Glyph of David Pendelton Oakerhater
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From Warrior to Saint: The life of David Pendelton Oakerhater

Letters from the Burnham Collection

Click title to see images of the letter and a line by line transcription. You may also search the text of the letters here.

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David Pendleton Oakerhater Letters

Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 31 May 1878
David Pendleton Oakerhater writes to Mrs. Burnham about learning to read, write and pray. He praises the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Wicks, and tells of selling bows and arrows he has made. Signed with the English translation of his Cheyenne name, Making Medicine.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 14 June 1878
Oakerhater thanks Mrs. Burnham for a coat she sent him and tells her of his daily activities: studying, gardening and playing croquet. He speaks of his growing faith in and love for Jesus.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 20 July 1878
In addition to reporting on his daily routine, Oakerhater writes of receiving a letter from his brother Little Medicine, whom he has not seen in three years. He was happy to receive a picture and letter from the Cheyenne Agency near his family's home in Indian Territory [present day Oklahoma].
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 27 July 1878
Oakerhater tells Mrs. Burnham he has polished "Sea beans" as she asked. He also relates receiving letters from Capt R. H. Pratt and the Bishop [of New York]
Letter to Mr. J. B. Wicks dated 30 September 1878
Oakerhater reminisces about his time at Fort Marion and the white people from St. Augustine, Florida who came to visit the Indians. He praises the kindness of Capt. Pratt, who made him a first sergeant over the Indian "soldiers." He went to school after leaving the Fort, and arrived in Paris Hill, NY where he was greeted by the Episcopal community. He speaks of Mrs. Burnham as his mother and Mr. Wicks as his father, and expresses his fondness for Wicks's young daughter, Ruth. He also relates the tension and fighting among his Indian friends Zotom and Taawayite. He tells her of his decision to stop killing birds because God made and loves the birds.
Letter to Little Medicine dated 7 October 1878
Oakerhater writes to his brother Little Medicine, assuring him that he is happy and well. He informs his brother that he has been baptized and has taken the Christian name David Pendleton. He sends his love to family and friends in Indian Territory, whom he misses very much. He asks for a pair of moccasins and sends his brother some money. He begins to sign his letters "David Pendleton."
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 5 December 1878
Oakerhater had been ill, and writes to Mrs. Burnham that he has mostly recovered and has returned to his routine of school, study, church and prayer. He speaks of taking communion [probably for the first time, as he would not have been able to do so before his baptism]. His encounter with some geese makes Miss Allie Wicks laugh.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 16 January 1879
A brief note telling Mrs. Burnham of a deep snow and informing her that a clock [perhaps one she gave him] fell off a shelf and broke its stand.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 4 April 1879
A long letter telling Mrs. Burnham of his experiences at Fort Marion where, befriended by Capt. Pratt, he began to learn English and Christianity. He met may good white people there, he says, and was paid by Mrs. George Pendleton to give archery lessons to her daughters. He says he is glad to learn the white man's ways, and expresses despair about the poverty of his people in Indian territory, about their "heathen" ways and their lack of knowledge about Christianity.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 1 June 1879
Oakerhater thanks Mrs. Burnham for money she sent him, which he has used to buy a trunk, coat and pants. He, Mr Wicks, Paul and Henry went by wagon to Utica, NY to make these purchases. They also visited friends at another Episcopal congregation and worshipped with them.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 30 September 1879
Oakerhater writes from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Indain Agency in Indian Territory, telling Mrs. Burnham about his journey west via Wichita. He had an emotional reunion with family and friends, but was saddened that so many people he had known were now dead. He thanks her for her kindness to his wife and requests her financial assistance.
Postal Card to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham postmarked 8 October 1879
Oakerhater expresses his joy at seeing his fellow Cheyenne and at being reunited with his wife and son. He looks forward to seeing Mrs. Burnham in Syracuse, NY.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 19 October 1879
Oakerhater has returned to Wichita, KS with 29 Cheyenne and Arapaho children and his wife and son, in the company of Capt. Pratt. His wife and son will go to the House of the Good Shepherd in Syracuse, NY, where Mrs. Burnham is House Mother. He thinks often of Mrs. Burnham and hopes to see her soon.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 25 January 1880
Oakerhater is at school in Paris Hill, NY, where he is homesick for Indian Territory. He has received a letter from his cousin Little Chief wanting him to come home in the spring. Mrs. Burnham has urged him to stay in school, but he is torn betwenn his desire for education and his longing for home.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 1 February 1880
Oakerhater writes that he will follow Mrs. Burnham's wishes and stay in school. He is repairing his old soldier's coat to send to his brother in Indian Territory.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 9 April 1880
Mrs. Burnham is planning a trip to Carlisle Barracks Indian School in Pennsylvania, and Oakerhater asks her to check on his cousin and nephew who are studying there. He also requests money for a new hat and cape.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 6 June 1880
Oakerhater writes in great distress as his wife Nomee is very ill and he fears for her life. He is also concerned for his aged mother in Indian Territory. He wants very much to learn English well and to read about God, but has been unable to study because he is so worried about his wife and mother.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 24 November 1880
Oakerhater thanks Mrs. Burnham for her letter with news of his son, and assures her he is studying hard. He also gives her news of their friends in Paris Hill, NY.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 27 December 1880
This letter begins with a joyous description of Christmas preparations and celebrations, sleigh rides, and catalogues of gifts given and received (his favorite was a china cup and saucer from Miss Cora Wicks), but turns somber as he worries about his son, who has been ill for some time. He fears the child will not recover and wishes to see him again. [Unfortunately, his forebodings were accurate; his son died.]
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 17 January 1881
A letter of sympathy to Mrs. Burnham on the death of her brother, Mr. Saville.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 8 April 1881
Oakerhater is pleased that Mr. Wicks is planning for their mission work in Indian Territory, but is sad over the imminent death of his child, which he expects any day. He asks for Mrs. Burnham's prayers. He refers to the burial site of his wife, Nomie, who had died of the illness mentioned in an earlier letter.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 17 June 1881
David Pendleton has returned to Indian Territory, and he describes a touching reunion with his mother, who thinks at first that she is dreaming. He and Mr. Wicks conducted a service of Christian burial for the son of Cheyenne chief Big Horse.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 6 July 1881
Writing from Indian Territory, Oakerhater tells of much sickness in the Indian camps, and of his work telling his people about Jesus. He is tired from all the work but feels he is doing God's will. He apologizes that he has already spent the $20 she sent him for expenses, and asks her to pray about sending him more money. Mr. Wicks has been at the Kiowa Agency for two weeks, but has sent a post card promising to return the following week.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 30 July 1881
Thanks Mrs. Burnham profusely for the box of clothes she sent to the Indian Agency and relates how the goods were distributed. He sends her a message from his mother, who has decided to convert to Christianity. Apologizing, he asks her about money that one of his fellow Indian students, Shave Head, insists that Mrs. Burnham owes him.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 2 September 1881
Oakerhater gives Mrs. Burnham news of Paul Caryl Zotom, a Kiowa who had been at Fort Marion and at school with him. He was dismayed that Paul attended a "heathen" Medicine dance. [This probably refers to the Sun Dance, one of the most sacred Cheyenne ceremonies. Ironically, Oakerhater's Cheyenne name is translated both "Making Medicine" and "Sundancer."] The school children and teachers have returned to the Mission school. Oakerhater asks for Mrs. Burnham's advice on whether to build a hospital first, or a church and mission house. He leans toward the former, as most who fall ill prefer to be at home.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 6 October 1881
He thanks her for her letter, which he shared with his family, and encloses a message to her from his mother. The chiefs have asked him to be their interpreter at the Indian Agency.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 13 November 1881
David Pendleton Oakerhater tells of baptizing his brother's child, who was very ill, giving him the Christian name Charles Wesley Gardner. He asks Mrs. Burnham to pray for the child. He also describes the Cheyenne boys and girls who will soon be baptized. It is a very beautiful autumn, but the sighting of snow geese has lead some to predict a snowy winter.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 13 December 1881
He thanks Mrs. Burnham for her letter and for the Christmas box she sent, which they will open on Christmas day, and wishes her and his friends in the East a merry Christmas and happy new year.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 15 December 1881
He thanks Mrs. Burnham for her letter and for money she sent him. He read his letter to his Indian friends, who all imagine her to be a very tall, large woman. There are 120 students at the Cheyenne school.
Letter to an Episcopal Bishop dated 13 January 1882
Oakerhater writes to a Bishop [of New York?] asking his prayers for the "poor red people" and telling him of his evangelical work among the Cheyenne. He speaks rapturously of his own faith and hopes that "I will grow up in [God's] knowledge as the tall tree grows up, and up, and up."
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 27 February 1882
Mrs. Burnham has not answered David's last two letters, and he is afraid she is sick. He tells her that Mr. Wicks will baptize his mother the following week.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 22 March 1882
Oakerhater is glad to receive a letter from Mrs. Burnham, who is often in his thoughts, but is distressed to hear she will be going abroad for a year and a half.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 30 July 1883
Welcoming Mrs. Burnham home, he urges her to visit Indian Territory. Capt. Pratt is coming in September to recruit more Cheyenne students for the Carlisle school. Oakerhater rides the countryside visiting the sick. The buffalo are all gone, so the Indians have turned to farming, trying to grow corn.
Letter to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 6 June 1885
Oakerhater thanks Mrs. Burnham for the barrel of supplies sent by the ladies of All Saints Episcopal Church and tells her of his efforts to convert his people to Christianity. His new wife, Susie, was very happy to receive the presents from back East. They are happy to have an adopted daughter, Julia, who was the niece of Oakerhater's first wife, Minnie.
Letter from Susie Pendleton to Mrs. Mary D. Burnham dated 8 July 1885
David's new wife writes to thank Mrs. Burnham for the linens and cutlery she sent, and tells her of a visit to the Wicks family.

Richard Henry Pratt Letters

Captain Richard Henry Pratt was the Commander of Fort Marion when Oakerhater was a prisoner there, the founder the Carlisle Indian School that Oakerhater attended. and a leader in the Assimilation movement. A progressive and deeply moral man, he had great respect and compassion for the Indians under his charge, and saw them as fellow human beings, not as the savages most people at the time believed them to be. He wanted desperately to save them from genocide, and the only way he saw to do this was by educating them and assimilating them into white society. A devout Christian, Pratt also felt it was his sacred duty to "save their souls" by converting them to his faith. These letters to Mrs. Burnham describe his efforts to convince the President and Cabinet that the Indians should be educated and taught to live as whites did rather than bsing exterminated, and his dream of starting schools to educate Indian children and adults.

1878

Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 4 April 1878
Captain Pratt writes from Fort Marion in St. Augustine, thanking her for agreeing to take three of the Indian prisoners who are to be released into her home. He informs her that Mrs. Pendleton wishes to take Making Medicine (Oakerhater) to Ohio, and has offered to pay for his education. He mentions arrangements made for other Indians, and reports that Felix R. Brunot (Chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners) is in St. Augustine and has promised to speak to the President about Pratt's hopes for his former prisoners.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 6 April 1878
Pratt writes that he is sending an Indian girl, Ah-ker, and three men, led by Zotom, to Mrs. Pratt. He may send Making Medicine to her, if Mrs. Pendleton agrees,
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 17 April 1878
Pratt writes from Indianapolis, where Ah-ker has fallen ill. He forwards the luggage and a package for Making Medicine from his brother. He send his regards to Making Medicine, Shave Head, Zotom, and "T" (Taawayite), who are staying with her.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 22 April 1878
Pratt writes to thank Mrs. Burnham for a letter of support she sent him and asks to be remembered to the "boys," urging them to recall that "God helps those who help themselves."
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 27 April 1878
Pratt writes from Logansport, Indiana, to alert Mrs Pratt to his imminent journey to Syracuse, NY, when he will visit her and her charges.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 1 May 1878
Pratt is in Jamestown, NY, and looks forward to a trip to Niagara. He reports on his efforts to gain financial support for Indian education at prayer meetings in Indiana with varying results. He is happy to relate that General [William Tecumseh] Sherman and the Secretary of War visited the school at Hampton, Virginia, which helped to lessen Sherman's opposition to Indian education and assimilation.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 8 May 1878
Pratt wites from the train on which he is traveling to Washington DC, from Leavenworth, KS, where he has been meeting with Chief Joseph and other Nez Perce leaders. His pleas to take 50 of their men back East to school were refused, but he has not given up. He receives good reports from Fort Sill on the returned Cheyenne and Kiowa, but has little regard for the new Kiowa agent. He is excited at the prospect of spending the night at home in Lafayette, IN, with his wife and daughters.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 9 May 1878
In another brief letter written from the train, Pratt lets Mrs Burnham know that in his official report he has said that the men in her care are in Syracuse under the auspices of Bishop Whipple.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 29 May 1878
Pratt is concerned beacuse he has not heard from Mrs Burnham for five or six days. He is in Washington DC, but is departing for Leavenworth, KS, to bring 50 Nez Perce youth back to the school at Hampton, VA, with the endorsement of the President and Secretary of War.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 20 June 1878
Pratt writes from Washington DC to thank Mrs Burnham for sending him a picture of her "boys" and a letter written by David Oakerhater for her [news?]paper, which had made a very favorable impression on the Secretary of War and the Adjutant Generals.

1879

Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 22 February 1879
Pratt writes from the Hampton Institute, speaking of his plans for Carlisle school and for work-study programs on nearby farms, giving Mrs. Burnham news of the Indians who had returned to Oklahoma, and reported on the baptisms of eleven men.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 15 March 1879
Pratt reports that the Secretary of War and Senator Allison of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Indian committee, had visited him at Hampton and were supportive of the plans for Carlisle. He also seeks her advice regarding kitchen staff, and mentions that he is sending one of the Indians from the school to work at the Smithsonian Institution under Professor Baird.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 17 August 1879
Pratt writes from Hampton to report that the Carlisle school will be established in the fall, with 100 students, and to urge Mrs Burnham to accompany him on a trip to Indian Territory [Oklahoma].
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 21 August 1879
Pratt writes from DC that "Carlisle is ours, and the enemy routed." A postscript, by Pratt or another correspondent, reports the death of a beloved sister.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 28 August 1879
Writing from the train between New York and Washington, Pratt is on his way to a meeting about the building of Carlisle. He inquires about Oakerhater's wardrobe for the trip west.

1880

Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 9 February 1880
Pratt writes of his efforts to build Carlisle School up to 350-400 Indian youths. One of the students (Squint Eyes) who has been assisting ethnologists at the Smithsonian is going home and will be replaced by Etahdleuh. Pratt is upset that employees at the Smithsonian having been getting Squint Eyes drunk, and has warned Etahdleuh accordingly.

1881

Order from R. H. Pratt dated 10 January 1881
Order for a Council of Justice meeting at the Carlisle Barracks Indian Training School to investigate alleged misconduct by Henry Pratt Taawayite.
Charges against Henry Taawaite [sic] written by George Gates, dated 10 January 1881
Taawayite is charged with disobeying orders, including refusing to work in the blacksmith shop, by the Disciplinarian of the Indian Training School.
Transcript of hearing of Henry Taawaite [sic] written by B. S. Reynolds, dated 10 January 1881
Taawayite pleads guilty to the charges and apologizes but explains (in Comanche) that he is very homesick and misses his family, whom he has not seen in five years. He is sentenced to make a public confession before the school, acknowledging his past misdeeds and promising to amend his conduct in future.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 9 May 1881
Pratt writes from Carlisle that Henry [Taawayite] is departing for Indian Territory.
Letter to Mrs Mary Burnham dated 31 May 1881
Pratt agrees with Mrs Burnham that it will be easier for her to pay travel expenses for Rev. Wicks and two of the Indians. He will collect the receipts and have the government reimburse her.
Letter to Bishop Huntington of New York dated 6 June 1881
Pratt expresses regret that his duties at Carlisle will prevent him from attending the ordination of David Oakerhater and Paul Zotom on June 7, 1881.
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