by Paul Goddard
Robert Wallace Officer’s Indian mission stirred envy among several of his co-workers. Acknowledging this, he spoke freely about those who would hinder the ministry. “The opposition against which I have been compelled to push, and which I have had to contend has been a great blessing to me. It has given an opportunity to develop patience beyond anything I have ever met.”/1
Moreover, it is interesting to note that M. Gorman and M.L. Wilson were responsible for the first attack on his character. Officer stated, “Our only troubles that arise in the churches are from the emigration.”/2 There is a connection between these men and the “emigration”, for both Gorman and Wilson arrived when the area was opened to white settlement.
Officer pointed this out:
“The writer has received a number of letters asking for information in regard to M.L. Wilson of Texas, who claims to have spent some time in the Indian Territory. Brother Wilson was here, I forget how long. In regard to his standing I refer to Elder Chas Word of Kiowa, Indian Territory. Brother Word was his neighbor, and he preached during his stay in the Indian Territory to the congregation where Brother Word was elder. In regard to the statements Brother Wilson makes about me I have not a word to say, only that Brother M. Gorman who first made the charges afterwards published over his own name that the statements were false, and gave me a written statement to that effect.”/3
Throughout this time, a consistent accusation was that Officer divided his time between farming and preaching. In his own defense, he stated that he felt that preachers had a perfect right to farm since God did not forbid it. The reasoning he used for farming was logical. He believed that farming did not hurt a preacher, nor was it honorable to starve. After using this logic he asserted, “Let the brethren have a rest on begging through the papers.”/4
In 1896, Harry Barber found fault with Officer stating that he was unsound. Officer responded, “I have not time to answer the numerous letters asking after the character (if he has any) of J.H. or J. Harry Barber. It was the elders of the church at South McAlister, Indian Territory, that published him a few years ago. I need not tell you who know me, that it is untrue.”/5 A short while after the article was printed, Harry Barber left his work and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in South McAlister.
A third charge, which had greater repercussions, was the fact that some thought Officer had gone with the digressives. Again Officer responded:
“Before me are a variety of letters some abusing me, some commending, all about my name being in the Christian Union Record of Chickasha, Indian Territory. The place of honor in the aforesaid paper was given me without my consent, and after I declined to take any such place, I promised to write some for it, and did, but I am too busy now at work in the day, and preaching at night to do any more. I requested my name be left off of the pages of the C.U.R. This was kindly done, that is, I suppose there was no unkindness about it. In regard to the convention business in which I am booked in the papers, and work assigned some how I have got it into my head that I have a thinker, and sometimes I use the thing for myself in laying off work. Just why my name got the place of honor I do not know, but it is there, that’s a fact. I remember sometime ago encouraging a mass meeting of the disciples in the Indian Territory, but I frankly confess I would not know how to behave myself in a convention like the one coming May 7, I will have to be excused. I am too busy.”6
Another charge came the following year. It alleged that Officer had grown wealthy from the contributions of his supporters:
“Seven year ago I heard first by letter from a friend I had $100,000 in the bank. I also received a letter from Florida asking me to take interest in some land speculation and read in a Florida paper that I was worth $80,000 above liabilities. I have been informed that I was chief of a tribe of Indians and rich and fussed at about it, and charged with receiving help from uninformed brethren. I have been reported as being a secret detective, a land speculator seeking to sell the Indian’s land which means death by their laws. I was published in the St. Louis Republic as having been shot to death by the Indians. I have received letters without any names threatening my life. I have been charged with having farms, pastures and cattle in Indian Territory. Of course there is no truth in any of these reports.”/7
Likewise, the elders at Atoka printed an article stating that these charges were false. They believed that they were started to enlist the aid of the Mission Society and to discourage individual cooperation.
John A. Stevens, a Mississippi preacher, paid his way to Indian Territory to check into the allegations. He wrote, “Money is but rags when a man’s fair dealings is called in question. While I said nothing about Brother Officer, except to quote one of his best friends; at the same time it was from my quotation that it got into the papers, and I felt that it was my duty to look into the matter.”/8
He then summarized Officer’s condition with the following points:
“When I went to Brother Officer’s home, as expected, I found him to be a big, openhearted, kindly spirited Christian gentleman. When I told him what I had come for, he seemed glad and a little somewhat amused. The man has been misrepresented in this way so often that he has become stoical and has a tendency to pay no attention to anything of the kind. His misrepresentations come from no particular direction, and from no particular way of the church. They as often come from his best friends as from anybody else. They sometimes start right at home, and that is why it is so hard to not believe them. There have been some place hunting preachers who have gone up there and expected Officer to put a silver spoon in their mouths.”/9
1/ Robert Wallace Officer, “Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 34 (September 3, 1891), 6. The picture of Officer is taken from Srygley’s Biographies and Sermons (Nashville: Srygley, 1898).
2/ Robert Wallace Officer, “Good News,” Octographic Reveiw 40 (January 17, 1899), 5.
3/ Robert Wallace Officer, “An Unpleasant Duty,” Octographic Review 39 (November 15, 1898), 3.
4/ Robert Wallace Officer, “Indian Territory,” Octographic Review 37 (July 17, 1894), 3.
5/ Robert Wallace Officer, “Acknowledgments,” Octographic Review 39 (February 4, 1896), 6.
6/ Robert Wallace Officer, “Unmerited Praise and Unnecessary Abuse,” Octographic Review 39 (May 19, 1896), 6.
7/ Robert Wallace Officer, “The R.W. Officer Matter Settled,” Octographic Review 40 (June 29, 1897), 3.
8/ John A. Stevens, “About R.W. Officer,” Octographic Review 40 (June 29, 1897),3.