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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 4
December, 1933

Page 1019

Rev. Thomas Bertholf

Rev. Thomas Bertholf, son of John W. Bertholf and Elizabeth (Perry) Bertholf, was born July 12, 1810, in Orange County, New York, sixth child of a family of thirteen, their names and dates of birth being as follows ,to-wit

William Bertholf, born January 5, 1802; Samuel Bertholf, February 21, 1803; Henry B. Bertholf, December 9, 1804; Hannah Bertholf, January 19, 1.806; James P. Bertholf, October 3, 1808; Thomas Bertholf, July 12, 1810; John I. Bertholf, July 4, 1812; Marcus 0. Bertholf, February 12, 1814; Edward Bertholf, April 9, 1816; Elizabeth Bertholf, June 28, 1818; Jesse Bertholf, August 9, 1820; Sarah Bertholf, August 20, 1822, and Caroline Bertholf, August 22, 1823. Their father, John W. Bertholf, was born on the 13th day of March, 1779, and died October 24, 1835; their mother, Elizabeth (Perry) Bertholf, was born on the 16th day of June, 1783, and died in March, 1837.

At the age of twenty-two Thomas Bertholf was admitted on trial in the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, at its session at Jacksonville, Illinois, in September, 1832, being immediately transferred to the Missouri Conference, which had jurisdiction over the Cherokee and Creek country in the Indian Territory; at its session that year at Pilot Grove, Missouri, he was received by transfer from the Illinois Conference, and assigned to "Missions and Schools," in the Cherokee Nation, at Adair School number two,1 in Flint District in what is now Adair County.

At Mountain Spring Camp Ground, Arkansas, in 1833, with Bishop Soule presiding, the first annual Conference held on the soil of Arkansas, Thomas Bertholf remaining on trial, was assigned to "Missions and Schools," at Key's School number two located two miles south of Tahlequah in the Cherokee Nation, and named in honor of Isaac Keys, a prominent Cherokee Indian. On September 29, 1833, Thomas Bertholf was married to Nancy Keys,

Page 1020

daughter of Isaac, and immediately set about to build a home nearby, of hewn pine logs. Some years later, when saw mills were brought into the country, it was weather-boarded. The old house is still occupied as a residence.

Thomas Bertholf built a church there, calling it "Riley's Chapel" in honor of his wife's mother's family, the Rileys. Back in the old Nation in Alabama, in 1822, her grandfather, Richard Riley, became the first Cherokee class leader of the Methodist Church.2 It was through his solicitation that Methodist Missionaries entered the Nation.3

In Jewell's History of Methodism in Arkansas, page 88, concerning Thomas Bertholf and his ministry appears the following:

"Bertholf's ministry was altogether in the Indian country. By marriage he was connected with the Cherokees. In. 1836 when I first knew him he was spare-made, light hair, inclined to be curly, light blue eyes, and in the social circle a most pleasant and companionable man. He preached acceptably and was one of the weep-

3History of Methodism in Alabama, p. 394; The Development of Methodism in the Old Southwest, 1783-1824, p. 85; "In the spring of 1822 Richard Riley, a prominent half-breed of the Cherokee Nation, living twelve miles south of Fort Deposit, Alabama, requested Rev. Richard Neeley, assistant on the Paint Rock Circuit (Huntsville District) to preach at his (Riley's) house. To this request Neeley gave a ready consent. With the aid of Rev. Robert Boyd who also traveled in that circuit, Neeley formed a society of thirty-three members, of which Riley was recognized and accepted as the leader. The society continued with such enthusiasm that William McMahon, presiding elder, thought it wise to hold a quarterly meeting at Paint Rock. The success of this work was reported to the conference which met in Greene County, Tennessee, in October, 1822. The report recommended that a mission should be established in the Cherokee Nation, that a missionary should be established in the Cherokee Nation, that a missionary should be appointed to reside in the neighborhood of Riley in order to preach to the Indians and instruct the children, that a committee should be appointed to receive subscriptions and solicit donations for the support of the mission. For a committee to arrange the mission, the conference chose William McMahon, Thomas Stringfield, and Andrew J. Crawford. The last was appointed missionary, his services in West Tennessee having furnished him with the necessary training and experience. Crawford arrived at Riley's in December and made known his mission. Riley approved Crawford's plans for the establishment of a school for the Indian children. The school commenced on December 30 with twelve children, and the enrollment soon increased to twenty-five. Gratifying results came quickly; in a short time the children learned to spell words of three and four syllables. Both preaching and teaching met some opposition from the Indians, but this hostile feeling soon passed away."

Page 1021

ing prophets. When I last knew him his home was on the Illinois Creek in the Cherokee Nation, near the present town of Tahlequah. In returning from Washington County, Arkansas, in the early days of 1837, I was belated and lost my way, but at last reached the home of young Wolf, a good brother of the Cherokee Nation, and a faithful local preacher. At his house that night I met Bro. Bertholf. He was filling an appointment at Bro. Wolf's that night and I came on them a little while before he closed his sermon. He was preaching about the well of living water springing up into everlasting life. He was talking in a fine mellow strain, and as usual he was crying and the rest were enjoying it to the full. It was a regular old-fashioned Methodist meeting. Except Bro. Bertholf, I have not met any of that company since, but when God makes up his jewels they will be of them; for they are worthy. In the fall of 1837 he accompanied Bro. Harrell to the last quarterly meeting in the Choctaw Nation, and we journeyed from there to the Conference at Little Rock together, where we parted to meet again in the future. My company has gone before. Young Wolf was converted in the old Nation, came West as a local preacher and was a great stay and support to the first missionaries in the West. He interpreted the first sermon I attempted to preach to the Cherokees. He was a large man, not tall, but 'wide around.' My recollection is, that his weight was about 300. He spoke English very well and in his own tongue was said to be a good speaker and an able preacher. Long since he has been gathered to his Father's. Doubtless his children and his grandchildren remain to this day. The family of Bro. Bertholf remain citizens of the Cherokee Nation."

The children of Thomas Bertholf and Nancy Bertholf, with the dates of their birth, are as follows: John W. Bertholf, born July 3, 1834; Elizabeth L. Bertholf, August 1, 1836; Jane Bertholf, December 16, 1837; Isaac Bertholf, October 24, 1839; Thomas Bertholf, Jr., January 25, 1841; Cornelia Bertholf, January 2, 1845; Win. H. Bertholf, October 14, 1846; Electa Bertholf, October 15, 1848, and Richard R. Bertholf, born January 12, 1850.

Page 1022

Not only did Thomas Bertholf marry one of Isaac Keys' daughters, but his brother Marcus O. Bertholf, who followed his preacher brother to the Cherokee country five years later, also another, Electa Keys, in 1838. Martha, daughter of the latter couple, became the wife of Pleasant Porter, Chief of the Creek Nation; other daughters, Letitia and Nancy married William Madden and Otto Zufall, all prominent in the Creek Nation just prior to statehood.

At the Conference in 1834 Thomas Bertholf being admitted into full connection, was assigned to "Missions and Schools," at School number three, Canadian District, near what is now Webbers Falls. In 1835 having been ordained a Deacon, he was placed in charge of the Cherokee Circuit.

Prior to 1836 Arkansas Territory and Cherokee and Creek Nations were a part of the Missouri Conference. At the General Conference in Cincinnati in May, 1836, was created4 the Arkansas Conference which held its first session at Batesville, Arkansas Territory, with Bishop Morris presiding. At both this session and at the one the following year, Thomas Bertholf answering to the roll call was assigned to the South Indian Mission, Cherokee Circuit.

At the third session of the Arkansas Conference held in the town of Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas, in 1838, Thomas Bertholf was located, probably due to ill health. No Bishop being present, John Harrell, a co-laborer with Thomas Bertholf in the Indian Mission work, was elected to preside. Together these two faithful servants labored for their Lord and they lie buried in Old Ashbury Mission Cemetery near. Eufaula. In 1840 Thomas Bertholf, being re-admitted to the Conference, was assigned to Fort Smith, Arkansas. In 1841 he was sent to the upper Cherokee Mission, in 1842 to the Creek Nation, and in 1843 to the Grand River Mission, Cherokee Nation.

Page 1023

At the General Conference in 1844, the Indian Mission Conference being created, it held its first session at Riley's Chapel. He acted as host minister, and with D. B. Cummings, was appointed to superintend religious exercises. For the next Conference year he was assigned to the Creek-Cherokee District. In 1845, Bertholf was superannuated, but in 1846 his relation was changed to an effective one.

In 1850 he again asked to be "located" and no record again appears of him on the Conference Minutes until 1857, when he opened the Conference with prayer and asked to be re-admitted, which request was granted.

In 1859, Rev. Mr. Bertholf was appointed assistant to the Manual Labor School, and Presiding Elder of the Cherokee-Creek District. In 1861 he was elected delegate to the General Conference. In 1862-3, on account of the War, he retired to Boggy Depot.5

In 1864, Thomas Bertholf, the Bishop being absent, was elected President of the Conference and was selected as Presiding Elder of the Creek District and Superintendent of Asbury Manual Labor School.6 In 1865, he was again honored by his brethren, in the absence of the Bishop, being elected President of the Conference and selected as Presiding Elder, and continued as Superintendent of the Asbury Manual Labor School, which was located near Eufaula. In 1866 he was selected Presiding Elder of the Creek District and Assistant Superintendent of Asbury Manual Labor School. He was also elected as alternate delegate to the General Conference.

Thomas Bertholf died June 28, 1867, at Old Asbury Mission, where he is buried by the side of his brother, Marcus O. Bertholf, and near Rev. John Harrell, his co-laborer for so many years.

Many of Bertholf's grandchildren survive, living in the counties formerly comprising the Cherokee and Creek nations. DeWitt Bertholf, a grandson, is a prosperous farmer living in the vicinity of Checotah; E. W. Gray, a grandson, for several years County

Page 1024

Treasurer of McIntosh County, lives in Eufaula; Amanda Bertholf, the widow of W. H. Bertholf, son of the old preacher, lives with her daughter, Bettie Dobson, near Sperry, Oklahoma.

All of his remaining worldly possessions, including his manuscripts, papers and records, and the old Bible, being kept in an old trunk, were destroyed by fire when the home of DeWitt Bertholf was burned in 1932, save and except two leaves from the old Bible, in which he had faithfully recorded in his own handwriting the record of the births and deaths of his own family and the family of Isaac and Nancy Keys. A photostat copy of these pages is in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

When his death was announced at the Conference held at Ft. Gibson, in 1867, Bishop Marvin read the following brief obituary:7

"Thomas Bertholf was born in the State of New York, July 12, 1810; came to the Cherokee Nation as a Missionary in 1832; was married to Miss Nancy Keys in 1833. Although a native Cherokee, she was of fair complexion; a most estimable lady, and every way fitted to be the wife of a missionary. Our departed brother was a man of good sense, abundant in labors, traveled extensively in the Indian country, and was received everywhere as a zealous faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the last Indian Mission Conference he was appointed Presiding Elder of the Creek District. He was in bad health at that time; soon after he was attacked of pneumonia, from which he never recovered. Although his afflictions were great, he was patient and resigned to the will of his Heavenly Father. His last hours were peaceful and triumphant. He died a little before midnight, June 28, 1867. His remains were buried near the Asbury Mission, there to sleep till the trump of God shall call him from the grave."

Charles R. Freeman,
Checotah, Oklahoma.

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