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Fort Coffee Academy

In the month of March, 1813, Rev. William II. Goode was appointed Superintendent of Fort Coffee Academy, and Henry C. Benson was appointed teacher. At the time, the former was presiding elder of South Bend district, and the latter was the junior preacher of Mooresville circuit; both were of the Indiana conference. We were regularly transferred by Bishop Soule to the Arkansas conference. Mr. Goode made provision for his family during his absence, and immediately set out upon his journey for his distant field of labor. He went to Cincinnati, where he procured the necessary outfit and supplies for the mission, employed a young German man and wife to accompany him, as cook and house­keeper, and then started by water for the Indian territory. From Cincinnati to the mouth of the Ohio is five hundred miles; thence descending the Mississippi, to the little town of Napoleon, is four hundred miles; thence ascending the Arkansas river six hundred miles, you reach Fort Coffee, in the Choctaw country. Thus, it will be seen that the distance from Cincinnati to our mission field was fifteen hundred miles by the usual route or course of travel. Fort Coffee was an old military post, which had been occupied by the troops before the western boundary of Arkansas was surveyed; but in 1838, when the state line had been definitely fixed, it was abandoned, and the present site of Fort Smith was chosen and immediately occupied as the headquarters of the south-western division of the United States army. The buildings which had been erected at Fort Cof­fee, for the temporary accommodation of the officers and...

Fourth of July Celebration

On Tuesday morning, at sunrise, Mr. Heald, merchant, Mr. Cotton, our head carpenter, and myself started to Fort Smith to participate in the anniversary celebration of our national independence. Two of us were well mounted on mustang horses, and the third upon a Santa Fe’ mule. The distance was fifteen miles, down the river, through heavy timber which shaded the road, rendering our equestrian exercise delightful. Mr. Heald and myself had been chosen to address the people on the occasion. The church in which we spoke was much too small to contain the audience. At the door of the church Captain Hoffman, of the United States army, as marshal, formed the procession, and conducted us to a beautiful grove, where a bountiful dinner had been prepared by the citizens. While we sat at the well-furnished table, the head of which was honored by the presence of General Zachary Taylor, the military band gave us most excellent music. There were no intoxicating drinks upon the table; perfect order and decorum were preserved; not an event transpired to mar or lessen the pleasures of the occasion, and so our national festivities passed off most delightfully. At three O’clock in the afternoon we mounted our horses to return to Fort Coffee. In crossing the Poteau river, in a ferry-boat, we fell in with the mail-carrier, who made weekly tours through the border tribes on horseback. Mr. Heald was in the habit of acting as an assistant or deputy postmaster at the Agency, and, leaving the key in his pocket, kindly consented to open the mail-bags and ascertain if there were any papers...

Distinguished Men

The Honorable Nat Folsom was our district chief, a full-blooded Indian, uneducated, and able to converse but little in the English language. His residence was in the vicinity of Pheasant Bluffs, thirty miles from our mission. When I first saw him he was probably fifty years of age, large and well-developed; and, though considerably gray, he was still active and in the enjoyment of vigorous health. He was an unusually fine-looking Indian; and, although his glossy hair was becoming streaked with white, his face was smooth, his eye bright, and his step elastic and firm. We met him first at a camp meeting, which was held in his own neighborhood. He was plainly dressed for one of the rulers of a nation. He wore cloth pants, calico shirt, coarse brogans, linen hunting shirt, and was without a vest or cravat. He wore a bandana handkerchief tied around his head as a turban, and a red sash around his body. Under his belt he carried his tomahawk, which was an ingenious and novel instrument. Its blade was well polished and sharp; its poll was made to serve as the bowl of a tobacco pipe; there was an aperture through the handle communicating with the poll, to convey the smoke from the pipe to the mouth; and the end of the handle was tapered down to the proper size, and mounted with a silver mouth-piece. Folsom was a dignified and sensible man, of good character, and possessing considerable property; but being destitute of education, he was incompetent to fill the office of chief with honor to himself or advantage to the...

Indian Annuities

About the middle of December Major Armstrong received at Fort Coffee sixty thousand dollars in specie, to be paid over to the several Indian agents, to be distributed as annuities to the tribes embraced in that superintendence. It had been boxed and officially sealed at the New Orleans mint, each box containing one thousand dollars. The boat had come late in the afternoon, and the boxes of coin were delivered to Mr. Armstrong, at our mission, about sunset; but, before it was possible to bring a wagon and horses to remove the treasure, a messenger arrived from the Agency with the sad intelligence that Mr. Irwin, the brother-in-law of Mr. Armstrong, was dying. He must go at once to the bedside of his dying friend; but it was impossible to carry the money with him, for its weight was over two tuns avoirdupois. What could be done under the circumstances? It was almost dark; it would require a stout team of horses to draw it, and no such team was at hand. It would not be secure in the hands of his servants; for the Choctaw and Cherokee Indians knew of its arrival, and might be tempted to take possession of it and appropriate it to personal and private uses. After consultation it was thought proper to convey the money up the hill and deposit it in the little log office, and appoint H. C. Benson to guard it till morning. Now, it must be remembered that the office was scarcely six feet high, built of small logs, had a frail door and window, and was covered with “shakes,”...

Rev. John Page, a Choctaw Preacher

On the fifth day of November Rev. John Page, a Choctaw Indian, preached to us at Fort Coffee. The services were held in the little office, where I was still confined with the fever. The sermon was plain, Scriptural, and earnest, rendering the exercises interesting and profitable. Mr. Page preached in English, speaking the language intelligibly, but not correctly ; his custom was to preach to his people in the native tongue. During the week Mr. Page spent with us he gave us a brief sketch of his life. When a lad, in a heathen state, he had been sent to the Choctaw Academy, where he remained a number of years, and only left when the institution was disorganized. At the time of his entering the school he was utterly destitute of moral and religious instruction; he had never been taught his duty to himself, his fellowmen, or to his God. He was received into the Sunday school, where he received his first lessons of a religious character; he there received light into his dark and benighted mind; there he felt himself to be a sinner exposed to death. His faithful instructors im­pressed upon his mind and conscience the duty of repentance and faith in the Savior as conditions of mercy and acceptance with God. While under strong convictions for sin, with a soul yearning for peace, he attended a protracted meeting; he became deeply, penitent, made sincere confessions, sought the Lord with all his heart, and obtained “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and became a diligent student of...

Arrival at Fort Coffee

The bell aroused us in the morning, at six o’clock, and we found ourselves the sole occupants of the building. It consisted of a single room, about twelve feet square, erected of small logs, “scotched down” with the broad-ax on the inside. The edifice was covered with “shakes,” had a rough, loose floor, two windows, a batten-door, and an outside chimney, built of clay and cobble-stones. Having hastily made our toilet, we went directly to the breakfast-table, where we saw none but strange faces, not one of whom had we seen or heard of previous to that morning. We regretted to learn that Rev. W. H. Goode, three days before our arrival, had set out upon his journey through the Indian country north to Missouri river, and thence down the river and across the country home for his family. He had expected us at the mission before his departure, but, owing to the low stage of water in the Arkansas, we had been detained and delayed a number of days, rendering our journey tedious beyond our anticipations. We had been thirteen days on the way from Louisville to the Indian country, and yet exerting ourselves to the utmost to make a speedy trip. Ordinarily eight or nine days would have been sufficient for the journey. Had we not been favored with a rise of the river, caused by the melting of the snows upon the mountains, our boat could not have ascended higher than Little Rock, and we should have been forced to make the last three hundred miles of the travel in coaches, over the mountains and rocky...

Camp Meeting on the Border

Thursday morning, the twenty-first day of September Rev. Mr. Steele, a half dozen of our Indian friends, Mrs. B., and myself started on horseback to a camp meeting, which was to be held on the border or line which separates the state from the Indian territory. The distance was thirty miles, in a south­east direction, and within the state, in the northern extreme of Scott county. We lead provided ourselves with the usual outfit, of blankets, bread and cheese, matches, tin cups, and ropes with which to tether our horses. For miles we traveled through a region of country still decked with primeval beauty. The for­ests were scarcely marred by the woodman’s ax or scathed by the hand of civilization. Beauty and magnificence characterized the scenery in every direction as far as vision could extend. The sky and atmosphere were beautifully serene; the foliage lead just begun to assume its rich golden tints, giving indication that autumn was approaching, but the withered branch and the sear leaf were not yet visible. The beautiful birds of the forests were chanting their morning carols; the atmosphere was sweet and balmy, and every object of sense was made to contribute to our pleasure. We returned silent but devout thanks to the Author of all good for so many sources of thrilling delights. As we pursued our journey, we were very forcibly impressed with the beauty of the country in its natural condition, retaining its wildness, its grandeur, and its primitive sublimities. We gazed upon a landscape of unsurpassed loveliness, embracing mountain and valley, hill and dale, with here and there a creek...

Visit to Fort Smith

On Saturday, in company with a friend, I started to Fort Smith to spend the Sabbath, and to conduct religious services in the absence of the stationed minister. We spent the night at the residence of Mr. A., who had formerly resided in the city of Pittsburg, extensively engaged in mercantile pursuits. He was an intelligent and gentlemanly old man, who had been accustomed to mingle with the wealthy and refined; but, having met with reverses of fortune, he had been greatly reduced in his circumstances, and had emigrated to the frontier settlements with the hope of being able to improve his financial condition. The family consisted of Mr. A. and wife, and three grown­up daughters, who were educated, accomplished, and fully qualified to mingle in the most refined and polished society. The dwelling consisted of two small cabins, built of round poles, and covered with shakes. The floors were of loose, rough, boards, and bare, while the scanty supply of furniture was of the cheapest and plainest description; and yet the family were cheerful, hopeful, and happy, not entertaining a single doubt that a brighter day would soon dawn upon them, and their lost fortunes would be retrieved. There was but one church edifice at Fort Smith, which was in an unfinished condition; it was built by the community, and occupied by ministers of the various denominations. At that time the standard of morality was deplorably low. The religious influence was scarcely perceptible, yet there were a few faithful and consistent Christians. The most active, devoted, and zealous disciple of the Savior was Mr. J. B., who was...

Indian Camp Meeting

On Friday morning, the eleventh day of August, Rev. John Cowle and myself started to Pheasant Bluffs to attend a camp meeting. Before leaving Fort Coffee we had made the needful provision for our comfort, each being furnished with a blanket, a rope with which to hobble or tether his horse, a package of bread and cheese, a box of matches, and a tin drinking-vessel. The distance was thirty miles, and, as neither of us had ever been there, we knew nothing of the trail, and but little of the character of the country over which we must travel to reach the place of our destination. Having proceeded a few miles we began to feel a little anxious to obtain information that would guide us in the proper direction, and so we halted at the door of a cabin to inquire the way to Pheasant Bluffs. The major domo replied, in a very deliberate and dignified manner, “Me no talk Inglis;” and, as he declined saying another word, we were forced to proceed on our journey at random. We soon found a gentleman, however, with whom we could communicate. His smattering of English, and ours of Choctaw, enabled us to converse quite intelligibly. There was no road, as we learned, but a multitude of paths, crossing and re-crossing, and forming a beautiful variety of curves and angles. He gave us one distinct general direction, which was given in a style worthy of a son of the forest. “Yes, me know; me tell you good. You make horses gallop on trail heap, far, where sun goes down. Trail much easy;...

Provisions Spoiled

Late in the month of July we discovered that our flour, like the surplus manna in the wilderness, bred worms. It was, indeed, a difficult matter to preserve provisions in a sweet and sound condition during the long, dry, and intensely warm summer seasons in that country. We had known that the weevils would consume the unground grain that might be stored away in the granary, but we had never heard that the meal and flour would become foul and unfit for use. Our flour was in barrels, had been purchased in Cincinnati in the month of April preceding, and was of excellent quality. On opening a fresh barrel, one morning, it was found to contain myriads of white, hairy worms from a fourth to a half inch long. The cook stood aghast; he was, indeed, so much excited as to attract the attention of the entire family to the scene and the cause of his amazement. ” Mister B. O. mishter B., to flour ish spilt; to flour ish no goot; it’s filt mit so many verms as eber vas!” “‘Gustus” was not very courageous; he was constitutionally cautious and somewhat nervous. On a former occasion we had seen him overwhelmed with fear and uncontrollable excitement; but he was quite to sure the circumstances fully justified him in his agitation and expressions of alarm. He had gone into the garden to gather vegetables for dinner, when his band came into close proximity to a little garter­snake, about eighteen inches in length. When he saw it he dropped the basket and run, with all possible speed, calling out lustily...
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