1801 - 1898
The story of the Oaks Indian Mission begins with Moravian Missionaries who emigrated from Europe in the early to mid-1700s to what is now the Carolinas and Georgia, to establish mission work among the Cherokee people.
The Moravians originated in southern Europe while the Danes later came from Northern Europe. Yet the two found a common religious leader in Martin Luther. They are important in the history of Protestantism because they were the first to declare, “Evangelism was the duty of the church.”
Never a large group within themselves, they were noted for their Christian influence. In 1745, they began the establishment of missions. From their southern headquarters at Salem, NC, they were the first successful missionaries among the Cherokee Nation. This successful Cherokee Mission began in 1801 in Springplace, Georgia.
So well respected were they that they were one of only two denominations that were agents of the government. Teaching and preaching went hand in hand. The Cherokees, from an early date, were interested in education. Schools were always welcomed while churches were sometimes only tolerated. (The word “mission” is used in reference to an educational emphasis.)
Population expansion and discovery of gold in Georgia caused pressure to be placed on the government to move the Native Americans west. President Jackson (1829-37) was in favor of this removal and worked to accomplish it. The first group of Cherokees left Georgia peaceably and in 1817 settled in what is now the state of Arkansas. In 1834, Georgia authorized a state lottery by which Springplace Mission was lost to a bartender. The Mission Home then found temporary shelter in the state of Tennessee. The final removal of the Cherokees was under armed guard lasting for a full year and resulted in the deaths of approximately one-third of the Cherokee Nation.
This final removal of the Cherokee People became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Three Moravian Missionaries left the comfort of their homes to arrive ahead of the Native Americans, with the purpose of searching for a good place to settle in what later became the state of Oklahoma. The site they found was north of the current city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma near the Illinois River in, what is now, northeastern Oklahoma. They named this place New Springplace after their former home in Georgia.
New Springplace was obtained for the Moravian Mission site by special permission of the Cherokee Council through Chief John Ross, a Methodist, and friend of all missionaries. Chief Ross gave a trunk full of books to New Springplace Mission for the school’s opening in 1842.
The future of the Indian Territory missions was in doubt after the Dawes Commission of 1893 broke up Cherokee domain by assigning land allotments. A letter from Mission Headquarters asked the Dawes Commission for a copy of the New Cherokee Treaty and inquired if the Mission would be receiving 160 acres, as was the original amount of land allowed in the Treaty of 1866.
The response from the Dawes Commission was that the Mission would be receiving four acres instead of 160 acres. After receiving the Commission’s response, Springplace Mission closed. (The prefix “New” had been dropped sometime during the 60 years New Springplace had existed.) When it became obvious statehood was coming, Native Americans tried to have Indian Territory become a separate state called Sequoyah.
1898 - 1926
Missionary work among the Native Americans was a slow and trying process. Not until 1898 did Rev. Nielsen experience the joy of baptizing his first convert, a girl of 16. Thus, a church was established in late October 1903 named Eben Ezer Lutheran Church.