Superintendents of Wheelock Academy

Thinking of Wheelock Academy this morning  as Pushmataha Hall is draped in fresh snow. For its students, it was a tough life at times, burdened down with tedious chores and a new language. But it was also the birthplace of great friendships and memories.

Historic names have stepped into leadership roles at Wheelock.  Besides its founder, the visionary Rev. Alfred Wright, there were names like Edwards and Copeland and Robe. Then for four years a local Choctaw man, Edward H. Wilson, served as Superintendent until the Bureau of Indian Affairs took over control of the Choctaw educational facilities, much to the heartbreak of the citizens of the Choctaw Nation.

After statehood, the school was revived by brilliant women educators. Women such as M. Eleanor Allen and Miss Minta Foreman, the first Indian superintendent of an Indian School. She had been Miss Allen’s protégé at the Cherokee Female Seminary in Tahlequah. For more about Miss Allen’s outstanding career, please read my blog Greatest Educator of the Indians.

See the full list of names –  Wheelock Academy Superintendents.  Some of the years and figures are less well-known than others. This list is the best set of names I could pull together.

  • Rev. Alfred Wright (1788-1853) – see his photo and memorial HERE.  Born in Connecticut, he was a physician and linguist as well as a missionary at Mayhew, MS. He and his wife Harriet removed with the Choctaws to Indian Territory  and with their help established a church and school not far from the military road leading west to the military fort of Fort Towson.
  • Rev. John Edwards (1828-1903) – see his photo and memorial HERE.  A Presbyterian minister, he received his degree at Princeton, married first Rose Hill Murphy of Philadelphia and had two children: George Cunningham Edwards, math professor at Univ. of California, Berkeley and Clara Dudley Edwards Paulding, teacher and wife of pioneer physician Edwin Lyttelton Paulding of Arroyo Grande, California. He and Rose were missionaries, teachers and school superintendent at Spencer Academy and then at Wheelock Academy, Oklahoma Indian Territory, before the Civil War. At the start of the war, he left Indian Territory and retired to California. He was called out of retirement and returned to Wheelock after the war, his wife having died in California in 1881. He married a second time in 1886 to Miss Constance Hunter, a teacher at Wheelock. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

“For 20 years a missionary to the Choctaws.
He gave them the Bible in their own language.”

Rev Edwards amd wife Constance
Rev. John Edwards and his second wife, Constance
  • Rev. C. C.  [Charles Cook] Copeland (1818-1869) – The young missionary was stationed in 1849 at the Mount Pleasant Mission, where he built a double log cabin nearby.  In 1857  Mr. Copeland was transferred to Bennington to become superintendent of Armstrong Academy where he died. His former cabin at Mount Pleasant became the first home of Rev. Allen Wright and his wife Harriet (from a letter written to descendant Ralph Goodwin from their daughter Muriel Wright while she was editor of the Chronicles of Oklahoma.) He and his wife, the former Cornelia Ladd of Connecticut, had two known children: Eleanor Copeland (1850-1892), wife of the Rev. Charles Hotchkin; and Minnie Semple Copeland (1859-1939), wife of Joseph W. Rowe. Read about Eleanor’s children and their memories of school life in Indian Territory in my blog, Weave For Us a Cloak of Light.
  • William Bay Robe (1839-1911)  – see his photo and memorial HERE. Mr. Robe and his wife Sarah  began their missionary careers when Robe was appointed Superintendent of Spencer Academy by the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1871. Mr. Robe’s legacy to Wheelock was a special bell for the bell tower, made to order in a Cincinnati foundry, with the inscription from Psalm 82:3, selected by Mr. Robe. “Defend the poor and fatherless. The missionary couple later retired to Muskogee.
  • Robert Chalmers Robe (1864-1939) – see his photo and memorial HERE. He was the second son of William and Sarah Robe.
  • Edward H. Wilson (1868-1920) – see his photo and memorial HERE.  He was born at Oak Hill, about three miles southwest of Valliant, on Clear Creek. Both his parents were survivors of the Choctaw Trail of Tears. His mother Jane was orphaned as a young child and grew up at the Wheelock Academy until her marriage in 1851. His brother’s wife, the former Emma Bohannon, was also orphaned and spent her teen years at Wheelock, after being rescued from an abusive family situation by the merchant Joel Spring, who had been a friend of her father. Read her story in my blog, An Orphan In Search of Family.
  • Miss M. Eleanor Allen (1865-1945) – see her photo and memorial HERE.  An orphan herself, she left an incredible legacy, touching many young girls’ lives at Wheelock, and at Bloomfield, as well as at the Cherokee Female Seminary.
Home Economics Cabin 1914
The Home Economics Cabin at Wheelock, built during Miss Allen’s tenure.
  • Miss Minta Ross Foreman (1878-1952) – see her photo and memorial HERE.  She was the daughter of the Cherokee leader, Rev. Stephen Foreman. She had a 50-year career in government Indian schools. She taught among the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles as well as among her own people, the Cherokees. She was the only Indian woman ever to have served as Superintendent of a large Indian school.

One of Miss Foreman’s teachers at Wheelock – Toru Wilson Heardon – would follow in her footsteps, becoming an outstanding Oklahoma educator.  When Wheelock Academy was permanently closed in the summer of 1955, Toru transferred to Seneca Indian School in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. In June 1958 she was transferred and promoted to Principal at the Eufaula Boarding School. Then on July 5, 1964 she was honored with an appointment as Principal at the historic Jones Academy near Hartshorne, Oklahoma. She retired in May 1970.

Minta Foreman
Minta as a young teacher at Cherokee Female Seminary

 

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***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***
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Sources:

Featured photo of Pushmataha Hall credited to Wheelock Academy Historic Site, posted to their FaceBook page on January 22, 2020.

I’ve looked in many, many places for this information, too many to keep track of. But one source I want to acknowledge is this one:

Toru Wilson Herndon, “Wheelock-Through The Years” (pamphlet), 1959, Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City (closed stacks).

 

 

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