Fort Coffee Academy for Boys

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On the first day of October, 1844, the second session of the Academy opened with about thirty students in attendance, a few not having yet returned. Mr. Brigham was employed as an assistant teacher. He was an Irishman, having been born and educated in the city of Dublin, and was, by profession, a druggist. His education was good; he was intelligent and gentlemanly and had once been a member of the Presbyterian Church.

Our school was full, not one of the old pupils failing to return. They manifested very great pleasure at meeting us and in getting back to the regular round of school duties. A few of the lads were accompanied by friends, fathers or brothers, mounted on their ponies, while not a few had walked, carrying their provisions and camping by the roadside at night. The friends who came as visitors all remained several days, resting themselves and horses, and witnessing the mysteries of the school-room.

Indians are seldom in haste, and never in a hurry to quit a place where grazing is abundant and provisions ample and free. We encouraged them to remain sufficiently long to become favorably impressed with the Academy and so carry back a good report of the institution. Every man who came into the recitation room took occasion to make a speech to the lads; they, no doubt, gave much sage counsel, the purport of which we could not quite comprehend with our im­perfect knowledge of their language. But, at the termination of each address, the boys gave the accus­tomed response, “ Yes, it is well!” and it became necessary for one of the students to address the visitors in “a neat little speech.” We had almost as much ceremony as we have sometimes witnessed when an ex-President of the United States or a member of Congress has visited the frontiers just upon the eve of an important election.

The Choctaws seemed to have a mania for shaking hands and making formal speeches. They were very pleasant orators; their words were soft, euphonious, and almost wholly free from aspirated guttural sounds. Their language was not copious: hence gesticulation became an important element in supplying the vacuum occasioned by the dearth of words. I have never seen orators more easy in manner or more graceful in action.

While those Indians remained with us as guests they required no special attention, were silent, walking about the grounds, or seated in the cool shade smoking; they were prompt, however, at the hours of eating, not failing to find the dining-room at the first bell; and at night they required no beds, as each was supplied with a blanket with which he wrapped himself and lay down upon the ground.

Temperance

Near the close of the first session of the Academy we organized a temperance society, adopting the pledge of total abstinence from the use of all intoxicating drinks. Mr. Page aided us in explaining fully the object of the organization; he was chosen President, while the balance of the officers were selected from the students themselves. A constitution was written and presented, and an invitation given for all to come and take the pledge who would consent to do it voluntarily. The boys were encouraged to speak and act freely upon the subject, being assured that none would be required to sign the pledge or censured for not signing it. Speeches were made by them and quite an animated discussion was the result. When they had done speaking Mr. Page and myself went to the table and wrote our names; we were soon followed by at least one-half of the pupils in the school. There were a few that declined, with a significant shake of the head, remarking that ” whisky much good on pay-day and at ball-play.” After the organization was completed they met weekly for temperance discussions, and thus the society became a lyceum of considerable interest; nearly all had taken the pledge before the first session of the school closed.

Soon after the commencement of the second session we thought it proper to revive the temperance society, to keep up the interest in a subject of more importance to the Indian people than any other except the vital interest of Christianity. The meeting was opened in order, the constitution read, and persons invited forward to sign the pledge; a few went to the table to have their names recorded. Finally one young man arose and made a few remarks in the native tongue, and went forward and subscribed to the constitution and pledge. He was one of the old members, had been among the first to take the pledge, and had, indeed, been very active in the weekly meetings the preceding year. Thinking that the matter was not clearly understood we stated that we did not desire the old members to unite with the society, as they were already members, but the invitation was for new ones, such as had not taken the pledge the previous session; we invited only such. It was remarked, at the same time, that J.M. was a member of the society, having been among the first to unite with it at the period of its organization. D. F., the Secretary, then stated that “John’s talk in Choctaw had explained the matter; when at home his friends had given him whisky and he had spoiled the pledge!” His confession was voluntary, and, as he was anxious to start anew, we directed the Secretary to erase John’s name from the old record, and let him write it again upon the books. John was one of the six who first united with the Church, but, at the earliest opportunity after his return, without prompting, he came forward voluntarily to rejoin the Church, confessing, by the act, that he had justly forfeited his membership by drinking. We took his name and made a new record, erasing the old, quite willing to have all of the pupils know that the Church was a total abstinence temperance organization. So far as I have been informed, J. M. never again faltered in his course; he remained firm and faithful as long as I knew him, and since that time has been licensed to preach, and employed as interpreter and assistant at one of the missions. He was only a half-breed; his father was a Frenchman, who was either dead or had left the nation.

Incident

Our arrangement was for Mr. Goode or myself to meet Mr. Page at New Hope and assist him in the service, whenever his appointment was to be at that place. One of us would preach a short discourse in English, when Mr. P. Would follow in an exhortation in Choctaw; he would give the substance of the sermon, then close with prayer in the native language.

On one occasion I happened to be a few minutes behind time, and as the congregation was waiting, Mr. P. determined to conduct the services in English. He had read the Scriptures, sung, and prayed, and had just read his text as I entered; and as I gave him the signal to proceed he did so, preaching a plain, practical, and Scriptural discourse, just twelve minutes in length. The text was, “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days what it is; that I may know how frail I am !” After taking his seat a few additional remarks were made upon the subject, after which the benediction was pronounced, the members remaining for class meeting. Having spoken to the brethren in order, Mr. P. was called upon to speak and close the services. He was pecu­liarly earnest, manifesting intense feeling, stating, in effect, that it should be the great business of his life to serve God and lay up treasure in heaven. “Now,” said he, “I no want to be rich; I no want farm; I no want be chief; I no want big name; I wants religion–religion just suit me! I want to be Christian, and full-blooded Methodist.” He was a full-blooded Indian, with no special love for half-breeds or mongrel races. He was a great admirer of bold, earnest, decided, and energetic men.

As we set out for Fort Coffee I spoke of the brevity of his sermon. “Brother P., why did you not prepare a longer sermon? It was not proper for you to sit down so soon, simply because I came in after you commenced.” His eyes sparkled as he replied, ” You no make me preach short; I preach all I had; I sit down ’cause I had no more; I not able to make more sermon!” If we would all learn to quit when we had no more preach, we should edify the people.

 



MLA Source Citation:

Benson, Henry C. Life Among the Choctaw Indians and Sketches of the South-West. L. Swormstedt & A. Poe. 1860. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 2 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/fort-coffee-academy-for-boys.htm - Last updated on Sep 27th, 2013


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