By J. Y. Bryce
Not many people now living in the neighborhood of McAlester are aware that at one time the little village just south of them about five miles, now known as Cameron, was a Confederate military post of some importance as well as a depot of supplies from which the Confederate forces while in operation in Indian Territory received supplies. Perryville, at that time was one of the most important centers in the country, located as it was on the old military road from Fort Gibson and Fort Smith to the northeast, and Fort Washita and Fort Arbuckle on the southwest; which at that time was one of the very few highways leading through the Indian Territory. At this place the road forked, one branch going west and south, passing through Stonewall and on to Cherokee town, located on the Washita River east of Pauls Valley, then by the forts and on into Texas; the other branch taking a southeasterly course, intercepted the old military road near Isaac Colbert place on Brushy Creek leading from Fort Smith to Stringtown and Boggy Depot and on to Fort Washita and Fort Arbuckle and into Texas. Over this road a great many men of distinction have traveled, and made Perryville their stopping place for the night. Perryville was then a stage stand, boasting a Government blacksmith shop, Post Office, with more than a half dozen business firms, and a little log school house used as occasion demanded for church purposes as well as for Choctaw court purposes. This place was at one time, possibly for sixty or ninety days, the Choctaw capitol. This statement can hardly be substantiated now, but it is a fact nevertheless, that during a squabble as to who had been elected chief, one contending faction, I have forgotten which, moved the records to Perryville and set in motion the affairs of the Nation. The other faction won, and the capitol was moved to Doaksville. Perryville had the distinction of being a district and county court town for a number of years. The writer has often witnessed the High Sheriff, Wm. Chunn, who was merchant and Postmaster, convening court by crying, "Hear ye, hear ye, the honor-
able court of Tobusky County is now in session." At this place, near the close of the war, the Confederates were defeated in an engagement of a few hours duration, in which several were killed on both sides and a considerable number wounded.
These old military trails could tell some wonderful history if they could only make audible what they have witnessed in the by-gone years. During an engagement in 1864 the Confederates were repulsed and driven out of the post by the Federals, who after appropriating as much of the supplies as they were able to carry, fired the buildings, leaving the women and children homeless and the Confederates impoverished. A few days before the Federals had destroyed the supplies at old North Town, located on the North Canadian River near where Eufaula now stands. Their only other supply base was at Boggy Depot, located near where the Delaware Creek empties into Boggy Creek, and about two miles from the present location of Bogy Depot. My understanding is that the Federals failed to reach this base of supplies, as they were not able to get farther south than the immediate territory of Perryville. Not many months ago the writer in conversation with an old Confederate soldier, who was then living in Pittsburg, Pittsburg County, pointed out the place on the mountain southeast of Perryville, where he with others did picket duty. There were three military trails leading into Perryville, one from Fort Smith, via Skullyville (first known as Choctaw Agency), one from Fort Gibson, via old Fisher town, on the North Canadian, north side, thence by North Town on the south side of North Canadian, both places near the confluence of the two Canadians, continuing south, passing through the section of country where the towns of Canadian, Reams and McAlester are now located. The third one came in from the southeast, being a branch of the old military road from Fort Smith, via Skullyville, the Wade Hampton place on Toll Mountain, near where Wilburton is now located, in Latimer County, thence on by Johnson, near the Isaac Colbert place on Brushy Creek, where it, forked, one branch leading northwest, crossing Bald Mountain, passing on by Blue Springs and Picket Mountain, mentioned above, and into Perryville, thus connecting these three roads.
Two Confederate soldiers, wounded in the battle at Perryville, were cut off from their company and trying to make their way to some place where they could have their wounds dressed, spent a short while at the Blue Springs, and then trying to cross over the Bald Mountain so as to get south on the road leading to Boggy Depot where they expected to get food and medical assistance. One died, the other built a rock wall around him, in the absence of any tools with which to dig. Here his body rested secure from the wolves and vultures until his bones bleached. Curious white men afterwards tore the wall down and removed most of the bones. Blue Springs was somewhat of a noted place, as the Confederate forces rested there for some time after losing their supplies at Perryville and North Town. The little place, mentioned above as Johnson, got its name from George Johnson, a noted Choctaw Indian, who was considered the worst man in the country at that time. He had killed several men and was always on the lookout for some one else to kill. I have listened to several men, in conversation as to characters in the community, and heard them say that George Johnson was the only man that they were really afraid of, as be seemed not to have any regard for human life whatever. Mr. Johnson had at different times as many as a dozen wives, and at one time he swapped wives with another man, giving as a difference between the two, a pen of corn shucks and an old side saddle.
One of the notable places on this old road was that of John Penn Rodgers, a place about ten miles south of the Bald Mountain. At this place Mr. Rodgers had settled at an early day, putting in quite a farm and buildings for that day, a fine home, and a country store, from which supplies were bought by the Choctaws and the few whites in the community. At this place one of the early-day Post Officers was established. Mr. Rodgers was a Cherokee, but married a Choctaw woman by the name of Miss Garland, who was a graduate of some female school, and was a splendid musician, having the only piano in the country for a number of years. At this place Mr. Rodgers had secured a right from the Choctaw Government to put in a toll bridge, across a tributary to McGee Creek, which was a source of considerable revenue to the family.
Rev. W. F. Folsom, of whom mention was made in the last number of Chronicles, used to preach at nearly all the points along this old military road; the Colbert community, and the Rodgers settlement were both on his circuit as pastor or interpreter for the presiding elder. The Rodgers family were Methodists, and their home was a regular stopping place for the preachers of those early days. Several good protracted meetings have been held in that locality where the entertainment was, mostly, in the Rodgers home. Such families as the Staples and Gathers, who lived for several years on Rodgers’ farm, were good entertainers on those camp-meeting occasions. A Rev. John Mann, a Methodist divine of some renown, used to make this neighborhood in his rounds on the Perryville circuit Relating some of the experiences of the early day missionary may not be out of place just here, showing some of the things with which they had to contend. Toll bridges were the order of the day, provided a stream large enough could be found across which to build one. If not, sometimes they would ditch around in such a way as to make it impossible for a wagon to pass other than on the bridge. A Mr. Johnson, not George above referred to, had built such a one across Peaceable Creek, near Perryville, on the old military road running directly south. Across this bridge Rev. Mann was necessarily forced to go. Mrs. Johnson was a member of the Methodist church, and a member of Rev. Mann’s flock. Coming in one day from a long, hard day’s travel, crossing the bridge and coming on up to the residence of Mrs. Johnson, he was met by the good sister who asked him for ten cents, the price charged for man and horse crossing the bridge. In reply to her request for the money, Rev. Mann said: "Mrs. Johnson, you would not charge me for crossing on the bridge would you, as I am your pastor?" She replied: "Yes, I know you are my pastor, and I should not charge you, but I use snuff and am out and have no money with which to buy it and this ten cents will get me a box of snuff." He paid the fee and rode on, afterward relating the circumstance with some relish. Brother Mann would frequently spend several days in our home in Perryville. A few months before the annual Conference was to convene, I remember that he wrote to his wife, who was in Arkansas, asking her to make him a suit
of clothes, out of the blackest black sheep’s wool in his flock, for the Conference. That meant that Mrs. Mann was, no doubt, to shear the wool, card and spin and weave it into cloth with her own hands, then cut by guess and fit him for Conference. I wonder how many of our preachers of today would be satisfied to wear such a suit to an annual Conference.
Some of the persons who were residents of the village in that early period were Wm. Chunn, Postmaster, high sheriff, merchant and general banker for the community; his brother-in-law, Dr. D. M. Hailey, was the country doctor; Thomas Ryan, also a brother-in-law, was bookkeeper and clerk; Joe Ryan, brother of Thomas, was the village school teacher; Mr. John Dawson, who was afterwards a brother-in-law of Win. Chunn, was the blacksmith with a Mr. Henry Norman as assistant; and the writer’s mother was keeping the wayside Inn, feeding the general public. Wm. Chunn, Thomas Ryan, D. M. Hailey and John Dawson were all son-in-law of Robt. M. McCarty, whose residence was a few miles west of Fort Smith on the old military road leading out of Fort Smith to Perryville. Mr. McCarty married a Choctaw woman in Mississippi and came west with them. These families were all leading families of the Choctaw Nation. Many of their descendants are among the first families of our state today.
At Perryville I first saw the Choctaw Government inflict punishment for law violation. I recall one instance in which two Choctaws were convicted for some offense against the Government and were sentenced to be whipped. This was done by first removing all garments from the waist up, then they were taken to a tree and made to stand with their breasts next to the tree, when two men, one each taking hold of the hand of the prisoner, would hold him close to the tree while a third would administer the punishment. As I remember now there were five men who did the whipping, one would give ten strokes then another would give ten until fifty, minus one, had been administered. I recall that a man by the name of Impson, who was a prisoner awaiting trial, one day broke jail and a man by the name of Alex—who was part negro and deputy sheriff made a run for him and overtaking him in a flat near by, fired three shots, killing him
instantly. My father was called by the sheriff to bring his wagon and haul him in. The man Impson, who was killed, had killed twelve men, and the negro deputy had killed eleven, and the killing of Impson made an even dozen for him. I remember how the man Alex would laugh and tell how he shot him and how the fleeing man would beg him not to shoot; the negro seemed to take the whole thing as a huge joke.
Another little incident shows western life in an early day. As has been said, mother kept the wayside Inn, and everyone wishing meals served came to her. On one occasion a man by the name of Tandy Walker, who was himself somewhat of an outlaw, a deputy under Wm. Churn, came to the house about noon and asked for meals to be served to himself and about a half dozen prisoners, who were chained and hand-cuffed. Tandy himself being about half or two-thirds intoxicated, his request was so violent and rude that mother positively refused to serve them, whereupon Mr. Walker began to curse and male threats. Dinner was just ready to be served to the family and mother had a kettle of boiling water on the stove, to which she turned and pouring out a stewpan full, turned to the boisterous man and ordered him from the house. Not seeing the hot water at first, he repeated his threat and said: "This is a public eating house and I will have my men fed." Mother made a start to throw the hot water in his face when he took the hint and left. He told Mr. Chunn what he had experienced and Mr. Chunn said: "You should have had better sense than to have gone there in the absence of Mr. Bryce, in your drunken condition and made demands for dinner; she should have thrown the water in your face."
Perryville was named for the man who first had a store in the place, a Mr. Perry, who had a Government commissary prior to the war, and during the war, settled there in an early day. Located as it was on the main thoroughfare leading from Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas on the north and east, to Texas and Mexico on the south and southwest, made it a very important commercial center. Mr. Perry amassed quite a fortune before his death, which occurred just prior to the rebellion of the Southern states. Mr. Perry was buried about four hundred yards from where his place
of business was located; there is nothing left there now to mark his resting place, but when the writer lived in the town, it was tolerably well kept, the method being used by the Indians of an early day, that of building a small house and covering the same with clab boards.
About the time of Mr. Perry’s death, a Mr. Osborn Fisher, became proprietor of the business, continuing stage accommodations, and the Post Office, which had been established February 24, 1841, with John F. Houston as post master. The evidences all go to show that the post office was in the old Perry business house and that it was continued in the building after Mr. Fisher took charge. This is no doubt the same building in which Wm. Chunn conducted a general business for many years, until the Katy Railroad built through and the town of McAlester was established. At the time the railroad was built through the Territory, Wm. Chunn was post master at Perryville. The year 1875, Mr. Chunn closed out his business at Perryville, and moved his family on to a cattle ranch six miles to the southeast, where lie had wonderful success as a ranchman; here he remained until the time of his death which was about the year 1880 or 1881. His son William R., still lives in the immediate vicinity of the ranch.
Mr. O. Fisher left Perryville, according to our best information, about the close of the war and settled in McGee Valley, where he conducted a large mercantile business in connection with extensive cattle interests which he maintained for many years. The Fisher family made their home in Tishomingo after leaving Perryville; there both Mr. Fisher and his wife died and are buried. McGee Valley is one of the finest sections of the Choctaw Nation, and is located south and east of the old military road, mentioned above, passing by the Isaac Colbert place on Brushy and on down by the John P. Rodgers place. On this O. F. ranch were some of the best cattle and horses raised in Indian Territory. Three daughters of the Fisher family are living two of them Mrs. Flemming, and Mrs. Ben Colbert, in Tishomingo, and Mrs. H. L. Muldrow, in Norman.
While Perryville has lost its identity, it has not lost any of the romance for those who were associated with it in an early day. There is a piece of masonry remaining intact in
the well that is of considerable interest to the writer; it is just as it was when we used to draw water out of the well, with an old sweep more than fifty years ago. On a visit to the old place some days ago we noticed that the stone walk leading from the kitchen to the well was torn up by the trees that had grown there since my time in the little village. Some of these trees were as large as a man’s body. We were want to say on gazing on the old site in the language of the poet:
"Lives there a man with soul so dead,
J. Y. BRYCE.