Joseph Murrow

American Indian Missionary for 72 years

by Thomas Ray

Joseph Murrow was born in 1835 in Richmond County, GA. His father, John Murrow, and three of his brothers were Baptist preachers. Joseph was converted in 1854 at the age of 19 and was baptized by his eldest brother. Shortly after his conversion he enrolled in Mercer University, completing his studies in 1857. That same year, in response to a plea from H. P. Buckner for additional missionaries to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), Murrow not only volunteered, but resolved to spend his life among the Indians.

September 16, 1857, Joseph was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Macon, GA. Immediately he set out on his long journey to the West. Upon reaching Mississippi, he was married October 8, 1857, to Miss Elizabeth Tatum. He and his bride travelled by boat from Memphis to the mouth of the Arkansas River, passing through Little Rock and Fort Smith. They discovered that neither town contained a Baptist meeting house or a preacher.

Joseph and his new wife arrived on December 10, 1857, at Buckner’s home at Micco near the present Eufaula, OK. Murrow would prove to be an untiring laborer who would experience great joys, victories, and personal tragedies. In 1858 his young wife Elizabeth and their baby daughter succumbed to the perils of frontier life. Tragically, Murrow would have to experience the loss of three additional wives.

In 1860, Murrow moved about 60 miles west of Micco to minister to the neglected Seminole Nation. The Seminoles responded with open hearts and minds to the preaching of the gospel. Murrow baptized 200 Seminoles, and in 1861 he founded the first Baptist church in the Seminole Nation. One report says that 60 percent of all Seminole adults were Baptists. In about 1869, he relocated his mission work to the Choctaw Nation where he founded the town of Atoka and established a church, remaining its pastor for 23 years.

As we have previously stated, life on the frontier was extremely hazardous. Missionaries were exposed to the summer’s searing heat and the winter’s bitter cold. They were often forced to sleep on the ground and their diet was frequently inadequate, which often produced severe physical problems. In 1870, Murrow experienced a complete physical breakdown and was forced to return to his home in Georgia. His family, shocked by his physical condition, placed him in the Atlanta Hospital for the Blind. Everyone assumed this was the end of Murrow’s missionary work, but thankfully the doctors discovered that his eye disease was caused by overwork and neglected health. The doctor’s prescription of rest and an improved diet soon restored Murrow’s eyesight and health.

With his health fully restored he returned to his missionary work among the Choctaw Nation. Father Murrow, as he was affectionately called, helped the Indian Baptist churches form several associations, and he was instrumental in helping establish the Baptist Theological School for the training of preachers and teachers. Always burdened for the unreached tribes, he was able to influence several missionaries and Indian preachers to settle among the neglected tribes.

Few if any missionaries have labored as long and successfully as Joseph Murrow. He organized more than 75 Baptist churches in the Indian Territory. He assisted with the ordination of more than 75 Indian ministers. He baptized more than 2,000 converts, most of whom were Indians. Father Murrow traveled thousands of miles, preached over 3,000 sermons, and at the age of 94, after 72 years as a missionary among the Indians of Oklahoma, Joseph Morrow had kept his promise to spend his life among the Indians. He entered into his well-deserved rest September 8, 1924.