The White Chief of Cache Creek

Faith Martin and Charles McBurney | Crown & Covenant Publications, 2020, 440 pp., |$16

Why does our modern military have combat helicopters named for the Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa? Who were they to be thus honored? They were—especially the Comanche—proud, cruel warrior nations that fought heroically, viciously, and ultimately hopelessly while their centuries’ long way of life was crushed.

Their buffalo were gone; their chief warriors surrendered to the U.S. Army; they were confined to a territory that would all too soon be invaded by opportunistic white men of dubious morals. Their numbers rapidly dwindled due to illness and lack of their customary food sources.

How then should they live? Which new road to take? The Peyote Road, recently introduced from Mexico? Or something hard, sober, yet ultimately more eye-opening: the Jesus Road? The humbled Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa hungered for spiritual guidance.

Faith Martin and Charles McBurney’s book, The White Chief of Cache Creek, lays out in detail the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America’s response to the U.S.’s conquest of the Plains Indians. “Carithers’ goal was to get the Indians safely on the Jesus Road before they had to walk the white man’s road.…[O]nce on the Jesus Road, Indians could enter white culture from a position of strength” (p. 335).

While Martin and McBurney’s book only hints at the history that preceded the arrival of missionary Work Carithers in Cache Creek, Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), the reader is well advised to keep in mind the larger picture of the United States’ conquest of the Great Plains Indians. It was notable indeed that Carithers chose to pitch his tent deep in the territory, close to the crossroads of the Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa—in stark contrast to several other Christian missions that huddled close under the walls of U.S. Army outpost Fort Sill. Carithers believed both in God’s protection and the full humanity of the Indians he was sent to preach to. He was proven right that the Comanche, along with the other tribes in the surrounding area, would respect and even appreciate those who came to help them learn how to navigate the white man’s peculiar ways.

Martin’s perhaps politically incorrect use of the term “Indian” helps keep the historic focus, as do rich descriptions drawn from the missionaries’ letters of their experiences with rattlesnakes, malaria, smallpox, scheming bureaucrats, measles, and murder!

Betsy Perkins, Elkins Park RPC

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