Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 3
September, 1939

John Bartlett Meserve

Page 265


A history of Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa invites a brief resume of the interesting historic background of the Church in what is today the Diocese of Oklahoma. From 1838 to 1893, the Church in the old Indian Territory was committed to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, first of the Missionary Bishop of the Southwest, and later of the Bishop of Arkansas. The General Convention of the Church which convened at Philadelphia on August 19, 1835, created the Missionary District of the Southwest, which embraced the States of Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Republic of Texas. The Indian Territory, embracing what is today the State of Oklahoma, save the panhandle, and which had been created by a recent Act of Congress, was also included within this district.

The Rev. Leonidas Polk,1 the young rector of St. Peter's Church at Columbia, Tennessee, was consecrated the first Missionary Bishop of the newly created district, on December 9, 1838, at Cincinnati, and served as such until October 16, 1841, when he became the initial Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana. Bishop Polk becomes a major figure in the early history of the Church in Oklahoma. The new Bishop made his first and only venture into the Indian Territory in the latter part of January, 1841, while en route to Texas. On the oc-

1The Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk, a son of William and Sarah (Hawkins) Polk, was born at Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 10, 1806. He attended the University of North Carolina in 1821-23 but entered the Military Academy at West Point in 1823 graduating in June, 1827. Six months later, he resigned his military commission and entered the Virginia Theological Seminary at Alexandria. He was ordained deacon on April 9, 1830 and in the ensuing month, married Frances Devereaux. He was priested in May, 1831 and served as assistant pastor of Monumental Episcopal Church at Richmond, Virginia. He subsequently removed to Tennessee where he served as an assistant to Bishop Otey and as rector first, of St. John's Church at Ashwood and later of St Peter's Church at Columbia. An outstanding service was his contribution to the establishing of the University of the South (Episcopalian) at Sewanee, Tennessee, the corner stone of which he laid on October 9, 1860. Came the springtime of '61, Bishop Polk enlisted with the Confederacy and, because of his training at West Point, was appointed a major-general on June 25, 1861 being promoted to lieutenant-general on October 10, 1862. He was killed by a cannon ball in the skirmish at Pine Mountain, Georgia, on June 14, 1864, closing a military service most faithfully rendered. He rests beneath the chancel window in the rear of St. Paul's Church at Augusta, Georgia. For a more extended sketch of Bishop Polk, see the December 1938 issue of the "Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church", which issue is commemorative of the centennial anniversary of his consecration to the Episcopate of the church.

Page 266

casion of this visitation, he visited Chief John Ross of the Cherokees at his home at Park Hill, subsequently holding services at Ft. Gibson where he established a "Preaching Station." In pursuing his course toward the Red River, services were held at Doaksville in the Choctaw country, where the intrepid Bishop contacted the Rev. Messrs. Kingsbury and Byington, prominent Protestant Missionaries of other denominations who were maintaining schools among the Indians. He was entertained at the home of Peter P. Pitchlynn who was later to become a chieftain of the Choctaw Nation.

The Indian Territory was, at that time, a sequestered region and truly an Indian country. The Federal Government was concluding its removal of some 60,000 of its red proteges from the Southeastern States to the old Territory. There were few whites in this country at that time and, only in rare instances, was their presence tolerated. There were no missionaries of the Episcopal Church among the Indians of the Territory during those inceptive days, the spiritual concerns of these simple folk being influenced by missionaries of the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations. Among the Seneca Indians in what is today, Ottawa County, Oklahoma, it is known that lay-reading services of the Church had been maintained some years before.2

Upon the retirement of Bishop Polk, in the fall of 1841, the Rt. Rev. James Hervey Otey,3 Bishop of Tennessee, was assigned to the Southwest Missionary District. In touring the district, Bishop Otey reached Ft. Towson in the Choctaw country on March 23, 1844, where he conducted services. Bishop Otey was relieved of this assignment when the Rev. George Washington Freeman,4 on October

Rt. Rev. Polk

Page 267

26, 1844, was consecrated Bishop of Arkansas "and the Indian Territory south of the 36½ parallel of latitude and to exercise Episcopal supervision over the Missions in the Republic of Texas." Bishop Freeman visited Ft. Gibson where he conducted services at the post. The Rev. Daniel MeManuss, an Episcopal clergyman served continuously as chaplain of the military post at Ft. Gibson from September 3, 1845 to June 1, 1857 and conducted regular Sunday services. The Bishop passed away on April 29, 1858, and was succeeded by the Rev. Henry Champlain Lay who was consecrated Bishop of Arkansas,5 the Indian Territory and the Territories of New Mexico and Arizona, on October 23, 1859. Bishop Lay served until 1869 when he was transferred to the new diocese of Easton, Maryland. He visited the Indian Territory in June, 1860. The Rev. Henry Niles Pierce succeeded Bishop Lay and was consecrated Bishop of Arkansas and the Indian Territory on January 25, 1870.6 Shortly thereafter, he established the first Episcopal church in the old Territory, at Oak Lodge, a short distance west of Ft. Smith. Facts as to the exact date of the founding of this church are still fugitive. Bishop Pierce passed away at Little Rock on September 5, 1899.

The Church in Arkansas had become an independent diocese on August 26, 1871, but it was not until 1892 that the Missionary District of the Indian Territory and the Territory of Oklahoma was created by the General Convention. The Rev. Francis Key Brooke was consecrated the first Missionary Bishop of the new district at Grace Cathedral Church,7 at Topeka, Kansas, on January 6, 1893,

Page 268

and the first sustained effort to promote the Church in what had hitherto been strictly an Indian country, was undertaken. The white population in the Territories now far exceeded the Indian citizenship and the days of frontier life had lapsed.

Tulsa is situated in what was then the extreme Northern part of the Creek Nation in the old Indian Territory portion of the new Missionary District. By direction of Bishop Brooke, the initial Episcopal service was held in Tulsa, in November, 1903, being conducted by the Rev. Everett E. Williams,8 a missionary residing at Vinita. This service was held at the home of Mr. Dan Hunt, which stood at the corner of 3rd Street and Boston Avenue. The towering 25-story National Bank of Tulsa Building today adorns the site. Trinity Mission was established by Bishop Brooke and the Rev. Mr. Williams remained in charge until June, 1904, when he removed to Shawnee. In February, 1904, Bishop Brooke celebrated the first communion service of the new mission, in the home of W. B. Frederick at the corner of 3rd Street and Cincinnati Avenue, and later in the spring held communion services in the old Christian Church which stood at the corner of 2nd Street and Boulder Avenue. During those formative days of the Church in Tulsa and before the completion of the first church edifice, services were held at various places but principally in the Masonic Hall on First Street between Main Street and Boston Avenue. In the latter part of June, 1904, the Rev. Richard D. Baldwin,9 who

Rt. Rev. Brooke

Page 269

had recently arrived from Ohio, was placed in charge of the newly organized Trinity Mission, as deacon and later as priest-in-charge. The first Woman's Guild was formed in 1905 with Mrs. Dan Hunt as its first presiding officer. The site upon which the present church building now stands was acquired on March 11, 1905 for a consideration of $800 and the construction of the first church building was commenced. The church building was completed in the fall of 1906 at a cost of $3500 and was dedicated by Bishop Brooke, assisted by the Rev. Mr. Baldwin.

It is of interest to know that the first marriage service of the Church in Tulsa was performed by Mr. Baldwin on August 31, 1905, the contracting parties being Winford Bourland and Edithe Throop. On September 6, 1904, the first baptism was administered by Mr. Baldwin, being that of Nellie Belle and Ruth Voris Short. The Rev. Mr. Baldwin retired from his charge on July 1, 1906 and was succeeded by the Rev. James E. McGarvey, who became the deacon-in-charge until October 31, 1908. On December 2, 1906, the first confirmation class was presented by the Rev. Mr. McGarvey and confirmed by Bishop Brooke. The members of the class were, Beatrice Alexander Poindexter, Martha Belle Frederick, Lillian Bowman Butler, Sarah Elizabeth Hunt, Emma Little Neves Hammat, and Guy Winfred Johnson. Mr. McGarvey also conducted the first funeral services of the church in Tulsa, being that of Patrick Gill, on November 13, 1906. Mr. McGarvey passed away some years ago.

Trinity Mission became a self-supporting parish early in 1909 and the Rev. Gilbert A. Ottmann became its first rector on February 1, 1909. The first parish meeting was held in February, 1909,10 at which Mr. Ottmann presided and the following were elected the first vestrymen of Trinity Parish: J. A. Steele, B. T. Hainer, F. A. Levoy, Dan Hunt, W. H. Roeser, C. W. Deming and Lewis Emery. W. Lyle Dickey became the first senior warden of Trinity Parish.

Page 270

In October, 1910, the Missionary District was divided, by action of the General Convention, the two districts embracing substantially the areas which hitherto had defined the Indian Territory and the Territory of Oklahoma. The old Indian Territory section being styled the Missionary District of Eastern Oklahoma, and the Territory of Oklahoma portion being the Missionary District of Oklahoma. On January 26, 1911, the Rev. Theodore Payne Thurston was consecrated Bishop of the Eastern District and established his residence at Muskogee.11 Bishop Brooke remained in charge of the Western District.

The Rev. Mr. Ottmann retired as rector of Trinity Church on December 15, 1912 and the Rev. James J. H. Reedy who had come to the parish in 1911,12 served as locum tenens until the selection of the Rev. Chauncey Y. Fling of Waterford,13 New York as rector

Rv. Rev. Thurston

Page 271

in 1913. The service of the Rev. Mr. Kling began on April 6, 1913, and was concluded on April 4, 1920. A Woman's Auxiliary Branch was formed in 1912 with Mrs. John Carson as its initial president, and the Altar Guild was created the same year with Mrs. Fred Cabel as president. On October 22, 1918, the beloved Bishop Francis Key Brooke passed away and the two missionary districts in Oklahoma again were united and Bishop Thurston became Bishop of the Church in the entire State.

The congregation of Trinity Parish had now exceeded the accommodations of the church building, and plans were already under contemplation for the construction of a new and more commodious house of worship. As early as February 21, 1919, the matter of new church construction was submitted to the annual parish meeting and highly approved. The Rev. Mr. Kling was succeeded by the Rev. Rolfe P. Crum who held his first service in Trinity Church on June 22, 1920,14 being installed by Bishop Thurston on November 18, 1920. To him was committed the task of building the new church. The old church building was dismantled and ground broken for the construction of the new church building upon the site of the original church edifice, on December 11, 1921. The growth of the congregation and the building of the new structure, made necessary the holding of services elsewhere, and on December 12, 1920, the regular church services were held in the Majestic Theatre and continued there until June 4, 1922, when the first service was con-

Page 272

ducted by Bishop Thurston in the crypt of the new church building then under construction. The Rev. Mr. Crum concluded his services in the parish on December 31, 1925, and on May 9, 1926, the new church edifice was formally dedicated with services conducted by the Rt. Rev. James Ridout Winchester, Bishop of Arkansas, assisted by the Rev. Mr. Crum who was then rector of St. Mark's Church at San Antonio, Texas. The new church building, at the corner of Fifth Street and Cincinnati Avenue and in immediate proximity to the downtown district of Tulsa, is a fine example of English Gothic architecture with inspiring stained glass windows and most beautiful wood carvings.

Bishop Thurston severed his connection with the Missionary District of Oklahoma, by his resignation on October 15, 1926. The Rt. Rev. E. Cecil Seaman, Missionary Bishop of North Texas, functioned as Bishop of the Missionary District of Oklahoma until October 2, 1927, when the Rev. Thomas Casady was consecrated Bishop of the District.15 The Rev. A. Edward Saunders became rector of Trinity Church on November 1, 1926,16 concluding his service by resignation on October 31, 1929, to be succeeded, on Jan-

Page 273

Rev. Eckel

nary 1, 1930, by the Rev. Edward H. Eckel, Jr.,17 who is the present (1939) rector. The Rev. John A. Gardner served as assistant rector from 1927 to 1928.18 The Rev. James J. H. Reedy served as curate of the church from 1911 to May 1, 1935, at which time he was made curate emeritus. Other curates of the parish have been the Rev. Messrs. Quentin Ferguson, from January 1, 1933 to September 24, 1934, Judson S. Leeman, from June 1, 1935, to September 1, 1936, Paul R. Abbott from September 1, 1936 to June 1, 1937, and Robert Harold Stetler who came to the parish on September 1, 1937, and is still (1939) in service. The Order of St. Martin was formed in the church in April, 1928, and the Laymen's League in January, 1938 with Judge Louis W. Pratt as its first president. Not least among the organizations of Trinity Church is the Social Service League, formed by Mrs. John Carson on November 19, 1920. A church publication, the Trinity Tidings, was published first in October, 1930, and has been issued weekly since, save during the months of July and August in each year. Mrs. Marie M. Hine, the present organist and choir directress, has served since May 2, 1920.

Trinity parish has shared the rapid growth of Tulsa and its church membership today embraces some 1375 communicants.

In 1938, Oklahoma churchmen gave pause in thought of the unafraid Christian mentor whose service as the first Bishop of the old Indian Territory had its inception a century before. Most appropriate and commemorative it was, that on January 17, 1938, the last fragment of the extensive Missionary District over which the Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk had presided, became the Diocese of

Page 274

Oklahoma. The Rt. Rev. Thomas Casady became the first Bishop of the new Diocese.19

Rv. Rev. Casady

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site