This history of The Indian Advocate is being reprinted with the permission of the principal author, Daniel F. Littlefield; it encompasses pages 163-167 of American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers and Periodicals, 1826-1924 : Published by Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut, USA.

THE INDIAN ADVOCATE (1889)


The Indian Advocate was published by the Benedictine Fathers at Sacred Heart Mission, Indian Territory (later, Oklahoma), near present-day Shawnee, between January, 1889, and April, 1910. It began as a quarterly of twenty-four pages with two columns each. Occasional illustrations appeared throughout the life of the magazine.

Sacred Heart was founded in 1875 as a monastery by Isadore Robot, O.S.B., a French monk, born at Tharoiseau, Yonne, France, in 1837. In 1873, he was sent to the United States as a missionary. After his arrival in New Orleans, the archbishop of that city sent him to work among the Potawatomis in Indian Territory. At the site of Sacred Heart, he was joined by three other monks, and the monastery was established. Robot was appointed Prefect Apostolic for Oklahoma in 1876 by Pope Pius IX. In the eyes of the Church and the monks, the task of the prefecture was to attend to the spiritual needs of some thirty American Indian tribal groups and about six thousand black people, in short, all the Catholics and potential converts in Oklahoma and Indian territories.

An Indian school for boys was opened almost immediately and, according to the publication, flourished. In 1880, some Benedictine nuns from New Orleans opened a girls' school and operated it until 1884, when it was turned over to a group of Sisters of Mercy from Illinois. The influx of whites in the 1880s led to the establishment of the College of Sacred Heart, an institution distinct from the Indian schools. St. Mary's Academy was added by the Sisters of Mercy to accommodate young ladies. A charter for the schools was issued later by the Oklahoma legislature.

After Robot's death in 1887, Father Thomas Duperou became the head of the school and monastery. He enlarged both institutions and added a Gothic church, completed in 1892. In 1896, the monastery was promoted to the status of abbey. The next year Duperou died and was succeeded by Father Felix DeGrasse, one of the pioneer priests of the community. When DeGrasse died in 1905, he was succeeded by Father Bernard Murphy.

A prospectus for The Indian Advocate, published in 1888, said that the object of the quarterly was "the progress of civilization in the Indian Territory, by promoting the spiritual as well as temporal welfare of the Indian race." It was "placed under the protection of Our Lady of the Rosary, of St. Michael, the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, and of St. Benedict, the great promoter of civilization in ancient as well as modern times " To be published in April, July, October, and January, it would "plead the cause of the last remnants of the Indian tribes, and of the Benedictine Missionaries, who have consecrated their life to the evangelization of these Children of the Wilderness."

The mission at Sacred Heart had no press until 1894, so the printing of the prospectus and the publication itself was done somewhere else, possibly in New York or Philadelphia. 1

The first editor of the publication was Father D. Ignatius. While the editor for The Indian Advocate is not named in most issues of the magazine (a fairly common practice among Catholic publications), it may be assumed that the abbot was instrumental in determining editorial policy. A short prospectus published in the early volumes of the Advocate set forth its purpose, described its contents, and provided clues as to the audience it expected to serve as well as to the attitudes held by the publishers toward the Indians. It would "plead the cause of the last remnants of the Indian tribes, and . . . give a history of their progress toward civilization," including "a general history of each tribe; their progress in education and religion; their occupations, industries, schools"; and "a history of our missions, statistics, and other interesting matter that can not be found in any other publication."

The Advocate was aimed at an audience of friends and supporters of the Catholic missions to the Indians as well as Indian students and members of the local community. The same emphasis on the "progress" made by the Indians and on the missionaries' efforts in "educating and converting" them can be seen here as in the Protestant missionary publications. This emphasis clearly reflects federal policy during the period and also indicates the aims and methods of the missionary movement among most denominations. One of the reasons for the existence of the Advocate was the same as that for other missionary publications: to convince the mission's supporters that the mission was succeeding in its task of ''civilizing" the Indians.

Another role for the publication was formulating public opinion in Indian affairs. The Indian Advocate commented on the political affairs of the time, especially those regarding the Church and its missionary efforts. The January, 1901, issue stated the case clearly. The aim of the Advocate was to promote the cause of the Indians, the interests of the Church in the Twin Territories, and the general advancement of the future state of Oklahoma.

Typically, the Advocate was comprised of four content areas: American Indian items, Church-related pieces, articles on schools and education, and histories and descriptions of missions and missionaries past and present. The items relating to the Indians included histories of various tribal groups. Articles like ''The Osages" and ''The Cheyennes" provided general information, while others, ''Choctaw Customs," for example, and ''An Indian Marriage" addressed particular aspects of the Indian cultures. Some pieces described contemporary conditions among the people while others, ''American Indians in the 16th Century," for example, were histories relying on the reports of early missionaries. Some news related incidents and movements among Indians in the Twin Territories and elsewhere, like ''Execution of a Creek," and "Indian Ghost Dances," and ''Indian Worship-Mescal Eaters." American Indian lore appeared in articles describing ceremonial dances and the practices of medicine men. Another regular feature was biographical sketches of some of the older Indians who had lived through periods of great upheaval. The Advocate printed political statements as well, including editorials on the whiskey trade. These were often outspoken, like the magazine's stand of January, 1896, against Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas J. Morgan's policy of assimilating Indians against their will. An early article, "The Rights of the Indians," recounted instructions given to a group of white settlers by Father Ignatius Jean at Purcell, April 21, 1889. Other items described conditions among the black people of the territories.


In much the same way as the American Indian-related content attempted to introduce friends and supporters to the Indians, much of the religious material introduced the Catholic Church and its missionaries. Articles described various aspects of Church doctrine, clarifying political and social positions taken by the Church, and presenting moral instruction through uplifting verse and didactic essays and fiction. For example, articles and editorials on subjects like divorce and trial marriages were written to clarify the Church's position on such matters while seeking to convince readers of the rightness of its positions. Political issues, especially those involving Catholics or the Church itself, were addressed in editorials and essays. One example is an article signed by Theodore Roosevelt on religious discrimination in politics; specifically, the essay addressed charges by political opponents that William Howard Taft was "sympathetic" to Catholics. Another essay, on the Catholic view of the separation of church and state, explained the Catholic citizen's allegiance to the Pope, a perennial election-year topic. Essays and commentaries appeared from time to time that were critical of other denominations such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Baptist Church. The evils of Socialism, identified as a "religion," were addressed as well.

Moral instruction, both direct and indirect, found its way into the pages of The Indian Advocate, as one might expect. Sermons and didactic essays were reprinted. The fiction that appeared was almost always religious in theme, recounting the adventures of the morally righteous and faithful. "The Mesa Mirabilis" by Father Cleorge is one such story which tells the tale of how Ignacio, an altar boy, recalls his religious instructions and baptizes a "pagan" Indian boy just before they are both killed. Such stories are similar to the bulk of Catholic juvenile literature published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in which a hard decision-made with the aid of religious training-turns out to be the right decision. Inspirational and religious verse was also published.

Since the major business of the mission was the operation of schools, education-related material was prominent. The "Locals" department was a regular feature, carrying news of school events and extracurricular activities. ''College Echoes" provided similar information. News from other mission schools in the area-St. Patrick's in Anadarko and St. Elizabeth's in Purcell, for example- appeared, as did news items reprinted from school publications in other parts of the country. The Advocate editorialized against what it identified as a conspiracy against Catholic Indian schools. It also published accounts of the difficulties encountered by missionaries attempting to set up new schools in outlying districts especially among the Indians and blacks. Efforts to do so were opposed bitterly by local Protestants, especially the Baptists, who saw Catholic schools as institutions intent on proselytization rather than on education.

The items dealing with missions were similar to those about the schools: both provided descriptions of contemporary activities, histories of specific missions and missionaries, and pleas for support for present and planned projects. Specific appeals were made for certain needs, among them help for a community of former slaves near Sacred Heart on the banks of the South Canadian River and funds for a proposed industrial school for Indian students. Reports on contemporary activities often contained accounts of the temporal and spiritual ''progress" being made by the Indians.

In 1900, The Indian Advocate was expanded to thirty-six or more pages with single columns. In 1901 it became a monthly publication and ceased in 1910 when the abbey burned.

The Indian Advocate is important to the history of the missionary movement among the American Indians, especially of Catholic efforts. The publication is useful in understanding the nature and background of the often bitter battles over the Indian's education fought by Catholic and Protestant missionaries.

Note

1. Lester Hargrett, Oklahoma Imprints, 1835-1890 (New York: R. R. Bowker Company, 1951), 188-189.

Information Sources

Bibliography: Carolyn Thomas Foreman, Oklahoma Imprints, 1835-1907 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1936); Grant Foreman, "Notes from the Indian Advocate, w Chronicles of Oklahoma, 14 (March, 1937), 67-83; Lester Hargrett, Oklahoma Imprints, 1835- 1890 (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1951); William L. Lucey, S.J., ''Catholic Magazines: 1890-1893," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 63 (September, 1952), 133-156; Eugene P. Willging and Herta Hatzfield, ''Catholic Serials of the Nineteenth Century, Oklahoma-New Mexico," ibid., 74 (Summer, 1963), 174-184.
Index Sources: None
Location Sources: NUC; OkShS; OkU-WHC; ULS

Publication History

Title and Title Changes: The Indian Advocate (1889-1910)
Volume and Issue Data: The Indian Advocate (Vol. 1, No. 1, January, 1889-Vol. 22, No . 3/4, March/April, 1910)
Publisher and Place of Publicaion: Benedictine Fathers, Sacred Heart Mission, Sacred Heart, Oklahoma (l889-l9l0)
Editor: Father D. Ignatius (1889)



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