Asbury Manual Labor School, North Fork Town, Creek Nation, Indian Territory (1848-1887)
Three years after the formation of the Indian Mission Conference (IMC), and the division of the church into North and South Churches, in November 1847, while at Annual Conference in Doaksville, IT, the IMC made plans for re-establishing Asbury Manual Labor School in the Creek Nation, IT. Bishop William Capers (who had organized the *school with the same name in Alabama) appointed the Rev. Thomas B. Ruble to select a site and supervise the construction of the school buildings. He secured the help of Colonel Logan, the U.S. Indian Agent for the Creek Nation, and Colonel Rutherford, superintendent of the Western Territory.
The site chosen in 1848 for the school was an 80-acre farm at North Fork Town, near what is now Eufaula, OK. About 30 acres was fenced. Included on the property was a 20 square foot house with porch and kitchen, a stable, chicken house and a few fruit trees. The site and these improvements cost $300.
The first classes were held in the log house on August 8, 1848, with the Reverend W. S. Cobb as teacher. The classes continued in the log house until the new buildings were ready to use in 1850. A stone and brick building 110 feet long, 34 feet wide and three stories high was built with materials shipped by boat from Louisville, via the Arkansas River, then overland to the site by ox-drawn wagons. The cornerstone was laid July 19, 1848. The U.S. Government paid $5,000 from the funds appropriated for the Creeks under a treaty in 1845, and the balance of the total cost of $9,169 was paid by the Board of Missions of the M. E. Church, South. The building contained 21 rooms, large halls and would accommodate 100 students and the faculty. It was the largest school in the IMC. In 1848 the annual report to the IMC records that there were 30 Creek students, one local preacher, 24 white teachers and staff and a small balance of $6.75 on hand. The school continued to be maintained by the Creek’s appropriated funds.
From 1848 to the beginning of hostilities between the North and South, not much of note is recorded in the annuals of Methodism in the Creek Nation. Of course, the white missionaries changed locations, retired, or died. But the work went on primarily through education by separating many Creek children of school age from their families and sending them to Asbury Manual Labor School where they were schooled in subjects designed to “civilize” them, i.e., the boys were to work with different tools and cultivate a farm, while the girls were to learn to cook, knit, spin, sew, and do all sorts of housework.
The Civil War and Reconstruction was devastating to the Indian tribes in IT. Rev. Thomas Bertholf was appointed Superintendent of Asbury school that had been destroyed in the war. Through Creek Chief, Samuel Checote, he secured an appropriation of $6,000 from the U.S. government for the task of rebuilding and reopening the school. Bertholf did not live long enough to accomplish the task. John Harell was then appointed superintendent of the Mission. In 1868 the main building was destroyed by fire. Using his considerable influence with the Creeks and government officials, Rev. Harrell had new buildings built and the school reopened in 1870.
The school burned in 1881 and again for the final time in 1887, never to reopen. Rev. Thomas Bertholf, and Rev. John Harrell, both of whom died during their administrations, were buried on the school grounds. When the present day Lake Eufaula was built the cemetery was relocated to Eufaula’s Greenwood Cemetery and the old school site and cemetery disappeared under the waters of the new lake. A memorial stone structure created from the original hand-hewn stones of the school and saved before the clearing of the land for the lake, was erected in the cemetery. It was designed by the pastor of Eufaula’s First Methodist Church (founded by Rev. Theodore Frelinhuysen Brewer in 1879) and marked with aluminum lettering and a bronze tablet. The memorial stone was dedicated May 30, 1964.
---Excerpted from a work by Linda Morgan Clark, "Roots and Branches of Muskogee Methodism"