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Collection 701 Papers of Olive Fleming Liefeld

Identifier: CN 701

Scope and Contents

This collection contains letters, reports, transcripts, photographs, photo albums, and other materials from the papers of Olive Liefeld relating to her first husband, Peter Fleming, their work as missionaries in Ecuador among the Quichua people, his death along with four other missionaries at the hands of Waorani tribesmen in 1956, the continuing development of that story in terms of the impact of the men's deaths on American evangelicalism and the growth of a Christian community among the Waorani, and the friendship between the widows of the five men.

Many of these documents served as source materials in Liefeld’s 1990 book, Unfolding Destinies: The Untold Story of Peter Fleming and the Auca Mission.


  • Created: 1946-2006, undated

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Full Name: Olive Ainslie Fleming Liefeld

Birth: 1932 in Seattle, Washington


Parents: Alex and Olive Ainslie

Marital Status: June 26, 1954, married Peter Fleming; March 1959 married Walter Liefeld

Children: David, Beverly and Holly


1950-1952: Attended the University of Washington

1953-1954: Biola School of Missionary Medicine, Los Angeles, California

Chronology of Her Life

Fall 1950: Olive Ainslie and Peter Fleming began dating seriously. They had known each other since childhood and attended the same church in Seattle, Washington.

Late-August 1951: Peter told Olive that they should stop seeing each other because he had received a call to go to Ecuador as a missionary and would need to remain single in that work for the indefinite future. However, they continued to spend some time together as friends and to correspond after Peter left for Ecuador and renewing their commitment to each other.

February 4, 1952: Peter Fleming and Jim Elliot went to Ecuador along with Bill and Irene Cather as missionaries, with Christian Missions in Many Lands, first working under the tutelage of veteran missionary Dr. Wilfred Tidmarsh.

In August 1952, Peter and Jim reopened the missionary station at Shandia working among the Quichua people and making plans for contacting unreached people.

April 5, 1952: Elisabeth (Betty) Howard sailed to Ecuador as a missionary with Christian Missions in Many Lands. She first worked among the Colorado people in Ecuador. She and Jim Elliot were engaged and she began corresponding with Olive before she left the United States. 1952-1954: Worked as a secretary for the Navy Department in Seattle, Washington

December 10, 1952: Ed and Marilou McCully arrived in Ecuador as missionaries with Christian Missions in Many Lands. After orientation, they moved to Shandia Station.

March 4, 1953: Peter Fleming proposed to Olive from Ecuador via letter and she accepted October 8, 1953: Jim Elliot married Betty Howard in Quito, Ecuador.

June 1954: Olive married Peter Fleming in Seattle, Washington Summer 1954: The McCullys moved to Arajuno mission station November 1954: The Flemings arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and flew on to Quito, where they stayed for a year, assisting veteran missionary Wilfred Tidmarsh and in language study and visiting Shandia, Shell Mera (a Mission Aviation Fellowship airstrip and base) and other mission stations in the jungle.

December 24, 1954: Olive suffered a miscarriage in Quito February 1955: Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint and a worker with Wycliffe Bible Translators, met Dayuma, a Waorani woman who had fled her village in the late 1940s and lived in a state of virtual slavery on a hacienda on the edge of the rainforest She was the only Wao speaker Saint could find to help her with language study. She began working with Dayuma. Later, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully and others also met her and learned from her a few Wao words.

September 1955: The Flemings moved briefly to the mission station at Shandia, Ecuador, to work with Jim and Betty Elliot.

Fall 1955: The Flemings moved permanently to their own mission station at Puyupungu. They had been there on temporary visits previously September 19, 1955: Ed McCully, flying with Nat Saint, a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship discovered a village of Waorani people (usually called with the derogatory term Aucas) on the Curaray River. Wilfred Tidmarsh, Peter Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, and Nate Saint very much wanted to reach this group with the Christian gospel. They started to plan to make contact, a plan called “Operation Auca.”

October 6, 1955: The missionaries made remote contact with the Waorani via the “bucket drop”, letting down from and bringing up to a moving airplane a sack or “bucket”. The missionaries and the Waorani exchanged gifts in this way during several flights over the next three months.

December 19, 1955: Nate Saint recruited Roger Youderian to be part of the group making personal contact with the Waorani. Roger and Barbara Youderian were missionaries of the Gospel Missionary Union.

December 23-26, 1955: The Flemings, the Elliots, the Saints, and the McCullys met in Arajuno to spend Christmas together and plan the next stage of Operation Auca, actual physical contact with the Waorani on the ground.

January 2, 1956: Peter and Olive Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed and Marilou McCully, Roger and Barbara Youderian and Nate Saint assembled at Arajuno.

January 3, 1956: The men and supplies traveled to Palm Bach in several flights. Olive saw Peter for the last time. The men were in radio contact with Shell Mera. Nate flew back and forth every day to carry messages from the men and to transport additional supplies.

January 6, 1956: Two Waorani women, Gimade (nicknamed “Delilah” by the missionaries) and Mintake and a young Waorani man, Nenkiwi (nicknamed “George”) visited with the missionaries at Palm Beach.

January 7, 1956: Peter and Nat flew back to Arajuno and stay overnight, flying back to Palm Beach the next morning. They arranged the next radio contact for 4:30 pm on January 8th.

January 8, 1956: Waorani tribesmen killed Peter Fleming, along with Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Nat Saint, and Roger Youderian on Palm Beach. Marj Saint was unable to contact Palm Beach at 4:30 PM.

January 9, 1956: Johnny Keenan, an MAF pilot who had also worked on Operation Auca, flew over the Palm Beach campsite and saw the wreckage with no sign of life.

January 9-13, 1956: Elements from the Ecuador military, the American military in the Panama Canal Zone, missionaries, and Quichua Indians traveled to Palm Beach as a search party. They found four of the dead bodies (including Peter) and the wreckage of the camp. They buried the bodies, salvaged some papers and other materials and returned.

January 30, 1956: Life magazine article, “‘Go Ye and Preach the Gospel’ Five Do and Die” published with extensive coverage of the deaths of the missionaries. The article includes several photos taken by Life photographer Cornell Capa. This article was part of a major tidal wave of publicity in both the secular and Christian press in Ecuador and the United States, and to a lesser extent in other countries. The widows of the five men killed for a least the next two years were besieged by people wanting to express sympathy, ask questions, and make requests, as well as plan books and movies. Olive Fleming, Elisabeth Elliot, Marilou McCully, Barbara Youderian, and Marj Saint had to deal with the consequences of this and they attempted to do so together. Throughout the next few years, they stayed in touch through correspondence, both in relation to the details of their individual lives and in respect to the continuing story of Christianity among the Waorani. Marilou McCully returned with her children to the United States at about this time.

February 16, 1956: The President of Ecuador, Velasco Ibarra, honored the sacrifice of the five missionaries at a ceremony in Quito attended by Olive, Marj Saint, Barbara Youderian, and Abraham Vander Puy, the 1956 head of the Foreign Mission Fellowship in Ecuador.

Late-February 1956: Olive returned to Seattle to be with her family. Because of the great interest in the deaths if the five missionaries, she had several speaking engagements and was also involved with the widows of the other four men in advising on the book and film that was being made and other related activities.

December 1956: Olive and Marilou McCully returned to Ecuador. Olive wrapped up her concerns there and returned to the United States early the next year. 1957: Elisabeth Elliot, with assistance from the other four widows, published Through Gates of Splendor. The book told the story of the efforts of five missionaries to reach the Waorani Indians with the Christian gospel and their deaths.

September 1957: Two Waorani Indian women, Nintoca and Mintamo, came out pf the forest. They sought to make contact with Dayuma, who was in the United States with Rachel Saint at the time. Rachel Saint, Elisabeth Elliot, and Dayuma all eventually met with them. They invited Dayuma to return to her village, and Saint and Elliot saw this as a means of reestablishing contact with the Waorani. Summer 1958: Worked at a counselor at Word of Life camp on Schroon Lake in New York state.

September 1958: Dayuma returned to her Waorani village with Nintoca and Mintamo, and later they come back to Arajuno, Ecuador, with ten others. They reported the Waorani are friendly and invited Rachel Saint and Betty Elliot to come and live with them.

October 1958: Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot, with Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie, traveled to the Waorani settlement on the Tiwaenu River and lived there, Elliot for a few years and Saint for the rest of her life.

1958-1959: Olive became secretary to the president of Shelton College in Ringwood, New Jersey.

June 1959:  Married Walter Liefeld, a pastor Sea Cliffe Chapel in Long Island, New York.

1964-1994:  The Liefelds moved to Deerfield, Illinois. Walter taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Olive, besides managing the household, had a ministry with women students and wives of students. January 1989:  Olive returned to Ecuador to visit with the Waorani Indians and visited Palm Beach.

1990:  Wrote Unfolding Destinies: The Untold Story of Peter Fleming and the Auca Mission, published by Zondervan Publishing House.

1991-1996:  The Liefelds had a ministry Christ Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, where Walter was pastor.

2004:  Olive visited Ecuador once again to spend time with the Waorani Christian community


1.60 Cubic Feet (3 Boxes (DC), Audio Tapes, Oversize Materials, Photo Albums, Photographs, Slides)

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

A great deal of the material in the collection relates to the life, death, and faith of Peter Fleming. Folder 2-14 contains reminiscences about Fleming as a child and teenager from Evan Cochrane and another person, perhaps Ken Fleming, Peter’s brother. Additional reminiscences are in folder 2-2.  In a February 10, 1956, letter Ken Fleming wrote to Abraham Van Der Puy remembering his brother, apparently to help Van Der Puy with the book he was supposed to write about the life and deaths of the five missionaries.  Elisabeth Elliot eventually carried out this book project.  It was published as Through Gates of Splendor. Some of the papers Peter Fleming wrote as a university student are in folder 2-18, as well as the valedictorian address he gave in high school, an undated poem, and a list of Scripture verses dealing with “the fear of the Lord.” Especially interesting is a handwritten, much-corrected paper on Willis Shenk, a Youth for Christ worker who served as a mentor to him.

Folder 2-4 has several of Fleming’s letters. Those to Jim Elliot from 1951 discuss Fleming’s growing belief (developing in part out of his contacts with Elliot and Wilfred Tidmarsh) that he should go to Ecuador as a missionary and also indicating his interest in the people called Aucas (now known by their own name for themselves, the Waorani). Other letters trace his on-again, off-again courtship with Olive Ainslie and his conflict between his desire to marry her and his belief that he should be a single missionary in Ecuador. Folder 2-12 contains the prayer card printed for him (and fellow missionaries Jim Elliot and Bill and Irene Cathers). The file also contains his March 4, 1953 letter proposing to her and his December 5th letter from the same year stating that he was returning briefly to the United States to marry her. A letter from 1955 from Peter and Olive to Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and Ed and Marilou McCully traces the Flemings’ activities in Quito, Ecuador, and elsewhere as they are preparing to work in the jungle and learning the Quichua language. Folder 2-13 contains Olive Fleming’s handmade Quichua dictionary, grammar, and hymnbook. There are also a couple of letters to Fred, Clara, and Jane Elliot (Fred and Clara were Jim Elliot’s parents and Jane was his sister), describing his work in Ecuador. The folder also contains one prayer letter to the Flemings’ supporters and Peter’s report on a short-term Bible institute for Quichua Indians in the fall of 1955. Folder 2-16 contains a page with some 1952 excerpts from Peter’s diary, which Olive apparently transcribed when she was writing his biography. Folder 2-15 contains a copy of the official report of his death from the American vice consul in Quito.

The collection also documents the deaths of the five male missionaries at the hands of Waorani Indians on January 8, 1956, and the immediate aftermath. Folder 2-16 contains reports, letters, statements, and transcripts about the deaths, the so-called Auca Incident. Most of these were written within days or weeks of the killings. Included are statements by Hobey Lowrence and Grady Parrot of Mission Aviation Fellowship; transcripts of excerpts from the diaries of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint; the written report of the search party; and statements from missionary radio station HCJB in Quito which, along with Life magazine, did the most to publish the story to the world.  The transcribed comments made about Waorani culture by Dayuma and the transcripts from 1958 and 1961 with Waorani about what actually happened on the day of the murders are especially interesting. Folder 2-9 contains excerpts of letters sent to HCJB from people who had heard their broadcasts about the Auca Incident. Folder 2-11 contains programs from memorial services for the men and poems written in their honor. Tape T1 contains the comments of the president and treasurer of Christian Missions in Many Lands after their visit to Ecuador immediately after the death of the men.

The two scrapbooks in the collection, described in detail elsewhere, contain newspaper and magazine clippings and photographs of the mission to Waorani, the search party that traveled to the site on Palm Beach to discover what happened, and the breaking of the news to the family and friends at Arajuno. There are additional newspaper and magazine stories in folders 1-1 and 1-4. These are predominantly American and Ecuadorian, but there are also others from other countries of South America and Europe. Life magazine played a major part in telling the story immediately to the world through the photojournalism of Cornell Capa. Folder 1-1 contains copies of the original story in the January 30, 1956 issue as well as the follow-up stories they did through 1961.

These same scrapbooks also document the immense interest in the story shown by the outside world, especially, but not limited to Protestants in the United States. Besides the material in the scrapbooks, clippings in folders 1-5 and 1-6 and the folder in oversize drawer 33 contain many of the articles that appeared in the publications of the Plymouth Brethren, The Sunday School Times, His (magazine of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), and various secular Sunday magazines.

Much of the attention on the widows of the five men and on their children. For the next few years, they kept in fairly close touch with each other. The collection contains letters that Elisabeth Elliot, Marj Saint, and Marilou McCully wrote to one or more of the other widows. Sometimes one would write a letter to the other four simply addressed to “Girls” or “The Four.” Besides keeping each other aware of what was going on in their lives, they also discussed how they should respond to projects such as the attempt to write a book about the mission of the five men and their deaths (this eventually became Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, see folders 2-1, 2-2, 2-14) and the film that Mission Aviation Fellowship wanted to make. Marj Saint, a worker with MAF, returned to the United States in 1957 to work on this project; her consultations with the other widows about what was being done and what should be done can be found in folders 2-1, 2-3, 2-6 and 2-7. This became the film and filmstrip Mid-Century Martyrs (Tape 2, see also collection 136).

Olive Fleming and Marilou McCully also returned to the United States in 1957 for a time, spending time with family, recuperating, and speaking at churches and other venues. Scrapbook Liefeld I contains some of the newspaper coverage of these events, as do clippings in folder 1-6. Folders 2-3, 2-6, and 2-7 contain letters Fleming, McCully, and Saint exchanged keeping each other posted on what was happening in their lives. Olive Fleming and Marilou McCully returned together to Ecuador in later 1957, partly so Olive could help Marilou with her children during the trip. The back of photo album Liefeld II contains photos and other memorabilia that Olive preserved from the other four widows and their families into the mid-1960s.

Another project was to gather more information on the Waorani and to attempt to make contact again. Eventually this led to Elisabeth Elliot (with her daughter Valerie) and Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint, going to live among the Waorani. Eventually a Christian community grew out of these efforts. Folders 2-1 and 2-8 contain letters Elliot and Saint soon after they arrived in the Waorani village. Folders 1-1, 1-7 through 1-13, 2-1, 2-5, and 2-16 document the early beginnings of these efforts. Tape 3 contain Olive’s comments on the effort to reach the Waorani on the Dave Garroway’s radio program.

Documents found in folders 2-7 and 2-10 as well as in Photo Album Liefeld I tell of Olive Fleming’s efforts to come to terms with her husband’s death, the end of her missionary work in Ecuador, and the start of a new life in the United States. Folder 2-2 contains letter from her brother-in-law and sister-n-law Ken and Helena Fleming. The same letters also give news about the Flemings’ work as Plymouth Brethren missionaries among the Zulu people of South Africa. Later newspaper stories about her are in folders 1-8, 1-10, 1-11, 1-18.

Programs and other material from the ceremonies held at the twentieth, fortieth, and fiftieth anniversaries of the men’s deaths in folders 1-2 and 2-11 illustrate later developments in the missionary/Waorani story. So do other clippings are in folders 1-7 through 1-21.

Select List of People Referred to in the Documents in Collection 701

Cornell Capa. Professional photojournalist on assignment for Life magazine. His photos and coverage played a very large part in the international telling of the Waorani/missionary story.

Bill Cathers. Wheaton graduate (class of 1950) who, with Jim Elliot and Ed McCully, broadcast the evangelistic radio program The March of Truth from Chester, Illinois, in 1950-1951.

Dawa (Diwa). Waorani woman, wife of Kimo. Assisted Elisabeth Elliot with Wao language learning.

Jim Elliot. Husband of Elisabeth Elliot and Plymouth Brethren missionary to Ecuador. One of the five men killed on January 8, 1956, by Waorani tribesmen.

Elisabeth Elliot. Wife of Jim Elliot and Plymouth Brethren missionary of Ecuador. In 1958, she went with her daughter Valerie and Rachel Saint to live among the Waorani, which she did for periods until 1961. Returned to the United States where she became a writer, lecturer, and teacher.

Kenneth Fleming. Brother of Peter Fleming and missionary to the Zulu people in South Africa, later a professor at Emmaus Bible Institute in Iowa.

Peter Fleming. Husband of Olive Fleming and Plymouth Brethren missionary to Ecuador. One of the five men killed on January 8, 1956, by Waorani tribesmen.

Olive Fleming. Wife of Peter Fleming and Plymouth Brethren missionary to Ecuador. Eventually returned to the United States. Later married to Walter Liefeld.

Gami. Waorani woman, mother of Naenkiwi.

Gikita. Waorani man, leader of the group that killed the missionaries on Palm Beach. He later became a Christian and a leader in the Waorani church.

Gimari. Young Waorani woman, sister of Nampa and Dayuma, who was one of the three people from the tribe to make a friendly first-contact with the five missionaries on Palm Beach on January 6, 1956. The missionaries nicknamed her Delilah.

Jane Elliot Hawthorne. Jane was Jim Elliot’s sister. She and her husband Gerald Hawthorne lived in Wheaton, Illinois, where Gerald taught at Wheaton College.

David Howard. Brother of Elisabeth Elliot, brother-in-law and Wheaton College roommate of Jim Elliot. Howard traveled to Ecuador immediately after the killings to be with his sister.

Philip Howard, Sr. Father of Elisabeth Howard Elliot and editor of The Sunday School Times, which gave a great deal of coverage to the killing of the five missionaries and later development of Christianity among the Waorani.

Ipa (also Epa). A Waorani woman, the oldest wife of Naenkiwi.

Clarence W. Jones. Co-founder of the missionary short wave radio station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador. He was prominent in broadcasting the news about the deaths of the five men in 1956 and the continuing development of the story.

John Keenan. Pilot with Missionary Aviation Fellowship who worked closely with Nate Saint and the other four men in planning “Operation Auca.” After the murder of the missionaries, he flew over their camp, worried because they had not checked in at their regular time by radio.

Kimo. A Waorani man, brother of Mankamo. One of the men who attacked and killed the missionaries at Palm Beach. He was one of the first converts to Christianity among the Waorani. He traveled with Komi and Rachel Saint to Berlin, Germany, in 1966 to attend the World Congress on Evangelism and give his testimony.

Komi. A Waorani man, president of the village of Toñampade and husband of Dayuma. He attended the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism with Kimo and Rachel Saint.

Hobey E. Lowrence. One of the founders of Mission Aviation Fellowship and one of its leaders in the 1950s.

Ed McCully. Husband of Marilou McCully and Plymouth Brethren missionary to Ecuador. One of the five men killed on January 8, 1956, by Waorani tribesmen.

Marilou McCully. Wife of Ed McCully, mother of Steve, Mike and Matt, and Plymouth Brethren missionary to Ecuador. After Ed’s death, she ran a home for missionary children in Quito for several years before returning to the United States.

T. E. McCully, Sr. Father of Ed McCully.

Mankamo (also Mankamu, Mankimo). Wife of Gikita, sister of Kimo. She and Mintaka left the Waorani and lived in Arajuno, Ecuador, where she met Elisabeth Elliot. She and Mintaka went back to the Waorani in 1958 and played a major part in inviting Elisabeth Elliot to come and live among her people.

Minkaye (also Mincayi, Minkayani, Minkayi). A Waorani man, one of the men who attacked and killed the missionaries at Palm Beach. Later one of the killers of Naenkiwi. He later became a Christian.

Mintaka. Older Waorani woman, sister of Gikita. She was one of the three people from the tribe to make first contact with the five missionaries on Palm Beach on January 6, 1956. Later she and Mankamo left the Waorani and lived in Arajuno, Ecuador, where they met Elisabeth Elliot. She went back to the Waorani in 1958 and played a major part in inviting Elliot to come and live among her people.

Nampa. Waorani man, brother of Dayuma and Gimade. He was one of the six men who attacked the missionaries at Palm Beach. He was wounded in the attack and either died from that wound or died in a hunting accident a year later.

Naenkiwi. Waorani male. He was one of the three Waorani who visited the missionaries on January 6, 1956. He later falsely told a party of Waorani that the missionaries had attacked their visitors, and thus precipitated the killing of the five men. Other members of his tribal group later killed Naenkiwi.

Nimonka. (also Ninumga) A Waorani man, one of the men who attacked and killed the missionaries at Palm Beach. Later, one of the killers of Naenkiwi.

J. Grady Parrot. President of Mission Aviation Fellowship in 1956.

Marj Saint. Wife of Nate Saint, mother of Steve, and a Mission Aviation Fellowship worker. She later married Abe Van der Puy.

Nate Saint. Husband of Marj Saint and pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship. One of the five men killed on January 8, 1956, by Waorani tribesmen.

Rachel Saint. Missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, later independent. She was the sister of Nate Saint and established a bond with Dayuma in the mid-1950s, after Dayuma fled her tribe. She took Dayuma to the United States in 1957-1958. Later, she went with Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot to live with the Waorani in 1958 and continued to do so for the rest of her life. In 1966, she went with Kimo and Komi to the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin, Germany. She did the first translation of the Gospel of Mark into Wao.

Samuel Saint. Brother of Nate Saint. He acted as the liaison and business agent of the five widows in the United States.

Robert Savage. Missionary to Ecuador who served as program director for the missionary short-wave station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador.

Wilfred Tidmarsh. Plymouth Brethren missionary in Ecuador who was somewhat a mentor to Jim Elliot, Ed McCully and Peter Fleming.

Umpurae (or Ompodae). Waorani woman, wife of Minkaye. Assisted Elisabeth Elliot with the Wao language.

Abe Van der Puy. Head of the Foreign Missionary Fellowship in Ecuador in 1956 and staff member of HCJB short wave radio station. He was deeply involved in broadcasting the story of the five men’s deaths immediately after the event. He was also credited with the article that appeared in Reader’s Digest in August 1956, although it was essentially written by a Digest editor. He later married Marj Saint.

Barbara Youderian. Wife of Roger Youderian and Gospel Missionary Union worker in Ecuador.

Roger Youderian. Husband of Barbara Youderian and Gospel Missionary Union worker in Ecuador. One of the five men killed on January 8, 1956, by Waorani tribesmen.

Yowe (also Yowi or Dyuwe). A Waorani man, one of the men who attacked and killed the missionaries at Palm Beach. Later one of the killers of Naenkiwi. He later became a Christian and a leader in the Waorani church.

Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by Olive Liefeld in December 2015.

Accession: 15-41

March 27, 2017

Bob Shuster

L. Dowdy

Accession 21-23

July 19, 2021

Bob Shuster

Collection 701 Papers of Olive Fleming Liefeld
Bob Shuster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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