Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Once Upon a Time in the West

From Jon K. Lauck's Prairie Republic

When the Episcopalians established their first church, the same year Dakota Territory was established, they immodestly called it "The Mother Church of the Dakotas." The church's founder, the Reverend Melancthon Hoyt, traced his lineage back to Simon Hoyt, who migrated from England to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1628. Born in Connecticut in 1809, Reverend Hoyt attended Yale University, was a member of the first graduating class of Yale Theological College, and then quickly began his work building churches in the West. Hoyt and other Episcopalians were active in politics and civic affairs in Dakota. The historian Herbert T. Hoover argues that the members of the Episcopalian Church in Dakota Territory "became as much a political caucus as a religious group." Howard Lamar similarly noted that a "large number of the leading figures in Dakota were Episcopalian." Historians believe a notorious defrauder of Indians was found innocent of corruption charges due to his connections to the influential Episcopal church in Dakota. President Grant's "peace policy" toward Native Americans allowed the Episcopal church to appoint many Indian agents. Hoover notes that this appointment "privilege brought enormous economic benefits to Episcopal caucus leaders and their friends at Yankton," since by "far the best full-time jobs in the territory existed at Indian agency jurisdictions." The Episcopalians also had important supporters on the national level. John Jacob Astor funded the construction of Calvary Cathedral in Sioux Falls, which displayed pieces from three historic crosses, including ones carried by William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion-Hearted.

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