The earliest record of any preacher in the Choctaw Nation (Oklahoma) was reported in January of 1886, when G.W. Williams preached at Shullyville./1
Robert Wallace Officer thought it would be late in 1887 before he could move permanently to the Choctaw Nation. In the process of making a decision to live in Indian Territory, he wrote, “I have learned that there is a petition being circulated among the Indians asking me to move into their midst and give my time among them.”/2
In the summer of 1886, he moved into the Choctaw Nation where he wrote an very optimistic report, “My family is with me. We camp most of the time; eighteen additions in all up to date. There has been much work done which cannot be reported.”/3
Upon arriving in the town of Atoka, Officer preached in a Methodist Episcopal church building./4 Captain J.S.Standley, a Confederate veteran, and his family were the first known members of the church to settle in Atoka in 1881./5
Since the Paris congregation was not able to finance the entire Indian ministry, Officer solicited freewill contributions from interested congregations and individuals throughout the nation. In the Christian Standard he wrote, “The mission is under the control of the Christian church at Paris. The Indian Mission Board consists of the elders of the church at Paris. All money sent to Elder W.H. Sluder, Paris, Texas, will go right into the work.”/6
Later he wrote, “Our Indian work is prospering. We have many friends and a few members scattered over the Nation. We have a one very good school house about complete, and a school of 20 scholars.”/7
In addition, a female solicitor, Annetta Howard, was given the authority from the Paris elders to raise support for the Indian work. In the November 14, 1885 issue of the Christian Standard, Officer wrote,
“Sister Annetta Howard will leave tomorrow, recommended by the church at Paris to the churches, brethren and friends, to solicit and receive money to help support our Indian mission work. The interest is growing, the work is prospering, but our power to support it is low. We hope the brethren and friends will receive Sister Howard kindly and assist her in the good work in which she is engaged.”
Seeing the good results in Indian Territory, The American Christian Missionary Society responded, “The money heretofore devoted to this field will be given with a fair prospect of success to sustain the work of R.W. Officer of Paris, Texas, at Atoka, Choctaw Nation. He has begun a splendid work both to teaching and preaching and seems to be the right man in the right place.”/8
Officer appreciated their intentions, but was opposed to the Mission Society and refused the support. “Now I will not accept any aid form missionary societies. I am convinced that the work will prosper better to steer clear of them, and I will do what I can to convert them to this way of work.”/9
As a result of this view, Officer’s activity was primarily supported by the anti-society periodicals. Reporting his work by writing articles concerning Indian Territory, Officer received funds through the Christian Leader, the Gospel Advocate, and the Octographic Review.
In November of 1886, Annetta Howard returned to Paris with cash and pledges for the Indian mission. Through the support of both the periodicals and her efforts, Officer gave emphasis to benevolent work.
Urging Christians to adopt Indian children,
“There are many orphan children, boys and girls from 7 to 12 years old, who are neglected and whom I can send to where they may be brought up under the influence of Christian training and sent back to their people as teachers. While they are being educated, we want them taught domestic, agricultural and mechanical skills.”/10
At the peak of this ministry he stated,
“The children at my house are learning fast, some who have been sent off have obeyed the gospel, the prospect is, and will obey before they return [sic]. They are all with Christian families. I can furnish orphan Indian children to be taught by Christian families, hope others will swell the number by calling for a child and send money to pay expenses.”/11
This facet of his operation continued for four years, closing in 1888 when the Indian Orphan School was established under the direction of Bulter Stonestreet Smiser./12 B.S. Smiser was the son-in-law of Captain Standley.
1/ G.W. Williams, “Indian Territory,” Christian Standard 21 (January 2, 1886), 6.
2/ Robert Wallace Officer, “Dear Bro. Metcalfe,” Gospel Advocate 27 (April 28, 1886), 259.
3/ Officer, “Notes From Indian Territory,” Gospel Advocate 28 (August 11, 1886), 497.
4/ A permanent place of worship was built in 1894.
5/ Stephen J. England, Oklahoma Christians (St. Louis:Bethany Press, 1975), 53. See also Officer, “From Indian Territory,” Christian Leader 2 (March 6, 1888), 5; and Officer, “Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 32 (April 4, 1889), 3.
6/ Officer, “Indian Territory,” Christian Standard 19 (November 15, 1884), 362.
7/ Officer, “Indian Territory,” Christian Standard 20 (November 14, 1885), 366.
8/ England, Oklahoma Christians, 41, citing the annual report of the American Christian Missionary Society.
9/ Officer, “Letter,” Gospel Advocate 28 (December 1, 1886), 767.
10/ Officer, “Indian Mission,” Christian Standard 21 (November 27, 1886), 379.
11/ Officer, “Report From Bro. Officer,” Gospel Advocate 29 (November 2, 1887), 690.
12/ Smiser’s wife, Nora E. Standley, was a descendent of the Choctaw Chief, Apuk-shunubbee. Chronicles of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Historial Society 11, No. 2 (June, 1933), 869.