Mother Becker and the Comanches (1878-1938)
It was the most unlikely of combinations. The Bible Belt’s lone remaining denominational bearer of the Prince of Peace’s message of non-violence—and the most fearsome warrior tribe ever to ride the plains of North America. The greatest of all those Native warriors—and the spiritual warrior, a daughter of German immigrants, whose patience, determination, and impact has perhaps never been surpassed in Oklahoma or America. Together, the Comanches and Mennonites made state, national, and providential history, and Chief Quanah Parker (OKLAHOMANS 1, Chapter 8, Chapter 10, Epilogue) and missionary Magdalena “Mother” Becker were the servant leaders who guided them.
German-born Mennonite missionaries A. J. and Magdalena Becker came to Oklahoma separately in the mid-1890s. They married in Fairview in 1897. The Foreign Mission Board of the Mennonite Brethren Church commissioned them to serve at the Post Oak Mennonite mission in the Comanche country of southwest Oklahoma Territory in 1901.
It was a momentous time in the history of the Comanches and Kiowas, whose reservations (lands reserved for them by the United States Government, and to which they were confined) had since the early 1870s stretched across southwest Oklahoma. These tribes had been ground down by war with the U.S. Army, other Natives, disease, and the hardship of their primitive Southern Plains lives. Now the government allotment process was giving each of the Indians 160 acres of private land, then selling the remainder off to American settlers.
Henry Kohfeld, the first Mennonite Brethren missionary ever sent to the foreign field, had won Quanah’s trust and his permission to plant a mission church on tribal property (OKLAHOMANS 1, Epilogue). But Kohfeld faced his own ordeal in 12 years of ministering to an aboriginal tribe who had lost a savage war of attrition, as well as its nomadic lifestyle, and many of whose members were dejected or despairing and many others bitter and hate-filled. In 1907, with not yet one Comanche baptized through the Post Oak mission, the denomination decided to recall Kohfeld and his wife and leave the Beckers to minister.
Shoulder to Shoulder
A. J. preached, worked with the Comanche and other men, promoted all the Beckers’ ministries, and raised funds from sources near and far, in addition to many other tasks. Magdalena established a missionary relationship with the Comanche women and other women in the area of rare even among Christian missionaries for sacrifice, friendship, and intimate support.
First, she not only learned the Comanche language, but she constantly spoke it, rather than expecting the Natives to learn English or her own first language of German. She also taught the Comanche females domestic housekeeping practices, sewing, cooking, personal hygiene, and healthier care for their babies and children.
Always and everywhere, she worked shoulder to shoulder with them. This included during the numerous tuberculosis, smallpox, and typhoid epidemics that ravaged the Comanche tribe. During one such pestilence, A. J. and all six Becker children caught typhoid fever, but remarkably survived.
At the same time, she respectfully challenged Comanche men to take on physically demanding tasks such as digging, planting, and repair work that the women had heretofore done. This earned both Magdalena and the men the gratitude of the women!
She hatched a creative way to widen these mentoring opportunities. She won appointment as an area Field Matron for the U.S. Government Indian Service. The job description for this actually involved traveling around the Comanche and Kiowa area and promulgating the same sorts of practices she was already doing. She traveled as much as 3,000 miles per year, mostly by simple buggy, in this work.
Loving, Accepting, Challenging
The Comanches and other Natives knew the Beckers loved them and accepted them. The missionaries challenged them to discard or change only those areas of their lives incompatible with Christianity, not, as have so many other missionaries, the tribal customs that were neutral “religious” issues, such as language, food, dress, and hair style.
The same held true for the Mexicans, African Americans, and whites to which the Beckers ministered in the course of their constantly growing, 40-year service. By 1937, in fact, the Beckers had already baptized more than 80 Mexicans. They and fellow Mexican believers planted the Post Oak Mexican Mission in Lawton.
Perhaps historian Marvin E. Kroeker has left the best valedictory for Magadalena, and by extension, her husband:
“The far-reaching impact of Magdalena Becker’s life and career was vividly demonstrated in the large attendance at her memorial service and funeral. There were white people from churches in Oklahoma, Kansas, and elsewhere, representatives from other mission stations throughout southwestern Oklahoma, and Mexican Christians from the three mission centers she helped establish. But most noticeably, the Indians came from all directions and from miles around. Some brought tents because of the distance they traveled to reach Post Oak Mission.
“At the time of Quanah Parker’s (1911) funeral, Mrs. Becker said never again would there be so many people crowded into their little church. Her prediction was now proved wrong. Approximately 1,500 people attended her funeral on July 10, 1938, more than had witnessed the burial of the nationally-renowned Comanche chief.”
As they had done for nearly 40 years, and as some still do now, they spoke of her as “Mother” Becker.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.