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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Oaks in Delaware County is located about three miles southwest of the town of Kansas, Oklahoma, on State Highway 412A near the Cherokee County border. Near the present Oaks community the Moravian missionaries established a mission in 1842 and named it New Springplace, after the original 1801 Springplace mission in Georgia, which had been abandoned due to Cherokee removal to Indian Territory (I.T.).

Moravians, whose headquarters were in Salem, North Carolina, operated the growing church and school until the Civil War brought terror to I.T. In 1862 the conflict struck New Springplace. Pin Indians and federal troops killed Cherokee missionary James Ward. They left his wife, with eight-month-old twin boys in her arms, twenty miles from the mission and took Moravian Rev. Gilbert Bishop to Fort Scott, Kansas. The mission was abandoned until after the war when it was slowly rebuilt. A cemetery, located southwest of the community, was rehabilitated in the 1870s and gravestones placed for the Moravian missionaries and families buried there, including Ward.

Changing conditions, including allotment and the dismantling of the Cherokee government, caused the Moravians to reassess the New Springplace Mission. In 1898 they discontinued their work among the Cherokees and asked Rev. Niels Nielsen, a minister of the Evangelical Danish Lutheran Church, to help their congregation.

Earlier, on July 18, 1881, George Miller had opened a post office at the future site of Oaks. A plat for the town of Oaks was filed with the Northern District of Indian Territory on December 10, 1906. Subject to allotment, the land belonged to William Israel. The allotment plat map designated only a four-acre reservation for the Lutheran mission. The cemetery was leased from Annie Miller's allotment.

In 1902 Neilsen took over the work of the church and school at Oaks, and the name New Springplace was dropped. Rev. Christian Adolphus Vammen, with his family, succeeded Nielsen in 1924 and two years later began a children's home, Oaks Indian Mission. Oaks Indian Mission is a not-for-profit corporation related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) as an independent, social-service ministry. The year-round operation serves the needs of children regardless of race. Funding for an annual budget of $665,000 is raised from various sources. At the end of 2003 fifty-one children were enrolled.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century three principal entities existed in Oaks: the school, the home, and the church. The Eben-Ezer Lutheran Church, affiliated with the ELCA, serves the entire Oaks community. The school was separated from the mission and became a public school in the 1930s. In 2003 the school had 337 students enrolled in prekindergarten through twelfth grade. Oaks incorporated in 1962. The population was 219 in 1970 and 591 in 1980. The town is governed by a mayor-council system. The 2000 census reported a population of 412, and the 2010 census, 288. Many residents commute to work in nearby larger towns.

Rose Stauber


Heritage of the Hills: A Delaware County History (Jay, Okla.: Delaware County Historical Society, 1979).

Edmund Schwarze, History of the Moravian Missions Among Southern Indians Tribes of the United States (Bethlehem, Penn.: Times Pub. Co., 1923).

Muriel Wright, Springplace: Moravian Mission and the Ward Family of the Cherokee Nation (Guthrie, Okla.: Cooperative Publishing Co., 1940).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Rose Stauber, “Oaks,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OA003.

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