August 10

This Day in History

Old West

Aug 10, 1877:

Amanda McFarland begins Alaskan mission

Amanda McFarland, a dedicated Presbyterian missionary, becomes the first white woman to settle at Fort Wrangell, Alaska.

The wife of a Presbyterian minister from Illinois, McFarland joined her husband in opening a mission to the Indians of New Mexico in 1867. Despite suffering from chronic health problems, McFarland was a dedicated and energetic missionary who appears to have genuinely cared for the Native Americans she worked with. She twice crossed the Plains by stagecoach to carry out her duties, and on one occasion, hostile Indians pursued her coach. Undaunted, McFarland continued to aid her husband's missionary work until he died in 1875 while the couple was working with Nez Perce Indians in the Northwest.

Widowed and alone, McFarland moved to Portland, Oregon. There she met Sheldon Jackson, a prominent missionary who was interested in taking the Presbyterian gospel to the Indians of Alaska. Jackson convinced McFarland to become missionary in southern Alaska, and on this day in 1877, she took charge of the mission school at Fort Wrangell.

Though Alaska had been an American territory nearly a decade at that time, it was still almost unsettled beyond a few military and fur trapping outposts. McFarland was the first and only white woman at Fort Wrangell, and after Jackson left her in charge to visit other missions, she was the only Protestant missionary in all of Alaska.

McFarland was equal to the task. For more than a year she served as the minister to the small settlement. She quickly won the trust of the native Alaskans, and the Indians turned to her for advice on spiritual, legal, and medical matters. She once presided over an Indian constitutional convention. In 1878, a male minister arrived at Fort Wrangell and took over many of McFarland's official duties. Until her death in 1912 at the age of 80, McFarland remained an immensely influential woman within both the white and Native American communities of southern Alaska.

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