by Paul Goddard
Oklahoma is a Choctaw word meaning red people. In 1889, the western half of Indian Territory was opened to white settlement, and by 1890, it was known as Oklahoma Territory. On November 16, 1907, these two territories were once again combined to form the state of Oklahoma.
As the Oklahoma Territory was being established, many workers joined Robert Wallace Officer’s expanding ministry./1 Since the population was scattered throughout the territory, Officer had to travel to preach. Traveling among his preaching points, he was able to convert and train several preachers. One of these was C.C. Parker, a former Baptist missionary./2
In an editorial to the readers of the Octographic Review, Daniel Sommer praised the work in Indian Territory:
“It is an unquestioned fact that the work among the North American Indians now going on in the Indian Territory is more successful than any other mission among strangers in which the disciples of Christ have in this century engaged. It is also an unquestioned fact that all money contributed goes directly to the men who do the work. Therefore this Indian Mission gives a splendid opportunity for the anti-society men and women who desire to do mission work to show that it is not indifference to missionary work, nor the love of money on their part which causes them to oppose the society movements.”/3
There is little doubt that the evangelistic camp-meeting was a key method to Officer’s strategy. Once he announced:
“All who have wagons, bow, etc., will please come to the camp-meeting at Minco prepared to camp, and help care for those who come on horse-back and on foot. We will doubtless build an arbor, as the school will be going on in the house. The meeting will doubtless last two or three weeks.”/4
At times these meetings were dangerous. On one occasion, Officer’s service was attacked by men shooting guns, while on another occasion, U.S. Marshals actually did battle with outlaws near the camp-meeting./5
Likewise there was always a threat from the “wild Indians.” “The school at Minco is doing well. The excitement over the coming of the wild Indian Messiah is on the increase. Some people expect trouble. They are dancing the brave dance. Their impression is, that a Savior will come to them in the spring, and restore the buffalo, and the game as of old.”/6
This dance was also known as the Ghost Dance. It was started by Wovaka, who claimed to be the Paiute Messiah. He prophesied if they danced, the whites would disappear and the dead warriors would return from the grave.
Having compassion on these people, the courageous Officer preached his first sermon to “wild Indians” in 1892. That same year, he traveled to Anadarko with T.B. Larimore to secure land to start a preaching point among them./7 In conjunction with these efforts, G.S. Yates and G. W. Taylor developed a congregation on 160 acres that was granted to the churches of Christ./8
Also, a second new area of evangelism was his ministry among the Kickapoo Indians and former black slaves. The Kickapoo tribe was small, compared to the other tribes in the territory. Perhaps Officer was familiar with them before they migrated from Texas. As for the other group, he provided financial support to D.C. Allen to “work among the Negroes”./9
By 1890, the church in Paris, Texas, relaxed its supervision over Officer. “We spent our means, and for the first time since we began work here, are little in debt.” The expansive phase had now passed to the orderly maintenance phase of the ministry. What once was one man’s vision, had now become a reality to an entire group of believers.
1/ M. Gorman, “Correspondence,” Octographic Review 32 (December 12, 1889), 6; and C.C. Parker, “Correspondence,” Octographic Review 32 (December 19, 1889), 5.
2/ C.C. Parker, “Correspondence,” Octographic Review 36 (January 24, 1893), 3; and Robert Wallace Officer, “Give As Unto the Lord,” Christian Leader 4 (January 21, 1890), 1.
3/ Daniel Sommer, “Indian Mission Fund,” Octographic Review 32 (July 4, 1889), 1.
4/ Robert W. Officer, “Correspondence,” Octographic Review 33 (September 25, 1890), 2.
5/ Robert W. Officer, “From Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 33 (July 3, 1890), 2; and 38 (August 27, 1895), 6.
6/ Robert W. Officer, “From Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 34 (January 8, 1891), 6.
7/ Robert W. Officer, “Among the Wild Tribes,” Octographic Review 35 (June 28, 1892), 6.
8/ Robert W. Officer, “Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 39 (April 7, 1896), 3.
9/ Robert W. Officer, “Letter From Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 40 (February 16, 1897), 3; and Octographic Review 41 (January 18, 1898), 3.