By E. C. Rough
On March 7, 1849, Henry Frieland Buckner, missionary to the Creek Indians by appointment of the American Indian Mission Association, arrived at his new station, near the Verdigris River, a few miles above Fort Gibson. For a third of a century, until his death December 3, 1882, he was to give the best of his life to the highest interests of the Creek Indians. No man who wrought in the Indian Territory was a more faithful or fervent apostle to the Indian people.
Henry Frieland Buckner was born at Newport in East Tennessee, December 18, 1818. His mother when a little girl had heard Humphrey Posey and Evan Jones preach before they began missionary work among the Cherokees. A few years after Henry Frieland's birth, his father, Daniel Buckner, was "liberated" to preach the Gospel and in 1827 was ordained by the Chestnut Church, Monroe, County, Tennessee. In 1828, he led in the organization of the Madisonville Baptist Church in Tennessee, into the fellowship of which Henry Frieland was baptized in 1832. In 1836, Daniel Buckner moved to Big Spring and Henry Frieland was put in Maryville Seminary (Old School Presbyterian). There was not at that time a Baptist high school in the state. The father accepted appointment from the Tennessee Baptist Convention to labor as a missionary, but found anti-missionary sentiment all about him. The church of which he was a member preferred charges against him, because of his missionary activities, and withdrew fellowship from him. The wife asked to be excluded with her husband but the answer was given, "We have no charge against you." She replied: "If I were a man I would preach missions just as my husband has done, and as I hope and pray my sons may do." Buckner and his wife and son, Henry Frieland, presented a copy of the charges to another church and were joy-
fully received on the statement of those charges of missionary activities. Whenever anti-mission churches closed their doors against him, he would preach in a grove or school room. Jesse Bushyhead was one of the men who preached with him in those days.
Henry Frieland early acquired a good foundation in Latin and Greek. In 1838 he went to Alabama to teach school and the next year was licensed to preach. He preached to four country churches while a student in the University of Alabama. On November 22, 1842, he was married to Miss Lucy Ann Dogan, daughter of Rev. Samuel Dogan, a Baptist preacher and physician.
Early in 1846, young Buckner was appointed by the Baptist General Association of Kentucky as a missionary to the mountain people of East Kentucky, Virginia, and Ohio. He served in that field nearly three years at a salary of $500 a year. His success in that, work led to his appointment by the American Indian Mission Association as a missionary to the Creek Nation. His father was unwilling for him to go to the Indians. His wife's relatives consented on condition that Buckner and his wife would be gone only two years. But Buckner's mother, with the tears running down her cheeks, said: "Go, my son, and the Lord be with you always. Our Savior says, 'Go ye into all the world' and it is as much my duty to give up my son as it is of any other mother. I thank God that I have a son to go to the Indians."
The Indian Advocate, October, 1848, published the following announcement: "Since the publication of last month, the executive board have made the missionary appointment of Rev. H. F. Buckner and wife, Somerset, Pulaski County, Kentucky, to the Creeks. . . Brother Buckner has been for some length of time a very successful minister in Kentucky, and was in the employ of the General Association of the state. He is to be located at or near the Creek Agency, on the Arkansas River, and will go to his station early in the ensuing year." In the
next issue of the Indian Advocate is a letter of acceptance in which Buckner revealed the hopes he had cherished of returning to the school room, but he added: "I have learned that where there is no Cross, there is likewise no Crown. I now commit myself and my little family to God."
The Somerset Church set apart him and his wife December 20, 1848, for the new work among the Indians. Within a few days a crowd of relatives and friends gathered at the Cumberland boat landing to see the young missionaries off. They stopped at Nashville, and Buckner suffered an attack of pneumonia at the home of "Father" Whitsitt, the grandfather of W. H. Whitsitt, years later the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After his recovery, Buckner and his wife resumed their trip. When they reached Little Rock on the Arkansas River, he had no money. There was no Baptist church in Little Rock, but he found a brother Mason who gave him $25.00. Buckner wrote concerning this experience, "The Lord used this society when there were no Baptists in that city." The captain of the boat from Little Rock to Ft. Smith, a Royal Arch Mason, did not charge the preacher when he found that he was a Mason.
When Buckner and his family reached their destination he had only $4.50 in his pocket. He gave fifty cents to a Negro interpreter, Jake, or Jack, to tell the other Negroes that he had come to help them. He bought a horse for $4.00, and gave his note for $40 for a cabin where a man had been killed. We quote him: "The first thing Mrs. Buckner had to do after walking four miles from the steamboat landing, leading our little son, was to scour the blood of a murdered man from the puncheon of our little Indian cabin." A friendly merchant gave him credit until he received his first quarter's salary, $100.
His new home was near the "Muskokee" Baptist Church, which had been organized September 9, 1832, by Isaac McCoy, That church had experienced many tribulations, and endured bitter persecutions. The pastors of that church, in succession,
as named by Buckner, were Elders Lewis, Rollins, Davis, Kellam, and Brother Jacob (a black preacher whose father was an Indian, according to Buckner). The church suffered so much that in 1841 there were only twenty-nine members, twenty-eight blacks and one Indian. But, a few years later, a brighter day dawned, and the December, 1848, issue of the Indian Advocate published a letter from a man living in the Creek Nation who admitted that he had once been anti-missionary, but was favorably impressed with the spirit and progress of the Baptist Church in his community. He wrote: "Four years ago an Indian legislative body refused to pay any respect to the Sabbath and enacted laws to punish men for praying or preaching. Now, they officially observe and recommend the Sabbath." The same individual who opposed the observance of the Sabbath was the first to advocate it in the Council. The Creek Council had passed a law forbidding any Indian or Negro to preach under penalty of whipping, and no white man would be allowed to preach without a permit. Eben Tucker, appointed missionary to the Creeks, baptized Creek converts across the line in the Cherokee or Choctaw or Seminole Nations. One woman who received fifty lashes for affirming her faith in Christ went down to a spring, near Old North Fork Town, washed her wounds, and walked ten miles to hear Joseph Islands preach that night. A deposed chief who led the party that killed General William McIntosh, and later whipped the praying Negroes back in the old nation, was himself baptized years later.
H. F. Buckner, in an article in the Texas Baptist (published January 3, 1878), gives the experience of Jesse, a Negro preacher, who was whipped in 1845. "One of them came and tied another rope around my wrists; the other end was thrown over the fork of a tree, and they drew me up until my feet did not quite touch the ground, and tied my feet together. Then they went a little way off and sat down. Afterwards one of them came and asked me where I got the new religion. I said in the Old Nation. 'Yes,' replied the Indian, 'You have set half
of this nation to praying and this is what we are going to whip you for.' Five men gave me five strokes each. When I saw the sticks my heart faint a little and I said, 'My friends, do take a gun and shoot me and don't whip me so.' Then the Indians said, 'We don't want to kill you; we Will give you fifty lashes for the first time, and the next time we will give you one hundred, and the third time you are known to hold religious meetings, we will kill you.' Then another Indian said, 'You tell our people that Christ was hung up and we do the same for you.' Then I felt as if I wanted to preach to them more than ever I did in all my life. I did not feel the least bit angry neither did I feel at all afraid."
About the time Buckner arrived the church had 312 members, of whom 207 were Indians and 105 were blacks. He said of the faithful pastor, Elder Jacob, who served for several years in that position: "Jacob was red as well as black."
After landing, H. F. Buckner reported to the Council of Chiefs. "The principal chief invited me to take a seat by him and state the object of our visit. On the morrow the chief called me before the Council and said, 'Today we have been discussing whether or not there is any essential difference between our customs (ball plays, green corn dances, etc.) and laws. Our children are anxious to have their children educated. Although I am a descendant of white men I have no education. I am glad that you have come among us and that our people wish their children to be educated. We have enacted laws against the improper use of whiskey. Not many years ago we opposed praying people, but you are welcome among us."
Almost every month the Indian Advocate published communications from Buckner describing the steady growth of the missionary work. In one letter he wrote, "Better order in church was never observed by any people." Among the Indians licensed to preach, and later ordained to the gospel ministry by the North Fork Church, were D. N. McIntosh, nephew of General Rolly McIntosh, king of the Creeks, and his brother
Lewis. The wife and sister of D. N. McIntosh were baptized. The wife and daughter of General Rolly Me-Intosh were added to the church. General Chilly McIntosh was ordained in October, 1850.
Early in 1852, Buckner visited Kentucky in quest of health, but after a few weeks resumed his labors in the Indian Territory. In January, 1853, he moved to North Fork, near the present location of Eufaula.
In 1855, as financial difficulties multiplied and contributions for his special work decreased, he followed the conviction that he should turn aside from his labors in the Creek Nation, and as a general agent visit the states in the South in the interest of Indian missions. The same year the affairs of the American Indian Association were transferred to the Domestic Mission Board of Southern Baptists, at Marion, Alabama, (later known as Home Mission Board, removed to Atlanta). We quote from the 1856 Minutes of that organization: "The recent visit to the churches and associations of the South by Rev. H. F. Buckner, renders it needless to speak at length of his agency, as the principal facts are already before the public. The Board make known to the denomination, with a high degree of satisfaction, that his agency was crowned with complete success. On his return to the field of his labors, he had funds sufficient to settle up with all the missionaries, leaving no claim unpaid except a balance of $400 due to himself, and which has since been sent on to him. He found the churches and native preachers in a happy and prosperous condition, though suffering, many deprivations on account of the uncommon severity of the past winter.
"The Indian Mission enterprise must long feel the beneficial influences of Brother Buckner's visit to the South, and the churches will no doubt remember it with a commendable liberality. In the month of September last, the Board commissioned the Rev. H. F. Buckner and the following native preachers to preach the Gospel to their own people in the Creek Nation: Brother Chilli McIntosh, William McIntosh, John Smith, D. N.
McIntosh, Louis McIntosh, Yatoojah, Jacob Hawkins, Monday, Holoche Islands, Yarjah, and James Perryman. The support of Brother Buckner has been guaranteed for one year from the first of April by the Baptist church at Montgomery, Alabama, and the salary of D. N. McIntosh has been pledged by the Western Association of Georgia. . ."
Missionary Buckner made a distinct contribution in his translations of the Scriptures and hymns. From the Report on Indian Missions, 1859, we quote;
"Under approval of the Board, Brother Buckner is now engaged in translating the New Testament into Creek. He would have undertaken this work at an earlier day had missionary aid been at command sufficient to prosecute the mission work. While the greater portion of his time and energies are devoted to the study of the Creek language and translating he has by no means abandoned the direct mission work. Although engaged but a short time, he has completed the sixth chapter of Matthew. In the prosecution of his work, he finds the Creek language, so far as reduced to system and writing, is exceedingly imperfect. He has suggested important improvements in the alphabet, the grammar and vocabulary of the language. His services will be eminently valuable in the future elementary educational interests of the nation, as well as for the present purposes of translation of the Scriptures into this tongue.
"Should life and health be continued, Brother Buckner contemplates the preparation of a small hymn book in Creek, should the work be approved by this body, that the praises of his people may be according to truth. We look forward to the results of these labors with joyful hope." [From Minutes of 1861]: "Rev. H. F. Buckner, assisted by his interpreter, G. Herrod, has completed the translation into the Creek language, of the Gospel of John, a hymn book for congregational use, with fifty English hymns, a grammar of the Creek language, together with an illustrated alphabet. These publications have received the approval of the first men of the nation, and have been welcomed as a precious gift to the people...
"Brother Buckner spent most of the early past of the year in translating, and was absent some five months, superintending the publications of his books. Since his return he has been
severely afflicted in the loss of his beloved companion, and continued sickness in his family. [Mrs. Buckner died December 17, 1860.] He should receive sympathy of his brethren. His books have been well received, as will appear from another portion of the Report. He has accomplished much for the Creeks, in giving them the word of life in their own tongue." (His post office is given this year as Micco, Creek Nation.)
Little could be done during the War between the States, and H. F. Buckner carried his family to Texas. He had married again, the daughter of a missionary, Rev. A. E. Vandiver. One of the children of this union was Rev. W. V. Buckner, a Baptist minister in Oklahoma. He visited his brother, Dr. R. C. Buckner, then pastor of the First Baptist Church, Paris, Texas, later distinguished founder and head of Buckner Orphans Home, Dallas. H. F. Buckner preached for a brief time at Linden and Jefferson. At the close of the war, to quote his words, "I locked my doors and went three years ago to preach the commencement sermon" at Independence, Texas, where Baylor University was located before its removal to Waco, On June 7, 1867, Baylor conferred on Buckner the honorary degree of A. M. "pro honoris causa." Two years later he received from the same institution the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. While pastor at Independence and Gay Hill, he was elected vice president of the Baptist State Convention of Texas. He resigned this position when elected recording secretary of the Convention.
In 1869 he was re-appointed by the Domestic Mission Board as missionary to the Creek Indians, and in July, 1870, was back at Micco (North Fork) doing the work so dear to his heart.
In the Annual Report of the Domestic and Indian Mission Board, 1870, we read:
"Brother H. F. Buckner . . . has been added to the corps of missionaries. The former [Buckner] was authorized last July to visit the brethren in Texas in view of securing an amount necessary to his outfit, in order to return to his old field among the Creeks, $718 in currency ($526.78 gold) was obtained. At this point the Friendship Baptist Association of
Georgia, at its session in 1869, resolved to adopt Brother Buckner as their missionary, and thus relieve the Board from further pecuniary responsibility in regard to his salary. The proposition was submitted to Brother Buckner and accepted of him on condition that he should work in harmony with the Board at Marion, and forward to it duplicate reports of his labors . . . Indians, too, are receiving more attention than we have hitherto been able to bestow on them. Four native preachers to the Creeks have been put to work. Rev. H. F. Buckner, who was first commissioned by the Louisville Board in 1848, has resumed his labors, after a suspension of a few years, and is supported by the Friendship Association, Georgia. . ."
From the Report of 1873 we quote:
"Last April  our Brother Buckner, for so many years an apostle to the Creeks (since 1848), resumed his relations to your Board as its missionary. The Kentucky Baptists at once assumed the privilege of his support, and authorized the Board to increase his salary. Immediately after the adjournment of the General Association of Kentucky, Rev. S. L. Helm, for many years the Corresponding Secretary of the 'American Indian Mission Association' located in Louisville, Ky., was requested by your Board to make a visit to the Creek Mission and report its condition. He did so, and his report was of the most encouraging character. But he found our missionary without suitable accommodations for his family. We submit a few things from Brother Helm as communicated a short time since: 'At the request of the Domestic and Indian Mission Board I visited in July last (1872) our Creek Indian Missions. I found Dr. Buckner toiling under his wonted trials, hard labor, and privations. To, these had been recently added deep sorrow for his lovely little boy, whom God had taken from him while he was attending the last session of the Southern Baptist Convention. But none of these had quenched his burning zeal for the salvation of the Indians, nor relaxed his efforts in his missionary labor.
" 'Personal observation fixed upon me the conviction that our mission among this tribe is a success. The deep, the appalling poverty in which the war left Dr. Buckner and the Indians, though hindering it, did not suppress the free course of the Gospel among the Creeks. The scattered churches were being rapidly organized. . .
" 'I found Dr. Buckner and family living in a rude cabin, twelve feet square. The kitchen a still more uncomfortable cabin. In these he sat, studied, slept, cooked, ate, and entertained his company. In the absence of saw-mills, lumber, and mechanics, this was the best any man could do without money or help. But few white men had been allowed to live in the Territory, and the Indians are not mechanics.
" 'The new house was suggested to my mind by the fact that the last night I spent in this dreary home of a faithful, devoted missionary of the cross, the rain poured through the leaky roof of the kitchen where Dr. Buckner and his family were sleeping on a puncheon floor. The beds had been given up to his visitors. The next morning his youngest little daughter, who had shared in the drenching all the family received during the night, while at breakfast was seized with a severe chill. My heart was so touched I could not forbear weeping, and said to Dr. Buckner, "You must have a better house, you will all die here." "But," he said, "we can't get it. I have no money to build a better one. We have no lumber, materials, or mechanics, or anything to build a house." Soon the little girl was delirious with fever, and I said, "Brother Buckner, you shall have a better house." The dear man, and his lovely wife, doomed to so many disappointments, weeping, softly said, "We need it, but—." "But you must have a better house."
" 'As soon as I reached St. Louis, I wrote an appeal to the Missouri Baptists, and sent it to the Central Baptist, and, just as soon as I could, made an appeal through the Western Recorder. Soon the house will be done and our faithful missionary and his family be comfortable. [That house near Eufaula, is still standing. About two hundred yards away is the grave of Buckner.]
" 'The Indian brethren rejoice in this renewed expression of our confidence in their apostle, and regard it as a compliment equally to themselves. To build a house so far from every thing needed in its erection, and transport it five hundred miles by rail—and to furnish a suitable representation of the taste and liberality of the Southern Baptists, a house of architectural beauty was necessary. Nor is this all; it is due to this people now civilized and soon to be merged into citizenship in this government, that a model house of this sort should be given by those who had by the Gospel elevated them from a savage state to learning and religion.' "
The story of the close of his earthly labors is related in the Annual Report of the Home Mission Board, 1883:
"A great calamity, as men see it, has befallen our Mission among the Indians. On the third of December, 1882, Rev. H. F. Buckner, D. D., who for thirty-three years had been the untiring friend of the Red man, who had endured labors and hardships and sufferings rarely equalled since the days of the martyrs, while lying on his couch of suffering, and longing still to live for the people he loved, felt the approach of death. Yielding to the Master's will and exclaiming, 'Eternal life! eternal life! now let it come,' he closed his eyes for the long and dreamless sleep of death and the ransomed spirit went up to rest in the Paradise of God. No eulogy is needed for him. His memorial is in the hearts of his brethren. His record is on high. His name will live among the Red men as long as the land he has glorified with his labors shall spread its green bosom to the sun, or its streams shall flow downward to the sea. . ."
Indian Advocate, 1848-1855 (Oklahoma State Historical Library).