September 1: David Pendleton Oakerhater, Deacon and Missionary, 1931

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About this commemoration


“God’s warrior” is an epithet by which David Pendleton Oakerhater is known among the Cheyenne Indians of Oklahoma. The title is an apt one, for this apostle of Christ to the Cheyenne was originally a soldier who fought against the United States government with warriors of other tribes in the disputes over Indian land rights. By the late 1860s Oakerhater had distinguished himself for bravery and leadership as an officer in an elite corps of Cheyenne fighters. In 1875, after a year of minor uprisings and threats of major violence, he and twenty-seven other warrior leaders were taken prisoner by the U.S. Army, charged with inciting rebellion, and sent to a disused military prison in Florida.
Under the influence of a concerned Army captain, who sought to educate the prisoners, Oakerhater and his companions learned English, gave art and archery lessons to the area’s many visitors, and had their first encounter with the Christian faith. The captain’s example, and that of other concerned Christians, from as far away as New York, had their effect on the young warrior. He was moved to answer the call to transform his leadership in war into a lifelong ministry of peace.
With sponsorship from the Diocese of Central New York and financial help from a Mrs. Pendleton of Cincinnati, he and three other prisoners went north to study for the ministry. At his baptism in Syracuse in 1878 he took the name David Pendleton Oakerhater, in honor of his benefactress.
Soon after his ordination to the diaconate in 1881, David returned to Oklahoma. There, he was instrumental in founding and operating schools and missions, through great personal sacrifice and often in the face of apathy from the Church hierarchy and resistance from the government. He continued his ministry of service, education, and pastoral care among his people until his death on August 31, 1931.
Half a century before, the young deacon had told his people: “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.”
I. O God of unserchable wisdom and infinite mercy, thou didst choose a captive warrior, David Oakerhater, to be thy servant, and didst send him to be a missionary to his own people and to execute the office of a deacon among them: Liberate us, who commemorate him today, from bondage to self, and empower us for service to thee and to the neighbors thou hast given us; through Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen
II. O God of unsearchable wisdom and infinite mercy, you chose a captive warrior, David Oakerhater, to be your servant, and sent him to be a missionary to his own people, and to exercise the office of a deacon among them: Liberate us, who commemorate him today, from bondage to self, and empower us for service to you and to the neighbors you have given us; through Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Isaiah 52:7-10
Romans 8:1-6
Luke 10:1-9
Preface of Apostles
Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
 We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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5 thoughts on “September 1: David Pendleton Oakerhater, Deacon and Missionary, 1931

  1. As this is an already existing commemoration in the calendar, it is interesting to note the difference in this bio regarding references to Native Americans. Whereas the new commemorations for Trial Use are all over the place to find consistent nomenclature for Native Americans, this bio is consistent and modest.

    Examples: He is identified as a Cheyenne Indian. Thereafter, the tribe is referred to as ‘the Cheyenne.’ Native American people are referred to as ‘Indians.’ Deacon Oakerhater is given the titles: apostle, warrior, fighter, and leader (and missionary in the collect).

    I would argue to substitute Native American for Indian – even though the federal government of the USA maintains the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (For example: Just because the NAACP is a worthy organization does not mean we would say ‘colored people’ for Blacks.)

    This bio is well written overall.

  2. I would like to see the date of birth mentioned; if unknown; “about 1855” (or whatever) would be helpful.

  3. As I look at the 2nd lesson, I wonder if the Romans passage hints too much at assimilation. Would Ephesians 2:13-18, the preaching of reconciliation through Christ, be more apt?

  4. “The exact date of Oakerhater’s birth, like many events in his early life, is a mystery. At his gravesite in a small cemetery in Watonga, Oklahoma, a simple headstone placed by the family lists a birth date of 1828. A brass marker on the northwest corner of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, lists 1847 as his date of birth. The Census and Allotment Bureau lists his birth date as 1851, and while he was living, Oakerhater did not dispute this date. The Church Pension Fund, which administered his pension for numerous years, lists his birth date as 1848. While alive, Oakerhater did not dispute this date either. In 1898 at his marriage to White Buffalo Woman (Minnie), he listed his age as 47, which would put his date of birth in 1851. In a 1903 interview with anthropologist James Mooney, Oakerhater identified two possible dates of 1845 and 1847.”

    For more information, see

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