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Journey to the Indian Country

It had been arranged that I should remain on my circuit till the middle of May, and then take the coach for St. Louis, and thence ascend the Missouri river to Fort Leavenworth; from that place I should visit the Indian Manual-Labor School in the Shawnee tribe, in order to become acquainted with their plans of operation, and best methods of imparting instruction to children who did not yet understand our language. My instructions directed me to travel by land from the Shawnee tribe, through the Indian country, to Fort Coffee, a distance of three hundred miles. As my duty would be to teach, it was supposed that my services in the mission would not be required till the time of the Opening of the Academy. My arrangements were made accordingly. I was almost ready to set out upon that tedious, romantic, and somewhat perilous journey, when a letter was received from Mr. Goode, which wholly changed the plan. He wished me to come directly to Fort Coffee, as my services were required immediately. His arrangement was made to leave on the twentieth of June, to go for his family. He would travel the route which had been designated for me; and it was arranged that I should take his place, and superintend the repairs and improvements at Fort Coffee during his absence. Having taken leave of the kind friends of Mooresville circuit, and made a short visit to my parents and friends, Mrs. Benson and myself set out on the eighth day of June upon our journey to the Indian country. We reached the Ohio river at the...

Border Indians

The policy of the United States Government, for many years, has been to colonize the Indian tribes in a separate territory upon the western frontier. By consulting the maps published fifteen or twenty years since, a region of country, west of the states, will be seen, with its metes and bounds distinctly defined, designated, the INDIAN TERRITORY. It was bounded on the east by Arkansas and Missouri; on the north by Platte river; on the south by Red river, and on the west by the wild tribes, known as the “Prairie Indians.” Within the Indian, territory, not including the wild tribes, there were over twenty distinct races, of which the following were most important: the Wyandotts, Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, Pottawattomies, Osages, Cherokees, Creeks–or Muscogees–Sem­inoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. Of these the Osages alone are indigenous; all the other tribes named formerly resided on reserved lands, within the states east of the Mississippi river. The tribes that may be regarded as indigenous, being found within the territory, are the Omahas, Pawnees, Otoes, Kaws, and Quapaws. There are a few other remnants perhaps. The small tribes were removed from the northern states; they are feeble, and many of them well-nigh extinct. The Wyandotts are the most hopeful. The largest and most promising races were removed from the southern states; the Cherokees from Georgia; the Choctaws and Creeks from Mississippi, and the Seminoles from Florida. The Chickasaws were also from Mississippi, and are now incorporated with the Choctaws, speaking the same language; and in all respects resembling them, they are evidently a branch of the same family. The tribes have been removed to...

The Fort Coffee Mission

At the preceding session of the Arkansas conference, which had been held at Helena, Rev. John M. Steele had been appointed to labor in the Choctaw nation, within the limits of the Moshulatubbee district. There were no societies or Churches at the time, and probably not one in the district who enjoyed the comforts of religion or that had ever been a member of There had been occasional preaching years before by Baptist ministers, but with so little encouragement that the efforts had been discontinued and the district abandoned. In all that region of country, it is believed, there was not one living Christian, not one who knew and loved the Savior. At the period of our arrival Mr. Steele had been in the country several months, traveling extensively and laboring faithfully. He preached at different points, but usually to very small congregations. His principal preaching places Were the Choctaw Agency, Pheasant Bluff’s, Ayakniachukma, Sugarloaf Mountain, and James’s Fork. He had organized no classes, and, up to that date, had witnessed no conversions. After our arrival he preached occasionally at Fort Coffee. He was an earnest, plain, and faithful minister of Christ, who felt his responsibility and labored zealously to do the work of an evangelist. He is probably still laboring in the vineyard of the Lord. Since we last met he has been somewhat prominent as the presiding elder of a district and a member of the General conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. On the second day of July we held our first class meeting at Fort Coffee. We were six in number; the little log...

Choctaw Government

A number of the larger tribes had adopted republican forms of government, modeled after ours in their leading features. On the first day of July, 1839, the wise men of the Cherokee nation assembled in convention, or council, to frame an organic law, or constitution, for the government of the nation. After patient and mature deliberation, they adopted a constitution essentially republican, which has now been in force for a score of years. Their government consists of the executive, legislative, and judicial departments. The executive power is lodged in a chief, an assistant-chief, and a council of five, all of whom are chosen by the people for a term of four years. The chief, under certain restrictions, may exercise a veto power. The legislature consists of a senate, composed of at least sixteen members, and an assembly of not less than twenty-four members, all to be chosen by ballot, from districts the boundaries of which are defined by law. The sessions of the legislature open annually on the first Monday of October, when each house is organized by the election of presiding officers, the necessary number of clerks and under officers. Bills are introduced and passed through both branches in parliamentary form. The judiciary consists of the supreme and circuit courts, and the ordinary justices of the peace. The common law of England is recognized as in the States, and the right of trial by jury is secured to every citizen. Religious toleration is established, but no man is competent to testify as a witness in a court, or to hold a civil office, who denies the existence of...

The Choctaw Character

The Choctaws were quiet and peaceable among themselves, and no less so in their bearing and inter-course with neighboring tribes. They were ordinarily temperate in their habits, yet on “pay-day ” and other public occasions, they would, if it were possible, procure oko-ho-ma–whisky–and indulge in a “big drunk.” The United States agent and the officers of the tribe were indefatigable in their efforts to prevent the introduction and traffic of intoxicating liquors among them. The contraband article was, however, sometimes smuggled into the country, when its effects were soon visible. We rarely saw one intoxicated during our sojourn in the country; they were a law abiding people, rendering a cheerful and ready obedience to the authorities and laws of the country. They recognized their obligations to their government in all departments, and the officers of the nation were uniformly treated with the deference and respect which should ever characterize good citizens and loyal subjects. Antiquated rites and pagan ceremonies were almost wholly discarded; the ancient Indian funeral rites were still, in rare instances, observed by the least intelligent portion of the tribe; and, though less advanced in education and in the arts of civilized life than the Cherokees, yet in their steady, persevering, and resolute purpose to become an educated, intelligent, and respectable people they stood in the van of the border tribes. The Choctaws have retained their Indian blood in its purity with rare exceptions. It is believed that they have amalgamated less with the whites than any other tribe who have lived so long upon reserved lands, in such close proximity to Anglo-Saxon neighbors. They have given...

Choctaw Education

There were many scores of men and women who were earnest, devoted, and consistent disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The labors of the faithful missionaries had prepared them for the adoption of a general system of education a system adapted to their necessities. At the time the General Government purchased their lands in Mississippi a school fund was created, and provision was made for a number of schools, to be located at the most eligible points, and to be free to all who should be willing to patronize them. Immediately after their removal to their present homes the schools were opened at the sites chosen; a majority of them were located in the middle and southern districts. There was but one school taught in the Moshulatubbee district in 1843; it was in the vicinity of the Agency, and, though free for all, the average attendance of pupils did not exceed one dozen. The teacher was a competent and worthy man, who felt exceedingly anxious to do his duty and render himself useful. Schools had been opened at Pheasant Bluffs and at Ayaknirt-chukma, but; owing to the utter indifference of the parents, they had been discontinued. And, after a fair experiment, these, like other government schools, were pronounced a failure. The agent, and the few intelligent Indians, who had labored with so much anxiety and hope, finally became discouraged. Their efforts to infuse their own spirit, and to excite a general interest in favor of education and civilization were abortive. The children were growing up in gross ignorance; not one in a hundred was learning to read or becoming...

Choctaw Social Habits

The border Indians, so far as we could learn, all lived in families, recognizing the marriage relation, with its duties and obligations. Polygamy was tolerated in most, perhaps all the tribes, yet it did not exist to much extent. The Cherokees had enacted laws to prohibit it, but they had not been very rigorously enforced. The Choctaws tolerated the practice, yet under such restrictions as were well calculated to discourage and finally to suppress it. If a man should separate from, or abandon his wife, his property was liable to be seized by the light-horsemen and appropriated to the benefit of the divorced woman. I remember but one man in our district who had two wives, and they resided fifteen or twenty miles distant from each other, and each had one or two servants to serve as housekeeper. One of these wives united with the Church, after which she did not live with her man. She felt justified in her course, as she was the one last taken, and, hence, could not be his lawful wife. Separations and desertions were of rare occurrence. So far as we could judge they were faithful to their vows, and lived happily together, in most instances, till separated by death. The husband and wife usually kept their property distinct; this was true so far as annuities and stock were concerned, but the wife, in cases of necessity, had a right to live upon the property of her husband; and this right still pertained to the abandoned or divorced wife as long as she remained in a single state. There were no Indian towns...

Choctaw Ball Games

The border Indians are all fond of games; many of them have learned to play cards and to gamble with considerable skill; but with the most of the tribes, and especially the Choctaws, ball-playing is the favorite amusement. They have an irresistible passion for such sports and pastimes. Their game was quite similar to that known among our lads as “Bandy.” They did not hurl the ball with the naked hand, but each had a cudgel, about three feet long, at the end of which there was a net-work or basket made to resemble the shape of a man’s hand; with that bandy club they would catch and hurl the ball with astonishing force and precision. Every Indian manifested a deep interest in the play; old, middle-aged, and young of both sexes, would invariably attend as spectators, if not as participants in the amusement. Such was the eagerness to be present on every occasion that all other business matters must be suspended and every interest stand in abeyance, and nothing must be permitted to come in conflict with the ball-play. We recently had an illustration of this truth. The Rev. Mr. Steele had published that a camp meeting would be held at the base of the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, near to the residence of Colonel Thomson M’Kenny, to commence on the eighteenth day of August. The meeting had been published in every community within the limits of the district; the preparations were all made, and ministers were engaged to be present to assist in the services. But, three days before the time set for the meeting to commence, Colonel M....

The Indian Territory Country

The Choctaws were removed to their present homes in the year 1837, or about that period. The boundaries of their territory have been given already. Their country was one hundred and twenty miles in extent from north to south, and about fifty in width from east to west; the western boundary, however, was not definitely fixed. Their lands were amply sufficient for their wants present and prospective. The soil was not generally very fertile or productive, except the bottoms, which were not extensive, and liable to inundations so late in the summer as to injure and frequently destroy the growing crops of corn and cotton. The uplands were thin and gravelly, as to soil, and incapable of producing good crops. The timber in the bottoms consisted of cottonwood, elm, walnut, hickory, pecan, and bois d’arc, or osage orange. The timber of the uplands consisted principally of oak of every species and all of a stunted growth. There were dense canebrakes along the water-courses, some of which were of several miles extent, and growing so thickly that a bird would find it difficult to fly through them. The canes in the rich alluvial soil grew from twenty to thirty feet in height, and a single reed was sometimes from four to five inches in circumference. The country was not very rich and inviting to the farmer who should make agriculture his only business, but it was well adapted to grazing purposes. The growth of grass upon the light, thin soil was not luxuriant, but the range was extensive; and when the grass on the dry lands was consumed the marshes...

Condition of the Choctaws on their Removal

The agents employed by the Government to carry the Indians to the territory, were also required to furnish supplies of provisions for them, for one year after their arrival at their new homes. The journey was long, tedious, and fatiguing. Travel-worn and discouraged, they finally reached the lands designated far them. They had but few educated men, and scarcely any who were wealthy; and having mingled but little with the whites in Mississippi, there were but few half-breeds in the tribe. Intermarriages with our people had been discouraged, and but little sympathy had been cherished for the institutions of Christianity: hence in learning and in general intelligence they were quite inferior to the Cherokees. There were, however, a few educated men in the nation; and, fortunately for them, they were honest, enterprising, capable, and patriotic citizens; they were men who ardently desired the advancement and prosperity of the tribe; they were ready to labor and exert themselves to the utmost to rescue their people from their degraded and benighted condition; and yet their best endeavors were met with vehement and persistent opposition. The natives cherished and tenaciously clung to the customs and traditions of their ancestors, not pausing to bestow a thought upon the subject by way of investigation. They did not perceive the utter folly of adhering to usages which were not only senseless in themselves, but powerless to contribute to their prosperity and happiness as a people. Having witnessed so little in the white people to impress them favorably, they were resolute in their purpose to maintain lives of wild, exciting, and unfettered independence. But in their...
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