1872: Charles P. Birkett to Bishop William Hobart Hare

Gravestone of Charles Birkett in Omaha

Gravestone of Charles P. Birkett in Omaha, Nebraska

This is a copy of a letter that Charles P. Birkett (1821-1893) wrote probably in 1872/3 after he was appointed Indian Agent at Yankton, Dakota Territory. Charles was a lawyer who settled in Omaha, Nebraska Territory where he met and married Mary A. Neale (1827-1896).

Birkett wrote the letter to William Hobart Hare (1838-1909), a Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1872, he was elected Missionary Bishop of Niobrara and ordained and consecrated in January of 1873. In 1883 he became missionary bishop of South Dakota, then including both white districts and native peoples. He divided the district into divisions, each connected with a United States Indian Agency, each with a experienced overseer to supervise the Indian ministers while Hare served as general superintendent. He also established numerous Indian boarding schools to train Indian boys to be teachers and missionaries, as well as the All Saints School for girls in Sioux Falls for the daughters of his missionaries and other white girls. He came to be known as the “Apostle to the Sioux.”

Birkett’s letter was in response to a letter that Bishop Hare had written him questioning his decision to appoint a teacher at the school established by the Episcopal Church for the Ponca Indians. See copy of Hare’s letter below:

Transcription of Birkett’s Letter

Copy, Major Birkett to W. H. Hare

I should have been very glad, my dear friend & Bishop, to have seen & talked with you & would have listened with pleasure to any suggestions made by you as to the administration of my official duties, but in the appointment of teachers already made, if the appointment be approved in the Indian office at Washington, I cannot revoke it — especially as the person appointed. I have reason to believe, would not be objectionable to you, and in my written instructions from the Indian office, another verbal declaration of my friend Bishop Clarkson & others inclusive of communications — the Church Committee, & Mr. William Welsh, my very clear understanding of these matters of administration here — was that my own judgement, under the instructions received as of course from the Indian Department was to judge my action — and the authority to employ & discharge vested in me.

The matter has been laid before the commissioner of Indian affairs &c. and I shall be very glad to abide by any decision he makes however brought about.

Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant,
Charles P. Birkett
U.S. Indian Agent
(Poncas)

Bishop Hare
Yankton Agency, Dakota Territory

I am about venturing an essay in school keeping, have called for 100 children (aggregate) both sexes, & propose to use George [Washington] Howe‘s old trading post & have been engaged fitting it up as well as circumstances will permit & the means at my command will allow. I have engaged a make & female teacher (man & wife) whose competency I am personally cognizant of.

Transcription of Hare’s Letter

Copy of W. H. Hare’s letter to Maj. Birkett:

I am disturbed by this information that you have engaged a teacher, etc. Ever since the agencies were put under the supervision of the Church, Schools have been naturally & reasonably considered as particularly the province of the Church’s efforts, and these efforts were put forth at Ponca (with the full intention on my part that they should be improved as soon as circumstances would admit) until, largely in order to suit your convenience the Mission family were somewhat hastily removed & the house in which they lived surrendered to you. In the elevation of a heathen & degraded people, schools & churches must be largely under one eye, & the plan which I think I mentioned to you, viz., that I should nominate teachers & that you should appoint them & that the schools should be carried on under my direction, after conference with you, and under your periodical inspection, I think the only plan which will be according to the mind of the Committee in whose hands the nomination of the Agent of the Ponca’s rest & to whose supervision the Ponca agencies have been entrusted. I may be mistaken in my understanding of the Executive Committee, but I suggest that it would be well to suspend all further proceedings until I have conferred with them.

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