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Captive Missionaries


Eight Lutheran missionaries from North Dakota were in the hands of Chinese bandits on this day in 1913. The missionaries were captured while working at a Lutheran Brethren mission in Tsaoyang, China. Unrest had been growing in China for months as the country tumbled into political instability. The country’s Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, was in the midst of rebellion against the Chinese Prime Minister, Yuan Shikai. Shikai remains infamous for his use of military dictatorship in Chinese politics, eventually becoming Emperor of the country in 1916. In 1913, however, Shikai was threatened by the growing popularity of the Republican Nationalist Party. In response, he had the party’s candidate for Prime Minister assassinated in late March. This assassination set off a series of rebellions within the southern provinces of China. The capture of the North Dakotan missionaries, including four reverends and their families, was the second attack in weeks. The last communication from the group had arrived two weeks earlier, and related a recent attack by the hostile rebels in which three of the missionaries had been stabbed and robbed. North Dakota relatives received word that the group was planning on traveling to the coast to avoid further attacks, but then no more letters came.

On October 1, the Lutheran Church in Wahpeton, headquarters of the Tsaoyang mission, received word that the missionaries had been taken by bandits and were being held hostage. The news was met with general alarm in Wahpeton, as several of the missionaries’ families lived in the area. Brothers and sisters prayed for the safe return of the missionaries, as little information made its way across the Pacific as to their whereabouts. Several rumors added to the general state of agitation, including that the young son of a reverend had been killed. Finally, on October 3, a report was sent to the U.S. State Department relating the arrival of 2,000 Chinese soldiers into the rebel areas. This information was a sign of hope to the North Dakota families. On October 6, Senator Gronna succeeded in persuading the State Department to take an active role in the release of the missionaries, and an arrangement was made for the release of the women and children. Luckily, the pastors were released soon afterward.


Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.), October 1, 1913: p. 1.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.), October 3, 1913: p. 1-2.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.), October 6, 1913: p. 1.