Everytime I drive south on Highway 81 from my home in Enid, Oklahoma on my way to Oklahoma City, I pass by a big casino in what is now Concho, Oklahoma. Thousands of people in my state know about the casino called Lucky Star, but very few people inside or outside of Oklahoma know about the extraordinary events that occurred three miles south of Lucky Star on the banks of North Canadian River on April 6, 1875 or the subsequent story of personal redemption (see above quote) that was told six years later on June 19, 1881 in the school house immediately west of Lucky Star. The story of David Pendleton will require a little background, but if you patiently and carefully digest the history, you will understand the significance these events have on U.S. history. The story of Okuhhatuh's conversion to Christ has some startling connections to U.S. federal labor laws, the Star Spangled Banner, and the National Football League.
|President Garfield Shot|
Senator George Pendleton and his wife Alice Key Pendleton, however, should be known for something even more signficant. This Christian couple led a Cheyenne warrior named Okuhhatuh to faith in Christ while visiting him in prison in Florida. Okuhhatuh had lived the first thirty years of his life roaming the western plains of Oklahoma as a Cheyenne warrior. How Okuhhatuh wound up in the prison in Florida is a story of God's providence and mercy in the life of an Indan man God chose to redeem.
A Cheyenne Warrior in Need of a Change of Heart
|"You Are Here" is Darlington Indian Agency|
|Indian Drawing of Red River War battle|
|U.S. Army Gatling Gun|
|A Cheyenne Warrior on the Open Range|
The Cheyenne Warriors Become the "Florida Boys"
|The Cheyenne Warriors at Fort Marion|
Fort Marion was constructed in the late 1600's and is the oldest stone fort in the United States. Located in the St. Augustine, Florida (est. 1565), Marion was constructed by the Spanish to protect Spain's sea lanes in the New World. Originally called Castillo de San Marcos, the Castillo was renamed Fort Marion after Florida became United States Territory. It served as a United States Army Post in 1875 as well as a Federal Penitentiary.
|Capt. Pratt (top left) with the Indians in Florida|
The Pendletons Visit Okuhhatuh
All Christian conversions are ultimately attributed to the grace of God, but it is telling that when Okuhhatuh made known his faith in Christ in a letter to his older brother "Little Medicine," he had changed his name to David (from the David in the Bible) Pendleton (in honor of the Pendletons who led him to Christ). He writes to his brother in broken English in 1878 before his release from prison:
|David Pendleton's Letter to His Brother|
A fast and lasting friendship was formed between Okuhhatuh and the Pendletons. The Pendletons would make regular trips to Florida to assist and train the Indian whom they had led to faith in Christ, and who had taken their surname as his own. David eventually gave the Pendleton girls archery lessons, teaching them how to shoot an arrow from bow with accuracy. Some might say that it was cruel the way Okuhhatuh came to faith in Christ, but reading the letters of David Pendleton Oakerhater (the anglicized spelling of his name), one gets the impression that the greatest day in his life was the day he received Christ as his Lord.
David writes in April 1879: "I sorry my Indians not know God not know Jesus not know Sunday not know everything."
The passion David Pendleton showed for reading and learning the Christian faith, sharing with others the love of Christ, and desiring his fellow Indians to come to know Christ themselves surprised everyone who had once known David as the warrior Okuhhatuh.
Davod Pendleton and the Carlisle Indian School
|Carlisle Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania|
David agreed to the request and in September 1879 David Pendleton Oakerhater returned to Darlington for the first time since his removal in iron chains in April 1875, four and a half years earlier. He had an emotional reunion with friends and family, and he shared with them "the new way" of faith in Christ. David only stayed a month in Darlington among his Cheyenne people, after which he brought with him twenty-nine Cheyenne and Arapahoe children to the newly opened Carlisle Indian School. In the fall of 1879, Carlisle Indian School formed its first football team.
|The Carlisle Indians (Jim Thorpe top right)|
A Missionary to His Cheyenne People
After spending another two years back East, David Pendleton eventually returned to his home in Darlington as a missionary to his own people, ordained by the church to minister on the frontier to the Cheyenne Indians. He arrived back at Darlington on Tuesday, June 14, 1881, and the following Sunday preached to his people the gospel of Jesus Christ. An eyewitness records the events of that historic week:
"As irony would have it, at the time of Oakerhater's arrival in the Indian Territory the Cheyenne were in the midst of their Sun Dance celebration. Oakerhater was well aware of the Sun-Dance and its meaning. He understood the significance of the event and its importance to his people. He fully understood what the Missionaries were up against introducing the white man's “new road” at this particular moment in time."
|David Pendleton (on steps) at Cheyenne school|
“The young men were the very ones whom David had led in war seven years ago, and were dressed in the gay attire appropriate for the Sun Dance. Right below us a few hundred yards away, the medicine dance was going on, hundreds thronging every side of the great lodge, a striking contrast to our quiet Christian talk. David seated his people in a circle and led me to the center of it to open the talk. I told David to say first to them that we would look to God for His blessing. They all bowed their heads reverently in the prayer as though trained to it for years. David acted as interpreter, I began by telling them why I had come to them, who had sent me, and what we wished to do for them. Then one of the Chiefs, Sand Hill, stepped forward and thanked me, expressing the desire to be taught the good way; another Chief, Mad Wolf, followed in the same strain. David then addressed them briefly, and our first council closed. I invited them to service at the school-house on a Sunday morning and they promised to come.”
It was at that first Christian worship service among the Cheyenne on Sunday, June 19, 1881 that David Pendleton spoke the words used at the beginning of this post:
"Men, you know me. You remember me when I led you out to war. I went first, and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East, and I have learned about another captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is my leader. He goes first, and all he tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road, a war that makes all for peace and where we never have only victory..."
The Grace of God Far Exceeds the Sin of Man
|David Pendleton Oakerhater|
Senator George Pendleton would later say that his belief in fair labor was strengthened by his observations of David Pendleton's abilities in spite of the white prejudices against the Indian. Captain Pratt founded Carlisle Indian School because he saw the effects of proper education on the poor Indian minorities, transforming men like David Pendleton Oakerhater. The daughter of the author of the Star Spangled Banner, Alice Key Pendleton, had a father who believed America was "the home of the free," and her bond of friendship with the Cheyenne prisoner was due to her belief that freedom should exist for all Americans, not just white Americans.
David Pendleton Oakerhater died on August 31, 1931 of natural causes and is buried in Whirlwind Cemetery just west of Watonga, Oklahoma. Many Cheyenne graves in my part of the country are marked with crosses because of the influence and ministry of David Pendleton. I can't help think about David everytime I drive by the Lucky Star casino which marks the area of David's early life and ministry.
David Pendleton wasn't lucky. He was graced. Graced to know people who lived by principles. Graced to know a God who can forgive sinners of every sin. Graced to be a man who changed from the inside out.