Johnnie Bishop Chisholm
The general Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church which met in 1844 authorized the organization of the Indian Mission Conference. The Indian Mission Conference was organized at Riley’s Chapel near Tahlequah, October 23, 1844. The Conference embraced seventeen charges or stations, one of which was Chickasaw Academy (known in later years as Harley Institute), which was founded 1850 and was operated under the auspices of the Conference for many years.
In 1851, the Chickasaw Academy moved into beautiful new quarters—a long two-story stone building with a two story veranda extending the entire length of the front of the building. This Academy was located in Tishomingo County, Chickasaw Nation, about two miles east of the present town of Tishomingo. The Academy was in charge of a Presiding Elder who appointed a Mission Superintendent to each school in his district.
The first Presiding Elder of the District in which Chickasaw Academy was located was Reverend John Harrell.1 Reverend Harrell was formally transferred to the Indian Mission Conference in 1850, where he continued to labor until the end of his life. After serving four years as Superintendent of Ft. Coffee Academy he was made Presiding Elder of the District in which Chickasaw Academy was located and from that time on he was either Presiding Elder or Mission Superintendent (except during the War in which he served as Chaplain, first of Gordon’s Regiment of Arkansas Volunteers and afterward in a similar capacity with the brigades of General W. L. Cabell and General Stand Watie), until the appointment which was made shortly before his death, which was that of Superintendent of the Asbury Manual Labor School at Eufaula, with a monthly preaching appointment at Vinita. His death occurred December 8, 1876, at Vinita, where he had gone to fill an appointment, so he literally died
1.The writer of this article is in error as to Rev. Harrell being the first presiding elder placed on the Choctaw District. Extracts from the Methodist Conference records, dated October 23, 1845, shows that Rev. fd. M. Tolbert was placed on the district and also appointed pastor of Boggy circuit.
J. Y. B.
in the harness. It is said that Reverend Harrell was a man of magnetic personality and of imposing physical presence. He was always humble and unassuming, yet possessed of a courage that was daunted at nothing, added to this was an undying love for his work and was therefore a splendid type of all that was best in the frontier Mission worker. His remains were laid beside those of his wife who died but a few weeks before at the Asbury Manual Labor School.
The first Mission Superintendent to have charge of Chickasaw Academy was Reverend John C. Robinson.2 In the Minutes of the Indian Mission Conference, 1899, we find the following concerning him:
John C. Robinson was born at Charleston, England, February 26, 1801, and died at his home in Paris, Texas, May 29, 1876, at the age of seventy-six years and in his fifty-first year as a minister. At twelve years of age he went to sea as a cabin boy where he remained for three years. At the age of fifteen he arrived in the United States. The next year he professed religion at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During the next eight years he attended several schools and, succeeded in obtaining a good education. In 1825 he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and soon afterward was licensed to preach. In 1827 he filled the chair of Mathematics in Madison College, of which college Dr. H. B. Bascom was at that time President. Subsequently he engaged in the work of the ministry in the states of Ohio and Kentucky. In the division of the Church which began in 1844 Brother Robinson elected to go with the South. In 1850 he became a member of the Indian Mission Conference.
In the fall of 1850, he was appointed in charge of the Chickasaw Academy, where he remained without change until the beginning of the Civil War. In 1864 he was appointed preacher in charge and Superintendent of Chickasaw circuit and academy. In 1867 he was appointed to Fort Gibson and Tahlequah and that year he was granted a super-annuary relation. In 1868 he was associated with Lyman Harrison, a supply on the Kiamichi circuit. In 1869 he was senior preacher on the Chickasaw circuit, and 1870 he was
2.A brief history of the Missionary work in the Indian Territory, of the Indian Mission Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church South, by Rev. F. M. Moore, chapter (2). Page (37) shows that Rev. Wesley Browning was first superintendent of Chickasaw Academy. J. Y. B.
appointed to Tishomingo circuit, aid was granted a superannuated relation in 1871 which he retained until his death.
Brother Robinson was more of an educator than a preacher, yet, when assigned to such work he was a good preacher and a zealous pastor. As he grew old he continued to be a student thus keeping his mind fresh and vigorous. As I remember him he was tall and spare. There was nothing to indicate the Englishman except a rather florid complexion. Even then, though that was forty years ago, he had a venerable and commanding air about him. There is no doubt that he sleeps in the hope of a glorious resurrection.
By this biography, we see that John C. Robinson was doing active work for Chickasaw Academy for nearly twenty years.
So well did he do his work and endear himself in the hearts of those whom he served that they ceased for a time to call the school Chickasaw Academy, and called it, Robinson Academy in honor of their beloved leader. However, no where in tribal documents or in manuscripts of the Indian Mission Conference, do we find it thus. It is Robinson Academy only in the minds of aged Indians who were students at the Academy at that time.
From 1850 to 1876 the Chickasaw Academy was a boarding school for boys of all ages. Even primary children could attend. There was a good farm in connection with the school which almost supplied all of its needs.
We find in the records that during this time the school kept at times thirty Chickasaw lads and at other times fifty.
But the Mission Schools which were built and mostly maintained at tribal expense were eventually taken over by the tribal governments.
We see that the tribal government of the Chickasaw Nation was fully capable and there was no decline in the efficiency of her schools.
By an act passed by the Legislature of Chickasaw Nation and approved by Gov. B. F. Overton, October 2, 1876, we find that a Superintendent of Public Instruction was to have charge of all schools within the Nation. This included Chicasaw Academy. Said Superintendent was to have man-
agement and control of schools and buildings; examine as to qualifications and moral character of teachers; hear and examine complaints against teachers; make a quarterly report to government.
After 1876 the vicinity surrounding Chickasaw Academy or Tishomingo County was more densely settled and neighborhood schools were established. As a result of this, the scholarship of the Chickasaw Academy was raised, as follows
"An act to Establish a Male School at C. M. L. Academy for Chickasaw Children."
B. F. OVERTON, Governor.
Another unusual but wise regulation concerning Chickasaw Male Academy was that the school had a Trustee who was paid for his services. It was his duty to visit the school at least once a month to see that it was properly conducted, report quarterly to the Superintendent, and in the case of any irregularities to decide and settle same until the decision of the Superintendent could be had.
By an Act of the Legislature of the Chickasaw Nation which was approved by Gov. B. C. Burney October 17, 1878, the Trustee was to receive fifty dollars per year.
Not content with outlining the duties of the Superintendent and Trustee and raising the scholarship of Chickasaw Male Academy, we find the Chickasaws in the Legislature going still further to improve the school and protect the fine lads who were students there. By an Act of the Legislature which was approved October 17, 1878, by Gov. B. F. Overton it was "Unlawful for any person to decoy any scholar from school or to use immoral or indecent behavior in or about any school within the limits of the Chickasaw Nation." A heavy penalty was the result of such an offense.
Methods of teaching at Chickasaw Male Academy may seem a little unpedagogical, but when we look about us and see the splendid characters that were produced there, we almost wish it were possible to return to the good old days of Tribal Schools. Among the graduates of Chickasaw Male Academy are to be found many of the most useful and loyal citizens of this commonwealth. They are men who have become famous, not only in the state but throughout the Nation as well.
It was the custom in Chickasaw Male Academy to have public examinations at the end of each month. Not only were they open to the public, but the public was earnestly urged to attend them.
In Volume 1, number 111, of the Chickasaw Academic Leaflet published at the school in May, 1881, we find the following:
The examinations of pupils at the various Academies will take place as follows:
Chickasaw, June 23rd.
B. C. BURNEY, Supt. of Schools.
We will be ready to receive our friends on Thursday evening, 22nd June. We trust our patrons will favor us with their presence at that time.
In talking with Mr. H. H. Burris, one of the editors of the above Leaflet who was so kind as to let us have a copy of it, we asked, "And, would many attend the examinations, and where would they stay?"
He replied, "Why, they all came, every patron, and they slept and were fed right there in the building."
Mr. Burris, a full blood Chickasaw, was a student at the Academy, at the time he was editor of the Chickasaw Academic Leaflet.
He later became one of the prominent men of affairs in the Chickasaw Nation. He, at different times held the following positions:
As we sat in his home and urged him to talk of his days at the Academy, he became reminiscent.
"Those were great days! But the best times were the Annual Commencements. Everybody from everywhere came. Often as many as eight or ten beeves were barbecued, shelves the length of the huge kitchen were filled with rows and rows of pies. All who could be taken care of slept in the Academy and when it was filled the rest camped out. But there were never too many to be fed by the school."
Glancing again at the time-worn leaflet, we remarked, "Here is an account of a serenade where the Academy band and faculty went into the town of Tishomingo and were the guests of Judge Boyd and his lady. It says that after dinner the band boys proceeded to cheer their hosts with music."
"Oh yes," he interrupted with a smile, as he looked back over the forty-six years to the night of the serenade. "We
had a good band. No better band was found in the Nation than that of Chickasaw Male Academy. I was in that band. I played the flute. I still have it."
In our endeavor to draw him out, we said:
Quickly, as if to remove any suspicion of fault from his people, he defended:
"But you say that you and two other boys edited this paper. Who printed it for you?"
"We printed it, right there in the Chickasaw Academy. We set the type and printed it, right there," he added with pride’
At this time, 1880, the principal of Chickasaw Male Academy was Joshua Harley, who was then in his twelfth year of service at the school. Mr. Harley was born in Mississippi in 1839. He was educated in Mississippi. He, with his young wife, came to Chickasaw Male Academy when he was twenty-eight years old. With the exception of one term of five years he spent the rest of his life at the Academy.
As the years passed and his children were born there, he claimed no other home but the friendly walls of the Academy. The joys of the Chickasaws became his joys, their sorrows became his sorrows. He was often heard to express his love for the people among whom he worked and it was his expressed wish to spend his life there and "be buried in his school clothes in the cemetery adjoining the Chickasaw Male Academy."
Thus it was, Professor Harley, after a quarter of a century at the Academy passed away December 24, 1892 and was laid to rest in the Academy Cemetery on Christmas Day.
So powerful was the influence of this noble school man that it became impossible to think of the school without associating the name "Harley" with it. Again as in the early days when the school was often called Robinson Academy,
it now took the name of the loved and honored leader, and was universally called "Harley Institute." However we do not find it called Harley Institute in the Statutes and records of the Chickasaw Nation until after 1889.
Between 1880 and 1885 the Chickasaw Male Academe was partially destroyed by fire. It was patched up for a while and used, but when plans to repair it were begun it was found that the cost would be almost as much as a new building. Then, too, the location had ceased to be as healthful as it should be, and as a result of this, we find the following act to build a new Academy in Tishomingo County:
Whereas, the Chickasaw Male Academy, from its long continued use has become much out of repair, and the location and surroundings
of the place render it in no wise a healthful home for our children who spend the greater part of their youthful days there;
Then follow several sections as to materials, pay, etc., closing with:
Section 8. Be it further enacted, that the sum of fifteen thousand dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated to carry
out the provisions of this act, and that this act take effect from and after its passage.
JONAS WOLFE, Governor.
After this time we find one Act wherein the school is called C. M. L. Academy. That is, in 1889 where the old Academy is to be sold and the proceeds to be placed in the National Treasury.
Ever afterward, in the Statutes and all records of the Chickasaws the school is known as Harley Institute.
For fear we might leave the wrong impression, we will say just here, that Professor Harley taught nearly six years in this New Academy and died within its walls after having
had the pleasure of knowing that the school was known as Harley Institute. The cemetery in which he was buried was adjoining "Old Chickasaw Academy" about three miles distant from the Harley Institute.
Harley Institute was located about a mile north of the present town of Tishomingo, on the banks of Pennington Creek. It was larger than the "Old Chickasaw Male Academy." It was a two-story brick building with a two-story addition extending out from the back making a T-shape building. The back part of the building had a two-story porch on both sides of it.
By law, the school was supposed to care for sixty boys but at times as many as eighty-five were kept.
In looking through the records of the Legislature of the Chickasaw Nation we find many bills concerning Harley Institute, one of which will give us a splendid idea of the type of institution that it was and something of the workings of said school. It is a contract for the maintenance and carrying on of Harley Institute School. The contract was approved by Governor D. H. Johnston, September 24, 1898. Attest, C. D. Carter, National Secretary, Chickasaw Nation.
The institution, as we have said was managed by a contractor whose duties were many. Said contractor was to furnish food, shelter, bedding, medicine, books, and in fact everything necessary to the upkeep of a first class institution of learning. Among the outstanding contractors of Harley Institute were
Mr. Ben Carter (father of Congressman C. D. Carter), who took charge of the Chickasaw Male Academy in 1882. After serving three and one-half years at the old academy he moved to the new building known as Harley Institute and finished his contract of one and one-half years. The school was suspended during the year 1887.
Commencing in 1888 Prof. Harley took a five-year contract. Prof. Harley served four and a half years and died at Harley Institute December 24, 1892. Mrs. Harley was permitted to finish her husband’s term.
Following Prof. Harley and his wife came Joe Kemp (now of Ardmore). Mr. Kemp served as contractor until 1898.
Mr. S. M. White (now of Wynnewood and son-in-law of Gov. Cyrus Harris) commenced in the fall of 1898 and served five years.
In 1903 the Chickasaw authorities gave S. M. White a contract. Mr. White was contractor of the institution until the expiration of the Chickasaw Government just prior to Statehood.
A history of Harley Institute would not be complete without mention of the noble women whose influence meant so much to the school. Among these, we would especially mention Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Harley. These two women were looked upon by the boys with motherly affection. Being mothers themselves, they knew the heart of a boy. They made the problems of the boys their problems. They took the students of Harley Institute into their hearts and lives and helped to maintain an atmosphere of home life that was an immeasurable aid to the splendid morale of the boys.
Following are a few of the things expected of the Contractor: Contractor is to have full possession of the buildings known as Harley Institute, with all tenements and appurtenances for five consecutive years, beginning on the first Monday in September, 1898.
Contractor may employ non-citizen labor at said Institute necessary to carry on work, also to get necessary fuel, and fencing from any public domain and cattle, workstock, hogs and sheep necessary to do the work and furnish meat and milk for said Institution.
Contractor agrees to conduct and maintain said Harley Institute consisting of sixty male pupils for the term of years above mentioned as a first class boarding school, that is, that first class instruction shall be given in all branches of studies, including music, necessary to give the pupils a finished education in English, as is recognized by first class Institutions of learning, and the curriculum of said school.
Second. That he will furnish each pupil with all necessary text books, the same to be Barnes’ Series of text books or some other standard series, slates, pencils, tablets, pens, lead pencils, ink, stationery and postage; also that he will furnish globes, maps, charts and the necessary philosophical, geometrical, chemical, physiological, and botanical apparatus
to instruct properly in these branches of studies. And to do all and singular those things necessary to maintain a first class school. That he will furnish the pupils three well cooked meals each day, arranged on the table, supplied with clean cloth, napkins, neat table ware of white stone and glass, neat cutlery, and served in every respect in a first class manner, with proper regard to a variety of foods and the laws of healthful living.
Third. That he will furnish the pupils at all times with clean and comfortable bedding, and bathing facilities, towels, soap, hair and clothes brushes, coarse and fine combs, lights, fuel, medicine and competent medical attention, and have the clothes of the pupils neatly washed and ironed, and mended, and to do all that is necessary to maintain neatness in the surroundings, and enforce cleanliness of person in the pupils, of said Institution.
Fourth. That he will keep a well bound book in which shall be recorded the names, ages, studies, attendance at school, and deportment of each pupil from which he will make quarterly reports to the Superintendent of Schools and to the Trustee of said Harley Institute; that he will keep the school at said Harley Institute nine months for the school year ending June 30, 1899 and ten months for each succeeding year for the next four years.
Fifth. That he will keep the building and appurtenances, of said Harley Institute in good order and that he will not permit vulgarity, blasphemy, drinking intoxicating liquors, and games of hazard, on the premises of said Institute, and that he will maintain a moral influence, and daily assemble the pupils for the reading of the Bible, singing hymns and prayers, and have religious services each Sabbath at the Institute.
Sixth. That he will prepare in writing, the rules and regulations of said Harley Institute and submit the same for approval of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and when they are so approved by him, he will keep a copy of them posted in each sleeping apartment, assembly, and school room, and the violation of said rules and regulations shall be the only cause for expulsion or suspension of any pupil from said Institute.
(Then follow conditions that would exist in case either party failed to comply with the contract).
Thus, we get an idea of how earnestly and seriously the Chickasaws took the responsibility of guarding the youth of the Nation.
In talking to Judge and Mrs. P. B. H. Shearer, teachers at Harley Institute during the time that the above contract was in force, we asked, "Just what phase of the work at Harley Institute impressed you most?"
"Oh," replied Mrs. Shearer, "Everything was so fine. Every phase of the work was so wonderful. The boys with their splendid morals, the beautifully kept building and campus, the regard for high scholarship and the keen interest manifested by the patrons and officials of the school—"
"But," we interrupted, "Is there not one outstanding feature that impressed you most?"
Then, she too, as did Mr. Burris of 1880, decided that the annual commencement was perhaps the most impressive.
She continued, "It might be compared to a world’s fair so great were the crowds of people. The wooded hills surrounding Harley became a sea of wagons and buggies. Truly "Parking Space’ was at a premium."
"In giving so much attention to social life, was not the literary side neglected?"
"No," replied she, "I have never taught pupils who were more efficient." (Mrs. Shearer has taught in the best universities in the South).
With a smile, she went on, "I remember once, in the public examination. There was a class of boys in History. They took their places at the board, and the questions were given them aloud. No sooner were the questions given than each boy wrote down the answer without any notice of his neighbor. So rapidly and accurately were the answers given that one lady rushed up to Mrs. Shearer and, with her face aglow with pride in the boys of her race, said with animation:
"Tell me, Mrs. Shearer, do you think that it is possible for white boys to be as bright as Indian boys?"
Mrs. Shearer was a non-citizen teacher.
In interviewing persons who were connected at various
times with Harley Institute, we found the most wonderful spirit of love and loyalty existing.
Beginning with the period of 1876, Gov. R. M. Harris, now of Tishomingo, said, "It was a fine school at that time. There was none better."
Coming on down to the period 1880 to 1885, Mr. H. H. Burris said, "I don’t know much about it later, but I know that it could not have been better than when I was there."
Of the period 1885 to 1895, Mrs. Zula Burris Lucas, who, was instructor in music at Harley said, "It was a wonderful school. It turned out many good and useful men. The department of music at Harley was unexcelled." She added with pride, "Those were about the best days of Harley Institute."
But contenders for the period in which Harley Institute reached its zenith, do not stop there. We find Judge and Mrs. Shearer saying, "Harley reached its zenith of glory between 1895 and 1902."
But a champion of the last years of Harley, Mrs. H. A. Hatcher, who was an instructor at that time, said:
"It was a shame for a powerful school like Harley Institute to close its doors. It was doing the best work in the history of the school when it was abandoned shortly before statehood."
After statehood, the building at Harley Institute was used as a County farm, and when no longer needed for that purpose it was purchased by the Riverside Country Club of Tishomingo.
In its present state of repair, the administration building of Harley Institute bids fair to stand for many decades an impressive monument to the youth of the Chickasaw Nation.
With apologies to George Riley Hall, allow us in closing to present this little toast:
"Land of the Chickasaws, here’s to thy glory!
JOHNNIE BISHOP CHISHOLM,