Cornerstones Are Seldom as Solid as They Seem

L.V. McWhorter

October 8, 2011

…Being called into action is one thing.  Finding yourself alongside a mentor who has already devoted and acting on behalf of the Yakama people is another.  W.F. Turner soon finds he has a mentor who is no slouch when it comes to speaking out for Yakama human rights and is not one to cut his silence (or anyone else for that matter) any slack.

No one in either the upper or the lower Yakama valleys came close to Lucullus V. McWhorter when it came to advocating for Yakama sovereignty and self-determination.  Yet, even McWhorter was a product of his education and religion, and believed right and correct as those actions and beliefs similar to his own.  Therefore, when he writes and gives solid evidence to the hurt inflicted upon the Yakama people by government and business, and calls society “to alleviate the bitterness” of these atrocities, he cannot help but recognize the Yakama as “childlike aborigines” who need to move forward from their current station in life.

McWhorter was Turner’s opposite when it came to developing personal relationship with Yakama folk.  For instance, he became a close friend of Yoom-Tee-Bee (then Chief of the Yakama) and together they traveled the reservation speaking with Yakama’s, persuading many not to sign government documents during a time when government and business were trying to reclaim reservation land.  McWhorter’s unrelenting advocate work promoting Yakama self-determination was not only a model for Turner, but a way of life— from McWhorter’s viewpoint—from which Turner should never stray.

It is hard to say why Turner left FCCY after a short six-year stay, however, it seems reasonable to suppose McWhorter’s advocacy for the Yakama had become part and parcel of Turner’s life.  In 1918, Turner takes the position of general superintendent with the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS) of Washington State and moves to Spokane.  Little time passes before Turner begins to develop support for the construction of a Yakama boarding school.  Working with two men who presented themselves as Christians and Blackfeet—Red Fox and Black Hawk, Turner arranges to have them present before the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati.  The impact of their presentation before ACMS led to the approval of funds for a Yakama boarding school at the Disciples 1919 Cincinnati International Convention.

Since Turner had little understanding of what it took to develop or run a boarding school, he along with F.W. Burnham, president of ACMS and S.G. Buckner, now the pastor of FCCY, visited the Episcopal Wind River Mission in Wyoming.  There they found a boarding school for Shoshone girls developed by the Reverend John Roberts.  Turner became thoroughly impressed with Roberts belief that if Indian children were “taught how to work and how to live as good Christian people,” they would also learn “to live like civilized people.”  Turner returns to Spokane and from a distance begins to develop a boarding school for Yakama children whose focus is Christianizing and civilizing.

Soon after ACMS approved the funds received from the International Convention, Turner approves buying an eighty-acre allotment two miles south of White Swan for $8,800.  With land bought, Turner turns to “[a] local board of managers, consisting of four white men and three Indians…Mr. Buckner, pastor at Yakima; C.C. Wheat, J.N. Price, and L.V. McWhorter…The Indian members were Neely Olney, cashier of the Indian bank in Wapato, Ben B. Olney, an Indian stockman, and Chief Stwire G. Waters,” to develop the Mission’s practices concerning work, education, and Christianity, as well as the compound layout and building design.

The board lost little time beginning construction on the boarding school and “[t]he cornerstone of the first cottage…was laid on June 26, 1920.”  However, soon after construction began, Turner and the board found they had gotten ahead of themselves.  In Turner’s sympathetic zeal to make a difference on the reservation, he failed to understand public support for Indian boarding schools had been lost when Indian youth began attending public schools in 1917.  Therefore, as the first Mission buildings were constructed, the board began reassessing the proposed boarding school.  Reevaluation resulted in redefining the boarding school as a Christian Home.  With a new identity in place, the American Tepee Christian Mission opened its doors to Yakama children in 1921.

Soon, though, Turner’s distance based Christianizing and civilizing efforts butt up against McWhorter’s local right of self-determination efforts, and the mentor and protégé relationship begins to unravel…

© David B. Bell 2011

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