Joseph Samuel Murrow

Great Mason and Baptist Missionary

by Bob Ellenwood

On December 18, 1818, was born a child who grew up to become a Southern Baptist Missionary to the Indian Territory who was, in many ways, instrumental in building many churches in the Indian Territory, and also instrumental in helping to establish Freemasonry in what was to become the state of Oklahoma. This child’s name was Henry Frieland Buckner. He was born in the hills of Kentucky and when fourteen years old became a Christian. He was the son of a Southern Baptist Missionary and went on many mission trips with his father in Kentucky and Tennessee. He was educated in Maryville Seminary in Tennessee and the University of Alabama. When 24 years old he married Lucy Ann Dogan, the daughter of a Southern Baptist Preacher. They were married on November 24, 1842.

During this time one Joseph Islands, a Southern Baptist Missionary in the Indian Territory sent out a call for help in this Mission field. Henry and Lucy decided to go to the Indian Territory and help this Missionary. Henry Frieland and Lucy Ann Buckner set sail from Somerset, Kentucky on a cold day in December of 1848. It was March 8, 1849, before they arrived. Henry had gotten sick on the way and they had to lay over awhile and it was a long and grueling trip to the Indian Territory.

They arrived in Three Forks, Creek Nation, Indian Territory, on March 8, 1849. After leasing a cabin and buying some groceries, they set out to establish a home. While they were working on the cabin some Creek Indians came visiting and they became good friends with the Creeks. However, some of the Creeks did not want white missionaries in their Nation and the Buckners were not sure if they would be allowed to stay. Then the Creeks called a local council meeting, and after three days of some fairly intense discussion it was decided to let the Buckners remain. Henry immediately began his work by translating the New Testament into the Creek language, and also some gospel hymns which he and Lucy taught them to sing. Before long the work grew so much that Henry; like Joseph Islands, begged the Southern Baptist Mission Board to send help. Henry and his wife finally moved to North Fork Town, or as it was then called, Micco. The mission work there was turned over to the Southern Baptist Board of Domestic Missions. Several other missionaries were working in that area: D. M. McIntosh, Joseph Smedley, Willis Burns, R. J. Hogue and J. O. Silver, just to mention a few.


Joseph Samuel Murrow

Henry F. Buckner was a Charter member of Eufaula Masonic Lodge Number 1 of the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory. On November 5, 1874, the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory was formed and Henry F Buckner served as its first Grand Chaplain. Serving as such in 1874, 75 and 76. He also served as Secretary of his Constituent Lodge in 1875 and 76. He served on the Grand Lodge Charters and Dispensations Committee (1875 1877), the Grand Lodge Law and Usages Committee (1875), the Grand Lodge Education Committee (1875, 1878/79 and 1882/83), and the Grand Lodge Foreign Correspondence Committee (1877, 1881/82) as well as Grand Lecturer in 1878 and Grand Orator in 1879, 80 and 81.

Henry F. Buckner again requested help from the Southern Baptist Mission Board. He got help in the form of Joseph Samuel Murrow.

Joseph Samuel Murrow was born on June 7, 1835, in Georgia. He was educated at Springfield Academy, Effington County; George then he attended Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Murrow completed college in less time than most of his fellow students. He joined the Greenfork Baptist Church in Burke County, Georgia at the age of nineteen and was licensed to preach the following year.

Then he was ordained a Southern Baptist Minister on September 16, 1857, then, on October 8, 1857, he married Nannie Elizabeth Tatom of Fulton, Mississippi. The Rehoboth Baptist Association in Georgia agreed to pay his salary if he would go to the Indian Territory and help another Baptist Missionary there by the name of Henry F Buckner. The Murrows traveled to the Indian Territory arriving at the Buckners home on November 14, 1857. The Buckners were not home,so that Sunday, Murrow preached his first sermon to the Indians in the Indian Territory. He preached on II Corinthians 12:14 “1 seek not yours but you.” This first service was one that Murrow would never forget. He wrote to his friends back in Georgia and told them of the wonderful welcome the Indians had given him, and how he loved to hear them sing and pray.

When H. F. Buckner returned he immediately got Joseph a pony so that they could travel together over the Indian Territory. His first mission was established at Hlop-holk-ko in June of 1858. During the next seventy years in the Indian Territory he helped establish and start more than one hundred churches within the Indian and Oklahoma Territories.

In July of 1858 the Murrows had a baby girl, unfortunately, she died a short time later. Then in August, 1858, his young wife also died. In his travels over the Indian Territory he often went into the Choctaw Nation where he met some other Missionaries. R. J. Hogue and Willis Burns were two of them. On October 27, 1860, Joseph Murrow married Clara Burns, Willis Burns daughter. Shortly thereafter, two more Missionaries arrived in the Creek Nation. They were A. E. Vandiver and James A. Preston. Mr. Buckner and Mr. Murrow thought that they now had enough missionaries on the scene in that part of the Indian Territory so that someone should go and minister to the Seminoles. Joseph Murrow volunteered to go, and on January 2, 1860, the Murrows left North Fork Town and headed west to the Seminole Nation.

Although it was only sixty miles it took them three days to make the trip by wagon because part of the time they had to travel where there were no roads. They set up a home at Little River Mission station. Murrow met another Baptist preacher there and the two men soon organized a Baptist Church, which they named Ash Creek Baptist Church. The Seminoles called it Esu-hut-che. This church was in a little town near present day Sasakwa, in Seminole county. Two outstanding Seminoles who became members of this church were James Factor and Chief John Jumper. Now John Jumper was a Mason. Both of these men became Baptist preachers and Chief Jumper was pastor of the Ash Creek Baptist Church for many years. He was loved and respected by all who knew him.

The Church grew in size and had more than 100 members when the Civil War started in 1861. Soon the entire Territory was in a state of turmoil and all the missionaries were asked to leave. Mr. Murrow stayed on, as an agent of the Confederate government, to help care for the hundreds of homeless Indians in the area. John Jumper served in the Confederate Army and was a great help to Mr. Murrow in caring for his people. Murrow continued his missionary work among those people whom he served.

Sometime in 1865, after the Civil War started, Joseph Samuel Murrow took his wife and little daughter Cogee (later known as Clara) to Texas to visit with some friends. ‘While in Texas, Joseph Samuel Murrow became a Freemason. He was initiated an Entered Apprentice on September 15, 1866, in Andrew Jackson Lodge, No. 88, in Linden, Texas. He was subsequently passed on October 20 and raised on December 15, 1860. Then on February 15, 1867, he obtained a demit which he carried with him when he later returned to the Indian Territory.

After resting for several months Murrow started back to the Indian Territory to resume his mission work. On his way through the Choctaw Nation he saw that there was a need for some Baptist work there. The war had ended and he knew that other missionaries would soon be returning to the Indian Nation, so he decided to stay in the Choctaw Nation. He stopped at Boggy Depot, near the present town of Atoka, for a few days, he remained in that area for the next sixty-three years.

His wife and child joined him in March of 1867, at Boggy Depot. Because J. S. Murrow was gone from home very often, his wife started taking little Indian children in her home and teaching them about the Bible and Christianity. In June of 1867, little Samuel was born to the Murrows. Mrs. Murrow not being very strong physically could not survive long after the birth of her son. She passed away in August of 1868, at the age of twenty-nine. She had long dreamed of the day when her and her husband would start a church in the new town of Atoka, but, alas, she did not live long enough to see their dream come true.

J. S. Murrow helped start Oklahoma Masonic Lodge, Number 217, which was Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas on November 18, 1868, and he served as it first Worshipful Master, and it was subsequently chartered by the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory on May 12, 1875, as Oklahoma Masonic Lodge Number 4.

Notice this was before the Oklahoma Territory or State of Oklahoma either one existed. Oklahoma is Creek Indian for Home of the Redman.

Then on May 5, 1869, he formed a church and Rev. Murrow was its pastor for twenty-three years. He had this church named Rehoboth Mission Baptist Church in honor of the Association in Georgia that had paid his way and his salary for some years when he first came to the Indian Territory.

Then in December of 1869, Joseph Murrow again married. This time to Jane Henrietta Davidson a teacher in the Goodwater Choctaw Mission School. Then in 1888 tragedy again struck the Murrow household. Jane died; afterward he married again to Kate Ellet, a missionary in Indian Territory, who worked with the Womans Baptist Missionary Societies. She was also a great help to Mr. Murrow in his missionary work and work as Grand Secretary of Masons. She lived until January 7, 1915.

Then in 1872 representatives from sixteen Baptist churches throughout the Territory met at this Baptist Church and started the Choctaw Chickasaw Baptist Association, now considered to be the oldest Association in the State of Oklahoma in continuous existence. On April 1, 1876 the name of the church was changed to Atoka Baptist Church.

Quoting from the book Baptist Heroes in Oklahoma by Louise Haddock and J. M. Gaskin, “Mr. Murrow had many sorrows in his life. He lost his little boy, Samuel, and now had only one child, Cogee. When Cogee (now called Clara) was married in 1880 to C. A. McBride, her father gave her a beautiful wedding reception. He ordered ‘store brought ice cream from Denison, Texas, which they said was the first such ice cream the people there had ever seen. So he had many happy times too.”

He served the Grand Lodge of the Indian Territory, as Grand Lecturer in 1875 and 1876, was Worshipful Master of his home lodge again in 1876 and 1878. He was elected as the second Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory and served for two years, 1877 and 1878. He then served as Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory, from 1881 until 1909, when the Grand Lodges of Indian and Oklahoma Territories combined. He served the following year as one of Two Grand Secretaries of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Oklahoma. Then from 1910 until his death in 1929 he was Grand Secretary Emeritus.

Joseph Samuel Murrow was also known as the “Father of Masonry in Oklahoma.” Also he started the first Baptist Orphans Home for Indian children there in Atoka; the Bacone College for Indian students; published a newspaper for his Indian friends, called the “Indian Missionary;” and helped to establish Baptist Missions in the far western part of the state of Oklahoma for the plains Indians. Then in 1921, he married his fifth wife, Jennie Ragle, who made him happy for rest of his life.

Joseph Samuel Murrow served and helped to establish the York Rite and Scottish Rite Masons of the Indian Territory as well. On February 16, 1878, a request to organize a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons at McAlester, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, was made. One of the petitioners was the Grand Master of Masons of the Indian Territory, Joseph Samuel Murrow. On February 23, 1878, the General Grand High Priest issued a dispensation. The High Priest was Col. Edward J. Books, the King was Joseph S. Murrow, and the Scribe was George W Stidham, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Choctaw Nation and Grand Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory. In 1889, through the almost single-handed efforts of Joseph Samuel Murrow, acting in the interests of Capitular Masonry, he made an eloquent speech on the floor of the General Grand Chapter to get them to vote to start a Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons in Indian Territory. After his heart rendering speech he was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. He got his wish.

Then during the triennial Convocation of the General Grand Chapter at Denver, in 1883, Joseph Samuel Murrow sought out the M. P. G. G. Master of the General Grand Council and secured from him a Dispensation to organize and open a Council of Royal and Select Masters at Atoka. Then on August 21, 1894, a charter was issued to start a Grand Council in Indian Territory. On November 5, 1894 not quite ninety days after charters were authorized by the General Grand Council for Union and Muskogee, a Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters in Indian Territory was organized. The first Grand Recorder of this body was none other than Joseph S. Murrow.

“Mr. Murrow died on September 8, 1929, at the age of 94. He is buried in Atoka, Oklahoma, the town he served so long as its Pastor.”

Today, in Boggy Depot State Park, stands an eight foot tall granite monument to this great Southern Baptist Missionary and Mason.


Eight foot tall granite monument in Boggy Depot State Park honoring Joseph Murrow

So ends the story of Joseph Samuel Murrow a great Southern Baptist and a great Mason. Which of his accomplishments was he most proud? I don’t know, I only know, from reading his writings in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodges of both Indian Territory and the State of Oklahoma, that he was very proud of his accomplishments in Masonry. Both of what he managed to do as a Mason and what others managed to do as Masons with his guidance. He made a very profound impact upon Masonry within the State of Oklahoma. Today, we Oklahoma Masons, study our Murrow Masonic Monitor and are led by its teachings and guided by its precepts. Masonry is not a religion. Even J.S. Murrow said this many times. However, as he has taught, written, believed, and inspired others to believe the two go hand in hand.

Also, he started over seventy-five Baptist churches in Indian Territory, ordained sixty Baptist preachers, mostly Indians; baptized approximately eighteen hundred new Baptists, organized the first Baptist Association in the Indian Territory, helped establish the first Indian University (Bacon College) at Muskogee, IT and served for fifteen years as president of the Board of Trustees.

He also served as editor of the Vindicator; a weekly newspaper started at Boggy Depot and was later moved to Atoka. Later he and Granville McPherson (first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory) combined it and the Oklahoma Star, as the Star Vindicator. It was published in McAlester, OK.

Editor’s Note:  This article first appeared in the December 2000 issue of The Philalethes and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.