For the last 37 years, Dorothy Scearcy has called the Cayuga-Splitlog Mission Church home.

Initially, she attended the church as a weekender - until she had a chance encounter with the church, located northeast of Grove in the Cayuga cove near the Elk River portion of Grand Lake.

Now, as one of the matriarchs of the congregation, Scearcy knows the importance of not only maintaining, but also preserving the church which has been part of northeast Oklahoma for more than 120 years.

With that in mind, Scearcy and others, including Nyta Ward, are organizing volunteers to host three different events in the next six months, in order to raise the funds needed to complete an exterior restoration project.

The first event, set for 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11, will include an "Old Time Hymn Book Sing," led by Duane Garren, at the church.

A second, an "Old Fashioned Christmas" open house, will take place at 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, also at the church. will include a variety of "old-time" Christmas activities and tours of the facility.

Both of those events are free, however participants are asked to make a donation toward the project.

A third event, hosted by members of Grove's First Baptist Church in Grove, will be a concert with The Hoppers, musical artists who have appeared on the Gaither Homecoming videos and tours.

That event is set for 6 p.m., Saturday, April 7, at Grove's First Baptist Church. Tickets will go on sale in November and cost $24 each for reserved seats, $20 for general admission and be free for those 16 and under. A processing fee will be assessed for those purchasing tickets by credit card.

It's all designed to help the congregation raise up to $15,000 - monies they need to secure a matching grant of up to $15,000 from the Corkle Foundation. 

Those funds will be used by the congregation to complete the restoration process, begun by a team of historical preservation engineers in the past two years.

The front exterior of the building was completed with funds raised among church members. The remaining monies needed will pay for work on the two sides and back.

"We know we can do it," Ward said with a smile. "Every little bit [will help]. All of the donations will go toward the restoration."

Today's church

When Scearcy first started attending the Cayuga-Splitlog Mission, Larry Pickard was serving as the pastor. The congregation met only during the summer, part of a lake ministry initative.

Now, ministers from across the area come on Sunday mornings to serve at the 8:30 a.m. worship service.

While the service begins at 8:30 a.m., Scearcy and Ward joke the "regulars" arrive by 8:15 a.m. to ensure a seat. A bell, with its rope in the balcony, is pulled by volunteers each Sunday morning to mark the beginning and end of the service.

During the winter, the congregation averages approximately 70 people, while during the summer - the peak time for the church - the attendance can reach upwards into 100s.

On those Sundays, Scearcy said, it's literally standing room only, as people line the aisle with chairs. 

A different volunteer minister fills the pulpit each Sunday, giving church members a chance to hear from a variety of speakers.

On a recent Sunday, Wyandotte Nation Principal Chief Billy Friend provided the message, speaking on faith. During his visit, church members presented Friend with a gift, a wall-sized mural of Mathias Splitlog's family tree, as a thank you for the Wyandotte Nation's support.

History of the Church

Mathias and Eliza Splitlog built the stone church in 1896. Included in the Oct. 25, 1896 dedication ceremony was the ringing of a bronze bell, which is still on the church grounds.

Father Ketchum, a Roman Catholic priest, converted the Splitlogs to Catholicism and, in 1886, Splitlog began plans for a church to be built south of the then buggy factory.

Ketchum helped design the church and used limestone that was plentiful in the area.

The church was decorated inside with hand-carved, imported wood. Outside, the name "Splitlog" is spelled out, one letter over each arched, stained glass window. The arch forming the doorway to the church is formed with fifteen stones, each carved with an Indian symbol.

Cayuga-Mission Church is considered the only church in Oklahoma, and perhaps in the United States, that was built solely by an Indian from his own funds for the religious use of all people, according to historical literature about the church.

Mathias Splitlog, also known as the "Millionaire Indian," built the church out of love for his wife. But the church became a symbol of love between Mathias and his Creator, as well.

Splitlog was part Wyandotte and part Cayuga Indian, according to research done by Searcy.

What is known is that Splitlog never received any formal schooling, nor did he learn to read or write. But that didn’t stop him from building a sawmill, gristmill and a steamboat that journeyed on the Missouri River, eventually making Splitlog a wealthy man.

Eliza Splitlog died in 1894, and her funeral was held in the unfinished church, with her final resting place on the grounds near the church. On December 1896, while on a journey to Washington, D.C., Mathias fell ill, developed pneumonia and died.

A Mass was celebrated on Jan. 14, 1897, and Mathias was buried next to his wife in the cemetery that adjoins the church.

For many years, the church was unused. Later, the church served as a school, then was abandoned and fell prey to vandalism.

The bronze bell that had been cast in Belgium and once summoned its congregation to the old stone church was transferred to St. Catherine's parish in Nowata but later returned to Cayuga Splitlog Mission Church. The old tarnished bell now is in the front yard of the church's groundskeeper.

The Catholic diocese sold the building to the Methodist Church in the early 1930s. It was later sold to R.A. Sellers Sr., whose family owns a lake home near the church.

The Sellers family has repaired the church throughout the years and has made provisions for care of the church and adjoining cemetery.

In 1998, several residents from the area met with the Sellers family, and with the family's blessing, Cayuga Mission church was opened year round.

In 1998, a 6-foot mural was discovered in a room behind the altar. The mural depicts what Delaware County would have been like at the turn of the 20th century. Much is unknown about the history of the painting.

Victoria L. Morell, most likely the name of the artist, and the date 1946 is painted on the far right side of the mural It now sets in the balcony area.

Sheila Stogsdill contributed to this story.

If You Go

Three events are set to help raise funds for the congregation.

The first event, set for 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11, will include an "Old Time Hymn Book Sing," led by Duane Garren, at the church. The event is free, however donations will be accepted.

A second, an "Old Fashioned Christmas" open house, will take place at 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, also at the church. will include a variety of "old-time" Christmas activities and tours of the facility. Some of the activities - like a cake walk - will have a nominal fee. Donations will also be accepted.

A third event, hosted by members of Grove's First Baptist Church in Grove, will be a concert with The Hoppers, musical artists who have appeared on the Gaither Homecoming videos and tours.

That event is set for 6 p.m., Saturday, April 7, at Grove's First Baptist Church. Tickets will go on sale in November and cost $24 each for reserved seats, $20 for general admission and be free for those 16 and under. A processing fee will be assessed for those purchasing tickets by credit card.