J. Y. Bryce
The year 1890, the undersigned was appointed by Bishop Hendrix, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to serve as pastor of the Arbeka circuit, in the Okmulgee District. This charge included a part of the Seminole Nation, a large portion of the Creek Nation, and all of the Sac & Fox reservation. In November of that year we moved from Wynnewood, our former charge, to Arbeka, on the North Canadian River, just inside the Seminole Nation, taking up residence in a building belonging to Mrs. A. B. Davis, who was a sister of Governor John F. Brown, of the Seminoles. Mrs. Davis had a large mercantile store and postoffice at this place, from which a great number of Seminole and Creek Indians received their supplies. This place was then on the western border of the country known as the Indian Territory, or in other words, the western border of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Sac & Fox reservation occupied a position directly north of the Seminole Nation and west of the Creek Nation. One of the preaching points was at the Sac & Fox Agency, a military post; whose normal, population was less than five hundred; on occasions it might be anywhere from five hundred to fifteen or twenty hundred. The occasion for this increase in population was the drawing of rations by Indians from the Government, with the presence of the soldiers and those drawn to the Agency by the various business affairs connected with the tribe.
The civilization of this western town was largely, if not altogether, determined by the government employees and the licensed traders, including those who were in charge of the Indian school; and we may say it was as near ideal as we have been able to find in any small place. Those connected with the school were church-going people, as were the employees of the Agency, nearly all of them attended Sunday school. The Second Chief, Moses Keokuk, was a Baptist minister, and encouraged his people to attend all religious services. The Government blacksmith, Mr. House, was a Methodist, and Superintendent of the Sunday School. While in the little city,
we usually stayed with Mr. House and Mr. McCoy, who, with his family, were members of the Sac & Fox tribe, but well disposed, congenial and well wishers and mindful of anything elevating in regard to community interests.
Henry C. Jones, a Fox Indian, was a man of exceptional qualities for his day and opportunities, his father was a white man, his mother a full-blood Fox Indian; Mr. Jones was raised in an Indian camp, without the help of a father, the father having died or having left the tribe while the boy was quite youthful. He related to me some of the hardships to which he was subjected while growing up, stating that he was the only support of the mother, who was an ignorant woman of the forest, and that he had to make her way and his own; sometimes they would be half fed and half clothed, exposed to the severe winter storms and the intense heat of the summer, as well as exposed to the intrigue of the white men and the cunning of the Indians with whom they had to live.
Mr. Jones at times was in the employ of the Government as blacksmith, clerk and interpreter; he made several trips to Washington as an interpreter in as many different capacities. For two years Mr. Jones was my interpreter for the Sac & Fox Indians with whom I was expected to labor, and show some results. The results were very meager, as I had very little success among them, that was visible; I often held services in his home, which at this time was south of the Agency about ten miles, located on the north side of the North Canadian River. Here he had taken his allotment for himself and family, consisting of several thousand acres of the best land in the reservation.
At one service in the Jones home, I baptized Mr. and Mrs. Jones and three of the children, receiving them into the Methodist church. Several months after this service the Quarterly conference licensed Mr. Jones to preach the gospel to his people, and others as opportunity afforded; he exercised this office for several years, and was very influential among his people. After the allotment of lands to the Sac & Fox tribe, Mr. Jones went into business as a general merchant in the new town of Keokuk Falls, located east of his farm one mile, and directly in, the southeast corner of the Reservation, joining the Creek Nation on the east, and separated from the Seminole Nation on the south by the North Canadian
River. At this place the Government established a post office in 1891, and appointed Mr. Jonees as postmaster. The undersigned served as assistant postmaster there for several months.
The mail came to us from the northeast, by stage from Sapulpa, which was then the terminus of the Frisco railroad, to Sac & Fox Agency, thence to Keokuk Falls and on to Econtuchka, west, up the North Canadian River, a distance of ten miles, where a Mr. E. J. Brown had a business establishment of considerable proportions, doing a splendid business with the Seminoles, south of the river, and with the Sac & Fox Indians north of the river. At this point, about five hundred yards from the Econtuchka post office, was the tepee of the principal chief, MeCusseto, of the Sac & Fox tribes. McCusseto (English pronunciation, if incorrectly spelled) was a fine physical specimen of manhood, weighing about two hundred pounds, of medium age and height, giving him the appearance of an outstanding, character, which he was, and altogether suitable for the position he held. Here we held services, one time in his tepee, and several times in the camp. Very few of the Sac & Fox Indians were, at this time, living in houses, the majority of them living in tepees and bark houses; the bark ones were made from the bark of the elm, taken off when the sap was rising. One would hardly find an elm tree in the vicinity where these Indians had congregated that had not been killed by the process of removing the bark for building purposes. One day in company with Mr. Jones as interpreter, we left the Agency for the, express purpose of holding religious services in some camp, provided we could find a camp, and get permission. After traveling a distance of about ten miles, we came to the camp of a clan chief, whose name was Nis-Ke-Kot, (while this is not the way to spell the name, it is the way to pronounce it) after some conversation with the chief, we were told a that we could come to them at three o’clock in the afternoon, and they would give us the opportunity of holding service. Leaving this camp and traveling a distance of five or six miles we came to another camp, where they were engaged in a dance, which they told us was a "Ghost Dance;" while it resembled somewhat the ghost dance of the western tribes, such as the Kiowa’s and Apache’s, yet it was not the same. They were particularly engaged
in "a dog feast,", and dancing around a pole placed in the center of a circle, around which, at intervals, were small mounds of earth, used as seats, for the men when they had grown weary of the exercise. This performance consisted of jumps, hops and skips with a kind of guttural incantation, in which only the men took part, and each man by himself. The important part played by the women was that of bringing dog soup to the men after each performance, which they drank, sitting on the mounds of earth mentioned above. This was during the time when the "Messiah craze" was so prevalent with the western tribes of Indians. Their reason for this was, as my interpreter told it, that they expected the white men to be exterminated by the falling of heavy snows, a method used by the "Great Spirit" at this particular time, when the "pale faces" were becoming so numerous as to be disastrous to the interests of the Indian people, saying that the inactive white man would, rather than exert himself, suffer the snow to cover him so deep that he could never be rescued; while the Indians, engaged in the dance, would reemain on top, thus becoming lord of all, with the privilege of roaming the forests at will and without hindrance by the "pale face."
The supply of dog soup was plentiful, and we were urged to partake, but as my appetite was not functioning, as it has been known to do at other times, we positively refused the invitation, thus incurring the displeasure of those who had prepared the sumptuous feast. There is no doubt as to its being dog soup, for we looked into the. kettles where the soup was being made, and could see the dog teeth in the mouth of the head, much the same as one looks at a grinning dog.
Leaving this camp, we retraced our steps, coming to the first camp we visited in the forenoon, at which place we were scheduled to hold a religious service. On reaching the camp we discovered that the Indians had been coming in in great numbers, until the whole hillside was literally covered with them.
We also discovered that a regular war dance was in progress, old men and young men, all dressed in their war regalia, and apparently, oblivious to all other interests or engagements. We did not hold any service. We went on the inside and seated ourselves among them and watched with some interest and uneasiness until an old chieftain, who, I was told
afterward, had scalped more than one white man, came to where I was seated and proceeded to dance and flourish the tomahawk directly over my head, giving vent to the most unearthly yells and demonstrations imaginable. This position was maintained for several minutes just in front of where I was seated; I was forced to move my feet to keep him from stepping on them during this demonstration. I was anxious to get out and away from there, and as soon as we had left the camp, I asked Mr. Jonees if he was uneasy; he answered that he was, for me, that the old man would rather have thrown that tomahawk into my head than to have been presented with a dozen ponies. He said the only reason why he did not do it was because he was afraid of the soldiers at the Agency. I was glad he was afraid of the soldiers. I was the only white man on the grounds, and was very desirous that there should not be even one, so made my departure as soon as possible. So far as preaching was concerned, that was a day lost, as we did not get to hold services with any of them. This camp was that of old Nis-Ke-Kot, a typical wild Indian and chief of his band. Hoe wore his hair roached in the middle like that of a mule, the rest of his head being shaved, as was the custom of the tribe at that time. Mr. McCoy, mentioned above, was a Baptist preacher named, no doubt, for Rev. Isaac McCoy, who came at an early day as missionary to the wild tribes, among whom he did several years’ work, establishing missions at several different places, and otherwise lending aid to the government as well as to the Indian. Mr. McCoy did some interpreting for me while on the reservation.
There is quite a bit of interesting history connected with this old Indian Agency that should be preserved in the Chronicles of Oklahoma.
J. Y. Bryce.