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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 9, No. 2
June, 1931
EARLY HISTORY OF SPAVINAW

Grant Foreman

Page 166

When the Tulsan turns on his tap he would be surprised if any thing more potent than sparkling water should flow from it; but there was a time when he could have gone to the source of supply with a tin cup or gourd and dipped up either a cooling draught of Spavinaw spring water or a generous portion of hard liquor.

It was a long time ago—almost a hundred years—when whisky was plenty and cheap and considered essential to every home in this sparsely settled country; when the head of the household with a jug hung on either side of his saddle, rode up to the trading house for his supply.

Congress had enacted legislation intended to prevent the introduction of whisky into this Indian country, but the law was held lightly by traders who brought liquor by the barrel up the Arkansas River to The Three Forks and other trading places near Fort Gibson in spite of the surveilance of the soldiers at the post. Some of the most persistent offenders were mixed blood members of the Cherokee tribe who presented a problem; as they were Indians they could not be compelled to apply for a trader's license and give bond as white traders were. And as this was the most effective means of regulating and supervising trade with the Indians, the Indian traders usually escaped any thing more serious than having their whisky seized as it came by boat up the river, and the Cherokees protested so loudly that this was seldom resorted to.

One of the most enterprising families in the Cherokee Nation was named Rogers, some of whom came west at an early day. October 18, 1817 John Rogers departed with a party of 31 Cherokee Indians who traveled by flat boats down the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers and up the Arkansas to their new homes within the present state of Arkansas where they arrived six months later. In the spring of 1819 he took another large party by boats over the same route and years later he was vainly trying to secure from the Government pay for his services and expenditures. In the Amos Kendall Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress are his itemized accounts presented to the Govern-

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ment in 1843 by Kendall in behalf of Rogers. He claimed $1,000 for 116 days spent on the way; to feed his emigrants on this journey of nearly four months, $750 for 3,000 pounds of bacon, and $224 for 14 barrels of flour; besides these items there was another $320 for 160 gallons of whisky. In those days boatmen could not be hired to navigate the rivers without a liberal allowance of whisky which was a customary provision in addition to their wages.

Rogers removed his family on this trip and thus gave up his home on the Tennessee River. In doing this he was obliged to abandon 500 bushels of corn for which he claimed $250 and 250 head of hogs which he valued at $2.50 each. But he also had a distillery near his home and for his three stills he demanded of the Government $500 and for his still-house and tubs $800 more. Governor McMinn had promised that the Government would pay him liberally for his distillery and other property he would be obliged to abandon if he would as speedily as possible remove from Tennessee all the Cherokees whom he could influence to go with him.

The art of making good whisky descended from father to son and so it came about that Charles Rogers a son of John decided to engage in the business soon after the removal of the Cherokee Indians in 1829 from Arkansas to their present home. He planned to operate a distillery and grist mill at the same time and set about to secure a location on a stream that would furnish sufficient power for his business; so he found on Spavinaw Creek not only the water power and a good location to build his mill and dam but also a beautiful site for his home which he erected near by, which became the old settlement called Spavinaw.

Before he had completed his establishment, there occurred in June, 1833, what was probably the greatest flood known to Oklahoma history, and Rogers' dam and mill were badly damaged. But his greatest loss occurred the next year when he was notified that in compliance with a law recently enacted by Congress, he would not be permitted to operate his distillery and would be obliged to destroy his equipment which he thereafter did. He later filed a claim with the Government for the loss of his property. Governor Montford Stokes, Cherokee agent located near Fort Gibson, then appointed Samuel Mackey and Wm. A. Keys to describe and appraise Rogers' establishment. The appraise-

Page 168

ment made by these men and afterward filed with the War Department at Washington has preserved a picture of this enterprising establishment, located on the bottom of what is now the lake that furnishes water to the city of Tulsa:

"Appraisement of Mr. Charles Rogers' Distillery establishment with all the appurtenances thereto attached, Gristmill, dam, etc. as made by Saml. Mackey and Wm. A. Keys viz:

"The still house is a frame building 30x24 feet 10 feet high, with mulberry pickets set all around. Raftered, gable ends weatherboarded; the roof is of clapboards nailed on; two puncheon floors and one door; the whole estimated at two hundred and fifty Dollars $250
"This building contains one large Still holding one hundred & Seventy Gallons with a boiler & Stiver, one doubling Still holding ninety three gallons, one frame box for the boiler to Stand in, two flake stands, three pumps, six lead troughs, two troughs 24 feet long to contain water to Support the Still when in operation; the whole appraised at Six hundred and ten Dollars $610
"An additional building Attached to the Still house; the lower Story framed, set round with Mulberry pickets 30 by 25 ft., 9 ft. high; half Story above of hewed logs raftered & board roof nailed on; Gable ends weatherboarded; two puncheon floors and two doors, one double the other Single; this whole estimated to be worth three Hundred Dollars $300
"This building contains Sixty-six Still-tubs at two dollars per tub $132
"Both of the buildings above described Stand in a pit sunk in the ground 49 feet in length 30 ft. wide and 10 ft. in depth; at four hundred dollars $400
———
$1692  

"The millhouse is a two story building; the lower is a frame 21 by 18 ½ and 13 feet high; the upper story is of hewed logs 18 ft. square, Raftered board roof nailed on; Gable ends weatherboarded; one puncheon floor & one door; the building is sit one half of its size in the bank excavated; the mill is what is termed an over-shot with a wheel sixteen feet in diameter; other works in proportion, Irons included; the mill is

Page 169

Single-geared all new and in good order. The whole of above described is appraised at Eight hundred Dollars $800.00
"The water is conducted to the wheel through a race 128 ft. in length 5 ft. in width & 3 ft. depth, with a frame let down the full size and whole length, with a plank bottom & sides Sheeted, all of oak plank 1 ¼ Inches in thickness; estimated at three hundred and one Dollars $301.00
"Another race running round the other side of the establishment called the waste way is 230 ft. in length 5 ft. wide and 4 ft. deep, planked only a part of the way; is estimated at one hundred dollars $100.00
"The Mill dam is 115 feet in length, 13 feet high; in the center across the top of the dam is 20 feet, which is a level the whole length, and a slope of 10 feet extending down into the water; the dam is made entirely of clay and is perfectly water tight without any leek; valued at Five hundred dollars $500.00
"Damages done the aforesaid distillery establishment by the June fresh of 1833, Five hundred and fifty Dollars $550.00
————
$3943.00

"Capt. Geo. Vashon Sir The above is a Joint valuation made by us of Mr. Charles Rogers distillery establishment with all the appertunances & fixtures attached and Gristmill inclusive of stones, dam, races, & C, affixing to each particular what we fairly believe a correct & just valuation in witness whereof we hereunto Subscribe our names Cherokee nation west 26 Sepr. 1835 Saml. Mackey William A. Keys.

"Territory of Arkansas Washington County This day personally came Saml. Mackey before me an acting Justice of the Peace for said County and made oath that the within is a true valuation of the mill and distillery establishment within described, Sworn and Subscribed to this 29th day of September A D 1835—before me Jacob Chandler, J. P. Saml. Mackey.

"Territory of Arkansas County of Washington This day personally appeared William A. Keys before me an acting Justice of the peace within and for said County and made

Page 170

oath that the foregoing valuation was made by myself and Samuel McKey. and to the best of our judgment William A. Keys Sworn & Subscribed to this 2d day of November A. D. 1835 Jacob Chandler J. P.

"Cherokee Agency, Fort Gibson May 10th, 1836. I certify that the within Report & Certificates are those Originally returned to this Office M. Stokes. Sub-Agent for Cherokees."

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