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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 2
June, 1927
SOME REMINISCENCES OF THE CHEROKEE PEOPLE

WILEY BRITTON

Page 180

When working as special examiner of the Pension Bureau in the Springfield District, composed of about sixteen counties in Southwest Missouri, and the eastern part of the Cherokee Nation in the winter of 1892-3, the Pension Office sent the writer fifty odd Indian Pension claims based on the military service of as many Indian soldiers of the Third Indian regiment of the Union Indian Brigade for special examination to determine merits of the cases.

The Third Indian regiment was made, up almost entirely of Cherokees and was organized and commanded by Colonel William A. Phillips of Kansas, who also commanded, the Union Indian Brigade from January 1863 to the close of the war. This regiment was organized at Baxter Springs in the summer of 1862, after the retirement of the Indian Expedition from its position on Grand River, west side, some ten miles above Fort Gibson, having forced the Southern Indian troops to the south side of the Arkansas River.

The First and Second regiments of the Union Indian Brigade were nearly all Creeks and Seminoles and had suffered many hardships during the winter of 1861-2, under the old Creek Chief, Hopoeithleyohola, in his many battles with the Southern Indian and Texan forces.

The military service of the Indian soldiers of the Union Indian Brigade was as honorable and as efficient as the service of the, soldiers of the white regiments, and their hardships and losses in the different operations in which they were employed, were as great, and in some instances greater, than the white troops and as uncomplaining.

Gradually as these Indian soldiers grew older and the infirmities of age were increasing, and knowing their rights, under the law, they and their widows and the guardians of their minor children, commenced filing claims for pensions as the ex-Union soldiers were doing.

Page 181

The persons who made out and filed their claims for pension evidently were not familiar with pension law and practice, and the claims sent out to the special examiner were informal, incomplete, and, fell short of meeting the requirements of the Bureau, and the explanations called for to straighten out the tangled conditions, could not be satisfactorily secured by correspondence with attorneys and claimants. In all such cases the claims were sent to the special examiner in the field to call on claimants and witnesses and take their testimony under oath, explaining any contradictions or tangles in a case, so that the Reviewers of the adjudicating divisions would have something tangible to guide them.

In some cases the claims were made out in the Cherokee name of the soldier, and in other cases in the English equivalent, and in the correspondence to straighten out the matter, the claimant sometimes used his Indian name and sometimes its English equivalent. In every case they claim should have been made out in the soldier name as it was borne on the Muster Roll.

The problem of the special examiner was to find these Indian claimants and their witnesses in mid-winter, driving over dim roads with a two-horse buggy driven by a driver unfamiliar with the country.

Where there was difficulty in reaching a claimant or claimants, the special examiner was furnished by the Bureau a form of notice he could send to the claimant to meet him at some designated place, giving date, with his witnesses. The special examiner availed himself of this privilege and made out notices and sent them to each of the Indian claimants in the Cherokee Nation to meet him at a given hotel on a given date Southwest City, on the State line, with their witnesses, naming them, allowing them ten to fifteen days to meet the requirements of the notice. In all these cases the special examiner had the names of the witnesses in each claim.

The notices were timed to have on hand five or six examinations of claimants and witnesses a day, extending over a period of ten days. Arriving at Southwest City on time the special examiner found that the weather had changed to sleet and snow, and felt doubtful as to whether

Page 182

he would have any work or enough to keep him busy; but his doubts were soon dispelled, for the Indian claimants and their witnesses commenced coming in by eleven o’clock, and by the middle of the afternoon a sufficient number had arrived to keep him busy another day.

They came in single file on horseback and made arrangements to stop with Indian friends in town, and the next three or four days probably as many as seventy-five Indian claimants and their witnesses had arrived and kept the special examiner busy from morning until night for a week. After the first day they had increased in such numbers that the special examiner was obliged to give up the lobby in the hotel for the examinations and hire the office of attorney Edge for that purpose.

As nearly all the claimants and witnesses did not speak good English, or did not wish to, the special examiner was obliged to employ an interpreter, a Mr. -name not recalled, a white man who had lived with the Indians all his life, a fiddler who was represented as generally leading in the ceremonies of the green corn dances, or celebrations.

It appeared that some of these Indian claimants and witnesses had come from as far south as Tahlequah, despite the inclement weather; but it enabled the special examiner to take down the testimony and finish up about fifty cases in less than ten days, a feat which would have required at least a month to accomplish had he been obliged to travel by team and examine each of the claimants and their witnesses in their homes.

Why do I mention this incident? I mention it because I was impressed that the Cherokee people Have such a strong sense, of duty and obligation that they will not allow any sacrifice or hardship, to stand in the way of the performance of what they conceive to be an obligation or duty. This feature of their lives seems to be a characteristic of the Cherokee people, a characteristic that no civilization can improve. With all our boasted civilization we have much to learn from the Red Man, particularly the Cherokee people.

But this incident was not all my acquaintance with the Cherokee, people. In January 1863, after the battle of Prairie Grove, a battalion of our regiment, the Sixth Kansas

Page 183

Cavalry, was assigned to accompany the newly formed Union Indian Brigade to the Indian Territory, when the Federal forces were re-organized at Elm Springs for further operations. We participated with the Union Indian Brigade that winter in all the military operations from Elk Mills to the Arkansas River, and in April 1863, some of the Sixth rode with the advance in the capture, of Fort Gibson. Soon after the capture of the place Colonel Phillips commenced to fortify it, and under his instructions I made the first detail of men from our battalion to work on the fortifications. I recall very distinctly Long John of the Seminoles appearing with his details of men from the First and Second Indian regiments to work on the fortifications. He must have been fully six feet and a half tall.

The writer was brought up at Neosho, Missouri, about sixteen miles from the Cherokee Nation and attended school there up to the war, and recalls that several Cherokee girls, perhaps of the Alberta family, attended the same school.

In the counties bordering on the Cherokee Nation the dealings of the citizens with the Cherokee people were almost as cordial and unrestricted as among the people of the state.

On several occasions when the seasons were unfavorable in the Territory to the crops of corn, wheat or oats, members of the Van family came to our farm north of Neosho with fine mule teams and wagons and bought of father corn, wheat, and sheaf oats and loaded their wagons and returned to the Nation, paying for these supplies in gold. Our farm was of a deep, rich soil on Shoal Creek, and our crops of corn, wheat, oats, and hay never failed the dryest years, and the Cherokees in the northern part of the nation always knew that by coming to our place they could get the supplies they wanted.

These Indians were also desirable customers of the merchants at Neosho, for they always had the cash to pay for their purchases. There was too, always a feeling among our people that they were dealing with honorable customers in their transactions with the Cherokees. We also had hunters of the Quapaw tribe visit our neighborhood, the women selling baskets and the men generally offering to exchange part of a venison or wild turkey for flour or meal,

Page 184

or hams or bacon for other items of food that we produced and they didn’t.

When quite small I recall that a Quapaw hunter stopped at our house a cold, snowy day, about the noon hour, to warm, and while sitting before the fire, asking for something to eat and of mother giving him bread and butter and milk, and of him promising to bring her some venison or wild turkey, but he was either unsuccessful in his hunt or forgot about his promised venison or wild turkey. He looked very solemn sitting by the fire and we were afraid of him, having heard dreadful stories of the cruelties of the Indians toward the whites in the early settlement of Kentucky.

WILEY BRITTON.

Kansas City, Kansas,
November, 1926.

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