Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 8, No. 4
December, 1930


Page 389

General John Nicks, one of the most outstanding pioneers of Oklahoma was a soldier in two wars, a legislator, United States Prosecuting Attorney, and man of affairs while his wife Sarah was the first woman to hold an appointment from the United States government in the state of Oklahoma. Their names are found in archives of the War Department, Indian Office, writings of life on the frontier and in contemporary newspapers.1

John Nicks was a native of North Carolina born during the Revolution, and according to the First Census of the United States compiled in 1790 there was a "free white male of 16 years and upwards" of his name in Hillsborough District, Wake County, North Carolina. There was a Joseph Nicks of the same district and county who may have been his father or brother. The name John Nicks is also recorded in Salsbury District, Guilford County but there is a family tradition that the subject of this sketch was a resident of Hillsborough District.2

Nicks moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana soon after the Louisiana Purchase but returned to North Carolina within four or five years when he was appointed an officer of the United States Army and received a captain's commission in the Third Infantry July 1, 1808. He served long and arduous years in the army before coming west. The first letter from him preserved in the War Department was written at Fort Norfolk, Virginia, March 4, 1811, and he again wrote

Page 390

the department the same year asking to be appointed assistant military agent at Fort Hampton, N. C. since he was about to relieve Capt. John McClelland in command of that post.3 While at Beaufort he received from the Secretary of War $200 for bounties and premiums for recruits.

Gen. James Wilkinson wrote from Mobile April 26, 1813, to Jim Armstrong, Secretary of War and his letter is followed by a postscript signed "J. N." [John Nicks] which relates "Pass of Haun off Dauphine Island, May 15th, 1813. The Troops are now reduced at several posts in this district to five days provisions—The failure of the contractors is too manifest & too perilous to the service to be excused." This is only one of a long chapter of complaints and protests as to the criminal neglect of the troops stationed along the Gulf Coast.

Under date of April 25, 1813 Gen. James Wilkinson wrote from Gun Boat No. 5, Mobile Bay—General Orders, P. C. S. "The Troops will march on Thursday morning with Twenty four rounds of Cartridges and four Flints per Man; the former to be two thirds of Buck Shot; the men to carry three days provisions, their Knapsacks, Camp Kettles, Tent poles and axes. The Officers are to take with them their Blankets & Bear Skins with a shift of Linnen only neither Trunk, Chest, Chair, Cot or Table will be permitted to accompany this movement. The Artillery, Ammunition, Qr. Masters Stores, Baggage &c. of the Detachment is to be dispatched for Bon Secour River on Wednesday Morning on board the Chalons in charge of Captn. Nicks & his Company. The whole will be secured under Tarpaulins. The Captain will receive further orders for his government from the General, and as the Land Transport is deficient the General hopes and expects the Officers will on the march, dispense with every Tent which may not be absolutely necessary to protect them against bad weather . . ."4

Under a General Order of May 10, 1813, from Portage of Bon Secour issued by General Wilkinson, Captain Nicks was relieved from the command of that place by Captain Kennedy and was ordered as follows: "Captn. Nicks will

Page 391

tomorrow remove from Point Mobile with his company. The Oxen are to be driven to the Point, Captn. Nicks will embark a Wagon and Geers with his company on board the Barge and one of the Scows . . ."

The next January Gen. Thomas Flournoy, Commanding 7th Military District wrote Secretary of War Armstrong, from New Orleans that he had "appointed Capt. John Nicks to perform the duties of Asst. Adjt. Genl. till the sense of the president can be known. It is my wish that he should be confirmed in the appointment." This appointment was evidently confirmed and Nicks from New Orleans, Feb. 7, 1814, inquired of the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office as to his duties in making post returns, which he subsequently sent for the months of February, March, April, and May. From Madisonville [Louisiana, on Chefonte River] the next month General Flournoy notified the War Department that "Having ordered Major Nicks to take command of the 7th Infy . . . The disposable part of the 7th Infantry, will in two or three days be in quarters at the Ship Yard, Tchifonta5 near this place . . ." Major Nicks reported to the War Department as follows: "Camp Schifonta July 5, 1814. Sir, I have the honor to receive my letter of promotion to a Majority in the 7th Regiment Infantry, & agreeably to a General Order of the 26th ultimo arrived here on the 4th inst. & took command of that part of the Regiment encamped at this place . . ."

Major Nicks, refusing to exchange regiments with Capt. Carey Nicholas, wrote the Adjutant General from New Orleans, December 5, 1814 "I have taken this direct mode to inform the department of my decided disapprobation . . . I have commanded the 7th Regt. for some time, I believe it equal to any in service; & with which I have taken considerable trouble . . . I hope thro your office, should any proposition, in relation to this subject, be made calculated to operate or effect me, to communicate this letter to the Honbl. the Secretary of the Department of War . . ."6

The War of 1812 was now over; the treaty with Great Britain had been agreed upon and the Battle of New Orleans

Page 392

had passed into history. The distinguished governor of Louisiana, William C. C. Claiborne wrote Secretary of War Monroe from New Orleans, March 16, 1815, a letter which he marked "Private!" "Great is the change, which the return of peace has already made in this Capital. Our Harbour is again without much canvas; the Levee is crowded with cotton, Tobacco and other articles of exportation—The Merchant seems delighted with the prospect before him, and the agriculturists in the high price for his produce finds new inducements to Industry.

"There will doubtless be individuals who will take exceptions to the conditions of the Treaty—But in the present state of the world, it seems to me we could not have expected to have sheathed the sword upon better terms.

"It is presumable that the Army will speedily be placed on the peace establishment, and in which event, you will excuse me for expressing a solicitude, that among the officers retained, may be those very deserving officers, Col. Wm. Mackae of the Artillerists and Majr. Nicks of the 7th Reg. of Infantry . . . Major Nicks is a young man of great promise, with the advantage of an accomplished education and a conduct in life which commands the greatest respect & esteem . . ."

Major Nicks also wrote James Monroe, Secretary of War on this subject from "Camp 4 miles below New Orleans. March 20th, 1815. Sir. I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 27th. Dec. 1814, by which I am notified of a promotion to a Majority in the 7th Regt. of Infantry, to take rank as such from the 9th day of Oct. 1813.

"I have therefore to inform you that I have accepted the promotion, & moreover, that it is not my desire to relinquish at present that profession to which I have devoted almost seven years—. . ."

That Major Nicks was eager to remain in the Army is proved by the letter he wrote Major General Andrew Jackson, Commanding the Southern Division at Nashville, Tennessee, June 26, 1815, from "Barracks, New Orleans. I presume that there will be vacancies occasioned by the resignation of officers retained on the peace establishment which are to be filled from the supernumerary officers now in service.

"I have been devoted to the profession of arms almost

Page 393

seven years—I have relinquished the most lively civil prospects to become this Soldier—I am therefore yet an applicant and wish to be retained in the service—The late extraordinary reduction of the army has been so great that all the good could not be saved, and I do not consider myself injured by becoming one of the supernumerary, officers. I will accept of a Captaincy, holding my rank as such from the date of my first appointment, with the Brevet rank of Major—You have seen the Regiment which I have the honor to command, you are well acquainted with my humble pretensions and should you think they will comport with the good of the service and give me your immediate influence it will be acknowledged. If retained I should wish to be attached to the South division."

The poverty of the country and wretched state of the army at that time are indicated by a document preserved among the Jackson Papers7 in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. This is a letter to "His Ex. Major Genl. Jackson, Nashville (T)" from George T. Ross, Colonel of the 44th Infantry, written at New Orleans, July 17, 1815. "Sir Enclosed is a correspondence that has taken place between the Quarter-Master Genl., the head of the Ordinance Department & myself; nothing but necessity could induce my giving the order for really we have lived for six weeks upon scraps we could pick up & some old refuse wood secured at the Powder Magazine Barracks; The Troops in the Garrison at one time in danger of not having their victuals cooked as per report of Major Nicks. The Citizens having refused to sell but for cash—We have now funds for Sixty days to come before which all arrangements relative to the Military peace establishment will have gone into effect."

Major Nicks was honorably discharged from the army June 15, 1815 and he writes from the Indian Agency at Natchitoches, Concordia, Louisiana, December 29, 1815 to, "The Honble. James Monroe, Secretary of State, Washington City—Sir, I have applied thro my friends for the appointment of Indian Agent at Natchitoches which is at present vacant by the death of the late incumbent Major Thomas Gates.

"I have the honor also to address a letter directly to you Sir, upon this matter, lest the vacancy should be filled before

Page 394

an application as above shall have reached the city—I have served in the Army of the United States more than seven years—five of which as a Captain in the 3rd and more than the two last a Major in & commanding the 7th Regiment stationed in New Orleans.

"Since the reduction of the Army I being disbanded in this State, I have been engaged in the practice of the Law, having been appointed by the State of Louisiana attorney for the commonwealth in the 7th Judicial district near Natchitoches where the Indian agency is now vacant.

"After my pretentions shall have been laid before the Honble. The Secretary of State should it comport with the views of the government, that appointment would in some measure reward a disbanded officer."

Major Nicks was re-instated in the Army December 2, 1815, and assigned to the 8th Infantry as a captain with the brevet of major; His letter of acceptance was sent from Concordia, Louisiana, January 24, 1816. He states that he had learned of his appointment through the press and that he will repair to St. Louis, Missouri Territory, the headquarters of the 8th Regiment. On June 1 of that year he was promoted to a majority and transferred to his favorite regiment the 7th Infantry. Major Nicks served as a member of a court for the trial of Col. R. C. Nicholas and Cap. Wm. O. Allen of the Artillery Corps in September, 1816.

The year 1817 Major Nicks is located in the East by a letter of Gen. S. B. Mitchell, Governor of Georgia written at Creek Agency, October 7, 1817, to Gen. E. P. Gaines at Fort Montgomery: "On my way here I saw Major Nix (sic) on his way to Fort Hawkins from Fort Scott,8 and he assured me, the Seminoles had absolutely refused any satisfaction for their aggressions notwithstanding your positive demand. I therefore presume it is your intention to occupy Fort Scott with such a force as to enable you thence, to compel them to a more reasonable course of conduct . . ."

Major Nicks was confined to his bed for over a month with an attack of bilious fever in November, 1817, and was not able to attend to his duties. He was still at Fort Scott

Page 395

in June, 1818, being a member of the court martial which tried and acquitted Col. David Brearley9 who afterward served as Creek Agent near Fort Gibson.

June 24, 1818, Lt. Col. Arbuckle, commanding the 7th Infantry at Fort Scott designated five officers for recruiting service with Major Nicks as superintendent, and the next month Gen. Edmund P. Gaines at St. Stephens, Alabama Territory, informed General Jackson that he had ordered Major Nicks with five other officers of the 7th to establish a recruiting rendezvous in Philadelphia, to secure recruits for the war with the Seminole Indians. Nicks reports his arrival in Philadelphia on August 23.

From Washington, September 3, Nicks sent an estimate for bounties, premiums, and contingent expenses for four hundred men amounting to $4,200 to Gen. D. Parker, Adjutant and Inspector General, and on September 30, he notified Col. George E. Mitchel at Baltimore that he had "established a Recruiting Rendezvous at Fredrick Town, Maryland . . ."

Andrew Jackson's aggressive policy of occupation of strongholds in Florida, inaugurated during the Seminole War was continued after the close of that war and Major Nicks, who was again in the South in January, 1819, notified General Gaines, that the contractors had failed to supply rations and he had ordered an officer to New Orleans to make purchases. He had meat at Fort Gadsden, East Florida, to do until February 15. He was issuing half rations of flour; the other posts were almost destitute and would be dependent on corn to be got from Fort Gaines unless supplies arrive soon.

During this time Major Nicks was also greatly concerned over the non-arrival of the sloop Coquette, Captain Porter, which left Fort Gadsden on December 24, 1818, with a small supply of provision for the relief of St. Marks, Florida. He ordered out parties from Fort Gadsden and St. Marks to examine the coast as far as the Ocklockney River. On January 15 he was able to notify General Gaines of the safe arrival of the sloop which had passed the mouth of the St. Marks River on the 3d in a fog and had been blown on a sand bar where she remained some time, the crew being six days without water.

Page 396

Conditions were getting worse at Fort Gadsden and Fort Scott, their bread ration being supplied with corn from the quarter master's store and Capt. Spencer had not returned from New Orleans or reported since he left the post on December 15th last.

This was a fertile source of trouble and suffering for troops throughout this period and soldiers were frequently in desperate straits for want of food and fuel. Gen. Gaines by his aid-de-camp Lieutenant Burch wrote Nicks on Jan. 28, 1819, from Headquarters, Fernandina, E. F. approving measures he had taken to prevent suffering owing to the contractor having failed to supply rations at the different posts under Nicks' command.

The following month, still distressed by a lack of supplies and having no word from the contractors or quarter-master, Nicks notifies Gen. Gaines and also reports: "My Indian spies ordered to Mickasuky returned a few days past without any satisfactory result, having advanced no further than Taleshatche, where they met & returned with the chief of that village, who is about to bring in his people—It is however my believe that there are but few, if any, Indians & Negroes at that place & I have again required a few strait men to repair thither and ascertain the fact & will immediately report the same . . ."

Nicks writes Arbuckle, commanding the 7th Military Department at Fort Gaines, on Feb. 24, 1819, that the schooner Maria, Captain Sullivan, is now in the river on her way to Fort Gadsden with a cargo of provisions purchased in New Orleans by Captain Joel Spencer, Asst. Dept. Qr. Mr. Gen. Captain Sullivan had touched at Pensacola and reported that "700 Spanish troops have arrived and that the Spanish flag is now flying in that place and at the Fortress of the Barancas; . . ." It was also understood by the Captain that a command would proceed to this place for the purpose of occupying Fort Gadsden.

"The Comg. Officer here has not received any instructions calculated to meet such an arrangement, and this post will be maintained until further orders."

Nicks was ordered by Arbuckle to give Major Fanning all the assistance necessary to remove his command from St. Marks to Fort Gadsden and he was advised to employ as many vessels as might be necessary. As for Fort Gadsden ". . . it

Robert Stuart Gibson

Sarah Gibson

Page 397

is not to be given up except by order of the President of the United States . . ."

According to Nicks the Spanish force destined to garrison Fort Marks was to have sailed from Pensacola on February 27th and their object was to demolish the post and then proceed to Fort Gadsden.

Nicks reports that he has "received advices per Express from St. Marks under date of the 11th that a Spanish force of three hundred men under the command of the Governor of Pensacola had arrived and that the Governor gives us every facility with regard to the transportation of the United States troops and to this Post—One vessel will be sufficient as the greater part of our troops will march by land and will be expected here about the 20th instsant. Major Nicks sent a vessel to St. Marks which enabled Major Fanning to convey to Fort Gadsden every thing at the Spanish post belonging to the United States.

On March 20, 1819, Lt. Col. Arbuckle orders Major Nicks and two other officers to repair without delay to a court martial "to be holden at" Fernandina. Nicks was at St. Marys the next May, and while there he had an offer to transfer to the 8th Infantry, but refused to exchange with Maj. John N. McIntosh. On the first of June, Nicks was promoted to be Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Infantry.

Col. Nicks arrived at Fort Hawkins, Georgia on June 22, 1819, from St. Marys. He was to remain there until further orders when he would in all probability relieve Col. Brearley in the recruiting service. He suggests that the regiment is very small at that time and that it is his wish to remain some little time in a civilized society and that any order that will accomplish that object will be thankfully received. He was ordered to attend the General Court Martial in session at Fort Scott but hopes this will not frustrate any arrangements that General Gaines may see fit to grant him service in a civilized community after the long period he has spent on the frontier.

On August 15, 1819, General Gaines orders Nicks to relieve Colonel David Brearley in the superintendency of recruiting service for the 7th Infantry at Trenton, N. J.

In the first part of September Col. Nicks is in command of his regiment at Fort Gadsden but later in the month he

Page 398

is at Fort Hawkins where he is to remain until the detail for a general court martial is known.

On the twenty-third Nicks is detailed to the command of the Western Section of the 7th Military Department with Hd. Qrs. at Fort Scott in place of Col. Arbuckle and he is given leave to visit St. Marys or any other part of Georgia until his promotion is officially announced. On the 29th he set out for Fort Scott with Col. Arbuckle.

By direction of Col. Nicks the adjutant of the 7th Regiment writes Gen. Gaines a full account of the situation at Fort Scott, in Georgia. Nicks has been confined to his bed more than four weeks with bilious fever and is not sufficiently recovered to write. The troops have been for some time unusually sickly which is attributed to the ". . . extraordinary dry weather, which has filled the atmosphere in an unusual degree with the exhalations of marsh miasmata; and to this it may be added that the flour which the troops have been compelled to use, is of the very worst kind;. . ." A new supply has arrived at Fort Gadsden, but the water in the Appalachicola is so low that it cannot be transported. He writes that "the troops . . . are in a tolerable state of appearance & discipline, the Magazine has been repaired and is said to be safe, the Craft or boats are undergoing repair . . .

"It may not be improper to state that since the report has obtained general and extensive circulation, on the Appalacicola that the Spanish King has refused to ratify the treaty, and that the Spaniards will remain in the possession of the Floridas, that the Indians have evidently assumed a new character, and in some instances where an opportunity has afforded—their native feelings which are no doubt unfriendly, have almost burst into direct insult and individual hostility."

The Adjutant General's office at Augusta on December 4, notified Nicks at Fort Scott: "It had been deemed advisable to send the detachment of the 4th and 7th now at Traders Hill,10 to the Headquarters of their respective Regiments . . ." and Captain Bee was returning to Fort Scott by the most direct route through the lower part of Georgia, without regard to roads. Nicks is ordered to inform himself of their movements by means of Indian runners, sent in that direction, at proper intervals and to render them all the assistance in his

Page 399

power. He is also advised to take prompt and effectual means for the supply of provisions for the troops as well as forage for the pack horses.

Lt. Daniel E. Burch writes from "Hd.Qrs. Augusta, Ga., Dec. 7, 1819. Sir. I am instructed by Major General Gaines to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 23rd ult . . . and to express his satisfaction at receiving a report exhibiting so full a view of the state of the service at the Post under your command . . ."

Major Nicks was not only troubled by the shortage of food for his troops but he complains that an estimate for clothing forwarded by Col. Arbuckle the previous autumn has been ignored. In consequence of a number of recruits having joined the regiment who are without a proper supply of clothing he is transmitting an estimate and urges that the uniforms be sent with the least possible delay.

After thirteen years in the service of his country, Lt. Col. Nicks was honorably discharged June 8, 1821. He was recommended for appointment as sutler at Fort Jesup, on Red River that year, but on Sept. 28, 1821 he was appointed sutler at Fort Smith and followed his regiment to a new and wilder frontier in Arkansas.11

After he took up his residence at Fort Smith he was elected to the Third Territorial Legislature of Arkansas and represented Crawford County in the House of Representatives from. October, 1823, and was re-elected to the Fourth Legislature serving from October 3d to November 3d, 1825.12

Upon the establishment of Cantonment Gibson in April, 1824, Col. Nicks moved with the 7th Infantry as sutler at the new post. During his service at Fort Smith, Col. Nicks became acquainted with Miss Sarah Price Perkins and they were married, July 13, 1824 in Crawford County, Arkansas Territory, by the Reverend William F. Vaill, who was the head of Union Mission on Grand River in the Osage country.13 Washington Irving states that Col. Nicks was fifty years old at the time of his marriage.

Miss Perkins was the daughter of Elisha Perkins of Bed-

Page 400

ford County, Virginia. While she and her brother Constantine were children they were taken to Arkansas Territory by their cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Moore of Chelsea, Virginia. Mr. Moore had received warrants for land for his service in the Revolution. The Perkins family is said to have been in Virginia, since 1641 and their, claim to a Russian origin seems plausible as they bore the Russian names of Constantine, Peter, and Nicholas.

Mrs. Nicks bore her husband two children, Eliza Perkins Nicks, who was born at Fort Gibson, April 19, 1826, and John Quinten Nicks, who was probably born in 1828.

That Nicks and his partner John Rogers did a prosperous business is evidenced by the fact that the steamboat Superior, 100 tons, Captain Charadon, arrived from New Orleans, May 30, 1826 with a large keel boat in tow, loaded with stores for them at Cantonment Gibson. They also conducted a trading store at Fort Smith and the steamboat Highland Laddie, Captain McCallum, "19 days from New Orleans," brought a full cargo in May, 1827, principally for General Nicks, Sutler at Cantonment Gibson. Washington Irving states that Nicks had amassed $20,000.14

The 4th of July was celebrated at Fort Gibson with a banquet at which thirteen toasts were drunk. Many men still celebrated in this section responded to toasts; among them Colonel Nicks, Captain Nathaniel Pryor, Captain Pierce M. Butler, John Dillard, and Col. A. P. Chouteau. Life was very monotonous at this western post but there were a few diversions, which included a race track at Fort Gibson. Colonel Chouteau had a private track at his baronial estate on Grand River where races were run and he entertained the army officers lavishly.

Poker parties were frequent and betting was high. On one occasion Colonel Nicks returning home after two or three nights of prolonged playing, attempting to crawl through a window into his bed room was commanded to throw up his hands. The valliant Sarah was sitting up in bed with a gun levelled on her husband and she demanded that he explain his conduct in sneaking into her room like a thief.

Marquis James in his fascinating book The Raven, a

Page 401

Biography of Sam Houston, quotes Washington Irving who wrote: "Old Genl. Nix used to say God made him two drinks scant."15

Drinking was indulged in to a large extent although there was a constant effort to keep liquor from being brought into the neighborhood of the cantonment. Private soldiers were given severe punishments when intoxicated and the records of these affairs in the War Department tell of a man being stood on the head of a barrel with a board hung around his neck, marked 'Whiskey Seller,' and with an empty bottle in each hand. The men were fined and sentenced to hard labor but these punishments did not have much effect on the soldiers who had little to occupy their time and so fell into evil habits.

The year 1827 saw the completion of Cantonment Gibson with comfortable quarters for officers and ample room to garrison a regiment. A military road sixteen feet wide from Gibson to Fort Smith, a distance of fifty-six miles, was finished. When the mail route was extended west from Crawford County a post office was established at Cantonment Gibson, February 21, 1827 and Nicks was appointed post master. This was the second post office in the present State of Oklahoma, Miller Court House, the first having been started September 5, 1824.

General Nicks was not only a prominent citizen but a very busy man with many interests during these years. When the garrison was removed from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson Nicks and Rogers were put in charge of the buildings at the abandoned post and of the public flat boat and held responsible for their preservation and the operation of the ferry for the military.16

President John Quincy Adams appointed Nicks (March 27, 1827), brigadier general of the Militia of Arkansas to fill the position left vacant by the death of William Bradford who died at Fort Towson, October 20, 1826 where he had served as sutler.

When Lovely County, Arkansas was organized in October, 1827, the Legislature appointed a commission to locate the county seat. John Nicks of Nicks Township was one of the

Page 402

three commissioners and Nicksville17 on the west side of Sallisaw Creek was selected. The town was thirteen miles above the mouth of the creek and was evidently named for General Nicks. A post office was located there April 25, 1828 but was discontinued October 2, 1829 and the group of log cabins that comprised the town became the first home of Dwight Mission when it was established in 1830.

Governor Izard wrote the Secretary of War, Feb. 27, 1828 that General Nicks had not received his commission and that it was important for him to enter on his duties on account of the unsettled state of the Western Frontier.

Sam Houston's arrival at Cantonment Gibson in May, 1829, after his sensational departure from Tennessee, aroused much interest and the wives of the officers envied ". . . not for the first time in their lonely lives, plump and pleasing Sallie Nicks, the sutler's wife, who served the visitor with refreshments."18

After a visit to the East Sam Houston started west with a large stock of goods in 1830 and he applied to General Eaton for the position of sutler at Fort Gibson, saying he understood General Nicks was to be removed. When Houston reached the Verdigris River he learned that Nicks was not to be dismissed; being disgruntled because of charges against him that he had not been honest in his bid on rations for the Indians who were to be removed west, he wrote the Secretary of War that he would not have the post of sutler if it were offered him.19

Houston also notified Colonel Arbuckle, at Fort Gibson, July 21, 1830, of the large stock of liquor he was bringing to the Cherokee Nation and said it would all be stored with General Nicks, except one barrel of whisky, subject to orders of the Government.20

An Act of Congress of March 3, 1831 appropriated $2,562.08 to protect John Nicks against loss of that amount which he had advanced to Col. David Brearley, Indian agent for the

Page 403

emigrating Creeks, Brearley having given Nicks a draft upon the War Department which was protested for non-payment.

July 28, 1831, Peter A. Carns and W. Duval wrote to the President of the United States stating that "the conduct of Coln. Mathew Arbuckle Com. 7 Infy and John Nicks . . . Has been highly censurable if not criminal, . . . as Coln. Arbuckle had been guilty of elegal acts in the ceezure of a large quantity of goods aledging the ceizure grew out of there being in the store some Brandy and wine . . ." and that he had permitted Nicks to introduce large quantities of Whiskey for three years. "We beg leave further to represent to your Excenely that the said John Nicks is a Habitual drunkard and this fact has been known to Coln. Arbuckle for the las three years . . ." They name Col. A. P. Chouteau, Gen. John Campbell, Major Love, and John W. Flowers to vouch for their statements.21

That no action had been taken in the matter is shown by a letter from Carns to General McComb, from Baltimore, Aug. 19, 1831. It appears that a copy of the charges was to be sent to General Arbuckle and Nicks, and Carns threatens to place the evidence before Congress "at its next cession should you decide on the answer .... without giving us time to put in our testomoney to the charges."22

Not receiving any satisfaction from the President or the commanding general of the army Carns next applies to Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, threatening that he will attempt to get Congress to, appoint a committee to receive testimony against the parties accused unless he would order an inquiry.23

Carn's charges resulted from the fact that General Arbuckle had seized a large shipment of liquor belonging to him which he was selling to the Indians.

These charges were not destined to worry General Nicks as he was attacked with "pneumonia synochoides" and died at Cantonment Gibson after an illness of ten days on December 31, 1831. His funeral was held the day following and the Protestant Episcopal service was read after which he was interred with full military honors due his rank24

Josiah H. Shinn in his interesting Pioneers and Makers

Page 404

of Arkansas writes that "General Nicks was one of the strong characters of early Arkansas history. . . and was noted for his strong common sense and sterling courage."25

Col. Matthews Arbuckle reported to the Adjutant General the death of General Nicks and inclosed Order No. 2. "Head Quarters 7th Inf. Cantonment Gibson, Jan. 2, 1832. In consequence of the death of General John Nicks, Sutler to B. C. G. F. and K. Companies of the 7th Infantry, S. P. Nicks is appointed to suttle to the above named companies, until the pleasure of the Honble. the Secretary of War is known. By order of Col. Arbuckle." In his accompanying letter he stated: ". . . this appointment I much regret, was rendered indespensably necessary in consequence of the death of Genl. John Nicks—late sutler at this post, who died on the 31st ult. and I do not doubt it will meet the approbation of the War Department, that his widow may hold this appointment a sufficient time to dispose of the goods on hand (supposed to have cost about Ten Thousand Dollars). This object it is believed can be accomplished by the 1st of July next."

By this appointment Sarah Nicks becomes the first woman to hold a position under the United States Government as well as the first business woman in the State of Oklahoma. This distinction means much when it is considered that in her day fair ladies swooned on the slightest provocation when they had never dreamed of voting or of succeeding to their husband's seat in Congress; when indeed, they led a very quiet, retired existence.

There are records to prove that Mrs. Nicks was a charmer and so distinguished a writer and traveler as Washington Irving recounts that more than one officer at the Cantonment paid ardent court to her. One quartermaster serenaded her so often and so vigorously that he disturbed the sleep of persons in the post. Gen. William Clark, as well as Colonel Arbuckle, was fascinated by the young widow, and an attorney of the name of Lewis, who possessed only a militia title of major, also aspired to the favor of Mrs. Nicks and caused the officers of the Regular Army to unite against him.

Col. Robert Stuart Gibson, merchant, succeeded General Nicks as post master at Fort Gibson and he won the heart of Mrs. Nicks also. The Arkansas Gazette of December 20, 1835

Page 405

General John Nicks



contains the announcement of his marriage to "Mrs. Sally Nicks, relict of the late General John Nicks, at the residence of Major B[enjamin] Moore, of Crawford County, on the 8th instant."

Three children were born from this marriage: Robert Stuart, Irene, who died at the age of four years and Mary Ann Stuart. Mary Ann married Major Richard Caswell Gatlin of the U. S. Army. He was later a Brigadier General in the Confederate service. Gatlin served for many years as an officer in the 7th Infantry while it was stationed in army posts now in the State of Oklahoma.

Colonel Gibson was born in 1800 and died at the age of forty-five. The Arkansas Intelligencer26 announced Sarah P. Gibson as administrator of the estate of her late husband and thus extended her experience and reputation as a business woman.

Mrs. Gibson passed the remaining years of her life in Fort Smith. Her son John Q. Nicks was sent to an eastern university at the age of eighteen. She took her daughter, Mary Ann Gibson east to attend the classical school of Dr. Brooks at Baltimore. The journey from Arkansas was made by way of New York. Not having heard from her gay young son for many weeks Mrs. Gibson advertised in the personal columns of the New York papers and John, being in the city and reading the notice, appeared at the hotel where his mother was staying, the same evening.

When fourteen years of age Mrs. Gibson's daughter Eliza Perkins Nicks married Col. S. Lewis Griffith of Little Rock who was twenty-five. Mrs. Griffith often related to relatives that she had no recollection of any but a married life. She had many of her mother's characteristics and lived until Feb. 10, 1913 when she died in Little Rock. Her slaves all remained with her after the Civil War and when they became too old to work she provided homes for them and gave each one a small income. Mrs. Nicks-Gibson still lives in the memory of a few old inhabitants of Fort Smith impressed by her strong personality. She became quite stout in later years and her walk down Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith, followed by a Negro servant, had something of the appearance of a royal progress. Very dignified, serenely waving her fan, she

Page 406

bowed politely to all; never displaying hauteur, although very much a grande dame. At her death in 1862 Mrs. Nicks-Gibson was buried in the National Cemetery at Fort Smith where she sleeps beside the grave of her son John who died in 1861. The carved marble monument which marked her grave was broken by a falling limb of a tree during a storm and has been replaced by a government stone similar to those provided to mark the graves of United States soldiers among whom this western heroine spent her life.
Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site