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From Warrior to Saint: David Pendleton Oakerhater

About the Project

From Warrior to Saint: The Journey of David Pendleton Oakerhater, a National Endowment for the Humanities We the People project, tells the story of Making Medicine, a Cheyenne warrior who became the first Oklahoman to be added to the Episcopal Church's calendar of saints.

Oak-uh-hat-uh, as he was called in Cheyenne, was among the 72 captives sent from the Southern Plains to St. Augustine, Florida, as prisoners of war in the aftermath of the Red River war. In 1875 they were imprisoned by the U.S. Army in the old Spanish fortress then called Fort Marion. Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple was one of the notables like Harriett Beecher Stowe who visited the captives. The family of Ohio Senator George Pendleton wintered nearby, and Making Medicine taught the senator's daughters archery. These prominent citizens took a humanitarian interest in the Indian prisoners and wished to see American Indians educated and integrated into American society rather than isolated or annihilated. This was a progressive and liberal attitude at the time, when most of the population saw the Indians as inferior savages rather than as fellow human beings. One of the commanders at Fort Marion was also part of this assimilation movement, and encouraged the education and "rehabilitation" of his prisoners. The efforts of these friends led to Oak-uh-hat-uh's release from prison in 1878.

Making Medicine converted to Christianity and was baptized as David Pendleton Oakerhater, taking his first name from the Bible, his middle name from his sponsor, Senator George Pendleton, and using the anglicized version of his Cheyenne name as his surname. After his release from prison, he attended the Carlisle Indian School, and with the help of sponsors such as Deaconess Mary Burnham of New York, studied for the ministry in Syracuse, NY, and became an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church. He returned to Indian Territory to found the Whirlwind Mission of the Holy Family near Watonga, where he ministered to the Cheyenne and Arapaho. He was dedicated to improving the lot of his people and had strong ties to leaders in the American Indian assimilation movement. Oakerhater died in 1931 and, thanks to the efforts of the Oklahoma Council on Indian Ministries, was named a saint of the Episcopal Church in 1985. The Anglican Communion celebrates the feast day of its first Native American saint on September 1.

In 2004, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City was contacted by Miss Nellie Burnham, the great-granddaughter of Oakerhater's friend and sponsor Mary Burnham. She had found correspondence between Deaconess Burnham, St. Oakerhater and other leaders in the American Indian assimilation movement among her great-grandmother's things and wished to donate them to the Cathedral. The Burnham Collection, containing 117 letters (37 actually written by St. Oakerhater) and 24 photographs, came to the Cathedral in summer 2004. These documents provide a unique perspective of the assimilation era from the Indian point of view and a chronicle of the lives of the Plains Indians during a critical period in the history of Oklahoma (1880s-1907).

Dr. Carter Blue Clark, professor at Oklahoma City University, member of the Creek Nation and president of the Oakerhater Guild at St. Paul's, has contributed an essay describing the Indian assimilation movement in post-Civil War America, to put the artifacts in the proper context. It should be noted that Dr. Clark's mother, Lois Clark, led the efforts to put David Pendleton Oakerhater on the calendar of saints. While today the effects of the Indian Assmilation movement on Native American culture and languages is rightly deplored, the leaders of this movement were, in the context of their times, progressive humanitarians who saw Indians as the equals of whites and who wished to save these people from genocide. They concluded that the only way to do this was to assimilate Indians into white culture through education in English and conversion to Christianity. While the unintended consequences of their actions are regrettable, they undertook this effort with the best of intentions.

The Burnham Collection is a rich resource for researchers studying the Indian experience in Oklahoma, providing a unique and rare Native American perspective, and will also be a boon to scholars studying the Indian assimilation movement, the American Indian experience, the cultural history of the American West, Christian missionaries in the United States, and the history of the Episcopal Church and its involvement in social movements. Future additions to the website will include letters from Captain Richard Henry Pratt, Commander of the Fort Marion prison and a leader the Assimilation movement, to Mrs. Burnham about his efforts to found the Carlisle Barracks Indian School in Pennsylvania, as well as correspondence Mrs. Burnham received from other Indian men who had been at prison and school with Oakerhater.

About the Digitization Process

In September 2005, the Oklahoma Humanities Council awarded a grant to the Oklahoma State University Library Electronic Publishing Center (EPC) to digitize the letters written by Oakerhater and make them available online, along with the 19 period photographs of the saint and his associates. Due to the deteriorating state of the letters, which were stored in a barn for decades, it was necessary to have the papers treated by a conservator, Rebecca Elder, to be stabilized before proceeding with the scanning in order to avoid doing permanent damage to the originals. EPC staff received training from preservation professionals at Amigos Library Services in handling arhival materials. The EPC scanned the letters and photographs as 24-bit color images at a resolution of at least 400 dpi and saved the files in TIFF format, in keeping with the standards and best practices of the time. Kim Kueteman, a member of St. Paul's Cathedral who was instrumental in bringing the Burnham Collection to Oklahoma, used the scanned images to transcribe the letters, in addition to writing the biography of the saint that appears on this website. The EPC marked up the text transcriptions in XML, using the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines. The XML documents were converted to HTML for presentation on the Web using XSL style sheets. The letters are presented online with the image of the original side by side with a line-by-line transcription. The text of the letters is fully searchable. In addition to presenting the letters and photographs, the website contains a finding aid to the collection prepared by Gina Minks, Imaging and Preservation Services Manager at Amigos Library Services and past chair of the Society of American Archivists Encoded Archival Description Working Group. This finding aid is in the XML Encoded Archival Description format to facilitate accessibility to scholars and preservation of the digital object.

This project was funded in part by the Oklahoma Humanities Council (OHC) and the We the People initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of OHC or NEH.