The name of Nathaniel Pryor is little known in Oklahoma, though his career in the early pioneer days of this state entitles him to a distinguished place in its annals. But beyond that, his participation in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, one of the greatest adventures in the history of our country, early made him an historical character; though he lived an honorable and industrious life for more than ten years within our present Oklahoma, and died here, no memory remains of him but such as is suggested by the creek and town bearing his name.
Pryor was born in Virginia; in 1802, when President Jefferson was organizing the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the purchase he had just negotiated with France. Pryor enlisted for that adventure, with the rank of sergeant. After his return from that epochal exploit, he was appointed ensign in the first United States Infantry, on February 27, 1807, and on May 3, 1808, he was commissioned second lieutenant; he resigned from the army April 1, 1810. 1 On the return of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806, it was accompanied by the Mandan chief, She ha ka, and his family who went to Washington to visit President Jefferson. On the return of the Chief and his family to Saint Louis, Pryor was placed in charge of a military detachment to take the Indians to their home on the Missouri River. They were accompanied also by a trading party under Lieutenant A. P. Chouteau. On the way up the Missouri in 1808, they were attacked by the Arickara.2 Two of Chouteau’s men were killed and both parties were driven back.
Pryor was appointed first lieutenant in the Forty-fourth Infantry August 30, 1813, and on October first 1814 he became captain. At the close of the war on June 15, 1815, he was honorably discharged.3 He soon afterward ascended
Arkansas River to Arkansas Post,4 where he engaged in trade with the Indians; on November 28, 1819, he secured from Robert Crittenden, secretary and acting governor of Arkansas Territory, a license "to trade with the Osage Nation of Indians, as well as to ascend the river Arkansas with one trading boat to the six bull5 or Verdigris, together with all hands that may appertain thereto."
Before that date, however, he had formed a partnership with Samuel B. Richards and the business was conducted as Pryor & Richards. Early in 1817, the firm invested in a tract of land in Arkansas Post. Misfortune seems to have attended Captain Pryor’s business ventures throughout his life. The first legal notice in the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette, the first paper published in Arkansas Territory, was notice of an action brought against Pryor by his clerk, Samuel M. Rutherford6; to recover money which apparently Pryor was unable to pay. In the issue of November 20, 1819, being
4Arkansas Post was the oldest establishment of whites in the lower Mississippi valley. For an account of this ancient settlement see Foreman, Grant. Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest, 15.
5Six Bulls was one of the names by which the river now called the Grand was known in the early days; it was and still is known also as the Neosho a name given it by the Osage.
6Samuel M. Rutherford, grandfather of the late S. M. Rutherford and of Mrs. M. E. Rosser of Muskogee, Oklahoma, was for many years clerk for Pryor and Richards at Arkansas Post. In 1826 and 1827 he was sheriff of Pulaski County, and in 1829 he was also deputy United States marshal at Little Rock. August 1, 1831 while still sheriff he was elected to the Legislature of Arkansas, receiving the highest vote in a field of four candidates. In 1832 he was appointed a special agent for the removal and subsistence of Indians, and had charge of the removal of the Choctaws, who landed at Little Rock on their way to their new home on Red River. During that year Rutherford was appointed register of the land office opened in Hempstead County for the sale of lands on Red River. In 1833 he was re-elected to the Legislature, and the same year he resigned his office as register of the land office and from November 12, 1833, to October 1, 1836 he was treasurer of Arkansas Territory. In 1836 he was appointed register of the land office at Little Rock. In 1838 he was elected a director of the State Bank of Arkansas. In 1840 he was selected as one of the presidential electors on the ticket for Martin Van Buren who was defeated by William Henry Harrison. On February 22, 1842 Colonel Rutherford was elected president of the State Bank of Arkansas at Little Rock. In June 1846, on the death of Captain William Armstrong, Rutherford was appointed Choctaw Agent and acting Superintendent of Indian Affairs west of the Mississippi. In 1858 he went to Florida to assist Elias Rector to remove the Seminole from that state and in 1859 and 1860 he was agent for that tribe of Indians in their new home.
volume one, number one, of the Gazette, was the notice that Rutherford had sued Nathaniel Pryor, surviving partner of Pryor & Richards, for work and labor done and performed by "said Samuel M. Rutherford as a clerk in the services of said Nathaniel Pryor, surviving partner aforesaid." Judgment for debt for six hundred thirty dollars, and damages of one thousand dollars was sought, and to secure the same an attachment issued against Pryor’s property. Richards had evidently died since Nuttall met them in March of the same year.
In the issue of January 1, 1820, of the Gazette, was a notice by one Harold Stillwell to Pryor and George R. Sampson, that at the March term of the Circuit Court, Stillwell would petition the court to appoint commissioners to make partition of a tract of five acres of land in "the village of Arkansas" conveyed by Alexis Jordelas and his wife, Ellen, on April 22, 1817, to Nathaniel Pryor, Samuel B. Richards and George R. Sampson, Stillwell having acquired the third interest of Richards.
In the January, 1821, term of the Court of Common Pleas of Arkansas County, Alex Jordelas sued Nathaniel Pryor and George R. Sampson to recover $92.90 on a note given by them and Samuel B. Richards on April 23, 1817, evidently in connection with their purchase of the land from Jordelas. Judgment for damages in the sum of $300.00 was also asked and an attachment issued against the property of Pryor and Sampson.
When Nuttall was ascending Arkansas River he met Pryor and Richards in March, 1819, "descending with cargoes of furs and peltries, collected among the Osages,"7 and when Nuttall arrived at the little trading settlement at the Three Forks, in May, he again met Pryor to whom he was indebted for information about the country and people.8 Fowler found him here also in September, 1821, and numbered him among the members of his trading party that organized here for their journey to Santa Fe.9
General Thomas James passed this way at about the same time with his party, also bound for Santa Fe. In August he met Pryor, who had come with a party of Osage Indians down
the trail that crossed the Arkansas near the present Tulsa. James spoke very feelingly of the condition in which he found Pryor:
"On the reduction of the army after the war, he was discharged to make way for some parlor soldier and sunshine patriot, and turned out in his old age upon the 'world’s wide common.' I found him here among the Osages, with whom he had taken refuge from his country’s ingratitude, and was living as one of their tribe, where he may yet be, unless death has discharged the debt his country owed him."10
Pryor spent much time with the Osage of Clermont’s Town and frequently represented them in negotiations with the whites and with other Indians in attempts to adjust the interminable difficulties in which the Osage became involved; in these undertakings Pryor made trips to Fort Smith, and to the Cherokee in the present Pope County, Arkansas; and after Fort Gibson was established in 1824, his efforts in behalf of the Osage often took him to that post. After the missionaries established themselves at Union Mission, they frequently were indebted to Pryor for his friendly offices; he often visited with them and brought them such items of news as that wilderness afforded.
Pryor kept a little trading establishment a mile and a half above the mouth of the Verdigris. There he was reported as married to an Osage woman. He was highly regarded by all who knew him, and his services were much in demand by the officers at Fort Smith and Fort Gibson, when missions of a delicate character were to be performed with the Indians. Pryor had the confidence and respect of his associates, who felt that his integrity and extensive knowledge of the Indians should be employed in a service where such qualifications were so much wanting, but he had no substantial recognition from higher authority.
At last however, Pryor was made sub-agent for the Osage at the pitiful salary of five hundred dollars per year; but within less than a month after his permanent appointment, he died about the first of June, 1831, at the Osage subagency, southeast of where Pryor, Oklahoma, now is, near
10Douglas, Walter B., editor. Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans, by General Thomas James, 108.
the creek bearing his name.11 On his death, his estate was probated at Fort Smith, and Captain Rogers of that place was appointed administrator. The principal item of his little estate was his claim against the government for his losses at the hands of the Indians. Over a year after Pryor’s death, his claim was disallowed in a brusque letter, and the Indian agent was directed to notify Pryor of the decision.
The high esteem in which Pryor was held by his associates is reflected in the following letters that furnish many, interesting details of his life.12
"Crawford Court House, A Terr,13 Feby. 28th, 1826, Secy. of War: Sir; Capt N. Pryor of this Territory has requested me to use means towards obtaining a liquidation of a just claim, which he supposes he has against the U. S. Will you allow me to represent its nature and solicit your answer to certain inquiries.
"Capt. Pryor was the first person who volunteered his services in Lewis and Clark’s expedition. He accompanied them through all their excursions and was finally sent in command of the party, to take back the Mandan chief and family to their homes. Of the event of this you are aware. From that time to the period when he derives his claim, he was engaged in extensive and dangerous business among the Indian Tribes.
"About eighteen months before the late war, he was licensed by the Gov. of Missouri, as a trader among the Weenibagoes or Puans on the Eastern Mississippi, Ter. of Missouri, at a place called DeBuque’s Mines.14 At that place he was transacting a profitable business, had buildings erected as well as a smelting furnace, and was rapidly distributing through the Tribes the comforts and conveniences of civilization. About six months before the War, he received a letter
12These letters are part of the files in what is now called the Retired Classified Files of the Office of Indian Affairs. The most of them rare part of a number of interesting letters about Pryor discovered a few years ago by Miss Stella M. Drumm, Librarian of the Missouri Historical Society and published in The American Historical Review, vol. xxiv, 253.
13Crawford Courthouse was situated on the south side of Arkansas River about twenty-five miles below Fort Smith; it was the county seat of Crawford County which then extended into the present Oklahoma and Included Fort Gibson; the county seat was later removed to van Buren.
from Gov. Clarke, requesting him to endeavour to find out Tecumseh or the Prophet. The execution of this duty, a duty performed at the wish of the Government—a duty delicate and hazardous in the extreme, rendered Capt. P. an object of hostility and enmity with the natives. From receiving the letter of the Gov. the Captain had heard nothing of a war likely to ensue. He was actively and industriously engaged in his occupation. On Christmas day and even after of the year ’12 the Winbagoes were trading peaceably with him. On the 1st of Jan. 13 about 12 o’clock in the day, eight of the tribe came to his house, with their war accoutrements, and offered violence. They would not let him leave his dwelling. About sun-down of same day, sixty arrived, shooting down the oxen in the yard and killing two of his men. They rushed on him, and was in the act of putting him to death, when by the politic dissimulation of a female in the house, they were averted for the moment from their intention. They then placed him in the house with a sentinel over him, intending to burn him in it. While they were plundering his stores and ravaging his premises, with the greatest difficulty, he made his escape.15 After crossing the Mississippi on the cakes of ice, he was still the object of pursuit to the hostile Indians. They were not so soon to forget his endeavours for Tecumseh. They robbed him of all they [he] had in the world: they entirely destroyed every article of his property. Capt. P. only claims the original amount of his goods, amounting to 5,216$ 25 cents. He asks not the freight on them: he asks not what they were actually worth to him—he asks nothing for his buildings, his furnaces, his cattle, save two, which were shot down before his face. He, in fact, asks for less than what he conceives to be his just claim. And his reason is; for that which he seeks remuneration he can positively swear to
15Captain Clarke wrote in 1835: "The Winnebagoes who destroyed Capt. Pryor’s establishment and took his goods was a party that hall been with the Shawnee Prophets Band in the action with Gov. Harrison at Tippecanoe, and who having lost some of their relatives and friends took revenge on the traders on the Mississippi."
It was in the anxious days when the British sought to array the Indians against the white settlers of Indiana and Illinois, January 7, 1812. John Johnson reported an attack by the Puants or Winnebago on the Lead mines; "a party went to Nathan Pryer that was, and killed him."—American State Papers "Indian Affairs" vol. i., 805.
the amount. He will not add more, as he cannot remember certainly the value.
"Capt. Pryor is a man of real, solid, innate worth. His genuine modesty conceals the peculiar traits of his character. He was a brave and persevering officer in the attack on New Orleans. He has the most thorough knowledge of the Western country; has been of considerable service to the U. S., and the benefit he has conferred on the Indian Tribes is gratefully acknowledged by them. He has been frequently urged by Gov. Clarke the Supt. of Ind. Aff. and by Gen. Miller, the late Gov. of this Territory to forward this claim. But he has refused. His own exertions have hitherto been his support. Again robbed and plundered by the savages, viz Cherokees16 he is left in a situation, where the money would be of service to him. His want drives him to that, which hitherto his conscious pride prevented. You will observe, that it alas six months after the declaration of war, this transaction occurred. Yet had the traders no knowedge of it. The British Indian allies, received it first through their emissaries. It was not known at St. Louis ’till months after it took place. And does not Capt. P’s claim derive additional support from the fact that Gov. Clark was bound to give notice of the war, and at the time, such notice had not been given. The Capt. was trading under the license and protection of the U. S.; by an act of the U. S. of which he was ignorant, he was deprived of his property and his home. You will also please to remember that, the tribe was allied with the English troops. I am not aware, Sir, that this claim falls under your cognizance; of this much, I am certain that, if you cannot officially interest yourself in it, its details will ensure your warm and generous support. The eloquent advocate of the abstract rights of man, will not lend a cold and feeble support, to what has connection, with the more kind and gentle feelings of humanity. If not inconsistent with your duty, would you be pleased to answer these enquiries.
16In February, 1820, a band of Osage under their chief Mad Buffalo or Skitok killed three Cherokee hunters on the Poteau, and afterward a company of Cherokee captured Mad Buffalo near Pryor’s trading house at the mouth of the Verdigris. While the Cherokee were rejoicing in their capture, Pryor contrived to effect the escape of his friend Mail Buffalo. This incensed the Cherokee who in revenge that night broke open Pryor’s trading house and stole one hundred fifty pounds of his beaver furs.
"Does this demand come within the scope of those, which have hitherto been termed just and equitable by the U. S.? If it bear no analogy to former claims allowed, is it your opinios, that it is a fair one against the U. S.? What measures are necessary to place it before the proper authority, and what is that authority?
"During the spring Gen. Clark has promised to have the necessary depositions taken. . .
"A letter will reach me, directed to 'Dardanelle,' Crawford Co. A. T. I have the honour to be.
"Yr. obt. Servt. Franklin Wharton. To James Barbour Esq’r. Sec. of War, City of Washington, D. C."
"Superintendency of Ind’n Affairs, St. Louis, Aug. 4th, 1827. Sir. Since the death of Sub Agent of the Arkansas Band of Osages,17 no appointment has been made to fill the vacancy. As the situation of that band requires a Sub Agent of respectability and influence, I have employed Capt’n Nathaniel Pryor at the rate of 500 per ann, and given him a temporary appointment of Sub Agent. His influence among the Indians generally, added to his knowledge of the Osage language, would it is believed justify his receiving the appointment and pay of Sub Agent and Interpreter, which would enable him to perform those duties which Col. Arbuckle and the Choctaw and Osage Agents have suggested in their letters which I have the honor to enclose. Capt. Pryor served with me, on an expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1803, 4, 5, and 6 in the capacity of 1st Sergeant; after which he served as an officer in the Army, and was disbanded after the last war. When out of Service he has pursued the Indian trade, in which he has been unfortunate; first by the Winnebagoes, who took every article he had and for which he has a claim before Congress, and since by casual occurrences in his commercial pursuit on the Arkansas.
"Capt. Pryor’s long and faithful service and his being disabled by a dislocation of his shoulder when in the execu-
17Pierre Chouteau induced a large number of Osage to remove in 1802 from their towns on Osage River to the Verdigris, and they located their principal town near where is now Claremore, Oklahoma. The principal chief of this settlement was Clermont whose French name was corrupted into Clamore and Claremore. This settlement was called for him and sometimes was spoken of as the Arkansas Band of Osages.
tion of his duty under my command,18 produces an interest in his favor and much solicitude for bettering his situation by an office which he is every way capable of filling with credit to himself and usefulness to his government.
"I have the honor to be, with high respect Your most obt. servt. Wm. Clark. The Hon. James Barbour, Secy of War."
On June 6th, 1827, Governor Izard of Arkansas who had just arrived at Little Rock by steamboat from New Orleans, wrote to the Secretary of War: "On my way from New Orleans I became acquainted with Captain Nathaniel Pryor, a very inteligent man who accompanied Mess. Lewis & Clark to the Pacific Ocean and has since that time been much among the Indians, particularly the Osages. I learnt from him that he was directed by Genl. Clark, the Superintendent at St. Louis to speak to me relatively to the advantage of having a sub-agent appointed to reside with that Band of Osages who are designated as Clermo’s; and to ask my co-operation in recommending the measure to the Government. I understand from various sources that Captain P. has great influence among those people. He suggested a project, which appears very practicable, of inducing the Quapaws to join the Osage Nation, who are desirous of receiving and amalgamating them with themselves.19 He also stated his assurance that he could establish a peace between the Choctaws and Osages, and effect immediately the surrender of some Osage prisoners made by the former. The apprehension of hostilities is represented as a principal cause of the tardy movements of the Choctaws20 to occupy the country ceded to them within the limits of this Territory by the U. States. I am induced by these motives to join Genl. Clark in proposing the appointment of Capt Prior to the sub-agency in question; and should it take place, I will immediately direct him to commence the negotiations above mentioned."
18The members of this party were frequently obliged to unite in pulling the boats over the shallows and rocks; and that included the faithful Indian woman Sacajawea, who labored with her baby on her back.
20The Choctaw and Osage had been at war for many years; in 1807 Pushmataha headed a body of Choctaw who came from Mississippi to the mouth of the Verdigris to punish the Osage for some injury [Foreman, op. cit., 73].
July 3rd, 1827, Col. Arbuckle wrote from Fort Gibson to General Clarke: "You are no doubt appraised that a party of the Choctaws, Cherokees, Kickapoos, Delawares, Shawnees and others have removed themselves from their nations, and settled on the Red River. These bands continue at war with the Osages, and render the peace between these nations and the Osages very precarious. I have been making efforts to produce a peace between them and the Osages, and nothing; I believe, would more contribute to this object, than to cause them to have a meeting at Fort Towson, with as little delay as possible. Capt. Prior who is here, if properly authorized by the Government, would be of great service in accomplishing this desirable object; and would if permanently located with Clermo’s Band of the Osages (as an agent of the Government) have it in his power to do as much or more good than any one with whom I am acquainted." Nothing came of the recommendation by this seasoned official and on December 19th, 1830, Col. Arbuckle again wrote, this time to the Secretary of War: "Captain Nathaniel Pryor who has been acting as a sub-agent to the Osage Nation of Indians for several years, was not a little disappointed and mortified, when Mr. P. L. Choteau21 was appointed the agent to that tribe, in not receiving from the Government the appointment of sub-agent. That office is again vacant, and he is desirous of receiving it.
"In relation to the pretentions of Capt. Pryor, I believe I am justified in saying that he has done more than all the agents employed in the Indian Department in restoring peace between the Indians on this frontier, particularly in restraining Clamore’s Band of the Osages, from depredating on the neighboring tribes, as well as on our citizens, which they had been in the habit of doing for a number of years. Much of this service was rendered by Captain Pryor before he was authorized to act as sub-agent to that Band, and since he has been acting by authority, except in one or two cases, soon after his appointment, the conduct of the Osages under his particular charge has been as good as that of any Indians in this country. Yet if he was now removed from that Band I would not be surprised if they should commence their former habits, and thereby disturb the peace of this Frontier.
21Paul Liguest Chouteau a brother of Colonel A. P. Chouteau the trader, was confirmed April 30, 1830, as Osage agent to succeed John F. Hamtramck.
"The high standing of Capt. Pryor for honesty and worth together with the service he has rendered to the public, and the call (as I judge) there is for his continuance, I hope will insure to him the appointment he desires."
Upon the occasion of the settlement with the Osage for the eight members of their tribe killed by Cherokees, Col. Arbuckle wrote to Major General McComb on May 31st, 1830, "Mr. Chouteau has much influence with the Osages. Yet he has not a greater share of the confidence of Clermont’s Band; than their sub-agent Capt. Prior, to whom I am more indebted than to any individual for the surrender of six Osages at this post in 1824, and subsequently for the surrender of an Osage charged with the murder of a Cherokee."
Two letters written by Sam Houston testify to his sympathy for Pryor.
"Wigwam,22 Neosho, 15th Dec., 1830.
To General Jackson:
Sir: I have the honor to address you upon the subject of one of your old soldiers at the 'Battle of Orleans.' I allude to Capt. Nathaniel Pryor, who has for several years past, resided with the Osages as a Sub-Agent by appointment of Governor Clark but without any permanent appointment from Government. A vacancy has lately occurred by the decease of Mr. Carr, subagent for the Osages; and I do most earnestly solicit the appointment for him. When you were elected President of the U. States I assured you that I would not annoy you with recommendations in favor of persons who might wish to obtain office or patronage from you; But as I regard the claims of Capt. Pryor as peculiar and paramount to those of any man within my knowledge, I cannot withhold a just tribute of regard. He was the first man who volunteered to accompany Lewis and Clark on their tour to the Pacific Ocean. He was then in the Army some four or five years. Resigned and at the commencement of the last war entered the Army again and was a captain in the Forty-fourth Regiment under you at New Orleans; and a braver man never fought under the wings of your Eagles. He has done more to tame and pacificate the dispositions of the Osages to the whites, and sur-
22Houston established himself in a cabin or house about three miles northwest of Fort Gibson on the trail leading to the trading houses on the Verdigris near where is now the village of Okay. Here in this house that he called "The Wigwam" he engaged in tracing with the Indians.
rounding tribes of Indians than all other men; and has done more in promoting the authority of the U. States and compelling the Osages to comply with demands from Colonel Arbuckle than any person could have supposed. Capt. Pryor is a man of amiable character and disposition—of fine sense, strict honor—perfectly temperate in his habits—and unremitting in his attention to business.
"The Secretary of War assured me when I was last at Washington that his 'claim should be considered of'—yet another was appointed and he was passed by. He is poor—having been twice robbed by Indians of furs and merchandise—some ten years since. For better information in relation to Capt. Pryor, I will beg leave to refer you to General Campbell, Colo. Benton and Governor Floyd of Va., who is his first cousin. With every wish for your glory and happiness, I have the honor to be your most obt. servt. Sam Houston."
"Wigwam, Neosha, 15th Dec. 1830.
General John H. Eaton, Secretary of War, Sir: I have the honor to address you on the subject of Capt. N. Pryor’s claim to the appointment of Sub-Agent to the Osage Nation of Indians which I had the pleasure of mentioning to you when I was last in the city. You then took down his name as an applicant and assured me though you 'would give no pledge, yet his claims should be considered of’. Mr. Carr, who has recently deceased, was appointed and Captain Pryor passed by. His claims I have taken leave to state to the President and do most earnestly hope that they may be met by the well deserved patronage of the Government.
"It is impossible for me ever to wish or solicit any patronage from the Government for myself or anyone connected with me, but when I see a brave, honest, honorable and faithful servant o f that country which I once claimed as my own in poverty with spirit half broken by neglect I mint be permitted to ask something in his behalf?
Could any just man know him as I do who had power to offer reparation for what he has done for his country and what he has suffered, I am sure he would not be allowed to languish in circumstances hardly comfortable. I trust in God that he will be no longer neglected by his country.
With high respect, I am yr, mo, ob. sevt. Sam Houston."