The remarkable story of Goodland began in 1789 when Secretary of War Henry Knox wrote to George Washington asking him for men of excellent moral character to live with the Indians with the express goals of educating them and introducing them to Christianity. Unlike several other Indian boarding schools whose only apparent goals were forced assimilation and the complete eradication of Indian culture, Goodland took the unique position of welcoming all tribes, working diligently to blend each child's indigenous beliefs with the new teachings of his white neighbors. The Presbyterian Church has maintained a presence in Oklahoma for more than 180 years. Beginning in the early 1800s the church developed foreign missions and evangelistic enterprises with Native tribes that were located in the southeastern United States. Most of this work was conducted under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM), an organization composed of both Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The Choctaws were the first of the five great southern tribes of the United States to be moved to Oklahoma by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Over 20,000 Choctaws moved on this long journey, with many of the Choctaw people not surviving this removal on what has come to be called "THE TRAIL OF TEARS".
Missionaries were sent to Oklahoma Territory. A missionary is a member of a religious group which is sent into an area in order to promote its faith or provide services to people, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development. These missionaries established good rapport with the Choctaws, and early impressed upon the Choctaws the importance and need for formal education. Two Presbyterian ministers, Rev. Ebenezer Hotchkin and Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, established the Yakni Achukma (Choctaw for "Good Land") mission station in 1835, in southeastern Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma).
William Fields, a full-blood Choctaw, built the first house on the Goodland property, soon to be followed by other Choctaw homes. As the community grew, the most vital concern of the Indian people was the education of their children.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), recognized the need for a permanent missionary to Good Land and sent Rev. and Mrs. John Lathrop to this mission station. John Lathrop built the first structure, a two-room log manse (house occupied by a minister of a Presbyterian church), where he and his wife lived and ministered to the Choctaws living in the surrounding community.
Educated in theology at Princeton University, Oliver Stark had been serving as superintendent of the Old Spencer Academy for Indian Boys near Fort Towson, Choctaw Nation, when the Presbyterians approached him with the idea of beginning a boarding school for the Choctaws. After much consideration, Stark and his wife finally agreed to the move, but they were quickly overwhelmed with the amount of work that needed to be done. They spent days clearing the land for a garden, an orchard, and a farm. They planted trees, dug wells, taught the Indians to farm, and endured the beginnings of the Civil War during their tenure there, all the while making the modest sum of $600 a year. Desiring to preach to the Choctaws in their native tongue, Rev. Stark mastered the Choctaw language in a remarkably short three years. Margaret began teaching four young Choctaw boys in her home with the Bible as her only textbook. Starting primarily as a day school, within two years the number had grown to 42 Indian children. Although Stark took enormous pride in his new congregation, he openly expressed concern about the emotional state of the Indian children who lived nearby. He was especially concerned about the separations of husbands and wives and the disastrous effects upon their children. He later added that the Indians' only hope lay in education, with the church supplying both material and spiritual salvation. Orphaned children were boarded by families on present day Goodland property, so they could receive an education. A church was built in 1852. The church stands on the Goodland campus today. It serves as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness to each successive generation. (Heb. 11:1 – 12:3). In 1854, however, Mrs. Stark died while giving birth to her fourth child. Less than two weeks later her infant daughter also died, leaving Stark the task of raising three children and running the school. The graciousness and hospitality of the Presbyterian newcomers greatly impressed the Indians who lived nearby. Goodland and its missionaries became both home and family to the children, and Oliver Stark continued to preach that those who lived in destitution could, with a little exertion and hard labor, improve their lives considerably.
The quiet life of the school changed abruptly when the Civil War began. In 1861 two companies of Choctaw troops trained for service with the Confederate army on the grounds at Goodland. During the Civil War, Choctaw troops drilled on the campus for service in the Confederacy. With the onset of the Civil War and the departure of the Starks, the mission and school faced perilous times. Presbyterians and Indians worked side by side to continue the Saturday and Sabbath schools, with residents of the community paying the teachers' salaries. But there were problems. Because of the severe poverty of the people, attendance dropped considerably as families struggled to maintain their farms.
Post Civil War
After the war, Choctaw elders at Goodland were determined to maintain the school and church. During these difficult years. Governor and Mrs. Basil LeFlore were strong pillars in the work. At Goodland, Carrie LeFlore took the position of principal teacher — a position she held for fifteen years. Governor LeFlore died in 1886; Carrie LeFlore, in 1909. They lie buried side by side, just north of the Goodland Campus in the cemetery they gave to the community. Besides the LeFlores, a number of other dedicated men and their wives kept the work at Goodland alive. These included: Wilson Jones, Hartwell McCann, and Wall Hayes, all Choctaw elders; also, John P. Turnbull, Solomon Hotema, Silas Leonard Bacon, Joel Spring, H. L. Gooding (brother to Carrie), Elias Jacobs, Ellis Woods, Michael Pitchlynn, and Osborne Battiest.
Rev. Turnbull was Head Master at Goodland Indian Orphanage and a Presbyterian minister at Goodland (1866 - 1890). Rev. Turnbull was also a Choctaw Supreme Court Judge, National Treasurer for the Tribe and Superintendent of Choctaw Tribal Schools. He died on May 08, 1894, at Goodland and is buried there.
John Turnbull and his wife gave the church the bell which may be seen today on the Goodland Campus.
The arrival of Rev. Joseph Parker Gibbons in 1890 marked the end of the dark period when the mission had survived without a regular pastor and teacher. The Rev. Joseph Parker Higgons came in 1890 and remained until his death in 1918.
Miss Elizabeth Rood was appointed missionary-teacher. In 1894 the Goodland Mission became a part of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. and the first dormitory was built for the Goodland Indian Orphanage. Families near Goodland began the practice of taking orphan children into their homes. Goodland became known as an important center for the teaching and training for these destitute children. By 1920 the campus was composed of 75 acres.
Mrs. Bella McCallum Gibbons was also a noted outstanding women associated with Goodland during this time. For thirty-nine years she taught Indian children. She served as a teacher; as a mother to Gibbons’ children; as a worker in the church and community; as editor of the Indian Arrow (1928). On November 15, 1933, in Oklahoma City, she was honored at a special banquet by Governor W. J. Holloway, who made her a colonel, the first woman ever to be appointed in the state to a governor's staff. Her picture hangs in the Hall of 69 Famous Oklahomans, in the State Historical Society Building.
Silas Bacon, who grew up in the home and became a Presbyterian minister, became the first superintendent from 1898 to 1921. Eliza Kaneubbe Bacon (1857-1922), was the wife of Rev. Silas Bacon. The Bacons were a childless couple, lavishing all their love and resources on the orphans at Goodland, earning their undying appreciation. Bacon was totally dedicated to his beloved school. While he could never beg for himself, he did not mind humbling himself to beg on behalf of the children in his care. "My heart makes me know that God is in this work. We got to do all we can. And I notice no child has starved. None has froze in our school, even if times have been so hard most of the time." Bacon made a lasting impression on the community with his selfless love for children. Bacon spoke of the struggles he encountered when he first took office, "This is the way our little school gets start. It start like it was one orphan itself, just like children's living in it was orphan. Not change much yet in any way, still looks like orphan yet ... Think I might be too much shame to beg for myself; but when I see them little Indian children's hungry and cold, seem like I not too shame to beg for them." During this time he and the Choctaw Council was negotiating with the Federal Government over the establishment of small boarding schools, including Goodland. 1921, Bacon succumbed to tuberculosis. He is buried in the Goodland Cemetery near another early pioneer of southeastern Oklahoma. Basil LeFlore, the first governor of the Choctaw Nation.
Goodland Indian Orphanage was the only Indian school in Choctaw County which survived the upheaval brought about by statehood. Indians from the Choctaw tribe gave land to the school, and in 1908 the school boasted seventy-five acres. The Choctaw Council gave Bacon $3,500 to build an auditorium, and in 1918 church members donated enough money to build a dormitory for girls.
The Presbyterian Home Mission built a manse on the campus at a cost of $1,000. Because of its history of association with the Presbyterian Church, Goodland Indian Orphanage was closely allied with the ministers who preached at the church located on the Goodland Campus.
The school was transferred to the control of the Indian Presbytery, and a contract for 80 children was granted from Tribal funds. In 1914, the Choctaw Council made a gift of $10,000 with $3,500 being used to build one of the boys' dormitories. Other buildings and improvements were partially financed through gifts and donations from many sources. the Choctaws experienced their institutions and their identity as a people being stripped from them, more and more they turned to Goodland as the last vestige of their autonomy.
Goodland was serving 250 Indian children representing 10 tribes. It had a school system and five dormitories. Samuel Bailey Spring was made superintendent of Goodland Indian Orphanage — a position he held until his death on April 17, 1930. He was one-fourth Choctaw and was highly educated. In spite of his advantages, he cared very deeply for young people. When given the choice of Principal Chief of the Choctaws or Superintendent of Goodland Indian Orphanage, he chose the latter. One of his former students once wrote of him, "We always felt free to talk over any question with him. Not once did he turn a child away, saying, "I'm too busy to see you now." And always we left those meetings with our problems solved, with something to work on, some word of encouragement, and some praise."
Control was transferred to the Synod of Oklahoma.
The 1929 financial crash had serious repercussions in Oklahoma. In Goodland's favor was that it was the only home for Indian orphans maintained by the Presbyterian Church U.S., but it had a debt of over $30,000. The synod, although in a financial pinch of its own, voted to continue the home. The church called Rev. E. D. Miller to supervise the home during this time of crisis. With the help of many friends, he paid the outstanding debt within six years. He repaired and painted the older buildings, fireproofed the roofs, sodded the campus with grass, planted gardens and orchards, and built a poultry flock and a dairy herd. He laid out gravel drives and concrete walks and added a tennis court and football field. Miller jokingly referred to his method of administration as a "Divine-Human Partnership".
Goodland public school consolidated with the Home's own school on campus. Goodland Public school merged with the Goodland Indian Orphanage for a total of 250 students in the school. Under the New Deal program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided funds to construct new buildings on the campus, including a grade school, a combination gym/auditorium and a hospital. The Goodland gymnasium and auditorium became a community center for all kinds of parties, programs, lectures, meetings, and athletic events. One beloved teacher who began her service about this time was Mrs. D. A. (Norma) Stovall, music teacher. Her programs and musical groups became known throughout the area and the state as she presented the young people from Goodland Indian Orphanage.
J. R. McChesney, of San Jose, California, purchased an eight-acre tract of land adjoining the campus on the south, making the donation in memory of his wife. The archway at the entrance of the campus completed this Minnie McChesney Memorial.
A barn had been built and four other buildings constructed of brown native stone under the Works' Progress Administration part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression. Gifts of land and money continued to trickle in, and the property then measured 390 acres. Daniel F. Wade, a fullblood Choctaw known to his friends as "the Christian cowboy," donated money for a hospital in 1933. Wade, an old-time cowboy of southeast of Boswell, was a large stockholder in the Boswell National Bank. Today this stone structure is called Wade Hall. A wonderful letter written by Journalist, Hazel B. Greene illustrates Goodland life in 1938. Link
Goodland owned 763 acres of land, 390 of which comprise the campus. Around 1946 it is documented that over 200 students lived and worshipped on campus. Link. During the years between 1941 and 1945, time and overcrowding began to take their toll on the school.
Rev. Oscar Gardner, Choctaw, became Superintendent of Goodland Indian Orphanage in October, 1946. When he moved to Goodland, he faced problems of the physical welfare and health of 200 boys and girls. The institution was in debt for $13,000; the water supply was inadequate; farm operations were losing money; the staff was unhappy and in a state of confusion. Income from the churches was low. Health problems among the children were varied and persistent. To establish harmony, some of the staff were dismissed. After three years, the school had no indebtedness and $20,00 worth of improvements. Gardner resigned from the school on August 30, 1957. He died of a heart attack on June 13, 1958. Oscar Gardner was the last of the superintendents of the Goodland Indian Orphanage who adhered firmly to the historical purpose upon which the school had been founded. In 1950 nine tribes were represented at Goodland, including 177 Choctaws, 17 Chickasaws, 2 Cherokees, 6 Creeks, 2 Seminoles, 6 Apaches, 5 Sac and Foxes, 1 Kickapoo, and 1 Arapaho, plus 47 white children. But the next decade saw a drop in attendance and enrollment as more and more families moved to larger cities, and the number of new students dwindled into the teens.
Rev. H. Grady James took charge after Rev. Oscar Gardners resignation. The needs of children now centered around abuse, neglect, and , and broken homes because of divorce, imprisonment, or alcoholism. Recognizing the changing times as well as the needs of Goodland, James requested help from the local Child Welfare Supervisor in Hugo and asked a consultant from the Synod be sent to evaluate the orphanage.
The Presbyterian Church decided to open the door to non-native Americans. Normal wear and tear took their toll of the old dormitories, so smaller and safer cottages were built in the 1960s. During the same period, the original church was restored and dedicated to Stark, leader of the Mission through the 1850s. The name of the orphanage changed in 1960 and the high school students were sent to a local school in nearby Grant, Oklahoma. Only the elementary school remained operational.
A statement was issued by the Board: "The Goodland Presbyterian Children's Home has as its primary purpose to provide for the welfare of all orphaned, dependent, or neglected children in the area of the Oklahoma Presbyterian Synod who meet with the institution admission requirements."
Life at Goodland became "wild and crazy," much like the decade itself. The Board decided to change the mission of the boarding school and admit only boys from troubled families. Officials made a choice to stop accepting girls in 1981. Historically, and to the Choctaws, Goodland will always be an Indian School. Yet, in 1977, few Indian children are to be found among the children in Goodland Children's Home. From 1970 to 1989 Goodland housed state children and juvenile delinquents. The goals and practices remained the same, but the policies that had been in place for more than 100 years changed with the times.
David Dearinger became the new director of the home, and while instigating a stricter, highly structured program, he also returned to traditional methods that were geared more to children with special problems. These children are welcome to stay at Goodland voluntarily and are free to go home anytime. But if he wants, he can live there until he's 18 or older. David always said, "God is love and people do not need to complicate that". Dearinger served as a mentor for 33 years until the very day of his passing on September 19, 2021. Dearinger adopted a strong spiritual life on campus and raised his 4 children on campus with wife Martha.
Reagan Abbiss was hired as COO. This year marked a pivotal crossroads for Goodland. Goodland is reflecting on the past and has redefined Goodland's Mission, Values & Vision to form strategic direction for the future. Goodland Academy is working on rebuilding new programs to fit the needs of todays young people. Abbiss is evaluated the current building conditions in order to preserve the historic school house, basketball gym and other fundamental buildings. Abbis, her husband and two children lived on campus. Abbiss and her family departed after a year. Abbiss and her husband Joe made much needed improvements to the campus and made way for new leadership.
On 7-14-2023 the Goodland Board of Trustees named Chris Scott as CEO of Goodland Academy effective immediately. The vote was unanimous across the board. Chris's Interim period was for 3 months and he has made dramatic improvements on campus. There are more kids on campus to serve and several building renovations are taking place! Chris is in the process of creating more partnerships to fulfill future programs.
The Goodland Board of Trustees is honored and humbled to be apart of the decision to name Chris Scott as CEO. Through many prayers and due diligence the board is confident with this decision. As we continue with God's work we pray for this campus, the children we serve and Chris's family.
A brief on the humble beginnings of Goodland:
According to Ruby Wile, author of "Yakni Achukma, The School with a Soul".
"Goodland's real significance, however, rests in qualities other than these distinctions. Unlike several other Indian boarding schools whose only apparent goals were forced assimilation and the complete eradication of Indian culture, Goodland took the unique position of welcoming all tribes, working diligently to blend each child's indigenous beliefs with the new teachings of his white neighbors. Although assimilation was indeed part of the school's intent, the basic idea that motivated five generations of Presbyterians was to help the Indian children learn to function in a Christian world while maintaining a strong degree of reverence for their native culture. They accomplished that goal through love, education, and physical labor. All children who passed beneath the stone archway were valued and kindly treated." Please see LINK to a detailed account of the Goodland Mission.
Goodland Academy is completely funded by individual donations without any federal or state funding. Goodland receives donations from a variety of generous donors . Goodland also receives donations from numerous churches and organizations, including the Choctaw Nation.