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From Warrior to Saint

St. Thomas Episcopal Church will celebrate First American Sunday, Sept. 1 at thee 10 a.m. service.

“We are extending an open invitation to our neighbors to join us as we honor David Pendleton Oakerhater,” said Mother Andrea Jones.

Oakerhater was a Southern Cheyenne warrior and artist who converted to the Christian faith and was ordained as a Deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1881.

“Sunday’s program will be a day of celebration for Deacon Oakerhater and all First Americans in Oklahoma,” said Mother Jones. “The role of a Deacon is to be a servant by bringing the needs of the world to the congregation and aiding the community. Oakerhater chose the name of David after the Old Testament king and friend of God and Pendleton after the Christian Lady who supported his education and ordination as a Deacon in the Christian Church.”

Oakerhater’s Cheyenne name was O-kuh-ha-tuh (Sun Dancer or Making Medicine) and reflected his early distinction as a spiritual leader. Before his conversion, he had gained recognition for his prowess and leadership in warfare as a Bowstring Warrior.

As the ringleader of a raiding party, Oakerhater was taken prisoner in 1874 – four years before he began his conversion to Christianity. Imprisoned at Fort Marion, Florida, he began recording memories in drawings that attracted the attention of numerous influential people. Subsequent generations of anthropologists and art historians recognized Oakerhater’s art as the foundation for the development of a distinctive American Indian art form.

Oakerhater returned to his Cheyenne people in 1881, after spending three years training to become an Episcopal deacon. He spoke to his people that day and said: “Men, you all know me. You remember when I lead 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.”

Oakerhater officially retired in 1918 but continued to preach, serving as a Peace Chief and holy man until his death in 1931. As a result of his fifty-five years of ministry to the Cheyenne of western Oklahoma, Oakerhater was presented for sainthood (a person who lived as an example for other Christians) in 1986 by the Episcopal Church.

An Honor Dance will be held to celebrate Oakerhater’s ministry in Watonga, at the Whirlwind Mission, on Saturday, Sept. 7 after noon.

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