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Fall 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 2 · pp. 92–93 

Book Review

Comanches and Mennonites on the Oklahoma Plains: A. J. and Magdalena Becker and the Post Oak Mission

Marvin E. Kroeker. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1997. x + 177 pages.

Reviewed by Gary R. Entz

Marvin E. Kroeker, a distinguished historian at East Central University in Oklahoma, has taken the formerly obscure Mennonite Brethren Post Oak Mission to the Comanches in southwestern Oklahoma and placed it within the larger context of twentieth-century reform work among American Indians. Kroeker argues in this narrative history of the Post Oak Mission that Abraham J. and Magdalena Becker were exceptions to the generalized historical notion of missionaries as “self-righteous and misguided individuals who destroyed Native American cultures under the guise of Christianity and ‘civilization’ ” (vi). The Beckers expected their Indian converts to adopt a Christian lifestyle, but they never pressed the Comanches to abandon their tribal heritage.

Because of A. J. and Magdalena Becker’s long tenure at Post Oak, the history of the mission is a chronicle of their lifework. Post Oak existed as a foreign mission from 1895 to 1959, at which time it became an independent Mennonite Brethren church. The Beckers arrived in 1902 and served until their deaths: Magdalena in 1938 and A. J. in 1953. Together they were missionaries, administrators, and, in Magdalena’s case, a field matron for the Indian Service. While Kroeker demonstrates that both were selfless workers and advocates for Indian rights, he identifies Magdalena as the key member of the missionary couple. She was fluent in the Comanche language and it was her concern for tribal women and willingness to work alongside them that made possible the initial inroads into Comanche society. The Comanches themselves, including Chief Quanah Parker, trusted the Beckers and recognized that they were sympathetic to Indian concerns. This more than anything else explains the success of Post Oak.

Nevertheless, one must question Kroeker’s contention that the {93} Beckers’ missionary efforts were not destructive to Comanche cultural traditions. Francis Paul Prucha and others have shown that it was the best intentions of missionaries and other reformers that proved most detrimental to Indian cultures. While the Beckers displayed a remarkable level of tolerance, they insisted that the Comanches give up dancing, peyote, and other cultural traditions that offended Mennonite sensibilities. In the Beckers’ version of assimilation, “they sought to induce the Comanches to accept Christianity, get educated, adopt the Mennonite work ethic, and assume the white methods and standards in the domestic arts” (138). Post Oak was a successful mission, but its accomplishments ultimately aided government acculturation programs.

Professor Kroeker’s book is a scholarly and balanced history that provides both Comanche and Mennonite Brethren views of the Post Oak Mission. Academic and general readers alike will find it an informative and engaging narrative.

Gary R. Entz
The University of Utah, Salt Lake City

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