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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 12, No. 1
March, 1934
REV. AMORY NELSON CHAMBERLIN
(1821-1894)

BY LON H. EAKES

Page 97

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Amory Nelson Chamberlin, son of William Chamberlin and grandson of Ard Hoyt, was born in the year of 1821 at Brainerd Mission, Tennessee. Both father and grandfather, missionaries to the Cherokees in Georgia and Tennessee, aided in the emigration of those who removed to Arkansas and also those who later came to what is now Oklahoma.

After assisting his father and other missionaries in his work at Dwight Mission, Amory was for a time interpreter for the government in its relations with the Indians. He served also as superintendent of a boys' school and at another period as superintendent of the Female Seminary at Tahlequah. He spoke the Cherokee language fluently and read it with ease. He was implicitly trusted by the Indians who regarded him as a most valued aid and adviser. During the Civil War the Cherokee Indians being divided in allegiance between the Federal and the Confederate governments, Mr. Chamberlin under the command of General Stand Watie, followed the stars and bars, serving as quartermaster and also as a scout in the eastern part of the Indian Territory.

An incident occurred in the life of Mr. Chamberlin in the spring of 1865 that showed heroism of the highest order, which we believe was never excelled in the heroic acts of recorded history. The collaborators of this article while poring over Mr. Chamberlin's old letters, manuscripts, diaries, translation of the Bible into Cherokee and his Cherokee primer, have reverted to this heroic incident each time with increased admiration for such a dauntless and courageous soul who faced death fearlessly, sustained only by his unfaltering trust in a Higher Power.

He had been scouting with his company near Perryville in the Choctaw Nation. The skies were canopied with lowering clouds, rain falling almost continually throughout the day and turning later, in the afternoon, into freezing weather. He rode away from his camp on a foraging expedition and became lost from his companions. Night overtook him in a woodland sec-

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tion where the road was dark and narrow and travel impossible. Hitching his horse and expecting soon to have a camp fire, he found the wood and leaves rain-soaked and his matches in the same condition. The only alternative was to sit on his horse during the night, endeavoring to get a little warmth from the animal's sides. This he did while sleet and the freezing winds made the long dark hours more dreary. At break of day the hoofs of the steed began crushing the icy clods as the weary pair sought shelter. Two miles away he found a hut where he was made more comfortable, but his feet refused to take the warmth which the fire tried to give. He soon learned that all his toes and most of one foot were frozen.

An Indian with a frozen foot was placed in the same cabin with Mr. Chamberlin, where they remained some time waiting for conveyance to a doctor or some refuge for relief. A man on a horse finally came with one extra horse for one of these unfortunate men to ride to an army post. Mr. Chamberlin, expecting other help, had the Indian take the horse.

On account of the raging storm for days no human aid came to him except through Indians who brought him pails of milk every day. His feet turned black. The flesh began to slough. His suffering was almost beyond human endurance. He spent the night in prayer. At the break of dawn he decided that he would be his own surgeon. He noticed an old file stuck in a log over the crude fireplace. He took it and filed an old butcher knife into a saw. Without an anaesthetic to deaden the pain or an antiseptic fluid to prevent infection he began as painful an operation, no doubt, as was ever endured by man. Before he began his crude surgery he offered up a simple prayer placing his life and soul in the hands of his Maker. Then proceeded with the painful operation of cutting off his feet, the work of which was completed before noon of that day. One foot being amputated just back of the toes, the other was severed near the heel, leaving only a stub. For days he suffered intensely but uncomplainingly. The operation was successful. He lived not only to tell the story to his children, but also to bring the story of the Gospel to many red men and women who had never heard it.

A sister of Mr. Chamberlin, in New York, hearing of his condition sent money with which he could visit her. Catching

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a ride to Fort Smith, Arkansas, he took a steamer down the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and then another to New York. In the metropolis he was given hospital treatment and his sister supplied him with a pair of stiff boots in which he could walk almost without a limp. After his return west and gaining flesh the tops of the boots were too small. He had to lay them aside and use crutch and cane for balance when walking. Notwithstanding this handicap he performed many tasks as well as men who had two perfect feet. His son tells of an occurrence in the barn yard when a dangerous bull got into the midst of some work oxen and cows, fighting them. The frightened boys called their father. Making a few quick steps and throwing down his crutch he picked up an ax, the only available weapon, and struck the bull on the back of the head, knocking him down. The bull regaining his feet Mr. Chamberlin dealt him another terrific blow, causing him to leave the herd, bellowing with rage.

When his feet had completely recovered the brave soldier finding that the Civil War had ended, entered the service of the Presbyterian Church as a missionary. He had long been teaching and doing other religious work, translating, interpreting and helping in the performance of the duties of the church in which he had been reared, but now he became a regular missionary and minister at Pheasant Hill located within what is now Craig County, Oklahoma. This place was so named for an Indian of the name of Pheasant who once lived there. It is seven miles northwest of what is now Vinita. Pheasant Hill was surrounded by a landscape of surpassing beauty. To the west arose Little Cabin Creek lined with elm, oak and hickory trees. When Mr. Chamberlin settled there, deer, wild turkey and fur bearing animals were plentiful. He was instrumental in erecting there a church building constructed of logs chinked between with mud. After a few years this structure was superseded by a large frame building a little to the east of the old house. After several requests the central office of New York sent a heavy bell, the gift of a large eastern church which was used as long as the Chamberlin church existed. After the church with the land on which it stood was sold the bell was shipped to Dwight Mission where it still sounds its call to classes and worship.

Page 100

During the ministry of Mr. Chamberlin at Pheasant Hill he traveled to many points sixty or seventy miles away, an undertaking of no little difficulty in those days when travel was by horseback and buggy. Reports of the work, sent by him to the headquarters of the mission society in New York, contain interesting information concerning his labors and surroundings. From one of these it appears that he sent his first report of July 1, 1882, from Pheasant Hill, covering his labors for April, May and June of that year. He says "my field is an indefinite, almost indefinable one, and from its long neglect is the more difficult." Reference is made here to the days of the Civil War and the period of reconstruction when very little church work was performed in this country. "The churches of the A. B. C. F. M. were Presbyterian before their removal west. After the arrival of the Cherokee people in this country . . . . . . the organizations of the churches here, previously Presbyterians, (Dwight and Fairfield) were changed to Congregational—and those arriving from east of the Mississippi River were organized as Congregational also, (Honey Creek, Mt. Zion and Park Hill.) In a few years Honey Creek was transferred to the Moravians . . . I have met with several obstacles to extensive touring which are mostly physical—such as the death of a reliable horse—breakage of buggy while the only available smith was sick, and now for a time an almost insuperable obstacle exists in abundant presence of the 'green headed fly,' rendering it impossible to travel through our prairies except in the night, or for short distances, where you can have the advantage of housing your team on arrival. This pest will only be removed by continuous dry weather . . . We have wished that the dear Lord . . . would send us a good folding organ and somebody to play it. The Indians are extremely fond of music and are naturally good singers."

In his report of October 13 of the same year, Mr. Chamberlin said that his congregations at Pawpaw and Catoosa were almost exclusively Cherokees who spoke no English. At Horse Creek about twenty miles west of Vinita he had a congregation, the most of whom, however, did speak English.

In his report of the next March he says: "The women keep up their society and though they only meet once in two weeks and their meetings are often prevented by the weather they work

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at home and meet when they can." The Ladies Industrial Missionary society of Pheasant Hill raised $10.00 which he sent to the Executive Committee of Home Missions.

Mr. Chamberlin devoted all his time to teaching, preaching, translating books, hymns and parts of the Bible and to any other service which promised to contribute to the mental, moral, spiritual and social development of the people who came under his influence.

In order to promote his work to the best advantage he had repeatedly requested a hand-printing-press and finally through the headquarters of the missionary society the press was purchased and sent to Mr. Chamberlin. This was perhaps the third and last press made for printing with the Sequoyah syllabary. The page issued from this press was about the size of a post card but the number must have been legion. Tracts, programs, religious articles composed by him, passages of scripture and hymns he translated were set in type and printed by his own hand.

One unique product of his industry is a primer for teaching beginners by the use of pictures and names of object or animal just below. Following a few pages of this primary series the book is filled with short stories mostly from Bible events and parables, as evidenced by the character of illustrations. Among these are such pictures as Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, Samuel at prayer, a vine and branches, an ox yoke, a stone-curbed well, the picture of a large cross in the edge of a city, and many other too numerous to mention. This primer was called a "Pictorial Book," a copy of which is owned by Mrs. Henry Miller, a grand-daughter of Mr. Chamberlin. Another copy is in the Library of Congress.

From many interesting papers of Mr. Chamberlin now the property of his children one learns that he did not limit his preaching days to Sunday; but regardless of the day of the week was traveling, preaching and conducting examinations in schools, translating books and hymns into Cherokee, distributing religious literature, visiting friends and strangers, sick and well, and in order to accomplish these labors occasionally risked his life in an effort to cross a swollen stream. This is illustrated in an extract from his diary written during the latter part of April 1885. On the

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21st day he went to Fairfield, a branch of Dwight Mission, south of the present Stilwell, Oklahoma. He was unable to leave the next day on account of the high water in Sallisaw Creek but on the next he crossed and got as far as Caney where high water again detained him until the 24th. After crossing Caney Creek he came to the Illinois River which was impassable. Here he slept under a wagon at the foot of a mountain and the next day, by coaxing and extra pay, induced a man to risk crossing the Illinois River in his boat and "ferrying about a mile, got across the River and passed thru Tahlequah." On the 25th he arrived at Pleasant Valley church where he had an appointment and in the forenoon preached to the people in Cherokee, in the afternoon in English. The next day he went to Locust Grove and on the 28th "with a good deal of difficulty and delay got over Grand River, and got into deep water in a slough." On the last day of the month he arrived at Pheasant Hill after a journey of 331 miles of toil and danger. Another extract from his journals describes a tour of 156 miles. On May 28 he "started for Catoosy 55 miles away, but was stopped by high water—and returned home after making some visits." The next day he tried again and May 30 reached his destination where he was hospitably received in the home of Mr. Rush. Here on the last day of the month he "preached in a grove to a good congregation in Cherokee; Brother Haworth preached in English in the afternoon." On June 1 he started for home and "spent the night with Brother Joseph McSpadden near Chelsea. Near the end of the month a railroad having been built through the country he went again to Catoosa but this time by rail. A meeting was held in the grove and Mr. Chamberlin "preached in both English and Cherokee. Waters were up; yet had about one hundred persons in congregation." In August he notes the completion of his translation of the Book of Jonah.

The Rev. Mr. Chamberlin was said to be a remarkable man, bright, active and a master of the Cherokee language. He loved the Indians who recognized his devotion to them. On his death in 1894 he was buried at Pheasant Hill. He, the Rev. Hamilton Ballentine and the Rev. W. P. Haworth who for years were active in the old church at Pheasant Hill were instrumental in organizing the first Presbyterian Church at Vinita on October 8, 1883.

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