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The Story of Oklahoma Baptists
By E. C. Routh, 1932

Chapter IV

H. F. Buckner

      Years ago, a distinguished citizen expressed the opinion that "the most influential white man who ever gave his life to the Creek Nation was H. F. Buckner."

      Henry Frieland Buckner was born at Newport in East Tennessee, December 18, 1818. His mother when a little girl had heard Humphrey Posey and Evan Jones preach before they began missionary work among the Cherokees. A few years after Henry Frieland's birth, his father, Daniel Buckner was "liberated" to preach the Gospel and in 1827 was ordained by the Chestnut Church, Monroe County, Tennessee. In 1828, he led in the organization of the Madisonville Baptist Church in Tennessee, into the fellowship of which Henry Frieland was baptized in 1832. In 1836, Daniel Buckner moved to Big Spring and Henry Frieland was put in Maryville Seminary (Old School Presbyterian). There was not at that time a Baptist high school in the state. The father accepted appointment from the Tennessee Baptist Convention to labor as a missionary, but found anti-missionary sentiment all about him. The church of which he was a member preferred charges against him, because of his missionary activities and withdrew fellowship from him. The wife asked to be excluded with her husband but the answer was given, "We have no charge against you." She replied: "If I were a man I would preach missions just as my husband has done, and as I hope and pray my sons may do." Buckner and his wife and son, Henry Frieland, presented a copy of the charges to another church and were joyfully received on the statement of those charges of missionary activities. Whenever anti-mission churches closed their doors against him, he would preach in a grove or school room. Jesse Bushyhead was one of the men who preached with him in those days.

      During Daniel Buckner's pastorate at Madisonville, another

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son, Robert Cooke, was born. The log house in which R. C. Buckner was born is now on the grounds of Buckner Orphans Home, Dallas.

      Henry Frieland early accquired a good foundation in Latin and Greek. In 1838 he went to Alabama to teach school and the next year was licensed to preah. He preached to four country churches while a student in the University of Alabama. On November 22, 1842 he was married to Miss Lucy Ann Dogan, daughter of Rev. Samuel Dogan, a Baptist minister and physician. At the time of their marriage, she was an Old School Presbyterian, but later, constrained by her convictions, she joined the Baptists.

      Early in 1846, young Buckner was appointed by the Baptist General Association of Kentucky as a missionary to the mountain people of East Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio. He served in that field nearly three years at a salary of $500 a year. His success in that work led to his appointment by the American Indian Missionary Association as a missionary to the Creek Nation. His father was unwilling for him to go to the Indians. His wife's relatives consented on condition that Buckner and his wife would be gone only two years. But Buckner's mother, with the tears running down her cheeks, said:

"Go, my son, and the Lord be with you always. Our Savior says 'Go ye into all the world' and it is as much my duty to give up my son as it is of any other mother. I thank God that I have a son to go to the Indians."
      On a December day in 1848, a crowd of relatives and friends gathered at the Cumberland boat landing to see the young missionaries off. They stopped at Nashville, and Buckner suffered an attack of pneumonia at the home of "Father" [James] Whitsitt, the grandfather of W. H. Whitsitt, years later the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After his recovery, Buckner and his wife resumed their trip. When they reached Little Rock on the Arkansas River, he had no money. There was no Baptist church in Little Rock, but he found a brother Mason who gave him some financial relief. From Napoleon to Little Rock, he had paid passage on the steam-boat for his wife
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and himself and their son and his wife's young brother by helping to carry wood aboard at the landings. There were no Baptists in Fort Smith except slaves. A Presbyterian friend took the missionary into his home. On March 7, 1849, they landed on the banks of the Verdigris River above Port Gibson. Buckner had only $4.50 in his pocket. He gave 50 cents to a Negro interpreter, Jake, or Jack, to tell the other Negroes that he had come to help them. He bought a horse for $4.10, and gave his note for $40 for a cabin where a man had been killed. We quote him: "The first thing Mrs. Buckner had to do after walking four miles from the steamboat landing, leading our little son, was to scour the blood of a murdered man from the puncheon of our little Indian cabin." A friendly merchant gave him credit until he received his first quarter's salary, $100.

      H. F. Buckner went to the Creek Nation as a missionary and not as a teacher. It was necessary, therefore, for him to secure a permit to preach, not only from the government, but from the Creek Council. The Indians debated the question three days. At the end of the deliberation, the chief, a son of General William Mclntosh, who was killed for negotiating a treaty with, the United States in 1825, called in Buckner and said to him, through an interpreter:

"My friend, we have decided to grant you a permit to live with us as a missionary. We have not been discussing this question exclusively during these three days, but one that grew out of it. We know that the religion preached by missionaries is in direct conflict with our customs as well as with the customs of our ancestors; and the majority of our Nation cling to those old customs. We also have new laws, and these laws do not enforce the old customs. By our new laws you can remain, but by our old customs we could not receive you. The question we have been discussing these three days is, Which is most binding upon our people, our old customs or our new laws? The counsellors have taken different sides on this question, but we have decided that our laws are more binding than our customs, and hence we have agreed that

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you can live among us as a missionary."
Buckner tells of a peculiar characteristic of this chief. When disputants saw him straighten himself, place the thumb and forefinger of his left hand in his left vest pocket they knew his mind was made up. Years later, Buckner was happy to testify: "Through a ministry of 40 years, I can this day record it that God has never left us when I was engaged in preaching and depending on Him."

      Before Buckner reached the Creek Nation, about 1845, there had been intense persecution of Creeks who were believers. The Creek Council had passed a law forbidding any Indian or Negro to preach under penalty of whipping, and no white man would be allowed to preach without a permit. Eben Tucker appointed missionary to the Creeks, baptized Creek converts across the line in the Cherokee or Choctaw or Seminole Nations. A letter from Tucker written in 1845 indicated that Ebenezer had a membership of one hundred and that the Creeks were faithful. Many Christians had been whipped to the point of death, but there was no case on record of anyone denying the faith. One woman who received fifty lashes for affirming her faith in Christ went down to a spring, near Old North Fork Town, washed her wounds, and walked ten miles to hear Joseph Islands preach that night. A deposed chief who led the party that killed General William Mclntosh, and later whipped the praying Negroes back in the old nation, was himself baptized years after.

      One of the most influential men among the Creeks from 1842, the year of his conversion, to 1848, the year of his death, was Joseph Islands. He was converted in 1842 in a wonderful awakening among the Creeks. Straightway he began to preach. The leaders among the Creeks opposed the introduction of Christianity and persecution was severe. The Creek Council tried to enforce the law against praying. Islands saw many converts whipped for praying. H. F. Buckner in an article in the Texas Baptist, (published January 3, 1878) gives the experience of Jesse, a Negro preacher, who was whipped in 1845.

"One of them came and tied another rope around my wrists; the other end

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was thrown over the fork of a tree, and they drew me up until my feet did not quite touch the ground, and tied my feet together. Then they went a little way off and sat down. Afterwards one of them came and asked me where I got this new religion. I said in the Old Nation. 'Yes,' replied the Indian, 'You have set half of this nation to praying and this is what we are going to whip you for.' Five men gave me five strokes each. When I saw the sticks my heart faint a little and I said, 'My friends, do take a gun and shoot me and don't whip me so.' Then the Indians said, 'We don't want to kill you; we will give you fifty lashes for the first time, the next time we will give you one hundred, and the third time you are known to hold religious meetings we will kill you.' Then another Indian said, 'You tell our people that Christ was hung up and we do the same for you.' Then I felt as if I wanted to preach to them more than ever I did in all my life. I did not feel the least bit angry neither did I feel at all afraid."
      This is not the place to tell the story of the heroic labors of Joseph Islands who had worked among the Creeks before Buckner came, of Sidney Dyer who organized the North Fork Church, of A. L. Hay who baptized General Chilly Mclntosh in 1848, and of Joseph Smedley who assisted Buckner in a camp meeting in 1849. The name which the Creeks gave to Christians was Me-ko-sa-pulke, "praying people." Back-sliders were those who "quit praying."

      In the beginning of the war between the states, a great sorrow came to the missionary in the death of his wife and child. The next year, he married the daughter of a missionary, Rev. A. E. Vandiver. To that union, were born three sons and two daughters. One of these sons, Rev. W. V. Buckner, is doing a great work as pastor of the Virginia Avenue Baptist Church, Bartlesville.

      H. F. Buckner and William Crane, president of Baylor University, then located at Independence Texas, were good friends, dating from the fifties when Dr. Crane was a pastor and teacher in Mississippi and for six years one of the recording secretaries of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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During the war between the states, when the mission work among the Indians was demoralized, Buckner moved to Texas and spent some time as pastor at Linden in North-east Texas and at Independence in South Texas. Mr. R. C. Crane of Sweetwater, Texas, has in his possession a number of letters which H. F. Buckner wrote to W. C. Crane. In one letter from Linden, dated December 9, 1869, Buckner wrote: "I locked my doors three years ago to preach the commencement sermon [for Baylor University] expecting to return soon. You know the result. I will visit Georgia before going to the Indians." The commencement sermon to which he referred was preached in the spring of 1867. In another letter, dated November 5, 1869, he acknowledges the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity conferred by Baylor University: "I will endeavor to accept the title with profound humility, never sporting it before the gaze of a censorious world, nor acting in such a way as to make my friends repent of their kindness."

      In March, 1870, he visited Georgia in behalf of Indian work. Concerning the contemplated trip to Georgia, he wrote from Linden January 18, 1870:

"I start on a visit to Americus, Georgia, the first of March. Will stay six weeks and return to the Indians in June. I wish, after getting to the Indian country to prosecute certain scientific researches in Indian philology as well as in the natural curiosities of the territory."
On July 28, 1870, he wrote from North Pork, Creek Nation:
"I arrived only three days ago. The place is rotted. We stopped in a school house as it was the only vacant house. The Indians were glad to welcoms us back. The railroad prospects are good. [M. K. & T. built through the Creek Nation in 1871] . . . I am the only Baptist missionary in the nation and the first, to return. There is but one missionary of any denomination except myself, a Presbyterian. The Methodists are rebuilding a mission, but the superintendent lives in Arkansas. Our native preachers are doing a great work. Seventeen were baptized in Montezuma Church recently. Montezuma Church is flourishing. So are several other churches. Some young men that I left there with heavy sacks of wild

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oats on their shoulders are now sowing the precious seed beside all waters."
A little later he wrote from Micco (North Fork): "I have written to the [Home Mission] Board at Marion, [Alabama], in vain. I suppose they are pressed for funds. There is not another Baptist missionary in this nation."

      H. F. Buckner attended the Southern Baptist Convention almost every year and secured favorable recognition of the Indian work. Through his influence, largely, the Levering Mission School, established for the education of Creek young men and women, was located near Wetumka. While the school was not founded until after his death in 1882, it was the direct outgrowth of his labors.

      Recently I visited Eufaula in the heart of the Creek Nation, near which place Rev. J. B. Murrow first located when he came to the Territory from Georgia in 1857, and where H. F. Buckner was making his home at the time of his death. I visited Rev. Peter Ewing, a pioneer Creek Baptist preacher who as a young man was intimately acquainted with H. F. Buckner during the last years of Buckner's ministry. Peter Ewing grew up with Marcie Harjo who died July 16, this year, and had been closely associated with him all of his life. Their mothers were sisters. Mrs. Ewing is a daughter of William McComb who was a member and one of the leaders of the Creek Council which voted to give 160 acres for the founding of Bacone College, McComb was for several years H. F. Buckner's interpreter. Brother Ewing's home is located on a high point in Eufaula near by and overlooking the M. K. & T. tracks. We talked together in the growing shadows of the evening about ttie great work which H. F. Buckner did among the Indians and about the early churches of the Creek Indians. Ewing has in his possession the minute book of the West Eufaula Church with records going as far back as 1849. In this old minute book is a record showing that H. F. Buckner and family joined the West Eufaula Church February 5, 1871 on a letter from the church at Linden, Texas. Peter Ewing's great-uncle, who was educated back in Georgia by

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Lee Compere, was pastor of that church during the first years of its existence. Peter Ewing's father, Daniel Roberts, was pastor of the church for many years. Peter Ewing's name is different from his father's because, when he went to his first school, the old Asbury Mission, a Methodist school, near Eufaula, the teacher, whose name was Ewing, could not understand the name the young man gave him and he said, "I will give you my own name." Brother Ewing himself has been pastor of the West Eufaula Church continuously since 1907. He will be 72 years old this coming December. The Creek Church of which he is pastor is very strict in its discipline. I asked him what he would do in case an Indian whom he did not know should come to his church the next meeting day and ask to be received on statement to the effect that an Indian Church elsewhere of which he had been a member had had no services for a long time and he was unable to get a letter. Brother Ewing replied promptly: "We would not receive him until we had made full investigation." Some of our white churches can learn a lesson from the Indian churches at that point. He said furthermore, "I would not permit any preacher whom I had not known to come into my pulpit until I had examined his credentials."

      It was H. F. Buckner who encouraged the young Indian to go to school. From Asbury Mission, Peter Ewing went to William Jewell College where he spent three years. He went to the Seminary at Louisville in the days of Dr. John A. Broadus, but he did not remain long as he could not take the lectures very well. He has done a good work through these years as a preacher of the Gospel among his people. He talked about the days when he and H. F. Buckner rode horseback over the country. He was just telling about some of those experiences when the "Bluebonnet" one of the master trains of the M. K. & T. system passed and he had to wait until it was gone to resume the story of those pioneer days. He said of H. F. Buckner, with emphasis on every word, "He was a missionary."

      Before the railroad was built through the Creek Nation,

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Buckner lived at North Fork about two and one-half miles east or northeast of Eufaula. Later he moved nearer town and lived in a large comfortable dwelling which had been provided by gifts from friends throughout the South. That house is still standing. About 200 yards away is the grave of Buckner at the head of which is a monument on which are inscribed the words: "My husband Rev. H. F. Buckner, D. D., December 18, 1818 - December 3, 1882 a missionary among the Creek Indians for 33 years from Pulaski Co., Ky. 'Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there shall come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.' Eternal life I have." His last words were "Eternal life, eternal life, eternal life I have."
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[From E. C. Routh, The Story of Oklahoma Baptists, 1932. - Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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