In 1981, a stone was laid to mark the grave of the Reverend David Oakerhater Pendleton in a small cemetery west of the present town of Watonga, Oklahoma, to recognize the one hundredth anniversary of his ordination to the diaconate of the Episcopal Church. At the same time Church people noted a century of missionary effort among the Reverend Mr. Oakerhater's people, the Cheyenne Indians.
Then again in 1983, Church leaders participated in an event at the Whirlwind-Oakerhater Cemetery to dedicate with prayers a tapering four-foot, grey, Georgia granite marker honoring the Reverend and early day Cheyenne Episcopalians. Participants shared experiences as youngsters living within sight of the cemetery at the historic Whirlwind Mission and Day School.
Although only four grave markers remained in 1983, Church records revealed several people, whose names now appear on the newly-dedicated marker, were interred in the one-acre cemetery which was originally a part of Chief Whirlwind's 160-acre allotment.
Seventeen miles west of Watonga. Travel southwest on Highway 3/33/270. At the intersection with Highway 281, turn west and go 7.2 miles. Turn south and travel 4.1 miles. Turn west and go 3.1 miles. Finally turn south on a dirt road and travel 3.2 miles. At the top of a small hill on the right is Whirlwind Cemetery. Look for the tall sign over the gate.
Story of ... David Oakerhater Pendleton - O-kuh-ha-tah
Historically the Cheyenne were mobile, depending on the buffalo for food, clothing and shelter. With white settlers and the railroads taking their ancestral land, however, and with the wanton killing of the buffalo by non-Indians, the Cheyenne and other Plains tribes became increasingly hostile to the United States government. After a number of treaties that ate away their hunting lands, the Cheyenne agreed to live in what is now western Oklahoma under the terms of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge.
By the time his people gathered to camp around the new agency at Darlington on the north side of the Canadian River northwest of present-day El Reno, Oakerhater had already distinguished himself for bravery as a member of an elite Cheyenne warrior society. He was one of the seven hundred picked Plains warriors who fought in the Battle of Adobe Walls on June 24, 1874. He had further occasion to demonstrate leadership when his people, especially young men trained in the glory of individual combat, fount their new life markedly galling. "The reservation was on the order of a concentration camp with food rations often inferior, scanty and issued at irregular intervals, sometimes even withheld for disciplinary measures from Washington." The Cheyenne and neighboring tribes were restive and roused to action against whites. Often they had a rebellious attitude against government agents.
The summer of 1874, hot and uncommonly dry, was an especially trying time for the Indians. When uprisings and threats of open rebellion surfaced the next year, the warrior leaders were taken prisoners by the U.S. Army. Among the twenty-eight Cheyenne was Oakerhater who was arrested in early April and charged with being a ringleader. None of the prisoners was allowed a trial. In leg chanins and under the command of Captain Richard H. Pratt, they were taken by army wagon and by rail to the old military prison in Florida called Ft. Marion at St. Augustine.
Once the blanket-clad Indians arrived at the fort, they were freed of their chains and organized for daily living. Over the weeks of travel with his charges, Pratt had observed them closely. Oakerhater - tall and lithe and just past thirty years of age - appeared to have the trust of his peers and to be their natural leader. Pratt selected him to be a sergeant of the police force for the Indian prisoners that served as the captain's support group in all areas of living.
Many were the influences for good, including that of Bishop Henry B. Whipple and the Church, in the lives of the prisoners. Chief among these was the action of Miss Mary D. Burnham, Deaconess in charge of the House of the Good Shepherd in Syracuse, New York. She planned and raised the money for three years of education to the Christian ministry for Oakerhater and three of his companions. Oakerhater's expenses were paid by a Mrs. Pendleton of Cincinnati. When he was baptized in 1878, in an impressive service in Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse, By Bishop Frederic D. Huntington, he asked for and received the Christian name of David Pendleton.
The Reverend John B. Wicks, with whom Oakerhater lived while in New York, was determined to establish missions among the Indians and in this endeavor he was backed by his own parish. Immediately after Oakerhater's ordination to the diaconate in 1881, the two of them set out for Cheyenne Country. In June of that same year in Darlington, I.T., Oakerhater conducted the first Christian burial service ever known among the Cheyenne. Cheyenne Agent, John Miles, wrote that, "David Pendleton was preaching in his native tongue and no better example of Christian manhood was to be found."
In 1897, a government day school with fifteen pupils opened on Chief Whirlwind's allotment southeast of Fay, I.T. The school was named for the famous old peace chief, one of the Cheyenne spokesmen at the Treaty of Medicine Lodge. The Episcopal mission was carried on by Oakerhater to these children and their families camped nearby.
When he died on August 31, 1931, Oakerhater had served the Episcopal Church in Oklahoma longer than any of its clergy. The Reverend Mr. Mason, in summarizing the Oakerhater story, commented, "The Cheyenne were a highly civilized people who were demoralized by the advent of the Europeans. Oakerhater was a strong leader who showed the love of Jesus Christ as he and his people suffered the transition from their own way of life to an accommodation with the white man. Oakerhater did this under great natural difficulties and many times with total lack of support from the Episcopal Church. In biblical terms Oakerhater was an apostle to his people. As a Cheyenne leader, he was destined to be a peace chief. It can be said that he fulfilled his role in the highest traditions of the Cheyenne people. In response to his call while in prison, he was ever thereafter a faithful disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
- Excerpts from David Pendleton (O-kuh-ha-tah) - God's Warrior, 1985, by Lois Clark, Espiscopal Diocese of Oklahoma
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