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 4, No. 3
September, 1926


An old one-time palatial structure, built in 1886, that stands on a hillside four miles north of Skiatook, a large addition to this building and a common burial ground in which are buried prominent Cherokees—these are the remnants of a once-flourishing pioneer school where remarkable men and women were educated in the wilds of what is now Tulsa County and what is to-day known by the name of "Hillside Mission."

The story of the building of this Mission and the efforts of the Friends Society of Philadelphia in establishing a school for the Indians in the then wilderness of the Indian Territory is one of the most interesting of all the long struggles of the white man in his attempts to educate and civilize the Red Man.

No story of the Mission would be complete without a reference to the good men and women who managed the Mission and who taught the boys and girls who came there in search of knowledge. And during all these years there was one man who had an interest in the Mission and who to-day owns the grounds and the buildings, Mr. Simon M. Abbott.

Mr. Abbott came to Oklahoma in 1880. He settled on Tiner Creek about five miles north of what later came to be the Mission. He engaged in farming and the cattle business. He loved the woods and the streams, having been reared by a father who had been captured by the Delawares and who was adopted by the tribe and who spent seven years among them. In later life he became an Indian trader. With his carry-all, pulled by four horses, he traded goods to the Indians for furs. He spoke several Indian dialects. On one occasion, Mr. Abbott remembers that his father returned from an Indian trading trip with a trunk full of gold. The trunk was nine inches long, four inches wide and six inches deep. Mr. Abbott also has a bullet moulder that was given him by the Indians. This mould is in the shape of a mule hoof; it is five inches wide on the under side, three inches on the upper, two inches wide and one and one-half inches thick. The hole in which the bullets were moulded is still plainly visible. These relics

Page 224

are treasured by Mr. Abbott who keeps them in a desk, over a century old, in one of the musty rooms in the oldest section of this ancient, roomy structure, the shrine of many pilgrims, —"Hillside Mission:"

John Murdock was the pioneer founder of Hillside Mission. In 1882, this traveling missionary was sent here by the Friends Association of Philadelphia. Like William Penn, he held meetings in the groves and immediately had considerable success. There were few white people here at that time; but all the mixed-bloods and most of the full-bloods understood and talked some English.

Murdock proposed to build a permanent church. The few who first gathered to hear him agreed to aid him The forest was the only source of building material; he shouldered his broad-ax and marched like a hero into the primeval forest, followed closely by his faithful, fightless followers. They felled the trees and Murdock hewed the logs. A fine set was soon hewed, ready to haul out and raise. This work was soon done. Then they felled a great oak, rived clapboards and covered the church. In this rough structure, without doors or floors, they worshipped. After a time they split puncheons and made a door and laid a floor.

This structure answered well for the summer time, but as winter drew near these devout worshippers found it necessary to chink the cracks. A log-rolling was held and on the logs a kiln of lime was burned. With this lime, sand was mixed, and the cracks were plastered with the mixture. This building was raised on what is known as the Vance place, on Bird Creek.

When the church was completed, the Friends, under Murdock’s leadership, proceeded to build a parsonage. They erected it in much the same way as they had the church, but did not build it alongside the church, as is done so often to-day.

We would suppose that all the troubles had been passed, but not so. Every wilderness enterprise has its vicissitudes and opposition. The location of the church proved unhealthful. The region was infested with malaria; and the mosquitoes multiplied so much faster than converts that Murdock found it impractical to carry out his cherished idea of founding a school on the site. He believed that to convert the Indians permanently a school should be established in connection with

Page 225

the Mission. The site was insanitary; but to test it out; he sent to Arkansas and procured a young lady teacher. The enrollment included a dozen greasy urchins. We say "greasy" because the children had learned that by mixing certain pigments with coon grease and applying this mixture, mosquitoes would not bother them so much. But not so with the teacher. After heroically battling the singing and stinging insects for two weeks, her face and hands looked as though she had a severe case of measles.

In the meantime, Murdock made a fair showing of converts, mostly children. He made a report and sent it to the association at Philadelphia with a request for funds with which to build a better school building. The funds were promptly sent.

In the spring of 1884, Murdock called together the following faithful followers: William Lloyd, Bill Cannon, and a man by the name of Galliger. They hauled lumber from Coffeyville, Kansas, this being the nearest railroad point where lumber could be secured. It took five days to make the trip, and sometimes when Caney River was high, it took two weeks or more before they could ford the stream.

The present site of Hillside Mission was selected for the school. The south side of the Mission was built. A substantial church house was also constructed about eighty feet west of the present house. Malaria and mosquitoes were not so bad on this high location and moreover the mosquitoes could be screened out of the frame building, while they swarmed through the cracks of the log houses. Malaria was checked by the use of quinine, which folks took with as much nonchalance as they did a chew of tobacco.

From 1884 to 1885 there was quite an influx of "non-citizens," they were called. They were permitted by the Indians to farm for them, and this policy was sanctioned by the government. Most of these settlers had families and were glad to take advantage of Murdock’s school, even to the extent of paying board and tuition for their children. Thus the school became a success, both religiously and financially. It was patronized from every point of the compass within a radius of fifty miles or more.

It was John Murdock who conceived the plan of the school and who had carried it out successfully. Murdock re-

Page 226

sembled Lincoln. His feet were nowise inferior in size, nor was he less angular or ungainly. He was about as tall as Lincoln. He had a large head, a long thin face, prominent jaw, straight aquiline nose, with a prominent wart on one side. Eyes of mild blue, verging on gray, but always carrying an appeal to mercy in them. "Those eyes had more personal magnetism than any I have seen since as a child I gazed into the eyes of Abe Lincoln," says Mr. Abbott. "Like Lincoln, he had perfect control over his temper—he could plow steers among grubs and never swear." Murdock was eloquent in expounding the scriptures, and the Indians believed in him.

After Murdock had built the school, he was ordered west by the Association. He was succeeded by John Watson.

In the year 1886, John Murdock was supplanted by John Watson in missionary affairs at Hillside. He brought his wife, generally known as "Aunt Liza," and two daughters, the elder, known as Miss Eva, and the other, fresh from college, known as Miss Elma. Miss Eva was a real school ma’am.

Shortly after Watson’s advent into the Mission, he decided to enlarge the dormitory. He hauled lumber from Coffeyville, Kansas, and built the west wing of the dormitory at his own expense. This addition is said to have cost $1200.00. About this time the school room became inadequate for the housing of the pupils; hence, Mr. Watson found it necessary to enlarge it by annexing another building of equal dimension. Thus equipped, every part of the system moved along serenely for three years more. The quarters were, however, too small to accommodate the growing settlement. Prominent friends came from the east to visit the school.

About the year 1894, a fund was raised by the eastern committee to erect the north wing, or the last part of the present standing dormitory, which is about 40 by 70 feet and four stories high, counting basement and attic. The attic was finished up in one large room and was used as a gymnasium. This was probably the first gymnasium in Oklahoma. The basement contained two large rooms, one used as a primary department and the other for the boys’ living room, and also as a bath room. The water tank used as a reservoir, together with the bathtub, is preserved intact. Every boy who sat in that living room burned his initials upon the wall

Page 227

with a red hot poker, as there are yards upon yards of initials of all descriptions and kinds on the wall to this day. The ground floor above the basement is divided into four rooms and a hallway. The central room, with the bay window facing the east, was Uncle John Watson’s private room where he prepared his sermons. The first room on the right of the hall at the entrance was a guest chamber. The room at north end of the hall was reception room, and the northeast room was another guest chamber. On the second floor is a hall the entire length of the structure, with sleeping rooms on either side. This was the girls’ sleeping apartment. The west wing before mentioned and built by John Watson, is about 18 by 50 feet, is two stories high with a cellar beneath. The ground floor contains two rooms, the east room for storage quarters and the west one a dining room. On the south side of the dining room there is a long room, about 20 by 60 feet and two stories high. The ground floor was used for all public occasions, for a conference, a festival, or anything of a public nature that required a large room. On the upper floor are sleeping apartments. Then comes the south wing, built by Murdock, two stories high with the upper floor divided into sleeping apartments, and a parlor and private room below. The entire structure contains twenty-four rooms, counting basement and cellar. Quite a good-sized structure for those early days.

The church house has long since disappeared. A part of it was sold, taken three miles east of the old site and converted into a farmhouse. The other part was moved four chains north where it was used as a church for a time, but was wrecked so much in moving that it became unsafe. Six years ago it was torn down and such material as was good was used in the construction of the new edifice that graces Hillside Mission. Only the dormitory of the Mission remains intact. It was sold by the trustees in Philadelphia to Mr. Simon M. Abbott, who resides here.

The deed to the four acres that comprise the site of the Mission was executed in Philadelphia. Mr. S. M. Abbott paid $300.00 for the four acres and the pile of buildings. The deed was signed by Walter Smedley, Charles J. Rhoads, Jonathan M. Steele, Alfred J. Scattergood and Thomas Smedley as trustees of the Associated Executive Committee of the Friends

Page 228

Society of Indian Affairs, Philadelphia. This land was never allotted, but was transferred direct by the government to the Friends Society at Philadelphia.

Hillside Mission became such a prominent school center because it was the only school in this region. But when the allotment of Indian lands took place the Mission began to lose its position. School sites were purchased in the surrounding villages and in the country, and school houses were erected. Free public schools had come and the Mission, with nearly all patronage gone, dwindled along for a time and then finally died out entirely. But during its time the Mission teachers trained many of the most prominent men of this section of the state. The school was attended by Cherokees, Shawnees and Osages, and many white children also attended here. Board and lodging were $8.00 per month.

In 1885, Hillside cemetery was founded. In this year, a seventeen-year old boy by the name of Jesse Robenett died. Murdock called a meeting of the members to decide on a location for a cemetery. The present site of the cemetery was selected then Jesse R.obenett was the first of twelve hundred who have been buried there.

Among the noted Indians who have been buried at Hillside Mission are Chief W. C. Rogers and Chief George Tiner. Both of these men were powers in their day. Many of their relatives live in and near Skiatook.

Up to the time of the establishing of Hillside Cemetery, there were no cemeteries in the country. The Indians had their own burial places close to their houses. On the Tom White farm one-half mile north of Skiatook, there is a private cemetery with a dozen graves plowed over each season and no one is the wiser. There are lone graves all over Tulsa County in which sleep men who have been killed in fights or brawls.

In those early days, it took religious zeal to generate the desire to establish schools in this wilderness. But an instance of such enthusiasm for an institution of this kind was manifested by the Friends Society of Philadelphia that resulted in the founding of Hillside Mission. This old landmark is a testimonial to the religious zeal and educational ideas of the successors of William Penn who got on with the Indians. This good fellowship of colonial days was reproduced in the early days at Hillside Mission.

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site