|Meta Chestnutt, c. 1888|
Her “room” was actually a lean-to with one hole in the wall to serve as a window. The lean-to was attached to a makeshift hotel in what she called a "a town of shacks and tents" known as Oklahoma City, then barely four months old.
Beneath the floor, a wolf had given birth to a litter of seven pups. Earlier that evening, a few of the leading men of the town, including the mayor and marshal, had tried to evict the new mother and her babies. But all such attempts were angrily rejected. Afterwards, no one above or beneath the floor got much sleep as mama wolf yipped and howled through the night.
The next day, September 6, 1889, W. J. Erwin, a former U. S. marshal, accompanied by his daughter Grace, picked up a load of lumber in Oklahoma City. Then, they picked up their new school teacher recently arrived by train from North Carolina. Grace, who had turned ten that May, and “Miss Meta,” as people came to call her, climbed onto the lumber stacked on the wagon and rode the many hours to Silver City, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, a trip that included a crossing of the Canadian River swollen to its banks by recent rains.
It was no doubt during that trip that Meta discovered what the lumber was for. Mr. Erwin would build on the side of his house another lean-to. This one would be Meta’s living quarters not for one night, but for the next seven years. Little did she realize that during those years, when dry spells came, for weeks on end she would eat nothing except corn meal moistened with a bit of milk.
Meta Chestnutt began teaching on her twenty-sixth birthday, two days after she arrived in Silver City. The tiny community had prepared for her as best they could. Fifty years later, Meta described that first schoolhouse they had waiting for her. It was built, she said,
by a few cowmen and some of the “nesters” down near Silver City cemetery. It was a frame building 24 by 36 feet, with a log rolled up to the door for a step. Rough cottonwood lumber was nailed up for seats and desks. Three twelve-inch boards four feet long were nailed together for a blackboard and painted black. Pieces of chalk were chipped from a large lump and served as crayons with which to “cipher.”
|Photo c. 1892. Back row, left to right: W. J. Erwin, Ann "Annie" Tuttle Erwin, Grace Erwin, Meta Chestnutt. Front row: Mary Ann, Wilma, Claude Tuttle Erwin. All of the children were born in Sherman, Texas, before the family moved to Indian Territory.|
This was the beginning of thirty years of teaching and school administration, first at Silver City, and later at Minco, I.T. Through it all, the conviction that sustained her was that she had come to Indian Territory by the will of God; that her work was not merely educational, but missionary and redemptive. She once wrote that her goal was “to fix firmly the standard of King Immanuel.” But the mission was not hers alone. This was church work. “Our battle,” she continued,
has been a fierce one all along the line, and our burden a heavy one, but the Lord has blessed us in all our fiery trials. Our little band has grown from two to fifty or sixty. Some zealous brethren belong to our band now. It is a glorious sight to see whole families coming to service, one in Christ Jesus. At our regular Lord’s day service our attendance sometimes runs to seventy-five, and our Bible readings on Lord’s day night are well attended.A few times a year, the congregation would hear the sermons of visiting preachers like R. W. Officer, J. H. Hardin, Volney Johnson, and D. T. Broadus. On Sundays when they had no preacher, Meta would “teach the Bible” and “spread the Lord’s table.” In time, the Church of Christ that met in the schoolhouse at Minco, I.T., would grow to well over one hundred in attendance.
Over three decades, Meta taught some 2,500 students, and provided a Christian example for them and their families. Many of her students became Christians. Several went on to become political and business leaders in the new State of Oklahoma. In recognition of her life's work, in 1939, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
In short, Meta Chestnutt, who died at Chickasha, Oklahoma in 1948, was one of the most successful bi-vocational missionaries in the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement.
 Eva Heiliger, "Born to Meet Adversity (and Rise Above It)," 1-3. Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection, box 1, folders 6 and 7, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. A slightly different version of this story appears in Mrs. J. A. Sager, "Some Wildflowers from My Garden of Memory," Meta Chestnutt Sager file, box 10, Historic Oklahoma Biographies Collection, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.
 Heiliger, "Born to Meet Adversity," 35-39.
 Meta C. Sager, "Early Grady County History," Chronicles of Oklahoma 17, no. 2 (June 1939): 187. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "nester" as "a person who settles permanently in a cattle-grazing region as a farmer, homesteader, etc." The earliest example of the use of this word dates to 1880.
 Gwen Jackson, "Pioneer Teacher in First Graded Grady County School: Meta Chestnutt Sager of Silver City and Minco," Grady County Historical Society, Chickasha, OK.
 Heiliger, "Born to Meet Adversity," 42-43.
 Meta Chestnutt, "Minco, Ind. Ter." American Home Missionary 1, no. 4 (April 1895): 61-62.