Sermon: David Pendleton Oakerhater

The podcast is available here.



In September of 1864, a treaty was established with the Cheyenne Nation; however, in November of that same year, a Methodist minister who was also a Colonel in the Union Army broke that treaty by attacking a Cheyenne village in Sand Creek, Colorado. One hundred and fifty Cheyenne were killed, one hundred of which were women and children. A general in the Union Army declared the event “a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to cover its perpetrators with indelible infamy and the face of every American with shame and indignation.”

As a result of the attack, a seventeen-year-old Cheyenne warrior from Oklahoma, by the name of “Making Medicine,” declared he would revenge his people. In 1874, he and many others attempted that revenge, but their attack eventually ended in failure. Later, in 1875, Making Medicine was captured, along with many others, and put on railroad cars to St. Augustine, Florida. The time between these events and his death in 1931, demonstrate exactly how dramatically the Lord, working through one person, can effect so many. For Making Medicine went from declaring his revenge, to becoming a deacon in the Episcopal Church. Most of you know him by his Anglicized name, David Pendleton Oakerhater. You all know his history better than I do, but he went from the battlefields, to seminary, and returned to Oklahoma where he ministered among his people for thirty-six years as a deacon. For ten of those years, he was the only Episcopal clergy person in Oklahoma. He started schools for his people and baptized every member of his tribe, including his mother.

Today we heard in the Psalm:

Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.

From the very first days he arrived back in Oklahoma, Deacon Oakerhater sang that new song. He declared to a gathering of Cheyenne leaders: “You all know me. You remember 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 have only victory.”

Today is actually the feast day of Paul Jones (Oakerhater’s was officially this past Saturday, but you can’t be an Oklahoma Episcopalian and not celebrate him). Paul Jones was a great advocate for peace during World War One and the years following, up until his death in 1941. I believe that he and Oakerhater would have gotten along quite well, as they were both ones who sang this new song of peace.

When so many cry for war, it can be difficult to stand for peace, but these two—Oakerhater and Jones—are witnesses to us and to the world of peace and reconciliation, and today we give thanks for their witness.

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