Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Saint Oakerhater

I should begin by saying that most of the credit for the information for the last two posts comes from the work of Claudia Naugle. She has spent considerable time researching census and genealogical records on area Native Americans. Considering the absence of reliable records from that period of history, this can have been no easy task.

The initial information on David Pendleton Oakerhater came from Ms. Naugle’s writings, but other sites on the internet have also helped outline this man’s fascinating and devoted life.

David Pendleton Oakerhater in 1881.
Credit: wikipedia.com
Buried just a short distance from Chief Roman Nose, it is an amazingly small stone that marks the grave of this man who was so large in life. Born in 1847 as the second of three sons, he was named Noksowist, meaning “Bear Going Straight.” He is believed to be the youngest man to complete the Sun Dance, and was renamed O-kuh-ha-tuh, meaning Sun Dancer. The Sun Dance is one of the Seven Sacred Rites, a religious or spiritual ceremony which non-Native Americans are still prohibited from witnessing.
Raised as a traditional Cheyenne warrior, he participated in his first war party at the age of 14 against the Otoe and Missouri tribes. With tribes being relocated, their buffalo poached, their cattle and horses stolen, and villages raided, he became a member of the tribe’s Bowstring Society, one of five military societies, that took action against United States interests. Oakerhater participated in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls and the Red River War. He may also have been present for the massacres at Sand Creek and Washita. Pursued by the U. S. Army until they ran out of food and supplies, the warriors surrendered at Fort Sill, near Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1875.

Arrested, but offered no trial, they were shackled together. Lt. Richard Henry Pratt was ordered to take them to St. Augustine, Florida, for imprisonment in Fort Marion, an old Spanish fort. Chief Roman Nose would also be incarcerated there with Oakerhater three years later. Much of the sentiment at the time was that the Indians should be murdered, imprisoned, defeated by force or by whatever means necessary, or even eradicated, so Pratt was certainly going against the grain when he worked to obtain the prisoners bedding, clothing, and schooling by volunteer teachers in carpentry, English reading and writing, and so on. He taught them military discipline, had them stand their own guard duty, and even got inoperable rifles for them to drill with. Pratt appointed Oakerhater as his First Sergeant of the Prisoners, which made him responsible for their hygiene, dress code, work, and morning drills, and also for the conduct of the prisoners when Pratt was absent. Trustees were permitted to obtain jobs outside the fort, attend church services in the town of St. Augustine, and even camp unsupervised on nearby Anastasia Island.

Oakerhater also began studying art, and was a prolific painter of Indian themes. This form of Indian art became known as ledger art, and many paintings have found their way into museums. A number of prisoners also did other crafts that were sold to Florida tourists.

An Episcopal deaconess, Mary Douglass Burnham, of Paris Hill, NY, developed a program where wealthy patrons would sponsor scholarships for the imprisoned warriors. The prisoners could be released from Fort Marion on the condition that they would accept one of the scholarships, continue their education and training, and serve as church sextons. Oakerhater had become quite proficient in English, and was sponsored by Alice Key Pendleton, the daughter of Francis Scott Key, and wife of Senator Pendleton. Six months later, Oakerhater was baptized, at which time he chose the name David from the Bible, and the middle name of Pendleton in honor of his sponsors. He was ordained an Episcopal deacon in 1881.

Encouraged by the success of his former prisoners at Paris Hill and at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, now-Captain Richard Pratt lobbied for funds to create Indian schools for Native American children. Senator Pendleton pushed a bill through Congress that created the first Indian School in an old Army barracks, at Carlisle Barracks, near Harrisburg, PA. Pratt was recruited to serve as the school’s first superintendent. Pratt, in turn, asked Oakerhater to travel to the Dakota and Oklahoma Indian Territories to recruit students for the new school.

Settling in Oklahoma, Oakerhater worked around the Darlington and Wichita Indian Agencies (area now between El Reno and Anadarko, OK), conducting church services on Sunday, and treating the sick of numerous tribes through the week. Oakerhater began working also at the Bridgeport, OK, mission in 1887, and in 1889, moved to the Whirlwind Mission, built on the lands at Fay, OK, that had belonged to Chief Whirlwind, one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge.

David Oakerhater on right.
Credit: wikipedia.com

While the idea of assimilating the Indian into white culture sounded progressive in its day, it is important to not be mislead into seeing much of this as a rosy situation for the Indians. Deprived of the lands and hunting that had been their way of life, Native Americans found it difficult to sustain themselves. With their children now in the new Indian Schools, families would often move and camp around the schools to be near their children. Often short of food and plagued by disease, these were the people that Oakerhater found he must serve so as to meet both their physical and spiritual needs.

The new Oakerhater Episcopal Center, or
Whirlwind Mission, in Watonga.
While Oakerhater officially retired from the Whirlwind Mission in 1918, after serving for thirty years, he nevertheless continued to preach and treat the sick until his death. After serving his people for a half-century, he was laid to rest in the Watonga Indian Cemetery in 1931. In 1985, the Episcopal Church designated David Oakerhater a saint, and the first feast in his name was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. A large stained glass window was dedicated to Oakerhater at St. George Church in Dayton, OH, and another bearing Oakerhater’s glyph is in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City. A new Whirlwind Mission was built in Watonga in 2003. Also called the Oakerhater Episcopal Center, it is the center for Native American Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma.



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