Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 2
June, 1933
SEPTEMBER 28, 1932.


Page 838

My father was Dave Vann, a prominent member of the Cherokee Tribe. His father was the famous Joe Vann, who owned the steam boat Lucy Walker that blew up on the Ohio River in 1843. The only survivor of this explosion was an old negro who later lived at Ft. Gibson. He was an old slave who had worked for many years as engineer on the boat. Long after the explosion I met him at Ft. Gibson and he told me the story of the explosion. He said that my grandfather was on the top deck, entertaining the passengers at a ball and dinner and there was a good deal of drinking. They were having a race with another boat on the river and though they were a little ahead of the other boat my grandfather came down to the boiler deck drunk and he told the negro to throw another side of meat on the fire in order to get more steam so that they could gain on the other boat. The negro told him that the boat was carrying every pound of steam it could stand and Joe Vann pulled his pistol on the negro and told him that if he did not obey him he would shoot him. The negro threw the side of meat on the fire as he was ordered and then turned and ran to the stern of the boat and jumped into the river, and he had not much more than got into the water when the boilers blew up. He never saw my grandfather after that time. The loss of life on the boat was terrible. My uncle, Preston Mackey, was working on the boat and he was killed also. His body was found and brought home. Preston Mackey's widow was my father's sister, Nancy Vann. Preston Mackey is buried about a half mile from here. That was his home place. He has a monument. They did not have any children.

My grandfather, Joe Vann, was the richest man in the

Joseph Vann

Page 839

home of Joseph Vann

Cherokee Nation and he owned a race horse named Lucy Walker, and for this race horse he named his steam boat Lucy Walker. This was a fast horse and my grandfather would race her against any other horse in all the country. He was the richest man in the Cherokee Nation and owned three or four hundred slaves. He had a plantation of five or six hundred acres about a mile south of Webbers Falls where the Vore place is. The Blackstone place was also a part of his plantation. He had a handsome home there built just like the old Joe Vann home in Georgia. It was built of brick and had a basement under it. During the war about three thousand Feds came to that part of the country and they burned my grandfather's house. This house stood about 150 yards south of where the Frank Vore house now is. It was right across from where the Vore barn now is. You can see a sunken place where the basement was. My grandfather operated a steam ferry across the Illinois River and during the high water of 1844 he ran the ferry clear up to his home place and tied the boat to the fence.

My Mother was Nancy Mackey, daughter of Samuel Mackey who operated the salt works on the Illinois River. She was a sister of Preston Mackey. She was educated at Dwight Mission. Samuel Mackey had three sons, Preston, Jim and Bill.

Before and during the Civil War, my father made salt at the Drew salt works near Illinois River north of Gore. He also had salt works on Dirty Creek about a mile above the old bridge on that creek west of Webbers Falls. They had a great many kettles and vats there and I can remember the Creek Indians coming to the salt works and loading their wagons full of salt and driving away to their country.

My mother bought the place where we lived from Dick Crossland a Cherokee. When his folks died Dick was the only heir and the Cherokee sheriff put the place up at sheriff's sale and my mother bought it in. This was long before the Civil War. At the time she married my father she was a widow, a Mrs. Talley. She was my father's only wife and they were married long before the war, in the bottom on the south side of the Arkansas River. The Feds burned my mother's house during the war and then went and burned the Granary and the other houses around and then burned Aunt Sally's house. Our home place was about two miles west of

Page 840

Webbers Falls and contained three or four hundred acres. My people lived there until way after the Civil War. I sold my interest in the place to my sister for $3000.00. The place is now called the Rutherford place. Fred Clark now owns part of it. Our house was a double log house with eighteen foot rooms, porches on each side and two rooms upstairs. There was a passage through the center with a chimney in each room. We took the rocks when we came back from the Chickasaw Nation where we refugeed during the war, and made a chimney at the old home. That chimney is at the old home now. Rutherford afterward owned that house. The hearth rock there is the same old rock I used to tromp on when I was a baby. That old house is about two miles from Webbers Falls. My father and mother also used to walk on that old hearth rock. The mantle board is made out of pure walnut and Rutherford told me if I wanted the mantle board and hearth rock to bring home I could have them. I would have gotten them but my house burned down. I was going to exchange with him.

After the war broke out and nearly everything was burned up around here my family refugeed in 1863 or 1864 in the Chickasaw Nation near Fort Washita. We drove there in a hack and carried with us our belongings that had not been burned up. We went by Eufaula on the Texas Road down to Blue, through Perryville where McAlester now is, through Limestone Gap and Boggy Depot. When we got to Fort Washita it was one of the prettiest little towns I ever saw. There were lots of houses there but they took fire and nearly all burned up but the powder house and the garrison. We lived a mile from the Fort and when it burned it made such a bright light that we could see to pick up a pin in the yard. At the Fort there were a lot of big stores and the people in the surrounding country went there to trade. I went with a lot of other little boys to Fort Washita after the fire. I was ten or twelve years old. We found the old powder house and were playing around it until someone told us to go away as it was dangerous to be near. We then went over in the garrison and played there and we loaded some of the old cannons in the fort and shot them off. After we had lived at Fort Washita for some time we moved to Tishomingo and lived on the bank

Page 841

of Pennington Creek. There was a dam of solid rock across it and we used to fish in the creek. My Mother and Father had carried a lot of money, most of which they had made from the sale of salt, with us when we went south. It was mostly Confederate money and they kept it in a couple of small trunks just sitting around the house like anything else. My father took a lot of this Confederate money in sacks across the horse's back and exchanged it for about $20,000.00 in gold. He could not carry it all and left a trunk full to take later but after the war it was of no value.

My father decided to go to Texas and buy a stock of goods and start a store at Tishomingo. So he got on his horse and with $20,000.00 in cash, started for Jefferson, Texas. After he bought the goods he had it all boxed and put in a wagon that he had bought and prepared to return to the Chickasaw Nation. That night he slept in the home of the man who sold him the goods and during the night while my father was asleep this man killed him and robbed him. My father was then buried in Jefferson, Texas.

My father's brothers were Joe, Bill, Johnson and Henry Vann, and his sisters were Sallie Vann Vore and Nancy Vann Mackey. My father often went to Washington as a delegate for the Cherokee Nation.

I married a daughter of Alex Foreman who was a brother of the Rev. Stephen Foreman. My wife's brother was Bullet Foreman. When we were married we went to live at the Junction of the Canadian and Arkansas rivers on what was known as the Dr. Hayes place.

Dr. Hayes kept a store, ferry, boat landing and warehouse for goods on the bank of the Arkansas River. It was generally understood that Dr. Hayes buried about fifteen or twenty thousand dollars in gold when the war broke out and he had to leave for the Chickasaw Nation. After the war was over he came back in 1866 to find his money and dig it up. He brought a man with him and they stayed over on the other side of the river for several days watching some hostile Indians called "Pins" who were camped in the neighborhood of his home and where his money was buried. These campers had five wagons with sheets over them and Dr. Hayes was afraid to venture where they were and after his provisions

Page 842

were gone he gave up and went back to the Chickasaw Nation with the intention of returning in the fall. But in a short time after reaching home Dr. Hayes had a sudden illness in which he fell dead. The man who was with him later came back and told me about it but the money has never been found.

I knew Belle Starr very well. She was a good looking woman. I have seen her daughter Pearl, too. She was also fine looking. Belle Starr was a white woman who married Tom Starr's son, Sam Starr. She was the daughter of a Judge in Missouri. Tom Starr's children were Sam Starr, little Tom Starr, Tucksie Starr and some others. Belle Starr had a son named Ed Reed, son of her second husband. She had a fine horse that Ed wanted to ride and she told him not to and said that if he did ride the horse she would whip him. So one day he rode Belle's horse without her permission and she went into his bedroom where he was in bed and whipped him with a quirt. When she started to whip him he told her if she did he would kill her and she whipped him just the same. So he laid out in the weeds near the road and when she came along on her horse he shot her.

My brother afterward killed that horse in this way. Sam Starr robbed the Creek Nation Treasury and came down to this neighborhood to hide. My brother Bill was the Sheriff and I rode with him all the time for twenty-seven years. We saw Sam Starr go in a corn field and when he came out we hollered at him to halt. My brother first shot Sam in the side and then killed the horse. My brother's deputy was a white man named Robinson, an adopted citizen. Bill left Robinson and a fellow named Frank West to guard Sam Starr, but Tom Starr and his gang overpowered the officers and took Sam away with them. Sam Starr afterward killed Frank West. Frank West was a very brave man and John West's own brother. Dick West of Muskogee is a nephew of Frank West. Bill, Polk and John West were brothers. Bill West is Bob West's father. He was a cousin of my mother. Bill West was always killing someone. One time during the Civil War a man named Aubrey from the north came to join Watie's Army. He was at Bill West's house. One night Aubrey went to the barn and when Bill heard a noise, he called outside to see what it was. He asked who was there and when Aubrey answered, Bill shot and killed him.

Page 843

I went to the Male Seminary for four years when Charles Thompson was Chief and he used to visit the Seminary. Old man Chamberlain was the Superintendent and Mr. Purington was Principal Teacher.

I was in Muskogee when the first train went through. It was a construction train and no station had yet been built. In front of where the station now is there was a little shack between the tracks in which the people waited. In this shack was a little eating place. I was working for Tom Hutton as a cowboy. There were lots of people in Muskogee that day. Mr. Strokey, a big old fat Dutchman kept a little restaurant just across from where the station is now. The cowboys always stayed at Strokey's place as they did not like to go to Mitchell's hotel because Mitchell did not like to have them go to bed with their boots on. Strokey was not so particular and there they could get drunk and sleep with their boots on. I never did though as I never drank. Muskogee was a very rough town then. I have seen a great many fights there and killings were very frequent.

Uncle Jim Mackey ran the salt works on the east side of the Illinois River on the government road which crossed the river there. This road ran from Fort Gibson to Fort Smith and went past Dwight Mission. The old home of Israel Vore was just west of Dwight Mission about two miles. Tom Starr killed Israel Vore and his wife and burned them up in their house about 1843 before I was born. A little boy about five years old was burned up at the same time. One time I bought forty or fifty head of cattle from Tom Starr and when I went after them I stayed all night at his house. My brother liked to whipped me for doing that. Tom Starr talked to me all night. He told me about burning the Vores and their house and told me that while it was burning a little boy about five years old came running out and begged him not to kill him and Tom said he just picked him up and threw him in the fire. He said he didn't think God would ever forgive him for that and I said I didn't think He would either.

During the war, my father, John R. Vann, Bob Hanks, Junie Smith, Bill Vann, Walter Agnew and some Choctaw Indians helped to sink a steam boat in the Arkansas River below Webbers Falls that was loaded with supplies for Ft. Gib-

Page 844

son. This was just below Tamaha. They mounted some cannons on the sand bar and shot into the hull of the boat until they sank it. The men then went out in boats and carried the goods off. The water was not very deep where the boat sank so they were able to get at it. They tore the boat to pieces and carried off the windows. Bill Harnage used some of the windows to put them in his house where they now are, in Goose Neck Bend. Most of these men belonged to Watie's command. Bob Hanks used to tell me about the sinking of the boat.

We were living at the salt works at the time of the Battle of Honey Springs and we could see the smoke and hear the guns, as the fighting was only eighteen miles away. My father and brother were in that fight but they were not wounded. In 1879, Henry Starr, John Rogers and a man who owned Braggs, and I were hunting for a man who had killed a boy wilfully. I did not know where the battle of Honey Springs was until we were on the place and Henry Starr said to John Rogers, "If you hadn't been in that hole when we had that war I would have killed you," and they had a regular fight right there on the old battle field.

Stand Watie lived in a frame house with two long rooms and a fire place at each end. It stood just on the east edge of Webbers Falls where you make the turn. I tried to buy this place but I could never get it. A Dutchman owns it.

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