History of Park Hill
Despite the efforts of early
missionaries, the Cherokees largely resisted giving up their
traditional religion and converting to Christianity up until the 19th
century. However, at the beginning of the 19th
century, the Cherokeeís attitude toward the white-manís religion
underwent a revolutionary change. In 1801, the Cherokee Council allowed
the Moravians to establish a school at Springplace. In 1803, Rev.
Gideon Blackburn, a young Presbyterian minister, was allowed to
establish a mission school near Tellico. These first schools
demonstrated that Cherokee children were bright and learned quickly.
Education became an important part of the Cherokee culture, culminating
in the invention of the Cherokee syllabary by Sequoyah which resulted
in a high rate of literacy among all Cherokees. Most Cherokees readily
accepted the Christian faith.
The earliest Christian
missionaries to the Cherokees, in the 17th and 18th centuries were
Scottish Protestants. Some Cherokees moved west in the late 1700s and
early 1800ís and Presbyterian missions were established in Arkansas
and, later, in what is now Oklahoma. By the time of the forced removal
of the main body of the Cherokees to Indian Territory in 1839, most
Cherokees had been converted to Christianity. Rev. Samuel Newton
established a Presbyterian mission in the Cherokee Nation at the
junction of the Illinois River and Barren Fork Creek.
In 1835, seeking a more
healthful location, Rev. Newton moved the mission to Park Hill. Log
buildings were put into use, and a school and church services were
held. A year later, Dr. Samuel Worchester arrived to become
Superintendent of the Mission. Dr. Worchester, with the help of Rev.
Stephen Foreman and Mr. Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee, made a translation
of the Bible and prepared a Cherokee Almanac and a Cherokee Hymn Book.
These were all printed in the Sequoyah syllabary on a printing press at
Rev. Newton and Dr. Worchester
were Congregational ministers and Rev. Foreman was Presbyterian. These
two churches worked together in missionary enterprises for many years.
The first church organized was Congregational, which was disbanded
after Dr. Worchesterís death in 1859. Rev. Foreman was away during the
Civil War. He returned in 1865 and continued his work, without an
organized church, until his death in 1881. The Presbyterian Church had
been divided during the war. The southern branch gave aid to Rev.
Foremanís work until 1876.
In 1885, Rev. G.T. Thompson
reorganized a church at Park Hill and a mission school was opened by
the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. The school operated until
after Oklahoma statehood in 1907 and church services were conducted by
various ministers. The first resident pastor was Rev. Arthur Grant
Evans who later became president of Henry Kendall College, a
Presbyterian college that later became the University of Tulsa.
In 1915, the church was razed
and was rebuilt about a mile away, at its present location. The
congregation of the present day Park Hill Presbyterian Church take
pride in the fact that it is one of the oldest churches in Oklahoma.
Many of them also take pride in their Cherokee heritage. Ms. Frankie
Parris Herrin and her sister, Ms. Billie Parris, great-great-great
granddaughters of Chief John Ross, have dedicated themselves to the
survival of the church through difficult times during the past thirty
years. Other present day Elders are Ms. Yvonne Davis and Ms. Dolly
Richardson, also great-great-great granddaughters of Chief Ross, Mr.
Wesley Smith, who is married to a great-great-great-great granddaughter
of Chief Ross, and Ms. Shirley Pettengill, curator of the Murrell Home
in Park Hill.