BY CAROLYN THOMAS FOREMAN
There is living in Muskogee a Cherokee citizen in whose body flows the proud blood of the Ross, Coodey, and Fields families. As a rule the Cherokee are very clannish, probably inheriting this trait from the Scotch with whom they were largely intermarried, so that one member of the nation is likely to be related to several other Cherokee families and almost any Cherokee is cousin to any other Cherokee one may mention.
Ella Flora Coodey Robinson was born in the Cherokee Nation on April 28, 1847, on her parents’ homestead, about six miles east of where Muskogee is located, and having lived for eighty-two years in this country she has seen her birthplace develop from a wilderness to a prosperous and progressive state.
Her father was the distinguished William Shorey Coodey who rendered valuable service for his nation in its contacts with the United States government. He was born near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and received the rudiments of his education in the schools of that state. While he was largely a self-made man his letters preserved in the archives of the Indian Office in Washington show him to have had a good brain and the power to express himself clearly and logically. He was the son of Joseph Coodey a half-blood Cherokee who was born in Virginia and lived in Tennessee where he married Jane Ross the eldest sister of Chief John Ross. Mr. Coodey, who owned and operated a grist mill, lived on the old stagecoach road leading from Tahlequah to Fort Gibson. When he and his wife died and were laid to rest beside the Arkansas, Mr. Coodey wore to his grave the Masonic pin which had been given him by the lodge in Tahlequah of which he was a member. Mrs. Coodey died on Thursday, September 12, 1844, at the age of fifty-seven years, three months and one day.
Mrs. Robinson’s mother was Elizabeth Fields the daughter of Richard Fields, a Cherokee citizen of Alabama
and Lydia Shorey Fields (the daughter of William Shorey) who died leaving four children, two sons and two young daughters. Elizabeth Fields was born near Guntersville,2 in northern Alabama and when she was twelve her father placed her and her younger sister Amanda in school in Keene, New Hampshire. They were under the care of a Mr. and Mrs. Parker and Elizabeth remained with them six years. The girls received a liberal education and an army officer who visited in the home of Mr. Fields in Indian Territory after his daughters had returned from school relates that one of them was very fair and a beauty while both were vivacious.
Mr. Fields was a merchant and he made frequent journeys to Philadelphia to purchase stock for his store. Here he met and took for his second wife Henrietta Ridgeway who is said to have been twenty-seven at that time but who was described as looking about twenty-two or twenty-three by General Ethan Allen Hitchcock when he visited in the Fields home in 1841. Mr. Fields had a large two story house near Menard Bayou, east of Fort Gibson. Mr. Coodey was sixteen years older than Miss Fields and her parents objected to the marriage on that account. The suitor and his sweetheart took matters into their own hands and one day drove to Park Hill where they were married by the Rev. Stephen Foreman.
The Fields family had the reputation of being the handsomest and laziest family in the nation, the laziness being attributed to the fact that they were great book lovers and indulged this taste in preference to manual labor. Amanda Fields, like many other Cherokee girls was sought after by young army officers stationed at Fort Gibson, and was married to Delos B. Sackett who was afterward brevet major general and Inspector General of the United States Army.
Mrs. Robinson’s aunt Flora McDonald Coodey became the wife of Lieutenant Daniel H. Rucker. She was only seventeen at the time of her marriage and is said to have been
2Guntersville, Marshall County, Alabama, was formerly called Creek Path. It was later known as Gunter’s Landing and was named for John Gunter, a mixed blood Cherokee. Hodge, Frederick Webb, Handbook of American Indians (Washington) 1912, p. 382.
such a beauty that she caused the young lieutenant to forget that he was already engaged to marry the daughter of a fellow officer. Mrs. Rucker died four years later leaving a son named Ross who died about the beginning of the Civil War, and a daughter Louise who spent most of her life in Washington. D. C. Rucker’s second wife was Irene Curtis, a granddaughter of Colonel William Whistler of the Fourth Infantry who was stationed at Fort Gibson many years. Lieutenant Rucker lived to be General Rucker and his daughter Irene by his second wife became the wife of General Philip H. Sheridan.
William Shorey Coodey removed from east of the Mississippi in 1834. He served as secretary of the Cherokee delegation to Washington in 18303 and he was included on the delegation almost every year thereafter up to the date of his death. Coodey was married twice, his first wife being Susan Hensley. By her he had a son who died in his youth and a daughter Henrietta Jane. The latter was educated under Mrs. Lincoln Phelps, at Patapsco Female Institute, at Ellicott City, Howard County, Maryland. She was a talented musician and after her graduation accepted a position in her alma mater as teacher of the piano. Learning that her father was ill in Washington she went to visit him. In some manner she contracted a malignant fever and died at Ellicott’s Mills on January 28, 1849. She was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington.4
In 1838 Mr. Coodey and his second wife, Elizabeth Fields, established their home at Frozen Rock on the high bank of the Arkansas. Their double log house was so staunchly built that it was still occupied as a dwelling until it was destroyed by fire a few years ago. It was surrounded by spacious blue grass lawns and a handsome grove of black walnut, oak, and pecan trees. The lofty situation commanded a fine view of the Arkansas and the whistle of the steam boats coming around the big bend in the river brought all of the members of the household out to watch the steamer put in to Frozen Rock landing before proceeding up to Fort Gibson. These boats brought necessities
and luxuries but also brought the cholera to Fort Gibson from where it spread far and wide among the Indians causing the deaths of hundreds of them.
There was no church near Frozen Rock and religious services were held in a school house. The people living at the Creek Agency near where Fort Davis was afterward located were the nearest neighbors. When William P. Ross was married in 1846 “He and his bride then visited Frozen Rock, the refined and romantic home of his relative, Hon. W. S. Coodey, senator of Canadian, a man of ability, intelligence and wealth—known as the writer of the act of union of Eastern and Western Cherokees and the constitution of the Cherokee Nation; a friend and trustee of the the Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries.”5
At Frozen Rock in April, 1847 Ella was born and as a child she played about the place frequently crawling under the high foundation of the house where she would find blue beads which had been dropped by the Seminoles, who had used this location as a camp ground after being brought from Florida. The negro slaves were sure that there were Seminole graves under the house, and they were more uneasy after a young negro girl who was gathering sticks for kindling on removing dead leaves and branches from a hollow in a giant old oak revealed the gleaming bones of a standing skeleton.
From Seminole Indians Mr. Coodey secured peach stones which they had brought from the East and in a few years had an orchard of fine fruit. Many other varieties of fruit were grown on the farm and as the country was free of pests which now destroy trees the apples, pears, plums, and cherries flourished for years.
Wolves were sometimes seen and heard and Mr. Coodey kept a pack of greyhounds and organized hunts with the help of neighbors to destroy the beasts to prevent them carrying off calves and lambs.
William Shorey Coodey was frequently called upon to transact business for his nation in Washington. When his daughter Ella was two years old her father went to the national capital accompanied by his wife and their two
children, Mrs. Coodey’s father and her young brother William Fields, and the negro nurse of the children. The journey was commenced in February by boat from Frozen Rock down the Arkansas to its mouth, up the Mississippi and thence up the Ohio to Pittsburgh where the travelers took a stagecoach to cross the Allegheny Mountains. The cold was intense and the travelers suffered as they were unaccustomed to severe weather. The last part of the weary journey was made by train and they reached their destination just three weeks after leaving their home.
Coodey died in Washington at 6:30, Sunday morning April 16, 1849, at the age of forty-three and his funeral was held under the auspices of the Masonic lodge of which he had long been a member. He was interred in the Congressional Cemetery beside the grave of his daughter Henrietta. The Washington Union of April 17, 1849, in writing of his death speaks of him as: “Mr. Wm. S. Coodey, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation long and favorably known to the government and to the citizens of Washington as an able and faithful representative of the Cherokee people.” In this Washington cemetery also lie the remains of Peter P. Pitchlynn and Chief Pushmataha of the Choctaw Nation.
After the death of her husband Mrs. Coodey and her children went to Keene, New Hampshire, to visit her former teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Parker. Later they visited her sister Mrs. Sackett6 at Cape Vincent, New York and did not return to Indian Territory for more than a year.
Three years after the death of Richard Fields his widow married Judge John S. Vann and moved to his farm at Goose Neck Bend on the Arkansas. When Mrs. Coodey and her children returned from the East they made their home with Judge and Mrs. Vann. Here in a big house built of oak logs this Cherokee woman ruled her household like a real chatelaine. On the rich land were grown corn, oats, millet, and some wheat, Tobacco in a limited quantity, and cotton. There being no gins the cotton seeds had to be removed by hand before the lint could
6“Died on the 8th.,(Little Rock) Mrs. Amanda Sackett, wife of Lt. D. B. Sackett of the 1st. Dragoons . . . her little girl was only one with her . . . her husband at far off post.” (Arkansas Gazette), August 9, 1849.)
be carded and spun. There were peaches, apples, pears, plums, berries, grapes, and melons grown on this farm and when they were hungry for turkey a full-blood Indian boy would be sent to a turkey roost near the river. Sometimes he would return with one turkey but frequently he would catch one in each hand. Fried young turkey was a favorite dish while quail, prairie chicken, squirrel, and venison were everyday food. Many vegetables were grown and while some of them were stored in the cellar, many were dried for winter consumption. Fruits were preserved with sugar and quantities were dried but no fruits or vegetables were canned.
One of the regular tasks was making candles by filling the moulds with melted tallow in which alum was mixed to harden the candles. Sperm candles were also used but they had to be bought from the traders at Fort Gibson; this of course necessitated a long trip as there were no roads and the Arkansas must be crossed at Rabbit’s Ford7 to reach the army post. Sheep were raised on the farm and their wool was utilized to spin cloth and for yarn from which socks and stockings were knit.
Braggs Mountain was a favorite haunt of wild turkeys and along the river banks were roosts where wild pigeons congregated in millions. In the autumn small green and red parrakeets came in huge flocks, making a deafening noise with their raucous voices. They would settle down for the night on the apple trees and literally strip the trees of every bit of fruit. They generally departed the next morning although a few sometimes lingered a short time before going farther south. When snow was on the ground, a beautiful sight greatly enjoyed by the people, were the large flocks of cardinals in the river bottom, while blue birds added their color and song in the spring time.
In winter when hogs were butchered for making sausage, hams, and bacon, the scent was carried far and the hair-raising cry of the panther was sometimes heard, terrifying the children by the blood-curdling sounds; and, if the river happened to be frozen over these animals some-
7Rabbit’s Ford received its name from an old negro who lived on the banks of the Arkansas, after being freed by his master Mr. Coodey.
times crossed on the ice from the Greenleaf Mountains and lingered on the outskirts of the orchard. When cattle were butchered parts of the animal were dried and proved very palatable when fresh meat was not available.
There was a church on the prairie which the family attended. It was called the White Church and it is still standing.
Mrs. Vann, in addition to her other duties carried on a school where her grandchildren and neighboring Indian children were taught. Little Ella did not enter school until she was nine, but being of Fields blood and tradition she had learned to read quite early. She studied in McGuffey’s Readers, from first to sixth; Ray’s Arithmetic, and Webster’s Blue Back Speller. She was also instructed in geography, grammar, and writing, as well as elementary history. William Fields, the uncle of Ella Coodey taught school almost all of his life. There were both men and women teachers among the Cherokee and they were paid by the nation when they taught in the national schools.
Ella Coodey attended school one year in Van Buren, Arkansas. Miss Amanda Buchanan was principal of the school and her assistant was Miss Florence Wilson, a graduate of LaGrange Female College in Tennessee. Miss Wilson was afterward the head of the Cherokee Female Seminary at Tahlequah for many years and she may be said to have been the greatest and most lasting benefit in shaping the character of hundreds of Indian girls who came under her influence. Children trudged miles to school in those days, riding horseback when mud or snow was too deep for short legs.
Judge Vann was the son of Joseph Vann who was a man of wealth. The Vanns had lived at Spring Place, Georgia, and when they emigrated to the West Mrs. Vann named their place for the old home. Joseph Vann was the owner of a steam boat and he lost his life when this boat, the Lucy Walker, blew up on the Ohio River, two miles below Louisville. The disaster is said to have been due to a drunken engineer and almost all of the crew and passengers were killed.
Judge Vann was appointed administrator of his father’s
estate and he and his family moved to Webbers Falls where he could attend to affairs connected with the settlement.
The Battle of Honey Springs was fought on July 17, 1863, and Ella Coodey, at her home in Webbers Falls, recalls hearing the cannon fire all day long. After the northern troops won this battle hundreds of Cherokees who favored the southern cause started south by wagon and ox cart. Judge Vann and William Fields joined the Confederate Army and all of the houses in Webbers Falls having been burned by northern sympathizers, Mrs. Vann with her family and a party of neighbors left for the South the middle of August, 1863. They were shown the warmest sympathy and hospitality by the Chickasaw Indians through whose country they passed.
They camped in vacant Choctaw houses along the road and were glad to find corn, dried beans, and pumpkins in the deserted gardens; once a few chickens added to their scanty fare. The only possessions left Mrs. Vann were a few broken chairs and she was very glad to find two flat irons, a large iron poker, and, best of all, a bedstead in the house of a Choctaw who had fled south. They reached Red River the middle of October and spent the winter on the north bank where the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad bridge now spans the river.
Mrs. Vann was expecting a baby and had not been able to provide a layette owing to their flight. Mrs. Fowler (a sister of Gideon Morgan) was with the party, and she had contrived to save two bed sheets and from these an outfit was provided for Charles Edward Vann who was born in troublous times but who survived and now makes his home in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
The Chickasaws who lived near Red River were very fond of entertaining. One custom was to send messengers to the houses of friends where a small amount of cotton would be left with the request that it be spun and reeled. They were then invited to a “hanking” when they were expected to bring the spun cotton. Usually the guests would find a quilt or two stretched on quilting frames and they would spend the day quilting. As many as twenty-
five or thirty women would work. At noon a big dinner was served on long tables set in the yard. Turkey, chicken, pork, vegetables, pies and preserves were set before the guests. When the work was over late in the afternoon the quilts would be rolled up and fastened to the ceiling beams by means of rings and ropes. Then the house was cleared of furniture, and the husbands and sweethearts having arrived, dancing would be indulged in until a late hour. The favorite dances were the waltz, schotissche, cotillion, and Virginia reel. Refreshments of pound cake and coffee were served in the evening and Mrs. Robinson says she has never seen such large pound cakes elsewhere. They would be arranged in pyramids to decorate the tables.
Later this party of refugees crossed into Texas and stopped at Preston, in Grayson County, where there was a large colony of refugee Cherokee. Hundreds of others pressed on to Cherokee County where members of their nation had migrated in the early part of the century.
In May, 1865, Ella Coodey was married to Joseph Madison Robinson, at Preston, Texas. Her husband was a student at Emory and Henry College, in Virginia, when war was declared and he, with other boys in the college joined the Confederate forces. Young Robinson served under General Bragg. He was in the army four years and was wounded.
The father of Joseph M. Robinson had an interesting life; he ran away from his home in the north of England when he was only twelve years of age and went to sea. Two years later while crossing the Atlantic he became acquainted with a Mrs. Cook of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and she persuaded him to go to her home with her. Here the boy worked in the summer and went to school in the winter. Later he studied for the ministry and became identified with the Methodist Church. His name is said to have been Robeson but Mrs. Cook induced him to spell it Robinson, thinking it more American, and she added her name to that given him by his parents so that he was known thereafter as John Cook Robinson.
He came west as a missionary to the Indians and was put in charge of the Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy and
his name is signed to the annual reports of the school made to the Indian Office from 1852 to 1859. Miss Elizabeth Fulton8 was a teacher in this school and while there met Captain George B. Hester to whom she was married in 1858 by the Rev. Mr. Robinson. Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Robinson spent three or four years at the Chickasaw Academy with the Rev. Mr. Robinson. Mrs. Robinson returned to Indian Territory about 1867. The trip was made by carriage over the Big Texas Road and the nights were spent at places conducted to care for travelers.
There were three years in the early seventies when almost all of the crops in Indian Territory failed owing to drought and the Cherokee suffered untold hardships. Men of property in Tahlequah fed many Indians from their private storehouses to keep them from starving and people who lived on farms in the river bottoms and who had been able to raise some crops divided their scant supplies with their fellow tribesmen. Most of the wells dried up and people traveled for miles to an unfailing well on the Vann farm, even driving their horses there to be watered. Mrs. Vann fed many Indian children and helped clothe them in order that they might continue in school during those meager years. Mrs. Vann died in July 1893, at the age of seventy, and was buried in the cemetery on the Vann farm.
Mrs. Robinson has lived in Muskogee since February, 1892. She was the mother of four children, two of whom, John C. Robinson and Miss Ella Robinson are living. Her husband died in Texas in 1878.
According to Mrs. Robinson, Mr. J. A. Patterson started the first store in Muskogee and it was followed by those of J. E. Turner, Captain Frederick B. Severs, and a hardware store kept by Mr. J. S. Atkinson. She thinks Mr. Turner built the first cotton gin in Muskogee. Mrs. Robinson states that she never saw any of the notorious Indian Territory outlaws except Tom Starr and that was after he had settled down to a quiet old age. She recalls that he was unusually tall and a handsome man.
Mrs. Robinson joined the Methodist Church in Paris,
Texas, about 1871 and she was one of the three charter members of the First Methodist Church, South, established in Muskogee in 1879 with the Rev. Theo Brewer as pastor. She has survived the other charter members and the pastor. This church was located at the southwest corner of Cherokee Street and East Okmulgee Avenue and there was a Sunday school in connection with it from the first.
Mrs. Robinson is still active in church and missionary work. She is an indefatigable reader and has a deep interest in the affairs of her state and country. Her life has spanned the time from ox carts to aeroplanes and yet her erect figure, bright eyes, and keen mind belie the years.