S. Carrie Thomson
Though the sanitarium being established near Tecumseh and Shawnee is the outgrowth of an early mission school, there have been two distinct institutions working hormoniously side by side through many years: The Shawnee Mission or Indian Mission and the Friends’ Shawnee Mission.
In 1871 or 1872 (the exact date seems obscure) the Society of Friends with a view to Christianizing the Shawnee Indians established a mission on their reservation about two miles south of the present southern boundary of the city of Shawnee. The Indians hauled native lumber from a mill at the Sac and Fox Agency, a distance of thirty-five miles, to erect the first building which was 14x18 feet partitioned into two rooms; the one to be used for day school and religious meetings; the other to constitute the entire living room, kitchen, dining and sleeping apartments for the missionary and his family.
The first missionary was Joseph Newsom. His family consisted of his wife, Martha, and four children, M. Emma, Lysias E., Eldon and Ellsworth.
A mission day school was opened with seven pupils with Joseph Newsom and daughter, M. Emma, teaching alternately. Two of the seven who were present the first day survive: Thomas Wildcat Alford and Susan Foreman, now Wilson. Several others who entered later are living.
The attendance gradually increased and as the older people became interested enough to attend, the meetings were held on Sunday.
In 1875 the U. S. Government took over the day school and for a time the school was taught in a log cabin owned by a U. S. Indian trader, Miss Eva Hasket teacher, until such a time as the Government buildings were ready for occupancy.
The Society of Friends, however, continued their labors so that the purely religious education of the Indians might be maintained. They were greatly assisted in their efforts by the cooperation of the Government employees; for it was the policy of
the Interior Department, until 1885, to appoint agent, teachers, and other employees from those of the Friends’ faith or those who were in close sympathy with them.
A new log cabin was built less than a quarter of a mile south of the first building on the site where now stands the brick Government building known as the Boys’ Dormitory. The first missionaries to occupy this building were Elkana Beard and his wife. Meetings or church services were well attended and much interest aroused. From these meetings grew what was designated, "Shawneetown Monthly Meetings" and later "Shawneetown Monthly Meetings of Friends."
In the latter part of 1879 Beard and his wife were succeeded by Franklin Elliott and wife who built another log cabin for their family and later the little church or meeting house which still stands and which was dedicated, September 27, 1885. During the Elliotts’ time the mission work was extended to other tribes.
In 1885 Dr. Charles Kirke and wife, Rachel Kirke, succeeded the Elliotts, coming from mission work of the Society of Friends in other parts of the Indian Territory. Dr. Kirke became superintendent of Friends’ Mission work in the Indian Territory and was well qualified for the position. The membership continued to grow and as Oklahoma was settled by white people many of them affiliated with the society.
Dr. Kirke who had been a missionary for fifteen years died in the work, September, 1893, and was buried in the Shawnee Mission cemetery. His wife, Rachel Kirke, continued the work until she died January, 1918, and was buried beside her husband. Mrs. Kirke was a missionary for thirty-seven years.
In October, 1894, George N. Hartley with his wife, L. Ella Hartley, came to be superintendent of Friends’ Missions and carried on the work until they went to Palestine, early in 1904, returning in March, they resigned in September the same year.
William P. Haworth and his wife, Abigail C. Haworth then were in charge from 1904 till 1914 when they were succeeded by Clark Brown and his wife, Elma T. Brown. The Government school closed in 1919 and with the going of the teachers and other employes and the pupils there seemed to be only a few to
attend and so the interest in the meetings waned. Mr. and Mrs. Clark left for another field.
The last of the missionaries, Lawrence E. Lindley, and his wife, Amelia R. Lindley remained from 1920 till 1923. They made a careful survey of the community, of the facilities for continuing the work as well as the handicaps and reported the same to the Associated Executive Committee of Indian Affairs. In 1923 there was a decrease in the support from Friends of the various Yearly Meetings and the committee found it necessary to close some missions among the Indians and decided that the Shawnee Mission needed their help less than any of the other Friends’ missions in Oklahoma. One reason for this decision was that the growing town of Shawnee gave increasing opportunities for Christian fellowship.
In June, 1923, financial support was withdrawn by the Associated Executive Committee, the mission property was offered for sale, Mr. and Mrs. Lindley departed for other fields and in the words of Thomas Wildcat Alford, "The end of Shawnee Mission had come."
But it was only seemingly, for six months later, Charles Wooten, who had been a missionary for fifteen years among the Indians, through a great desire to prevent the old mission from falling into the hands of people not interested, felt drawn to purchase a part of the property and make his home there.
In June 1924 another Sunday school was organized with only eleven present with officers and teachers all Indians, except the secretary, Orville Wooten. Mrs. Jennie Meeks was made superintendent and Thomas Alford, one of the seven in the first day school, teacher of the Bible class. A son and daughter of Mr. Alford are also teachers.
The Sunday school has been growing in interest and attendance until it seems that the work of the Shawnee Mission has revived.
—S. Carrie Thomson.