific coast.[1]

The people who first came to this Plateau have left their names on our cities and counties: The Spokan; the Yakima; the Umatilla, the Wenatchi,  the Kalispel, the Cayuse, and the Wallawalla.  And other names were given by Canadian trappers and traders such as the Flathead, the Snake, the Blackfoot, Coeur d’ Alene[2] and Nez Perce[3].  Humans have lived here for at least 14,500 years, and by the time of Moses or Joshua,  3,500 years ago,  a Plateau Culture existed.

Fishing, hunting, food gathering each followed the seasons and the people often moved from underground winter lodges to woven reed huts near digging grounds for camas bulbs, wild carrots, and wild onions.  The spring salmon run up the Columbia, Snake, and their tributaries often had gigantic multitask villages of different tribes who worked together.  Ellensburg was in a valley of peace where no wars were permitted and tribes worked together.

Religion on the Plateau pervaded native life. Nature was obviously a gift from God, and each creature and plant was considered to have a supernatural source and spirit associated with it.  Each child would go for their baptism into adulthood by walking into the wild and seeking one of these spirits to come and become his or her life partner or “power”.  Fasting and being all alone the child expected to and did associate themselves with one of these spirits of an animal, object, plant, or natural phenomena such as a rainbow, lightning, wind, or rain.  This angel became their guardian spirit.

Sadly “although the spirits were possessed of great powers, they were also subject to many of the same foibles that plagued human beings, particularly that of taking offense at real or imagined slights.”[4]  If your spirit was insulted, then you might become sick or have bad luck in a hunt.  All afflictions had a spiritual significance. There were evil as well as good spirits about the Plateau.  (This should not seem a strange idea to Bible readers.[5])

Winter was a time for camp meetings when those with guardian spirits would call together other groups or villages for a social time of dancing into trances, but also singing songs, feasting, gambling, and gift giving. When in trance the prophetically gifted might have visions from their angels giving guidance to the tribe.

The 18th Century Horse Crisis

The Plateau cultures faced many challenges such as climate change. Sequoia tree rings give a climate map of the last 4,000 years confirming a Little Ice Age,  a 300-year cold spell that reduced the plenty of earlier ages.  However even more disruptive to their culture was the arrival of Europeans on the eastern seacoasts, and Mexico.  And with the Europeans the horse.

Nezperceindians1895ish

The horse reached the Plateau by migration north from Mexico about 1700. The horse was a bio-invader but also greatly changed Indian cultures.  Those tribes with horses became mobile, and what took days on foot could now be covered in hours.  The Shoshoni, Ute, Paiute, and Comanche were not only good buffalo hunters but became mobile warriors. And human greed that could obtain horses for slaves, soon brought an 18th Century Crisis to the Plateau people who were without horses as their horse enhanced neighbors brought violence, death, and destruction to them.

Although all the tribes soon had horses, intertribal warfare was now the rule, and the introduction of guns and gunpowder again upset power balances between the tribes who did and didn’t have access to these weapons.

Finally adding to horse and guns, came European diseases and virulent waves came through native populations with no experience or immunity to these new plagues.

Mathew Cocking reported that “some of the Indians who went to war last year having met with a Tent of Snake Indians who were ill of the Small Pox, killed and scalped them.  By this means they received the disorder themselves, and most of them died on their return…communicated the disorder to their countrymen, and since then it has run with great rapidity through the whole Country above here and is now raging.”[6]

Epidemic plagues, with horses, guns, climate deterioration, and near constant war put the Plateau people in an unbearable strain. It was a national crisis, and all problems in this culture must have a spiritual cause.

The Plateau Prophecy

Into this disrupted and distressed world, around 1790 a 10 year old Spokan Indian named Silimxnotylmilakobok was awoken by his mother who told him that the world was ending.  Something was falling very thickly that at first was taken as snow, but it was dry snow, ashes from another volcanic eruption carried from the Cascades by winds from the West.  To these Indians it was a sign of the end of the world as significant to them as was the meteor shower of 1833 to our New England spiritual ancestors.StHelens1980

The Nespelem Indians beat drums and sang prayers almost day and night. In a large measure they neglected their usual work, and used up their supplies, so that the following winter that was colder and longer than usual some old people died of starvation and others became so weak they could not hunt.

And Indian Prophets in multiple tribes began to have the same vision, a new teaching not previously known to the people. There was a supernatural being called Chief who had with Coyote’s assistance created the world and predestined its end. “Coyote and myself shall not return until the earth is very old. When we return to earth it will require a new change…When I return all the spirits of the dead will accompany me, and after that there will be no spirit land.  All the people will live together.  Then will the Earth-Woman revert to her natural shape and live as a mother among her children.  Then things will be made right, and there will be much happiness.”[7]

This eschatological vision began around 1800. Typical was a Southern Okanagon Prophet who called the people to his house and told them the Chief had predicted a speedy end of the world, and at a specific hour they would see a messenger from Chief who would call them forth to dance.  The people wearing no paint or special clothing nor bearing any ceremonial paraphernalia would gather outside in a circle around the prophet.  They would begin to dance, singing a prayer song taught them by the Prophet.  Happier days were hastened by proper moral behavior.

They were also evangelistic, Plateau congregations sent a peace delegation to the Snake Indians presumably to convert them.   Sadly the Snake were not interested and the peacemakers were executed in their camp.

A Different Kind of Man with a Book

But the Prophets had another message from the Chief. “Soon there will come from the rising sun a different kind of man from any you have yet seen, who will bring with them a book and will teach you everything, and after that the world will fall to pieces.”[8]

This vision was confirmed by multiple prophets throughout the Plateau. And in 1805 Lewis and Clark entered the Nez Perce portion of the Plateau.  After deliberation, and prepared by “the vision,” the tribes agreed to peace with the United States government.  But sadly these different kind of men did not have “the book” with them.  But in 1811 when David Thompson, who was a practicing Christian, arrived the Plateau people met him with the ceremony the vision demanded.

“Young and old men, women and children began to dance to the sound of their own voices only…the song was mild simple music, the cadence measured, but the figure of the dance quite wild and irregular…This continues for about 8 minutes, when the song being finished, each person sat directly down on the ground in the spot he happened to be when the song was done.” [9]

There was no greeting dance in traditional Plateau culture so this new ceremony showed that the Indians regarded Thompson as a messenger from Chief. From village to village prophet dances were performed, spurring a great awakening among the Plateau people, who began as a result to anticipate the imminence of Coyote’s return.  But though a Christian, Thompson did not bring them “the book” promised.

Actually the first Christian teaching the Plateau Indians got was not from a white man, but from a band of Iroquois who were Catholic Christians who arrived at the Plateau about 1820 and began to teach them Christianity as they understood it. The Plateau Indians primed for the second coming of Chief the creator by 1830 were having morning and evening prayers, saying grace at meals, and keeping the Sunday Sabbath.

But still they didn’t have “the book” so in 1831 a delegation was sent back with trappers and finally came to St. Louis asking the white man to send teachers with “the book.” News of the Nez Perce and Flathead delegation hit US newspapers, and American Protestants who were having their own “great awakening” were ready to respond to this call from the Plateau Indians.

What Happens Next?

I don’t have to remind my Adventist readers that the public ministry of William Miller also began in 1831. I find it remarkable that the Great Advent Awakening was paralleled by the Plateau Prophecies.

My proposition is this:  God who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke to our fathers through the prophets[10], has not left the pagan nations of the earth without witness.[11]  The close of time, the return of the Creator was not just a message around 1844 for New England, it was a message for the Plateau Indians.  And in visions and dreams these nations were asked to prepare for the return of the Chief. NezPerceWarriorHorse

“Coyote” is to come before the Chief. Who was this Coyote?  The mysterious Elijah of Bible Prophecy?[12] Are Seventh-day Adventists Coyote?  If so how have we responded to share “the book” with the Indian nations?

I wish the story had the happy-ever-after ending promised the Plateau Indians. Instead although missionaries like Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and Henry and Eliza Spaulding came with “the book,” the story of grace and goodness is tainted by attempting to make Indians live like White Americans and apparently ends with a massacre of the mission at Walla Walla; the subsequent Nez Perce war;  and the destruction of great leaders like Chief Joseph in so called Reservations.

Is the Plateau Indian Vision a false prophecy? Is the New England Great Advent Movement a false prophecy?  Or will there still come a time when the Chief will return with all the spirits of the dead, and destroy the spirit-land of death.    Will mother earth once again be reconstituted as she was meant to be?  Will the lion lay down with the lamb, and will we study war no more?

Only time and you will tell.

____________________________________

ENDNOTES:

(Jack Hoehn lives in Walla Walla, WA. This story is based on a book:  Christopher L. Miller, Prophetic Worlds—Indians and Whites on the Columbia Plateau, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2003 Edition, which is a reprint of a book first published in 1985.  Photographs are from Wikipedia common use.  The application of the story and conclusions he makes are his own not those of the author.  Walla Walla is also the site of the historic Whitman Mission and the infamous Whitman Massacre. Jack is proud to  have 3% Cree blood  in his DNA from his maternal ancestry.)

[1] See, Bjornstad, Bruce, On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods—Keokee Books, Sandpoint, ID, 2012.

[2] “Heart of iron” reference to sharp hardnosed traders with the trappers.

[3] “Pierced Noses” although Nez Perce don’t do this, which was actually more common in the neighboring Chinook tribe.  It was an early translator’s mistake.

[4] Christopher L. Miller, Prophetic Worlds—Indians and Whites on the Columbia Plateau, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2003 Edition, page 16.

[5] Luke 9:38-40, “And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, “Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy, and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves.   “I begged your disciples to cast it out, and they could not.”

[6] Prophetic Worlds, page 34.

[7] Prophetic Worlds, page 44.

[8] Prophetic Worlds, page 45.

[9] Prophetic Worlds, page 51-52.

[10] Hebrews 1:1 “God who at sundry times and divers manners spoke to our fathers through the prophets…”

[11] Acts 14: 16,17 “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

[12] Matthew 17:10 “And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”