Early Indian Mission Schools

A Sketch Of Their Beneficent Work Among The Indians

The first schools for the education of the Five Civilized Tribes were established in Georgia and Tennessee about the beginning of the last century by Moravian, Presbyterian and Baptist missionaries. Religious teaching received rather more emphasis than academic instruction, and although these schools furnished free tuition, the Indians did not manifest any great amount of interest in them, and for many years the attendance was but slight. But by patient, earnest, persistent efforts, the work of the various missions was crowned with success.

The Moravians were the first to undertake this work and as early as 1805, Rev. John Gambold had established an Indian school in Georgia. About the same time Rev. Gideon Blackburn, a Presbyterian missionary, started a school at Hiwassee, in the Cherokee Nation, East. In 1816, Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, another Presbyterian, established a school near Missionary Ridge, and he was soon followed by Samuel A. Worcester.

The Methodists began their missionary work about 1820 by sending Rev. Joseph Miller, Reverend Scruggs and Rev. William McMahon as missionary teachers. About three years earlier, the Baptists entered the field by sending Rev. Evan Jones and his brother, John B. Jones, who located, first, among the Cherokee settlements in North Carolina. Some of these missionaries accompanied the Indians in their exodus to Indian Territory, and were the first to establish schools there. Dwight Mission was one of the first to be started by the Presbyterians and for many years was one of the best schools in the Indian Territory. The Baptists got busy early and established a few schools a few years later, erecting a substantial brick academy at Tahlequah. The Presbyterians also built a creditable graded school at Tahlequah. Among those early missionaries, Samuel A. Worcester and Evan Jones will always be remembered for their untiring labors and their devotion to the real welfare of the Indians.

Rev. W. S. Robertson, father of Miss Alice M. Robertson, present member of Congress from the Muskogee district, and Mrs. Augusta R. Moore, assisted by Rev. R. M. Loughridge, rendered valuable assistance to the Creeks, both as missionaries and teachers. They established the boarding school at Tullahassee, twelve miles northwest of Muskogee, for Creek boys and girls, and many of the most influential Creeks of the present day received their educational and religious training in that school. Prior to 1840, practically all of the educational and religious work among the Indians was carried on by the missionaries of the various denominations and were financed by the mission societies. As the work progressed, the Indians began to see the good results of the mission schools, and finally their tribal councils were induced to appropriate funds to aid the missionaries in carrying on their benevolent undertakings. These appropriations were very limited in amount at first, but gradually increased from year to year, and after a while the councils began to appropriate money for the construction of new school buildings.

With the tribal officials thug cooperating with the missionaries, the educational work progressed fairly well until the Civil war came on, when all was changed. The schools were closed, some of the buildings were destroyed by fire, others badly mutilated and nearly all of the mission workers were compelled to leave the Territory. Those who sympathized with the South went to Texas or Arkansas, but the majority of them were opposed to the institution of slavery, and sought refuge in the northern states.

After the war some of the old missionaries, notably Rev. W. S. Robertson and Rev. Evan Jones, returned to the Territory and patiently entered upon the task of rebuilding the schools which the ravages of war had destroyed. In this work they were assisted by a younger class of Christian teachers, among whom were Rev. Theo. F. Brewer, who established Harrell Institute, a Methodist school at Muskogee ; Miss Alice Robertson, who founded a Presbyterian school for girls in Muskogee which was later merged into Henry Kendall College; Mrs. Augusta Moore, who devoted much time and energy to building up the Creek boarding schools; and Almon C. Bacone, who began his Indian school work in 1878 as teacher in the Cherokee Male Seminary at Tahlequah, and while there, conceived the idea of establishing an Indian university. In 1880 he organized a Baptist Mission School at Tahlequah, and his work met with such remarkable success and support, that in 1885 he located at Muskogee and entered upon his task of putting into effect his plans for a larger educational institution, and his Indian university, locally called Bacone University, located two miles northeast of Muskogee, sprang into existence. Indian students from twelve or more tribes have been educated in this school, and under the very efficient management of Dr. Benjamin D. Weeks, its present president, aided by liberal financial support, it is destined to rank with the best educational institutions of the country.

The first Indian Mission Conference in the Territory was held at Riley’s Chapel, in the Cherokee Nation, on October 23, 1844. Bishop Thomas A. Morris of the Methodist Episcopal Church presided and among the missionaries in attendance were J. Fields, W. D. Collins, J. Essex, J. F. Root and Tussawalita.

Upon the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the new female seminary at Tahlequah on November 3, 1887, ex-Chief William P. Ross delivered an address, a part of which related to the work of the early missionaries, in the following words:

“The subject of education, in its more restricted sense, among the Cherokees, readily classifies under these heads: Private schools, mission schools and national schools. Under the first head, my information is extremely limited. I simply know that Daniel Sullivan, a Scotchman, was the first pedagogue who plied his vocation within the limits of the nation, his introduction having been specially authorized by the chiefs and councilors of the Cherokees, about the beginning of the present century. Other schools of the kind were afterwards taught in the country east of the Mississippi as they have been and are now sometimes taught in this country and youths are occasionally sent then into the states as many as are now sent to be educated. In regard to the schools supported by benevolent boards and which were the chief, as they were many years almost the only fountain of instruction to the children of the country, our sources of information are more generous.

“Rev. T. M. Rights informs me that about the year 1737 an attempt was made by the Moravians to spread. the Gospel among the Cherokees.

“This was doubtless the first attempt of the kind made in their behalf, but it was fruitless. In 1783 they were visited by Rev. Martin Schneider at Sitiko; in 1799 permission was given the same brotherhood to establish a school; in 1810 a school mission was established at Spring Place, now within the State of Georgia. where in 1805, a school was opened by Rev. John Gambold whose memo] y was cherished long years after his death by the Cherokee people. A second station was established at Oochelogy in 1819.

“The missionaries of this denomination followed the Cherokees in 1838, in their removal to this country and settled on Barren Fork, whence, two years later, they removed to Beattie’s Prairie and established a station. In 1842 New Spring Place was begun and that station and the one near here, are now occupied. At these stations schools were taught at different times, while a number of Cherokee children have attended their schools in North Carolina. Pennsylvania and Indiana. The Methodists began their labors about 1820 and had a number of ministers at different times who combined preaching and teaching, but I have not been able to learn who or how many of them were engaged in teaching before the removal to this country. I know two of them, Rev. Phineas Scruggs and Joseph Miller who taught at different points in Wills Valley, and whose schools were the first I attended for a short time in early childhood. Dr. John Hanna, the late Doctor McFerrin, Rev. William McMahon and others labored as preachers. They have now one school, I believe, at Webbers Falls and contemplate the early establishment of Galloway College at Vinita, where a grant of 160 acres of land was made them by our National Council under the terms of the Treaty of 1866. Rev. Mr. Posey of the Baptist Church, came among the Cherokees in 1817 as a preacher. Rev. Evan Jones of that denomination, established a station with a school connected in 1820, at the valley towns in North Carolina, among the full Cherokees, which was continued down to the removal in 1838 ; another school at Tunsewattu in 1821, which was afterward moved West. The influence exerted by Mr. Jones was wide and permanent and is continued today at the institution on yonder hill, and which has reaped the benefits resulting from the ability and experience of Rev. Daniel Rogers and Professor Bacone, now principal of the Baptist University at Muskogee.

“But no denomination has exerted a larger, if so large an influence as educators among us, as the Presbyterians. At my request, Rev. A. N. Chamberlin has furnished me data in regard to their educational work, which I will present partly in his own language: In 1803 Gideon Blackburn, D.D., established a school at Hiwassee, in the northern part of the nation (eastern) under the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church or by their advice. In 1806 he had two flourishing schools, the second established in August of that year, opened with thirty scholars. In 1807 Mr. Blackburn visited the northern states in the interest of his school work, making a tour of several months’ duration and collected for his work $5,250 besides a large quantity of books and clothing. In 1808 he made a tour of six weeks duration through the Cherokee Nation and was much encouraged by the marks of progress among the people. He was prevented by the want of means from establishing more schools. In 1809 he made a similar tour which occupied him for twelve weeks, but on account of failing health and want of means was forced in 1810 to give up his work. The war with England coming on, nothing more was attempted by this denomination for several years. But in 1816 the American Board sent out Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, who located Brainerd, near the now historic Missionary Ridge in 1817. In September, 1818, the board reported sixty children and youth comfortably fed, and instructed for the present world and for the world to come. Other missionaries arrived including Rev. Ard Hoyt, William Chamberlain, William Potter, Rev. Mr. Berkrich and their families, and later, Doctors Worcester and Butler, and other stations were established. Time will not allow me to name them, but the following named schools which were mostly boarding schools, and attended by from 25 to 100 pupils, may not be omitted. Schools east of the Mississippi River were opened and continued as follows, to-wit: Brainerd, from 1817 to 1839; Carmel, from 1819 to 1836; Hightower, from 1823 to 1831; Hawais, from 1823 to 1834; New Echota, from 1827 to 1834; Ahmohee, from 1831 to 1833; Creek Path, from 1820 to 1837; Willstown, from 1823 to 1839; Candy’s Creek, from 1824 to 1837; Red Clay, from 1835 to 1837; Running Waters, from 1835 to 1836. Among the Cherokees west of the Mississippi: Dwight, 1821, transferred from Arkansas, 1829, and continued to 1860; Mulberry, 1828, transferred from Arkansas, 1829, to Fairfield, and continued to 1860; Forks of Illinois, 1830, to Park Hill, 1836, and continued to 1860. The two schools first mentioned were boarding schools, but that at Park Hill was a day school.

“To the founders and supporters of these benevolent institutions and to the active laborers, male and female, who endured the trials and privations and anxiety, and some of them imprisonment itself, and whose mortal remains are mingled dust to dust in this land of ours today, let due recognition be given and full gratitude be awarded.”

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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