Ecuador · Religion

Missionaries killed by spears in rain forest

January 8, 1956
5 Christian missionaries are attacked and killed by spear-wielding Huaorani tribesmen

Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Jim Elliot (pictured left to right) as well as Nate Saint and Roger Youderian had previously visited the Huaorani tribe since September 1955, delivering gifts and were generally well-received.

On January 6, small group of Huaorani, including a young woman, a young man romantically interested in her, and an older woman (around 30 years old) acting as a sort of chaperone visited the group of missionaries after exchanging short Huaorani shouts in the jungle.

The group spent some time together including a plane ride, eventually with the chaperone deciding to stay while the younger couple went back to their home. Upon returning, the younger girl’s brother was angry she was returning unescorted and her romantic interest claimed the missionaries attacked them, separating from the chaperone in the process. This claim was largely made to divert attention from the young man accompanying the young woman unsupervised.

The group of missionaries were unaware of the tension they had inadvertently caused and expected more Huaorani to visit for more gifts or plane rides. When two women greeted the men to distract them from the younger woman’s brother who attacked them from behind. Elliot, the first missionary to be attacked, reportedly drew and fired a pistol, seemingly to scare the natives away. The missionaries were killed and dumped in the river, their bodies discovered between January 11 and 13.

In 1958, Jim Elliot’s widow Elisabeth and Nick Saint’s sister Rachel returned to the village, becoming bonded to the tribe. They continued to work with the Huaorani until the 70s, uniting former enemy groups and introducing Christian ideologies including a ban on murder and polygamy.

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