By Fred G. Watts1
A young New Yorker, Almon C. Bacone, came to Tahlequah in 1878 to work with the Cherokee Male Seminary. After two years he decided that a Baptist school should be established. He resigned his position and obtained permission to start a school in the Baptist Mission House at Tahlequah. The new school opened on February 9, 1880, with three students. In 1881 he petitioned the Creek Council at Okmulgee to give a grant of land on which to erect a school. At first his request was denied but later the request was granted through the insistence of William McCombs and a grant of one hundred and sixty acres was made. A committee, consisting of J. S. Murrow, Daniel Rogers, and A. C. Bacone, was appointed by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society to select a site. The school was opened near Muskogee in the spring of 1883. Several years after the death of Bacone the name was changed from Indian University to Bacone College.2 On June 5, 1885, A. C. Bacone, from the committee on Education, submitted the following resolution to the Baptist Convention:
"Resolved, that the officers and executive committee of this Convention be appointed a committee to seek out from our churches, Christian young men and women to encourage their education and so far as possible, secure necessary aid for them, that we may be able to raise up trained workers for this territory."3
The committee appointed was composed of A. C. Bacone, Samuel Rice, and B. F. Alley. At this same Convention a
2J. W. Jent, Oklahoma Baptist University Silver Anniversary Bulletin, February 22. 1937; E. C. Routh, The Story of Oklahoma Baptists (Oklahoma City, 1932), pp. 45, 56-57; Seventeenth Annual Catalogue . . . of Indian University . . . Bacone . . 1896-1897, p 9.
3Proceedings of the Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, June 5, 1885, held in the Creek Nation, Hillibee Baptist Church, Indian Territory.
resolution was passed commending the work of Indian University, now Bacone College, located at Muskogee, Indian Territory. It was then, and still is, under the supervision of the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York.
Succeeding conventions reported progress and continued to formulate plans for wider service as evidenced by the report at the meeting of September 13 and 14, 1889, which was held with the Atoka Baptist church, which report recommended "the mission schools of Muskogee, Tahlequah, Sasakwa, Atoka, Levering Mission, Kulli-Iuli, and Anadarko." At the same time "Brother ReQuah spoke of the desire of Lone Wolf, Chief of the Kiowas, to have a school among his people."4
Among the names frequently mentioned in the early period were those of W. P. Blake, D. N. Crane, A. J. Holt, and C. Stubblefield, who became active in forming policies for the white Baptist schools also.
The convention of 1889 deplored the death of A. C. Bacone and also passed a resolution which recognized the need for Baptist schools for white children in the Territory.5 At the next meeting held with the South McAlester, Indian Territory, First Baptist church, a resolution was adopted which invited white students to attend Baptist schools of the territories and asked that five members of the Board of Trustees of Indian University be nominated by the Territorial Convention.6
The minutes show that the name of the assembly was changed to "The Baptist Convention of Oklahoma and Indian Territories" at Duncan, Indian Territory, June 15-18, 1898. At the first meeting of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, succeeding the Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention of Indian and
4Proceeding of the Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention of Indian Territory, September 13-14, 1889.
5Minutes of the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention of Oklahoma and Indian Territories, held with the First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory, June 25, 27, 1889.
Oklahoma Territories, a resolution was passed recommending a committee to "Thoroughly investigate the need of the field, the methods of organization of institutions of higher learning and present a plan for the organization of a Baptist College."7 They also resolved to ask aid and advice from the American Baptist Home Mission Society and the American Baptist Educational Society. The Committee appointed was composed of judge W. H. Anderson, Chairman, Enid, L. H. Buxton, Oklahoma City, C. W. Brewer, Norman, Rev. Job Ingram, Kingfisher, and R. W. Ramsey, Guthrie.
A second period begins with the Oklahoma Baptist College, which was finally located at Blackwell, Oklahoma, after bids had been received from several other cities. This town was chosen because its progressive citizens recognized the value of such an institution to such extent as to back up their belief with a substantial bonus and because it was a "beautiful little city of 4,500 population, with water works, electricity, sewers, and natural gas. All the leading denominations of Christians are represented and have good houses of worship. It is in the center of one of the richest agricultural regions in the world, and is reached by rail from six directions."8
The first board of trustees consisted of W. A. Rowe, Chandler, Oklahoma Territory; J. M. Via, Braman, Oklahoma Territory, W. N. Sandusky, Shoner, Oklahoma Territory, A. B. Kirk, Kremlin, Oklahoma Territory, T. E. Donaldson, N. J. Davis, R. J. Nesbitt, Walter Pruett, J. M. Sester, J. C. Day, George T. Jones, and A. Catlett.
On December 4, 1899, the Board chose W. N. Sandusky, J. M. Via, A. B. Kirk, W. A. Rowe, and R. J. Nesbitt as a building committee "to adopt plans and specifications and erect a building."9 After many meetings and much planning, the corner stone for the new building was laid October 13, 1900.
7Minutes of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, which met at the First Baptist Church, Enid, Oklahoma Territory, in June, 1889.
Professor James A. Beauchamp was elected President, February 21, 1901, and on September 4 of that same year the college was opened for work. The State Convention met in October, 1902, at Enid, and during the convention, on October 13, went en masse to Blackwell and formally dedicated the building.
With high hopes the program was launched, but President Beauchamp resigned in 1903. M. P. Hurst acted as chairman of the faculty until August 2, 1904, when A. P. Stone was elected president and occupied the position until September, 1908, when Dr. J. R. Jester was elected "at a salary of $2,000 the year." Dr. Jester served only one year, and Dr. J. H. Moore was elected to succeed him.
The election of Dr. Moore marks the beginning of the end for Oklahoma Baptist College. He made a splendid effort to unify the forces in Oklahoma, but gave up in despair in 1910. He resigned to lead some of his faculty and students to a new venture at Oklahoma City. The new school was called Carey College and lasted some four weeks. This was a year of such severe drought and business depressions that, with the closing of this young school, Dr. Moore left the state. However, the library of Carey College finally found its way to Oklahoma Baptist University and is there at present.
Doctor Anderson E. Bateman officiated until the close of the Blackwell school, which marks the end of another chapter in the struggle of Oklahoma Baptists for religious education.
Of those who fought so heroically for Christian education in those pioneer days, only a few can be mentioned. Some have passed on, others are still helping to carry on; A. G. West, Dr. W. A. Wood, Dr. J. T. Lee, father of Senator Josh Lee (a former student at Oklahoma Baptist College), Dr. J. A. Sutton, Dr. W. D. Moorer, Rev. John F. Elder, Rev. J. W. Solomon, father of Dean L. E. Solomon of Oklahoma Baptist University, O. M. Swain, C. M. and D. N. Curb, and many others.
The tragic end may be described in the words of the last
report given to the Board of Trustees of Oklahoma Baptist College. It said in part:
"The sad history of Baptist Educational affairs in this state should not cause our people to relax their interest in Baptist schools. We should rally our forces and double our energies and build up a strong school system in this good Commonwealth.
"It is true the college which we have had the honor to serve as trustees is lost; it is true our hearts have for long seasons carried awful burdens because of conditions that threaten the very life of the beloved institution; it is true many hours of day and night have been spent in prayer to God for deliverance; it is true the signal of distress and calls of help have gone out time and again to the denomination at large; it is true our souls have drunk the very drugs of disappointment, akin to despair; yet, we, the members of your Board of Trustees, have come through it all without bitterness of feeling, and with a spirit of repining. God reigns, we are his people. We believe in him. Let us take courage and join hands and hearts in some constructive, fraternal and cooperative movement to build up in our beloved state a system of educational work that shall secure the confidence of our entire brotherhood and the blessings of Jehovah God."10
And so ends the second period of our story.
The third phase begins with the birth of Oklahoma Baptist University. The Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory Conventions were consolidated at Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1906, and at that meeting an Educational Commission was appointed to "study carefully and impartially existing educational conditions as they affect our denominational interest." The Commission made a report one year later, 1907, at Ardmore as follows:
"We find that our present school equipment is wholly insufficient to meet the demands of the denomination, for the reason that upon investigation we find that there are more than 700 Baptist young men and women (upon a conservative estimate) who are receiving their higher education in our state schools other than denominational schools . . . . Your commission in view of these facts, took into consideration the question of the advisability of the establishment of a new institution of higher learning, and passed the following
10Report of the Board of Trustees of Oklahoma State Baptist College, given at Chickasha, Oklahoma, 1913.
resolution by unanimous vote: 'That it be the sense of this Commission that as soon as practicable a new Baptist University be established.' "11
A board of trustees was approved November 11, 1908, consisting of the following members:12 W. P. Blake, Okmulgee, George E. McKinnis, Shawnee, J. L. H. Hawkins, Mangum, W. W. Chancellor, McAlester, W. S. Wiley, Muskogee, William Crawford, Cherokee, C. W. Brewer, Okemah, R. E. Hamilton, Kingfisher, E. A. Wesson, Hobart, E. D. Cameron, Guthrie, Dr. H. C. Todd, Oklahoma City, J. W. Jennings, Altus, A. G. Washburn, McAlester, J. A. Scott, Oklahoma City, and J. B. Garrison, Oklahoma City.
Several towns, among them Lawton, El Reno, Shawnee, Chickasha, Blackwell, and Hobart, submitted offers which were considered, and later Sulphur, Guthrie, and Oklahoma City. Finally, in 1910, the school was located at Shawnee, a city which "occupies a unique place in the history of our state. It is neither in the old Indian Territory nor the Oklahoma Territory; it was located in the Pottawatomie Nation . . . . Therefore it is not only centrally located, but is a place where all forces can easily unite."13 In that year the board of trustees were as follows: Sherman Moore, Frederick, W. S. Wiley, Muskogee, F. M. Masters, Ardmore, W. A. Moffitt, Erick, D. Noble Crane, Pawhuska, L. C. Wolfe, Shawnee, A. G. Washburn, McAlester, P. J. Conkwright, Sapulpa, Forrest Maddox, El Reno, R. E. Cornelius, Hugo, George W. Sherman, Chickasha, E. A. Wesson, Hobart, Walter Taylor, Shawnee, A. M. Croxton, Ada, J. H. Scott, Alva, J. W. Jennings, Altus, F. M. Overlees, Bartlesville, George L. Hale, Oklahoma City, W. P. Blake, Shawnee (Chairman), George E. McKinnis (Secretary), Robert Hamilton, Watonga, C. W. Brewer, Okemah, D. N. Curb, Mangum, and William Crawford, Weatherford.14
It was further reported that the City of Shawnee had providad a bonus of sixty acres of ground "worth one thousand dollars per
acre, and a cash bonus of one hundred thousand dollars." The contract has been faithfully carried out and the city continues heartily to support the school with both influence and money.
The Charter also provided for absolute control of the school by the Convention. On February 10, 1910, the Board elected W. P. Blake, W. S. Wiley, E. A. Wasson, J. A. Scott, and George E. McKinnis, with instructions to "adopt plans, employ an architect and let the contract for the erection of an Administration building." Charles Sudhoelter and Company, Muskogee, were employed as architects, and, one June 3, 1910, a contract was entered into which included C. R. Higgins and C. R. Furnas, contractors and builders of Shawnee, for the erection of the Administration building to cost $94,660, exclusive of architects' fees, lighting, heating, and furnishings. W. P. Blake was appointed to have supervision over the building.
The corner stone was not laid until February 22, 1911. The inscription on the corner stone reads: "The Baptist University of Okla[homa], founded 1910, A.D., Board of Trusttees: W. P. Blake, Chairman, W. S. Wiley, F. M. Masters, W. A. Moffitt, D. Noble Crane, L. C. Wolfe, A. C. Washburn, P. J. Conkwright, G. E. McKinnis, Secretary, G. Maddox, R. E. Cornelius, G. W. Sherman, E. A. Wesson, S. Moore, D. N. Curb, William Crawford, E. D. Cameron, W. Taylor, A. M. Croxton, J. H. Jennings, F. M. Overlees, George L. Hale, Robert Hamilton, Corner stone laid Feb. 22, 1911, A.D." At this time William Crawford was the principal speaker. Addresses were also made by Rev. George L. Hale, Rev. A. M. Hall, Rev. M. Hall Snodgrass, Dr. A. J. Holt, of the Baptist Oklahoman, Rev. W. L. Marks, of the Word and Way, Dr. Bruce Kinney, of the Home Mission Society, and Dr. J. F. Love of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Concention.15
Although the building was not completed that year, the Board felt that the University should open in September and arranged to begin the session with temporary quarters in the First Baptist Church, Convention Hall, and Shawnee High School. Dr. J. M.
Carroll of Waco, Texas, was chosen president, who in turn chose a splendid faculty. Because of lukewarm attitudes, drought, and general depressed business conditions, the school suspended operations at the end of the first school year, leaving the Baptists without an institution of higher learning.
Here may be mentioned two other attempts at establishing schools. The story of the first one began as follows:
"The Southwestern Association of Congregational Churches founded at Hastings, Oklahoma, 1903, a preparatory school, was sold by order of court to satisfy claims of the creditors. The Baptist people of Hastings, assisted by the citizens, purchased the property and tendered it to Comanche and Mullens County Associations at their respective sessions of 1907, on condition that these associations finish the building and maintain a school . . . .
The name 'Hastings Baptist College' was chosen for this institution. School opened October 28, 1907, under the auspices of the Hastings Baptist Church, with Rev. C. R. Hairfield, the pastor, president. The enrollment of the first day was 29, but before the close of the session more than one hundred had matriculated. At the close of the session Rev. C. R. Hairfield resigned the presidency and Rev. R. A. Rushing was elected to this position and served one year. When the Board of Trustees came to Charter the school it was agreed that a name more suited to the location and environment should be given it, and it was Chartered as the Southwest Baptist College."16
In 1910 it was decided to move the school to Mangum, Oklahoma, since the school was in debt and the First Baptist Church at Mangum had a building sufficiently large in which to begin a college. Reverend J. L. H. Hawkins was pastor and president, and the school succeeded in running until 1913, when it, too, closed its doors forever. In this venture some six hundred students received instruction and approximately one hundred thousand dollars was expended.
In 1913 J. W. Harreld reported the status of the educational program to the state Baptist Convention as follows:
"Your Educational Commission begs leave to report that we have been unable to make much progress since the last meeting of this Convention, though we have had several meetings and have tried our best to carry out the instructions given us
at the last Convention, and to make effective the policy adopted by you at that time. In spite of our efforts Oklahoma Baptist College at Blackwell has been compelled to suspend (sic) because of financial difficulties, and is no more, The Southwestern College at Mangum has also suspended and at this time we have no school system which we adopted several years ago, except the college at Shawnee, which is suffering from a case of suspended animation, but which we believe is now in position to grow into the great college we have so long hoped for."17
Oklahoma Baptist University opened its doors once more in the autumn of 1915 at Shawnee. It occupied the new administration building which had just been completed.18 According to the report made to the Convention that year "the results of the session were very gratifying."19
A new president, Dr. F. M. Masters. was elected in that year. Associated with him were the following faculty members: Dr. F. Erdman Smith, dean, Dr. W. D. Moorer, J. N. Owens, Dr. J. W. Jent, and W. T. Short. Lack of space prevents giving details of the administrations of Presidents J. A. Tolman, J. B. Lawrence, W. W. Phelan, W. C. Boone, Hale V. Davis, and John W. Raley, each of whom has contributed his share to the progress of the institution.
19"Report of the Oklahoma Baptist University to the Baptist General Convention," Proceedings of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, 1916.