Select Page


RG4302.AM:  John Dunbar, 1804-1857

Papers:  1836-ca. 1909

Bellevue, Sarpy County, Neb.:  Missionary

Size:  0.25 cu.ft.; 1 box


John Dunbar was born on March 7, 1804 and reared in Palmer, Massachusetts. He graduated from Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1832 and from Auburn Theological Seminary, Auburn, New York in 1834. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister at Ithaca, New York on May 1, 1834. Four days later Rev. Dunbar accompanied by Rev. Samuel Parker and Mr. Samuel Allis began a tour of the far west to locate a site for a mission under the auspices of the American Board of Missions for Foreign Missions. In St. Louis, the plan was changed and Parker returned to New England while Dunbar and Allis went to Bellevue, Sarpy County, Nebraska, to begin a twelve-year mission to the Pawnee Indians. Dunbar divided his time between Bellevue and traveling with the Grand band on their biannual buffalo hunts until the fall of 1836. He then went to Hadley, Massachusetts where he married Esther Smith on January 12, 1837.

The Dunbars lived in Bellevue until April 30, 1841 when they and other lay missionaries moved to the Pawnee villages near present Fullerton (Nance County). The Pawnee’s polite but stubborn resistance to Christianity and the increasing hostility by the Lakota led to the abandonment of the mission on April 17, 1846. The Dunbars moved to Andrew County and then Holt County, Missouri. In 1856, they moved to Brown County, Kansas where Rev. Dunbar died on November 1, 1857.


This collection consists of one box of papers containing correspondence, 1839-1909; records of the Pawnee Mission Church, 1836-1847; manuscripts, undated; and miscellaneous. The materials relate to the Pawnee Mission Church, established near Bellevue, Nebraska, in 1836 by Rev. John Dunbar. Also mentioned are Moses and Eliza Merrill, Cantonment Leavenworth, and the life and culture of the Pawnees. Included are manuscripts by John B. Dunbar, son of Rev. John Dunbar.


Box 1


  1. Correspondence, 1839; 1909, including:

    1839, John Dunbar to Major Joseph J. Hamilton, with sketch of new site of Pawnee village. [3 typescript copies]

    1909?, B.S. Dunbar to C.S. Paine with reminiscences of the old Pawnee Mission [original, 3 copies]

    1909?, B.S. Dunbar to C.S. Paine, more on the Pawnee Mission [original, 1 copy]

  2. Records of the Pawnee Mission Church, 1836-1847 [original and typescript]

    Confession of Faith, and Covenant, Pawnee Mission Church, 1836 [original]

  3. Reminiscences of John. B. Dunbar of his early life among the Pawnee, undated [original]

    “Manuscript of John Dunbar Missionary to the Indians,” undated [typescript copy; published article in Kansas Historical Collections]

  4. “The Indian Scare,” by John B. Dunbar, “written prior to 1900” according to his son, Louis Dunbar [original]

  5. Miscellaneous, including:

    Printed “Appendix. The Pawnee Language,” by John B. Dunbar [“appendix to Grinnell’s Pawnee Hero Stories and Folk Tales.”]

    Two biographical items on John Dunbar

  6. Miscellaneous, including:

    Chronology of the Dunbar-Allis Pawnee Mission

    Bibliography, Dunbar Pawnee Mission

    Excerpt from Travels in North America During the Years 1834, 1835, & 1836…, Charles Augustus Murray


Subject headings:

Bellevue (Neb.)

Clergy — Nebraska

Dunbar, John, 1804-1857

Dunbar, John Brown, 1841-1914

Frontier and pioneer life — Nebraska

Indians of North America — Culture

Missionaries — Nebraska

Pawnee Indians — Missions

Pioneers — Nebraska


Sarpy County (Neb.)



Related materials can be found in the Samuel Allis collection [RG2628.AM].

Various references and articles by/about John Dunbar can be found in Nebraska History magazine and earlier Nebraska State Historical Society publications. Check the Nebraska History index or ask the Reference Staff for assistance.

See the library collection for “The Dunbar-Allis Letters on the Pawnee.” 741 p.


WFS/HEK/js           08-19-1965

RJ/KFK                   08-01-1995

Revised TMM         01-13-2010; 03-29-2022