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God’s saving grace in Apacheland

This story is about an Apache girl that found her Lord and Savior through tremendous hardship and struggle. At the same time, this message is truly about God’s victory and love. Life for any Apache was tough during the 1950s. As a people they were striving to find hope. This young Apache woman grew up in an alcoholic home with poverty, but she found solace in the Word of God. After becoming a student at the local Lutheran mission school, God’s love rescued her, and she continues to put God first in her life.

A rough childhood

My mother, Carlotta Stanley, was born and raised on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Bylas, Arizona. Carlotta is the firstborn of Etta Nelson, a single parent who raised three other children. She was born in an Apache wickiup (makeshift shelter) by a cotton field near the Gila River. My mother was born in tough conditions, but it was considered normal to our people at the time. Apache families would often move off the reservation to seek work and assist local farmers in harvesting cotton. Etta and her family were following the work when Etta had Carlotta in 1949.

Carlotta grew up in poverty in a one-room wooden house. Alcoholism was always a prevalent shadow throughout her life. Carlotta’s mother, aunties, uncles, and cousins were constantly drinking around the house. She remembers being neglected numerous times and feeling forgotten.

Peace and comfort at church

One positive was that her home was located next to the Bylas Lutheran Church or “Mission School” as it was referred to in the community. One day, she saw all the children living near the school enrolling for the upcoming school year. Carlotta was five years old at the time, and she remembers being baptized at the church. She remembers being so excited because she also was going to begin school as a kindergartener.

She recalls how many other Apache children were being baptized along with her. She says, “The Holy Spirit brought faith and hope into my heart.” From that moment on she attended church every Sunday with her aunt and cousin. At the time, her mother was still living with alcoholism and did not attend church with her.

My mother found peace and comfort being at church and in school. She grew close with every pastor and teacher who came to serve in Bylas when she was growing up. She used to enjoy visiting the pastor’s house because they always offered her food and clothing. The clothing was from a room full of “mission clothes.” She felt like she was in a store picking out outfits for herself and is grateful for the care she was shown.

For Carlotta, being at church was an escape from her life of poverty. She played with the children of called workers and babysat them when she was older. She remembers Pastor Carl Polanski and his wife, who had their first daughter while in Bylas. They named their daughter Sandra Lynn. Carlotta admired that event so much that when she had her second daughter, she named her Sandra Lynn. She also remembers one principal whose children learned how to speak Apache fluently. Communicating in Apache created a bond like no other. My mother felt like each missionary family was her own. She remembers seeing a Mayflower truck parked at the church. She saw a pastor’s family moving their belongings and packing up their things. She saw them drive off and began crying because she felt like her family was moving away.

Carlotta Stanley Appache photos
Carlotta Stanley was born in a traditional wickiup (makeshift shelter) by a cotton field near the Gila River. Also shown: Carlotta in her teen years; Carlotta holding her granddaughter Makayla Etta on her granddaughter’s baptism day in 2008; Wilfred and Carlotta Stanley on their 45th wedding anniversary with their daughters and families. Featured image above features Carlotta and Wilfred with their children and grandchildren near Mount Turnbull in Bylas, Ariz.


There were a lot of sad memories for Carlotta, but there were comical times as well. One time at school, she remembers her teacher, Mrs. Sauer, telling them to go outside for recess. It was the first day and the children did not understand English yet, so they presumed she said to go home. So every child went home and did not return after recess. There were a lot of communication breakdowns similar to that throughout the year.

A positive role modelAppache Sidebar

As Carlotta got older and graduated from eighth grade, she wanted to attend East Fork Lutheran High School in Whiteriver, Arizona. Her wish became reality, and East Fork Lutheran became her new home for the next few years. Her mother had no job and no money to send her, but Carlotta was determined and resilient. She worked in the school cafeteria washing dishes. She also worked at the nursery on weekends. That is how she paid for her tuition. She remembers the cost to attend school at that time was $80 a year. She paid her own way, working during summer break and weekends caring for infants and toddlers. She graduated from East Fork Lutheran High School in 1968.

After high school, Carlotta married Wilfred Stanley, and they had six children—four daughters and two sons. Wilfred and Carlotta have been married for more than 45 years and now have 18 grandchildren. Carlotta always took her children to church. All her children graduated from Bylas Lutheran Mission School.

Etta saw how Carlotta was taking her own children to church and being a positive role model. It was only then that Etta stopped drinking and became a devoted member of the church. She began taking confirmation classes and was confirmed on Christmas in 1976. We, as her grandchildren, only remember Etta as a sober, loving grandmother. She cooked, cleaned, and cared for all of us as Carlotta and her husband were working.

God’s saving grace

Carlotta is so thankful for God and his love. She believes that God’s will brought every missionary family to Bylas, and they will remain in her heart forever. Carlotta says, “If WELS never brought God’s Word to Apacheland, I would be a lost soul.”

One individual stood out the most in my mother’s life. Mr. Willis Hadler taught in Bylas for more than 40 years, and he impacted many lives while on the reservation. He taught my mother and all of her children about God’s Word. He was a great teacher and father figure in the community.

Carlotta continues to be a devoted Christian, and she shares God’s Word with all of her loved ones. Two of her daughters—myself and my sister, Angela Stanley Dude—teach at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School in Peridot, Arizona. My mother is proud of all six children for earning college degrees and contributing positively to their communities. She believes that this story would not be possible without God’s saving grace.

On May 10, 2021, Carlotta was involved in a three-vehicle car accident that took her home to heaven. Marietta notes: “The most memorable time my mother always talked about was her trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin. She attended the LWMS rally there with many other Apache ladies and men. She told us about how green and beautiful it was there. Compared to Arizona, she said it was like heaven. She could read, write, and translate in Apache. She enjoyed helping to translate Bible passages and hymns in the Apache language. Her next project was to teach the ladies choir the song How Great Thou Art in Apache. The Lutheran ladies of Peridot, San Carlos, Whiteriver, and Bylas all got together for her funeral and sang How Great Thou Art in Apache to honor Carlotta and the family.” 

Author: Marietta Chapman
Volume 102, Number 9
Issue: September 2015

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