Prior to 1820 two or three thousand Cherokee Indians had removed from time to time into Arkansas Territory and settled along the north side of the Arkansas River. In that year Alfred Finney of Vermont, Rev. Cephas Washburn of Georgia, James Orr and Jacob Hitchcock of Massachusetts, selected a site for a mission among these Indians on the west side of Illinois Bayou near the site of the present Russellville, Arkansas. After securing permission from the Cherokee Indians to locate the mission they began work on some of the buildings to which they brought their families from Georgia. The first service was held here on May 13, 1821 and the sermon was preached by the Rev. Cephas Washburn. The mission was named by them Dwight for Timothy Dwight the former president of Yale College.
The mission was conducted here in the midst of many difficulties and discouragements caused principally by the warfare between the Cherokees and the Osage Indians and by the low class of predatory white people who were forcing themselves into the Indian country. Though the fruits of their labors were meagre, out of all proportion to the hardships endured by the missionaries, they continued here until the Cherokees were removed to the present Oklahoma under the terms of the treaty of 1828.
The removal of the Cherokees from Arkansas to their present country began in 1829 when the Indians ascended the Arkansas River and many of them settled along that stream above Ft. Smith. The missionaries disposed of the mission building at Dwight and moved with the Indians, locating their new mission on Sallisaw Creek about thirteen miles above the mouth. Here, interrupted only by the Civil War, the school and mission were conducted until the present time.
The hardships and discouragements of the missionaries are reflected in the subjoined letter by Alfred Finney. This letter and the map are part of the archives of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Boston who kindly consented for their reproduction in the Chronicles. The sketch
by Asa Hitchcock of the mission is the only one in existence so far as known depicting this or any contemporary Protestant mission in the southwest; and it is reproduced here as a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the subject.—(G. F.)
Dwight, 14 Oct. 1824.
My dear Sir,
Yours very affectionately
Jeremiah Evarts Esq
(Recd. Nov. 29.)
Dwight August 12th 1824.
Although it is but a few days since I wrote you a long letter, I take the liberty of writing you again. The object of the present sheets is to present to the Prud. Com. a subject which has been in my own mind and occupied no inconsiderable portion of my thoughts for some more than a year. To come to the point by a circuitous route, I would first give some geographical outlines of the emigrant Cherokee country, & state some particulars respecting their condition.
It is well known, I suppose, that the portion of country belonging to the Cherokees of the Arkansaw, lies between the Arkansas and White Rivers. These rivers are therefore the northern & Southern boundaries. The Eastern line commences at the mouth of Pt. Remove, and runs N. 53 E. till it strikes White river. The Western boundary line is not yet defined but will be paralel with the Eastern. The two rivers approximate
toward each other as we go from the lower to the upper extremity of the nation. The average distance of the two rivers may be stated at sixty miles, which will be the width of the Cherokee country. The length is not yet ascertained but will be probably one hundred miles or more.
Almost all the Cherokees in this country are settled on the Arkansaw river and upon Creeks emptying into the Arkansaw. Of these, Pt. Remove1 is the first. On this Creek are two settlements containing some less than one hundred inhabitants in each. One is near the mouth of the creek and extending up five or six miles, in which nearly all speak and understand English. In this settlement are four professors of religion—two belonging to a baptist church in the white settlements below—one to the church at Dwight and one to the church at Creek path. The other settlement on Pt. Remove is twelve or fifteen miles higher up, where none understand English. This upper settlement we have never visited; but in the lower we have a preaching place and some very favorable appearances.
The next Creek emptying into the Arkansas and upon which are any considerable settlements is the Illinois four miles from the mouth of which is the Missionary station of Dwight. On this Creek are Cherokees in a continuous settlement from the mouth upward to the distance of twenty or five & twenty miles. The whole is known by the name of Ta-kau-to-caugh's village, because here the influence of this Chief2 is the greatest, and his village, property so-called on this creek and included in this settlement. This man has from the first fostered a settled opposition to schools and the gospel and has kept the people of his village with their children from instruction to the extent of his influence. Near the mouth of Illinois live at present the father and mother of David Brown,3 the only professors of re-
2Takatoka was the dauntless war chief of the Cherokee Indians living in Arkansas who lead his warriors into numerous battles against the Osage Indians. He was prominently identified with the movement for consolidating the western emigrant Indians into a confederacy. In connection with this enterprise he started to Washington with a delegation but had proceeded no further than Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he took sick and died in the Autumn of 1824.
3David Brown, a half-brother of Walter Webber, was educated at Cornwall and Andover and became a zealous missionary in his tribe. He was a brother of the sainted Catherine Brown of the Cherokee tribe whose life and works inspired two books.
ligion on the creek. From Pt. Remove to Illinois the distance is about twenty-four miles.
Ascending the river through the Cherokee country we come next to a Creek called Piney about fifteen miles above Illinois. This Creek, a short distance from the mouth branches into two, called Big & Little Piney, on each [of] which are large settlements to which the gospel has never been preached, excepting to individuals who have attended meetings at Dwight. High up on Little Piney is one a member of our church. But very few if any of the Creeks understood or speak English.
Ten miles from Piney is another Creek called Spadre which is not more than ten or twelve miles in length, but lined with settlements almost from source to mouth. Nearly all the people on this Creek speak English. We have had here a preaching place from the first of our going abroad among the people.
Proceeding Westward twelve or fifteen miles from Spadre we come to a Creek called Horsehead or Skull Creek, on which is one of the largest settlements in this division of the Cherokee nation. To the people here we have never preached the gospel excepting to some who attend our meetings at Spadre.
The last and uppermost Creek on which are settled Cherokees is one known by the name of Mulberry. During the time of war4 between the Cherokees and Osages the small number who had settled upon Mulberry deserted their houses and fields and moved down to other settlements. But since the return of peace they have returned and a large number of families who at first settled south of the river have moved over & joined their brethren upon Mulberry. The whole now make a very handsome & flourishing settlement.
Between each of the above named Creeks are settlements on the Arkansaw River, some more others less numerous. Should we now draw an imaginary line between and equidistant from the several creeks and running back as far as settlements are extended, and call each division a parish we should have in this
4The Osage Indians who claimed most of the present Oklahoma resented the intrusion of the Cherokee and other emigrant Indians who were expert hunters and killed large numbers of wild animals that the Osage had been accustomed to claim as their own. The result was constant turmoil, bloodshed and warfare between the Cherokees and their Shawnee, Delaware and other allies, on one side, and the Osage on the other, and the campaigns waged up and down the Arkansas River presented great difficulties to the successful conduct of a missionary establishment in the country.
part of the Cherokee nation six parishes, not far on an average from twelve miles square, each of which would afford ample scope for the time, tallents and piety of a faithful Missionary of Christ. The annexed course sketch with the pen will serve to illustrate the foregoing statement. From the statement and this rough sketch it will be seen that Dwight is near the center of the lower half of the nation, or the middle of the three lower branches, having but one below and four above. On Pt. Remove we can preach in the lower settlement without an Interpreter and so on Spadre. In all the other settlements or parishes an Interpreter would be necessary. As yet we have employed but one nor have we thought it admissable to employ more than one. That one is constantly wanted at Dwight, especially every Sabbath. While thus circumstanced, the gospel is very limited in its range. It is preached every Sabbath at Dwight; doubtless receives a ready attention & compliance from others, whom the interests of a Mission and of the gospel in this field would include. In this Spadre parish for instance a man might go right to work. The people can understand him without an Interpreter, or shd. he want help of this kind, he cd. obtain it on the ground without expense. Two publick Interpreters live on the Creek, and two of the principle chiefs are now removing on to it. They are both friendly to the preaching of the gospel, One in particular. John Jolly,5 who is most influential, talks to his people & tells them to go to meeting and hear good. He also states to us when he shall have compleated his buildings and moved to the place, his house shall be always open for us to occupy on the Sabbath. Were a preacher stationed at Spadre, he might early extend his labors to Horse head or divide his time between the two. As it is we often have, whenever we preach at Spadre, as many and sometimes more hearers from Horse head than what attend preaching at Dwight. Add to this growing white settlement south of the Ark. and opposite the mouth of Spadre in which are a number of Presbyterian Christians without a shepherd, who gladly avail themselves of gospel privileges could they obtain them by crossing the river. In the third place:
5John Jolly was the civil chief of the Cherokee Indians and was a man of good sense and judgment. After the removal of the Cherokees from Arkansas Jolly located on the east bank of the Illinois River a short distance above the mouth and it was here that Sam Houston began his stay with the Cherokee Indians in 1829. John Jolly died in his western home in December, 1838.
The present peculiar crisis of this people, requires the influence of the gospel to the extent of our ability to diffuse it.
The people, with very few exceptions are without any peculiar bias or prejudice against the gospel, and many have a favorable disposition toward it. At present their minds are turned to your Missionaries for instruction, and they would now doubtless prefer to hear the gospel from Missionaries of A. Board to hearing it from other men, but by neglect their minds may become easily diverted. The settlement on Spadre,6 which is the most easy of access, if not occupied by ourselves may give a ready reception to strolling preachers, who can alienate the minds of the people from us, create division, and raise insuperable bars to our usefulness and to the progress of the gospel. The Cherokees in this country are not as yet very hard pressed with surrounding white population. But men of every discription are coming in thick and fast around them. It can therefore but be viewed by the philanthropist and benevolent as a matter of very great moment to the interests of the Cherokees and the church in this part of the field that every point accessible by enemies shd. be occupied and that the people be brought forward as fast as practicable, by a knowledge and influence of enlightened & christian principles.
Could the present favorable state of things be improved to its full extent, there would be ground to hope that this part of the tribe might be brought forward in their improvement so as to be prepared to take a decided stand on good ground before annoying enemies would so greatly multiply as to occasion much fear or danger. Could the present favorable bias be properly improved in reliance upon divine efficiency and grace, it is not too much to hope that the Cherokees in the Arkansas Ter. will advance so much ahead of the surrounding country, that these dispersed Indians may be looked upon as a bright spot in the midst of surrounding darkness, and making that darkness doubly dark and gloomy by the contrast. But neglect the present day—let hords of indolent savage & unprincipled white men line the borders of the Cherokee country—let wandering stars, strolling preachers come in and poison the minds of the people
6Spadre Bluff was a point on the Arkansas River near the present Clarksville, Arkansas. It was the site of the United States factory conducted by the celebrated Matthew Lyon who died there August 1, 1822.
and alienate them from your Missionaries and prejudice them against your benevolent plans and designs; and we may as well give over the day, relinquish the field and return to inaction by our mothers firesides, leaving the land we are sent to cultivate, to the growth of thorns and briars and for haunts for the bear and wild boar of the woods. I need not speak, for the Prud. Com. are not ignorant of the discouragements and obstacles flung in the way of your Missionaries in the Old Cherokee nation by loose and designing men, pretending to the sacred character of Ministers of the gospel. Such men will not be long wanting here to embrace the first opening if it be not previously occupied and vigilantly guarded. It seems then that prudence and wisdom and sound policy would say—Let the parish of Spadre, which at present has the widest door of entrance for either good or evil, be first and immediately occupied and guarded. And the introduction of numerous evils may be presented, while none are forseen as likely to result from the adoption of such a plan. I would present as a fourth reason
That the teachings of Providence with myself and companion present to my mind as the path of duty, a removal from Dwight to occupy an humble station in some one of the upper parishes.
A great variety of circumstances & events, too numerous to mention, all looking the same way, has fixed my mind very strongly upon the course proposed. The providential opening, the desire of the people and the prospect of extended good all have weight. After long deliberation upon the subject myself, without naming it so much as to Mrs. Finney,7 it was discovered that the same subject had been occupying her thoughts and desires at the same time. Should a change of place therefore in the event be determined for my self and family, I shall have no conquest to make of her—no convictions of duty to impart, nor any labor to perform in order to give determination & a settled purpose to her mind. We are prepared, heartily, to concur with each other and mutually to share the privations which may be incident to our course. If we go we go to a darker part of the forest, and to a rougher part of the scene in
7Mr. Finney's wife, the former Susanna Washburn, was born in Randolph, Vermont, and died in 1833 at the mission on Sallisaw Creek where a monument over her grave may be seen.
which we are actors. But our hearts will be one. And a cheerful relinquishment of Christ's society and all the conveniences for which we have toiled, will diminish the privation and divide the pain. I may state another reason:
My own entire unpreparedness to fill so high and important a station as I now occupy renders it fit and reasonable that I should be permitted to descend to a lower station and move in a more humble and obscure sphere.
I have ever viewed the station which I have nominally occupied at Dwight as a high important and responsible one. But by experience and observation during four years, I am constrained to admit as true, notwithstanding my own conceit and self-prefferance that I [am] unqualified to stand at the head of an Institution like this or in any way to move in the van of a Missionary phalance. I say not this as men often say things to their own disadvantage, from desire to provoke commendation and praise from others; but because I know and feel it to be truth, and desire that others, especially my directors and pat[rons] may be aware of the fact, and not expect what they will never realize in one in whom they have placed by far too much confidence, if any. I might specify a long [list] of qualifications requisite in a Superintendent of a Missionary station and a longer list still requisite in a joint or associate superintendent, of which I am altogether destitute and of which I am likely to continue destitute without—what it would be presumption to expect, more than supernatural endowments. I mean not in the smallest degree, by any thing now written to disparage my associates, nor to insinuate any thing to their disadvantage. Faults, defects and imbecilities are mine, I plead therefore to be permitted to resign the high Post which has heretofore in part been filed by myself and to descend to a lower and more obscure, where I shall get down nearer to a level with my capacity and ability. Let me add once more:
A removal of myself and family to some other part of the field would result in an increase of Missionary exertion, without any increase, if not with a diminution of one person. From a variety of circumstances, my mind is fully satisfied that we are in one anothers way at Dwight in our ministerial capacity—so much so—and socially that it would not be going beyond truth to say,
there would be more preaching and more truth communication to the Cherokees if I were entirely removed from the field than now. This could be demonstrated were I to descend to particulars. Admitting this, of which I have no doubt for myself, it furnishes a weighty reason for my requested departure from Dwight, even in case I go entirely from the field and cease altogether to exert a salutary influence upon the Missionary cause, but weightier still if I go to another part of the field, where all I may be enabled to do in Missionary effort will be added intoto to what is done under our present arrangement.
This increase of Missionary labor will be without an increase of one person, for it will cost to say the least no more to support a family at Spadre, Horse Head, or Mulberry8 than at Illinois. I may say with safety it will cost less, if the estimate of one person which some have made be a correct estimate. The one person of each individual family, resident at Missionary stations in the west exceeds in every case the sum of 800$. Permit me to remove to some one of the upper parishes and I should not hesitate to engage not much to exceed one half of the sum, and with the same health and strength enjoyed by myself and family since the first year to perform more appropriate Missionary labor than I have been enabled to do heretofore.
I wish not to be understood in any thing I have communicated as expressing anything like an opinion that Dwight ought to be abandoned. Far from this. It is a precious spot, dear as home, and ever in the name and in the thoughts of it exerting pleasing emotions. I should leave its consecrated ground with many a painful regret and often wander back in imagination with many a tender recollection. I would say: Let Dwight be upheld with every reasonable effort, and let its original plan be continued with greater exertion and efficiency; and with no other change than what concerns economical measures and systematic arrangement. It bids fair to answer the originally contemplated end and to prove a lasting blessing to thousands. Happy & highly honored is the man who is con[sider]ed worthy to hold and who faithfully fills a station in any of its departments.
Nor would I have the impression received that the proposition I have made arises from any dereliction of the service
upon which I have entered. The desire of my heart, growing stronger every day is to live and die on Mission ground and to add the small nich I occupy in the church and the clerical fraternity to the Missionary phalance. I feel more confidence in the success of the enterprise than under the ardor of commencement. Every day adds to the strength of my belief that there are many in this land of darkness, who are chosen of God to be brought into the kingdom of Christ; and that the time is not far distant when this rough and thorny part of the wilderness will bud, blossom and bear fruit of righteousness. So far as I know my own poor heart, it is my wish and most earnest desire the most effectually and extensively to further the cause of Zion in this dark land. And for this reason I have requested the proposed change in my own case; and for the same reason I can but earnestly hope the reasons suggested may have due weight and that my request may be granted.
I shall wait, dear sir, I hope with patience, though not without some [anx]iety for a return to this communication, assuring myself that suspense will not be unnecessarily protracted.
I am aware that I have tresspassed upon your time in obtruding upon your attention so long a letter. But let this be my excuse for its undue length that I have neither time nor tallent for writing a shorter.
With sentiments of respect and submission I am Dear sir, yours sincerely
Jeremiah Evarts Esq. Cor. Sec. A. B. C. F. M.
N. B. August 27, 1824. On the 19 inst. the foregoing letter as prepared for the prudential Committee was submitted to the consideration and free remarks of all the brethren in business meeting. A. F. Sept. 1, 1824. Sarah's Letter, last date July 10, to br. Washburn received today. Please, sir, to express to her my affectionate regards. Assure her that I can but sympathize with her in her afflictions, and remember her and her scattered family in my poor prayers. She is dear to me as a sister and the trials which have fallen to her lot cause my heart to mourn and to cry "Lord what is man!"