Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 12, No. 1
March, 1934
FATHER MURROW: CIVIL WAR PERIOD

ALICE HURLEY MACKEY

Photo

Page 55

When Joseph Samuel Murrow was born in Georgia in 1835 Andrew Jackson was president and his Indian policy—if it can be dignified by that title—was in full swing; the Five Civilized Tribes were in process of being removed to new country west of the Mississippi where they were promised protection and security on land "guaranteed to them forever"; the panic of 1837 was in the future, and there were only two railroads west of the Alleghenies endangering lives of passengers with a break-neck speed of something like fifteen miles an hour. When he died in 1929, the last of the company of great pre-Civil War missionaries to Indian Territory to go, he had lived through four major panics, and another cataclysmic in its devastation was about to break. He had seen all his country's promises to his beloved charges, the full-blood Indians, broken a thousand times, he had marvelled at the speed of the first Pony Express through Indian country and he had seen the Express and stage give way to the telegraph and train. When he left Georgia in 1857 it took him five weeks to reach Indian Territory by steamboat and stage, and on the day of his death newspapers headlined the crashing of a giant air-liner on a New Mexican mountain, and the setting of an airplane record of a fraction over 328 miles an hour.

When in addition to this it is added that Father Murrow served the Indians through the Civil, Spanish American, and World wars, you have something of the scope, the span and the historic significance which attaches to the life of this great Oklahoman who, from the day of his first sermon in the Creek Nation when he was twenty-two, until his death in the Choctaw Nation seventy-two years later never wavered from the high ideal he had set for himself in the text of his first sermon to the Indians: "I seek not yours but you."

There were a great many things that propelled this young Southerner toward the West. Undoubtedly he shared the common urge of the youth of his day in that direction. Since he stopped long enough on his way west to be married to Miss Nannie

Page 56

Elizabeth Tatom, it is likely that his was the instinct of all young lovers toward a new life in a new world. He must have been moved by the tragic tales of Cherokee and Creek removal in his native state and have known by heart the inspiring story of the imprisonment of Worcester and Butler because of their devotion to their Indian charges. Perhaps he had read, and been moved by, the plea of David Folsom, first lay missionary to the Choctaws, who wrote the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions "Do something for us beyond the great river Mississippi." Certainly Murrow was a part of the nineteenth century missionary movement that carried earnest young men with the message of Christianity to the far parts of the globe.

All these things predisposed him toward the West and when word came from Rev. H. F. Buckner at that time the only white missionary among the Creeks, asking for help out in the Indian Territory, young Murrow left Mercer College before time to enter his senior year, was ordained at Macon, and came west as a missionary to the Indians duly appointed by the Rehoboth Baptist Association of Georgia.

When he and his young wife reached North Fork Town (near the present Eufaula) in the Creek Nation and took up their abode in a rude log cabin, they were not at all sure of their welcome. The Creeks had bitter memories of the first few years after removal when there was undignified competition among the missionaries of three denominations in the Creek settlement on the Verdigris and Arkansas, and abolitionism was preached among their slaves. In 1836 Roley McIntosh had placed before the Indian superintendent facts that caused him to order all missionaries to leave the Creek Nation, but not before one missionary had been assaulted and another shot at from ambush.

The act of the Creek Council punishing the preaching of the Gospel had been suspended in 1844 and a great deal of the antagonism had died down, and if Father Murrow found that many Creeks still distrusted missionaries, he also found among them men and women who had borne the punishment of fifty lashes for conversion to Christianity. Evidences of the Creek feeling toward missionaries persisted even as late as the eighties when Almon Bacone went before the House of Warriors at Okmulgee to

Page 57

ask for 160 acres of land for a school and was at first flatly refused, a circumstance undoubtedly caused by the fact that it was to be a mission school, for even Creeks who were opposed to Christianity had always been in favor of schools.

It is no wonder that Murrow, looking back more than half a century later, could recall so vividly his feelings the first day he took up his work in the Creek Nation. Rev. Mr. Buckner could not be present on that particular day. There was a full-blood Creek girl to be baptized. Chief Moty Kanard was there and also Chief Roley McIntosh.

"I knew the Creeks were against Christianity . . . . . they had been cruelly treated . . . . . they looked at me critically . . . . . the girl was as white as a sheet, but I was whiter." But he got through examining her somehow and she was baptized, the first of three or four thousand (Father Murrow finally lost count!) of those to be baptized by him.

It was at one of these meetings that Father Murrow first heard the Creek yell. He was not aware of their custom of applauding speakers or sentiments of which they approved with a sudden whoop or yell. "If you have ever heard wolves," he said, "you will have an idea how it sounds. When you get fifty or more Indians together and they give this whoop you can hear it for miles." On this particular occasion, he was listening to Roley McIntosh make a speech, probably completely wrapped up in what was being said for he was ever an ardent admirer of Indian oratory and expressed himself as being moved to tears by it on more than one occasion. The close of the McIntosh speech was greeted with the yell, and Murrow didn't mind admitting "I certainly did jump."

The girl who had come west with Murrow with such high hope of a long life of service to the Indians as his helpmeet was destined when she had been married only ten months to join the ranks of those earliest of pioneer women in the Indian Territory— wives of missionaries, teachers, and traders, of government agents and army officers— whose graves are mute reminders of the hardships of frontier life.

Fourteen months after her passing, Father Murrow was married to Clara Burns, daughter of a missionary to the Choctaws, and immediately after their marriage in 1859 they removed to the Seminole Nation, where he took up his missionary labors.

Page 58

The Indians of this tribe submitted to removal to the Indian Territory later than those of any of the tribes from the south. Many of them never removed from Florida and the tribe in the Indian Territory numbered only a little over two thousand. Within comparatively recent years they had been engaged in bitter war with the Federal Government. When they first came west they were given a home on Creek land, but being dissatisfied with this arrangement they and the Creeks had made a treaty with the Government only three years before Murrow went among them providing for a part of the Creek Nation to be set aside for their sole ownership and use. The Seminole Nation as at this time (1856-1866) constituted was an uneven narrow strip running centrally through the western two thirds of the Indian Territory between the Canadian and North Canadian Rivers, reaching up as far as the Cherokee Outlet and out to the Texas line.

It was with this tribe that J. S. Murrow rendered service during the Civil War that for purity of purpose and unostentatious consecration to the needs of a helpless and stricken people is surpassed by that of no one who took part in the tragic events of the war period in the Indian Territory.

Father Murrow was, by birth and by every instinct of loyalty, a southerner. His maternal great-grandfather held a patent to Sullivan Island in Charleston Bay from the English Crown. His father, William Murrow, fought with Francis Marion in South Carolina during the Revolution. His belief in the cause of the Confederacy was so deeply sincere that had his duty called him in that direction he would gladly have given his life for it. But, although he was only twenty-six at the outbreak of the war, the gentleness and kindly tolerance that were his predominating characteristics throughout his life were so active in him at this time that while others, even ministers of the gospel, were stirring up sectional prejudice and strife and hurling bitter personal recrimination, he kept steadfastly to his single purpose— to care for his Indian charges spiritually at all times, materially when and however he could.

Surveying the whole life of Father Murrow, this perhaps is its great distinguishing characteristic— the simplicity and singleness of its purpose. He came to the Indian Territory to administer to the wants of the Indians. This he did as long as his life

Page 59

lasted. His was always a keen and active mind, interested in national and world affairs, but governments might rise and fall and battles be won and lost: the Indians and their spiritual and material needs were his sole concern. Whether he was engaged in building a home for Indian orphans or riding thirty miles through summer heat almost too weak and ill to stay on his horse, to carry the gospel to his charges; whether he was building a college for Indian youth or taking a sick Indian child into his home so that he could comfort her last moments and bury her from his meager funds; whether, as an authority on the Indian he was giving expert testimony before a Congressional committee, or as a minister of Christ he was thundering "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not covet," "Thou shalt not bear false witness," as he saw the grafters' shameless grab of Indian land, he was always and ever the friend of the full-blood.

Father Murrow had been with the Seminoles nearly two years when war was declared. Sectional feeling had steadily mounted from the early forties, until finally, because of persecution, and in some cases threatened violence, all but a few of the missionaries appointed to the Indian Territory by the northern missionary societies had withdrawn. Some of these northern missionaries who had labored in the Territory for twenty-five years or more refused to abandon their flocks even when their home boards withdrew their support.

The Seminoles, at the outbreak of the war, were not much concerned one way or another. They had had enough of war in Florida, and the events attending their removal had not left them with any debt of gratitude to either the North or the South. Under the protection of well garrisoned federal forts placed in the Indian Territory to guarantee their security they were recovering from the devastating effects of the drought of 1860 when there was an almost complete failure of crops in Nebraska, Indian Territory and Kansas. They hoped that while the whites were settling their differences among themselves the Indians might be left alone to pursue peaceful pastoral lives in the country in which their roots had already struck so deep.

However, within a few weeks after Sumter was fired on, the Government at Washington, because of pressing political necessity,

Page 60

found it expedient to forget its honor and its promise of protection to the Indian. Federal troops were withdrawn, and the Indian Territory forts were immediately occupied by Confederates. The Seminole agent, Samuel Rutherford, openly avowed his southern sympathies and pointed out to his wards their points of agreement with the invaders: they too were slaveholders, they were southern by geographical location, and many of them were partly southern by blood. John Jumper (Hemha Micca) one of their principal chiefs and a man of great influence with the tribe, leaning naturally toward the southern point of view and seeing with dismay the abandonment of the Indian by the Government at Washington, found himself and his followers ready to treat with Albert Pike, Commissioner for the Confederate States when the latter wrote that he had already concluded treaties with the Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws, and that he wished Jumper to meet him, accompanied by other responsible Seminoles empowered and ready to treat with him. This they did and the treaty was signed at the Seminole Council House on Aug. 1, 1861.

The non-Secessionist faction among them, headed by Billy Bowlegs (So-nuk-mek-ko) refused to treat with Pike, and although they received no support nor encouragement from the Government or from the President to whom they wrote: "Now the wolf has come, men who are strangers tread our soil, our children are frightened and the mothers cannot sleep for fear" they shortly thereafter joined the "Loyal Creeks" and fought on the Union side throughout the war.

Father Murrow tells an amusing incident that occurred when John Jumper received the letter from Pike asking that a time be set for the treaty meeting. Pike had a clerk named Cunningham who wrote a very large and impressive hand, while Pike wrote a small hand. Both men had written Jumper, and when they arrived he gave them one look and fitting the important looking handwriting to the wrong man he greeted the clerk warmly, thinking him the commissioner.

Murrow himself was to have an experience with Pike's writing later, when he was Confederate agent for the Seminoles and Pike was in command of the military department of the Indian Territory. Pike wrote him in October 1862 detailing his griev-

Page 61

ances against various Confederate officials, particularly against T. C. Hindman who commanded the Trans-Mississippi District and who, Pike thought, was infringing on his authority.

There is no record that Murrow ever tried to influence the Seminoles one way or another either at the outbreak of the war or in the course of it. But he must have been more than human if he was not elated to have them espouse a cause in which he himself placed his faith. The policy of the Confederacy toward the Indians at the outbreak of the Civil War was the most far seeing and just that has ever been conceived or proposed. Due to a number of causes, principally remoteness from Richmond, deficiencies in administration, and the ramifications of personal intrigue, it was never carried out, and the defeat of the Confederacy brought it wholly to an end. But the just and equitable policy by which the Confederacy intended to guarantee to the Indian political integrity was exactly the policy that Father Murrow begged for from the government all his life. He gave seventy-two years of untiring labor, many times sick at heart and sustained only by his unfaltering faith in a benevolent God to the task of trying to remedy in individual cases the wholesale evils of the Government's neglect of its obligations to the Indian.

And who shall say that today's groping by the Government for a workable means of giving back to the Indian land and self-respect is not a long-delayed answer to the prayers of such good men as Father Murrow?

Among the many distinguished Indians who were friends of Father Murrow, none is of more interest than John Jumper, a full-blood Seminole, an enlightened man, and one of great ability and kindliness. Their friendship dated from the time when Murrow converted Jumper and undertook to baptize him and failed because he was so young and slight and Jumper, a giant of six feet four, weighing two hundred and twenty-five pounds, proved too much for the earnest young Baptist divine to handle so that he had to give the task over to someone more physically adequate. In 1862 Jumper recommended to the Council that Murrow be appointed Confederate Agent for the Seminoles. The matter was taken up with Richmond and a commission duly signed by Jefferson Davis gave him that position.

Page 62

At first, things went well for Confederate sympathizers in the Indian Territory. After a series of successful encounters on the Confederate side Union sympathizers among the tribes were driven north into Kansas. But the tide turned, and when Fort Gibson was occupied by Federal troops in November, 1862, and Fort Smith was occupied in September, 1863, Southern adherents among the Indians were forced to become refugees on or near the Texas line.

In 1863, Father Murrow was given, in addition to his duties as Confederate agent for the Seminoles, the further responsibility of acting as subsistence agent for the Confederate refugees, women, children, and old men of the Seminole, Osage, Comanche and Creek tribes whose able bodied men were away at the war. This position he held for three years, until the close of the war, feeding and caring for three thousand people.

At first these southern Indian refugees were wanderers, for the second time in thirty years forcibly evicted from their homes, a stricken people moving from place to place because of weather, sanitary conditions, or the proximity of Federal troops. "With the fluctuating fortunes of war, my people and I had to move often" says Father Murrow, "Kansas Jayhawkers and Texas Bushwhackers raided the Territory, terrorizing, murdering . . . . . It was a dreadful time. I know whereof I speak for I was with the refugee Indians all through those horrible years of war . . . . . Their cattle and ponies were driven north and south by tens of thousands for which they did not receive a penny. Their houses were burned, their fields laid waste . . . . their country was again a wilderness."

As the war wore on this group of refugees concentrated in the vicinity of Fort Washita along the Blue, Washita, and Red rivers. The Seminole Agency remained near Wewoka, and Father Murrow established a commissary near Fort Washita. Here he received money from the Confederate Government with which he bought flour, corn, salt, beef and other provisions and supplies and distributed them among the thousands of destitute Indians in his care. It was the intention of the Government at Richmond that there should be no hitch in this service of supplies to the refugees whose allegiance was important, just as it was the intention that there should be no hitch in the service of supplies

Page 63

to the military department. But there were times when the money was not forthcoming and supplies and provisions were hard to get and it was a problem to see that all mouths were fed and that no one suffered from exposure. When General Pike commanded the military department of Indian Territory he accused the army in Arkansas of appropriating money and supplies intended for Indian Territory, and said bitterly that the Indian Territory never got anything that was fit to be sent elsewhere, that the Indians' portion was "refuse . . . crumbs that fall from the white man's table." Father Murrow, young in years, was old in experience. He had seen starving Creeks eat slippery elm bark in '61. This group of refugees under his care never came near such straits as that because his tireless energy and diplomacy managed to conciliate, to arrange, and to bargain.

During these same years while he was devoting himself with so much success to the care of these southern refugees, the northern refugees in Kansas were not so fortunate. The condition of these Indians was pitiful in the extreme. Traders, settlers, and Government contractors fought among themselves in shameless greed, issuing inferior provisions or none at all, deflecting to their own use money intended by the Government for the destitute Indians who perished by the hundreds after sufferings that stagger the imagination.

To affirm Father Murrow's honesty will seem useless to those who knew him and to those who read the open record of his life. He lived and died a poor man in a period and a section where few men with white blood withstood the many opportunities for easy profit at the expense of the fullblood Indian. He served the Confederacy with flawless probity, and at the end of the war was able to turn the affairs of the Seminole Agency over to the Federal Government in such shape that, even in the reconstruction era, his acts received no criticism. In after years when he learned of the graft that had been practiced in other places he remarked simply of this period when thousands of dollars passed through his hands, "I never took as much as the wrappings of my finger."

During the three years while he was so ably taking care of the material wants of the refugees, Father Murrow ministered

Page 64

also to their spiritual needs, comforting, encouraging, educating, converting. As they moved from place to place, the first thing to be built was the brush arbor for Christian worship. In the midst of the alarms and vicissitudes of the war years there was only one Sunday when he did not hold divine service. Of that Sunday he says "we were fleeing from Yankee soldiers."

There were a great many Confederate troops in the vicinity of the refugee camps in southeastern Indian Territory at various times, white troops from Texas, Cherokee and Choctaw troops under Stand Watie, Creeks under D. N. McIntosh, and Seminoles under John Jumper. While active hostilities did not extend this far south in the Territory and Murrow did not experience the grief of ministering to his charges on the field of battle, he served officially as chaplain for Jumper's battalion, and visited the other camps in his capacity as a minister of Christ, comforting and consoling, officiating at various ceremonies, particularly at the funerals of some of those stricken with measles and small pox.

One of the bright spots that Father Murrow liked to recall about this period was the marriage of the daughter of General Douglas H. Cooper who commanded the Indian troops in the Territory. For this ceremony Murrow received five hundred dollars, the most he ever received for performing a marriage he used to say, adding that since it was Confederate money it was worth only two dollars and fifty cents!

In the course of the war, Father Murrow had not concerned himself with the larger issues at hand. That he understood these issues is shown constantly in his writing and speaking. It now became clearer to him every day that no one, north or south, really cared anything for the Indians save as their territory was strategically or economically important. Finally when Sherman had marched, and Hood had been destroyed, and Grant had closed in on Lee, Fort Washita was evacuated by the Confederacy and the buildings burned by people in the neighborhood in spite of the protest of Father Murrow. The Indian was thus abandoned. Those refugeeing on the Red River in time went back to their homes.

It has been said that at no place was the reconstruction period more bitter than in the Indian Territory. Father Murrow was

Page 65

never a militant partisan, but through his connection with the fallen Confederacy, he was marked as a fair target for all the animosities now let loose. His life had been in danger many times, but he stood to his post as long as his services were required and he could be of use. Now with the threats reaching out to include his wife and child, he turned the affairs of the Agency over to the Federal Government with all operations fully accounted for, and went to Texas.

When he returned a year later, in 1867, he was thirty-two years old, and penniless. He took up his residence at a place on Muddy Boggy in the Choctaw Nation that he would one day name Atoka. There he lived for the rest of his life, working for and with the Indians, sweet spirited and unwearying as year after year he was brought to an ever sharper realization that such justice as was abroad in the land did not extend to the full-blood Indian.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site