From the Archives: A Bickertonite Missionary Among the Lakotas

By July 18, 2011

Last week my wife and I spent five days conducting field research for my dissertation in the National Archives, Central Plains Region branch in Kansas City, Missouri. Although I’m not writing on a Mormon topic, we flagged anything that might have a Mormon connection in the Bureau of Indian Affairs files we were examining. On Friday, my wife Hope turned to me with an excited look on her face, and handed me this piece of paper:

On the morning of June 22, 1929, a man who alleged to belong to the Algonquian Tribe of Indians giving his name as C. C. Edwards and representing himself to be a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ, called at the Office and announced that he had been sent to work among the Oglala Tribe of Sioux [i.e., Lakota] Indians, his Church believing that the Indians were the lost tribe of Israel and he stated that he had come to lead them back.

His features, mannerisms and general characteristics would indicate that he belonged to the Ethiopians rather than to the east coast Algonquins, as he stated.

After some little conversation during which he asked if Pierre and Kadoka were on the [Pine Ridge] Reservation, he announced that he had no funds, that he lived on free will offerings, and asked where he might go to live with the Indians. When told that they were very poor, that one of the Catholic Missionaries collection for one year had been $.35, he left the office. The Police report that he left the Reservation going out with Mr. C. O. Hagel, the stage driver of Rushville, Nebraska.

As I scanned it over, Hope asked if I thought it was talking about a Mormon missionary. I told her that I didn’t think it was one of ?ours,? but that I suspected that it might be another Latter Day Saint group, specifically The Church of Jesus Christ (headquartered at Monongahela, Pennsylvania), popularly known as the Bickertonites. This group traces its origins to post-1844. After Sidney Ridgon failed in his bid to lead the Saints in Nauvoo, he returned to Pittsburgh, PA where he built up a following, including William Bickerton, who preferred Rigdon’s (initial) rejection of polygamy. Although Bickerton maintained his belief in Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Rigdon’s early succession claims, Bickerton disagreed with Rigdon’s directives after 1845, and split off from the Rigdonites. In 1862, Bickerton organized The Church of Jesus Christ, a group that accepted the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s early revelations, but rejected Smith’s later teachings. Part of Bickerton’s embrace of earliest Mormonism included an emphasis on preaching to the Indians. Another significant element of Bickerton’s teachings included racial equality in both belief and practice, with his group claiming the first ordained apostle of African descent among groups stemming from Joseph Smith’s 1830 Church of Christ (John Penn, who served from 1910 to 1955). As of 2007, The Church of Jesus Christ claimed over 11,000 members in over 20 nations (3,000 in the U.S.), and is considered the third largest Latter Day Saint group (depending on who’s counting).[1]

The identity of C. C. Edwards remains unknown (to me), although it is conceivable that he was a Native convert to Bickerton’s group, a black missionary, or potentially a biracial individual (a common phenomenon among New England Native groups). Why Edwards was looking for Pierre (South Dakota’s capital) or the small town of Kadoka is unclear, although it is certain that neither is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Edwards left literature at the Pine Ridge agency, including a pamphlet entitled ?What is the Indian Mission??, authored in 1924 by William H. Cadman, President of The Church of Jesus Christ from 1922-1963. This confirmed my initial suspicions that Edwards was a missionary from Bickerton’s group. The pamphlet contains a basic nineteenth-century Mormon exegesis of biblical passages on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, concluding with a discussion of Gen. 49:22-24: “22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: 23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: 24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)”

Jacob here is compared to a fruitful bough his branches or his offspring are to run over the wall: Then what is the wall? Historical references prove the fact that in ancient times the sea was considered the wall of the earth. According to Jacob, then Joseph’s posterity is to go over the sea.

When Columbus discovered the new world he found a people there whom he called Indians; from that time until this has not the archers grieved and shot at him? Surely old Israel was inspired when he blessed his son, Joseph. The poor Indian has hardly a place to call his own. The bow and arrow has been the weapon of the Indian; and the prophet shows that his (the Indian) bow abode in strength. And the arms of his hands are made strong by the Mighty God of Jacob, from thence is the Shepherd, the stone of Israel. This is a plain intimation that the Lord will yet assist the poor red man, and among them shall rise a deliverer. Jacob shows that the blessings he had received were greater than the blessings his fore-fathers (Abraham and Isaac) had received and he confers them on Joseph’s head, which extended to the land of America (in Deut. 33rd Chap. 13th to 17th verses inclusive) Moses says to Joseph: “Blessed of the Lord be this land,[“] and proceeds to give a wonderful description of the same. This is undoubtedly the land of America that is given to Joseph by the Lord and will yet be restored to his children. [p. 3] Isaiah 16th Chap., 8th verse shows that the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah; the lords of the heathen have broken down the principle plants thereof, they come even unto Jazer, they wandered through the wilderness; her branches are stretched out, they are gone over the sea. Numbers 21st Chap. shows that Heshbon was inhabited by Israel and the aforementioned chapter shows they crossed the sea.

According to Jacob his blessings prevailed above his progenitors (Abraham and Isaac) unto the utmost (farthest off) bounds of the everlasting hills, and is laid on the head of Joseph. And Moses recognized the fact that Joseph has a blessed land. Jacob was in Egypt when he blessed his sons. Place yourself in Egypt and look for the hills or the land that is farthest off, what do we find? Why the blessed land of America. A people were found here and were named Indians. How came they? Jacob declares that Joseph’s branches go over the wall. Isaiah shows Israel goes over the sea. Jacob says Joseph’s son should become a multitude of nations: Has not the United States of America dealt with the multitudes of tribes of Indians as nations? Where can we look for a fulfillment of these predictions except on this land of America? It is readily seen then, that the red man is of Israel. Jeremiah 16th Chap., beginning with the 14th verse, shows that God will gather Israel from every land or place that they have been driven. But there is an order in the things of God. This same prophet in chapter 31, speaks on the same subject and declares Ephraim is the first born, yet he was his mother’s second child. But our Saviour says, ?Ye must be born again, born of water and of the spirit.? Hence, in the great gathering of Israel, God has designed to take note of Ephraim’s posterity first. This being the case it was necessary that the stick of Ephraim (or the Book of Mormon) spoken of in Ezekiel, 37th Chap. should become one along with the stick of Judah (or the Bible). Through obedience to the Gospel we have become adopted Israel, and as adopted children enjoy the blessings of the family fold of our Heavenly Father it has inspired our souls with that desire to bring back his chosen children, yea his lost sheep, back to the fold and family circle of God. Hence, the poor Indian being of Joseph, and to be the first born, our attention has been drawn to them in fulfillment of prophecy. Hence, the origin of the Indian Mission, which we have felt the blessing of God in many times.

You can plainly see the duty of an adopted child, as mercy has reached us, let us be merciful to the ones who have gone astray.

Your brother,

W. H. Cadman,

President of the Church.

January 5th, 1924


[1] See Larry Watson, ?The Church of Jesus Christ (Headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania), Its History and Doctrine,? Bringhurst and Hamer, Scattering of the Saints, 190-205. Although members of The Church of Jesus Christ do not use the term Bickertonite (or Rigdonite) to refer to themselves, it is used by scholars as shorthand. A few years back John Hamer posted on John Penn at Mormon Matters, but I can’t seem to locate the post now. Does anyone know if it’s still available? Incidently, rock star Alice Cooper‘s grandfather was an apostle in Bickerton’s group, and although not baptized, Cooper was raised in the faith, leading to the common rumor that Cooper was a Mormon.

Article filed under Biography Categories of Periodization: Accommodation From the Archives Race


  1. This is fantastic, David; thanks for sharing it. It is fascinating to see how much biblical exegesis is shared among different Mormon traditions.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 18, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Great post David. Thanks for tracking all that down.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 18, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  3. Archival bust! Great.

    Comment by WVS — July 18, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  4. I am fascinated by the adoption motif. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 18, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  5. Thanks, all.

    Ben and J: I think that the various Mormon traditions share a great deal in their exegeses, but there is enough difference to justify solid comparative work to see how ideas developed differently. Certainly, comparative work on racial ideas has great potential to illuminate Brighamite thought. I find the Bickertonites fascinating because for the most part, they were starting their interpretive traditions from scratch after 1844. I do wonder if there was much borrowing from, say, the writings of the Pratts, but I suspect they were largely working through these things anew as the nineteenth-century progressed.

    Comment by David G. — July 18, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

  6. Indeed, David. Their intriguing divergences emphasize the point that specific interpretations are not predetermined from LDS scripture/tradition.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 18, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  7. Very cool find, David. Here’s to hoping someone sees this that can supply some additional info on Edwards.

    Comment by Christopher — July 19, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  8. I think this is the post: John Penn

    Comment by Justin — July 19, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  9. Classic, Justin. Always able to track down those sources. BTW, I miss the Wasp. (grin)

    Comment by David G. — July 19, 2011 @ 11:01 am

  10. I read your article with great interest and followed your link on the “Algonquian Tribe of Indians”. I am descended from one of the numerous Algonquian tribes but mine are located much closer to Pennsylvania than those listed in the Wikipedia article. Please do a search on the “Powhatan Confederation” and you will find that the Native American tribes of Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, Maryland and environs are also Algonquian tribes. My particular tribe is the Mattaponi of the tidewater area of eastern Virginia. I submit that C.C. Edwards may have come from any one of the tribes which made up the “Powhatan Confederation” which would also have placed him well within earshot of the Bickertonite preaching. No doubt that message would have resonated deeply with him because most likely his tribe, like mine, were being actively disenfranchised from the original reservation lands that were originally granted to them. (I believe that the Mattaponi Reservation on the south shore of the Mattaponi River is now less than 100 acres.) Further, Virginia had a Vital Records Recorder, Walter Plecker, who insisted that anyone claiming Native american heritage was actually black and just trying to escape his race. He ordered that in all Virginia records, including the federal censuses, that only white and black be used in the race column. Thus he succeeded in a “paper genocide” of the remaining Native Americans in Virginia, many who can now never regain federal recognition for their tribes since the “official record” shows that they ceased to exist. C.C. Edwards could very easily be from one of the southern Algonquian tribes and he might be hidden in the censuses behind a black or mulatto race identification.

    Comment by Mike R — July 25, 2011 @ 11:01 pm


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