Chronicles of Oklahoma - Volume 19, No. 2 - June, 1941
In September of the year 1885 a man came to the Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma. His one increasing purpose was to preach and teach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Indians. That man was John Jasper Methvin.
He was the son of John and Mourning Glover Methvin. He was born December 17, 1846, near Jeffersonville, Georgia. The days of his youth were spent on the farm. He attended the rural schools and later Auburn and Talmadge Institutes.
In his sixteenth year he joined the Confederate army and served two years. These years were the most horrible years of the war and he engaged in some of the hottest battles. However, he seldom referred to the war. When he did he characterized it as "that senseless war."
After the war he finished his studies in college and studied law. He was admitted to the bar at Milledgeville, then the capitol, of Georgia. He spent only a short while as an attorney at law. Being called to preach he turned his attention to preaching and teaching. For about twelve years he was alternately principal of the Nachoochee and Cleveland High Schools and at the same time was Superintendent of Public Instruction of White County, Georgia.
He was licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1870 and ordained a local deacon in 1874.
During the college terms of 1880-1883 he was President of Gainesville College in Georgia, and of Butler Female College, Georgia,
in 1883-1885. He was reelected President of Butler College in 1885, but resigned to answer an appeal from Bishop Robert K.
Hargrove, a Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to go to the Indian Territory as Superintendent of New Hope Seminary,
a Mission School for girls under the joint supervision of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Council of the Choctaw
In the late summer of 1885 he turned his footsteps westward. On May 6, 1873 he married Miss Emma Louise Beall. To them were
born before they left Georgia three sons—Thomas Mabry, John Jasper, and W. G.—and one daughter, now Mrs. J. P. Blackmon. These
came with him to the Indian Territory. Another son, H. A. was born shortly after they arrived at New Hope.
The Fall term of New Hope Seminary opened September 7, 1885. A good faculty had been employed. A dormitory large enough to
accommodate one hundred students had been erected. One hundred students were present. They made commendable progress in their
studies. Eighty-two of the students were converted and joined the church. However, during the previous year serious differences
had arisen between the Church and the Council about the management of the school. The Choctaw Council voted to rescind the
contract they had with the church effective at the close of the School year in 1886. Therefore Methvin had to "shape his course
toward the closing of the school rather than the development of it." After so successful a year many of the leading members
of the Choctaw Council regretted their action in rescinding the contract with the Church. Nevertheless after forty years of
service to the Nation the school closed. The last year was the best year.
The year 1885 also marked the beginning of Methvin's career as an itinerant Methodist Preacher. He was admitted on trial into
the Indian Mission Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South at the Annual Conference which met at old Skullyville,
September 17-20, 1885. Bishop John C. Granberry presided. He was also elected and ordained an elder at that Conference.
Bishop Charles B. Galloway presided over the Indian Mission Conference which met at Eufaula, October 20, 1886. He appointed
Methvin Superintendent of Seminole Academy. This school was operated by the Church under a contract with the Seminole Nation.
There were forty students in the school. Baptist families. When Methvin discovered that the gospel was being supplied to the
Seminole Indians by the Baptists, he recommended that the contract which the Seminole nation had with the Methodist church
be terminated. The Seminole Council readily agreed and the school passed from under the care of the Methodist Church.
During that year, Methvin made a reconnoitering trip among the Western Tribes of Indians in the Oklahoma Territory. Until
then the work of the Methodist Church had been confined to the Five Civilized Tribes which inhabited the eastern part of the
Indian Territory. Farther to the West were the Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Caddo, Sac and Fox, Osage, Ponca, Otoe, Kiowa,
Apache, Wichita and other Indian Tribes. He found that no permanent Christian work had been established among any of them.
Savagery, ignorance, superstitution, hatred for the White man, dislike for schools, weird funeral customs, fear of medicine
men and religious fetish prevailed. Peyote, a most degrading form of worship, was the most prevalent religion. He wrote a
letter to Bishop Galloway and to the Board of Missions appealing for young men without marital obligations but who could endure
hardships to be sent as missionaries to these Indian Tribes.
The forty-second Indian Mission Conference met at Vinita, Indian Territory, October 12, 1887. Methvin rode horseback, from
Seminole Academy to Eufaula, the trip requiring two days' riding. From Eufaula to Vinita he enjoyed the luxury of train travel.
Bishop Galloway presided over the Conference. Early in the Conference session he told the Conference of the letters of Brother
Methvin concerning the western tribes and of his intention to send missionaries to them. Those were the days of secret cabinet
sessions in the Methodist Church. The appointments of the preachers were kept secret until the closing of the Conference.
No one knew what his appointment would be until the close of the Conference when the appointments were read. On August 5,
1931 Brother Methvin wrote to me of that tense moment in that Conference of the long ago as follows:
I did not anticipate that I was one of the missionaries to be sent. Inasmuch as I had a wife and five young children I did
not judge myself eligible for so difficult but glorious task. So I was startled into quickened heart beats when I heard Bishop
Galloway in his clear, musical voice read.
Missionary to the Western Tribes,
J. J. Methvin.
After adjournment, I went to him and thanked him for the appointment. He put his arm around me, gave me his blessing and promised
to follow me with his prayers and re-inforcements as the work developed. He advised me to put my family in some border town
in Kansas or Texas, while I pioneered the field and established the work. But my wife declined to go to Kansas or Texas, but
determined to go with me and endure whatever might come to us. As it seems now that was a daring thing to do, but we did not
think much of it at the time. The mission we were to undertake, the romance of the movement, and the thrill of new things
opening constantly before us, broke the force of the trials endured.
Methvin lost no time in getting home after Conference. He broke the news of his appointment to his wife and children. Immediately
they began preparations for the long and perilous journey. It was a clear, cool October morning when they left Seminole Academy.
A hack for the family and a wagon for the baggage and household effects formed the caravan. Methvin's stout heart and heroic
missionary spirit inspired confidence. Mrs. Methvin was calm, pensive, but no less determined to "see all nor be afraid."
The children, unmindful of the dangers and hardships, were full of glee. They went neither knowing the way nor the end of
the way. The road was rough, at times a very uncertain trail. It led through swamps, across bridgeless creeks with difficult
approaches, over hills and across the South Canadian and other streams with their ever treacherous quicksands. When nearly
across the South Canadian horses and hack began sinking in the sand, so deep the horses could go no further. Two Negroes came
to the rescue. Knowing the stream, they rode out on their Indian ponies and carried Mrs. Methvin and the children to safety.
Then the horses rid of part of their burden and, with the aid of a lariat and the pulling of the other horses and the men, the hack and Methvin were brought out of the river. They went on to White Bead Hill. There
they camped for a few days to rest, to repair the hack and to await the arrival of the baggage wagon. After this stop they
proceeded to the United States Indian Agency located at Anadarko. The trip took five actual traveling days, but it was well
into November before they finally reached their destination. They had suffered many reverses, privations and hardships.
It was a wild scene that greeted them at Anadarko, with no place to lay their weary heads. A trader, having compassion upon
them, moved out of a little shack he had used as a kitchen in order to accommodate them. For two years they occupied that
doubtful shelter. In it they spent one of the most severe winters that ever visited Oklahoma. In the spring, after their arrival
in November, another daughter, Lillian (Mrs. Lillian Gassaway now of Carnegie, Oklahoma) was born.
During those two years while Mrs. Methvin struggled to make habitable the humble dwelling place, Methvin surveyed his new
mission field from the Cherokee Strip on the North to Texas on the south and west. He decided to centralize his work among
the Kiowas, Comanches and Apaches. They were the three most numerous and perhaps the most warlike of the western tribes. He
visited them in their tepees in the winter and under their arbors during the summer. At first the mission seemed hopeless.
The Indians were stolid. They appeared listless. Some would leave him in an angry mood. He had difficulty getting an interpreter.
Those who could understand English would rarely let it be known to a stranger. He overcame that difficulty by inquiring before
hand the name of some one who could interpret. He would then visit a group of Indians, begin talking to them and asked them
if any one in the group could speak English. No one would answer. He then would call a person by name, who being surprised
that he, a stranger knew him by name, would quickly ask, Who told you my name? With that person he readily made contact. Thus
he discovered Virginia Stumbling Bear at Mt. Scott. She proved to be very helpful to him in all of his work.
Slowly but surely, the kindly heart, the quiet demeanor, the simple earnestness, the patient constant toil of this man of
God in the interest of the Indians won his way into their hearts. Enough interest began to be shown to justify a building
He, first, built a parsonage with an annex which he used as a place of worship. He continued his visits to them in their tepees,
but invited them to come and join in the "New Worship." Only a few answered the first call. Gradually the congregation increased.
Some responded to the altar call. Among the first of the Kiowas converted was their Chief, To-hau-sin. To-hau-sin was the
son of a great warrior and had followed his father on the war path. Soon after Methvin came to the Agency, Chief To-hou-sin came to him and said, "Why you come set down here." Methvin explained that
he had come not to make money, nor engage in business, nor to defraud the Indians, but to bring a message of love from the
great Father of us all and his Son Jesus Christ, and to be as helpful as he could to all of the Indian Tribes. To-hou-sin
listened with interest and gave his approval. He became a constant attendant at the worship services. In due time he was converted
and joined the church. Many Indians who had followed their Chief in war followed him into the Church. Brother Methvin's friends
among the Indians multiplied. The Kiowas elected him to citizenship in their nation and granted him an allotment of land.
The Christian work progressed among other tribes and churches and Sunday schools were organized.
Methvin's next building program was a school. He needed a school to conserve the work of evangelism. He applied to the government
for a plot of land on which to build a school. This was readily granted. He applied to the Missionary Society of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, South for aid. He was granted $2,500.00 to start with. Other donations followed. The Woman's Board of Missions
took over the enterprise. It was named Methvin Institute in honor of its founder. The first building was erected in the Spring
of 1890. The school opened with fifteen pupils. The number increased as provision was made for their care. More than one hundred
pupils were soon enrolled. The life of the school was about twenty years. It proved a great civilizing agency. Many of the
students became leaders not only among the Indians but also in the affairs of Oklahoma and the United States.
Many personal sorrows were added to the heavy burdens of Methvin. Two of his sons, Thomas Mabry and John Jasper, died and in 1904 his wife.
Four years after her death, Methvin married Miss Ida May Swanson. In this wedlock four boys were born, Marvin, Clark, Paul
and Lee. Marvin, Paul and Lee survive. Ida May Swanson Methvin spent twenty years of her life teaching and superintending in Methvin Institute. She survives him.
Methvin received his last appointment as an active minister at the Annual Conference which met at South McAlester, Indian
Territory, October 26-November 1, 1904. He was re-appointed President of Methvin Institute. At the Conference of 1905 he was
granted a supernumerary relation. At the Conference which met in Oklahoma City, November 6-11, 1908 he retired from active service.
Although his long, faithful service entitled him to superannuation and retirement, he only officially retired and that with
great grace. He was yet strong in body and mind. He continued to work. He was much in demand for sermons and addresses. He
always attended the Annual Conferences. No Conference was quite complete without him and his friend, Andres Martinez. He was also an attendant and active participant in the affairs of the Indian Mission Conference after its separation from the White Conference.
Methvin was a ready writer. He was a frequent contributor to the Conference organ of the Indian Mission Conference, Our Brother In Red, and to the Christian Advocate, the general organ of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as well as to other periodicals. His published works include:
Andele, a Story of the Kiowa-Mexican Captive; In the Lime Light—a Story of Anadarko; Fig Leaves and Else and The Lone Cedar and Else, a small volume containing some of his poems.
Brother Methvin's poetic soul was full of humor, sound philosophy and inspiring religion. His mental powers were preserved
even down to old age. When the roll of superannuates was called at Conference his name was reserved until the last. The presiding
Bishop would call him forward and give him more than the ordinary time to make his report. He was always present and always
enlivened the session of the Conference with his sparkling wit. His kindly sarcasm cut clean because it was kindly. His flashes
of humor, his stories from his rich experience, his poetry, his philosophy of life, his Biblical lore, his example of pure,
godly living was an inspiration to all. He finished his journey on this planet on the seventeenth day of January, 1941.
Chronicles of Oklahoma