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Missions in Kansas

A great variety of religious denominations built missions in Kansas. The majority came from the Protestant Christian tradition, but large numbers of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox came to parts of the state. Blended into the mix were a few Jews and Freethinkers. The missions these groups built created a basis for religious education within local native groups, and helped settle the territory that would become Kansas.

Isaac McCoyOne of the first missionaries in Kansas was Reverend Isaac McCoy. McCoy began his missionary work among the Indians in Indiana and Michigan. In 1830, McCoy came to Kansas. He established a series of Baptist missions throughout the new Indian Territory. These he staffed, primarily, with younger missionaries who had served under him during his earlier work.

Dr. Lykins was one of Isaac McCoy’s missionaries, and married to McCoy’s daughter, Delilah. In 1831 Lykins founded the Shawnee Baptist Mission near present-day Kansas City. Here he and his staff worked to improve the spiritual, educational, and physical conditions of the neighboring Indians, although most of the natives were reluctant to abandon their traditional beliefs and lifestyles.

A later missionary was Jotham Meeker, who was a trained printer. One of his greatest contributions to the natives was that he devised a written form for various Indian languages, particularly Ottawa, and printed materials in those languages. He established a printing press at the Shawnee Baptist Mission in the early 1830s. This he moved to the Ottawa Baptist Mission near present-day Ottawa when he and his wife, Eleanor, opened that missionary station in 1837. Like nearly all wives of missionaries, Eleanor Meeker worked very closely with her husband. She was largely responsible for caring for the Indian girls at the Ottawa Mission and for training them to perform household chores in the Euro-American manner.

Much of the education at the missions was designed to be practical, from a white viewpoint. The Rev. Robert Simerwell and his daughter Elizabeth taught at the Pottawatomie Manual Labor School. (Potawatomi Mission) Robert was a farmer and a blacksmith; skills which he tried to pass on to his Indian students, often much against their will.

Founder of the Shawnee Methodist Mission in 1830 (Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site), Thomas Johnson was one of the most prominent missionaries in the future Kansas. He served as the superintendent of the mission and, after the formation of Kansas Territory in 1854, he became deeply involved in territorial politics, on the proslavery side.

Potawatomi Mission at St. MarysThe Methodist mission for Kansa or Kaw Indians was moved to Council Grove in 1850 (Kaw Mission State Historic Site). Like other missions, it offered general education and vocational training for Indian children. The mission school remained open only for four years, but farming operations continued somewhat longer.

In 1837, Samuel and Eliza Irvin opened the Iowa Presbyterian Mission near Highland in Doniphan County (Iowa and Sac & Fox Mission State Historic Site). Indians from the nearby Sac and Fox reservations also received services through the mission.

Catholic missionaries accompanied the Osage Indians when they moved onto their Kansas lands in the mid-1820s, but no permanent station was established until the Osage Catholic Mission was founded on the Neosho River in 1847. Mother Bridget Hayden started a school for Indian girls there in 1848. This evolved into a long-lasting female academy for both Indians and whites. The Catholic Mission followed the Potawatomi Indians as they were shuffled from one district to another by the U.S. government. In 1849 the mission was moved to St. Mary's where it operated for the next 20 years.

The Friends or Quakers built a mission on the Shawnee Indian lands in the 1830s, about the same time that the Baptists and the Methodists opened their first missions. Later, Quakers were appointed as agents on many of the Indian reservations because they had gained a reputation for treating the natives fairly.

Entry: Missions in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 1969

Date Modified: September 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.