History of the
Cherokee Baptist Association
Baptist work within the Cherokees began around the year 1805 with the work of the Rev. Evan Jones. The removal of the Cherokees known as the “Trail of Tears” from their original homelands in North Carolina and Georgia into Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma) began in 1830 with the approval of the Indian Removal Act. The Act gave Native Americans land located west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their lands located in the east. Around the year 1832, the New Hope Mission was established along the Barren Fork Creek in present day Adair County, OK. This was the first Cherokee Baptist Church in the new Indian Territory.
Although around 2,000 Cherokees had voluntarily relocated, the forced removal began on May 23, 1838. According to 1994 publication by the Home Mission Board, at least 120 Cherokees were saved along the Trail of Tears through the ministry of the Rev. Jessie Bushyhead. In 1839, after arriving in Indian Territory, the first Cherokee Baptist Church to be established and was named Ju-Da-Ye-Tlu, led by the Rev. Jessie Bushyhead.
In September 1860, six (6) churches met in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in the basement of the Masonic Hall together for the purpose of organizing the Cherokee Southern Baptist Association. Churches represented New Echota Church, Bayou Menard, Rabbit Trap, Batie’s Prairie, Saline, and Piney. The work faded during the Civil War and the association went silent.
In the year 1869, the original eight (8) churches met in the area between Long Prairie and Elm Prairie Baptist Churches to establish the Cherokee Indian Baptist Association.Theoriginal eight churches include: Ju-da-ye-tlu, Antioch, Stee-goy-ee (now known as Swimmer), Prairie Gap, Rock Spring, Long Prairie, Round Springs, and Bellefonte, (then known as Lee’s Creek). Five of the original churches (Antioch, Swimmer, Long Prairie, Round Springs, and Bellefonte) still meet to this day with the latter four still active in the CBA.
Through the years, the original churches began missions that later became established churches. Many of these churches shared ministers for Sunday Services with the congregations meeting on a bi-monthly basis and ministers traveling between locations. As the gospel spread and more men surrendered to preach, the churches changed to meeting on a weekly basis.
The association met at its member churches for events such as the Annual & Quarterly Meetings. Churches would come together for days of worship, fellowship and to take care of the business of the association.
In 1941, a committee was established for the purpose of finding a central location for the Association to come together to meet. James Pickup, Skake Kingfisher, Lee O’Field, John Hitcher, and Joe Pickup were tasked with finding a location and reporting to the association at the next Quarterly Meeting. A total of three locations were considered but the committee recommended the present site and it was approved by the association.
The land was donated by the Rev. Jim Chair and soon in 1942, a tabernacle was the first building to be constructed on the grounds. The stone structure took two years to complete and cost around $3,400 to construct. The 74th Annual Session of the CBA was held in the newly constructed Tabernacle. Shortly after, additional buildings were added along with amenities such as modern water systems, shower houses, a concession stand, cafeteria, nurses building, and dormitories.
Mrs. Grace Beard recalled a little seven year old girl from a Catholic Home giving her twenty five cents to build a building where the Cherokee children could have a place to learn about Jesus. That building was erected in 1978 with additional funding from the Tyner Trust Fund and gifts from association churches to become the Tyner Youth Building. The Tabernacle received a major renovation complete with new roof trusses in 2002. Due to financial burdens, work was not completed until 2014.
Several improvements have been made to the buildings over the years. The WMU Building Ceiling was replaced in 2013. In 2016, the stage of the Tabernacle was improved for safety and allowed for ramps to be added so that elders could join their church family on stage during events such as the Sunday School Convention. The Cafeteria was renovated in 2017 with sheetrock walls added and new commercial grade appliances installed. The Sunday School Building received an addition in 2018 giving more meeting space.
The first constitution of the CBA Sunday School was established in July 1898 at the Long Prairie Baptist Church near Kansas, Oklahoma. The Sunday School Building was built at the Assembly Grounds to provide a place for the Sunday School Department to have its meetings. The highlight of the Sunday School Department is the Annual Sunday School Convention that is held during the month of September. Originally held the third Sunday in July, it was moved to September due to the excessive summer heat and the need to cool the Tabernacle.
The convention gives the churches time to promote their Sunday School Departments through reports & programs. The convention is concluded on Sunday with a joint service where many of the CBA churches come together for Sunday School that includes a class conducted in all Cherokee and a joint Worship Service in the Tabernacle.
The work of the CBA Women’s Missionary Union began in the year 1869 as the men met to establish the Association itself. Over the years, as the men worked inside the churches, the women met outside under the trees. This was done rain or shine, hot or cold. Much of the early ministry work completed by the women was financed through the making & sale of quilts and various crafts. In the year 1940, Mrs. Annie Smith who was president of the WMU, presented a talk on tithing and became the first woman in the CBA to do so. Soon after, other women followed and the work that was originally financed through the sale of quilts began to change over to direct support from the women of the many WMU programs of the CBA churches.
In 1946, work began on a chapel for the women to have their meetings in at the Assembly Grounds. Miss Blanch White who was then the Secretary of the Virginia WMU Society pledge to give $2,500 through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for Home Missions. An additional $500 was approved by the CBA WMU Dept. and the building was constructed in time to meet for the 1946 annual meeting. In 1971, the current WMU Building was completed next to the original building.
The Cherokee Baptist Assembly began in 1950 after the Rev. Roe Beard took a group of Cherokee Baptist Church members to attend Indian Falls Creek in Davis, Oklahoma. Rev. & Grace Beard saw the need for the Cherokee people to have the experience of worship & fellowship that was felt at Falls Creek. They also recognized the challenges & financial hardships of getting the many Cherokee people to the encampment. Rev. Beard came back to the Association and presented having a camp of their own at the Assembly Grounds near Tahlequah, OK.
The first camp was led by Rev. Sam Hider as camp director and had 450 campers registered with 24 conversions. The registration fee of just $1.00 was paid to enjoy the preaching, teaching, activities, meals, & fellowship for the entire week. Funding for the camp came from donations from churches & individuals. The camp continued to grow over the years and it is still in existence to this day.
The CBA offers ministry opportunities for it’s member churches that include Discipleship Training, Youth, Drama, and Men’s Ministry. Various activities are held throughout the year to give our member churches a way to come together for training & fellowship. In addition, Worship Services such as the Good Friday Easter Service and various Revivals are held. Opportunities for Christian growth include bible conferences, Youth Conferences, and various leadership training.
Today, the CBA is comprised of 44 congregations working together for the purpose of furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our leadership team consists of an Executive Board comprised of church pastors & designated messengers, three team leaders (Administrative, Pastoral Support and Missions & Evangelism) who oversee the work done at the association level, and departmental directors who are available to help churches in the areas of Sunday School, WMU, & Youth among other areas as requested.
While the CBA has no authority over the churches that are a part of it, we serve as a resource to help churches in various projects & ministries, as well as to provide ways to fellowship with other congregations.