Born on May 26, 1865, at Cheltenham, Ontario, Canada, to John and Sarah Louise Hackett Crawford, Isabel Crawford became one of the most beloved missionaries to the Kiowa. Her father was a minister and theology professor in Canada and North Dakota. Educated at home and in public schools, she enrolled in a two-year course at the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago, graduating in 1893. The Board of Women's American Baptist Home Mission Society (WABHMS) assigned her to work among the Kiowa. At first she was disappointed: "I did not want to go to the 'dirty Indians.'" But with resolve and a determined sense of mission, she set out for the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in Oklahoma Territory.
Crawford spent three years at Elk Creek Mission before moving thirty miles east to Saddle Mountain near Mountain View, Oklahoma. The conditions at both places were primitive. For several months she lived in a tent and survived on limited rations. The Kiowa paid little attention as she sat outside their tipis, singing hymns and reading the Bible. To win their trust she cleaned, washed, baked bread, carried firewood, cared for the ill, and taught the women to sew while instructing them from the Bible. She taught the women quilting and through the sale of quilts saved money to build the Saddle Mountain Baptist Church. Crawford's task was especially difficult because she could not speak the language and was nearly deaf. To communicate with the Kiowa, she relied on an interpreter, lipreading, sign language, and a hearing device that hung around her neck.
Like most missionaries, Crawford objected to the peyote ceremony. She also insisted that as a condition of church membership the Kiowa give up the practice of polygamy. However, her main goal was to build a church. Under the auspices of the WABHMS, she secured a 160-acre allotment from the federal government and an additional forty acres for a cemetery. On Easter Sunday, 1903, the Saddle Mountain Baptist Church held its first service with sixty-four charter members and Crawford as the only non-Indian.
Soon a doctrinal dispute with the ministers and the WABHMS board caused her to leave Saddle Mountain. Local ministers were unwilling to serve the Lord's Supper, and because she was a woman, she could not administer it. So she permitted Lucius Aitsan, a Kiowa, to serve while she and the church deacons assisted. She defended her actions, but under pressure from her critics she resigned in 1906 and accepted a position in New York. The male administration of the American Baptist Home Mission Society may also have resented her success in having a church built.
After leaving Saddle Mountain, Crawford did organizational and platform work for the WABHMS. She tried several times to return, but the mission board refused her request. She retired in 1929 to Grimsby, Ontario. Nevertheless, the Kiowa did not forget her. Before she left Saddle Mountain, she declared that she "would sooner lie hidden among the tall weeds of the unkept Indian cemetery . . . than in any other burial ground in the whole world." When she died in a Grimsby rest home on November 18, 1961, the Kiowa sent for her body and buried her in the Saddle Mountain Indian Baptist Church Cemetery near the graves of her first converts. Crawford held a genuine love and respect for the Kiowa. The inscription on her tombstone read, "I Dwell Among Mine Own People."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Hugh D. Corwin, "Saddle Mountain Mission and Church," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 36 (Summer 1958). Isabel Crawford, Joyful Journey: Highlights on the High Way, An Autobiography (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1951). Isabel Crawford, Kiowa: A Woman Missionary in Indian Territory (1915; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998). "Isabel Crawford," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Rebecca Herring, "Their Work Was Never Done: Women Missionaries on the Kiowa-Comanche Reservation," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 64 (Spring 1986). Linda W. Reese, Women of Oklahoma, 1890-1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
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