History as Literature | December 01, 1991
The Indian removal was not just the “Trail of Tears,” an isolated act victimizing one tribe in the 1830s, but one of the most persistently followed government policies in U.S. history, covering dozens of tribes and lasting for almost a century. The motive for removing the Indians and concentrating them in one wilderness area varied from the humane hope of maintaining tribal integrity to the blatant desire to get as much Indian land as possible as cheaply as possible. Those who either propounded or cooperated with the idea included not just whites of dissimilar political persuasions but Indians as well, both fullblood and mixed blood, both established leaders and rebels. The removal is emblematic of the U.S. attitude and handling of the American Indians because it was, finally, a wholesale approach in which intimidation and thinly veiled bribery played an important role. The actual removal of tribes was characterized, over and over, by U.S. officials in the field, including Indian agents and military officials, generally doing their best in impossible situations, but being frustrated by an almost totally unresponsive government bureaucracy, leading to situations in which hundreds of people died.
There are government reports, military communiques, and descriptions by missionaries encompassing the period of the removal; however, the diary of the young Choctaw Peter Pitchlynn may be the only first-hand, on-the-scene account by a member of one of the tribes. The Choctaws, one of the largest and most civilized of the great Indian nations, were the first tribe to be removed en masse to the Indian Territory. Their experience would serve the government as the example to be followed for all subsequent removals. This diary is particularly interesting because it directly relates the state of mind, interests, and concerns of a young Indian of prominent family concerning the removal from their homelands in the southeast. Pitchlynn, in fact, would later become for a time the Principal Chief of the Choctaw Tribe.
Pitchlynn’s diary is also valuable because the first part of it describes events preceding the removal, including an extended account of the surveying party to the Indian Territory in 1828, during which Pitchlynn pays very close attention to details of topography, game and natural resources. The sequence of events leading up to the removal, and the selling of the idea, are less well known than the dramatic Trail of Tears experience itself, but perhaps ultimately more important, because they provide insights into how and why this policy became realized.
In the first part of the diary we follow the tour organized by the government for the purpose of encouraging the voluntary emigration of the wary Chickasaw and Choctaw and the belligerent Creeks. The Reverend Isaac McCoy, a well known Baptist missionary to the Potawatomi, was a leader of the expedition, but Captain George H. Kennerly of the United States army was in actual command. Lieutenant Washington Hood of the army was its topographer, and George P. Todson its physician (Todson had been cashiered from the army in 1826). All held their appointments from the Secretary of War. Isaac McCoy’s History of Baptist Indian Missions (Washington and New York, 1840) contains a history of the expedition.
The entire company consisted of thirteen Chickasaws, six Choctaws, and four Creeks, along with various white men serving as interpreters, and a few black slaves. Pitchlynn was one of the delegates of the Northeastern district of the Choctaw. Harper Lovett, the Creek interpreter, died two weeks after the party left Saint Louis. Seven “hired men” or camp helpers were employed at Saint Louis, and the Osage interpreter, Noel Mongrain, joined them at the western line of Missouri. They thus numbered over forty men and, according to McCoy, some sixty horses.
Although the tour did little to advance the removal, it did yield results. The distaste which these Indian farmers and hunters of the southern woodlands conceived for the treeless grasslands of Kansas prepared them to look with less aversion on the wooded land west of Arkansas. Also the meeting of the Choctaw and Osage leaders under friendly official auspices appears to have put an end to the historic animosities between these two important tribes who were soon to be neighbors.
A second part of the diary includes a brief description of Pitchlynn’s own entry into the new lands during the winter of 1831-32, when he led a group of five hundred out of Mississippi. Pitchlynn separated from his group, either at Memphis or after a brief time at the Post of Arkansas. He may have been with the small party who took the group’s horses on to Little Rock. At any rate, his diary makes no mention of the terrible conditions at the Arkansas Post, where his group along with two thousand other Choctaws endured a blizzard with inadequate food and clothing and almost no shelter. His diary takes up this part of the experience– the removal itself–beginning in late January, 1832, at a point after his separation from his group. His principal goal was to get ahead, survey the area, and find a good place where his own group and his family could settle.
The third part of the diary is an anecdote, occurring five years after settlement in the new land, exemplifying the tensions that were already beginning to arise between white settlers in the Indian Territory–Sooners by about sixty years–and Pawnees. This is a verbatim account of murder and kidnapping and was written down by Pitchlynn on the spot. An interesting aspect of it is Pitchlynn’s highly sympathetic attitude toward the whites. He does not think of them as competitors or encroachers but as fellow sufferers at the hands of what he considers to be “hostile” Indian tribes. Conflicts between the tribes would plague the removal period, as the government continued to pen them together in the Indian Territory.
Much later, however, toward the end of Pitchlynn’s life, the encroachments of whites on Indian land would worsen considerably, and the period of the removal finally gave way to a new U.S. policy of dissolving the tribes as landholding institutions. This new policy, largely achieved by 1900 in Oklahoma, considerably decreased the total area owned by Indians and made it far easier for whites to divide and then buy them out.
Pitchlynn’s diary, then, encompasses the early explorations leading to the removal, the move itself, and, in an ominous coda, an incident concerning one of the dangers that the removed tribes faced five years after arrival.
The story of Peter Pitchlynn’s ancestors provides almost a capsule summary of the Choctaws from the mid-eighteenth century on. During this period the tribe’s homelands were divided into three districts in central Mississippi. The outcome of the French and Indian War forced France to abandon the American West in 1763, opening up the area to British traders and a few adventurous settlers.
The Choctaws were assimilative. They were town dwellers, living in log cabins with dirt floors and smoke holes in the centers of their roofs. They raised truck patches with melons, beans, potatoes, squash, and pumpkins. Planting and harvesting were communal. From the earliest, the Choctaws welcomed outsiders. Throughout the South among Indians and traders, pidgin Choctaw was the trade language. Choctaws quickly took up skills learned from others, and became particularly good at farming. They had a tradition of mixed-blood leadership, with mixed bloods tending to be among the higher class. Of the Native American tribes, the Choctaws were among the most thrifty, provident, and best governed.
Isaac Pitchlynn was a British trader who travelled to the home of the Choctaws and died of illness, leaving his eighteen-year-old son John (born circa 1756) in the care of the tribe. John settled in the eastern part of the Choctaw homelands, subsequently marrying twice. Sophia Folsom, daughter of another trader, was the second of his two wives. She raised eight children, including Peter, who was the eldest from this marriage and became John’s favorite. John ran a trading post on the Tombigee River, five miles north of the present Columbus, Mississippi, at a place locally known as Plymouth Bluff.
After the American Revolution, control over the land north of the Gulf coast was disputed between Spain and the United States. John Pitchlynn acted as an interpreter in the effort by U.S. emissaries to gain trading dominance over the Choctaws, and later he was appointed permanent interpreter. Eventually the Spanish lost out, and in 1801 the Choctaws agreed to a series of treaties that delineated their boundaries and made them dependent on the United States. John Pitchlynn’s role expanded, until he was acting as a temporary Indian agent. In 1811, the famed Shawnee orator Tecumseh met the Choctaw near their home, and called upon them to join the Shawnee in opposition to the United States. John Pitchlynn and others opposed him, however, and Tecumseh was unsuccessful–which would become a source of tension between the tribes in the future.
Efforts to move Indians out of their homelands began almost as soon as the Louisiana Purchase was completed, during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. The conclusion of the War of 1812 contributed to a new sense that the nation was destined to grow. Secretary of War John Calhoun decided to aggressively pursue this policy of moving the Native Americans–for his part, probably more in the hope of preserving and civilizing them than stealing their lands. In 1817, he sent a commission to the Choctaws, but not many of them welcomed the proposal. Calhoun later dispatched Andrew Jackson, who had defeated the British in 1812, to press the issue. Some of John Pitchlynn’s family were among those who liked the idea, and his oldest son James made the move and declared himself to be chief of the Choctaws in the West. The Principal Chiefs of the tribe refused the offer, despite the fact that some fullbloods did express a desire to move.
In the spring of 1820 Jackson again came and, with John Pitchlynn interpreting, declared that the United States was anxious for the members of the tribe to move to lands west of the Mississippi. When tribal leaders again resisted, Jackson threatened them. Jackson’s threats, plus $4,600, five hundred of which went to John Pitchlynn and seventy-five to his son James, turned the tide, and the treaty of Doak’s Stand was signed on October 18, 1820.
When it was discovered that lands ceded to the Choctaw tribe included parts of northwestern Arkansas where there were already several white townships, tribal leaders were brought to Washington to secure a new treaty. They were given the first-class treatment while in Washington. Twenty-five hundred dollars was spent on clothes, jewelry, and whiskey. The old chief Pushmataha contacted croup and died, but the Chiefs eventually signed a treaty giving away their Arkansas lands for six thousand dollars annually, designated to be spent on education.
Peter Pitchlynn, called Snapping Turtle by his full-blood friends, was actually only one-quarter Choctaw by blood. He was raised very much as a Choctaw, yet as the son of a well-to-do white trader was always somewhat set apart. In the early 1820s he attended school for about two years; during this time he also helped form a local police force and tried to curtail the whiskey trade in his i district.
When a school for boys was set up at Blue Springs, Peter led twenty-one students on the arduous journey across Tennessee to the new school. Soon afterwards, young Pitchlynn became involved in the issue of whether to accept the latest proposal to remove the tribe to the West. This time, the negotiations occurred at the town of Wilson in the Choctaw Nation, where a commission that included General William Clark of Missouri offered the tribe one million dollars to move. Many members of the tribe, including Peter, did not like the proposal and vigorously opposed it.
Deciding that he needed further schooling, Pitchlynn enrolled in the Choctaw Academy for three months but after that brief time quit, went home, and again involved himself in tribal affairs. Thomas McKenney, the first head of the newly organized Bureau of Indian Affairs, met with the tribal leaders in 1827, once again pushing the idea of the removal, and Peter served as a secretary to the proceedings. McKenney failed, but he suggested to the tribe that they send a delegation to the new lands in the West for the purpose of surveying them and seeing for themselves how desirable they were. Whatever his feelings about the removal, the exploration certainly appealed to young Pitchlynn’s spirit of adventure.
With financial assistance from McKenney, Pitchlynn first made another effort at improving his education, enrolling in the University of Nashville for six months. Years later, he recalled that he had graduated from there, but as with some of the other claims he made late in life–for example, that he had founded the Lighthorse, ended polygamy in the tribe, and been leader of the 1828 expedition– this wasn’t true. His time in Nashville was not wasted, however, for he did buy and read books while he was there.
He then went back to the Choctaw Academy and caused an altercation that ultimately resulted in the Academy being closed. Pitchlynn protested that the school was dirty and in disrepair, the food was inadequate, and the negro servants were disrespectful. In response, the Academy Director, Colonel Richard M. Johnson– a Senator from Kentucky who would be elected Vice-President of the United States in 1836–countercharged that Pitchlynn had himself just wasted five hundred dollars of the tribe’s money on his own false attempt at an education. While this controversy still raged, Peter departed on his expedition to the West.
In 1840, during one of his many later journeys to Washington, Peter Pitchlynn met Henry Clay on a steamboat in the Ohio River. The steamboat was delayed, and as was common on those occasions, passengers devised a “mock trial” over the issue of whether the married or the bachelor life was preferable. Pitchlynn was chosen to represent the married and Clay the bachelor side of the question. At first uncertain about what to say, Pitchlynn, remembering Methodist testimonials concerning the religious life, went into a close description of the feelings he experienced as a married man. He did this with gusto, laying particular stress on the goodness of his wife. At the end of the debate, Clay was said to vie with the ladies present at applauding him.
A meeting that occurred on another journey up the Ohio gives us another hint of the personality of Pitchlynn, for he happened to be on the same riverboat with Charles Dickens, who found him very interesting indeed. Dickens wrote of him, in his American Notes: “He spoke English perfectly well, though he had not begun to learn the language, he told me, until he was a young man grown. He had read many books; and Scott’s poetry appeared to have left a strong impression on his mind: especially the opening of The Lady of the Lake…. He appeared to understand correctly all he had read, and whatever fiction had enlisted his sympathy in its belief, had done so keenly and earnestly. I might almost say fiercely….
“He told me that he had been away from his home, west of the Mississippi, seventeen months: and was now returning. He had been chiefly at Washington on some negotiations pending between his Tribe and the government: which were not settled yet (he said in a melancholy way), and he feared never would be: for what could a few poor Indians do against such well-skilled men of business as the whites? He had no love for Washington; tired of towns and cities very soon; and longed for the Forest and the Prairie.
“I asked him what he thought of Congress? He answered, with a smile, that it wanted dignity, in an Indian’s eyes.
“He would very much like, he said to see England before he died; and spoke with much interest about the great things to be seen there. When I told him of that chamber in the British Museum wherein are preserved household memorials of a race that ceased to be, thousands of years ago, he was very attentive, and it was not hard to see that he had a reference in his mind to the gradual fading away of his own people.”
Pitchlynn would make many other trips to Washington as a representative of the Choctaws, most of them attempts to get the government to meet various promises made in various treaties and agreements. When the Civil War broke out, he had an interview with Lincoln, and they agreed that the best course for the tribe was to remain neutral, despite the fact that Pitchlynn was himself owner of more than one hundred slaves. Although the majority of Choctaws were for the Confederacy, and the tribe split over the issue, Pitchlynn was elected Principal Chief of his people, 1846-66.
Pitchlynn died in 1881, after spending years of his life pursuing Choctaw claims. It would become the general theme of the entire later part of his life. His own later financial and political aspirations were finally so unsuccessful that he died penniless and in debt. Similar stories were played out in the lives of many formerly prosperous Choctaws in the wake of the war. Pitchlynn had to be buried in a public vault pending further arrangements. Yet, during his life he made contributions to Choctaw education, he negotiated treaties, he was the Chief of the Tribe during the Civil War and a National Delegate after 1865. The Supreme Court eventually awarded the tribe three million dollars, but not until Pitchlynn was gone. During his lifetime, he had been suspect by both whites and Indians. He had been a man between nations.
Although the excellent biography of Peter Pitchlynn by David Baird (Oklahoma, 1972) was written before Pitchlynn’s diaries were available, we have made reference to it in this foreword and in some footnotes. The diary was in the hands of collector/scholar Lester Hargrett, who had begun the laborious process of deciphering, typing, and making notes. Without his knowledge and work, this version of the diary could not be presented. We have relied in many instances on his notes to illuminate the text.
The diary itself presented an editorial challenge, both because of the inevitable problems of understanding details of the American frontier 165 years ago and because of the shape the diary was in. It is in no way a neat document. Much of it was written literally with a pencil on Peter Pitchlynn’s knee in the woods, and entries are sometimes not in serial order. Some of the dates are incorrect, much of the language is rough, repetitive, and a peculiar mix, to the current ear, of the colloquial and the bookish. The editors have chosen silently to correct the spelling of words like “tuck” to “took” and “cold stone” to “coal stone.” While something is lost by making such corrections, the overall manuscript is finally more readable. Most importantly, we have made numerous cuts, avoiding passages that are either repetitive or of less interest.
In a word, this is a version of Peter Pitchlynn’s diary rather than the thing itself. Scholars should refer to the actual manuscript diary, which is at the University of Oklahoma, in the Western History Collection.
Thanks to Librarian John R. Lovett and Curator Donald DeWitt there for their help with this project.
Speer Morgan Greg Michalson
When we made our departure from our country we knew not what would be the result–whether we should again return to it, or be left to moulder in a foreign land, unburied and unlamented. And notwithstanding our hearts were proud, and cared not for danger, we yet from the aspect of things ahead could not refrain from indulging ourselves in visionary forebodings.
There was before us an extensive, and unknown region, which we were to enter, our road laid through nations that were rude and that loved war, particularly that of the Washashees, with whom we have been for the last forty years upon the bitterest terms of enmity.
Agreeable to the understanding the nation had with Government, we were appointed as Delegates on the part of the Hayeypatoola District to accompany our older brothers the Chickasaws through an exploring expedition to the north, and west of Missouri, and r ound by the way of the country belonging to the Choctaws west of the Arkansas Territory. According to which, we left the Nation on the 26th of September and proceeded on to Memphis where we fell in with the Chickasaw Delegation. From this place we ascende d the Mississippi River in a steam boat for St. Louis and we arrived on the 12th of October after a pleasant voyage, seven days on the river.
We had scarcely landed in the port of St. Louis when General Clark came down and invited the delegations to accompany him to his residence. We did so and were hospitably entertained by him until arrangements were made for our residence during our stay. In this place we had the satisfaction of seeing some of the Sioux, a people but little known to the Choctaws. From every appearance, they seemed to be a poor and miserable race. Their dress and manners were different from any people we had yet seen, and the ir language bore not the least similarity to that of the Choctaws. They consented to have an interview with us. (1)
We met in the house of General Clark. We stated to them briefly the object of our expedition–that the Choctaws had thought it proper to send us to see the people of other nations of red people and hold talks of peace and claim them as their friends and b rothers. We had come a long ways and were truly happy to see them. When we returned to our country, we should tell the Choctaws of them and that they should be remembered by our nation and considered in future as our brothers and friends, and that they sh ould not be forgotten if they were far from us. We exhorted them to do the same. By this means our friendship would remain undiminished. We then presented to them tobacco and wampum for their principal chiefs, and also a written talk. After this we shook hands and closed our interview.
The winter being close on hand, the Chickasaws did not think it practical to explore the country recommended by Col. McKenny (2) and after some consultation between them and Clark, it was agreed upon to abandon that intention, and only look at the country west of Missouri and Arkansas. This was also sati sfactory to the Choctaws, as we were anxious to get on to our country on the Arkansas and to have that explored thoroughly, so much so at least as to be able to give correct information to the nation of it.
We made our departure from St. Louis on October 18th, and crossed the Missouri River at St. Charles. Our course from this place was generally northwest. After traveling two hundred miles in this direction we crossed again this river. The breadth of this r iver is three-quarters of a mile. After this, our course was generally the same until we reached the state line and the Shawnee Nation. All the lands we have seen so far belong to the whites, and is settled in places tolerably thick. This country needs no description. It is principally prairie.
We proceeded without delay through St. Charles, Franklin, and several little towns. Arrived at the western line of Missouri without any accident except to the Creek interpreter, who had been unwell previous to our setting out from St. Louis and after seve ral days traveling became so unwell that it was impossible for him to proceed any farther. I have heard since that he died five days afterwards. He was a man of a good mind and excellent disposition, and just in the morning of life, but now lies in a dist ant land where no parent, brother, or sister ever will see the little mound that wraps him in mouldering clay. He made his journey to that country from whence no traveller returns. His Spirit has gone to seek admission where there are no disputes as to th e rights of soil.
We reached the western line on November 2nd, and remained there one week in order to get an Osage interpreter. We however passed the time very agreeably with our older brothers the Chickasaws. The day after we reached the line,(3) we received a visit from the Great Prophet of the Shawanoes, (4) brother of Tecumseh, who fell in a battle against the Americans.
The Prophet appears to be about 50 years of age, of common height, stoutly built and of a commanding appearance. He is blind in the right eye. His dress was more in the fashion of the Chickasaws than of the Choctaws. During our introduction, he exhibited pleasure and sometimes even satisfaction.
On the following day we were visited by Perry and Cornstalk, two of the principal chiefs of the Shawanoes. Perry is a stoutly built personage having a very determined countenance. His dress was simple, consisting of a hunting shirt, cotton leggings, and m occasins of dressed deer skins, handkerchief round his head. The Cornstalk is taller than the Prophet or Perry and of a more serious cast. His dress was very poor, being a common coarse gray frock coat worn out at the elbows and coarse about the skirts.
We spent the day with those chiefs, opening still wider the white path of peace. They returned in the evening,(5) and early the next morning the Prophet and the chiefs came to our camp to have a general talk with us. Perry first rose and spoke for some length of time. He was glad, he said, that we did not pass his nation as strangers, that we had, after travelling a great distance, come to see him. He then spoke some time of the fo rmer interviews they had with our forefathers, and that it seemed the Great Father had ordered it so that we should meet again and take each other by the hand. After he had ended his speech he presented to each of the delegations white beads and tobacco as a renewer of our old friendship.
The Prophet then rose and spoke some length of time on the subject of the ignorance of the Indians in general. He said that they knew not anything, even that which was good for them. He then spoke of the great wisdom of the President of the United States. He said that he knew what was for their good. Knowing these things to be true, he said that he had given up his own opinion on things respecting the interest of his nation and that he looked to the Great Father, the President, to advise in every thing, a nd that he obeyed him in all things like an obedient child, and recommended that we should do the same. After closing his speech he presented purple strands of beads and, with it, tobacco. He said this tobacco must be spoken in a council when you return t o your country, that the first puff should be in remembrance of the place where we had met them, the second in remembrance of your wives and children, that it was the great duty of man to love and provide for them the comforts of life, and the third shoul d be in remembrance of our older brothers the Shawnees. After this we were invited to visit their town. Evening growing late, they returned home.
On the morning of the following day we started over to their town, which was five miles off. When we got in sight of the Shawanoes we beheld the American flag waving high in the center of their town. They had prepared for us a dinner and we were accommoda ted soon after we had reached the village. After taking dinner we returned to our camps and bade them farewell. The Shawanoes are situated on the western line of Missouri. In a few years, I think, they will all be tillers of the soil. They have not much g ame because it is nearly hunted out. Their manners and customs are pretty much as those of the Choctaws with but a few exceptions.
They told us that they had not been there more than eight months and what they had for us to eat at their dinner was what their Great Father gave them, and that they had not anything themselves. We were treated by the Shawanoes with the utmost friendship. They seemed extremely rejoiced at our interview and, to use their own language, we met like long separated brothers. They were all pleased with their new country, and I thought the country was good, but by far inferior to our country here.
November 7th –Rode twelve miles out in the Shawnee lands. Passed through Fithes Town. This place is not quite so eligibly situated as Perry’s Town nor are the
improvements as good, but the land about it is most excellent, and from information, it is well watered. I proceeded on in a northern direction, travelled about four miles and reached the trading house for the Shawnees and Kansas nation. Saw today the Prophet, shook hands with him for the last time. Killed today two turkey hens. I neglected to place in my book that I killed another deer. Kincaid another. Red Dog also another.
November 9th –The morning with us was busy. Mr. McCoy delivered a short address and prayers after which we soon mounted our horses and set out upon expedition (6) to the Santa Fe Road, crossed it, and continued our course. At length we came to the Blue River after travelling thirteen miles of all prairie, and it very windy and unpleasant . I went hunting after striking camp, and killed nothing but a muskrat.
Monday, November 10th –Owing to not finding our horses early we did not get off soon. Left camp at 9:00, travelled due south until we reached another prong of the Blue. Crossed two more prongs of the Blue, and at length took camp on the waters of the fourth prong. The streams are of rock bottoms. The lands we have passed over today have been high and not very good, but is certainly the best watered country that I have ever seen. There is a great deal of brush on the waters of the Blue.
Crossed today the main Santa Fe road. Travelled only nine miles, went out in the evening and killed three bear. Saw plenty of elk signs, weather pleasant.
November 11th –The lands we travelled over today have been high, rolling beautifully and extending as far as the eye can reach. The lands are not rich, but well watered. The waters of the Blue & Osage nearly reach each other. There is a dividing ridge between them, extending east and west, on which we saw much elk signs but not deer. The company travelled fourteen miles, and I about twenty. This would be the prettiest country in the world if it was only timbered, but it is all prairie.
In my rambles I came to the main Osage River. It is from bank to bank fifty yards wide; a beautiful river. We are now camped on the banks of a small fork of the Osage. I have explored today one of the streams of the Osage. The weather is beautiful and ple asant.
November 12th –We left our encampment on the small creek early in the morning. The weather is cloudy, smoky (7) and cold. We had not proceeded more than two miles when we crossed another small prong of the Osage. The timber on this creek would be fit for no other use than to make fire wi th. After leaving this branch, we ascended a high hill from which we saw as far as the eye could reach, all prairie, heavens and the earth. The soil of the prairies today has been inferior, but McCoy and some of the whites with us say that it is first rat e, and compared it to those in the vicinity of Lexington, Kentucky.
From the highlands we then descended gradually until we reached the main Osage, on which we are now encamped.
November 13th –Left camp a few minutes before 10:00. Crossed the Osage River two hundred yards above our encampment. The river is from 60 to 70 yards wide from bank. The timber on this river is from three-quarters to one-mile wide, consisting of all kinds of oak, hickory, walnut, hackberry, mulberry, sycamore etc. After leaving the river we wound our way upon the high hills that ranged along a mile from the river in a southwest course until we struck another large fork of the Osage River and are at t his time encamped on its south side immediately on its banks. The lands here are generally inferior. Thirteen Indians visited our camp–of the Kansas tribe.
November 14th –Started from camp this morning a few minutes before 9 o’clock, the morning cloudy and cold. We travelled up the river on which we encamped and have pursued all day generally a south course. I left the company and made my way up to the top of the high hills and travelled on them for some time. The wind blew strong and cold. As far as I could see to my left the face of the country seemed mountainous. There was a great deal of lime stone on the sides of those mountains. Soon after I had r ejoined the company I heard a gun fire. It was Love, (8) who had shot at a deer. As soon as the gun fired we heard oft nearby a scream. Upon examination it was a woman, of the Kansas tribe. She seemed very much affrighted. I was sorr y for her. She was rude and wild in her aspect. (9)
From this scene I left the company again and wound my way among the high hills and valleys. In my route I saw an Indian. My friend Love was with me. The Indian started towards us in a trot as soon as he saw us. He approached us in a pleasing manner and sa id howdy, and then begged my friend Love for his dog, and then for some tobacco. He was no doubt a husband to the woman who we just had affrighted by our approach. Also a Kansas, his dress consisted only of an old blanket that he wrapped around his should ers in the Indian fashion, leather leggings and moccasins.
Upon my arrival back with the company, they had camped on the banks of the same stream we were on last night. The lands we have seen today have been sometimes moderately rich. More timber today than usual. The sun has not been seen once today. Cold and wi th the appearance of snow. Our course has been nearly southwest. Owing to the difficulties in crossing some of the gullies, we made turns in every direction. Travelled sixteen miles. I saw today a high bluff on this creek, which was principally rotten limestone.
November 15th –When we arose this morning we found the weather clear and cold. There was a large frost on the ground. The sun rose full in her might. We left camp at 8:00. Crossed the creek on which we had encamped and then travelled along the edge of the prairie. Then we turned and travelled due south until we struck some of the head waters of the Neosho. The timber here is a quarter of a mile wide. The bottoms are rich, but never can be tended. The lands we have seen today have been poor, stoney and gravelly. The wind has been very high all day. So much so that it was very unpleasant to travel. Cold also. Some aluminum and silex. I have several pieces of rock put away for my own curiosity.
November 16th, Sunday –After prayers we started, and from our last night’s encampment we pursued generally a due south course until we came to the Neosho, and down it a few miles made camp. We are situated on the eastern banks of this beautiful strea m in a place that is truly romantic. There is in front a wall of solid rock and just behind us the Neosho winds her course. We have a fine pasture for our horses. We are within a few miles of the Osage villages. Mr. Mograine tells me that the meaning of Neosho is good water, “Ne” water, and “osho” good.
He says that it is six days travel to where the buffalo ranges. I killed today an animal that I shall call the prairie badger. (10)
I killed also a prairie hen. This place we have agreed to name the Plains of Marathon. The soil of this little valley is rich. The weather has been pleasant, but owing to the hard winds we had to face yesterday and the fatigues of my watch last night I ha ve been indisposed and unable to enjoy it.
We saw today before us four Indians running with all their might to the patch of woods to our right on the creek. They seemed to be wild. I ascended a mound and beheld the whole country for some distance around, and far away to the west the country rolled off beautifully, and about six miles away I saw a person riding. Stopped at half past four, travelled eighteen miles. Had a long talk with Mr. ___ on the ___. (11) My packhorseman, Tishosho Tushka, is unwell.
November 17th, Monday- -We proceeded the next morning down on the left side of the Neosho and pursued generally a south course. The Neosho is a very beautiful stream, about eighty yards from bank to bank. We crossed it just at the agency, which is sit uated about four hundred yards from the river. The Neosho winds her course to the east and extends up a northwest direction, where we see nothing but the hills and heavens meeting.
There are at this place upwards of two hundred Osages, whose wigwams I shall not forget to describe. The weather today has been pleasant. Saw nothing but a red prairie wolf, smaller than those in the Choctaw lands.
Upon our arrival the Agency runners were sent out for the principal men of the Osages, saying that our object in coming here was partly to hold with them a talk of importance, to make peace: to put an end to the enmity that has so long existed between the m and the Choctaws. The runners (as they are so called in this country) left the agency at half past 4:00 and one of them returned a quarter before 7:00, after running at least forty-five miles. Wonderful for man. Man is more than a horse. Visited in the evening Major Hamtramck, the agent of this nation.
November 18th- -This morning walked a few paces up the river and came to a high cliff in which I found a strata of coal stone of two inches breadth that extends along for twenty- five yards. This stone has been tried, and has proven to be good. I have been informed that on the Neosho there are large quantities of alum, in a crystallized state, and that on one of its streams has been found lead in large quantities.
Visited today Mr. Pixley, (12) a missionary who has given me considerable knowledge respecting the Osages, which I shall try to put in my book. Wrote a few words of the Osage language. Read several chapter s in the Bible in Genesis and then slept awhile. The manner of Osages in burying the dead is to place them about eighteen inches under ground, covering them over with stone sometimes three or four feet above the level of the earth.
This has been a pleasant day but spent in doing nothing, owing to the non-attendance of the White Hair,(13) whom we are desirous to see and talk with.
November 20th –Our course from the Agency was a little east of south. Proceeded over a rolling country. Came to the White Hair’s village. The White Hair’s village is situated on the west bank of the Neosho a quarter of a mile from the prairie. Soon a fter our arrival we had a council, and talked with the principal man of the Osages on the subject of making peace. Growing late, we smoked the pipe of peace and then returned to our camps.
The weather cold. At night the wind rose and with it we had some snow that covered the ground.
November 21st- -This morning the wind not very high and very cold. At 12:00 we were invited to take dinner with Pretty Bird. (14) He is their great man in war, and the orator in council. His house is a quarter of a mile from the village in an open prairie. Pretty Bird’s fare was boiled buffalo which was to me delicious, being the first that I ever ate. The Little Bird spoke and said that what he gave us was such as he ate, and that it was the best he had, if he had better he would have given it us, etc, etc. We then were invited to dine with White Hair. He said what he gave us was the best he had, which was what the Choctaws call Tamfulla, and it was good. I had been wishing for some of it since I left the Nation. (15)
At 2:00 we renewed our talks. Major Colbert first spoke and made a lengthy speech. Then Amulbby. After he finished, the Choctaws spoke again. Red Dog first, and secondly Kincaid, and lastly I made the farewell speech. I interpreted for Red Dog and Kincaid . When we concluded it was dark, half past 7 o’clock. I am much pleased with the Osages. They are larger than any persons of any other nation that I am acquainted with in size of body. They are generally tall and lean in flesh.
- PETER P. PITCHLYNN: TALK TO THE OSAGES
I am happy to see you. I have travelled a long road. I first came to St. Louis and there saw General Clark, the great friend of the red man. The Choctaws had seen him before, and they were very proud when they saw him. To St. Louis we travelled up the Mis sissippi River in a boat that went by fire. We were seven days on the river. From that place we travelled towards the west, and without any difficult, we at length reached the Shawnee Village, near which we spent five days. We talked with them as friends and brothers, smoked together and ate together. From the Shawnees we then turned and have now made our camps on the banks of the Neosho, within the center of your villages, and have for the first time taken you by the hand, and had the pleasure of seeing you in person with my own eyes. It was the wish of my greatest chief and all the head men of the Choctaws that I should see you, and I am really glad that this day has at length come when the Osages and the Choctaws should meet, shake hands and talk to ea ch other. It is a fact that our nations have been at times in enmity with each other, and like men and warriors made the ground red with each other’s blood whenever they saw each other. The Choctaws are thought to be the largest nation of red people in th e United States and they, like other red men, love war, but we have been told by our Great Father, the President, to be at peace with all nations, and teach our young men how to work, and advise them to pursue the ways of the white man. Believing this to be true and the best way for ourselves and the generation to come, the Choctaws now have laid by everything like war, and wish to be at peace with all nations, and particularly the nations of red people. And now we offer you our hands and with it you have our hearts and friendship. And from this day let us be friends. Let that great light, that shines on all nations never again witness any more of war between the Choctaws and the Osages. Let our paths be in future paths of peace.(16)
November 22nd- -Set out this morning from White Hair’s village for Fort Gibson at fifteen minutes past 10 o’clock. We proceeded this morning over rolling country and soon struck timber, and crossed a creek that is twenty yards wide. It is called th e Beast. (17) The soil today has been middlin good. Travelled twenty-five miles.
November 23rd- -Set out this morning at twenty-five minutes past 8:00. The wind rose and it blew all day tremendously. Our eyes suffer very much. Blew off our hats very frequently, and carried them a quarter of a mile before we could overtake them. As we ascended the banks, the country to our left was rolling at a distance. On our right was the timber on the creek. After travelling several miles we crossed again the creek on which we had camped. There we saw a solid bed of the coal stone, which seemed to be of the best quality. At times today we saw no timber on our right or left. From here we entered the Cherokee lands, passing down into a valley where there is a considerable quantity of sandstone. The timber about here is blackjack pin oak. Camped i n the evening on the east side of a creek (a tributary of the Neosho.) I went a mile along in its bed and saw quantities of coal stone. In the evening the wind became low.
November 24th- -Saw a patch of cane today, the first I have seen since my departure from home, and a fine grove of timber–more than any I have seen since I left the Osages. We passed over the relics of an old Indian town three miles in length and two in breadth, then crossed several tributaries of the Neosho and at length, after dark, reached Shotoes. (18) Travelled thirty-six miles.
November 26th- -Started from camp at a few minutes before 8:00, travelled over a mile and reached Union Mission. It rained and the wind blew. In the evening we reached the Creek Agency,(19) and camped one mile below on the banks of the Verdigris. The country over which we passed today is very broken and rocky.
November 27th- -I have today done nothing but confined myself upon my back. I wrote a letter to Father, had my horse shod.
We left our encampment at the Shawnee village on the 8th and proceeded southwest exploring the lands between the Kansas and Osage Nations, and all I can say of that portion of the world is that it is good for nothing and never will be, for it is all prair ie and nothing but rock and gravel. A tree in that country is a perfect curiosity. The buffalo is still three hundred miles west of that country, and as to deer we never saw none at all, nor any kind of game whatever. The land is generally poor. Notwithst anding that these things are all true, the white people with us have been presumptuous enough to tell us that it is a fine country.
We saw the Kansas Indians, and I know you never saw such people in your life. Their manners and action are wild in the extreme. They are in a perfect state of nature and would be a curiosity to any civilized man. Their dress consists only of leather leggi ns, moccasins, and a buffalo robe wrapped around their body. Their heads are trimmed close all over except on the back, where a small patch is left and plaited into two pieces. The women also had on leggins and moccasins and nothing more about them than a buffalo robe. Their hair is left to grow long and hang promiscuously over their shoulders. It is said they go perfectly naked in the summer. The Kansas Indians are no doubt a part of the Osages, as they speak the same language.
Without giving you a journal of our travels, I shall tell you something about the Osages. Upon our arrival at their agency we found nobody but a few old men and women. The warriors and principal men were all out hunting, but immediately runners were sent and before twelve o’clock the next day several of them came in, White Hair excepted, who is their Principal Chief. We waited for him two days. At length the company concluded to proceed down to his village, and just as we reached his place of residence, h e also arrived and soon we commenced our talk. Before sun set we made a white road and buried forever the tomahawk. At night the wind blew tremendously. With it came snow and by the morning the ground was covered, a white road sure enough, but we spent an other day with them, talking and eating.
Peace and harmony will be between the Choctaws and Osages in the future. One of the most influential characters of the Osages have come with us and is with us now, but he will return back home from here. (20) He is called Pretty Bird and is the greatest man by nature the Osages have. He is their principal man in war, and in council he is their orator. He is truly a great man. From the Osages we travelled south, coming through part of the Cherokee lands, and at length have reached the Creek Agents on the Verdigris. We are five miles above Fort Gibson and sixty above Fort Smith. We expect to be here two or three days to recruit our horses, and then will strike for the Canadian.
I have enjoyed very good health, and I do wish you not to feel the least uneasy about me. Tell mother that I came very near getting married to a half-breed Osage, a very pretty young woman and that I am yet in love with very strongly.
I do not expect to go home with the company. I shall stay behind and go home by water. You must not expect me before March. Kincaid will get home probably in January. You must tell his family all the news I have written. He has enjoyed good health without a day’s exception. Present my love to Mother, Brothers, and Sisters, and to all who may inquire after me.
November 28th- -Spent the day principally in writing. In the evening I visited the Creek camps and saw them dance. I am extremely sorry to find people of my own color (Indians) so full of vice as I have found the Creeks are. There is no distinction between them and the Negroes within themselves. They mingle together in society upon terms of equality. There are among them a great many mixed breeds and some of them are influential characters. (21) The Negro men, it seemed to me, were the head managers of the dance. In fact, I have seen no Indian men dancing. They were Negro men and Indian women. Two hundred thirty Cree ks arrived today from the old Nation, and have just crossed the Verdigris and are camped on the opposite banks. Colonel Brearly (22) is their Agent. The women of the Creeks are very lewd.
November 29th- -I did not get up very well this morning, and I yet feel not so very well. Mr. Richard Fields of the Cherokees (Old Nation) came to my camp, and we have become acquainted. He is a half-breed, and is quite intelligent and a young man of steady habits. He seems to have strong feelings of attachment for his old country, and have not that sanguine opinion of the new country I find with many of the Creeks. I find the Creeks generally pleased with the country. The Verdigris here is about one hundred twenty yards wide, with tolerably high banks on both sides. There is more timber here than I have seen since I left the Shawnees. I have been told that between this river and the Arkansas, the Creek lands are pretty good. Prairies not so large as those the way we came. Since we have been here, the weather has been good.
Major Colbert’s horse being lost, we are detained, and have not left here today.
At sundown I got on my horse and rode over to the Creek village, where they were dancing. I joined with them in three reels and then came off. Just upon my arrival, an old woman died within twenty steps of the place where they had made arrangements to hav e the dance, owing to which the party moved their dance three hundred yards away. This proves that these people are so full of vice that they regard not the death of their nearest neighbor. The dance was carried on near where McIntosh (23) resides.
November 30th- -Owing to my ramble last night over to the Creek village, I feel drowsy this morning, yet am well. The sun rose this morning beautifully, and the weather is really very pleasant. Everything seems to rejoice. The birds are singing their harmonious notes, the heavens are without a threat of a cloud. This morning Pretty Bird came to my tent and took with me breakfast, after which we were requested to go to the Reverend Dr. McCoy’s tent to receive the benefits of a prayer. At 10:00 we set out from camp and took the road to the fort, crossing a beautiful creek, near which some new cabins had been erected by the Creeks. The lands between the Creek agency and Fort Gibson is good in places.
After crossing the river we went down by the fort and camped below it a mile and a half. I went out in the evening and took a hunt. I had not gone far when I was compelled to forsake my course on account of a large lake. I crossed at where it made a neck on a log, and went down several miles. By this time dark was approaching. I hurried to get back but met difficulties in the cane and bushes.(24) However I took everything patientl y and pursued my course towards camp. I reached camp at 9:00. The company laughed at me and said I was lost. There is here plenty of cane. It is only three and a half miles between the mouth of the Neosho and the Verdigris. The lands about here are rich, the timber in abundance.
December 1st- -This day has been spent by me in an idle way. The only thing I have done is go up to the garrison and get me two bottles of liquor. Slept and thought of my friends at home. Little wind stirring. Weather pleasant. Just at sunset I loaded up my gun and stepped out, and before I had gone two hundred yards I saw a prairie wolf, which I shot and killed–the second that I have killed in this country. Pretty Bird, the Osage chief, left us and returned home today. I made a short address at his departure.
December 2nd –We left camp at 9:00 and proceeded for the Canadian. The morning was windy and cloudy, much of the appearance of rain. We travelled from camp a southwest course and went through a large cane brake, say two miles in breadth before we rea ched the Arkansas. The cane here is not large, such as on the Tombigbee, but thick. We forded the river. The Arkansas is a quarter of a mile in breadth, with sandy banks, and bottom. The water is turbid. Soon after crossing we entered the prairie where th e wind blew intolerably high–the country was rolling, and at a distance to our left we saw high hills covered with timber in places. The soil in some places was middlin good. This country is too scarce of timber to be inviting. Killed another prairie wol f, and one turkey. Kincaid also killed a turkey. At 12:00 in the night came on a shower of rain and continued raining till day.
December 3rd –The weather cold and cloudy. The soil in no place today was good. Camped on the banks of the north fork of the Canadian. To our right we saw mountains, robed with scrubby timber. The waters we see in this country generally turbid. Saw t oday buffalo sign. Killed a large buck. Duncan and McTish bantered me and Kincaid that they could kill more game than we could. The bet was a bottle of wine, which we won. I hauled out today my bottle of whiskey, and Kincaid and I drank a health to our fr iends at home.
December 5th –I got separated from the company and was alone. I travelled till night, struck camp, and just as I laid down I heard guns at camp. I started out and first came to a Cherokee camp and got one of them to pilot me to our camp. Twas after 9 :00 when I got to camp. I saw today no good lands. The country is mountainous.
December 6th –Kincaid and myself started together and got on buffalo sign and followed them into the mountains, and by some way we became separated, and I have ever since been trying to get on the trail of the company, but have not. I am now camped o n the banks of the Canadian, got poor Sambo tied to a tree, but he has plenty cane by him, and will do well enough. I saw no buffalo, but some bear sign.
December 7th –During last night the weather became clear and cold. Stars decorated the heavens. Sometime before day it again became cloudy, and great appearance of rain. At daylight I again mounted my horse, and pursued my way back the way I came. Ab out 8:00 I came on the trail of my company, having passed over it somehow yesterday. I pursued all day before I got up with the company. The Choctaw lands are generally poor and unfit for cultivation, no springs. The timber principally post oak and blackj ack.
I was sorry when I came up with my company to find that our leader, Captain Kennerly, had left us. He is in my opinion a gentleman. His conduct towards the delegations has been that which I would expect from a man of good principals and right opinions. Mr . McCoy is a missionary to the Potawattomies and has been leader to our parties, but he is, upon examination, rather superficial in his opinion of things. It seems to be his object to concentrate all the Indian nations within the limits of the United Stat es over on the western side of the Mississippi. (25)
December 9th- -We reached this morning the Choctaw agency at about 10:00, and camped by it. In the evening we visited the agent and had a talk. Weather cloudy and drizzling rain. I had the pleasure this morning of seeing my Uncle Edmund Folsom (26) and his son Peter, who I am as proud to see as any person in all my acquaintance. Peter has made considerable improvement and speaks good English. The agent has a healthy loo king situation for his residence, but not rich.
December 10th –The first thing I did this morning was write a letter to Father. Took breakfast with Major McClellan (27) after which we left his place and travelled on for Fort Smith on the river on our way to which we crossed the Poteau River on which are valuable lands, in my opinion. The com pany passed by the fort and have camped a mile below it. This fort is vacant and rapidly on the way to destruction. (28) It is situated on the eastern banks of a rugged bluff, immediately at the mouth of the Poteau. This place is undoubtedly a very sickly place. Around there I see Cherokees, Cr eeks and a Choctaw drinking. The weather cloudy and warm.
December 11th –I was sorry this morning my friend and uncle Kincaid left me and has gone home. I am now in a manner alone except my friend–is here with me. L—this morning got drunk and commenced a quarrel with me. (29) I am sorry also at parting with my Chickasaw friends and brothers. They left here a few minutes before Captain Kincaid. I looked at the guns and brass kettles at this place i ntended for the Choctaws that may immigrate to this country. I was invited by my relation Mr. Smith (30) to visit Capt. John Rogers, Chief to the Cherokees, (31) whom I am now with. I find him an intelligent man with a strong mind.
December 12th –Left Captain Rogers this morning and crossed over back the Arkansas in company with my cousin Mr. Smith and Garland Lincecum. Stayed a few minutes at Fort Smith. Went down to Mr. Morse’s a few hundred yards below the fort on the ban ks of the river, and was introduced to the landlady and her daughter, a pert little girl and right pretty too. From thence we went up to Uncle Folsom’s place and stayed all night with him.
December 13th –Uncle Folsom and his son Peter, Garland Lincecum, and myself set out this morning for the Choctaw Agency. When we came to the Poteau we found her rising and already unfordable. We went to where there was a ferry and crossed. A mountain to our left called the Sugar Loaf projected up into the clouds, wrapped in a blue mist that gave it a dreary and mournful appearance. It was ten miles off. We reached the agents at about 3:00.
December 14th –Returned to the Fort again, where I have met Mr. Smith. He and I went to a place where some Cherokees were dancing. While I was there, I was promised a wife. I did not accept her. In the night the weather cleared off and a heavy frost fell.
December 17th –Took dinner with Capt. Dodge (32) and proceeded on to Uncle Folsom’s, reaching there at sunset. The weather this evening has turned quite cool. Some appearance of snow. Saw some very good lands on the Cheroke e side. (33) Old Mr. Rogers’ place is twelve miles above the fort, and is situated immediately on a bluff on the Arkansas River. He has rich lands about where he lives.
There are signs here of an old field. From accounts French traders once lived here.
December 19th –Peter and the old Choctaw and I and some Delaware started today with a gang of dogs into the fork of the Poteau, a bear hunting. (34) After rambling nearly all day in the thick cane, we got home much wearied, but with no game. In the morning I started back to Ft. Smith and on my way I found three deer and killed them. Upon examination, they were all pet deer.
December 20th –Confined all day in bed with the dysentery, with which I was very unwell. Did nothing but read a letter.
December 23rd –In the evening the old Choctaw sent me word to go and see him. I did so, and we had a long talk about the Delawares. He said that the Delaware wished to remain this winter and next summer on the Choctaw lands and that he was much oppos ed to such a thing. I told him that it was also against my will and that I would if possible have them removed. We finished our talk at sunset and I returned home to Folsom’s.
December 24th –Received an invitation from Capt. Dodge to attend at his house a ball to be held on the evening. Uncle Edmund, Peter and I started to it, got there at sunset. I partook in it with some degree of satisfaction.
December 25th –On this day, was it that the Saviour of mankind was born? A day held sacred by all who feel the love of him, and why is it that the day is spent in dissipation, when everyone ought to commemorate it in the most solemn manner.
O how things are changed, from good to bad.
This day I have spent in lounging and resting, for I slept scarcely any last night.
The manners of the people in this country are to me more uncivilized than among the Choctaws. People go to balls without being invited. No regularity in dancing. Everything was dissipation and rowdiness. Among all the girls I did not see but one who had a nything like manners about her.(35)
January 4, 1829 –We left Fort Smith today, the weather very pleasant and agreeable. Uncle Folsom accompanied Peter and me out from the fort ten miles and returned back home. We proceeded on together to the Little Rock.
January 5th –Proceeded on, the weather remarkably pleasant. In our course today we had mountains to our right. Came into piny timbered country. Stayed all night with Mrs. Saddlers, who is indeed a fine woman. Travelled today thirty miles.
January 6th –We made an early start this morning and came on pretty rapidly. Let me not forget to mention that Mrs. Saddlers lives on the banks of the Short Mountain Creek, and has a ferry. The mountains to our right all day, robed with green pine. N othing has pleased my fancy more than the appearance of the mountains. They seemed to possess a magical sight. (36)
After crossing Shoal Creek, we crossed soon after another creek and after leaving its swamp we took a blazed way that led us to Witt’s Ferry. We immediately entered piney timbered country, and oh how sweet it was, the winds softly sighing through the boug hs of the pines. (37) It touched my finer feelings and brought my imagination into a thousand romantic, etc. We crossed the river, and then reached the mission at Dwight Station at sunset. Distanc e today thirty miles. Some appearance of falling weather.
January 7th –This morning when I got up it was cloudy. At 10:00 there came a small drizzling rain. I went to the male school and after hearing lessons from them, made to them a short address. Borrowed ten dollars from Washburn. Took dinner with Mr. W isner. Then came to Hitchcock’s room and wrote a letter to Uncle Folsom.
January 17th –Reached today the Post of Arkansas. (38) Distance twenty-seven miles. Country level. Prairie. Struck the woods within four miles of the town.
January 18th –I am at this time on the banks of the Mississippi waiting in great anxiety for a passage. It is probable I shall get off today. I shall soon be striding once more over the lovely hills and plains of the Choctaws, where I long to be. It is now almost four months since I took leave from home, and during that time I have not had the pleasure but once of hearing from my relations and friends. I have naturally a stronger affection towards my relations, and especially for my parents. I have h ad many a melancholy hour on their account, as I know they have grieved much at my being separated from them.
From the Post we proceeded down as far as Mr. Gondon’s, nine miles below, came to this place in a carriage, paid the driver $4.
January 19th –Bought a skiff. Paid $5 for it, and $2 more to an old Spaniard to row us down. We took the Arkansas to the cut off, thence into the White River, and down that river to a cut off again, passing from the Mississippi into the White River, but it is now dry. Left our vessel and took up by land, to Mr. Montgomery. Reached there late in the evening. Saw a Kentucky fight, (39) the first I have ever seen. This has been a day full of scenery.
January 20th –Spent this day in impatience, on account of no boats coming down.
January 21st –This morning the Car of Commerce arrived, and we embarked. Sailed all day without any accidents.
January 22nd –This morning just at 1:00 we struck a sand bar, and there stuck fast all day.
January 24th —
Peter P. Pitchlynn to “Dear Uncle” (40)
We have just reached Jackson, and we shall have the infinite satisfaction in a few more days of striding once more over the lovely hills and plains of our native country. Never in my life have I been so much put to the test of hardship and trouble as I ha ve been since my departure from Fort Smith. While there I was unfortunate, out of money, and dependent on the generosity of strangers. However, I have got through pretty well, but very sick of traveling, and in a prodigious humor for home. The first setback we got was at Witt’s Ferry. The ferry man would not put us over because we had not money, and so I had to commence to preach to the damn rascal, which made the thing worse, and at last I had to give him my handkerchief (the only one I had) before he wo uld consent to cross us. That evening we reached Dwight, the Missionary Station. We found them extremely polite and friendly to us, and loaned me ten dollars, which helped us considerable, for which I am a thousand times thankful to them. We spent a day w ith them. The time passed off very agreeably, for we were among people that were pretty much like us–the Cherokees who were there at school.
January 27th (41)–Left David Pickens this morning with the intention of taking an exploring expedition up the Arkansas as far as the Pheasant Bluff. The bottoms of the Poteau are in many plac es high and dry, beautifully situated for farming, and well timbered–Spanish oak, hickory of all kinds, hackberry, walnut, puckcorn, and spicewood are the principle growth of the bottoms on this river. This bottom lies between the Arkansas and Poteau, an d is at its greatest width about four miles wide and gets narrower until it comes to a point at the junction of the two rivers a few paces above Fort Smith. There are within this place valuable tracts of land, but the misfortune is that there are no eligi ble places for buildings, and that it would be sickly to live between those rivers. For corn and all kinds of vegetables there are no better lands in the world than those which I have seen today on the Poteau, and it said to be excellent also for cotton.< P>
I walked this evening down to the bottoms on the Arkansas River with Col. McClellan and his nephew Mr. John McClellan and viewed the situation of the lands. The bottoms are fully one mile from this place and exceedingly rich and well situated for farming and with heavy timber. The weather clear. Cold south winds. Mr. Moore is away from home, but I am hospitably accommodated by his lady and family.
January 28th –Along the edge of the bottom there are several places that would be fine to settle on–particularly at the Bear’s Bluff–This would be indeed a beautiful place if it was not for the little mounds (42) that are stuck here and there on it and disfigure it pretty much. Water by digging can no doubt be got here at no considerable distance below–in fact Mr. Moore informed me t hat there was a hole of standing water within two hundred yards of the place. The prairies were, I thought, second-rate land but no doubt will produce well. I saw several licks in the prairie, and there was to be seen in them a scum of salt that appeared very white, pretty much as though meals had been thrown on them. The Casue, where we crossed, was about twenty yards from bank to bank and of a rock bottom. In crossing it, my horse fell two or three times on account of the ice on it. I jumped from off my horse onto the bank and got over without being much wet, but it was with some difficulty that my horse got out.
Saw a gang of turkey today. Shot and killed one, but did not get it. I also shot at a deer and wounded it pretty bad. I also shot at an eagle and at the crack of the gun I saw the feathers fly. I am now encamped in the bottoms of the San Bois by the edge of a cane brake where my horses are faring well. I am seated by a very comfortable fire, and have taken my snack of hunting fare, and do think myself happy, notwithstanding I am now fully six hundred miles from home, and in a wilderness where no one has y et made his abode, and with nothing to be seen but interminable cane brakes, extensive prairies, lofty mountains, with their shaggy tops extending above the clouds, and nothing to be heard but the scream of the night owl and the wolf’s long lonesome howl. I could write more, but it is now late and I will lie down and take my rest.
January 29th,1832 –I awoke, got up this morning an hour and a half before day; after recruiting my fire, I commenced singing and whistling, as I generally do of mornings, but I did not feel as merry as I was when my friend and brother R.M. Jones was with me. My mind, in spite of everything, would turn towards home. I thought of my wife, then came the children, each one in turn.(43) I thought of everything around my long aband oned home. I have certainly thought more of my wife and children this day than any day since I left home. The sun rose this morning in all its splendor and beauty, but it was soon eclipsed by clouds, and the prospect of the day became somewhat gloomy and uncheering. The wind blew from the north raw and cold (as they say in this country) and continued so until evening–the wind has ceased, but there are no stars to be seen and the weather seems as though we shall either have rain or snow.
After taking a hearty breakfast, we caught our horses and made a start about an hour after sunup, and pursued a southwest course to the San Bois Bluff, which I guessed to be about three hundred feet high. From this lofty place I had an extensive view of t he country in every direction. I saw the Sugar Loaf Mountain, extending her peaked top high into the element and the Cavernole stretched along to the south like a heavy cloud on summers day. To the west I could see the wide spreading prairies, and far off mountains that barely lifted their heads above the intervening hills. To the northeast we saw the Arkansas and its sand beaches and, far beyond her, mountains and prairies as far as the eye could reach, but what interested me more than all these, was the great bottoms on the Arkansas, which I could see above and below for a great distance, particularly those between the San Bois and Pheasant Bluff. (44)
After looking about and around this place, I went down along the edge of the bottoms and took up camp in the edge of the cane–here I had some difficulty in getting wood and water. Broke my knife in perforating a hole through the ice to get water in a cre ek. Had turkey for supper. The wolves howled within a hundred yards of my camp all night. Had serious reflections. Dreamt about my wife and children. Killed two turkeys.
January 30th, 1832 –Got up this morning an hour before day, prepared breakfast–roasted a turkey–after eating, took a walk into the bottom. Viewed the lands. Got our horses and started back for Moore’s. My birthday…
At the three forks saw the cane in abundance, and very fine tracts of land, enough for fifty or more families to live on. This is about fifty miles from the agency. Timber good, consisting of black oak, post oak and pretty much as those that grow on the A rkansas Pine at the heads of those streams and on the mountains. Water in the San Bois all year. Deer scarce, buffalo range along here sometimes. Bee trees here are in great abundance. Turkeys are very plentiful at the three forks. Some bear.
September 23, 1837–We left Rush Creek camp (45) yesterday morning at about 7:00 and proceeded on our route westward–and encamped in the point of timber that made into this prairie which we have named Buffalo Prairie. It i s the first large prairie after leaving Washita Prairie. The road runs along on the dividing ridge between the Red and Washita rivers and is a crooked route, but the only one that can be traveled well–for on either side it is a rough and brushy country. We had some very grand views of the country on both sides of the road from the high knobs on the ridge. On arriving here, we found a camp of whites, and to us an interesting one. They had been prisoners among the Pawnees–a young woman about twenty-one years of age and her infant and two little brothers–one about nine years old and the other about seven. Fortunately they had been bought by Mr. Spaulding and were on their way home under his protection. We asked the young lady many questions respecting her captivity and her narrative was as follows:
“We moved to Texas from north part of Alabama, and settled high up on the Colorado. (46) My father’s name was Goachy. The Pawnees came to our house one morning. Three of my little brothers were at the spring with my child (a girl), there they killed one of my lit tle brothers, and then came to the house. I was in the house and my mother was out–I heard her scream. When I ran out I saw several Indians had hold of her–they struck her down and shot eight arrows into her breast and then shot her with a gun and scalp ed her.
My father and my oldest brother were out, with a wagon to haul in wood. I saw them killed. They shot at me but missed me. Seeing they had my infant and two little brothers prisoners, I ran to one of them and gave myself up. I done this hoping they might n ot kill me and that if I should live I might see what became of my babe and little brothers. They stripped me of my clothes and gave me an old worn out blanket to cover my nakedness and to screen my babe from the weather, and made me walk bare footed thro ugh the prairies. We were three weeks on the road, and every night my hands were tied behind together. When I came in they made me and my little brothers hold the scalps of my mother and father and two brothers, while they danced around us and mocked at u s. We were then divided out–my babe taken from me and I did not see her for two months.”
When she was thus telling about her infant she hugged and kissed the little child with a mournful look, often calling it by many lovely epithets. She then renewed her narrative:
“I was put to hard work. They were clearing ground and I had to grub and burn brush. I was abused and whipped every day. Oh, I tell you they are hard masters. But there was nothing that went so hard with me as that of being separated from my child. I knew not where it was, but I know it was not well treated. I can’t tell you the half of my sufferings.
I then spoke to her little brother, the eldest one, and asked him how he was treated. His answer was, “bad enough, and the worst of it, I was two months longer among them than the rest.”
“What did they give you to eat?”
“Beans and corn, it was all they had, but we did not have enough of that, for sometimes we ate
but once in three days, and then did not get enough.”
I asked him how he would like to live among such Indians as we were. He quickly replied, “Very well.” He is a smart lively boy. In fact the whole family have the appearance of being well raised, and how fortunate they have been after being cast away as it were by fate to thus be redeemed and have the prospect of now being in the society of their own people again. Relations they have none. The young woman had a languid and melancholy cast, the little boys looked like poor orphans indeed. I did no t learn as much about their fate as I wished to. But certainly I never felt more sympathy for any family than this family of prisoners.
From what I have learned from this family I am of the opinion that the Ta we ash or Pawnees as they are sometimes called are the most cruel Indians to prisoners than any tribe with which I am acquainted. It is the custom of all the Indians east of Mississ ippi to adopt prisoners into their family and to treat them with affection. They–the prisoners and Spaulding–left here today at about 11:00.
We turned out nearly all hands early this morning for a buffalo chase–two fine ones were killed. I saw today for the first time the antelope and also the prairie rabbit the two most fleet animals in this region. The prairie rabbit is very large, about th ree times as large as the swamp rabbit. The antelope is a beautiful animal at a distance. I know not how they look, but I am in hopes I will kill one before I return, and shall be able to describe it minutely. They are exceedingly wild, but I have had a s hot at one today, a large buck, but missed him. The sun was low, and I had to shoot right towards it. Late in the evening I rode to the north part of this prairie and had a glorious view of the bald hills beyond the Washita.
4 This was the famous Shawnee medicine man Tenskwatawa or The Open Door, who in 1805 had received in a trance the revelations and doctrines which inspired his brother Tecumseh’s vision of a great western and southern Indian confederacy. The Prophet and a body of his converts were attacked and defeated by General Wilham H. Harrison at Tippecanoe in 1811, while Tecumseh himself, with the approval of the British, was in the South trying to incite an Indian uprising against the United States—and finding his efforts among the Choctaws defeated by the influence of John Pitchlynn, the diarist’s father. After the War of 1812 The Prophet lived in Canada on a Bntish pension until 1826 when he rejoined his tnbe in Ohio. In 1827 he moved with his band to Cape Girardeau, Missoun, and in 1828 to the Shawnee reservation in western Kansas, where we are now meeting him, thoroughly chastened. He died in 1837.
6 This was Sunday. McCoy held a prayer service every Sunday. He wanted to dispense with travelling on the Sabbath but “a company of forty men, anxious to get out of the wilderness, few of whom have any religious regard for the Sabbath, cannot be persuaded . . . to rest for conscience sake.” (McCoy p. 354)
11 Probably a long talk with Mr. McCoy about the Bible. McCoy describes such encounters: “Among the [members of the southern delegation] was Peter P. Pitchlynn, a Choctaw; though not a professor of religion, he frequently borrowed my small bible to read, which I afterwards presented to him. I had much interesting conversation with him. At one time he inquired how it happened that Christians differed so much in opinion, when each sect appealed to the Scriptures for proof of its doctnnes. I endeavored to account for it satisfactorily to him, by the proneness of man to err; . . . man is averse to that which is right, and under the influence of this aversion, because truth is uncongenial with his evil disposition, he mistakes error for truth…” (McCoy, p. 355)
12 McCoy reports that the missionary Benton Pixley and the Indian Agent John F. Hamtramck “were at wide variance,” partly because the missionary was too demanding and impatient, and too ready to “administer reproof.” The missionary was forced to retire by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, ? and the agent “continued in office but a short time.”
15 McCoy reports a contretemps during these peacemaking feshvities Some of the Choctaws apparently requested one of the Osage scalps as a gift. The Osage gave them one and pronounced in a speech that according to custom now the Choctaw, who would soon be their neighbors, were now also their allies in war, having received one of their scalps. “This turn of the affair was as unwelcome as it was unexpected to the Choctaws, who made no reply.” (McCoy, p. 358)
16 Recalling this speech later, Pitchlynn dramatized it, saying that the Osage were showing signs of their ancient enmity for the Choctaw and only a slashing oration by him prevented trouble. (“Peter Pitchlynn,n AtlanSc Monthly, April, 18708) In his biography of Pitchlynn, (Oklahoma, 1972), W. David Baird overcorrects the exaggeration by implying that Pitchlynn made no speech at all. As evidence he cites the fact that McCoy didn’t describe any such speech and that McCoy deemed the “civilized and half-civilized Indians as less eloquent than the Western Indians.n
17 Labette Creek, from the French La Bete. The party was apparently travelEng down the road from the Osage agency to the Creek agency and Fort Gibson. Fort Gibson, near the present Muskogee, was among the several new military encampments set up to keep the peace in the west and supervise the Removal. Built four years before, it was just inside the territorial boundaries of the later Creek Nation, on the border of the Cherokee Nation, 120 miles upstream on the Arkansas River from Fort Smith. The party is now moving out into thinly inhabited territory. The few settlers here are from small groups of Southeastern Indians who had moved early to the new territory.
21 Disagreement about the relative social status of Negroes was an ongoing problem between the Five Tribes, with the Creeks and Seminoles typically either making fewer distinctions or allowing the Negroes more authority than was typically deemed proper by Choctaws and Cherokees. The Creeks were sometimes called “The Breedsn because of their apparent high level of intermarnage.
23 The newly arrived Creeks were Chilly Mclntosh’s followers. The Creek members of the exploring party would remain here with the Mclntosh group of fellow tribesmen, then depart back to the East with a letter from Mclntosh inviting those still in the East to come to the new country.
24 The Arkansas bottoms were wide here and the switch cane extraordinarily thick. This small cane was about half the size of the sometimes twenty-foot tall giant Southern cane that grew on the Tombigbee River in Mississippi. The frequency with which Pitchlynn notes the presence or absence of cane reflects its importance in the economy of the Southeastern Indians. It was employed in making baskets, mats, furniture, and shelters, among many other uses, as well as providing winter protechon and forage for livestock.
25 The splitting up of the party is the occasion for Pitchlynn’s summary comments on the two leaders. In his official report, McCoy states that after having been in the new Choctaw country for only two days, the parties were now splitting up. The two Southern delegations were expected at that time to proceed to Fort Smith, but some of them wanted to remain a while longer to hunt and better acquaint themselves with the country. Captain Kennerly, Lieutenant Hood, Mr. Bell, Dr. Todson and McCoy proceeded back through Fort Gibson and reached St. Louis on the 24th of December.
28 Fort Smith was established in 1817 and occupied until Fort Gibson was built in 1824. No troops were stationed there between 1824 and 1833. The abandoned stockade-style fort stood near the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, within sight of the new Choctaw lands.
34 Small bands of Delaware hunters had for years roamed at will over the present Oklahoma, but the immigrant tnbes objected to the depletion of their dwindhng supply of game, and by 1835 most of the Delaware had been gathered on a reservation in Kansas. The “Old Choctaw” is not identified.
36 Pitchlynn was travelling along the base of the great southern wall of the Arkansas River valley, a series of peaks dominated by the huge bulk of Magazine Mountain, the highest elevation in Arkansas and a conspicuous land mass. Nuttall had described it as “a magnificent empurpled mountain.”
38 Arkansas Post was the first white settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley; Tonty, a lieutenant of LaSalle, had founded a trading post there in 1686. It was located about seventy-three miles southeast of Little Rock. In November, 1832, Washington Irving stopped there briefly and found it to be a “decayed, ruinous place.”
Little Rock at this time was the capital and the only incorporated city in Arkansas. It was a town of several hundred inhabitants with something over one hundred buildings. The era of steamboats had been going for a decade and about one boat a week hazarded the journey to Little Rock.
Thomas Nuttall reported that “all inhabitants beyond Arkansas Post could be classed only as renegades fleeing from society.” Another traveller stated flatly in 1826 that the citizens of Little Rock were “the dregs of Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana. ”
41 It is three years since the exploring expedition. Since then, Pitchlynn aligned himself with the forces against removal, and was elected a chief of the Northeastern District on the platform of opposing removal. However, President Jackson refused to recognize the new chiefs and forced them to step down. After a series of maneuvers by the War Department, opposition to removal finally collapsed. By October of 1831, 4,000 Choctaws began to gather in their districts for the more than five hundred mile journey.
The decision was made to separate the groups so that no single place would get too crowded .
The removal was cursed by the worst blizzard in memory in the Southwest. Because of conflicting directives, a total of 2,500 Choctaws ended up deposited at Arkansas Post instead of going on to Little Rock as the original instructions had specified. Captain Brown at Arkansas Post had only sixty tents, and the Indians were forced to huddle together in open camps and suffer through the bitter cold of the storm. The supply of food was inadequate. Captain Brown wrote, “This unexpected cold weather must produce much human suffering. Our poor emigrants, many of them quite naked, and without much shelter, must suffer, it is impossible to do otherwise; and my great fears are that many of them will get frosted.” There were few blankets, shoes, or winter clothes available. Most of the children were barefoot and naked in zero-degree weather.
Removal officials, trying to alleviate these conditions, took many emigrants overland the 350 miles to their destination. The roads were in bad shape, and travel was slow, fifteen miles being considered a “good day.” The weather continued to curse the group, with
I rain nearly every day in February, exacerbating the condition of the roads. Five months after the first groups gathered in Mississippi, the removal was finally completed, with emigrants sick, exhausted, and discouraged. All on-the-scene accounts praised the actions of the removal agents themselves, who acted with resourcefulness and compassion, doing their best in nearly impossible circumstances.
Pitchlynn’s party, about five hundred in number, went by wagon to Memphis, thence by the steamer Brandywine to the mouth of the White River, thence to Arkansas Post, and, finally, in late January, on to Fort Smith by the steamer Reindeer. Pitchlynn himself reached Fort Smith ahead of the main party. He had either left the main party after crossing the river in Memphis or left them after remaining a while at Arkansas Post. If he left them at Memphis, he was going overland with the group taking the party’s horses, which reached Little Rock two days ahead of the main party. At the time of these entries, Pitchlynn is moving on to the new lands to explore and select pnme locations for himself and his family, whom he had left in Mississippi until the situation was better settled.
42 One of the principal areas of settlement for the immigrants, in and around the current Spiro, Oklahoma, would prove to be the home of some of the most important mounds in North America. The Spiro mounds, near the Arkansas River, housed an astonishing hoard of jewelry, clothing, baskets, and other sophisticated crafts, testifying to a vast system of trade reaching to the Gulf Coast among Nabve Americans about eight hundred fifty years ago.
The new Choctaw settlement there was called “Skullyville,” after the Choctaw word for “money,” and Pitchlynn and many others would settle in its vicinity.
Interestingly, mounds figured prominently in at least one version of the Choctaw’s creation myth. Another well-known burial mound site in Mississippi, Nanih Waiya, was thought of as “the mother of all Choctaws.”
44 This area would attract a number of Choctaw families. Pheasant Bluff was one of the first trading points in the Choctaw Natjon. It was located about seventeen miles northeast of Stigler, in Haskell County.
45 This hunting-trip incident occurred five years after removal. Rush Creek was in the newly created Chickasaw Nation, near Paul’s Valley, to the west of the Choctaw Nation. Pitchlynn himself was among the Choctaw counsellors who signed the document within this same year (1837) ceding western lands of the Choctaw Nation to the immigrating Chickasaws.
There were numerous conflicts between the Pawnee and the Choctaw within the new Choctaw Nation. Most of the U.S. military activity in this region originated in efforts to keep the peace between tribes and to protect the immigrating Southeastern tribes. Fort Towson was rebuilt in the Choctaw Nation; a road from Fort Smith through the Choctaw Nation to the Red River was built-the first road in the new Indian Territory; troops were once again stationed at Fort Smith, and, around the time of this incident, a large stone fortress built there to replace the old stockade
As this incident shows, whites were already illegally occupying the Indian Territory.
If you are a student, faculty member, or staff member at an institution whose library subscribes to Project Muse, you can read this piece and the full archives of the Missouri Review for free. Check this list to see if your library is a Project Muse subscriber.
Want to read more?Subscribe Today
SEE THE ISSUE
History as Literature
Sep 01 2001
The Jill-Flirted Mare
“Here she is, Packsaddle Bridge,” Dad announced, and as I looked down through a knothole in the bridge floor I caught a glimpse of a narrow stream far below. “Right down there,” he said, “is where your Uncle Cager lost his team in the quicksand before the bridge went in.”
History as Literature
Sep 01 1999
History as Literature: The Letters of Djuna Barnes and Emily Holmes Coleman (1935-1936)
History as Literature
Sep 01 1996
The Diary Of Lorenzo Greene
At the end of May (1930) Woodson suggested that I take a two-week vacation, then come in and talk with him upon my return. Having completed the study of Negro Employment in the District of Columbia, I aws happy to leave for New York.