Early Reminiscences of Oak Hill Academy

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“Books are keys to wisdom’s treasures;
Books are gates to lands of pleasure;
Books are paths that upward lead;
Books are friends. Come let us read.”

The following reminiscences, gleaned from letters written by these three heroic young lady teachers, will be read with interest. They discover in their own language, their feelings of hopefulness and loyalty while coping with unexpected embarrassments and unusual privations. Single handed and alone they penetrated the wilds of Indian Territory to a secluded spot, where they were a half day’s ride from their nearest white friends, and thirty-five miles from the railway.

Holding aloft the Bible, the true standard of the cross, they rallied the ignorant and uncivilized natives appreciatingly around it, more worthily and long before our famous explorers decorated the North Pole with the American flag.

The mail was carried once a week from Clarksville to Wheelock, ten miles east, the nearest post office.

Teaching Elizabeth Washing

At the end of her first year, March 19, 1887, when she was still working alone, having school, Sunday school, preaching and boarding house all in the old log house, Miss Hartford wrote to a friend, as follows:

“This ought to be a resting day for me, but I am always tired on Saturday. This has been my wash day and I will give you my experience with a girl of fifteen, who is very ignorant about the simplest things relating to work. It is useless to tell Elizabeth how to do any work, unless one goes with her and shows her every change. Today I had her wash her own clothes by my side, while I washed mine, to show her how, and how speedily she ought to do her own work. The only way to succeed in having them work is to work with them.”

“These poor Freedmen have a just claim on the Church. They are far below their white brothers and sisters, but they are not to be blamed for it. Slavery has made them so, and we must do something to lift them up. This however, will not be done by sending them to expensive schools, to make ladies and gentlemen of them, but where they will learn to work thoughtfully and be taught the pure religion of the Bible. The worst ones among them are very religious in their way.”

A “Feelin’ Meetin’”

“On last Sabbath we had an example of the way they like to do things. Their old black preacher always preaches on the Sunday school lesson. He comes early to hear what I say and then ‘enlarges on de subject in de afternoon.’ I cannot tell you how hard it is sometimes to sit still and listen to the old man’s explanations. Last Sabbath he dwelt a long time ‘on de fact Rebecca was a shameful deceiver an dat Jacob was another one.’”
“In the afternoon, after two hours of preaching services he concluded, ‘as it was still early in de day’ they would sing a hymn and any who wished to jine de Church could come ‘for’ud and give us der hand.’”

“As soon as they started to sing, a woman fell in some sort of spell. She was sitting near me on the same bench. Instantly it occurred to me they were getting up one of their ‘feelin’ meetin’s’, as they call them, and I was frightened half out of my wits. Fearing they would get to shouting and pounding each other, I ran out as fast as I could. There were about fifty of them packed in one little room sixteen feet square and I was up in front. It was one of the friendly tribe that shouted, and had I been wise, I would have known what was coming. My flight spoiled the meeting, but if you would appreciate my feelings just imagine you are alone in a small room with fifty darkies and fifteen or twenty of them commence shouting and breaking benches. I had a severe headache and have not felt well all week.”

“After I ran out the people laughed and the poor woman recovered quite suddenly. By the time I was safe in my own room the meeting was dismissed. I was nervous and discouraged. I called the old preacher to my room and gave him a lecture. He said he did not believe in shouting and had no idea of any one doing so. I am afraid some of the shouting ones will be offended but I could not help it. It was the first time I have felt afraid since I came here.”

“The school children think it was the ‘best meetin’ they were ever at.’ They say ‘Miss Hartford did look so funny when she got scared.’ I tell them they may laugh at me but not at the poor woman who shouted. I tell them that shouting and falling in fits is not religion, that the poor woman was probably a good Christian, but her shouting and spells do not make her one.”

“‘Mamma says,’ said one of them, ‘that she first took religion wid one of them spells and dey allus’ come when she gits happy.’”

“Poor things! I tell you this to show you in what a sad state they are. They have had enough preaching to make them think they are religious, but have had no real Bible teaching, and there are ten thousand of them in this nation. The Board has concluded to send Miss Haymaker here and I am glad.”

Bothersome “Bredderin”

The Board talks about sending a new preacher here, I hope they will send a strong healthy consecrated white man. A sickly man has no business here. Common sense and grit are needed more than learning. It will be no easy task for a white preacher to manage these black Presbyterians. I suspect it will require more tact and will power to manage this set, than one of our city Churches.

A half dozen old fellows claiming to be elders tried to run ‘de Sunday School and de teacher’ until I read to them a letter from Dr. Allen, secretary of the Board. Not one of them can read, but they take great pride in being elders. Some were appointed elders in other Churches and they think that makes them elders here. It will be a sad day to them when they learn they are not elders here, and I fear they will not then be willing to remain as members.

I have written you a long letter and it is all about the darkies; but no doubt you are expecting that.

Hard Work And Miserable Living

“I am not so strong, in fact feel ten years older than one year ago. I fear I cannot stand the heat this summer. I said ‘heat’ but do not mean that exactly. This climate is rather pleasant, if we could only provide comforts. It is the constant hard work and miserable way of living that makes it so bad.

No white person could eat what these women prepare,-bread, always of corn, and fat pork, swimming in grease. Give them flour, they stir in a lot of soda and serve you biscuit as green as grass. They have no idea of better cooking and will not take the pains to do better. We are going to teach them to cook, scrub and wash clothes.

Write soon and tell me whether you called on mother, when you were in Steubenville.
Your Friend, Eliza Hartford.”

Six months later when she returned from a short visit to her mother she writes:

“The weeds were so high I could scarcely see the house. I had to pay forty dollars from my own earnings on lumber hauled for the new school building, but which Elder Crittenden says, was taken by thieves. I paid it to save our credit and am glad I had it to give.

“We have now nineteen boarders. I am almost worked to death and it takes all my patience to stand it.”

Betsy Bobbet

A letter dated January 6, 1888, bears the stamp, “Oak Hill Industrial Academy.” A change in her assistants had taken place in November previous and she writes:

“Miss Haymaker before leaving had miserable health and I have had a hard time since my return. I think Miss Campbell will do well. The attendance now ranges from 45 to 60 and I am not able to do anything except the school work. Four of the children have had chills and fever, and I have had to rise at night to care for them. I have been trying to do the work of three people and not complain. Still I’d like to grumble a little, if I could find the right one to talk to. I am beginning to feel a little like Josiah Allen’s wife, when she said, ‘Betsy Bobbet, you’re a fool, or else me.’

Still I had rather be regarded foolish, by working hard for the good of others, than take advantage of another.

Pray for me for I need your prayers.
Eliza Hartford.”

Miss Haymaker‘s Eventful Journey

Miss Priscilla G. Haymaker made her first journey to Oak Hill about the first of April, 1887. She passed by way of St. Louis to Texarkana, Arkansas, 50 miles east of Clarksville, over the Iron Mountain railway. This part of the journey was made during the night, and most of the time she was the only lady in the car. The crowd on the train was one of ruffians, who spent the time playing cards, drinking whiskey and showing their revolvers.

The conductor said to her, “Lady you have a rough crowd to ride with to night, but I will not leave you long.” He was as good as his word. He sat in the seat with her when in the car and returned promptly when required to be absent.

At Clarksville she found the driver from Wheelock awaiting her arrival at the hotel. As early as four o’clock the next morning everything was in readiness for making the trip to Wheelock in a covered wagon. It soon began to rain and continued raining all day. It was 8 o’clock at night when the team arrived at Wheelock.

The cordial welcome extended by Rev. John Edwards, Superintendent, and his wife and the teachers at Wheelock Academy, was one not soon to be forgotten. It was greatly appreciated and enabled her to feel she had gotten back again to a place of civilization.

Miss Haymaker, the first assistant of Miss Hartford, April to November 1887, was a native of Newlonsburg, Pa., daughter of George R. and Priscilla Haymaker.

On October 1, 1890, she returned to Oak Hill and served as the principal teacher in the Academy the next six years. In the fall of 1892 she was joined by her brother Rev. E. G. Haymaker, who then became superintendent. On October 13, 1896, she became the wife of John Blair of Chambersburg, Pa., and they still reside there.

Miss Campbell‘s Trip From Clarksville

Miss Anna E. Campbell, the successor of Miss Haymaker arrived at Clarksville, the same day the latter passed through that place on her way home in November, 1887.
The proprietor of the hotel called her very early the next morning and informed her he had secured a mule team driven by a negro to take her to Oak Hill. When she was leaving the hotel he solicitously inquired,

“Do you carry a gun?”

“No I haven’t any weapon except a little pocket knife,” she answered. He then said, “In going into Indian Territory you ought to have a gun, you may need it.”

Mr. Moore, the railway agent, a man from Ohio, noticing by the check of her trunk, that she came from Pennsylvania, was very courteous and gave his name. He charged the driver to protect the lady at the risk of his own life; all of which he solemnly promised to do, by promptly answering, “Yes sah, dat I will.”

The bell and two barrels of clothing for Oak Hill were put on the wagon and they made the load a pretty good one for the team. After driving northward all day it began to grow dark and they had not yet reached the ferry across Red River. The crossing was made however without accident.

When the landing had been completed the driver remarked:

“I don’t reckon we will get dar, ‘coz I doesn’t know de way now.”

Fortunately there were several houses not very far away on the bluff along the river, and after a few inquiries, a white family was found that very kindly gave Miss Campbell shelter for the night.

The woman at once offered her a sniff of snuff as a token of good will. When the snuff was very politely declined, she laconically remarked:

“Well, some folks don’t.”

Miss Campbell arrived at Oak Hill, ten miles distant from the ferry, the next day, after experiencing a “stuck fast” in the mud on the way.

Miss Campbell was a native of Midway, Washington County. Pa. She became the assistant of Miss Hartford in November, 1887, two days after the departure of Miss Haymaker and remained until June 15, 1888. At that time she expected to return about the first of October following. But when her trunk had been packed for that purpose circumstances arose at home that made it necessary for her to remain and take care of her parents, both of whom were aged and infirm. On March 7, 1905, she became the wife of James H. McClusky and now lives on a well cultivated productive farm near Monongahela, Pa.

Miss Hartford’s Night School

On requesting Alexander M. Reid, D. D., of Steubenville, Ohio, the early home of Eliza Hartford to obtain and send a photo of her, he reported her death at Richmond, Ohio, July 9, 1901; and stating that a photo could not be found among her relatives, sent instead the following beautiful incident, growing out of her work as a teacher of night school in that place before she came to Oak Hill.

Matthew Finding His Opportunity

Rev. Charles C. Beatty, D. D., a former Moderator of the General Assembly who had become almost totally blind, at the close of a prayer meeting held in the Second Presbyterian Church, said to Miss Hartford, “Could you not name one of your boys here to lead me home?”

She replied, “Yes, here is Matthew Rutherford; he will lead you home.”

On the way home Dr. Beatty asked Matthew, what he was doing: He replied, “I dig coal in the day time and go to the school of Miss Hartford at night.”

When near home Dr. Beatty inquired, “Matthew, how would you like to go to school and get an education?” He said, “I would like it very much.”

Dr. Beatty then said, “Matthew, you may quit digging coal and go through the school and High School. Then if you have a good standing, I will send you to college. If the Lord should then seem to be calling you to be a minister, I will enable you to pursue your studies at Allegheny Seminary.”

Matthew, who was a native of England and exceedingly grateful for this recognition and counsel, quit the mines and entered school. He graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1884, and from the theological Seminary, three years later. Since 1896 he has been the highly esteemed pastor of the third Presbyterian Church, Washington, Pa., and Bible instructor in the college since 1900. He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1909.

This incident serves to illustrate the readiness of the friends of Christian Education to aid young people of limited means, who are trying to educate themselves; and the care they also take to know they are worthy. It also shows the importance of young people industriously and economically doing what they can to help themselves. That is their best recommendation.

If young Rutherford, while working in the mines, had indulged in spending his evenings at places merely of amusement or entertainment as many do, he would have missed the golden opportunity of his life. The unexpected and gracious offer came to him, while he was attending night school and the weekly prayer meeting. It was while he was taking advantage of these opportunities for intellectual and moral improvement, within his reach, that he found the true and faithful friend, whose assistance he most needed.

Hardships At Oak Hill

Miss Hartford, before coming to Oak Hill, spent several years as a teacher among the Mormons at Silver City, Utah. This was a period when missionary work was difficult and dangerous. She resigned that work on account of the failing health of her aged mother.

She patiently and hopefully endured many privations and hardships in faithfully and energetically carrying forward the work entrusted to her. These were greatest at Oak Hill than elsewhere.

At Oak Hill she was unable to relieve the natural conditions that produce malarial troubles. She felt very deeply the loneliness of dwelling in the wilderness, where there was no white person in the neighborhood to render assistance in time of special need, or sympathetic friend to express a word of comfort and encouragement. Then she could not avoid the incessant strain of continuous work and worry under surroundings and limitations that could not be removed and tended to produce that nervous exhaustion, which results in complete prostration. This nervous strain was increased by every advancing step in the progress of the work. Relief from this malady is not found in the use of medicines, but in a complete change of scenes, diet and employment. She and her two faithful helpers were compelled to seek this form of relief.



MLA Source Citation:

Flickinger, Robert Elliott. Choctaw Freedmen and Oak Hill Industrial Academy, Valliant, Oklahoma. Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen. Pittsburgh. 1914 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 18 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/early-reminiscences-of-oak-hill-academy.htm - Last updated on May 5th, 2012


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