Political Strife and Discord
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There were warring elements and fierce conflicts of long standing and of the most virulent and uncompromising character in the Cherokee nation. Their troubles originated in the change of their system of government from a heathen and hereditary oligarchy to a democratic republic. Before they emigrated to the west they had thrown off pagan and traditional rites, ceremonies, and prerogatives. They had chosen John Ross to be their chief. About two-thirds of the tribe favored the new system of government, which went into immediate operation. The opposition was headed by Captain Ridge, who had a birthright to power under the hereditary regime. He was born a sachem, and could not consent to be shorn of his honors and prerogatives. The popular party, having elected their officers, and assumed the responsibilities of the government in its several departments, branded the Ridge party with rebellion and treason, and treated them accordingly; hence the many assassinations and violent and bloody conflicts which have marked the history of that people. The fraudulent circumstances attending the sale of their lands in Georgia greatly increased the bitterness of the hostility of the opposing factions. After their settlement in their present territory it was ardently desired that the antagonizing elements might be harmonized. But no concessions were made by either party, and there was not the slightest prospect of reconciliation. Ridge and the most of his active and influential supporters had fallen, but others had stepped forward, bold and resolute in their purpose, to occupy their position.
At the time of which I am now writing Captain Rogers claimed to be the hereditary chief of the tribe. He was heir to the throne in the regular line of royal descent. But just as soon as he avowed his claim he was charged with treason, and forced to flee from his country to save his life: But fortunately his place of exile was not very remote from his family. He resided on a farm not more than thirty miles from the state line; and when he found it impossible to remain at home in security, he went over the line, and secured quarters at an aristocratic hotel kept at Fort Smith. His family were permitted to remain on the farm in peace; and although a visit from him would imperil his life, yet they could visit him at pleasure in his exile. I saw the old sachem frequently at the Fort Smith hotel, mingling with the majors and captains of the United States army. He was about fifty years of age, hale and well developed. He was dignified and lordly in his bearing, enduring his exile with a courage and philosophy becoming the chief of a great nation. As there was not the slightest prospect of a reconciliation between the belligerent factions, and as the pagan party could never, by any possibility, come into power, I presume the old Captain, if living, is still in banishment.
But John Ross, the ruling chief, was not, by any means, free from embarrassment. He knew his position to be one of imminent peril, and felt his life to be in jeopardy every hour. He spent a considerable portion of his time in the east every year, visiting Philadelphia, New York, and Washington cities. It was necessary for him annually to visit the war department and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to look after the interests of his nation. But the duties of his office as chief required him to spend a portion of each year at Tahlequah, to attend to the executive business. During the period thus spent at home it became necessary to keep an armed guard about his person all the day long, and around his dwelling at night. When he traveled through the tribe he was attended by a military escort, for personal protection; and when he started east his guard escorted him over the state line; and at the time of his returning they would meet him on the line to bring him home in safety. All things considered, it was only in name and honor that the position of Ross was more desirable than that of Ropers, his rival.
When the day came for our return we took leave of our kind friends at Park Hill, thankful not merely for the hospitalities of the mission, but especially for the intelligent, frank, and fraternal social intercourse with which we had been favored, rendering our sojourn with them exceedingly pleasant. We were thankful for the lessons we had learned from their example of patient toil and uncomplaining endurance in the work of their divine Master.
Having chosen to return home by a new route, we reached the Dwight mission at sunset, traveling about thirty miles. It was a Presbyterian mission and the oldest one in the tribe, having been founded in the old nation, and reestablished immediately after their arrival in the new territory. Mr. Hitchcock was the superintendent; he was a layman, and managed the farm and temporal interests of the station. There was a female seminary in which pupils were taught and boarded, but not clothed. Mr. Day and his wife were teachers of the school, and Mrs. Hitchcock was matron. There were over forty fine buxom lasses in attendance, from ten to sixteen years of age many of them were very interesting, sprightly, and promising girls. Mr. Hitchcock and family had been with the tribe twenty-four years, engaged in the missionary work. They received no salaries from the Missionary Board ; and the entire annual appropriations to the Dwight mission amounted to only fourteen hundred dollars. There was an excellent farm, well cultivated and well stocked, the produce of which nearly sustained the mission. All were taught to labor, and economy and frugality were thoroughly studied and practiced in every department. There was a plain, comfortable church, but no efficient, pastor in connection with it at that time.
Rev. Mr. Buttrick and his aged companion were there, but not as active laborers in the mission. He was then superannuated, having retired from the active duties of the ministry, He could preach occasionally, but not with regularity, nor had he strength to perform pastoral labor. Father Buttrick had been twenty-seven years in the Cherokee tribe, laboring to establish and build up the cause of the Redeemer. His children were grown up and all settled in the east. They had earnestly urged their parents to return home and spend the evening of their days with them. But after mature deliberation himself and wife had resolved to end their pilgrimage with their Indian people. They had come to Dwight for the sake of the society; and having fitted up a comfortable log-cabin, they enjoyed a quiet retreat from the busy and exciting scenes of the world. With a good library and the desired papers and magazines, and with the privileges of the Church and the society, of kind and sympathizing Christian friends, they were cheerful and happy, and patiently waiting the Master’s summons to take them home to heaven. Our interview was from necessity brief, but full of interest, to us at least; as we rose to take our leave, father Buttrick interposed his paternal authority: “Come,” said he, “this will not do, remain a few minutes longer, for we must not separate without prayer!” The little company joined in singing one of the songs of Zion, after which we all kneeled and Mr. Goode led the devotions. We can never forget that devout and holy man of God, who, with Patriarchal simplicity and fervor, stood up and invoked heaven’s benediction upon us, as we bid him a final adieu. Since that period the papers have announced the departure of that aged disciple of the Lord. He has slept the long and dreamless sleep of death. His cold remains repose in the little churchyard, at the Dwight mission, with Indian graves all around. “I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”
On Tuesday morning we left Dwight mission for home; having become separated from Mr. Steele and our Indian preachers, Mr. Goode and myself were left to journey alone. Reaching Fort. Smith at sunset, we procured refreshment for ourselves and horses, and crossing the Poteau river at twilight, we continued our journey and arrived at Fort Coffee before midnight.
In a few days after our return from conference the Rev. J. C. Berryman, the Rev. L. B. Stateler, the Rev. I. F. Collins, and Rev. John Page came to Fort Coffee. Stateler was presiding elder; Collins and Page had been appointed to the circuit, from which Fort Coffee and New Hope had been separated; and Berryman having been appointed superintendent of the conference, wished to make a tour through the nation, visiting the Red River settlements and the Chickasaw tribe.
Mr. Berryman had formerly been superintendent of the Indian Manual Labor School in the Shawnee tribe, and had consequently considerable experience as an Indian missionary. He was an excellent preacher, a man of good address, and endowed with an unusual amount of energy, ambition, and perseverance. He remained in the Indian Mission conference some years, after which he retired from the itinerant work; and, aided by Professor Farnham, he succeeded in establishing a Female Collegiate Institute at Arcadia, Missouri, of which he was appointed President.
In the year 1851 the Indiana Asbury University honored Mr. Berryman with the “gradum Artium Magistri;” since that period I have known nothing of his movements and successes.
Learner B. Stateler was a plain, earnest, evangelical minister of Christ, and devoted to the one work of preaching the Gospel. He was a Kentuckian by birth, antislavery, conservative, but continued in the South after the division of the Church. Of his labors for the past few years I am not informed; he may have finished his course with joy and gone to his blessed reward.
Isaac F. Collins was a brother of Judson P. Collins, who was sent as a missionary to China. He was a good preacher, decidedly antislavery in his sentiments, and after the division of the Church went to Michigan, where he labored for a time in the itinerant work, after which he was transferred to the Kansas and Nebraska conference, where he is still employed.