Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 9, No. 1
AUNT ELIZA OF TAHLEQUAH1
Carolyn Thomas Foreman
There is an old-time belief that nature, in order to maintain an equilibrium, causes the sons of a family to resemble the
mother while the daughters inherit the traits and characteristics of their father—whatever the truth of this may be Eliza
Missouri Busyhead had a wonderful inheritance.
Among documents in the War Department, and the Indian Office in Washington, in accounts of missionary workers, tales of old
citizens and travelers, and articles in church magazines there is recorded the highest praise for the ability and integrity
of the Rev. Jesse Bushyhead the father of Eliza. His name is rarely mentioned without encomiums.
Capt. John Stuart of Scotland was the original Anglo-Saxon ancestor of the Bushyhead family; the latter name being given him
by the Cherokee because of the appearance of his bushy blond hair.2
Jesse Busyhead born in the old Cherokee Nation in East Tennessee in September 1804, was called Unaduti by his Indian friends.3 His first wife bore him two children while his second wife Eliza Wilkinson (spelled Wilkerson by some of her descendants)
a half-blood Cherokee, of Georgia, was the mother of nine children.
The Busyhead home was in a small Cherokee settlement
2Captain John Stuart was born in Scotland in the early part of the eighteenth century and died at Pensacola, Florida, February
The assembly of South Carolina tendered Captain Stuart a vote of thanks, together with a reward of 1500 pounds for his heroic
defense of Fort London and he was later appointed British Superintendent of Indian Affairs South of the Ohio River.
. . . Captain Stuart . . . whose wife was Susannah Emory, the quarter blood granddaughter of the Scotch trader Ludovic Grant,
and who spoke the Cherokee language fluently (Emmet Starr, History of the Cherokee Indians, Oklahoma City, 1921, pp. 30, 31).
on Mouse Creek, about three miles north of the present town of Cleveland, Tennessee.4
In 1832 Busyhead was living 75 miles from Hiwassee and among the missionaries he was considered "a noble-minded man." He spoke
both English and Cherokee and his interest in religion was created by reading the Bible before he came into contact with any
religious teachers. He became a missionary in the service of the Board in 1833 and he and Oganaya5 were appointed to go to Washington to try to settle the trouble the Indians were having with the State of Georgia.
In 1836 Mr. Bushyhead held a series of religious meetings at his home. He fitted up his barn with a pulpit and seats for seventy
people and provided for their entertainment. The next year he visited the Valley Towns6 and sixteen persons joined the church during his meetings.
In the autumn of 1837 Mr. Bushyhead was appointed a member of the deputation of Cherokee who were selected to mediate between
the United States Government and the Seminole Indians.7 Due principally to his influence the Seminole came in under a flag of truce; to the everlasting disgrace of a high officer
in the army the Indians were thrown into prison in the old fort at St. Augustine. One can only surmise the feelings of a man
of Bushyhead's character at such an outrageous proceeding.
During the council at Red Clay (July 1837) the Cherokee firmly opposed the Treaty of New Echota but their affairs were carried
on with decorum and three or four thousand Indians attended religious services on Sunday to listen to a sermon by the Rev.
Evan Jones. His sermon was delivered in English and Jesse Bushyhead translated it into Cherokee: "Bushyhead entered with all
his soul into the spirit of the discourse. He is a large, noble looking
man, and the best interpreter in the Nation."8 He is said to have been very earnest in his preaching and his gestures were forcible and elegant. At times his emotions almost
prevented his continuing his address.
The following year Evan Jones9 tells of their terrible anxiety and grief over the determination to force the Indians from their homes and on June 16 he
writes from Camp Hetzel, near Cleveland: "The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners . . . our brother Bushyhead and his family,
Rev. Stephen Foreman . . . and several other men of character and respectability, with their families, are here prisoners
. . ."
Upon General Scott's decision to postpone the emigration of the Cherokee until the following autumn Evan Jones and Jesse Bushyhead
visited members of the nation who had fled to the mountains10 to evade deportation from their native land. As a result of their eloquence and persuasion these poor folk came in and surrendered
to the United States troops.
Church service was held at Brainerd Mission11 for the last time August 19, 1838, and shortly afterward the Cherokee Nation was on the march, men, women, and children with
their hearts torn at leaving their homes, churches, schools, and orchards, but most of all, the graves of their loved ones.
The people were divided into companies and they were fortunate in being led by some of their most respected men such as Evan
Jones, Jesse Bushyhead, and Stephen Foreman. The journey to the West required four or five months and one-fourth of the Cherokee
people died during the emigration.
Bushyhead, instead of heading a party of his close friends and neighbors volunteered to conduct a portion of the people from
a distant part of the nation where there was no competent leader. His contingent followed the one led by the Rev. Evan Jones
and their route led north through Tennessee and Kentucky; they crossed the Ohio River at Golconda, Illinois, and the Mississippi
River at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
They departed from the old nation October 5 and arrived at their destination in Indian Territory February 23,
1839; they were delayed one month because of floating ice in the Mississippi River and no words can describe adequately the
hardships endured by these exiles. It was soon after the perilous crossing of this great stream that Mrs. Bushyhead gave birth
on January 3, (1839) to her daughter who was given her mother's name Eliza, followed by that of the baby's native state—Missouri.
Bushyhead established a camp near the Arkansas line upon his arrival in Indian Territory and from the rations that were issued
to poor emigrants it was given the name of "Bread Town" which it bore until the mission was started when it became known as
After living nine months in a tent the Bushyhead family must have been happy when they were able to move into their new house
near old Fort Wayne.
Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock describes Bushyhead12 in a letter from Tahlequah, December 21, 1841, as being between 35 and 40 years of age. He reports him as speaking English
fluently and as the best interpreter in the nation. "He is universally respected and beloved. His mere opinion in the Nation
has great weight and his persuasions upon almost any subject can win the people to his views. He is a fair-minded sensible
man and if he can be satisfied the Nation ought to acquiesce. If he is not satisfied, it may suggest a doubt whether some
concessions may not be proper." From this description the Rev. Mr. Bushyhead would seem to have had an ideal temperament for
the position he was then holding, that of chief justice of the Cherokee Nation.13 Bushyhead was elected chief justice to succeed John Martin who died October 17, 1840. He also served as clerk of the council
of the nation.
William Gammell in his History of American Baptist Missions14 writes of Bushyhead as "the ablest and most successful of the native preachers, and one of the ablest and most energetic
men of the nation to which he belonged. He was one of its earliest pioneers in civilization, and one of the
noblest exemplifications of Christian character it has ever produced . . . through many trying periods of national affairs,
he was always distinguished for his wise administration of even-handed justice."
"His disinterestedness in the feudal and political troubles among his people gained for him the peculiar distinction of being
the only man of any consequence among the Cherokees who habitually traveled among his people in the troublous period of 1839-46,
unarmed, except, as he said, with his Bible."15
In addition to his other labors Bushyhead is said to have translated the book of Genesis and after his arrival in the West he held meetings to try to suppress the sale of liquor to his people. The Baptist Mission
established by Bushyhead was a potent factor in the development of the Cherokee Nation and it was unfortunate that his noble
work was cut short by fever which caused his death July 17, 1844.16
It was in these Christian and enlightened surroundings that Eliza Missouri Bushyhead was reared, first attending school at
the Baptist Mission. Mrs. Narcissa Owen17 recounts that she "went to school with Eliza, who is much younger than myself. . . . As a child I boarded with the widow
of the Rev. Mr. Bushyhead and attended the mission school (about 1843)." She also states that the mother of Jesse Bushyhead
lived near the Baptist Mission and that she made "for her son Charles a most beautiful Indian belt, plated out of bright-colored
yarns, interspersed with beads, and finished with handsome tassels. The belt I thought one of the most beautiful I had ever
seen." Eliza had strung the beads when her grandmother made the belt.
The late Spencer S. Stephens18 of Wagoner, Oklahoma, wrote an account of the Bushyhead family in which he had been reared. Having been left an orphan he
was taken into the home of Mrs. Lizzie Bushyhead in 1853 and attended
school at the old Baptist Mission. He describes the Rev. Mr. Bushyhead as: "One of the ablest and most successful of the native
preachers of the Baptist Church . . . and a noble example of a Christian character, an intelligent, conscientious, patriot
in the fortunes of his nation . . . He enjoyed an unequaled honor among his people . . . .
"Through his influence A. D. 1825, the Cherokees established regular Courts, changed their Council into a legislative body
and took action looking to the adoption of a constitution . . . prominent in the affairs of his people—his influence with
Chief John Ross, bringing about the first called Council after the act of union19 of Eastern and Western Cherokees."
Of Mrs. Bushyhead, Mr. Stephens writes: "She did her best! She lived to make the faces of the orphans brighter . . . and (was)
always ready to cheer the way-worn soul in passing by. Her daughters with dispositions soft and tender as a child's. Their
tastes simple, and their lives pure as it was possible for them to be. Every act of their lives bore the impress of sincerity."20
In 1854 Miss Bushyhead came under the beneficial influence of the teachers at the Cherokee Female Seminary at Tahlequah from
which she was graduated, one of a class of fourteen, in February 1856. She was engaged to teach school in Post Oak Grove in
1858, where there were sixty pupils enrolled, and later at Vann's Valley School. While teaching she boarded in the home of
Mr. Joseph Vann21 on Spring Creek, here she met and in 1858 was married to his son David Rowe Vann. The wedding took place at her mother's
home near the present town of Westville. Mr. and Mrs. Vann resided on his farm until the winter of 1870 when Mr. Vann died.
Three years later his widow married Bluford West Alberty, the son of Moses Alberty, at the home of her sister near Locust
Grove. She and Mr. Alberty were afterwards
19Council was held October 26, 1840 and William Shorey Coodey was President of the Senate. Mr. Stephens writes also: ". . .
Hon. W. S. Coodey, Senator of Canadian District, a man of ability, intelligence and wealth known as the writer of the Act
of Union of the Eastern and Western Cherokees and the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation under our government in July A.
D. 1839." For an account and picture of Coodey see A Cherokee Pioneer, Ella Flora Coodey Robinson, by Carolyn Thomas Foreman, Chronicles of Oklahoma, December, 1929, Vol. VII, No. 4.
made stewards22 of the Male Seminary at Tahlequah. Having grown up in an atmosphere of service to others this life among the flower of the
youth of the Cherokee Nation gave Mrs. Alberty an opportunity to develop the characteristics which later in life caused her
to be admired and loved by all who knew her.23 According to information furnished by Miss Carlotta Archer of Pryor Mr. and Mrs. Alberty also had charge of the Cherokee
Insane Hospital for several years after which they lived at their home "Belleview" on Pryor Creek.
23Judge William P. Thompson of Oklahoma City was a student of the Cherokee Male Seminary during the period that Mr. and Mrs.
Alberty were stewards and he furnished the writer with the following lines which were written by Professor F. M. English who
was a graduate of Oxford University in England, and who was the principal teacher at the Male Seminary. Judge Thompson states
that the characters mentioned in the verses "were all teachers, officers or employees of the Male Seminary or officers of
"A—is for Alberty, Aunt Eliza and Blue.1
B—is for Bushyhead,2
Chief good and true.
C—is for Captain3
and Council and Cuss.
D—is for dunces and devils and wuss.
E—is for English,4
whom they call "Old Professor."
F—is for Florence5
over there God bless her.
G—is for "Games"6
on the 8th of November.
H—is for Miss Hicks,7
whom you all do remember.
I—is for Inspector8
who don't come this way.
J—is for Miss James9
teaching boys Algebra.
K—is for Kitchen, the smoke makes you cough.
L—is for Laundry where you wash the dirt off.
M—is for Miss Maggie,10
who makes the best cake.
N—is for "Aunt Nancy"11
from her pipe you can't break.
O—is for Owen both mother and son.12
P—is for pay that don't come until well won.
Q—is for Quaker, John Stapler13
R—is for Robert, the son of his mother.
S—is for Steward14
about whom all the bother.
T—is for Tom15
as blind as a bat.
U—is for Usury, that's what he's at.
V—is for Votes which you all do well know.
W—is for Whiskey, that too freely doth flow.
X—is the unknown and you all are aware, stands for what ain't in my poem, but ought to be there.
Y—is for you, wherever you are and wherever you be
You have my best wishes, don't you Z?
D. C. Gideon in his History of Indian Territory,24 states that "In 1844 a number of Morman elders were traveling through the nation and upon arrival at Tahlequah were so impressed
with its beauty that they decided to remain and build up a society, but failed in that particular. They burned a large brick
kiln, however, and built the three first brick buildings during their first year's residence; a store for Chief Ross, on the
corner where J. W. Staples & Sons (Stapler) are now located; the hotel which is yet occupied by Mrs. Alberty; and another
building not now standing."
Through the courtesy of Mr. Joseph Fielding Smith, historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of Salt Lake
City, Utah, the following facts regarding the sojourn of members of his church in Tahlequah were furnished the writer in April,
1930. "When the migration of the Saints to the Rocky Mountains commenced in 1847, Bishop George Miller, refusing to obey counsel,
did not go to Utah with the body of the Church but concluded to visit his son, John F. Miller, who was in Texas. Bishop Miller
was a builder and contractor by trade and was accompanied by Joseph Kilting and Richard Hewett, men who had previously worked
with him on building contracts. En route, these men learned that mechanics could find work in the Cherokee Nation and decided
to go to Indian Territory for a time. They
arrived at Tahlequah July 9, 1847, and immediately found employment.
"Bishop Miller, at least, was accompanied by his family, and soon after his arrival, he commenced preaching, holding meetings
in his own home. This continued through the summer when he was invited to make use of the Court House for preaching. This
aroused the jealousy of certain missionaries from other denominations who tried to make trouble for him. In December, of the
same year, Bishop Miller and his family left Tahlequah, at which time he states 'he turned over to Kilting and Hewitt the
balance of his contracts' and started for Texas. The buildings were therefore, in all probability, erected by Bishop Miller
and his companions."
The hotel which was erected by Bishop Miller and his workers was kept by Mrs. Taylor and called by her name. It was bought
by Mr. and Mrs. Alberty in 1885 and the name was changed to National Hotel. They were joint managers until the death of Mr.
Alberty in 1889. Mrs. Alberty continued the management of the establishment and under her direction the hotel became noted
among travelers far and wide for the comfort furnished its guests. Facing the Council House this brick building sheltered
many celebrated citizens of the United States.
In Glimpses of the Indians and Their Territory, written in 1900 after a visit to Tahlequah, Rosalie Thomas Draper wrote ". . . One of the most picturesque and interesting
personages is an old lady—known to every one in the country as 'Aunt Eliza.' She keeps the old fashioned inn—just across the
street from the court house or Capitol. The old door step, a huge stone, is worn hollow by the foot falls of sixty years.
She has a marvelous memory and is very proud of having entertained and known many celebrities. James G. Blain, Roscoe Conkling,
General Grant, General Logan, General Sherman, Sheridan, Senator Plumb, Senator Ingalls, and Teller, Bret Harte and Bill Nye—and
many others have enjoyed in times past the hospitalities of her inn. It is very comfortable with its great, square low-ceilinged
rooms, and big fire places . . ."25
25Several of the registers of the National Hotel were placed in the museum of the Northeastern State Teachers College at Tahlequah
by Mrs. Alberty's niece Mrs. J. W. McSpadden when the hotel was razed. Among the guests registered may be found the names
of Frank G. Carpenter of Washington, Wm. P. Ross of Fort Gibson, Prof. A. C. Bacone, George Bancroft, Chief Plesant Porter
of the Creeks, Sam P. Jones of Chicago, New York and Arkansas, G. W. Lillie ("Pawnee Bill"), Judge Wm. M. Springer, Julian
Ralph, and Horace Fletcher from New Orleans.
While Aunt Eliza was far from the militant type of woman she had a deep interest in the affairs of her nation and her advice
was often sought and followed by the Cherokee rulers. She was a woman of strong personality, firm and undeviating in the path
of whatever she decided was right. She had a soft, musical voice and a keen sense of humor.
A strong racial trait of the Indians is their love of children and no motherless child is ever allowed to suffer from neglect.
No home is ever too poor or too crowded to admit more children in need of care and love. This fact has been well demonstrated
among the Cherokees who early established a home for orphans in order to make sure that all Cherokee children should be cared
for and educated. In addition to this almost all families reared the children of relatives, or friends, or even total strangers
if the children were left homeless.
Mr. and Mrs. Alberty were the parents of a daughter whom they named Pixie. She died in early infancy and her loss, instead
of making her mother bitter seemed to open her heart to other children and she became a veritable "Mother in Israel." She
reared and educated several of her nieces and nephews and adopted a full-blood Cherokee baby girl who was given her by its
mother. This girl was called Maggie Alberty and after her education was completed she became a teacher among the Zuni Indians,
married a member of that tribe and in later years brought her children to visit her beloved foster mother. These children
were a source of vast interest to the Cherokee children of Tahlequah.
During the period that Aunt Eliza was at the Male Seminary boys were not turned away when their parents were unable to meet
the tuition fees. She would wait until crops were harvested and sold or the money could be raised in some other manner rather
than have a boy miss his schooling.
Hon. W. W. Hastings of Tahlequah states: 26". . . Aunt Eliza Alberty, as she was familiarly called by a very large number of friends and acquaintances throughout eastern
Oklahoma . . . held the affection and esteem of every student in the school and was beloved by all because of the motherly
interest which she took in every boy.
"She was extensively acquainted and related among the members of the Cherokee tribe and well and favorably known
throughout eastern Oklahoma . . . . She was an active member of the Baptist Church and noted for her work both in the Sunday
School and the Church.
"She was a sister of the late Chief D. W. Bushyhead.27 During his administration both she and her husband were active in political affairs of the Cherokee Nation . . . took an
active interest in educational work and was influential in having the State of Oklahoma purchase the Cherokee Female Seminary
and establish in its stead the Northeastern State Teachers College. Governor Haskell presented her with the pen with which
he signed the bill.
"This splendid woman not only exerted a beneficial influence over the long period of years in which she lived but her memory
is still revered by a large circle of friends and acquaintances."
In 1908 Miss Rachel Caroline Eaton of Claremore28, organized the Sequoyah Historical Society for the purpose of preserving Indian history and relics. Aunt Eliza was an active
and enthusiastic member of this club of seventy Indian citizens. She and Miss Eaton hoped to preserve the collection of relics
in the Cherokee Capitol at Tahlequah. Mrs. Alberty's letters to Miss Eaton on the subject of her efforts show all of the enthusiasm
of a young girl although she was sixty-nine at the time. She wrote: "I count minutes my time is so filled," and she urges the necessity of keeping "active in the work, . . . don't let it get quiet and still, but keep it in the minds of all."
Aunt Eliza never lost her interest in the students of the Female Seminary and many a lonely homesick girl was invited to spend
the week end as her guest at the National
Hotel. Here she was cheered and encouraged to continue her studies and to realize that she had a friend who was interested
in her progress. Certain rooms in the hotel were always assigned to guests who were special friends or regular patrons and
any unlucky traveling man or other transient was quietly but firmly informed that he and his baggage would be removed to a
different room in case of the arrival of one of Aunt Eliza's favorite guests.
This hotel was an establishment known for its cheery welcome, homelike atmosphere and delicious food which made it an oasis
for travelers obliged to visit frontier towns. When Mrs. Alberty's health began to fail and she realized that she could not
continue her work it was a source of great anxiety to her to find some one to take over the control of the hotel and maintain
it according to her high standards.
In her search for health Mrs. Alberty visited Claremore for treatment. Every care and attention was given her by devoted relatives
and friends but her end came November 6, 1919, and there was grief in all of the hearts that had known her.
The Tahlequah paper stated that: "Tahlequah's Most Distinguished Citizen Passes Away . . . when the end came it was with such
a shock that the whole town grieved and mourned her who was the best loved and most revered in the community. She was truly
ministering angel on earth.
"The funeral services were held at the Baptist church, of which she was a life-long member. Rev. Weaver, the pastor, conducted
the services. The house was crowded to its capacity by the friends who went to pay their respects to the memory of one who
had for nearly eighty-one years served the Master so faithfully and efficiently. Aunt Eliza stood as a symbol of everything
good, pure and holy. Her character was human nature in its best form . . . .
"Those acting as pall bearers were six of her nephews, Dr. Jesse Bushyhead of Claremore, Dennis Bushyhead of Westville, Owen
and Dennis McNair of Fort Worth, Geo. and Watt Mayes of Pryor. Honorary pall bearers were Messrs. Percy Wyly, Dr. R. L. Fite,
Hicks, T. J. Adair, D. W. Wilson and Dr. Peterson."
Mrs. Alberty was deeply interested in the W. C. T. U. and she had served as the first Worthy Matron of Tahlequah's chapter
of the Eastern Star. Members of that organization had charge of her funeral.
Mrs. R. L. Fite, a close friend of Aunt Eliza's, delivered a beautiful address in her memory, prefacing her remarks by the
statement: "Several years ago I promised 'Aunt Eliza' that I would say a few words at her funeral and I told her that I would
say them without showing a feeling of sadness. . ." After recounting the facts of Mrs. Alberty's ancestry and life she concludes
by one of the finest tributes possible to pay the memory of a friend: "It has been a long life of usefulness—a life of long
self-sacrifice, and ministering to her people.
"As a woman she belonged to the old regime; kind, sympathetic, quiet and unassuming, yet commanding and dignified. She was
the widest known and best loved woman in Oklahoma . . . . As a friend she was loyal and true. The night was never so dark
nor the storm so fierce but what she would go to a friend in sickness, in sorrow or in need."
Aunt Eliza's life began on the bank of the frozen Mississippi River far from the land of her persecuted forefathers but her
final resting place is among her own beloved people in the burial ground of Tahlequah. Her memory is fresh in the minds and
hearts of her relatives and friends and her name is never spoken except in affection and praise.
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