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 15, No. 2
June, 1937

By Carolyn Thomas Foreman

Page 139

The missionaries did not extend their activities to the Chickasaw Indians as early as they did among the other nations of the Five Civilized Tribes located farther east. The earliest record of a Chickasaw youth being sent away to school was Pitman Colbert who attended a school in Maryland in 1803; he subsequently became one of the leading men in his nation.1 In 1820 the Missionary Board of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church started a school among the Chickasaws called Charity Hall, under the superintendency of the Rev. Robert Bell; it was located three miles from Cotton Gin Port. Here some of the Indians who afterwards became noted in their tribes received their first schooling.2

The next school in the Chickasaw Nation was established at Monroe in 1821 by the Missionary Society of the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia. That the Indians had become deeply interested in the education of their youth is indicated by a letter from James Monroe "To the Chiefs & Head Men of the Chickasaw Nation, Washington, May 24th 1824. My Children. I have received, and read with great pleasure your talk to me sent by your Brother Major Smith.

"My children. You have taken a wise step, you have done what all good men, & wise men will approve of. You have agreed to apply your annuity for 1821, and three thousand dollars a year out of your annuity as long as it lasts to the improvement of your Children. This is wisdom. . ."3 A school was begun January 15, 1827, on Caney Creek, nine miles west of Tuscumbia. In 1830 the

Page 140

government suspended the payment of money to these schools as part of its plans to drive the Indians out of the country.4

James Perry, a Chickasaw youth, delivered a commencement address at Jefferson College in 1824, when he was only nineteen; it attracted much attention and was printed in newspapers in the North and East. Young Perry had received his early education at Elliot Mission.5

In 1825 Col. Richard Mentor Johnson established his school at Blue Springs, Scott County, Kentucky; while it was called the Choctaw Academy and was first attended by boys of that nation, in later years it was patronized by members of other tribes. In 1828, Dougherty Colbert, son of Levi Colbert, a chief of the Chickasaws, was sent to school with the hope that he could learn to be a surveyor. He spent two years in the home of Thomas C. McKenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, at Washington.6 In that same year Peter P. Pitchlynn made charges against the Choctaw Academy which Colonel Johnson repudiated in no mild terms.7 In 1834 and 1835 nineteen Chickasaw lads were enrolled at the Academy and the next year nine were in attendance. Five Chickasaw boys were taken to the Kentucky school in August, 1837, and in October of the next year the superintendent, the Rev. Thomas Henderson, reported the names of 58 Chickasaw lads in the school. In January, 1839, William Armstrong, Acting Superintendent of the Western Territory, wrote the War Department that he was sending a party of Indians to the Choctaw Academy, and he listed the names of five Chickasaws, two of whom were full bloods.8

When the government removed the Chickasaws to the West in 1837 and located them among the Choctaw people it worked a great hardship on these Indians, causing jealousy and bickering

Page 141

for years. The Chickasaws were not willing to build homes, churches, or schools on the land of another tribe and it was not until December, 1844, that a bill was passed to establish a manual training school among them. They had chosen a body of men to act as commissioners, endowing them with some powers to govern the tribe. These men were Isaac Alberson, Benjamin Love, Sloan Love, James Gamble, Joseph Colbert, James Wolf, Winchester Colbert, Capt. Chickasaw, Nah nubby, Ish hit tata, E bah ma tubby, New Berry and William Barnett. The manual training school was to be under the care of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.9

However, in 1847 the Chickasaws were still without schools, although Upshaw, their agent, reported: "The Chickasaws have great anxiety to have their children educated, and what is more astonishing, the full-bloods show as great a desire as the half-breeds; but they are all very anxious on this all-important subject."10

In 1848 the Chickasaw delegation in Washington secured an order for Colonel Jackson of the Choctaw Academy to turn over the Chickasaw lads in his school to Peter P. Pitchlynn, whom they had appointed their agent to locate the boys in another school. They requested that no money be spent by Johnson to outfit them before they quitted his school as they wished to make the purchases themselves. Pitchlynn was to advise them as to the school or schools where the lads were to be sent. Four more students were to be sent away to school as soon as the delegation reached home.11

Isaac Alberson, Chairman of the Committee, on January 29, 1848, wrote to the Chief and Captains of the Chickasaw people, from Post Oak Grove, Chickasaw District: "We desire that two more schools be established in our district one for male and one for Female and our Agent is requested to inform the Department, of the amount that in his judgment may be necessary for them to

Page 142

retain out of the interest arising on our general fund for establishment of said School..." This was approved by Chief James McLaughlin February 2, 1848.12 But still no school was begun.

In March, 1848, A. V. Brown, Holmes Colbert, Frederick McCala, and Benjamin McLaughlin, Chickasaw boys, were taken east to school by Robert Love. The commissioner of Indian affairs selected Delaware College at Newark, Delaware,13 for Holmes Colbert. He was reported an apt student by the principal of the college, who wrote that he had made some progress in Latin, although he had studied very little mathematics and no Greek. At the same time young Colbert had the companionship of four Choctaw boys who were attending Delaware College. Pitchlynn, with eleven boys from the Choctaw Academy, arrived on August 22, 1848, at Plainfield Academy in Connecticut.14

"The Choctaws have not only made provisions for the maintenance of eight large boarding schools in their own country..., they have sent on, during the last summer, to the care of this Department, five very interesting and promising boys, who have been...entered at Delaware College, and who, although never before out of their own country, were found sufficiently advanced after a few months preparation for admission into the freshman class, and where they have since, according to the report of the learned president of that institution, maintained their standing, manifesting mental capacity, industry and self-denying application fully equal to any of their associates."15

Page 143

The spring of 1849 found the Chickasaw Academy still unfinished; a meeting was held on July 16, when the chief and captains of the nation appropriated $5,000 to complete the school. They added $300 to send Colbert Carter and Zach Colbert away to school for three years. In 1851 the Chickasaw Academy, twelve miles northwest of Fort Washita, was finally opened under the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, with the Rev. J. C. Robinson as superintendent. At first only 60 pupils were registered, but later the full 120 for which the school was planned, were in attendance. In a short time the "Female Labor School" was located "on the grounds of Wah-pa-nucka." The building was a stone structure situated forty miles north of Red River; it was controlled by the Presbyterian Board, James S. Allen was superintendent with ten teachers under his direction.16

The writer of this account, while consulting Poole's catalogue, in the library of the British Museum, found an article in The Chautauquan a Monthly Magazine for March, 1894, written by Henry Pynchon Robinson which gives a most delightful picture of "The Chickasaws in Connecticut." Mr. Robinson was enthusiastic in his description of the Indians, as will be seen from the following quotations: "When late in the forties, it was proposed to receive into Plainsfield Academy, Conn.,17 a company of lads from the Chickasaw tribe of Indians, a flurry of wonder and fear swept down the long, broad leafy street. Some declared their coming would scare away the white scholars, who were not quite ready to be scalped...

"Plainsfield people were never weaklings...[They] come from obstinate English stock... and had been educated for generations in one of the oldest academies in the state...

Page 144

Doctor Alvan Bond of Norwich and Colonel Peter Pitchlynn, the famous Choctaw, brought the little band of aborigines to Plainsfield, Sept. 8, 1848.18

"There were at first eleven 'red Indian lads located in three of our best families, with Dr. William H. Cogswell,19 Elisha Lord Fuller, and Henry Phillips; later a few newcomers were placed with Elkanah C. Eaton, Jr., until there were nineteen, whose ages ran from 12 to 20 years.

"The Chickasaw nation clustered about Tishomingo, their capital town, then numbered at low estimate 4,000 souls, located under the eaves of Fort Washita near the Red River along the Texas border...The expense of education here was about $200 each per year..."

Plainfield Academy was described as standing "upon a little hill above the long main street like Noah's ark on Ararat. Two black trap walls and a rock-ribbed lane lead up to the Athenian eminence that commands the land for miles around... In [its] best days it was a fine specimen of the olden-time school, and compared favorably with any in the state.

"Eliphalet Nott taught in Plainfield Academy and [married] here, the daughter of the Rev. Joel Benedict... He was afterwards president of Union College20...[and] others of hardly less weight

Page 145

[were educated there]." In 1848 the Rev. William A. Benedict, a native of New York, left the school. "...Yale College taught no better nor funnier physics than Plainfield Academy when, to prove the force of air, Mr. Benedict threw beans about the room with an air-gun; or with real lightning knocked down the thunder-house; or made boys ridiculous with their long hair standing on end; or with sharp electrical shocks 'rattled' a circle of them, ranged hand in hand.

"In the larger anteroom of the Academy under the care of Henry D. Burlingame, the first assistant, the Indian lads were placed at their benches, ample thick-wooded, chestnut desks, grown in our forests and made with generous provision for being initialed and hacked down by busy sculptors of the school.

"David Albertson [sic], only twelve when he came, delighted to wrestle at odds, getting down on his knees, and so handicapped, would tug and pull another to the ground, his long shining hair hanging in his opponent's face and eyes.

"Samuel Colbert was the most original and peculiar character. His hair, cut evenly around, curled up close and full about his ears. He was a very sly fisherman... He would come into the Cogswell yard, wet-legged and careless as any tousled sportsman, with his long string of chub, horned pout, dace, and pickerel...slipped on a forked stick.

"Jefferson Greenwood, tall and commanding in form, with a lighter shade of copper color was the noblest figure of them all..." He was dignified, "reserved and taciturn, he was looked up to by the rest as the leader.

"Most of the Indians had the pure copper color, with hair very black, shining, and straight; worn long, it framed in their features becomingly, but in wrestling it fell over their dark faces and their black eyes shining through gave them not a little of the wild Indian look. Sometimes they would turn their eyelids, the red insides out,

Page 146

and putting chase to us, scare us half out of our silly wits, then playfully scalp us, in a way we enjoyed."

Mr. Robinson quotes from Mrs. Anna Cogswell Pynchon, who wrote: "Do you remember how the Indian boys used to gather in a circle under our big elm tree, just at twilight, and sing the chant by which they regulated their war-dance? I can hear now the monotonous repitition:-

'Oua-wa-nuty: qua-wa-nuty !

Ha-ha! Cup-a-na-nuty!

Cup-a-na-nuty: qua-ha-ha!'
with the regular beat of hands and feet as they kept time to it."

Mrs. Pynchon recalled Sam Colbert's ambition to become a doctor or "Alick-chi," as he called it. "He found in our garret a pair of old saddle-bags," dating back to the time when patients were visited on horseback, "and he used to knock at our front door and with the saddle-bags on his arm, would enquire if any one was sick in the house. He would stay, too, till assured that the white doctor would be sent for. I think they were remarkably quick at imitating the ways of the Yankees."

The Indian lads would gather under the old elm tree where they would sing and talk of their plantations, their homes, and slaves until the church-bell rang at nine o'clock when they were to retire. Then they would startle the neighborhood with wild whoops and cries. The standard of an English education was not as high as it is today and the Indians made satisfactory grades; according to Mr. Robinson they made "good draftsmen and writers, studied the face of the earth, made headway in simple mathematics, and all learned to speak English with facility, which only three of them knew on arrival. Their native sobriety and pride made them true and faithful students. They conformed to our habits of dress, and never appeared in skins, or with feathers in their heads." The

Page 147

New England writer evidently did not know that the Chickasaws had been civilized many, many years; that they had adopted a constitution in 1846 which they repealed two years later for a more formal document.

Robinson continues his account of the Indians: "But much more than they learned at school, they gained from the social and family life of the quiet village, where they stood on a favored footing, entering as far as they could and would into the habits and ways of our learning and polish as we should have taken of theirs, if we had been sent into the Indian Territory to school." It seems that no romances developed at Plainfield between the Indian youths and the white girls as had upset the community at Cornwall, Connecticut, when John Ridge and Elias Boudinot of the Cherokee Nation, married local belles while attending school there.

The Indian lads were described by Robinson as "well-mannered and civil and showing a distinct manliness of conduct. They became a popular feature of the academy, rather attracting than repelling the native students." He gives a picture of "Samuel Colbert walking with a young lady and interpreting to her his Indian declamation in the Chickasaw language, shaking his head after his humor and repeating the gestures; for it is Wednesday and after exercises in elocution the school closes at half-session.

"There too walks or rather stalks along a figure full six feet tall, firm-featured, the nose long, the cheek bones high but well covered, rather grave black eyes; a metaphysical-looking fellow with all the gravity of Jonathan Edwards, he would be anywhere a marked man. Who is it? That is Jefferson Greenwood the young Chickasaw chief...

"Later the Indians are foot-racing from goal to goal between the elms, picturesque with red kerchiefs bound about their foreheads to hold in the shining hair. On an odd scrap of ground, or green, that fronts the old Eaton hotel site, they played their famous

Page 148

ball game by means of two basket-throwers with long hickory handles, which clasping the ball threw and caught it cleverly. The legs of the hotel sign stood apart for one goal and the opposite trees perhaps were another... The Indians did not neglect our education; but brought us all up to leap, run, wrestle, and swim and they would have gladly set the town fathers to romping and jumping. They were not only swift on foot but expert swimmers...

"On quarter day the Indians would show the large gold coins of their pension [annuity] money till we thought they were like princes of the 'Arabian Nights.'21 We picked up scant words of their language: tonumpoo nuckie, bow and arrow; bushpoo umpoonta, lend me your knife, and could count ten in Chickasaw: chuffa, tukaloo, touchena, ooshta, hannarle, tusalarpe, unchuffa, untukaloo, chuckarle pocola.

"We cultivated the Chickasaw war-cry till we could scare the oldest horses in town and almost startle sleeping Canterbury four miles away: Coup hooah! Coup heagh! the last words thrown awfully out in deep chest tones or raised and prolonged to a blood curdling yell.

"They taught us how to make and use deftly bows and arrows... What happiness to be a Plainfield boy in those days!" It is easily seen from Mr. Robinson's enthusiastic account what an impression the Chickasaw lads made on the white boys of the town. Life could never have been the same humdrum routine as before they arrived in the little New England hamlet. The bows made at Plainfield were carved from "chestnut, sassafras, ash, or iron-wood and sometimes locust, which turns out best bows as it is strong as steel and elastic." They made their arrows from

Page 149

hickory which could be picked up from any wood-pile in town. Sometimes the arrows were utilized to shoot fish.

"The Chickasaws occupied on the Sabbath four old-fashioned, high-backed pews in the southeast corner of the sanctuary as far removed from the preacher's voice as possible, where their shining black heads made four respectful and patient rows."

Some official notices of these boys are preserved in the Office of Indian Affairs in Washington. On December 11, 1849, the Reverend Alvan Bond wrote from Norwich, Connecticut, to Hon. W. Medill, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, inclosing the expense account of the eleven Chickasaw boys in the Plainfield Academy, for the first quarter. He reported that the progress of "said boys in their studies, habits of civilization, & general improvement, have exceeded my expectations. When they arrived in this city, none of them could read at all, or name the letters of the alphabet, and but two or three could speak English. At a late examination I found them able to read very well in easy lessons, spell in two & three syllables, answer questions in mental arithmetic, and write very neatly. They are studious, attentive, well-behaved, & contented. They exhibit in their deportment a good degree of decorum & self-respect.

"They are treated with respect and kindness in the Academy, in the families where they board, & in the community. A lively interest is manifested in their welfare among the people of the village, where they live.

"I have taken special pains to have them comfortably clothed for this northern climate. Having visited them, I find them in all respects as favorably & comfortably situated, as could anywhere be expected." Mr. Bond gave an estimate of the expenses the boys would incur for the quarter from December 8 to the same date in March: Board, washing, mending, & fuel, at $2. pr. week each, $286; Tuition, books and stationery, $66; Clothing, umbrellas,

Page 150

combs, brushes, & pocket knives, $131.88; Boots & shoes, & repairing the same, $25.00; Medical care & medicine, $12.50.22

A. M. M. Upshaw, agent for the Chickasaws on March 28, 1849, wrote William Medill, commissioner of Indian affairs, as follows: "The Chickasaws in Council determined to send seven Chickasaw Boys, on to Washington City; for you to send to some of the schools at the North & East. It is left entirely to you to select the schools, it is expected that not more than two or three will be placed 1n the same school—Mr. Robert Love was appointed by the Council to conduct them to Washington, also to visit the schools, that the Chickasaw boys are now at, and to make a report to the Nation on his return home... Your kind attention to Mr. Love and advice to the young men and boys will be thankfully acknowledged by me."23

The same day Upshaw wrote the commissioner: "This will be handed you by my Young friends A. V. Brown, Holmes Colbert and Benjamin McLaughlin; they are three of the seven boys that were selected by the Council to go to School at the North; You Sir will find them very interesting young men and anxious to get a good education, two of them were at Col Johnsons School about two years, and they as you will perceive made good use of their time. A V Brown could not speak our language when he went there; I am satisfied that you will put these young men at good schools, and I am as well satisfied that they will improve and be of good advantage to their people..."24

From Delaware College on May 8, 1849, a letter was sent to the Indian commissioner by James P. Wilson stating that the Chickasaw boy F. McCalla was in "Mr. Meigs Preparatory Department." He acknowledged the arrival of Holmes Colbert, whom he describes as having a very prepossessing appearance. "I find on examination,

Page 151

that he has not studied any Greek, and very little Mathematics, altho he has made more proficiency in Latin. It is necessary that he should be carefully and laboriously instructed from this time, on until our Fall Term. He may then, by hard effort, and untiring devotion to study, be able to join the new Freshman class, that will come in at that time. He seems anxious to get to work, and feels confident that he shall succeed. He is now in his room, with everything in order, & has commenced recitations with Mr. Moore, one of our Tutors, and Professor of Rhetoric, who kindly agreed for a suitable compensation, to take charge of his instruction, until he is admitted into College. The room furniture & books of the lamented Wm. Howell, are appropriated for his use, and the estimate consequently for his outfit, is small..."25

A report of the eleven Chickasaw boys attending Plainfield Academy was, on May 10, 1849, sent to the Indian commissioner by the Rev. Mr. Alvan Bond, who said: "I have just returned from an examination of the boys... & have been highly gratified with their proficiency in the several studies, to which their attention is directed. They can read very well in Saunder's Second Reading Book,—can spell with a good degree of accuracy,—write a fair hand, and recite... elementary lessons. They are making progress in Arithmetic. Their deportment is manly and correct, and they are becoming assimilated in habits and manners to the Society, in which they are placed.

Page 152

"Having been well provided with warm clothing, they have endured the severe winter without complaint, & seemed to enjoy it. Their health is, and has been uniformly good, & they are contented and Happy."26

Mr. Bond wrote the commissioner on May 14, 1849, telling of the arrival of some students who had been brought east by Mr. Love from the Chickasaw Nation. They were left at Plainfield "on the score of economy, where they will spend a few days in school with the other youth of their nation, till they are located. Today I have been to Plainfield with Mr. Love, & Tecumseh Gains returned with me, & will probably be placed in one of our Academies in this city. Benjamin McLaughlin will probably remain at the academy in Plainfield, as his cousin is there, & if so he will be placed in the family of Doctor Cogswell, who is the right sort of a man to manage him, as he has been much indulged at home, & inclined to be, as we say, somewhat wild, and needs to be under a steady & strict family control. The other three will be provided for as soon as a suitable place is found.

"I think it will be best to have these last youth separated. None of them except Brown are so far advanced in studies, as are those in the Academy at P [lainfield]—I think I can locate them so near, thereto, I can look after them; though I know of no place in this vicinity, where their expenses will be so low, as they would be, where the other boys are. Their family connections are such, that their notions are graduated a little higher, than the others have entertained, and on this account a separation is desirable, were there no other considerations.

"...The care of such a charge, and the anxiety it involves, are greater than I at first anticipated, and considering my arduous parochial labors, I should decline the service, were it not for the deep interest I feel in these youth, for whom their nation are expending so much. They seem to look to me as a father, and listen

Page 153

to my counsels with remarkable docility. How I shall get along with the last company remains to be seen.

"Several of the first company possess intellects of a high order, & if they live, will, I think, become distinguished in their nation. They are well behaved, diligent, & have secured the respect of the people among whom they reside. They attend church regularly, and the pastor, Rev. Mr. Robinson a most worthy man, takes a lively interest in their welfare...Mr. Love witnessed an examination of these boys this forenoon, & will be able to report his impression to you on his return."27

A letter from Mr. Bond, written May 31, 1849, relates the disposition of the five Chickasaw boys brought to him by Mr. Love. He states: "On learning that Brown and McLaughlin left home with the understanding, that they were to be placed together, and as a larger appropriation, as I am informed, was made for their support, than was voted for the other youth, I have put them under the care & instruction of Mr. Morgan, an approved teacher of an English school in Norwich Town, about two miles distant from the city. Board, including washing, mending, fuel, & light, has been engaged for them in a respectable private family for two & a half dollars a week each. Their tuition will be six dollars each a quarter—books & stationery not over two dollars a quarter for both.

"As they have been accustomed to dress more expensively than the other boys, I am not as yet able to intimate the probable amount of expense for their wearing apparel, including boots, shoes, hats & caps; but judge, that it will not fall below $75.00 pr. annum, nor exceed $85 or $90, for each.

"I have also made an arrangement with Mr. Crary, an experienced teacher of English studies in a village of this town about one mile distant from my residence, to take into his family T.

Page 154

Gains & the older Alberson, and take a parental care of them, they being young. He teaches a School, & has taken the boys into one of his classes, with which they recite. He gives them instruction in school and at his house. They are very pleasantly situated, & seem happy." The charges for board and tuition were the same as paid for the other boys and their wearing apparel would not exceed $60.00 a year.

"The younger Alberson seemed desirous of remaining at Plainfield, and I concluded...that I could not do better than place him in the family of Doctor Cogswell with Sampson McLaughlin, where good care will be taken of him. His annual expenses... including trunks, umbrellas, brushes, &c, will not exceed $205.

"In the arrangements thus specified, I have studied an economy as rigid as is consistent with the comfort and improvement of these interesting youth. They are in the midst of an enlightened community, who feel a deep interest in Indian civilization. They are welcomed by the members of their respective schools, & kindly treated, & are thus brought into familiar intercourse with the school boys of the community, where they reside. And being thus near, I can often see them, & watch their progress & conduct..."28

When Mr. Bond transmitted the expense account of the eleven boys at school in Plainfield, June 11, 1849, he reported them in excellent health, and "prosecuting their studies, with diligence & success. I permitted them to enjoy the late spring vacation of two weeks as a season of recreation, it being the first recess they have had, since they came under my care.

"Several persons from the Choctaw & Chickasaw Nations have visited them the past season, & expressed their satisfaction with the progress they are making in English studies, and in manners. They are gradually acquiring the facility for speaking English, & seem desirous of becoming able to dispense with the use of their

Page 155

own language, & of becoming Americanized. In addition to reading & spelling, they are acquiring the rudiments of arithmetic, grammar, geography, and general knowledge. They excel in chirography, and several of them are able to compose, and write letters to their friends at home in good English.

"They manifest acute sensibility in respect to the interest & honor of their nation, & tender attachment to their friends. Among themselves they have been remarkably harmonious, and continue to be contented & happy. Their views of the value of an English education are becoming enlarged and definite. With laudable ambition they anticipate the time when they shall return to their people, qualified for stations, in which they may by distinguished usefulness remunerate their nation for the expenses of their education.

"Their correct deportment continues to secure for them the respect & kind consideration of the people, among whom they reside. It is not a little surprising to us, that in the rude state, in which they were, on their arrival here, they should have proved so uniformly docile, tractable, and well-behaved. The influence of the well-governed, refined, & intelligent families, where they find their present home, is not the least among the advantages they are enjoying." Mr. Bond speaks of renting three pews for the boys in the Congregational Church and relates that they are formed in a Bible class, "Thus uniting moral with mental culture."29

An interesting letter in the files of the Indian Office written to Col. Medill by Aaron Brown and Benj. McLaughlin in "Norwichtown New London County. Connecticut June 23d 1849," states: "I was requested by you through Mr. Bond to write a few lines, to inform you of our Situation, & how we like the resurdence of this place, Myself & Benj McLaughlin are here at Mr. Morgan's—School, & so long as we have been here. we are very well-

Page 156

pleased with our instructor, and hoping that we shall do better than we did at Col Johnson's school. We have been & vissited those boys at Plainfield, about two weeks ago & saw they they are geting along finly & well satisfied with their boarding, & all the arrangement which has been made for their education.

"Mr. Medill We have not had much to say, We only write these few lines, merely for you to see & know how We will improve hereafter. And I will ask good advice from you. If any delegation from our nation Should come to Washington City recommand them to visit us around. No more at present, But remaind your sincery &       Your Chickasaw Indian scholars."30

The next letter regarding the Chickasaws at school was written from Delaware College, Newark, New Castle County, Delaware. This town is twelve miles W. S. W. of Wilmington. The letter, written to Hon. Wm. Medill by James P. Wilson, was dated July 4, 1849. It contained the expense account of H. Colbert31 and stated that it was thought he would be able to enter the freshman class in the coming autumn. "He studies very closely, and is in all respects a young man of very high character and of finest promise universally respected and beloved. He will be obliged to continue his studies during the vacation, allowing him about a week at the close for relaxation. He is very anxious to do what is right in the matter, and enter credably. He has not need the carpet yet, for which allowance was made in the last remittance, because he preferred for his own improvement to room with Allen

Page 157

Wright."32 McCalla was living with Mr. Meigs, who reported he was making rapid progress.33

On July 27, 1849, Upshaw, agent for the Chickasaws, rendered a statement to Orlando Brown, the new commissioner of Indian affairs, for $743.13 to pay Robert Love "for Beef furnished the Council, and for Conducting six Chickasaw boys to Washington City and from thence to Schools in the Eastern States..."34

Upshaw wrote Col. John Drennen, Acting Superintendent, Western Territory, on August 29, 1849, saying, "There are at this time at school in the eastern states 18 or 19 Chickasaw boys, and two more have been authorized to be sent. These boys should not be permitted to return to the nation until their education is finished." He stated that there were "no schools as yet in the Chickasaw country...I am confident that schools on the manual-labor plan are the only schools that will do much good in any nation of Indians. To give them an education without learning them to work, either as farmers or mechanics, is of but little use to them."35

The next communication regarding the Chickasaw youths in Connecticut was written by Mr. Bond to Hon. O. Brown on Sep-

Page 158

tember 18, 1849. He forwarded the expense account of the twelve boys at Plainfield Academy and the four who were at two schools in Norwich. He reported that the boys "have enjoyed good health, excepting two cases one of which resulted from the gathering of a tumor, which required a surgical operation,—and the other from a bilious attack, which terminated in a moderate fever.

"They seem happy and contented, and with commendable industry & interest have, with very few exceptions, prosecuted their studies in reading, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, Geography, & penmanship. They attend church regularly on the Sabbath, & during the day meet their teacher, to receive instruction in the christian virtues, & the rudiments of christian knowledge.

"Their deportment continues correct & manly, and in but very few instances has there been anything requiring discipline or rebuke, during the year. They are learning to speak English, and in several cases they speak and write the language very well. Living in the midst of a farming and manufacturing population, they witness the results of education and industry, & thus are becoming impressed with ideas, showing the value of civilization. In various respects their progress has been all, that could have been anticipated, & to me has been highly satisfactory...

"Their conduct has secured for them the respect & sympathy of the people, among whom they dwell, and a lively interest in their welfare is manifested. There are among them a few noble spirits, needing only the advantage of a liberal education to render them ornaments to any community.

"...Their books will cost somewhat more, and some addition will be requisite to the amount appropriated for clothing. This becomes necessary in order to meet their rising sentiments of self-respect, & to relieve them from mortifying embarrassment, when they mingle, as they will hereafter be likely to do, with society. The embarrassments they have felt in consequence of their con-

Page 159

scious inferiority, as to mental culture, are growing less, & will be diminished, when as they appear in public, they can see & feel, that they are respectably clothed..."36

According to the expense account of the boys at Plainfield $2.00 per week was paid for board, washing, mending, fuel and lights, while the cost at Norwich for the four boys was $2.50. The whole account rendered amounted to $901.91 and included tuition, books and stationery, clothing, medicine and medical care and incidental expenses. Mr. Bond had been informed by Mr. Robert Love that the council had voted to provide the boys with "an extra suit of clothing, for use on the Sabbath, & other occasions, when they appear in public..." and he estimated that the suits would cost about fifteen dollars each "on the most economical scale."37

James P. Wilson made a favorable report on the two boys at Newark, Delaware, November 7, 1849. Holmes Colbert, by close application, had qualified himself for admission into the freshman class of Delaware College, while Fred McCalla was improving rapidly and his tutor, Mr. Meigs, spoke highly of him. He described Holmes Colbert as "a young man of good parts, very studious, and anxious to improve, popular among the students, and very correct and gentlemanly, in his entire deportment. He did not ask for his $2. pr. month, the sum deemed by me sufficient for pocket money, and freely allowed by the Department, and as he did not demand it, it was not paid to him..."38

The Rev. Mr. Bond sent his quarterly report to Commissioner Orlando Brown November 26, 1849. He gives a short history of his reasons for taking charge of the Chickasaw boys and tells of their being placed in the academy under the Rev. W. S. Benedict, Principal, and that "They were distributed in three good families...where they still remain...They appear to have enjoyed them-

Page 160

selves the whole time, and always seem contented and happy when I visit them.

"...they have made such proficiency, that they can now read very well in our common school readers, and have gone through with Webster's spelling book... They write a good hand, and are now able to compose letters to send to their friends... At the last quarterly examination they rehearsed in public, pieces committed to memory, and acquitted themselves in most cases very well. They are occupied in the school room six hours daily, with the exception of Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and they have also studied more or less in their own rooms...

"They are taken into manufacturing establishments and shown the operation of these complicated workshops. They have been allowed an occasional excursion by railroad and steamboat, with which they have been delighted.

"They are gradually acquiring facility in speaking English...Special efforts are made to induce them to abandon their native dialect, and converse in English... Two of these boys, Tecumseh Gains and Thomas Alberson, have been subject to attacks of fever and ague, which has somewhat interrupted their progress. I propose removing them at the close of the current quarter to the more elevated and healthy location in Plainfield, placing them in some good family by themselves, and under the instruction of the teacher, who has the care of the others... I have contracted with a physician there to watch over the health of all the boys, and attend to them promptly, whenever they may need his counsel or professional services..."39

The last report of the Rev. Alvan Bond, made to the Indian commissioner in 1849, was dated at Norwich, December 13. Sixteen youths were then under his care and he stated that their expenses would be higher than he had estimated, as he had been

Page 161

obliged to provide "some articles, necessary to their comfort during the winter months...I have found it necessary, this season, to have them supplied with substantial flannel under garments, as a protection to health in this climate. They have at present a good supply of clothing, and will not require so large an outlay for this purpose during the current quarter. No article of clothing is furnished to them without my order,--and it is all made to order, and in a substantial manner. An economy, as rigid as is consistent with comfort and respectability, has been consulted in this department of their expenses."

Mr. Bond reported all of the students in good health and that "They continue diligent and ambitious in the prosecution of their studies. Their progress in study and general improvement is highly satisfactory. The attention of the assistant preceptor in Plainfield Academy has been almost wholly devoted to the Chickasaw boys in that institution.

"The facilities for improvement in the Academy... the retired, quiet and healthy situation of the place,—the elevated state of morals and the intelligence which characterizes the inhabitants, and the peculiar interest they manifest in the welfare of these youths,—have induced me to remove thither Gaines and Alberson, who have been in this city...

"Mr. Eaton, a respectable gentleman, near the Academy has taken them into his family as boarders, where they will have a pleasant home. They are much pleased with the change.

"A. V. Brown, and B. McLaughlin, who have boarded in the upper village in this town, about two miles from the city, have become so far advanced in their studies, in the Morgan's private school, that I have transferred them to the Academy in that place, a highly respected institution, under the care of a graduate of Yale College of high standing as a scholar and a gentleman. They are much respected in the school, and by the citizens...

Page 162

"Yesterday I visited the boys at Plainfield, and heard their recitations. They acquitted themselves in a satisfactory manner in reading, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, and in the sounds of vowels and consonants. The books used by them are Saunders School Reader, third part, Webster's Spelling Book, and Definer, Greenleaf's Mental Arithmetic, and Mitchell's Primary Geography. A specimen of writing and composition, without correction, is inclosed." The inclosure was a short bit of writing signed by Joseph Colbert, in which he says: "It is now a long time since I have written a Composition, and I thought I would write one again... I have been more accustomed to declaiming than I have to writing and therefore you cannot expect much from me in this line. It is growing cold again and makes me think of the good times that we used to have last winter, amongst the snow and ice, snowballing, sliding, &c.—Though we are not used to such cold weather as we find here, we like it much better than one would think we should. I feel that some of the Yankees, who have always been here, feel the cold much more than we do. We shall have very long evenings this winter in which to sudy (sic), and I hope we shall improve them well and get much knledge (sic) before spring comes again."40

Aaron V. Brown addressed a letter to the Indian commissioner from Norwich Town on December 18, 1849, to report his progress: "I have been thinking to write to you for this long while, And at last, my conscience permitted to write a few lines to you...I acknoledged that I ought not to write without any particular permission from you, But last spring, in the month of June I wrote to Col W. Medill by his permitance throught Rev. Mr. Bond, which he answered the letter and give me permission to write occatimely to the office, to you, So that my improvement in writing & language might be examined & Sented to the nation. So that my people may know how much I am improved.

Page 163

"I am happy to say that I have done very well, throught the last Summar, untill in fall my Teacher had vacation sometime in September & the same time he was hired to keep District-School for this winter. And I am out of school for as much as six weeks. and three other boys besid myself in same situation. We bigan again on the 5th inst. Now I am attending another. Who I like him as well as I did the other one, But I have some things to say about arrangement at school & boarding affairs, Which I will not mention untill I have liberty from you to related to you; Though it same to me I have right to Complaint what is indiffernce with me, for I know that, it is our money is paid for our educating, at least. belong to the nation This arrangement speaking of is that of our Agents. arranging, Mr. Brown. I write these; because I feel that I am in thy care. And knowing that if any things done in your present, will be alright.

"We are all well and trying to learn as much as we can. And I care (sic) say, that I am very anxious to get an Education as well as my people wants me learned, We the boys heard from home and learned that Chickasaw Delegation will be on to Washington City. Sometime in November of this inst, Ane we Desired very much for them to go round & see us. in particularly Edmund Pickens, who is one of the delegate, & principal Chief of the nation. You will please & so kind as to advise them to come & see us? I will also ask a good advise from you, and please to looked this and the former letter to Col. W. medill & see my improvement,—Nothing more, at present, But remain your Respectfully most Humble servant."41

A Chickasaw delegation consisting of W. Colbert, S. Folsom and Jackson Frazier was in Washington in the spring of 1851, and on May 2 they wrote that there were then sixteen Chickasaw youths in school in Connecticut. "Of these we design taking home four upon our return F. McKorly, Joseph Colbert, Sampson McLaughlin

Page 164

and Lewis Newberry. The remaining twelve we desire continued until next September when the appropriation for their support expenses (expires?) We desire seven of them, Samuel Colbert, Alexr. Bradford, Tecumseh Johnson, Jefferson Greenwood, Gibson Greenwood, Howard Duncan, Lafayette Colbert, continued for one year longer. David Alberson for two years. Lewis Hawkins, Fletcher Frazier, Robt. Pearson, and Isaac Jefferson for four years.

"We request that the necessary appropriation of money out of the Chickasaw National fund be made for this purpose. We submit it to the discretion of the department, whether they be continued in the state in which they are now after the first of September next, or be removed south where the climite (sic) is milder, and may posibly (sic) agree with them better. We desire that the appropriation of three thousand dollars annually made by Congress for the Chickasaws so far as it will go, be used for the support of these youths.

"And that at the experation (sic) of the several times which they are to remain at school, if any of them desire to learn a trade or profession, that they shall have an opportunity of so doing..." This was followed by the request that money should be set aside from the Chickasaw general fund to cover their expenses.

That the northern climate and confinement in schools proved unwholesome for the Indian students is shown by Mr. Robinson's story: "Alas! these happy young men did not have charmed lives Coming from a southern climate, their subjection to the terrible drafts of our northern winters was severely fatal." Six of the boys died, most of them carried away by consumption. One died on a Mississippi River steamboat while on his way home and he was buried in Memphis. Three others passed away soon after reaching home, while two died at Plainfield and were buried there 'in its cherished God's acre.'

"The company of six who were the last to leave school, came to bid us good-by July 3, 1852." That was a sad day for the boys

Page 165

of Plainfield who must have been deeply impressed by their association with the Indian lads. One can only imagine the tales that were recounted to younger brothers and grand children by the men who had been friends with the Chickasaws. What romance and interest must have been added to the lives of the people of that small New England village when the Indians arrived from the West. The Indian sports and games were continued by the white boys long after the departure of their red friends and probably bows and arrows might be found in attics in Plainfield hoarded by men who had used them in their youth and now treasured as momentoes of the days when grandfather played with the Indians.

"Communication between the Indians and Plainfield was long maintained by letters, chiefly from Samuel Colbert to the Cogswell family, until after the war in 1861." After 1865 no letters were received from Colbert, but later news received from Peter P. Pitchlynn during a visit to Washington, "told of the death, one by one, of most of the scholared Indians, many of them by violence, showing not the happiest concord among their own people."42

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site