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OAKERHATER, DAVID PENDLETON (Okuh hatuh, 1847?-1931)

Cheyenne warrior, artist, and convert to the Episcopal faith, David Pendleton Oakerhater conducted a fifty-year ministry to the Cheyenne of western Oklahoma that led to his addition to that church's calendar of saints in 1986. His Cheyenne name, Okuh hatuh, Sun Dancer, reflected his early distinction as a spiritual leader and supports the belief of many that he was the youngest ever to complete the Sun Dance regimen. He later gained recognition for his prowess and leadership in warfare as a bowstring warrior, especially against Osages, Pawnees, and Utes, his tribe's historic enemies. Some Cheyenne sources place him at the 1862 massacre at Sand Creek and at the Battle of the Washita in 1868. He was definitely a participant in the Red River War of 1874-75 and was possibly involved in actions at the Battle of Adobe Walls. Although his purported crimes were never documented, he was labeled a ringleader and arrested along with thirty-two other Cheyenne and forty other Plains Indians, mostly from the Kiowa and Comanche tribes, for imprisonment at Fort Marion, Florida (Castillo San Marcos), under the command of Capt. Richard H. Pratt.

Okuh hatuh adapted quickly to the regimen Pratt imposed. The young man proved a willing and capable pupil in basic education classes, which were often provided by volunteers who resided nearby or by tourists visiting neighboring St. Augustine. Pratt organized the captives into military units, drilled them as soldiers, and soon gave them responsibility for guarding the fort. Okuh hatuh was recognized as a leader by the younger warriors and by Pratt, who appointed him sergeant of the guard. Beyond these measures, Pratt's most noticeable and long-lasting reform was introducing the prisoners to writing and art materials. Using these, they quickly adapted to record their memories in drawings that they soon began selling to tourists. The drawings from Fort Marion attracted the attention of numerous influential people. Subsequent generations of historians, anthropologists, and art historians recognize them as the foundation for the development of a distinctive American Indian art form. Okuh hatuh was one of the most prolific of the Fort Marion artists, and his drawings are usually regarded as among the most important. He signed them "Making Medicine," another translation of his Cheyenne name.

Okuh hatuh converted to Christianity under the influence of Mary Douglas Burnham of the Women's Auxiliary of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. In April 1878 Okuh hatuh joined with three other prisoners seeking additional education and training for the Episcopal ministry under the teaching of John Wicks, rector at St. Paul's Church Paris Hill, New York. Okuh hatuh spent the next three years in training as an Episcopal deacon, except for one brief trip to Indian Territory to gather recruits among Cheyenne youth for the school that Pratt had begun at Carlisle Institute. That trip also permitted him to bring his wife and three-year-old son to join him in New York, where both would die the following year. In October 1878 the four Indian converts were baptized in Grace Church Syracuse, Okuh hatuh under the name he that would distinguish him for the rest of his life. The Pendleton part of that name honored Mrs. George Pendleton, wife of an Ohio Senator who had paid his expenses in New York. The other converts were baptized as John Wicks Okestehei (Cheyenne), Henry Pratt Taawayite (Comanche), and Paul Caryl Zotom (Kiowa). Okestehei died in 1880, Taawayite left to study blacksmithing at Carlisle, and only Okuh hatuh and Zotom completed the course of instruction. On June 7, 1881, they were ordained at Grace Church and left the next day, accompanied by Wicks, to initiate missions among the Plains tribes. Work progressed among the Cheyenne and Kiowas as well as at Fort Sill and Fort Reno and among scattered ranches, but Wicks returned home in 1884. No priest replaced him until David Sanford arrived in 1895. In the meantime, Oakerhater continued his efforts, but Zotom left the Episcopal Church. Sanford's presence permitted the expansion of Cheyenne missions with the establishment of Whirlwind Mission two years later. That mission operated for the next ten years despite frequent quarrels between Sanford and the Indian agents. Deaconess Harriet Bedell replaced Sanford in 1911, augmenting Oakerhater's work among the Cheyenne until her departure and his retirement in 1917.

Except for the continuing efforts of Oakerhater, who labored until his death, the Episcopal presence among the Cheyenne and in western Oklahoma was once again abandoned. That work resumed in the 1960s when a new generation of church leaders discovered a small body of Cheyenne who had not abandoned the faith they had learned from Oakerhater. Oakerhater had remarried in about 1897 to White Buffalo Woman. They had one child who survived him, Frank Pendleton.


OTHER RESOURCES: From Warrior to Saint: The Journey of David Pendleton Oakerhater–This website contains Oakerhater's letters to Mary Burnham and other friends, photographs, and a longer biography.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lois Clark, God's Warrior: David Pendleton Oakerhater (Oklahoma City: Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, 1985). Karen Daniels Peterson, Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). Alvin O. Turner, "Journey to Sainthood: David Pendleton Oakerhater's Better Way," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 70 (Summer 1992). Herman Viola, Warrior Artists: Historic Cheyenne and Kiowa Ledger Art Drawn by Making Medicine and Zotom (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1998).

Alvin O. Turner

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