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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 7, No. 4
December, 1929
BEGINNING OF METHODISM IN INDIAN TERRITORY

J. Y. Bryce

Page 475

The following bits of history are taken from "The Story of Methodism in Oklahoma" as being compiled by J. Y. Bryce, of the East Oklahoma Conference and S. H. Babcock, of the West Oklahoma Conference.

Nearly all the manuscript has been secured, and the book is well on the way. It is the wish of the compilers to have the copy in the hands of the publishers some time during the year 1930.

The following pages will give you some idea of the character of the book as being written.

We call attention to the fact that we begin this story in the pages following with the year 1815, with slight mention of the years 1816 and 1817. As stated above, these pages are taken at random, and now we jump to the year, 1831 to 1839 inclusive.

Our next is October 10, 1855, when Bishop Pierce makes his first official visit to the Indian Mission Conference. We close this sketch with the appointments for the year 1855.

In the "Story of Methodism in Oklahoma," the years will run consecutively.

J. Y. B.

In recording the activities of Methodism in what is now the State of Oklahoma, we necessarily have to commence with Methodism as it functioned in what is now the State of Arkansas.

At one time the western boundary of Arkansas was a line beginning near Fulton, on the Red River, Hempstead County, thence in a northeasterly direction to the mouth of Point Remove Creek, on the Arkansas Rive, Conway County, thence to a place on White River near Batesville, Independence County, thence northwest up the White River to Missouri line, ail west of this line belonging to Indian Territory. Roughly estimated, this line gave twenty-seven counties, or about one-third of the present State of Arkansas to Indian Territory. It must also be remembered that at one time Indian Territory was Arkansas Territory, and the post offices established in what was

Page 476

later Indian Territory, were listed as Arkansas Territory.

The Congress of 1820-21, passed several bills in which the Indian Territory was especially concerned. At this time the Missouri Territory was admitted into the Union as a state, that is the northern part, the southern part was organized into Arkansas Territory.

The purpose of Congress was to extend the Territory of Arkansas over a large portion of Indian Territory; thus taking a strip one degree in width along the whole length of Indian territory, in other words, that would have been a strip seventy miles wide by nearly three hundred miles long taken from the east side of what is now Oklahoma. For years the authorities of Arkansas claimed this strip, and at least exercised authority over the northern part, that part north of the Arkansas River, and organized it into a county known as Loveleys County until the year 1828 or 1829.

From history of Methodism in Arkansas, by Horace Jewell we learn that the Tennessee conference which was held in Wilson County, Tennessee, October 20, 1815, Spring River Circuit, which is in Arkansas, was made a part of the Missouri District and left to be supplied. This was the first regular circuit in the Territory of Arkansas. Sometime during the conference year, a local preacher by the name of Eli Lindsay was placed on the new circuit as a supply. Spring River, from which the circuit was named, has its source in the Mammoth Springs located in Fulton County, the southwest corner of said county being about ten miles distant from the White River, which was at one time, as stated above, the dividing line between the Indian and Arkansas territories. From Jewell’s history, we are informed that the local preacher, Eli Lindsay, while on the Spring River Circuit, preached at points on White River, Little Red River, Strawberry River and Spring River. The point we are making here is that, Little Red River is south and west of White River, and therefore in the Indian Territory, when the White River was the dividing line between Arkansas and Indian country. At the close of the conference year, Mr. Lindsay reported a membership of ninety-five, which was a good report for such a new and sparsely settled country.

Page 477

In 1816 that portion of the Tennessee conference lying west of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was organized into the Missouri conference. At the same time two circuits were organized in Arkansas Territory. The appointments for Arkansas were: Spring River Circuit, Philip Davis; Hot Springs Circuit, William Stephenson. These two circuits covered the territory of Arkansas. In 1817, the preachers in Arkansas Territory were: Spring River, Alexander McAlister; Hot Springs, William Stephenson and John Harris.

According to treaty stipulations, the Indians, who inhabited the Arkansas Territory, began to move West in 1818. This moving process was continued for several years, because there were not many white people moving into the country. It is interesting to note the names of some of the men who did missionary work in the Indian Territory as early as 1831.

At the session of the Missouri conference held at McKendree’s Chapel September, 1831, this appears: Arkansas District, A. D. Smith, P. E. This district included the Indian work that belonged to the Missouri conference. The most of these men came from the Tennessee conference, at the solicitation of Bishop Roberts, who held the Missouri conference the year 1831, the Arkansas district at that time left mainly to be supplied. At the close of the Missouri conference the Bishop went to the Tennessee conference, and there he began to look for men to supply the Arkansas district, in the Missouri conference. Such men as the following offered themselves for the work and afterwards became very prominent: A. D. Smith, Harrison G. Joplin, Alvin Baird, William G. Duke, John M. Hamill, William A. Boyce, Allen M. Scott and John Harrell. Alvin Baird was assigned to Creek Mission and John Harrell and Allen M. Scott, to the Cherokee Mission. This is a record beginning the year 1831, during that year, conference year, 1831-32, the first Methodist circuit was formed in the Cherokee Nation, and the first church and school work entered upon by the Methodists among the Creek Indians, John Harrell with the former and Alvin Baird with the latter. At the session of the Missouri conference held 1832, the Little Rock district was formed,

Page 478

giving two districts in the Arkansas Territory. The Little Rock District is the one that concerns us so we give the appointments for that district only: Little Rock District, A. D. Smith, P. E. Little Rock circuit to be supplied; Arkansas circuit to be supplied; Washington, William G. Duke; Schools and Missions among the Indians, H. G. Joplin, J. N. Hamill, Alvin Baird, Henry Perryman, John Harrell, Burwell Lee, Thomas Bertholf and Richard Overby.

The next year, 1833, Bishop Soule held the conference in Arkansas, the first session to be held in that territory, the date was September 4th, at Mountain Spring Camp Ground. The Little Rock district, to which the Cherokee and Creek Indians belonged, have the following assignment: Little Rock District A. D. Smith, P. E. Little Rock Circuit, W. G. Duke; Arkansas Circuit, John H. Rivers; Washington, Alvin Baird; White River, John H. Ruble; Spring River, Valentine P. Fink; Missions and Schools among the Indians, Pleasant Tackett, L. B. Stateler, John N. Hamill, P. Berryhill, John Harrell, Thomas Bertholf, Richard W. Owen, Burwell Lee, J. Brewston and Harris G. Joplin. It is well enough to note that our work among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, west of the Mississippi, was in connection with the Mississippi conference, this was so until the organization of the Arkansas conference, which was the year 1836.

In 1834, Bishop Roberts held the Missouri conference in Bellevue, Washington County, ——September 10. Our Indian works were still in the Little Rock district, with the following appointments: Indian Schools and Missions, A. D. Smith, J. Horne, Burwell Lee, Thomas Bertholf, P. Berryhill, John Harrell and J. N. Hamill. In this district there was reported a membership of 509 Indians. Thomas Bertholf was by marriage connected with the Cherokee people; his ministry was in the main among these Indians. It is said of him that he preached acceptably and was one of the weeping prophets. He lived on the Illinois Creek in the Cherokee Nation, near the present town of Tahlequah. He left a family who were citizens of the Cherokee tribe. He died 1867, and no doubt, is among the blood washed throng, where he has, and will meet many more who have

Page 479

been changed from a life of sin and shame to that of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

The twentieth session of the Missouri conference met at Arrow Rock Camp Ground, September 10, 1835; Bishop Roberts held this session. At this session John H. Carr was admitted on trial and for several years was a member of the Indian Mission, doing valiant work as pastor, presiding elder and as Superintendent of Bloomfield Academy. No man ever did more heroic work among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians than he. The General Conference that met in Cincinnati May 1836, made arrangements for the organization of the Arkansas conference. In this conference was included all of Arkansas, the northern part of Louisiana, the Indian Territory and the Sulphur Fork country, south of the Red River, which now belongs to the North Texas conference. Before the organization of the Arkansas conference that part of the Indian Territory in which the Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribes resided, was in the bounds of the Mississippi conference. That you may get an idea of the field and the charges in the Arkansas and Indian Territory part of the Missouri conference, just prior to the organization of the Arkansas conference we mention the appointments made at the session of the conference held at Arrow Rock Camp Ground in 1835: Batesville District—Burwell Lee, Presiding Elder; Helena, to be supplied; Franklin, to be supplied; Big Creek, L. Wakelee; and J. J. Powell; White River, Alvin Baird; Clinton, to be supplied; Arkansas, to be supplied; Carrolton, to be supplied; Washington, John Harrell.

Little Rock District C. T. Ramsey, Presiding Elder; Pine Bluff, F. Brown; Ouachita, to be supplied; Hot Springs, H. Cornelius; Mount Prairie, John Hammill and W. G. Duke; Sulphur Fork, J. H. Carr; Chicot, Joseph Renfro; Bartholomew, J. M. Gore; Little Rock Circuit, W. P. Ratcliffe.

Indian Schools and Missions—P. M. McGowan, Superintendent of Missions; S. K. Waldron, J. Horne, J. H. Rives, and A. D. Smith.

The first superintendent of our Indian work, west of the Mississippi, was Rev. P. M. McGowan, this appointment was made at the close of the session held in 1835, at Arrow

Page 480

Rock Camp Ground, Bishop Roberts presiding. (Arrow Rock Camp Ground was in Missouri), and was called South Indian Missionary District.

The reason for calling this the South Indian Missionary District is as follows: The Indian Missions of the Methodist Church had a number of Indian tribes within its bounds, most of them being located in what is now the State of Kansas. As early as 1830 the Indian Missions of the Methodist Church made the following appointments: Kansas or Kaw mission, William Johnson; Shawnee mission, Thomas Johnson. (These men were brothers.) 1831, Presiding Elder and Superintendent Kansas missions, Jos. Edmundson; Shawnee and Kansas missions, Thomas Johnson and William Johnson. 1832, Indian Mission District Superintendent, Thomas Johnson; Shawnee mission and school, Thomas Johnson and Edward T. Peery; Delaware mission and school, William Johnson and Thomas B. Markham; Iowa and Sac mission and school, to be supplied; Peoria mission and school, James H. Slavens. In 1833 it is Indian Mission District; 1834 and 1835 it is North Indian Mission District. These Districts were in the Missouri conference, as were the two districts in Arkansas, and our work among the Cherokee and Creek Indians. It must be remembered that the work among the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, the Sulphur Fork country, and North Louisiana, at that time belonged to the Mississippi conference. The Conference at Arrow Rock Camp Ground 1835, made two districts in Arkansas, and one in Indian Territory, which included the Five Civilized tribes. At the first session of the Arkansas conference, held at Batesville, Nov. 1836, Bishop Morris presided.

The following named men were admitted on trial at this first session of the Arkansas conference: Andrew Hunter, James Essex, James L. Newman, Enoch Whatley, Thomas Benn, William H. Bump, Philip Asbourne and J. W. P. McKenzie. Admitted into full connection: John H. Rives, Henry Cornelius, Winfred B. Scott. Located, William G. Duke, and Daniel Sears. Transferred to other conferences, Peter McGowan, Alvin Baird and Levi Pearce. The appointments for the South Indian Mission and Schools were as follows: Superintendent, John Harrell; Thomas Ber-

Page 481

tholf, Andrew Hunter, J. W. P. McKenzie, Moses Perry, and A. D. Smith.

The appointments for the year 1837 are as follows: South Indian District-John Harrell, P. E. Sulphur Fork (now in East Texas Conf.), John B. Denton and E. B. Duncan; Cherokee Circuit, Thos. Bertholf, Johnson Field, John Boston. Schools in Cherokee and Creek Nation: School No. 1, James Graham; School No. 2, to be supplied; School No. 3, James Essex; School No. 4, to be supplied; Choctaw Circuit, J. W. P. McKenzie; School No. 1, Moses Perry; School No. 2, S. Allen; Seneca Circuit, Andrew D. Smith.

At the session of the Arkansas conference held at Washington, November 7, 1838, the Indian work was divided, what was for two years known as the South Indian Mission and South Indian District, respectively, was distributed, the Cherokee portion, being placed in the Fayettville District with John Harrell as Presiding Elder, with these appointments among the Indians of the Cherokee and Creek tribes: Upper Cherokee, A. D. Smith and J. Fields; Lower Cherokee, J. F. Seaman and J. Boston; School No. 3, James Essex; Seneca Circuit, Daniel Adams. Choctaw and Chickasaw in the Red River District, with Robert Gregory as Presiding Elder: Choctaw Circuit, J. W. P. McKenzie, and W. Mulkey; School No. 1, Moses Perry.

1839, the appointments were as follows: Red River District, Robert Gregory, P. E. Sulphur Fork, J. W. P. McKenzie; Blue Bayou, to be supplied; Choctaw Circuit, A. Avery and M. Perry. Fayetteville District, John Harrell, P. E. Upper Cherokee, D. B. Cumming; Lower Cherokee, E. B. Duncan and J. F. Boot; School No. 1, James Essex, Seneca, Daniel Adams.

The twelfth session of the conference was held at Asbury Manual Labor School, October 10, 1855. Bishop Pierce having failed to arrive, John Harrell was elected president and presided until Thursday morning, when the Bishop, having arrived, took the chair. W. L. McAlester was elected secretary.

This was the first visit made by the Bishop to the Indian country; and we judge it not improper to give a little of the account of this trip as found in "Life and Times of George F. Pierce," by G. G. Smith. He left Georgia Sep-

Page 482

tember the 12th, in company with his son, Lovick, for the seat of the Indian Mission Conference which was to be held October the 10th, at Asbury Manual Labor School, in the Creek Nation, a distance of several hundred miles, most of which was to be made by private conveyance. There were no railroads in this western country at that time. He reached St. Louis by steamboat and railroad, and here he bought a buggy and team which he placed on board the boat bound for Lexington, Missouri, himself taking train for that place. From this place, without a guide or any particular directions, he left for Versailles—forty miles distant—on his way to the Indian Mission Conference. "For miles we met country people going to the fair. Every kind of vehicle had been pressed into service, and, in the way of locomotives, the animal world was well represented. Of course the horse was the most popular as a riding animal, but several persons were mounted on ox-back." During this first day’s ride, for the first time in my life I saw a bona fide prairie. After passing over a very broken country, well wooded, and tolerably settled, we came suddenly on one of those wide-spread plains with which the West abounds.

"On October the 8th we road into Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. The council was in session, and we tarried an hour or two to dine and see the chief men of the tribe. The house at which we stopped was kept by an Indian and his wife—both full-bloods—and we found everything clean and nice. The man was absent, but the woman entertained us well, both with her cooking and conversation. John Ross, the chief, we failed to see, he had gone out to his residence, four miles distant. During the year he had joined the Methodists, and promised to exert a most wholesome moral influence upon his people. The Indian Mission Conference was to meet in the morning at nine o’clock, and I was still near seventy miles short of it. We left reluctantly, but duty urged us on."

"That night we reached Fort Gibson, and stayed with a man worthy of some description. He was an old soldier, holding the post of ordinance-sergeant, but has unquestionably outlived the days of active service. Like Falstaff, he is of goodly dimensions, exceeding any man in the girth I ever saw. Though the weather was cold, he was in his

Page 483

shirt-sleeves, and was puffing as one oppressed with heat. When we drove up, he very bluffly declined to receive us, declaring that he did not keep a public house. ’I was directed to your house, sir, with the assurance that you did take in travellers.’ ’Well I do sometimes, but my wife is sick, and I am not fixed for you.’ ’Where can I stay tonight?’ He commenced giving me directions to another house; when in the midst, he paused, and, with an expletive I will not repeat, he said, ’it is too bad to send a gentleman to such a place; get down, I will do the best I can for you.’ Down we got, and having provided for our horses—being waited on by a Creek Indian who could not speak a word of English—we entered the house, and found a retired soldier’s fare not bad to take at the end of a long journey."

"In the morning, the old sergeant asked me if I was a ’professor of the gospel.’ Paying the heaviest bill on the whole route, we left in haste to reach the Asbury Manual Labor School, the seat of the conference.

"Within a mile of the Fort we crossed the Neosho and Arkansas Rivers, fording both with ease. Ascending the bank of the last and crossing the swamp, we entered upon the prairie once again. The country from Tahlequah, in the Cherokee, to North Fork, in the Creek nation, is the most picturesque I ever saw. The views are sometimes enchanting. Valleys, plains, and hills—the last often naked, diversified in form, sometimes crowned with timber—variegate the scenery and furnish the eye with endless gratification. "The hills of which I write sometimes aspire to the dignity of mountains. One, called Chimney Mountain, from its peculiar shape, seems to preside over the prairie and to watch every passerby.

"Early in the afternoon, after a hard drive of forty-five miles, we reached the place of the conference, and received a hearty welcome from the white man and the Indian.

"On our arrival at the Asbury Manual Labor School, after the salutations of friends and an introduction to strangers, our first request was for water-the best of all beverages, and never more appreciated by us than at this time. Forty-five miles, prairie miles, the longest

Page 484

in the world, we had traveled without the refreshment of water for man or beast, and a cold draught from a living well was a luxury beyond price. The whole region over which we had passed during the day was suffering from a drought of eighteen months duration. The creeks and branches, which, in ordinary seasons, wind their serpentine way through these grassy plains, had long since ceased to run, and Indian inhabitants and the passing traveler were alike dependent on the stagnant pools, which the cattle had fouled with their feet. When offered to my horses, they blew their nostrils in disgust, and, though suffering from thirst, declined the noxious mass, it would hardly be called a fluid. The people, however, take up a bucket of this mixture and leave it to settle. When the dirt has been precipitated and the surface has been skimmed the liquid is tolerable, ’in a dry and thirsty land where no water is.’

"It would be well for all who are skeptical about the possibility of evangelizing the Indian if he could attend a session of our conference among them. Indeed, those who never doubted the redeeming, elevating power of the gospel might have their faith confirmed and their ideas exalted by the services and sympathies of such an occasion. I confess to strange and commingled commotions for days and nights while the business of the conference was in progress. The place, the school, the conference, each and all make an interesting paragraph in the current history of this aboriginal race. But a generation gone they were heathens; now they have flourishing academies, houses of religious worship, the apparel and manners of civilization, districts, stations, and circuits, the white man’s gospel, and his preacher.

"How strange is every thing around me! I have passed over a wild, vacant country, dreary but for its beauty, with here and there, at long intervals, a but or wigwam; and now, here is a large three story brick building—a school house—with superintendent, teacher, male and female, and an annual conference assembled within its walls! The bell rings, and we all descend to the dining-hall; the boys sit at one table, a teacher at the head; the girls at another, the guests at a third. All in order, no rushing

Page 485

and jamming; and now every one at his place awaits in silence the invocation of a blessing upon the bounteous board. Is this an Indian country?

"I must close my account of this interesting Indian Mission Conference. Nothing special occurred during the session save the admission into the travelling connection of James McHenry—better known in Georgia and Alabama as ’Jim Henry’—the hero of the Creek war in 1836. The lion has become a lamb—the brave a preacher. The war-whoop is hushed; the midnight foray is with the past; the Bible and hymn book fill the hands that once grasped the torch and tomahawk. The one time savage is now traveling a circuit and preaching peace on earth, good-will to man.’’

Bishop Pierce held nine sessions of the Indian Mission Conference. The first as stated above. The second in 1869, at Okmulgee, Creek Nation. The third in 1873, at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation. The fourth at Atoka, 1875, in Choctaw Nation. The fifth at Double Springs, Choctaw Nation, 1879. The sixth in Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, 1880. Seventh, in Caddo, Choctaw Nation, 1881. Eighth, in Muskogee, Creek Nation, 1882. Ninth, Webbers Falls, Cherokee Nation, 1883. He was to have held the session of 1884, but died during the year he had arranged to bring his grandaughter with him to the Indian country; she was to have taken a position in the New Hope Academy as teacher, which position had been secured by her grandfather the year before. Bishop Pierce took a great interest in the Indian Mission, as much if not more than any other bishop.

The Twelfth session was an interesting one because the Asbury School was in its glory and that was the first conference to be held there.

Isaac Newman, Wyatt Coffelt, James McHenry and Francis M. Paine were received on trial. Simon P. Willis and B. F. Crouch were received into full connection. Harvey Bacon, Elijah Butler, William Willson and Tussawalita were continued on trial, Samuel Chicota asked for a location, which was granted. W. A. Duncan was located at his own request.

Page 486

The appointments for the year were as follows:
Cherokee District-John Harrell, P. E.
Delaware and Seneca, Wyatt Coffelt and Tussawalita;
Tahlequah, to be supplied;
Grand Saline, John Boston;
Flint, Dick Hider;
Salisaw, E. B. Duncan and Isaac Sanders;
Webber Falls, J. S. Newman and Walker Carey;
Hay’s School, James Essex;
Agent Crawford Institute, W. A. Cobb;
Creek District-D. B. Cumming, P. E.;
Creek Agency Circuit, C. M. Slover;
Big Bend, Wm. McIntosh and Elijah Butler;
Little River, D. B. Asbury;
North Fork, Jackson Burgess and James McHenry; Asbury Manual Labor School, T. B. Ruble, Superintendent.
Fort Coffee District—T. W. Mitchell, P. E.
Fort Coffee and New Hope Academies, T. W. Mitchell, Superintendent;
Fort Coffee Academy, F. M. Paine;
Mushulatubbee, D. W. Lewis;
Sans Bois, to be supplied.
Choctaw District, W. L. McAlester, P. E.
Choctaw Academy, to be supplied;
Perryville Circuit, to be supplied;
Colbert Institute, E. Couch, Superintendent; Chickasaw Circuit, B. F. Couch;
Chickasaw Academy, J. C. Robinson, Superintendent; and William Jones;
Bloomfield Academy, John H. Carr, Superintendent; Doaksville Circuit, Wm. Jones, S. P. Willis and John Page;
Kiamichi Circuit, J. Chuckmubbee;
Mountain Fork, to be supplied;
Transferred, Adonija Williams to St. Louis Conference.
J. J. Pittman to the Tennessee Conference.

J. Y. Bryce.

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