by Paul Goddard
After leaving Tennessee, Robert Wallace Officer resided fifteen miles from Searcy, Arkansas./1 While in Arkansas, he farmed and preached for local congregations.
In 1880, he moved to Texas where he began full-time work with the Gainesville Church of Christ. This year also marks the beginning of his work among the Indians north of the Red River in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where he distributed books, papers, and tracts with the aid of an interpreter./2 Hearing of this effort, Jacob Creath sent much of his library to Officer. In this collection were copies of the Millennial Harbinger and papers written by Tolbert Fanning.
Four years later R.W. Officer remarked, “I drove the wedge in Territory…”./3 He was aware of the efforts of J.J. Trott and Isaac Mode, but he felt their efforts fruitless.
He pointed out his reasons,
“Bro. Trott, of the Christian church, preached for a time in the Cherokee Nation, but after his death, there being no one to take his place, the interest he created in large degree was lost. Some of his children took membership with the denominations worshiping convenient to them. The circumstances which surrounded Bro. Mode, who for the short time was employed by the board, hindered him from doing much, and for some time he resigned and returned to the farm.”/4
In 1881, R.W. Officer sent to Alabama for Murrell Askew, requesting him to help with the work in Indian Territory. Undoubtedly Askew had influenced Officer to work with the Indians since Askew was of Choctaw descent.
Reflecting on the this occasion Murrell wrote,
“I confess I had but little confidence in its (mission work) success. Others looked upon it with some suspicion, and we all wondered why Bro. O. did not do like other missionaries over here, of the different denominations, as we had a missionary society. We were led to believe, some of us, that he was working up a new thing for his own glory, but are now convinced that we were mistaken, for we find that it does not divide, but has a tendency to bring the churches together in mission-work, and that all the money given goes for the purpose for which it was given.”/5
Askew set up residence in the Chickasaw Nation and converted a number of Chickasaws to Christ. In 1883, Officer attended the Indian Council at Tishomingo, Chickasaw Nation, to obtain permission to establish an industrial school for Indian teenagers. Permission was granted and he solicited support through a Nashville periodical, the “Gospel Advocate.”/6
Early in 1884, Officer received word from the Chickasaws that Murrell Askew had died. Discouraged and alone, Officer continued preaching, determined to do his best.
Before Askew’s death, Officer had moved his family to Paris, Texas. It was in this town that F.D. Srygley served as a city evangelist. In connection with the Paris congregation Officer wrote, “The spirit of improvement still moves among the brethren at Paris. They are going at once to work on a dwelling house on a church lot. They invite a preachers institution to be held with them this winter.”/7
By August of 1884, Officer’s activities were totally sponsored by the Paris congregation. Under the direction of elders E.L. Dohoney and W.H. Sludder, Officer received $1200 a year./8 He continued his regular excursions into Indian Territory, concentrating his efforts around Atoka in the Choctaw Nation.
1/ R.W. Officer, “Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 33 (November 27, 1890), 2.
2/ Officer had an Indian friend, Blackhawk, who spoke seventeen languages. Officer, “Indian Territory,” Christian Leader 13 (April 26, 1892), 6. Evidently Officer learned Spanish after moving to Texas. Officer, “West Texas Mission,” Octographic Review 44 (July 30, 1901), 3.
3/ Officer, “Letter,” Gospel Advocate 26 (August 27, 1884), 546.
4/ Officer, Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 33 (September 25, 1890), 6. Perhaps he was not aware of J.J. Ellis or George Owen.
5/ Murrell Askew, “Mission Work,” Octographic Review 1 (January 4, 1887), 3.
6/ Officer, “Letter,” Gospel Advocate 26, (1882) p. 546.
7/ Officer, “Letter,” Gospel Advocate 25 (December 12, 1883), 788.
8/ E.L. Dohoney and W.H. Sluder, “News,” Gospel Advocate 25 (November 7, 1883), 708. Officer, “Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 32 (May 23, 1889), 3.