Thursday, February 04, 2010

Interesting bit of South Dakota Episcopal History

The following is an article a friend of mine forwarded me. He wrote it for a Masonic publication, but it involves an Episcopal priest in South Dakota who was a mason. It was really quite interesting.

(Posted with permission.) 
-The Archer
"The Rev. Edward Ashley
by Dr. Douglas C. McFarland, Grand Historian

The early history of Dakota Territory and our state of South Dakota includes the names of many prominent Freemasons who made significant contributions. One such brother, Edward Ashley, was an extraordinary individual who untiringly served the Church, the Native Americans of the territory, and the Masonic fraternity.

Edward Ashley was born in England on December 12, 1854. A carpenter by trade, he traveled to America at the age of 21, hoping to serve as a missionary. After arriving in Michigan and meeting with the Episcopal Bishop there, he was recommended to Bishop Hare of Dakota Territory and soon found himself serving the Indians of the territory. Ashley first arrived in Yankton and recorded in his memoirs the excitement of a real western town. There was even a murder across the street from his hotel!

From Yankton, he was sent to serve as missionary on the Crow Creek Reservation where he worked for 4 years. In 1876, Brother Ashley returned to England to marry. After returning to America, he and his wife had 4 boys and 1 girl at Fort Thompson. Bishop Hare soon sent Ashley to Fairbault, Minnesota to receive the Church Orders. Upon completing a 3-year course in theology in only 2 years, he was sent to the Sisseton Agency. Ashley remained there until 1889 when he was transferred to the Cheyenne Agency, serving as Superintendent until 1903. He then became the General Missionary of the Church at Aberdeen. In 1916 he was appointed Arch-Deacon by Bishop Burleson. After the death of his wife in Aberdeen, Ashley married Betty Goodbody in 1918.

Brother Ashley was highly respected by the Sioux Indians he lived with and ministered to. They even made him a member of the Cheyenne Tribal Council. The high esteem they held for him was most evident in the aftermath of the Massacre/Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. The Army, also recognizing Ashley’s report and influence with the native population, summoned him immediately following the massacre to help settle the conflict. Ashley was able to interpret, in the Indian language, the facts of the massacre and read the list of casualties. He was very instrumental in helping to calm the situation. During the negotiations, Ashley’s family was left on the Cheyenne Reservation. Brother Ashley was, quite understandably, concerned about the safety of his family. Although the Indians were greatly agitated, the high regard they had for the missionary prevented any harm from coming to the Ashley family.

Brother Ashley was said to have led “an active, but lonely life on the reservations.” Aside from annual church conferences, his only contacts with the “outside” were his Masonic activities. Brother Ashley served as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge for 25 years; 22 years as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons; 16 years as Prelate of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar; and 15 years as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons. A 33° Scottish Rite Mason, he served as Deputy of the Supreme Council A. A. S. R. in South Dakota for 6 years, as well as Chaplain for the Supreme Council. Ashley was also a dedicated member of the Grand Council of DeMolay in South Dakota.

Brother Edward Ashley died at the age of 76 on March 30, 1931 and was buried in Aberdeen. His exemplary record of service to his fellow man and to the Masonic Fraternity will long be remembered.


Vicki0o said...

Rev. Edward Ashley is my great grandfather. His children were sent home to Muskegon, Michigan to be raised by his parents who also immigrated from Frome,Somerset, England. Happy to answer any further questions you may have. Very happy to hear any further information you may have on my great grandfather.
Kind Regards,
Vicki Ashley Danielson

The Archer of the Forest said...

We hear his original journal/diary is down in the Episcopal Church archives at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. We've (The Mason listed here and myself) been thinking about going down there and doing some research on it. From what we understand, it might make an interesting book that the South Dakota State Press might be interested in. Any thoughts?