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On the Alaskan Frontier – Amanda McFarland, 1833–1913

Dianna Lynn Severance

After her husband’s death in 1876, Amanda McFarland moved to Portland, Oregon. She and her husband David had spent nine years as missionaries in Santa Fe, New Mexico and then among the Nez Percé in Idaho before David died of cancer. Amanda had a heart for missions but was unsure of what step to take next when she met Sheldon Jackson in Portland. Jackson had been superintendent of the western Presbyterian missions when Amanda and her husband were in New Mexico. Sheldon encouraged Amanda to come with him to Alaska where he was opening a Presbyterian mission.

On 10 August, 1877, Sheldon and Amanda arrived in Wrangel, two days before Amanda’s forty–fourth birthday. The army had left Fort Wrangel shortly before Amanda’s arrival, and there was no law enforcement in the town at all. Sheldon arranged for Amanda to use an empty dance hall for a school, then left for the East Coast to raise funds for the Alaska mission.

Thirty pupils attended Amanda’s school in the dance hall when it fi rst opened, but soon the number grew to around ninety–four. Amanda had few supplies – four Bibles, four hymnals, three primers, and thirteen first readers; but the students were eager to learn, and Amanda had a heart for sharing the truth of Christ with the students. There were about forty Christian Indians in the town who were eager to learn from Amanda. They had been converted by a Canadian Indian whose name was Clah. Clah was ill with tuberculosis, but continued to shepherd the Christians as long as his health allowed. On his death, Amanda became the teacher for the Tlingit Christians until a pastor, Rev. Samuel Young, arrived the following year.

In his early reports Rev. Young described the lawlessness of Wrangel, including the slavery of the Indians and the prevalence of witchcraft. Amanda struggled against the white men buying the Indian girls from the parents. One day a store owner bought one of Amanda’s students, a girl of thirteen, from her parents for twenty blankets. Amanda was able to rescue the girl and return her to her parents, but she feared what could yet happen to the girl. Another time she rescued an eleven–year–old from a man in the street who was trying to get her to come to his house. When two of Amanda’s pupils disappeared from school, she learned that they had been accused of witchcraft and were being tortured. Amanda set out to rescue them, though her students warned her they were having a devil dance and would kill her. Amanda found the two poor girls on the beach, stripped with their hands and feet tied at the center of a fiendish dance; the dancers were cutting them with knives. Amanda went to the center of the dance, and warned and pled with the dancers to cease or she would call out the United States gunboats. She was able to rescue the girls, though one was recaptured and killed later.

Amanda, the first woman missionary in Alaska, became known by the native chiefs as ‘the
woman who loved their people’, and was looked to for advice and counsel by tribal leaders as well as her many students.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you

~ Psalm 5:11 ~





This extract is from Her–Story: 366 Devotions from 21 Centuries of the Christian Church

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