Hart, Lawrence Homer (1933-2022)

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Lawrence Hart, ca. 1995.
Photo: Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas)

Lawrence Homer Hart, He’amavehonesvestse (Sky Chief), Cheyenne peace chief and Mennonite pastor, was born at home on the banks of Quartermaster Creek north of Hammon, Oklahoma to Jennie Howling Water and Homer Hart on February 24, 1933, delivered by his grandmother Corn Stalk—Anna Reynolds (1875-1975)—the local Cheyenne matriarch and midwife. His grandfather John Peak Heart (later, John P. Hart, 1871-1958) was a Cheyenne Sundance Priest, Native American Church leader and Cheyenne Chief. Lawrence Hart married Betty Bartel, daughter of Bernhard J. Bartel and Elma (Funk) Bartel, on 4 October 1957. He died 6 March 2022 in Clinton, Oklahoma.

Raised by his grandparents who spoke only Cheyenne, Lawrence did not learn English until he began public school. Lawrence attended Hammon High School (graduated 1952) and Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas for two years before he left Bethel to realize his dream of flying jet fighter planes in the Navy. First Lieutenant Hart was the first American Indian to become a U.S. military jet pilot and instructor.

Before Lawrence’s grandfather John Peak Heart died, he selected Lawrence to take his place as a Cheyenne Chief. Lawrence gave up his military career, returned to Bethel College to finish his history degree (1961), and went to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana (1961-63). He took the vow a peace chief takes to become a peace maker and often cited the influence of his Bethel College friend Larry Kaufman who had often spoken to Lawrence about his pacifism; later, Kaufman drowned while in voluntary service in the Congo. Lawrence vowed that if he should lose his life, it would be as Larry had done, working for the cause of peace. He became one of four principal peace chiefs for the Cheyenne tribe.

Lawrence went on to serve his people in the Cheyenne tribe and the General Conference Mennonite Church as an ordained minister for the rest of his life. He practiced conflict resolution and merged his roles of peace chief and Mennonite minister to practice restorative justice from his post as pastor for the Koinonia Mennonite Church, Clinton, Oklahoma along with his wife Betty (Bartel) from 1963-2021. He used methods from both Cheyenne justice traditions and Anabaptist peacemaking, interpreting Jesus as a tribal person as he studied Scriptures from a Cheyenne point of view. He was also influenced by the lives of his parents, Homer and Jennie Hart, who served as lay pastors and translators for forty years, 1918-1958 at Hammon Mennonite Church. Lawrence and Betty had three children: Connie Hart Yellowman, Nathan Hart, and Chris Hart Wolfe.

Lawrence H. Hart at the Washita massacre site, 2000.
Photo: James C. Juhnke, Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas).

In addition to preaching and teaching widely, Lawrence served on numerous committees for church and tribe: Western District Conference Education Committee and Commission on Home Ministries, Mennonite Central Committee board, Mennonite World Conference program planning for Wichita, 1978; Mennonite World Conference in Zurich, Switzerland; the Bethel College Board of Directors; Mennonite Indian Leaders’ Conference; Mennonite Church USA Conference “Journey from Darlington.” One of his most important projects was the Return to the Earth Project he initiated with MCC to mobilize the help of churches across the country to repatriate Native American remains as a result of his ten years of service with NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection Rights Act), 1990-2000.

He served on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Council as Chairman, the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Committee, the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, the National Indian Education Association. He developed the Cheyenne Cultural Center at Clinton, Oklahoma and the Clinton Youth Service Center. He helped to establish the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.

Awards: 1992, selected by the U.S. Senate as delegate to the White House Conference on Indian Education and named “Indian Elder of the Year.” Named Distinguished Citizen by the Oklahoma Heritage Association; received Award for Distinguished Service by Bethel College (1995); Distinguished Honorary Citizen by Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes for Cheyenne language preservation.


Raylene Hinz-Penner, Searching for Sacred Ground: The Journey of Chief Lawrence Hart, Mennonite (Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 2007).

Author(s) Raylene Hinz-Penner
Date Published June 2023

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MLA style

Hinz-Penner, Raylene. "Hart, Lawrence Homer (1933-2022)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2023. Web. 22 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hart,_Lawrence_Homer_(1933-2022)&oldid=176000.

APA style

Hinz-Penner, Raylene. (June 2023). Hart, Lawrence Homer (1933-2022). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hart,_Lawrence_Homer_(1933-2022)&oldid=176000.

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