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As It Was: Missionary Records Indian Lore and History

An ordained Methodist missionary who went among the Smith River Indians to save souls soon became as interested in saving their culture.

The missionary, Mary Charlotte Hickman, became a Methodist minister in 1924, one of the first women to be ordained by that church.  Four years later, she started work at a Methodist mission in Del Norte County, Calif., where she formed a strong bond with the tribal people there. 

Listening to their stories as she sat around evening fires with them, she realized their folktales and historical memories would be lost in another generation if they weren’t written down.  For the next 16 years she gathered as much information about the tribe as she could, writing on scraps of paper, notecards and journals, and aided by tribal elders. Her dream was to put everything in a book so the colorful lore and history of the Smith River tribe wouldn’t be lost. 

Hickman died in 1966 before she realized her dream, but a nephew completed the project.  The book, “Smith River Tribe, A Personal Account of its History, Culture and Legends,” was published in 2018.


Source: Hickman, Mary C., et al. Smith River Tribe: A Personal Account of its History, Culture and Legends. Seattle WA, BookCreate, 2018, pp. 13-17 of the Forward.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.