Arizona is home to more than a half-dozen major Indian tribes and a number of lesser ones. It was to the eastern half of Arizona’s Mohave Country, with its large Indian population, that Mr. and Mrs. James P. Anderson were called to labor. In fellowship with the assembly at the Gospel Auditorium in Oakland, CA, they were commended to work among the Hualapai (formerly spelled ‘Walapai’) Indians of Arizona. These had no missionary working among them, and the superintendent of the reservation had asked that someone come and take charge of the religious work at the Truxton Canyon Indian school, as well as work with the older Indians.
1916: Peach Springs, AZ
The Andersons arrived in October 1916 and lived in Valentine, AZ. From their first Sunday there until the school closed in 1937, the Andersons were given a free hand in teaching the Word to many hundreds of young people who would, in turn, carry the Gospel back to the many tribes they represented. Two meetings in the school on Sundays were supplemented by two more during the week. Various smaller classes were held afternoons. All children were required to attend, and most of the government employees came voluntarily. Saturday afternoons saw the Anderson home overflowing with boys who came together for singing and a Bible lesson. On Sunday afternoons the older girls, many of them promising Christians, gathered for a helpful time with Mrs. Anderson.
Seven different tribes were represented at the school, many coming from several hundred miles distant. Some 60 people living in the vicinity of Valentine attended many of the meetings. The Andersons had the joy of hearing a good number confess the Lord each year.
The school work was only one phase of the Andersons’ missionary activity. Many hours were spent out in the Indian camps. The Hualapai at that time numbered 600 and during the first year every member of the tribe was personally visited. One tribe, the Havasupai, live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and to visit them required a horseback ride down a steep 15-mile trail. Not only were the Indians visited in their own camps, but hundreds of them were guests in the Anderson home. In this way the Andersons won the confidence of the Indians.
The first conversion occurred about nine months after they came to the reservation, Mrs. Dennis Butler, who with her husband became a faithful helper at Peach Springs Chapel, AZ .
Kingman is some 30 miles southwest of Valentine. The Kingman Gospel Chapel was started by the Andersons. Their first meetings were out in the Indian camps, but in 1919 James Anderson was able to build a small chapel on the outskirts of Kingman, where they held the meetings for the Indians for a couple of years. They then purchased an old house in Kingman, and rebuilt it for use as a Gospel Chapel. But non-Indians who were hungry for the real Gospel started coming to the meetings, and gradually it turned into white work almost altogether. Mr. Anderson ministered the Word there once a week while able to do so. Many others worked at the Chapel; George Baxter and Harold Kesler both preached and worked there when not elsewhere preaching. Tom Carroll also ministered the Word at Kingman, Valentine, and Peach Springs. None of the missionaries working on the reservations received any pay from the Government.
Mrs. Baxter had an Indian women’s meeting on Wednesday afternoons at the Kingman Gospel Chapel. Several missionary women also spent some time working among Indians and Mexicans in connection with the Chapel. Miss Rose Olson spent several years in Kingman, living at the Chapel part of the time, and working with Mexicans and whites. Minnie Armerding also spent her first eight months as an Indian missionary at Valentine and at Kingman. Another fruitful field was the Sherman Institute at Riverside, a training school for Indians, which Mr. Anderson would frequently visit.
In 1929 it was necessary to erect an Indian chapel at Peach Springs, 18 miles east of Valentine and the only town on the Hualapai Reservation, due to the fact that the Hualapai had been told to get out of Kingman where they were only squatters, and move up on the Reservation. In 1937 the believers began meeting as an assembly at Peach Springs.
In 1937, the Government abandoned the boarding school at Valentine, as it did almost all other Indian boarding schools, and built day schools on the different reservations; two were built on the Hualapai Reservation. During the school year the Andersons had the same privilege of having the students for Christian instruction one hour during their school time. One school was 50 miles from Valentine; the other was at Peach Springs,. The Andersons traveled 1500 to 2000 miles each month before gasoline and tire rationing came into effect because of World War II.
In 1941, Mr. Anderson became ill, and 14 months later the Lord took him home. When he became too ill to work on the reservation, Mr. and Mrs. George Baxter took full charge of the work for almost a year. The burden of the work then fell on the shoulders of Mrs. Lillian Anderson. All in the area heard the Gospel, and told representatives of cults who came through that “we know the only way of salvation, and we will accept it when we die.” Before the chief “Old Spoonhead“ of the Havasupai tribe died in about 1950, he told an artist visiting down in the canyon that he had met “the God above” 25 years before, when Mr. Anderson first came down to the canyon.
In 1943, about 16 were in fellowship at the Kingman Gospel Chapel and the assembly at Peach Springs was all Indian, except for Mrs. Anderson and her daughter, with 10 Indians in fellowship.
The Hualapai Indian tribe consisted of approximately 500 Indians on the reservations in 1947, a decrease in population from the Anderson’s first arrival if the census was correct. At that time, A. LeRoy Livingston worked among the Hualapai and lived at Peach Springs. The U.S. had a good schooling program, so the Livingstons were able to reach them in English, albeit in a very simple form. The older people of the tribe were quite reluctant to let the children go to school, so it was a problem to try to keep them from their primitive methods or nature. The Livingstons were conscientious to keep the assembly geared to the Indians, and just one white school teacher met with them to Remember the Lord at the Peach Springs Chapel.
In 1952, the assembly at Peach Springs still remained but was small. During World War II and the Korean war, many Hualapai boys from Peach Springs went overseas and their chaplains wrote Mrs. Anderson commenting on their Christian testimony and knowledge of the Word. In 1957, Mrs. Anderson was still carrying on the work started by herself and her husband.
Faithful Indian converts included Rupert and Rachel Parker, both Sunday school teachers; Grant Tapiaga, the Hualapai preacher, and his Apache wife, Fanny; and the Tomanatas, a four-generation Christian family.
1951 Arizona Indian Mission, Flagstaff, AZ
In 1951, Mr. and Mrs. George Baxter, commended by Midland Assembly in Detroit (later Pembroke), started the Arizona Indian Mission of Flagstaff, Arizona. They labored alone for several years; then the Eldon Miners came to help them. Later Joseph Paulick, commended from Norwood Gospel Chapel in Chicago, and Miss Betty Hollman, commended from New Haven Gospel Hall of Hamden, CT, came to help.
In June 1952, George Baxter conducted two youth camps with boys and girls in attendance from Hopi, Navajo, Hualapai, and Supi tribes. The Navajo adult camp which followed was well attended, with several people saved.
The Baxters and co-workers were urged by the new Indian believers in Flagstaff to go to their tribal relatives on the reservation with the Gospel message. At Shonto the Indians asked for a meeting place for their services. This was accomplished in July 1958, and in August 1960, the Navajo tribe gave a permit for a grant of land at Shonto.
Messrs. Baxter and Paulick erected the Third Avenue Gospel Chapel in Flagstaff, AZ. The workers and native believers meet regularly for the Breaking of Bread, preaching of the Word, Bible study and Sunday School. The meeting continues today.
For a time, there were three missions in Arizona that went by the name of Immanuel Mission. The work at Valentine was called the Immanuel Mission to the Hualapais. The work at Winslow, 200 miles east of Valentine, also went by the name Immanuel Mission. This work was initiated principally by Carl Armerding and his daughter Minnie. They labored among the Indians at Winslow and vicinity for more than 25 years. Mr. Armerding built a chapel at Winslow in 1934, which had Gospel meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday schools, attended largely by Indians of the Laguna, Hopi, and Navajo tribes. Mr. Armerding was still active in the work in his 91st year in 1952.
Those two ‘Immanuel Missions’ have evolved into other works. Still going strong is the Immanuel Mission to the Navajos, near Teec Nos Pos in the northeast corner of Arizona. Though these three missions were separated each from the other by about 200 miles, their aims and interests were the same: the winning of precious souls from among the Indian tribes of the Southwest.
The rapid growth of the Navajo peoples in the early 1900s caught the attention of Anglo merchants who responded by building a series of Trading Posts across Navajoland. By 1932, the population of the Navajo tribe had grown to over 60,000 people, and the tribe had over 1.5 million sheep. The Federal Government encouraged mission societies to establish mission stations in order to help educate and introduce change into the culture. Nevertheless, the Navajos were poor and unhealthy. One half of all Navajo children died by the age of five.
The early story of Immanuel Mission at Teec Nos Pos is the story of a remarkable family, the Holcombs. Horace A. Holcomb was born in 1852, and in 1889 entered Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He was ordained in the Congregational Church and spent several years as a pastor in Minnesota. Clara Elizabeth Holcomb was born to Horace and his wife Mary in Lansing, MI in 1883. Marie Holcomb, the seventh child, was born in Kearney, Nebraska in 1900 where Horace was then serving with the Gospel Missionary Union (GMU).
The 26-year-old Clara and another young woman spent three years on the Navajo reservation from 1909 to 1911 near Tuba City, AZ, probably serving with GMU. They lived with a Navajo family, where Clara learned to speak Navajo. From 1912 to 1915, Horace and Mary also served in the same area at a small mission called Kin Ligai near Moenkopi, AZ. Flagstaff, the nearest Anglo settlement, was three days away by horseback.
In 1915, Horace, Mary, and Clara went to serve with Harry Ironside at his Indian School in Oakland, CA. Four students are remembered at the school during this period: a Navajo, two Hopis, and a Hualapai.
Horace and Clara continued to have a burden for the Navajo people and worked and prayed about establishing a mission. Finally, in 1920 the Holcombs felt the Lord’s timing had arrived and they traveled to Oakcreek Canyon to visit their daughter Marie, who had lived with the Girdner family to attend school and now was teaching there.
Mary Holcomb was ill and stayed with the Girdners while Horace and Clara returned to Flagstaff. There they bought a wagon and team and supplies and headed out across the uncharted desert for Chinle, AZ, 200 miles away. In July 1921, they met up with Carl Armerding at Ganado and traveled on together towards Chinle. There the Holcombs and Carl stayed with a Christian Navajo family the Gormans for a time.
Mr. Armerding returned to Albuquerque while the Holcombs stayed on at Chinle throughout the fall. They heard of an abandoned trading post, Peter Martin’s Trading Store, sixty miles or so to the North. Clara and her father drove the wagon up to take a look. The abandoned trading post was situated on a small rise in a wide treeless valley. The building was solidly built of sandstone and adobe, approximately 10\' x 30\' with two rooms and with a flat roof. It did have one important amenity: Upper Saltbush Spring was located about 200 hundred feet to the north. In December 1921, Horace sought help from the Department of the Interior for petitioning for the property.
The Holcomb family then returned to Flagstaff to outfit an expedition back to Peter Martin’s store. Sometime in the late spring of 1922, Horace, Mary, and Clara Holcomb set off in a covered wagon from Flagstaff for Peter Martin’s store, the future site of Immanuel Mission. Horace had just turned 70. Their privations were many, including some days without water.
Soon after arriving at Peter Martin’s store, Horace attempted to get a land petition signed by the local Navajos. Carl Armerding came to help, and he and Horace built a shade house and invited the community over for a ‘big feed.’ After the meal, they brought up the idea of starting a mission. Things seemed to go well until ‘Brown Hat,’ a local Headman, refused to give his permission. The meeting soon broke up a failure, much to the disappointment of the Holcombs. Thus in 1922, the local Navajos had not given the missionaries permission to establish a mission on the reservation, though the missionaries were able to live there.
However, in January 1924, the Government superintendent and his wife, with a Presbyterian missionary from Shiprock, and Mr. Deshney, an Indian interpreter, and several Indians came to the missionaries’ home. Brown Hat and a friend then arrived. After much persuasion and silent prayer, the old man acquiesced, and the old Peter Martin’s Trading Store near Teec Nos Pos became Immanuel Mission.
The early years were filled with hardship and discouragement. A devastating fire broke out in June 1923 in the midst of a terrible sandstorm. The living quarters were nearly destroyed. Wagon, saddles, bridles, harness, tent and everything in it, grain, wood pile, chickens and chicken house, scales, and alfalfa were gone. The group rebuilt the house in seven weeks while staying at a trader’s store.
In December 1924, another disaster struck the mission. A mighty wind blew the roof off, letting in sand and snow. Temperatures were below zero. The workers stayed in the cow shed for six days and nights, seven in one little room with no chance to undress and go to bed decently, while some Navajos repaired the roof.
Florence Barker came to help in the fall of 1922, and since then a steady stream of workers have come to the Mission. Howard Montgomery and his wife came in 1942. After the Holcombs had gone to be with the Lord, Clara Holcomb passing on in 1947, Howard Montgomery assumed full responsibility for the work. He at once began the study of the Navajo language, realizing the absolute need of doing so.
For years the program consisted mainly of work with the adult Navajos. This took the form of visitation, Gospel meetings, simple medical aid, letter writing, distributing used clothing to needy families, and helping with problems connected with finding off-reservation work. This work that was carried on by Mrs. Helen Montgomery, Ben and Virginia Staley, and by an elderly Navajo couple, Eugene and Martha Natatches.
The Navajos did not get the New Testament in their own language until 1957, and a modern school system on the reservation was not started until 1956. The Navajo people numbered nearly 130,000 in 1970. While some of the Navajo people reside in towns, by far the great majority still are in small family groups scattered over the reservation. And while there are some public schools and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools that are able to make use of buses, most of the children must live in dormitories away from home in order to get an education. The school at Immanuel Mission is in the latter class.
The school that the workers had prayed much about starting, was begun in the fall of 1948. It took children from broken homes. Several stayed there all the time, while others came daily from nearby homes. Miss Evelyn Varder from Chicago had the main responsibility for the school. She had the help of Ruth Valentine of Chicago. Howard Montgomery gave a Bible lesson and Gospel message in Navajo each morning except Saturday. Sunday school was held for the children each Lord’s Day afternoon. A number of children have taken the Lord Jesus into their lives, and some continue as adults to Remember the Lord on Sunday mornings with the staff and Christian Navajo neighbors.
In 1957, the laborers included Mr. and Mrs. Howard Montgomery, Miss Evelyn Varder, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Perrault, Miss Alice Huff, and Miss Lois Jean Delaney. Robert Staley has served as principal of the school. In 1971, Don and Nona Perrault cared for over thirty girls. Delbert and June Dyck looked after nearly the same number of boys in the large, two-winged dormitory building. These children live at the mission for the nine-month school term and are under the complete care of the dormitory parents, so the responsibility is great not only for their spiritual well-being, but also for their physical needs.
Navajo Immanuel Chapel at Immanuel Mission began as a regularly meeting assembly in the early 1970s. The principal people involved in starting the assembly were Eugene Nataches and James Nataches, Navajo brothers. Leadership has been shared by these and Willy Howe, Wesley Begay, Donald Perrault, and Greg Staley. About 90 adults and children attend Navajo Immanuel Chapel, which is now usually called Immanuel Navajo Chapel.
The physical facilities of the mission have grown to several major buildings, a power plant, a shop building, and two house trailers. The compound is located fourteen miles from the nearest hard-surfaced road and twenty miles from the nearest power lines, so all electricity is generated on the grounds. The nearest town of any business importance is Farmington, NM, ninety miles away, and it is from there that practically all supplies must be brought in.
- A Brief History of Immanuel Mission, by Greg Staley; Issue 7, Winter 1995; Issue 8, Spring 1995; Issue 10, Spring 1996; Issue 11, Fall 1996; Issue 12, Spring 1997; Issue 13, Fall 1997
- Letters of Interest, August 1943, p. 23; March 1946, p. 21; December 1947 p. 26; December 1948, p. 10; May 1952, p. 19; August 1952, p. 8; September 1952, p. 4; February 1957, p. 11; February 1962, p. 11; March 1971 p. 4?