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Collection: Life Among the Choctaw Indians

Journey to the Indian Country

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Border Indians

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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;...

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The Fort Coffee Mission

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Choctaw Government

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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The Choctaw Character

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Choctaw Education

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Choctaw Social Habits

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Choctaw Ball Games

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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,...

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The Indian Territory Country

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Condition of the Choctaws on their Removal

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Fort Coffee Academy

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Fourth of July Celebration

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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,...

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Distinguished Men

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Indian Annuities

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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Rev. John Page, a Choctaw Preacher

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now 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...

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