Friday, April 03, 2009


This is the first part of a developing overview of the Methodist presence on the Blackfeet reservation in northern Montana in terms of their clergy. Because of accidents of economics, dynamics within the Methodist denomination and between Protestant identifications, and changing social expectations, the present church has developed an awkward organizational structure. On one hand is the traditional missionary desire to convert and civilize and on the other hand is the concept of the local self-sustaining congregation of the dwellers in the area.

Most of this material is taken from ”Mission among the Blackfeet” by Howard L. Harrod, published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Professor Harrod taught religious studies at Vanderbilt University for many years but has now passed on. It is time for a new review of the situation. Changing demographics and major shifts in the paradigm of misson have left the sources of income marooned on one side of the issue while a tiny congregation struggles to find a new identity in a new world where white mainline denominations are shrinking.

When I have recorded as much as seems prudent, I’ll post the whole thing and create a booklet, but I’ve discovered that once I post a blog on a subject, I get many additions from the readership, so here’s a bit of bait to get you started!

1893-1899 E.S. Dutcher
1899 - 1913 Francis Asbury Riggin
1913- 1921 A.W. Hammer

In the 1880’s “thirty-seven ministers arrived in Montana, twelve of whom remained in the state for the remainder of their lives. In the next decade and a half, one hundred and forty Methodist ministers were appointed to churches in Montana.

In 1891, one hundred and sixty acres of reservation land was granted to the Brooklyn and Bay Ridge branches of the Woman’s National Indian Association. Rev. and Mrs. E.S. Dutcher went to the reservation in 1893 as employees ofthe association. Dutcher was a member of the West Nebraska Methodist Conference but was transferred to the North Montana Mission upon his arrival at the reservation. In July, 1894, the mission was transferred from the Women’s National Indian Association to the Methodist church and was placed under the administration of the Missionary Society.

The new Epworth Piegan Mission was located on land adjoining the agency boarding school on Willow Creek. Agent Steell reported in 1893 that Dutcher was busily “engaged in completing a residence for himself and family. A chapel is to be erected soon. The chapel, about twenty-six by forty-five feet in size, was built with the assistance of interested Indians. When this lumber for the Methodist venture arrived at Durham Station,some three and one-half miles from the church site, Indians came with twenty-two teams and hauled the lumber to the location."

"Dutcher proved to be an extremely vigorous man, well-equipped to survive the frustrations of life on the reservation. He also brought to his work previous experience as a missionary among the Navajos. . . . His conception of the mission’s goals very closely followed the ideology of his time. Thus, the twin themes of civilization and Christianization, enunciated by the government and pursued by the Roman Catholic missionaries, became the organizing principles for Dutcher’s work as well."
When necessary, Dutcher hired himself out as a carpenter at $4 a day.

Riggin was actually a leader who lived in Helena. There was a shortage of Methodist ministers at this time, so no one was living in the mission buildings. This is about the time Young began to give out candy at Christmas, and this seems to have been the chief mission activity altogether, since Young was Methodist.

Hammer arrived as a missionary and was appalled at the condition of the buildings: “. . . in a deplorable condition . . .the church had 48 window lights broken out and the snow was from two to three feet deep over the entire floor. There had not been a service held in the church for several years, and all the other property was in like neglected conditons. There were no records to show who had been members or who had been baptized or married.”

During his first year the mission was moved into the town of Browning where a small group of white Protestants had been meeting. Within a year he had a congregation of seventy-one persons, mostly white ranchers and BIA employees. Browning incorporated in 1919 and was growing.

In the meantime, the Presbyterian church had formed a congregation which was served from 1912 to 1926 by Rev. James D. Gold, a highly educated Scot, whose son, Douglas Gold, built the first Browning public school and instituted a trachoma amelioration project by bringing opthamologists from Pennsylvia where the Golds had previously lived. Douglas Gold became the superintendent of the Browning schools. James Gold, plagued by depression, spent his later years in Warm Springs while Doug Gold went on to a career in state education circles. He was the author of “A Schoolmaster Among the Blackfeet.” The Presbyterians eventually merged their congregation with the Methodists. The entire Gold family kept their identification with the area and are buried in the Cut Bank cemetery.

1921 - 1926 Henry Mecklenburg
1926- 1945 Allen C. Wilcox PLUS Church of the Little Sweet Pine
1945 - 47 Stephen C. Smith
1947 - 1954 Edgar Bernard Smith
1954 summer Paul Hollenbeck
1954- 56 George Ritchey
1956-58 George P. Cox
1957 - summer Dave Olson (intern) Babb, Heart Butte
1958-59 Charlotte Bridges
1959-67 James E. Bell Babb, HButte
1963 - Harry E. Pearson Blackfeet United Methodist Parish (lay)
1965- 68 Conrad Himmel
1963-64 Richard D. Fiero Heart Butte

Meclenburg handled the doubleness of his congregation (white and mostly full-blood Blackfeet) by holding morning Sunday service for the whites and evening services for the Blackfeet. The system persisted until 1930. Since the Protestant churches had no sacramental dimension, they made it their business to visit homes and build friendships, as well as helping in practical ways, but in those days the full-bloods were still mostly Blackfeet speakers and the Methodist clergy had no expertise in the language. Members included Split Ears, Eagle Child, White Dog, Little Dog. Torn Weasel Head and Two Guns White Calf. The clergy probably did not realize that these are also the names of prominent ceremonialists in the old Blackfeet way: “Bundle Keepers.”


1974-1981 Walter F. Mason
1981-93 F. Richard and H. Marine
1983-1985 James R. Bentley (PM)
1986-87 Ron Barr
1987 - 88 Mary Scriver
1989 Richard (Jake) Jacobson
1989 -90 Peggy Salois
1990- 1994 Donna Lee Martin
1994 - 1998 Rowland Freeman



Anonymous said...

I have a book entitled "When Wagon Trails Were Dim" written by Paul M Adams, 1957. The book is a detailed summary of early Methodist ministers in Montana. The book I have appears to have belonged to Henry C Mecklenburg as it has his signature in it and a handwritten date of 1957. I may be interested in passing this book along to a direct descendant of Henry C Mecklenburg. I purchased the book thru either Amazon or Ebay a few years ago.

Kootmag said...

I am Henrys granddaughter and would love to buy this book from you if you still have it.
Maggie Mjelde