A faith born in prison

Daily Reading for September 1 • David Pendleton Oakerhater, Deacon and Missionary, 1931

On Sunday, October 6, 1878, a little more than six months after Oakerhater’s release from Fort Marion, Making Medicine and the other three Indian students received Christian Baptism. The service was held at Grace Church in Syracuse, New York. Bishop Frederic D. Huntington conducted the services. The young men were baptized in the order of their age, with the oldest going first. At the time of their baptism, they received their Christian names. Making Medicine was the first to be baptized. His Christian name became David (from the Bible) Pendleton (in honor of the Pendleton family that had sponsored his education with Rev. Wicks). Paul Caryl (Zotom) was the second to be baptized, followed by John Wicks (Okestchei) and Henry Pratt (Taawayite). The reported appearance and conduct of the young men was deeply devout. Their answers in the Baptismal Service were clear and strong. Twenty days later at Paris Hill, New York, the four young men were confirmed.

Upon completion of the confirmation services, it was back to the same routine for David Pendleton. This routine was to continue for several more months until a telegram from Captain Pratt would put David Pendleton on a remarkable and quite unexpected journey. Interest in educating the Indians was beginning to develop a head of steam. The country’s conscience to the need to reform the treatment of Indians was beginning to emerge.

In 1878, Pratt had become aware of an industrial school near Old Point Comfort, Virginia, that he felt would provide the opportunity for the further education of some of the Fort Marion Indians. . . . Not only was Pratt made superintendent of the school, but he was also charged with actually going to the Dakota and Indian Territories to select the prospective students. Pratt suggested that he go to the Dakota Territory while sending someone else to the Indian Territory. Pratt’s thinking was who better to go than someone actually from the Indian Territory, having in mind two Fort Marion graduates—David Pendleton (Cheyenne) and Etahdleuh Doanmoe (Kiowa).

And so it came about that David Pendleton was summoned to Syracuse, New York, on September 19, 1879. Three days later he and an entourage started on the 1,500 mile journey for a month of missionary work among their respective tribes in the Indian Territory. Pendleton’s stay in the Territory was short. During the approximate one month that he was there, in addition to visiting with his family, renewing old friendships, and introducing the “new way,” he managed to recruit twenty-nine Cheyenne and Arapaho to return with him to the east to be enrolled at Carlisle. . . .

All seemed well in David Pendleton’s world. He had but a year to go before his studies in the East would be completed. His wife had been baptized and was being trained in how to be a good “Christian woman.” His son had been baptized and was being prepared for entry into Carlisle. His Indian marriage to Nomee had received a “Christian blessing,” being confirmed with a wedding ring. What had looked like a hopeless existence but a few years earlier, now held all the potential a person could ask. A faith born in prison was beginning to blossom.

But that faith was severely challenged in July of 1880. Just a little over nine months since being reunited with Nomee, she died in childbirth and was buried beside her baby in the Wick’s lot in the cemetery of St. Paul’s, Paris Hill. Having lost his wife, Pendleton’s suffering was still not over. On April 19, 1881, after a long illness, his son Frederic Pawwahnee died at the House of the Good Shepherd. He was buried beside his mother at St. Paul’s, Paris Hill. What had appeared to be a road so filled with promise a year ago, was now strewn with the deaths of his wife and son. But the spirit that had allowed David Pendleton to overcome his bitterness and hatred of the white man while imprisoned in Fort Marion, also found its way in consoling and guiding him in accepting the deaths of those closest to him. Placing tragedy behind him, he was eager and ready to return to his people and begin spreading the word of Jesus and the “new road.” Bishop Huntington and Rev. Wicks agreed.

On Tuesday morning, June 7, 1881, (Whitsun Week), at Grace Church, Syracuse, New York, David Pendleton Oakerhater and Paul Caryl Zotom were admitted to the order of deacons. Within a few hours, he was headed to the Indian Territory. There was work to be done.

From “He Goes First: The Story of Episcopal Saint David Pendleton Oakerhater” by K.B. Kueteman. Found at http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Oakerhater/bio.html

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