He goes first

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

The end of the four day covered wagon journey brought the Missionaries to Darlington, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency, arriving on Tuesday, June 14, 1881. It was a homecoming of sorts for Oakerhater. Darlington was where he had been sentenced to prison by Lt. Col. Neill’s command of “strike off eighteen from the right.” He was a different man now.

Eager to return to their people, Paul Zotom, the Kiowa Deacon, and Henry Taawayite, the Comanche Deacon, resumed their journey, realizing their homecoming a few days later. Reverend Wicks stayed at Darlington hoping to start their mission immediately. Which they did. On the same day that Zotom and Taawayite left for the Kiowa and Comanche Agency in Anadarko, Oakerhater performed the first Christian funeral service by a Cheyenne ever known among the Cheyennes. The whole management of the service for the son of Big Horse was given over to him and the funeral was conducted after the forms of the Episcopal Church.

As irony would have it, at the time of Oakerhater’s arrival in the Indian Territory the Cheyenne were in the midst of their Sun Dance celebration. Oakerhater was well aware of the Sun-Dance and its meaning. He understood the significance of the event and its importance to his people. He fully understood what the Missionaries were up against introducing the white man’s “new road” at this particular moment in time. . . .

It had been decided that the first service would be held on the coming Sunday. . . . Wicks described this initial meeting as follows: “When I reached the place at the appointed hour I found some fifty young men and a few older ones assembled, with quite a number of women. These young men were the very ones whom David had led in war seven years ago, and were dressed in the gay attire appropriate to the great feast. Right below us a few hundred yards away, the medicine dance was going on, hundreds thronging every side of the great lodge, a striking contrast to our quiet Christian talk. David seated his people in a circle and led me to the center of it to open the talk. I told David to say first to them that we would look to God for His blessing. They all bowed their heads reverently in the prayer as though trained to it for years. David acted as interpreter, I began by telling them why I had come to them, who had sent me, and what we wished to do for them. Then one of the Chiefs, Sand Hill, stepped forward and thanked me, expressing the desire to be taught the good way; another Chief, Mad Wolf, followed in the same strain. David then addressed them briefly, and our first council closed. I invited them to service at the school-house on a Sunday morning and they promised to come.”

Oakerhater’s brief message to his people was delivered in Cheyenne. Oakerhater told them: “Men, you all know me. You remember me when I led you out to war I went first and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is my leader. He goes first, and all He tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road, a war that makes all for peace, and where we never have only victory.”

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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