The Indian Preacher
William Winans

.William Winans was a full blood Choctaw, born in Mississippi's Choctaw lands in about 1808.  He was given the name of Oak-chi-ah.  At the time of his birth, the Choctaw resided upon their reserved lands.  However, by the time Oak-chi-ah was aged 16, most of his people were forced to emigrate to lands assigned them on the south bank of the Arkansas, and on the north bank of Red river, six hundred miles west of the Mississippi River.

Oak-chi-ah was about five foot seven inches in height - rather slender - inclined a little forward - constitutionally delicate.  He was communicative, easy in his manner, and graceful in his movements.  His whole expression strongly indicated the benevolence and goodness of his heart.

As a preacher, he was able, popular, and useful.  His eloquence was not bold and majestic, but gentle, sweet, and pathetic.  "I scarcely ever heard him preach," said a colleague, "without his congregation being bathed in tears before he closed his sermon."

Previous to the Choctaw emigration, through an effort primarily by the Methodists, a revival of religion had taken place amongst the Choctaw.  Among those "brought from the region of darkness, and of the shadow of death," was Oak-chi-ah.  It was then that the circuit preacher give him his Christian name, William Winans.  Young William, however, never lost his pride in his birth name, and so retained it throughout his life.

After his conversion, Oak-chi-ah became  deeply interested in his brethren.  He raised a warning voice, and with pure, native, burning eloquence, besought them to come to Jesus and seek a refuge in his clefted side.  However, the prejudices of the Indian people against the Europeans were so deeply rooted as to be interwoven with their very existence.  Many made a vigorous and desperate effort to stem and roll back the torrent of religious feeling that they felt was being forced upon them.  Those efforts were directed especially to the converts, but Oak-chi-ah held equally fast to his convictions.

On one occasion, Oak-chi-ah, after publishing the glad tidings of salvation to his people, upon returning, saw at a distance an old man, yet still athletic and vigorous.  This man held a gun, and started towards Oak-chi-ah, who spoke:  "Father, will you shoot me?  What have I done that I must die so soon?"

The old man paused, his muscles relaxed, the weapon dropped from his hands, and a torrent of tears gushed from his eye and flowed down his weather-beaten face.  He could face the enemy on the battlefield, but the spirit of a humble follower of Christ unmanned him.  The old man had seen the tenderness and love residing within the young Oak-chi-ah, and so became deeply penitent.  Eventually, this man, too, found his way with God, and became a devoted and consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Oak-chi-ah was admitted into the Mississippi conference, traveled two years, was ordained deacon, and eventually located to remove with his tribe to their lands in the far west.  He, and others, left behind their ministers, houses of worship, ordinances, and religious privileges.

In 1843, Oak-chi-ah was readmitted into the itinerant field, and was sent with Rev. J. M. Steele, by Bishop Andrew, to labor in the southern portion of the Choctaw tribe.  One year later, in 1844, the Indian Mission conference was organized to cover all the Indian territory between Missouri and Red Rivers, west of the Mississippi River.  The first session of that conference was held at Tah-le-quah, the capital of the Cherokee nation.  Oak-chi-ah had to travel two hundred miles to reach it.  On his way to conference, he visited the Fort Coffee Academy, and on the 21st of October, Oak-chi-ah joined the superintendent of the Mission, Chuck-ma-bee, Rev. J. M. Steele, and Rev. H. C. Benson (the writer) in their trek to the conference.  Oak-chi-ah's health was poor, and on the first day his strength failed.  Chuck-ma-bee remained behind with Oak-chi-ah, allowing him to rest.  The two arrived at conference only two days late.

At that conference, Oak-chi-ah was reapointed to Puck-che-unb-bee circuit by Bishop Morris.  However, on the 31st of October, once having reached Fort Smith, Oak-chi-ah once again became ill.  Medical aid was sought, and Oak-chi-ah retired to bed that night feeling better.  Early on the following morning, he arose, walked out of his room and fell.  A friend ran to him, and inquired of his welfare.  Oak-chi-ah replied in Choctaw, pointed upward, and in a few minutes, breathed his last.  He had known that "the time of his departure was at hand," and so had given the signal of victory, and claimed his home in heaven - a mansion in the skies.

The remains of Oak-chi-ah, aka William Winans, now resides in its "narrow house" upon the southern bank of the Arkansas River.

The Indian Preacher, by Rev. H. C. Benson;  Published in The Ladies Repository, Volume 7, Issue 7;  Published by The Methodist Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, OH, 1847.

Prepared for Early SW MS Territory by Ellen Pack

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