Muriel H. Wright
An interesting character of very early days in Oklahoma was John Hobart Heald who came here from New England in the first part of the last century. His son, the late Charles Hobart Heald, was born at Skullyville, Choctaw Nation, in 1843. It was for him that the town of Healdton and the great oil field of southern Oklahoma were named. Charles Hobart Heald located at old Boggy Depot, Choctaw Nation, in 1860, where he married Eliza Guy of the well known Chickasaw family. During the Civil War he fought for the Confederacy with the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and from its close until his death, he was a prominent citizen of his part of the country.
A short time before his death, January 30, 1922, I visited Charles Hobart Heald at his home near Healdton, and there was disclosed to me the romance of his father and mother. The beautiful old morocco bound Bible, containing the Aprocrypha, was a mute witness of lives dedicated to the highest ideals, and gave the lineage of the family far back into New England history. The fine hand-painted portraits made real to me the handsome John Hobart and Lucy Wright Heald. The rare old jewelry, rings, brooches, and earrings told of a life of well being. But to make complete this story was John Hobart Heald’s "Journal" written at Pepperell, Massachusetts, in 1834, and his "Diary" written at Doaksville, Choctaw Nation, in 1846, in the most beautiful and even script. The "Journal" is in the form of a series of letters written to Lucy Wright before she married John Hobart. It touches upon the romance between these two, and furnishes an insight to the writer’s character; while the "Diary", written at Doaksville, is interesting for its glimpses of the details of every days life in the earliest days of the Indian Territory.
John Hobart Heald was born at Pepperell, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1813. In June of that year his father, Joseph Heald, died, leaving him and his older brother in the care of their grandparents. Many years later he wrote of his childhood; "Those were innocent and happy hours. I remember the cups we used to construct so ingeniously from the hazel leaf to slack our thirst at the spring, and purloining the sap troughs for boats to transport material for constructing a dam across the brook, and anon with rude bent pin and line endeavoring, in vain generally, to capture one of the numerous little fishes that abounded in the stream. And my grandmother, may she rest in peace, how kind and carefully would she guard me against the winter’s cold, and say to me the last words of my father, ’Talk to my children as you used to talk to me’, an in-
junction she often with tearful eyes impressed on my childhood—Days of happy innocence, gone forever."
At twenty-one, John Hobart wrote that he was acting a "pedagogue" to some pupils of the Pepperell school, at the same time continuing his own studies of composition and Latin under the preceptor, Mr. Eldridge, of the Academy at Pepperell. He said that his time was so taken with his studies that he hardly associated with anyone, even the members of the family. Still, besides his teaching and studies, he went to church, taught a Sunday school class, attended Sunday school teachers’ meetings, listened to the loved "garrulous" talk of his grandmother, talked with his friends, walked to refresh his mind "dulled with Latin," went fishing, and much to his chagrin, slept till seven until he purchased a watch for $15.00 that he might rise at five, and thus gain two hours a day to be alive. But, above all this, was the keen delight he took in writing in his "Journal," whose subjects range from notes on his every day life, observations on nature, friends, and children, to humorous sketches on dogs and fishing, and his more serious ideas on God and death.
In the following selection from the first letter of his "Journal", dated Pepperell, Massachusetts, May 6, 1834, John Hobart speaks of stories of the Indians, and to us who can look back on his subsequent life, what a strange freak of fate it seems, that he himself should later come to live among the Indians, and that his son should marry a Chickasaw. There is a delightful touch of quaintness when he writes of his grandmother, "She is old and retains the faculty of memory to an uncommon degree, and whenever she begins to relate any story, it goes back into the first annals of New England, to those bygone times when ‘Indians, Tories, and witches’ were things that produced terror and dismay among the descendants of the Puritans. She has in her mental wardrobe an innumerable multitude of legends and traditions of Olden Time. When I was a little chick, about the height of the door latch, she used to relate witch tales to me that caused ‘Each particular hair to stand on end.’
"Sometime about A. D. 1700 the Indians attacked Groton, Mass. Burnt the dwellings, killed and took the inhabitants prisoners, of whom several of her ancestors were . . . . You have read something of the Indian’s mode of warfare, and their treatment of the unhappy captives, who fell into their hands during their sanguinary excursions—She has been edifying me this evening of their doings, as related to her by eyewitnesses. My mind is full of Bows and Arrows, Tomahawks, and Scalping Knives, and Torture in its most horrid and soul sickening forms, that infernal cruelty could invent—I doubt not but that I shall dream that one of these fiends is upon my breast in the act of Removing my scalp. My flesh shudders and my blood chills even at the thought."
Each day John Hobart’s mood changes, until in his ninth letter he again amuses Lucy.
Wednesday Morn, May 14.
My Dear L.
You have probably read Lord Byron’s Epitaph upon his favorite dog Boatswain—
"I never had but one friend, and here he lies."
I cannot say that I never had but one friend, even among the four-legged curs—But I have experienced a loss in the removal of a dog who was a great favorite of mine. He was a sociable, companiable quadruped. None of your taciturn, churlish and selfish curs. We became intimate upon the first day that I came home and he ever hailed my arrival with all the natural and sympathetic fondness of canine attachment. The gift of human speech was denied, so he did not utter his joy and gladness in so many words, but testified his pleasure and delight by a joyous bark, and by the rapid vibrations of his tail, and by his playful gambols upon the green turf. I had a peculiar sympathy for him because he was
"Upon this wide world a ranger."
I never made much inquiry concerning his progenitors. He was honored not because his ancestry stood high on the annals of dogology—for concerning his descent I could find out nothing, but he was honored for his intrinsic merit. He was a stranger whom we took in and cherished. In some of his juvenile exploits, the cunning fox led him such a "wild goose chase" that he was unable to divine his way to his master’s, and making virtue of necessity he came here, and remained during the time of eleven months, ere his master learned his fate, and he has been and taken him—When he left his master he was in childhood, now he was in the prime of doghood—He had forgotten his master, and even his original cognomen, ‘Sounder’, he did not reply to.
Wednesday after school close. I have given you a semi-serious dissertation upon the departure of a dog—Though I make no pretense to celebrity, as a biographer, (This however is a species of Auto-biography) yet I conceive it to (be) the imperative duty of a biographer to give the dark as well as the bright side of the picture, when he has portrayed the virtues, he should also give us the blemishes, that we may shun the errors into which the individual may have inadvertently fallen.—That this animal had some imperfections, I shall not attempt to deny—
But take him all in all, I shall never look upon his like again.’ He never forgave injuries (i. e. to his fellow curs), while he was in his minority, some of his species made divers manifestations of their affection for him by giving him severe battles. But he paid and re-paid them with compound interest, so that in course of time he became a terror to all the malicious curs in the vicinity—giving veracity to that old saw, viz:—
"Every dog must have his day."
He was a regular attendant to church, and not unlike many who call themselves human, he usually slept during sermon time, and sometimes would molest the congregation by snoring—He followed me to school for several times, but usually returned ere its close . . .Of his vices I shall be silent—
"Men’s vices live in brass
These lines may provoke the sneer of folly—but wise reader turn not up thy nose at this sketch, for
"From the most minute and mean
I shall now bid adieu to the dog. Should I ever meet him again, I shall not reproach myself (for having) done nothing to perpetuate his memory—may he fall into the possession of those who are merciful and at length reach that Canine Elisium, where he never suffers any of those kicks and privations to which his species is oft subjected to in this Terraqueous Globe.
L.—Perchance this may provoke a smile as you peruse it but mirth is an ingredient of happiness. If I had sufficient leisure I would give you a chapter upon the philosophy of Laughing—Mankind may be classed into different sects according to the sound of their laughing—The Boisterous horse laugh of the inebriates and their drunken companions—The scarcely preceptible twitter of the Miss behind her fan—The ancient dame who laughs without smiling—Old unctuous abesity who shakes the whole of his huge carcass from the crown of his head to the calf of his legs—The perpetual cachinnator whose face is ever in an eternal grin—They who laugh convulsively shutting their eyes and teeth, make a sound like frying eggs, and grinning like a hyena—those who—But, Fudge, I am getting garrulous if not ridiculous—This subject must be changed. This day has been quite cool. Latin dull as ever. I shall attend a S. S. Teachers’ Meeting this evening at Esq. Bancroft’s, and I must close my notes—perhaps I may write more after my return, if not why then Dearest L. Good night.
Yrs. as usual, Hobart.
Another time John Hobart described himself in an upstairs east room of his grandmother’s "old weather beaten house". "By the way, Dearest L, I could wish that you were here. My study is like the study of all scholars, all confusion, dirt, and uproar—upon my writing taple are the stumps of pens, two inkstands and a bottle, about a dozen specimens of minerals, broken ps. of glass, about two inches of a candle, a lucky bone, Indian Rubber, penknife, newspapers, drawing book, compass, scale hone and case mathematical in-
struments 2 Latin books, Boyes dictionary (French), Channing’s sermons, Sunday school questions, Testament and Bible, Herne’s works, lead pencils, wafers, and magnifying glass, and to crown all is my veritable self sitting in an old-fashioned armed chair, writing with all my might with my coat off, and my collar unpinned—Ye Gods! how I do write—the balance of my furniture consists of sundry articles of clothing for my outward man, and divers books, too numerous to mention. Trunks full of sundries, including your Epistles—and a box full of Do. with hats, caps, boots, shoes, pumps, and rubbers. A Bassoon and Musket—my room is 6½ by 4½ or 5. Hobart."
In September of 1834, Lucy married John Hobart and the young couple came west the following year. Among his papers is the original commission signed by the first state governor of Arkansas, James S. Conway, making John Hobart Heald a justice of the peace of Mississippi Township, Arkansas County, and dated September 22, 1836. In 1838 he made his home at Skullyville, Choctaw Nation, entering into the trading business there.
It was at Skullyville that Rev. William H. Goode, Superintendent of the Choctaw Academy at old Fort Coffee from 1843 to 1845, met John Hobart Heald, and made mention of him in his book called "Outposts of Zion". Rev. Goode says, "Mr. Heald was an Eastern man, and a gentleman of the first stamp, liberally educated, and possessing fine business attainments. He was a member of the house of Berthelet, Heald & Co., the first being a Canadian, and the third member, Bob Jones, a half-breed Choctaw. They were licensed traders of the nation had establishments at different points, and supplied the natives with goods of good quality and at fair rates, scorning to deceive or take advantage of their ignorance; a great contrast with the character of most Indian traders. Here were no conspiracies between agents and traders to defraud the Indians; no licentious examples to debauch them. Mr. Heald was amiable, generous, and humane. It was only to be regretted that he was of too fine a mold for the rugged contacts and associations of the frontier." It my be added here that Rev. Henry C. Benson, coworker with Rev. Goode at the Fort Coffee Academy, also speaks of Mr. Heald in his book entitled, "Life Among the Choctaws."
In 1846 John Hobart Heald extended his business by opening up an additional establishment at Doaksville, Choctaw Nation. On July 5 of the same year, he sat by his window late at night, writing in his "Dairy" by the light of a candle. Out in the moonlight at old Doaksville, a mocking bird poured "forth a continual strain of harmony", and as the "whistling of the child of song" died away, Mr. Heald expressed his pleasure in listening to the bird’s "ever ranging notes". Then he wrote, "Yesterday was Independance day, July 4, the nation’s birthday, and I heard the cannon from Ft. Towson boom forth the praises to the number of the United States."
A few days later Mr. Heald again wrote, "Yesterday a detachment, composed of infantry and dragoons, reached Ft. Towson, about a mile distant, enroute from Northern parts for San Antonia—a fearful march is before them across the arid prairies without any shelter from the sun’s burning rays and what would be worse, an inevitable scarcity of water. Great mortality must surely prevail and this march will be more than storming a Mexicain battery. Such are some of the necessary consequences resulting from war, with all its pomp, circumstances, and glory at times. A soldier informs me several are almost unable to continue, are not in fact, able to march, but have to be transported in uncomfortable baggage wagons. Two died at Fort Smith, and two on the route from Ft. Smith to this place.
"What is to be the result of the Mexican War is a serious question. No doubt we can take the country and revel in the Halls of the Montezuma’s, but we don’t need it. We want peace, an honorable peace. Who is to pay the expenses of this war? No doubt the answer will be, the vanquished . . . . Let all honorable means be used to bring the war to a close. The dollars and cents that we have expended may be returned, but the lives never."
On Tuesday night, July 14, 1846, Mr. Heald wrote in his "Diary": "This morning I rode in company with Dr. McDonna to Spencer Academy to witness an examination of the boys.
"This institution is supported by treaty stipulations of 8000 $ per annum & the P. B. of Miss. add 2000 $ more for the privilege of controlling and managing the School. It is proposed to educate, board & clothe as many boys as the above named sum can do, using prudence & economy. The number of scholars now is 100, generally however there are a few absentees—The buildings were erected in 1843, and with subsequent improvements make a respectable appearance.
"The School is deservedly popular among the Choctaws, many of whom, including the chiefs and head men were present, and tho they could but imperfectly understand, yet took much apparent interest in the operations (?) and recitations.
"I was present at the first examination in ’44, and tho highely delighted then, must add that I was greatly disappointed (surprised) in the progress made by many who had out stripped my expectations. All the more advanced and those who were students at the time the School commenced were far advanced in Grammar, Arithmetic, Geography, & all branches, equal to any of the good old schools of New England the Choctaws deserve great praise."
Mr. Heald bought and hauled the goods for his store at Doaksville from Shreveport, the principal head of navigation on the Red River. He told in his "Diary" of his trip by horseback from Doaks-
ville to Shreveport, a distance of 180 miles by the road of that time, the summer of 1846. He crossed Red River into Texas at the mouth of the Kiamichi, and took the road through northeast Texas which country he described in detail.
Of Clarksville, Texas, he said, "A neat looking little church is in progress by the Presbyterians. And from information of a friend, Editor of the ‘Northern Standard’ am pleased to learn that for a new frontier town, this place stands deservedly high as a point famous for the correct habits and morals of its citizens, generally, who are represented as a church going & Sabbath observing people. The surrounding prairie and timber land for some extent are very fertile, and abundantly capable of supporting a very dense population, and no doubt in a few years, this will be a central depot for a large and extensive surrounding country. Good mills are within some 10 miles, and the buildings and improvements now going up are done in a neat and workmanlike style, which is not at all common in frontier towns.
"The general appearance of Clarksville on the Sabbath is good, the shops closed, not many sauntering about the streets save the slave population, who generally throughout the entire South, where they have permission, make the Sabbath a market day to dispose of melons & peaches, chickens, and eggs, and any other little affairs which they are allowed by their masters to produce for themselves."
Further on the way he mentioned that the country, about twenty-five miles west of Shreveport, "assumes a new appearance and plantations succeed each other at short intervals and sometimes almost touching—occasionally a fine and comfortable looking house, white, with green blinds shrouded in flowers and shrubbery peeps out."
Arriving at Shreveport, Mr. Heald wrote from "Van Bibber’s Hotel", Saturday, August 22, 1846. "Sitting at my window the town possesses a very motley appearance, wood houses, log cabins, and brick stores all mingled up together with great irregularity, all characteristic of a new town. Mud, little negroes, hogs of all sizes and sexes perambulate through the streets, along with the light and tasty buggy or carriage of the opulent planter. Sorry looking nags stand at different corners whisking their tails to drive away the flies. The puff of a steam mill is heard in the distance and the rattle of the billard ball, accords with the sound of the mechanic’s hammer and plane. That new looking unpainted building is the Methodist church, where there is to be service this evening, and those cottage looking edifices to the west are some private residences of merchants.
"The old man is a water carrier. With his horsecart & hogshead he supplies you with 3 buckets daily at two bits a week, hauling it about ¾ of a mile, and earning, I am informed, about $60 a month at his occupation. Placards are about every door of the
trader. Bacon, flour, whiskey, lard, sugar, coffee, etc., seem to be the main staples. Real estate is said to be increasing rapidly in value, and I think some 10,000 bales of cotton are sent forward from here annually, and the supply is increasing.
"The corpulent lady asleep on the sofa, with the little negro to fan her is the Landlady, who presides at one extremity of the table.
"I am fortunately assigned a pleasant front room, having something of an unpleasant odour about it, but with a fine air, and a commanding prospect of the main street, called Texas St. The former occupant has not moved his books. Let us take a look at this pile. Calhoun’s speeches, Oregon and California, Byron, Mary de Clifford, Forestdays, Penny Magazine, Prairie Bird, a box of Champion’s Pills, vial of Paregoric, & a box of matches comprises the literary furniture. One skin-seated & 2 broken wood-seated comprise the chairs. The table of pine, which was rather spattered with sperm, during my absence to dinner has been covered with a cotton spread."
Within a few days Mr. Heald returned to Doaksville. In 1851, after thirteen years of life in this country, he went to live in New Orleans where he entered the commission business. It was here that he acted as agent in the cotton business for Colonel Robert Jones, his former partner, who shipped his cotton by steamboat from Doaksville, on the Red River, to New Orleans each season, for several years before the Civil War. After the Civil War, Mr. Heald went to live in New Jersey where he died in 1884, but the love for the West remained with his son, Charles Hobart, who in his turn ranked as one of Oklahoma’s pioneers. Not only from the "Journal" and the "Diary" do we know that John Hobart Heald was an interesting man, but also from the statements in the reminiscent volumes of Goode and Benson, we know that he was a man of standing in any community. He was another personality that we may add to the many, many others whose influence left their ameliorating impress upon the life of the western frontier in the old Indian Territory.
—Muriel H. Wright.