William Harrison Gill, an evangelist missionary, worked among the Indian tribes of the Old Southwest in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Despite hardships of weather, wild animals, and general frontier conditions, he traveled the uncharted and sparsely populated territories of what is now Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Nevada. His first contact was with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Alabama Indians, among whom he established some 50 Sunday Schools, traveling 4,600 miles in one year’s time. Mr. Gill encountered widespread illiteracy in those early years. To remedy the situation, he started public schools where the basics of reading and writing could be learned. Throughout the years, even after leaving his Indian friends, he corresponded with them frequently and sent textbooks.
In 1889, during a trip through Clay County, Texas, he spent the night at a country home as he had on many occasions. However this particular home was to become a frequent stopover in his travels through the region. There he met and eventually married Mary Addy Karr, the fourth daughter of the household. William and Mary Gill joined forces, traveling and preaching the Texas Indian territory together. When Mary’s health started to fail, Gill requested and was granted a transfer to Arizona which was at the time still a territory. As was to be expected, life was hard and trips of six to seven weeks duration into the back country were long and tiring. A horse and buggy were standard equipment. Mr. Gill carried all the necessary provisions, including horse feed, as the distance between settlements was great. A gun was his constant companion, not only to provide sustenance, but also protection from mountain lion, coyote, and bear which inhabited the wilderness. On one trip into the desert, Mr. Gill’s horse broke loose in the middle of the night leaving the missionary stranded 75 miles out. He walked the distance back to civilization and eventually bought a buckboard and two sturdy mountain ponies for future treks.
Mr. Gill was attracted to a Pima Indian tribe located on the Salt River of Arizona. He decided to devote his efforts totally to this tribe and, with permission from the Sunday School Union and the reservation, set up housekeeping there with his wife Mary. Their home was only a tent with a wooden floor, but it was a welcome change from the hardships of a traveling life. For several years the couple struggled to improve the living conditions of the Pima Indians. Mrs. Gill taught the women how to bake bread in the first stove brought to the reservation. Sewing machines were also introduced which started an interest in dressmaking. In the spring of 1897, work was begun on the first church building. The Indians provided adobe for the structure in exchange for their white friends’ contributions of wood and skilled labor. The Presbyterian Mission Board appropriated money for the completion of the project.
By the end of 1899, the Gills’ dream of making the Pima Indians self-sufficient began to be realized. The Indians sent their first missionary, a Pima, to work among a more needy tribe of Papago Indians in southern Arizona. Six months later, the tribe sent representatives to work among a nearby group of Maricopa Indians. A church building was eventually erected and living conditions improved rapidly.
During their six years on the reservation, Mrs. Gill gave birth to a daughter, Ruth Louise. At about the same time, Mr. Gill visited Fort McDowell, an abandoned army fort occupied by a group of Mojave Apaches. The Indians had no land of their own, and living conditions were very bad. In 1902 he decided to leave the Pima reservation and take his wife and newborn child to Fort McDowell. There the couple inherited 60 acres of land which they gladly shared with the Indians. Following a long struggle, the Apaches were deeded land in the rich Verde River Valley by the federal government.
The Gills, because of their support of the Indians’ cause, were harassed by local white settlers and feared for their lives. But conditions improved and, in May of 1907, the first Apache church was dedicated and the Indian chief was baptized as its first convert.
Milk cows and calves were gradually brought to the reservation, and poultry was introduced. The lives of the Indians improved steadily when the Gills moved to Nevada to work among the Pah Ute Indians on the Walker River Reservation. Shortly afterwards, William Gill met with a fatal accident while driving a team of horses. He left behind some 33 years of missionary work among the Indians.
Mrs. Ruth Gill Hammond established this endowed scholarship fund with the sincere hope that those assisted by this Fund will carry on the work begun by her father so many years ago.