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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 3
September, 1933


Page 927

The beautiful Cherokee country, in the names of its rivers, bears the musical words, Ocoee, Hiwassee, Coosawatee, Conasauga, Oostanaula, Chattahoochee; our literature is enriched by Cherokee legends; and still to be seen are a few of the interesting homes of Cherokee Chiefs and men of wealth of former days—those sorrowful, turbulent, terrible days for both the white man and the red man.

In this article will be pictured five homes, three of them in Georgia and two of them in Tennessee. The writer has visited every one of them and some of them many times. The home of John Ross, near Ross's Landing at Chattanooga, Tennessee, was visited also, but as it has been so often featured in newspapers and magazines, a description of it will be omitted.


Near Calhoun, Georgia, at the Cherokee capital, New Town which soon was changed to New Echota, stands the modest home

Page 928

of Elias Boudinot, teacher,2 orator,3 translator,4 and distinguished citizen.5

Elias Boudinot was "Buck",6 of the Moravian Mission at Spring Place, Murray County, Georgia. He was taught by Mrs. John Gambold,7 that matchless missionary and teacher who devoted her life to the Cherokee youth. "Buck's" Cherokee name8 was Gal-li-gi-nah which means "Male Deer". He was of the Watie family and both he and his younger brother, Stand Watie, won fame for themselves. The latter was the only Indian Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.

"Buck" with two other Cherokee youths,9 was in 1818 sent to Cornwall, Connecticut, to the Foreign Mission School, and on their way they were entertained for a night in the home of Dr. Elias Boudinot,10 distinguished citizen of New Jersey, who was a Christian leader, a friend of Washington, and an office-holder under him when he was President. Dr. Boudinot chose "Buck" as the student upon whom he would bestow gifts, and as was the custom, "Buck", with his patron's consent, took his name and thereafter was known to the world as Elias Boudinot.11

After his graduation, following in the steps of his cousin, John Ridge, he married a white girl, Harriet Ruggles Gold12 of Cornwall, Connecticut. Letters13 are extant in which the bride of Boudinot describes the journey from Cornwall, Connecticut, to Georgia. Later, Mrs. Boudinot's father and mother, Benjamin and Eleanor Gold visited her and her husband at New Echota,14

Home of Elias Boudinot

Home of Joseph Vann

Page 929

traveling one thousand miles with a horse and buggy. The journey occupied forty-seven days.

On the 8th of December, 1829, Benjamin Gold, from New Echota, wrote to his brother in the North, and thus describes his daughter's home:15 "She has a large and convenient framed house, two story, 60 by 40 ft. on the ground, well done off and well furnished with comforts of life. They get their supplies of clothes and groceries—they have their year's store of teas, clothes, paper, ink, etc.,—from Boston, and their sugars, molasses, etc., from Augusta; they have two or three barrels of flour on hand at once.

"This neighborhood is truly an interesting and pleasant place; the ground is smooth and level as a floor—the centre of the Nation—a new place laid out in city form, —one hundred lots, one acre each—a spring called the public spring, about twice as large as our saw-mill brook, near the centre, with other springs on the plat; six framed houses in sight, besides a Council House, Court House, printing office, and four stores all in sight of Boudinot's house."

On the brow of a hill near the home is a grave, and the words on the modest headstone read:

To the memory of Harriet Ruggles, wife of Mr. Elias Boudinot. She was the daughter of Col. Benjamin and Eleanor Gold of Cornwall, Conn., where she was born, June, 1805 and died at New Echota Cherokee Nation, Aug. 15, 1836. Aged 31. "We seek a rest beyond the skies."

There is also in another burial plot a big rectangular tomb which always has been associated with Pathkiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokees and soldier of the war of 1812.

Elias Boudinot16 was among those forward-looking statesmen who resigned themselves to accept a treaty for the removal of the Cherokees to the west, seeing in no other way salvation for his people. Political strife17 followed in the wake of the removal and

Page 930

Elias Boudinot, together with Major Ridge and his son, John, were assassinated in the Indian Territory by political enemies.


The Vann name is associated with the earliest history of Spring Place, Georgia, from that day in September 1800, when two18 missionaries of the Moravian Church anxiously awaited the decision of the Cherokee Chiefs to hear whether they would be allowed to live among the Cherokees and teach the children the Word of God and reading and writing and the useful arts.

Two men,19 Charles Hicks and James Vann, announced their willingness to receive them. The one said, "If the Lower Towns will not take these people, we 'pipemakers' will," and the other said, "Come to me in my section among the upper Cherokees, you can accomplish more among them than in the Lower Towns." James Vann gave proof of his willingness by his hospitality. He entertained the missionaries in his home and went with them to another meeting of the chiefs and when in 1801, they returned to found the first Christian Mission to the Cherokees, it was he, James Vann, who gave them valiant aid.

It was his widow20 who had married again after Vann's death, who became the first Christian convert at Spring Place. Fortunately, James Vann's mantle of helpfulness to the missionaries fell upon Charles Hicks, able interpreter,21 for years Assistant Principal Chief22 and for a short while before his death, Principal Chief.23

When James Vann died his younger brother, Joseph, was only twelve years24 old. Through the years he amassed a fortune and was known as "Rich Joe" Vann.25 His home dominates the sur-

Page 931

rounding country, overlooking the site of the old Mission House which became Murray County's first Court House,26 and also the churchyard "in the orchard," where he buried the remains of Margaret Vann, Crutchfield27 the first Moravian convert, of Chief Charles Hicks,28 soldier of the war of 1812 and Moravian convert, and of Mrs. John Gambold,29 the gifted Christian teacher.

Rev. W. J. Cotter30 of Griffin, Georgia, thus described Joseph Vann and his home:

"He was six feet and six inches tall, a man of wealth, fond of horses and racing. I saw him in 1833. His negro quarter was three miles out, at Mill Creek. The brick home was made of good material, planned by a skilled architect and the work was done by a master builder. This magnificent residence was the equal of any in the civilized portion of the state, and there was not another like it from the Chattahoochee to the Tennessee River."

The manner of wresting this home from its owner, and its seizure by covetous men31 brought censure upon the state. William N. Bishop, Agent for the state, and Spencer Riley, on March 2, 1835, fought for its possession, one of them actually setting fire to it on the inside. Joseph Vann and his family after hiding in one room were forced to leave in the snow.

It is almost pleasing to read in an old court record32 an injunction against William N. Bishop, forbidding him to trespass upon twenty-three specified lots of land, the property of Joseph Vann. Bishop was the Agent for the state and on account of

Page 932

his cupidity was willing to act in direct opposition to Governor Lumpkin's orders.33

Fortune-seeking white men wished also to possess the home of Elias Boudinot.34 The Governor would not allow the application for the grant to be issued for lot 124, 14th Dist., 3rd sec., Elias Boudinot's property; and wrote to him that such a grant would violate the laws35 of Georgia. He wrote to William N. Bishop,36 the Agent, to have speedy justice done to Boudinot and to all well disposed Cherokees.

Joseph Vann moved his one hundred slaves into Tennessee37 and did not go west, though his son did. Vann was killed in a most peculiar accident38 —by the explosion of the boiler on his steam boat "Lucy Walker". On November 1, 1844, on the Ohio river near Louisville, Kentucky, a race was on, and "Rich Joe", wishing to go faster ordered bacon to be thrown into the furnace! The steam arose with such force that the boiler exploded and caused the owner's death. "Rich Joe's" body was buried on the bank of the Ohio, near Louisville.

His interesting house is visited by many tourists, who admire the quaint Indian carving on the tall mantel pieces, the wrought-iron hinges to the doors, especially the stair case—spoken of as the hanging stair case—the removable panel near the big fireplace and the patterns of the mouldings, where the walls meet the ceilings.

The builder39 of this house and of the McNair house and of the foundation of the Hildebrand house was Robert Howell who was born in Virginia and died in 1834, and was buried at Spring Place. Mr. Howell was a fine brick mason and his work exemplified by its beauty and lasting quality is perfectly expressed by Lanier:

"His song was only living aloud,
His work, a singing with his hand."

Page 933

Home of John Martin


"Judge John Martin had been treasurer of the Cherokee Nation before the removal west. He was a useful and prominent citizen of the Nation. He died from fever near Fort Gibson, Oct. 17, 1840, at the age of 55 years, 11 months and 27 days. He was buried at Fort Gibson and the inscription on the monument over his stone-walled grave recites that "he was the chief justice of the supreme court of the Cherokee Nation" —so writes Grant Foreman40 in his book, "Indian Removal."

Of all the homes of chiefs in the Cherokee Nation, the home of John Martin alone appears, as all the others should appear, in a well-kept, prosperous-looking, beautiful manner.

It is situated on the Federal Road41 near the Coosawattee River. In John Martin's day, the Federal Road was the great highway, and on it were droves of horses, hogs, mules, driven from Kentucky and Tennessee to Augusta and Savannah. There was much more travel on this highway than on the one by New Echota, where Benjamin Gold42 of Cornwall, Conn., father-in-law of Elias Boudinot, wrote to his brother in a letter dated 8th of December, 1829, that "their large wagons of six horses go to Augusta and bring a great load; and you will see a number of them together. There is much travel through this place. I have seen eleven of those large wagons pass by Mr. Boudinot's house in company."

The broad valley of the Coosawattee filled with its wilderness of waving corn, actually gives one "visions of golden treasuries of corn".

Ever since the removal of the Indians to the west, this home has been in the possession of the Carter43 family. It is said to be the largest undivided estate44 in Georgia. From the great produc-

Page 934

tiveness of the land, the following Georgia colloquialism has arisen: "He has as much money as Carter has oats." The place where Martin's one hundred slaves had their residence is today, in Murray County, called Carter's Quarter.

John Martin joined Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge and other far-seeing Cherokees in their willingness to emigrate, not because they wished to leave their country, but because they believed, in the words of one45 of them "If one hundred persons are ignorant of their true position and are so completely blinded as not to see the destruction that awaits them, then we can see strong reasons to justify the actions of a minority of fifty persons in doing what the majority would do if they understood the conditions to save the nation from political thraldom."

John Martin was given permission46 to occupy his place through the year 1835, according to a letter from Governor Wilson Lumpkin "should he use his influence to bring Georgia's Indian affairs to a final issue." Gov. Lumpkin, in another letter47 wrote of this Chief— "Every indulgence and lenity has been and will be extended to Martin and others on whom the law might be brought to bear and who are believed to be honestly disposed to bring to a close our Indian controversies48 and prevent further litigation."

In giving up this home, with its sylvan beauty, it causes no wonder when one reads the words of Rev. Mr. Cotter49 on the family's leave-taking, when he said "I saw his daughter sweep the house and burn the broom for good luck, walk out and start on the long journey, no doubt with a sad heart."

The house is quaint and old-fashioned and beautiful. The mantel pieces have Indian carvings and the iron door hinges are of Indian workmanship. The grounds seem immense as the house is in the midst of a green, level plain, dotted with clumps of giant trees. The old Indian Spring-house was in existence until a few years ago, when it had to be replaced. No one can be indifferent

Home of Peter Hildebrand

Home of david McNair

Page 935

to a spot of such natural beauty or to a body of land of such tremendous productiveness.


In 1818, when commissioners ran the line between the states of Georgia and Tennessee, which line was "measured and milemarked", the report was: "Old Mr. Ross is two miles and eighteen50 yards in Tennessee; David McNair is one mile and one fourth in Tennessee." Georgia can almost claim the two sites!

The McNair house, even in its last moments, after the workmen on the mproved Federal Road51, had cut down the long, long row of cedars, which must have originally led to the old log stand; after the road had passed to the rear of the house instead right through it; this house commanded the most entrancing view of the broad acres on the Conasauga River.

The handsome brick home, the first brick house in Polk Co., Tennessee, to be owned by an Indian52 was built by Robert Howell in 1827 or 1828. Robert Howell left his place in Tennessee54 (which was where the little railroad station Patty is now) to go south to build homes for Joseph Vann55 and for David McNair.56 Both Vann and McNair lived at or near their respective home sites before their handsome brick homes were built.

All five homes pictured in this article were types of the homes of wealthy Southern planters and slave owners, with the added distinction of Indian carvings on the mantel pieces and mouldings and of Indian iron-work. In the McNair house was a mantel piece, unlike anything in any of the other houses. It has been admired extravagantly, although there are no Indian carvings on it.

Page 936

In two adjacent downstairs rooms there were corner-fireplaces and over one mantel piece, a panel was removable. The rafters in this house were of peeled pine poles and they were pinned together with wooden pegs. No nails were used in the construction.

It is the people who adorned this home that lend interest to it. It was in this home that John Howard Payne57 was entertained after his thirteen-day imprisonment by the Georgia Guard58 at Spring Place, in December, 1835. In Payne's own words we read "It so chanced that I got upon the direct road to McNair's, some fifteen miles off and within the chartered limits of Tennessee. It is an Indian family. Nothing could be kinder or more cordial than my reception and treatment, notwithstanding the story, probably they fancied of my being still pursued thither for fresh torment by the guard. They looked upon me as one risen from the dead."

David McNair,59 in 1820, was the keeper of the Stand and the boat-yard at the South end of the Portage, while Michael Hildebrand60 kept the Stand and the boat-yard, twelve miles away at the North end of the Portage. Indian traders used this shorter route61 in coming by water from the Ohio River, through Kentucky and Tennessee rivers to the Ocoee. Then coming across this twelve mile portage, to McNair's, the last one of the three portages62 on their route, they would sail down the Conasauga and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a much shorter journey63 than to go down the Ohio, into the Mississippi River. In 1821, Governor McMinn of Tennessee suggested that a canal be built along this Portage route64 and later at the suggestion of the State of Tennessee, the United States made a survey65 for one.

Page 937

A copy of David McNair's Boat-Yard66 record of goods has been found for the year 1827, and all articles of trade are enumerated—one of the items being twelve thousand gallons of liquor.

After McNair had amassed wealth he built the brick home, with brick smoke-house,67 brick slave houses,68 and a long brick ell69 to the dwelling, which was torn away before the picture was made.

When Indian affairs in Georgia had reached a crisis and the Moravian Mission at Spring Place was closed, David McNair invited Mr. Clauder70 the missionary and his family and Miss Ruede,71 the school teacher who lived with them, to come to a place on his farm, where for three72 years he maintained them. Having no church, Mr. Clauder73 became an itinerant preacher, and he not only kept his flock together but added to it. He held his last service74 there August 28, 1836.

David McNair helped the missionaries in every possible manner. He kept them from starvation,75 he assisted them in establishing a new station,76 he gave them a home.77 Finally he laid aside the burden of life and Mr. Clauder,78 the missionary, prepared his body for burial and used the Moravian ritual at the burial service.

The writer has met a woman whose father and grandfather assisted at David McNair's burial. He was a Captain in the war of 1812, and a Government headstone79 has been placed at his grave. Mrs. Delilah McNair was a sister80 of Joseph Vann of Spring Place, Georgia; she was a Moravian convert and went to

Page 938

Spring Place, eighteen miles distant, for baptism81. A beautiful story is told of her.

When she read the letter announcing the date of her baptism, She ran out into the garden laughing and weeping at the same time, lifting her hands to heaven and said, "Dear Lord, here am I, do with me as thou wilt."

When the Cherokees were emigrating in 1838, Mrs. McNair and her daughters were driven away in their own carriage.82 While they were awaiting the arrival of boats at Charleston on the Hiwassee, Mrs. McNair died83 and the United States officers gave permission for her body to be brought back to her home for burial. She was placed in a grave beside her husband. In 1846, before the war between the states, descendants84 of the McNairs came from the state of Oklahoma, and placed over their parents' grave a horizontal marble slab, with this inscription: "David and Delilah McNair who departed this life, the former on the 15th day of August, 1836, the latter on the 31st of November, 1838. Their children being natives of the Cherokee Nation and having to go west, leave this monument not only to tell their regard for their parents but to guard their sacred ashes from the unhallowed intrusion of the white man."

Around the graves they built a solid wall of large limestone rocks, two feet thick. Both the wall and the broken slab on the graves have been mended by interested people.85

In the Spring of 1932, this beautiful old house was struck by a tornado, when the roof just below the eaves, and the chimneys were shorn off as smoothly as if some Brobdignag had used his sword against it. The injury was such that in this year, 1933, it has been torn down.86

Tennessee and Georgia too, are poorer by the destruction of the McNair house. It was the most interesting of all the Cherokee

Page 939

homes on account of the handsome house, the cemetery, and the broad, fertile, picturesque acres.


When rivers were the highways, this home87 was in the center of activities. It is now in such a quiet and lonely spot that one wonders how it could ever have been otherwise.

Chief Hildebrand, at the North end of the twelve mile portage88 from the Ocoee to the Conasauga River, kept the Stand and Boat House on the beautiful green waters of the Ocoee, near the present town of Benton, Tennessee, while Chief David McNair's89 place was at the South end of the portage on the Conasauga River, near the present town of Conasauga, Tennessee.

Both of these Chiefs amassed a fortune as there was much travel on this route. Both began their lives in simple log houses, but both men later on,90 built handsome homes. The Hildebrand house is still a place of beauty, and it is pleasing to know that The Historical Society of Polk County, Tennessee, has taken over its up-keep.

Peter Hildebrand91 was of German descent, and his influence in the Cherokee Nation was due to his marriage to Nancy Harland,92 granddaughter of the heroine, Nancy Ward,93 the Wild Rose of the Cherokees, whose grave has been marked by the D. A. R. of Tennessee.

Hildebrand's new home was built on the south bank of the Ocoee, and was the first framed94 house built south of the Ocoee River. It was seven years in the building. The architect was

Page 940

James Killian95 and he is buried in the little cemetery96 in the rear of the home. Other graves are there, with headstones still standing, but on the limestone rock the lettering has become undecipherable. Killian's is now the only grave known to be there.

The masonry in this home was done by Robert Howell,97 the man who built both the Vann and the McNair homes. Mrs. Helen Nicholson, who in 1916 was nearly ninety years old, and who was Robert Howell's youngest child, remembered perfectly the details.

Chief Hildebrand98 never wore hat or coat or shoes. He owned much land and many slaves, but he would never sell corn.99 He gave it to people who had need of it, "consequently there were many who needed it".

When the beautiful home was finished, Chief Hildebrand decided it was too handsome to live in, so he built a log house100 near by and made his home in it, so that he could really enjoy life.

Jabel Parks of Atlanta, in 1925, wrote: "I used to play with his son, Mike, when I was a small boy—they had pet cub bears. The original farm has been divided into six farms. Hildebrand101 went West over seventy years ago." The family must have kept up its generosity102 after they went to, the West, for we read of a good miller named Hildebrand who added one hundred pounds of flour to a loaded wagon, after the occupant said, "I have no money to pay you."

In the front rooms of the frame house, the baseboards are exquisite. They are of broad walnut plank, two and a half feet wide. In some ways this house is the most beautifully finished of the five shown. The back veranda, with its arch at the end, is very picturesque, and an innovation for that day was to have the big kitchen adjacent to the dining room instead of far away, as was the usual custom. The rafters in this house are of sawed lumber and are pinned together with wooden pegs.

Page 941

This house, and the Boudinot house and the Vann house and the Ross house should all be restored to their one-time beauty, and kept as patriotic shrines, in memory of those noble Cherokee men and women of the past, many of whom both Georgia and Tennessee can claim as distinguished citizens.

"In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South nor North,
But one great Fellowship of Love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find,
His service is the golden cord
Close-binding all mankind."

—John Oxenham.

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