The middle-aged American Indian who rose to speak knew that the eternal happiness of his tribe depended on his faithful witness. He chose words to persuade them. “You all know me,” he said and his listeners nodded in agreement. Oakerhater (O-kuh-ha-tah) had led a fierce corps of Cheyenne fighters against the United States Army in the 1860s and distinguished himself as a brave leader.
However, in 1875, he and twenty seven other warriors were arrested as ringleaders of an uprising. Without trial, they were marched to old Ft. Marion military prison in Florida. They might have rotted in jail except for the concern of Captain Richard H. Pratt. Pratt taught them English and educated them. He saw that Oakerhater was a natural leader so he placed him at the head of the Indian self-discipline force. To give the prisoners a sense of worth, he encouraged them to offer lessons in art and archery to tourists.
As a result of Pratt’s kindness, Oakerhater and some others converted to Christianity. Four of them decided to study for the ministry. Miss Mary D. Burnham, of the House of the Good Shepherd in Syracuse, New York raised the needed funds. Mrs. Pendleton of Cincinnati paid Oakerhater’s share.
Sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, the four traveled north. When Oakerhater was baptized in the Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse in 1878, he took the name David Pendleton Oakerhater, in honor of the woman who paid his way. He was ordained a deacon in 1881.
Oakerhater returned to his people and told them, “You remember when I led you out to war I went first, and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is my leader. He goes first, and all he tells me is true.”
Until his death on August 31, 1931, Oakerhater worked hard to bring the peace of Christ to his people. He operated schools and missions at great personal cost, overcoming the apathy of churches and government opposition. Guided by his great captain, he never gave up. One of the government’s agents wrote, “…no better example of Christian manhood was to be found.”
The Indians respected Oakerhater’s faith and nicknamed him “God’s Warrior.” In 1982, Episcopal Bishops recommended that David be included in the church calendar. Episcopalians remember him on this day, September 1.
- Anderson, Owana. 400 Years: Anglican/Episcopal Mission Among American Indians. Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, 1997.
- Kiefer, James. “David Pendleton Oakerhater; Deacon and Missionary.” http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/53.html.
- Rowland, Anne E. “David Oakerhater Window.” http://www.stgeorgeohio.org/Stainedglass/oakerhater.htm
- Various other internet articles.