About the last of September we received intelligence of the murder of Mr. Vore and family, who had resided for some years a few miles above Fort Coffee, in the Cherokee nation. As the rumor spread the people became excited and aroused to an unusual extent. Mr. Vore was a merchant, an upright, honest, and reputable man, who had been very highly esteemed by his Cherokee neighbors; he had been engaged in selling goods, buying peltries, and in a general traffic with the Indians.
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On the evening of the twenty-fourth of September a man called at the residence of Mr. Vore to obtain accommodations for the night, and, as there was no public house in reach, he was taken in. On the following morning the neighbors discovered that the house and store had disappeared, although no fire had been seen in the night, nor had any alarm been heard. A crowd soon collected, and, on examination, discovered the charred skeletons of three individuals, supposed to be those of Mr. and Mrs. Vore and of some one who chanced to stop with them. They had no children and kept no servants or clerks about the store. A few rods from the smoldering ruins were found the money-safe and a few drawers and trunks, in which fine and costly goods had been kept; all were opened and rifled of their contents. It became evident that the inmates had first been murdered, after which the store had been robbed and finally burned.
A saddle and mule were found in the corral, which led to the identification of the stranger who had perished with the family. The animal was sent to Fort Smith, recognized at once as a Santa Fe’ mule, which belonged to one Thomas Farley, a carpenter, who resided in Van Buren. Mr. Farley had been employed a number of weeks at our mission; we had paid him his wages, when we no longer needed his services, and he had left Fort Coffee and gone into the Cherokee nation in search of employment; he was a poor man and left a helpless and dependent family. The community where the foul murder was committed were intensely excited, and manifested a determination of purpose to ferret out and bring to justice the offenders. Suspicion at once rested upon three half-breed Cherokees, who were notorious desperadoes, and had long been regarded as outlaws. They were of the name of Starr, Tom Ben, and Ellis. They were charged with the butchery of a family of the name of Wright that perished some time previous to that period, and also to have acted a prominent part in the ” Cane Hill tragedy,” the revolting details and horrors of which are scarcely paralleled in the annals of blood and crime. The executive of the tribe had offered liberal rewards for their apprehension, and vigorous and persevering efforts had been made to arrest them, but hitherto without success. They did not dare to remain in their own nation, for they were marked men and would be readily recognized in almost any community. They prowled about, secreting themselves in the daytime and prosecuting their work of pillage and slaughter under cover of darkness, making their forays upon Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and Cherokees as opportunity should occur. It was confidently believed that their principal den, in which they burrowed, was within the limits of the state of Arkansas, where they doubtless had confederates.
Murders and violent deaths were by no means rare in the Cherokee tribe, but with the Choctaws deeds of robbery were scarcely known to have occurred. I never heard of a single instance of highway robbery being committed by a native of that tribe. Violent deaths, occasioned by intoxication, were sometimes known, but they were peaceable and quiet, with rare exceptions, and often boasted that ” they never shed the blood of a white man.”
The border tribes were all living in amity and peace; not one sustained a hostile attitude or relation toward any other tribe; and any well-disposed Indian might travel with impunity throughout the entire Indian territory. And yet their intercourse was not cordial or familiar, and it was an extremely rare occurrence for a man of one tribe to settle permanently with another people and become identified with them. This statement does not apply to the intercourse of the Choctaws and Chickasaws; they were evidently, but one people, originally of the same stock, and now integral parts of but one nation.
As the month of October advanced we increased our efforts to complete our repairs and finish the new building before the session of the conference, which was to be held in the month of November. Our teamster was sick, and as we must have a few barrels of lime to complete the plastering it was thought safe to send our Hibernian man of all work, with the oxen and wagon, to Fort Smith to procure the article. Dan was orderly and well-disposed, but of his previous habits and history we knew nothing.; he was a true son of the ” Howly mother Church,” and a devout believer in the miraculous gifts and graces of the immortal Saint Patrick.
Dan set out, with a due appreciation of the responsibilities devolving upon him, with instructions to return within three days; but the third day elapsed and he did not make his appearance. Late in the evening of the fourth day he arrived in an exceedingly happy mood. His vivacity seemed to be without limit and his wit sparkled and blazed; but on the following morning Dan was moody and grave, his flask was empty and his thirst was consuming him. There had, doubtless, been a constitutional tendency to thirst with him, and, yielding to temptation, he had imbibed the ” swate whisky till he had become jist dhrunk a bit!” It was a clear case, and all saw it and knew it to be true, that Dan Mahony had drank to intoxication. He had even spent a night and a day in the canebrake without so much as unyoking the cattle or giving them either food or water. After waiting for him to become entirely sober I sent for him ; he came to the office, professing to be exceedingly penitent, which profession was, doubtless, sincere to some extent; for he was doing a heavy penance in sobering off so abruptly. We felt considerable sympathy for him, yet we could not tolerate such conduct even in hired men in connection with our mission, and so dismissed him.
Being unable to procure a hand immediately to take Dan’s place I assisted the mason for a few days, but greatly to my peril. The weather was excessively warm, and the atmosphere was loaded with malarious exhalations from the marsh lands adjacent to the mission, and, not being accustomed to severe manual labor, on the fourth day of my service as hod-carrier I was prostrated with an attack of inflammatory bilious fever, which came near proving fatal. We were compelled to send to Fort Smith for a physician, and for a number of days my situation was critical, with life and death quivering in the balances. During the tedious weeks of my confinement I frequently thought of Dan, and regretted that a little more leniency and mercy had not been exercised toward him, as it might Dave inured to our mutual benefit. I never again saw or heard any thing more of Dan Mahony.