Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 19, No. 2
June, 1941

By Richard H. Harper

Part III

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The Reformed Church in America had entered this Indian country in 1895, to work with the red men, and did not plan to establish work among white people. However, as the years went by requests were made of this denomination to place ministers in localities inhabited by whites.

Responding to this call from the west, in June, 1900, four young men who were theological students in the Reformed Church Seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey, were sent to Oklahoma by the Board of Domestic Missions of the Reformed Church in America, whose headquarters were, and now are, in New York City. The young men sent to this new mission field in the west were John Meengs, P. P. Chaff, T. Mulder and Howard Furbeck. They went forth to preach and sing the gospel wherever an opportunity presented itself. Their task was a challenging one. It needed men with courage, ability, tact; and, most of all with hearts filled with a desire to save the souls, minds, and bodies of men.

These "big four," as they were afterwards called, arrived in Mountain View on June 1, 1900. Among the baggage items which they carried were two musical instruments, a violin and a guitar. These were an important part of their equipment.

As they were to work under the direction of Dr. Walter E. Roe, they travelled the intervening miles and reported for duty at Colony.

Soon after arriving they were outfitted for itinerant work: a Studebaker wagon, with a canvas cover, prairie schooner style; two Indian ponies to pull the wagon; cots, bedding, cooking utensils, and for each man a plate, knife, and fork. Thus equipped they went forth, with zeal and determination to do their best for God and their fellowmen.

Their method of work was a simple one. Wherever opportunity offered, there they halted. Mulder used the violin, and Furbeck the guitar. Meengs was the evangelist of the four. They played, sang Gospel hymns, and preached. Always there were some in the crowds who accepted the invitation to live as Christians. Usually they did not spend more than ten days in one place. They assisted in some Indian Camp Meetings during this summer campaign, but their main task was in meetings with white people.

Before the period of their stay had passed they were a different looking quartet from the four easterners who alighted from the

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train at Mountain View on June 1st. The derby hats which they wore to the west had disappeared, and wide-brimmed cowboy sombreros covered their heads.

On September the first the young men returned to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to complete their theological course.

In 1901 came the opening to settlement of the Kiowa, Comanche, Wichita and Caddo lands, and again the "big four" were asked to go to Oklahoma for Christian service. By this time all of them had graduated, and were now full-fledged ministers of the Gospel. During the summer of this year they made headquarters at the Fort Sill Apache Indian Mission of the Reformed Church, located on the Fort Sill military reservation, where this group of Apaches were being held as prisoners of war by the United States Government. Here they spent their first week working with the soldiers, and were warmly welcomed by the commanding officer of the post.

Then they went southward, and found travelling sometimes difficult because of lack of water even for the horses. The poor animals would pull the wagon for many miles, uphill and down, in the terrific heat, when they were almost parched for water. Among the places visited were Martha, Dott, Warren, Mangum, Duncan, Marlow, and the place where Lawton suddenly came into being. So far only the name "Lawton" existed, except for a shanty labeled "Land Office."

Outside the townsite were waiting thousands. One of these young missionaries says of the crowd: "Jews, gentiles, black, white, Indian, Mexican, gamblers, prostitutes, saloon keepers, good people, bad people, cutthroats and soldiers." The men in uniform were needed to preserve order. Every night for more than a week they preached and sang the Gospel story. Each evening Rev. Frank Hall Wright, the Indian evangelist of the Reformed Church, came from the Apache Mission a few miles away. The Gospel wagon would drive up close to a crowd. Immediately the violin and guitar could be heard, followed by the quartet as they sang "Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight" or "Tell Mother I'll Be There," or some other favorite. A short sermon followed by Dr. Wright, a forceful message going deep into the hearts of the listeners. After the sermon came a song of invitation by the quartet, an exhortation and a prayer; and the meeting ended.

By the end of the summer of 1901 the Board of Domestic Missions, who had sent out the young men, decided to begin permanent work in Oklahoma. Two of the four remained for the work, the other two having already accepted calls to eastern churches.

Other ministers came, other fields were entered, and church buildings erected. In most instances the Reformed Church erected the churches, and paid the ministers, with but little cost to the communities entered. As years passed the people who were ministered to gave a small amount of money toward the support of the work. But not much in this way could be expected of them. Most

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of the settlers in the new land had but little money, yet many of them were religious people, desiring Church advantages for their families and themselves. They were optimistic and brave. Some had a high education, others but little. One of the "big four" says of these pioneers:

"The vast majority were admirable people, kind, good, and sympathetic. Many of these fine qualities were hidden under a rough exterior. They were rough and boisterous, but dependable and loyal friends. Justice was fair and administered swiftly. I remember one evening after dark at least one hundred men, riding into town on horseback. They came with the speed and thunder of a hurricane. In the last home on that street there lived a man who had cheated one of them in a land deal. As they reached the place they quickly and silently dismounted. They surrounded the house, revolvers gleaming in the moonlight. Suddenly the guns were emptied in a deafening volley. The men remounted and disappeared. The next morning the culprit was gone. But a profound sense of justice was created, and who knows but this was the chief aim in mind all the time!"

The cheater received no bodily harm. A fine field indeed was this in which to sow the seeds of the Gospel.

The Board of Domestic Missions of the Reformed Church, in its annual report to the General Synod, in June 1901, referring to the young missionaries and their work, says:

"Not only are we justified as a Church in following up the excellent impressions these young men made upon the white settlers, who are so rapidly occupying that new territory, but we are greatly constrained as patriots and Christians to do evangelistic work among these pioneers of civilization."

Following the decision of the Board to enlarge and carry forward its missionary work in Oklahoma, the Particular Synod of New York organized the Classis of Oklahoma on October 4, 1906, thus placing much of the responsibilities for the details of the work in this Territory upon churches and ministers within its borders. In this group were included churches which had been organized in several towns, as well as the Indian churches already under the care of the Women's Executive Committee.1 Work was started and carried on among white people in the following named places: Arapaho, Buck Creek, Clinton, Cordell, Fairview, Gotebo, Mangum, Norman, Oklahoma City, Prairie Home, Shawnee, Thomas and Tulsa. In addition to these, may services were held in school houses, halls, and wherever convenient.

The plan followed in entering a locality for Christian work was to send in one or more persons to make a canvass as to the religious needs. In many instances the canvass resulted in a negative decision, and no work was started, because it was decided that, as a denomination, the Reformed Church was not needed there.

The kind of service rendered was much the same as that done by other denominations in Oklahoma: Worship services, with preaching, Sunday School, Christian Endeavor work for young people and juniors, and work with and for men and women. In

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some places special plans were put into effect. In Arapaho a library and recreational building was erected in 1904. Such a center provided a fine opportunity for helping the youth of the town to get recreation which would be of just the right kind. The Rev. L. L. Legters was pastor at this time. Later, under the Rev. J. J. Hoffman, a juvenile brass band was organized, to keep the boys off the street.

Among Mr. Hoffman's acquaintances in Arapaho was "a tall, young man in high school, intelligent and upstanding," by name Leon Phillips. Not long since a former resident of Arapaho, while visiting the World's Fair in New York, went to see Rev. Mr. Hoffman and family in Brooklyn. Mr. Hoffman asked, "What became of Leon?" The friend replied: "Leon? Why, don't you know? At present he is governor of Oklahoma." The former Arapaho pastor was greatly surprised and pleased.

In Cordell the Reformed Church had a parish house, toward which Miss Helen Gould gave the first four hundred dollars.


The Reformed Church in America has emphasized higher education, throughout its history; and, to this end, has established and maintained centers of learning. Soon after the beginning of the work of this denomination in Oklahoma it was felt wise to establish an academy. Such an institution, it was believed, would be of great help to the young people in the western part of this great territory. In 1904 the cities of Cordell and Arapaho offered twenty acres of land and five thousand dollars in money if the academy should be located in either place. The Board of Education of the Reformed Church appointed commissioners to look over the situation. As a result of their conclusions and report to the Board, the latter directed its Corresponding Secretary in New York to make an effort to raise an amount of money equal to that which either city would give toward the building. Cordell was chosen as the location for the academy. Friends and churches contributed almost $17,000 toward it. Of this amount $5,000 came from Mrs. Charles Nash Harder and her children of Philmont, New York, as a memorial to their beloved husband and father; and $5,029 was given by the citizens of Cordell. Mrs. Charles Nash Harder very graciously added, to what she and her family had already given toward the construction of the building, the sum of $500 toward its furnishings. The official name was "Cordell Academy of the Reformed Church in America." The school building was the "Charles Nash Harder Memorial."

The corner stone of the academy was laid in February, 1906. On September 12 of this year the school was opened, under the direction of the Board of Education of the Reformed Church. Sixty-five were enrolled the first year.

The teaching force for the year was: Myron B. Keator, A. B., Principal, graduate of New York University and New York Law

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School; Harold C. Amos, Assistant Principal, New York State Normal School; Laura B. Hilger, Preceptress, Texas State Normal School; Pamela Bullock, Salina Normal University; Valonia Corley, Western Conservatory of Music; and the Rev. Cornelius H. Spaan, A. B., Hope College, and Princeton University.

The City of Cordell, where the academy was located, was and is the county seat of Washita County, in the center of a fine farming district, having then a population of about 2,000, now increased to 2800.

The purpose of the school, as stated by the Board of Education,2 "is to provide a guarded and thorough education for boys and girls, to the end that they may become useful American citizens. It aims to develop the spirit of industry, of independence and of integrity. It maintains that the building of individual Christian character is the prime issue of life. It aims to...thoroughly prepare for the best colleges and universities in the land; to fit students for life's work."

A local Board of Trustees was formed, composed of Superintendent of Missions Walter C. Roe, the Principal of the Academy, the two pastors of the Reformed Churches of Cordell and Arapaho, and three laymen, two of whom must be members of the Reformed Church in America.3 The laymen were John I. Lee, C. T. Murrell, and Dr. J. R. Mansell.

Courses of study were offered in Classical, and Scientific Latin, English, Engineering, Preparatory and Commercial courses,—all taking four years. By 1909 three more courses were added. The tuition was six dollars a quarter, thus placing the advantages offered within the reach of the poorest.

B. B. Andrews, M. D., Ph. D., of Cordell, presented the academy with a fine Natural History Collection.

Many prizes were offered for excellence in academic work, oratory, mathematics, and music. There were also awards for essays on missions, choice of a life work, and Bible study. The business men of Cordell offered five scholarships for tuition in the academy, the recipients to be chosen by competitive examination.

In 1907-8 the school enrollment reached 74.

In 1908 Principal Keator resigned, and was succeeded by the Rev. Jacob Poppen, Ph. D., who was experienced in educational work in America and abroad. At this time the school had six instructors beside the Principal.

The faculty and students of this young academy were so enterprising that they had a school paper.

Alfred Cherry was the first graduate of the institution, in 1907. He continued his studies in Yale University, from which he graduated. Mrs. A. R. Ash, now of Cordell, was the second graduate of the academy, in 1908. The same year there was one business graduate.

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Miss Helen Gould gave a Bible to each graduate of the academy.

In 1910 the Classis of Oklahoma took the academy under its care, the Board of Education still continuing substantial financial support.

For five years the school did excellent work with its students, who numbered from 50 to 75 per year. The influence for good which it exerted upon them, and upon the community, cannot easily be over-estimated. It promised much for the future.

In 1910, however, there came a culmination of the thinking which had been growing for some time, in the minds of the Board of Domestic Missions, the Board of Education, and a number of people within the denomination, in some other states, and some in Oklahoma. It came about partly because of the elements which now made up the population of Oklahoma, and partly also through a lack of funds, on the part of the Reformed Church, to carry on the Cordell Academy, and at the same time to provide for other academies and for Hope College the amount of money which they needed.

The Board of Domestic Missions came to the painful conclusion that, because of a lack of members of this denomination moving into the new state; and because other denominations in Oklahoma were now ministering well to the population; and from the further fact that new-comers were better acquainted with the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and similar denominations than they were with the Reformed Church, and therefore naturally joined these bodies; therefore the Reformed Church should retire from Oklahoma.

Such a momentous decision was not made hurriedly. It came only after long and careful deliberation and the consideration of all the interests involved.

"To the end that the decision of the Board (of Domestic Missions) as to the future of this work should be reached only upon comprehensive information and largest knowledge of conditions, a special committee of the Board was appointed to visit the field. . . Every field aided by the Board was visited; conferences were had with pastors, consistories, and church members; and information was sought from every source available.

"The testimony of pastors, churches and communities were practically unanimous that the work which had hitherto been done under the auspices of the Reformed Church would be more effective in the future if transferred to some other communion better known in the southwest. Strong expressions of appreciation were received for what the Reformed Church had done in the early days, when its evangelistic work had resulted in the organization of our first churches. Many had become sincerely attached to the Reformed Church, but the most cordially disposed were convinced that other churches with the resources of local constituency were equipped to minister in this field to better advantage than our own."4

In 1911 the Board of Education made the following report to the General Synod:

"A careful review of the situation shows that while for five years Cordell Academy has been giving a superior academic education to from 50 to 75 students annually in Oklahoma, and has been rendering an invaluable service to these young men and women, this work has been accomp-

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lished at the expense for three years of reduced appropriations to our other Classical Academies and to Hope College... In view of the position of the Board of Domestic Missions, that Oklahoma would not be considered a favorable field for our Reformed Church, and in consequence of the withdrawal of our Board of Domestic Mission from this State, our Board voted to close Cordell Academy at the end of the present school year, May 31st., and to sell the property."5

After the resignation of Dr. Poppen as Principal, Rev. C. H. Spaan succeeded him for one year, 1910-11. This was the last year of the academy's existence, under Reformed Church supervision.

In the year 1911-12 the school work was continued on a cooperative basis with the Southern Presbyterian Church,—an experiment which did not prove to be satisfactory. "The Board finally sold the property to the City of Cordell for $8,000 which was remitted to the principal donor of the building,"6 the deed bearing the date Jan. 2, 1914.

In recent years an Alumni Association of graduates of Cordell Academy was formed at a reception in the Wells-Roberts Hotel, Oklahoma City,—a gathering in honor of Harold C. Amos, first Assistant Principal, home on furlough from Tokio, Japan, where he was Principal of the American School. The President of the Association is Maurice Foster, Oklahoma City, and the Secretary Mrs. A. R. Ash, Cordell.

It is not necessary, in this article, to enumerate all the activities of the different white churches of this denomination in Oklahoma. As with other church bodies the work of one local church did not differ greatly, in important items, from that of others. The church edifices were not large, nor expensive. One of them, however, was outstanding and deserves special mention, that at Shawnee.


Mrs. Edmund B. Horton became the Corresponding Secretary of the Women's Executive Committee of the Reformed Church in 1887,—the organization which undertook work for Indians in Oklahoma in 1895.

The women of the Reformed Church decided to build a church which would be a memorial to this consecrated woman of God. Thus it came about that, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, a city of some 20,000 people, the Horton Memorial Church was erected,—a fitting monument of brick construction. In the north part of the city, where there was no other Protestant church, giving an opportunity to minister to a population of some size and extent, the building was placed. It was a beautiful one-story edifice, with attractive windows, well seated, having a two-manual organ, and other needed equipment. The building was put up in 1906, apparently under the supervision of the Rev. Sheldon Vandeberg. He was followed, in the summer of 1906 by Evert Kruizenga, a theological student from

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the New Brunswick Seminary, who spent three months on the field, holding services, making a religious canvass of the community, and watching the work on the new building as it neared completion.

On September the sixth, 1906, the writer of this article was sent to Shawnee, to get the church building ready for occupancy, and dedicated, and to go forward with regular church work.

The main auditorium was used for the first time on December 2, 1906. The building was dedicated on Sunday, December 9, 1906. Superintendent Walter C. Roe preached the dedicatory sermon, and the Rev. M. T. Conklin, of Arapaho, Oklahoma, offered the dedicatory prayer. Mrs. John S. Bussing, of New York, President of the Women's Executive Committee, delivered an address on The Life of Mrs. Kate Brownlee (Edmund B.) Horton, in loving memory of whom the church had been erected. The Rev. M. T. Conklin gave the evening address on "The Beliefs and Practices of the Reformed Church." The Rev. W. O. Rogers also had a part in this service. It was a memorable day for the people of this new parish.

On January 13, 1907, the Horton Memorial Reformed Church of Shawnee was formally organized, and was so declared by Superintendent Roe. The usual methods of church work were to be employed here.

In July, 1907, the Rev. Richard H. Harper was called back to Indian work, to which he and his wife had consecrated their lives, and moved to Colony, Oklahoma, to assist the Rev. and Mrs. Walter C. Roe in the work with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. The Rev. M. T. Conklin, of Arapaho, became pastor of the Shawnee church.

After a careful canvass, Reformed Church work was begun in Oklahoma City, a church building was erected at the corner of Shartel Avenue and Eleventh Street, and an organization was effected.

The territorial and state overseers of the Reformed Church work in Oklahoma were three. The Rev. John Vander Meulen, who opened up the field at Cordell in 1901, acted as pastor of that church, and also as Missionary at Large for all the white work in Oklahoma. He was followed, in 1904, when he resigned to accept a professorate in Hope College, by the Rev. Elias W. Thompson, pastor of Broadway Reformed Church, Paterson, New Jersey, who came as Superintendent of the work. After giving the fields a careful visitation he returned to the East, in 1905, after a stay of six months, and "reported his observations to the Board. He recommended liberal support and encouragement of the churches already established, and branching out into localities not fully occupied by other denominations."7 He was succeeded by Superintendent Walter C. Roe, of Colony, in 1905.

Thus was Dr. Roe over all the work of the Reformed Church in Oklahoma, both Indian and white. He retained this relation to

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the white churches until 1911, and the superintendency of the Indian work until his death in 1913.

The names of the ministers of the Reformed Church in Oklahoma, who worked in white fields, were the following, as nearly as a careful examination of available records, and conversations or correspondence with living former workers in the state show. The dates of their service have been sought out with great care. The writer trusts there are no discrepancies:

Alf, Alfred—Gotebo, 1910
Brouwer, Jacob G.—Classical Missionary, 1910
Cheff, P. P.8 (S)—Gospel Wagon, 1900, '01; Gotebo, pastor 1901-'02
Clowe, C. W.—Thomas, 1907
Colby, H. E., M. D.—Gotebo, 1905-'07; Oklahoma City, 1907-'08
Conklin, M. T.—Arapaho, 1905-'07; Shawnee, 1907-'09
Furbeck, Howard (S)—Gospel Wagon, 1900-'01
Harper, R. H.—General Missionary, 1906; Shawnee, pastor, 1906-'07
Hoffman, J. J.—Buck Creek, Prairie Home, 1906-'07; Arapaho, 1908-'11
Hunter, James Boyd (S)—Tulsa, 1908
Korteling, George—Cordell, 1902; Clinton, 1904-'09; Fairview, 1909-'11
Kruizenga, Evert—(S)—Shawnee, 1906
Legters, L. L.—Arapaho, 1902-'05
Marsilje, Peter—Buck Creek, 1902-'03; Lawton 1903-'11
MacNeil, J. R.—(Supply)—Gotebo, 1909
Meengs, A. M.—Cordell, 1901-'02
Meengs, John (S)—Gospel Wagon, 1900-'01
Mulder, T.—(S)—Gospel Wagon, 1900-'01; Buck Creek, pastor, 1901-'02; Gotebo, 1902-'05
Poppen, Jacob, Ph. D.—Principal Cordell Academy, 1908-'10
Riepma, S. F.—Oklahoma City, 1909-'11
Roe, Walter C., D. D.—Superintendent of Missions, 1905-'11
Scudder, L. W.—Thomas, 1909-'11
Spaan, C. H.—(S) Arapaho, 1902-'03; pastor, Cordell, 1904-'11
Thompson, Elias W.—Superintendent of Missions, 1904-'05
Vandeburg, Sheldon—Cordell, 1903-'05; Shawnee, 1905-'06; Oklahoma City, 1907, Gotebo, 1908
Vander Meulen, John—Cordell, and Missionary at Large, 1901-'02
Waters, S. A.—Thomas, 1908
Whiteacre, H. W. (Supply)—Tulsa, 1908
Winter, J. P.—Clinton, 1910-'11
Worthington, Wm.— (S)—Clinton, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, 1908
Wright, Frank Hall, DD.—Evangelist, 1895-1922

A few of these men served as pastors of white churches and also of Indian churches, at different times.

The Rev. T. Mulder has the distinction of being, as far as the writer has been able to ascertain, the only one of the original Reformer Church ministers who has remained in Oklahoma until the present. He is now a minister in the Presbyterian Church.

An interesting group to whom the Rev. Mr. Mulder preached sometimes, in the Holland language, was at Sandham Memorial Church, south of Norman. It seems not to have continued long.

When the Classis of Oklahoma was dissolved by the Particular Synod of New York, July 1, 1911, the ministers were transferred

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to the denominations to which their churches went, or to other fields.

"Each Reformed Church was dismissed to the denomination of its choice, April 12, 1911; the churches of Arapaho, Clinton, Cordell, and Gotebo to the Southern Presbyterian Church, and the churches of Fairview and Thomas to the Presbyterian Church, North."9 The Oklahoma City and Shawnee churches were disbanded. The Indian churches and missionaries were dismissed to the Classis of New York. The Southern Presbyterian Church bought the buildings at Arapaho, Clinton, Cordell, and Gotebo, while those at Fairview and Thomas were sold to the Northern Church. The Horton Memorial Church building at Shawnee was purchased by the St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1916. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church bought the Oklahoma City edifice.

Flourishing churches of other denominations are now carrying on Christian work in places where the Reformed Church was the pioneer.

The Reverend T. Mulder, well acquainted with the work of the Reformed Church in Oklahoma from its beginning, says: "The work was a glorious success, for it filled a real need. It reached people and communities which otherwise would have been entirely neglected, or at least for several years been without established churches."10

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