Indian Mission Conference
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On Monday morning, October the fourth, Revs. W. H. Goode, John M. Steele, H. C. Benson, John Page, Oakchiah, and Chukmabbee set out on horseback for TAHLEQUAH, the Cherokee council-ground, where the session of our conference was to be held. As there was no road directly across the Cherokee nation from Fort Coffee, it was necessary to keep down the river on the southern side as far as Fort Smith. There we crossed the Arkansas and immediately entered the Cherokee country. Our purpose had been to take the military road leading to Fort Gibson; but after consultation, we determined to go by the way of the Fairfield mission, at which place we should be able to make the acquaintance of one of the old pioneer missionary families. Our course of travel was nearly north-west, through a region of country much more fertile and productive, and better supplied with timber than any we had previously seen in the south-west. All day long we were permitted to witness the varied evidences of Cherokee civilization. We saw many proofs of progress in their practical business operations and pursuits of life. There were occasional farms, with comfortable family dwellings, and with barns orchards, wagons, carts, plows, harrows, and other implements of husbandry all giving indication of intelligence, thrift, enterprise, and comparative wealth. But in the immediate vicinity of those comfortable homesteads we would see the smoky hovel and the little irregular patch of corn and pumpkins; and every object we saw would indicate degradation and squalid poverty.
There did not seem to be an equal distribution of the comforts of life among the people. The contrasts and differences were more marked than among the Choctaws. The better classes were more refined and wealthy, while the lower classes were more destitute and thriftless. Perhaps nearly one-half of the Cherokee people are, more or less, crossed with the blood of the whites; some of those mixed breeds were either unable or unwilling to speak a word of our language. All the natives were dressed after the fashion of the whites on the frontiers, with the exception of a single garment few of them wore hats upon their heads. It is the last article which an Indian will consent to adopt.
The Cherokees were evidently an agricultural people, giving less attention to stock growing than the Choctaws. We were gratified to see a good number of school-houses along the road. We occasionally heard the hum of little voices, and saw the teachers actively employed. The schools were mostly English, yet there was an occasional one in which the Cherokee books alone were used. Many grown-up men have learned to read intelligibly in the native dialect, who would never have acquired the English language. Pursuing our journey leisurely, and occasionally halting by the side of some spring or rivulet of pure cold water to refresh ourselves and horses, we did not arrive at the Fairfield mission till after dark. The family, having retired, we should have sought accommodations at a public house, if there had been one to which we could go.
Dr. Butler was the minister in charge of the station. He was a Presbyterian, had labored for a period of nineteen years with that people, having commenced his labors with them before they emigrated from the old nation in the state of Georgia. Himself and family had an experience in labor, in trial, and suffering, which language may not record, and for which there is no compensation on this side of heaven.
We found Dr. Butler sitting in an arm-chair, in a dark room, prepared to spend the night in that position. He was suffering with asthma to such an extent as to render it impossible for him to lie upon a bed and sleep in a recumbent position. For many successive nights he had been compelled to sit alone in his dark chamber while the hours were slowly passing.
At the ring of the bell we were admitted, with brotherly and Christian cordiality that was truly grateful to our hearts at the end of our day’s journey. Mrs. B., being indisposed, did not rise ; but Miss Smith, the teacher of the Mission school, and two fine Cherokee misses, who were about fourteen years of age, came, and in a few minutes prepared us a substantial tea.
We were impressed with the good sense and economy which characterized, as far as we could discover, the entire establishment. There were no servants; Mrs. B., Miss Smith, and six Cherokee girls, who had been received into the family, did the kitchen and chamber work. The girls were not treated as servants, but daughters; they were neat, intelligent, and sufficiently comely to pass reputably in any society. The furniture of the mission was very plain, and yet comfortable; while the table was destitute of every article that might be considered a luxury, yet the food was good, substantial, and of sufficient variety.
The family worship was orderly and remarkably interesting. Each member of the family was supplied with a Bible and hymn-book; and they also had books to be used by strangers who should chance to worship at their altar. Dr. B. commenced the reading-each one reading his verse in turn “from the greatest down to the least.” The hymn was announced, and sung by all; after which we kneeled, and Rev. Mr. Goode was requested to lead in prayer.
The same system and order prevailed both at Park Hill and Dwight missions, which we subsequently visited.
The school at Fairfield was not a boarding seminary, but a “day school,” and free to all. The population in the vicinity was dense, and the school was well attended, mostly by girls, yet boys of a small size were also admitted. Miss Smith’s schoolroom was well supplied with maps, cards, and globes for purposes of illustration. We saw no others so well and so conveniently furnished.
There was a good farm in connection with the mission, the product of which nearly supplied the demands of the family. The needed supplies of horses, oxen, and milk cows were not wanting. We were gratified to learn that Dr. B.’s congregations were good, and his Church composed of substantial and pious men and women. A large and prosperous Sunday school was a most interesting appendage of the mission.
On Tuesday morning, at an early hour, we bade the kind family adieu, and went on to the seat of the conference. Oakchiah became sick on the way, and was compelled to stop and go to bed; Chukmabbee remained to take care of him.
On reaching Tahlequah Mr. Goode and myself were taken to Park Hill, and introduced to the family of the Rev. Mr. Worcester, with whom we were kindly entertained during the session of the conference.
Park Hill was a missionary station of much note. Mr. Worcester was the superintendent of the establishment, and was eminently qualified for the important position. There was a good farm; a frame church of proper size, a good frame school-house; a two story building used for a book establishment, having its printing-presses and book bindery. There were two frame buildings, each two stories high, for family residences, occupied by Mr. Worcester and by Rev. D. Foreman, who was a Cherokee, and connected with the mission. The Scriptures were translated and printed in the Cherokee and Choctaw languages at Park Hill. Hymn-books, tracts, spelling books, and readers were also translated and published there. John Candy, a Cherokee, was foreman in setting type, and W. Worcester, a son of Rev. Mr. Worcester, was the head-workman in the bindery. The school was taught by a Miss Avery, who was an accomplished and interesting young lady.
There was also a Miss Thompson in the family, who taught a school a short distance from Park Hill, with whose character and history we were deeply interested. She was certainly a model missionary, having consecrated upon the Divine altar her ” body and spirit, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in God’s sight.” She had gone into the Cherokee country when a young lady; had emigrated with the Indians from the state of Georgia to their present home; had labored in the Park Hill School till she thought herself to have grown old; when, at the earnest solicitations of her relatives, she returned to her New England Home, to spend the evening of her life with the surviving companions of her youth. She was extremely happy to meet with loved ones from whom she had been separated for a score of years. They gave her a most affectionate welcome to their hearts and homes, and did all within their power to contribute to her comfort and happiness. When a few weeks had elapsed, and her round of visiting was completed, she began to look around for work. She longed to be useful; but there were no open doors for such labor as her habits of life had qualified her for and given her tastes to enter upon and accomplish. Her soul longed for its appropriate work; she could not live in idleness, and must be wretched if she failed to be useful. The truth finally flashed upon her that she had committed a blunder; that it was an error to quit the Indians. She hastily made a second round of visits, bidding her New England friends a final farewell, and returned to her adopted people, with the language of Ruth to Naomi in her heart, if not upon her lips, “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people; thy God, my God; where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried.”
Miss Thompson was probably near fifty years of age, yet in the enjoyment of excellent health. She had returned to labor for destitute children for scores of bright, active, and interesting little girls, who might be taught the fear of the Lord, won to Christ, and prepared for a life of usefulness on earth, and then to become jewels in the crown of the blessed Savior in heaven.
On returning to Park hill she found her place in the mission filled by another; but she was rather pleased to find it so, for he went out a mile and a half distant, and opened a new school, which was soon filled with children that otherwise would not have been taught. She walked back and forth, making her home with her old friends of the mission; and she was cheerful and happy in her work, intending to live, die, and be buried with her Cherokee friends. Whether she still survives, or has fallen at her post, I know not; but generations yet unborn shall rise up to call her blessed. I can never think of the life of privation, toil, and sacrifice of that devoted female without feelings of earnest sympathy and sentiments of profound respect. She was a true missionary, giving her life to the work.