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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 1
March, 1933


Page 667

John Stuart of Kentucky served as a private in the Thirty-ninth Infantry from July 20, 1814 to June, 1815 and sergeant until August, 1819. He was then appointed second lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry on August 13, 1819 and became first lieutenant on October 6, 1822. He was commissioned captain June 30, 1828. Part of the Seventh Infantry came to Fort Smith in 1822 and to Fort Gibson in 1824, and from 1831 the whole regiment served at Fort Gibson for nearly ten years. Stuart therefore saw nearly all of his army service in the Indian Territory. He was a man of keen perception and deep interest in his surroundings and particularly in the Indians with whom his service brought him in contact. In charge of Company C, Captain Stuart reoccupied the abandoned Fort Smith in 1833 and the next year was directed to move his force ten miles up the river and establish a new garrison at a place that became known as Fort Coffee. Here he served until 1838 when he was ordered to abandon Fort Coffee and move his command to a point near the Arkansas line on the Illinois River and establish a new post which was called Fort Wayne. This was an unhealthful spot where a number of the soldiers died and on December 8, 1838, the toll of death included Captain Stuart himself.

The files of the War Department contain many interesting reports and letters written by Captain Stuart describing the country and the Indians with whom he became acquainted and his letters are perhaps as illuminating as any descriptions to be found. It is not surprising therefore that he should have written a Sketch of the Cherokee and Choctaw Indians and secured its publication in 1837.

The Arkansas Gazette for June, 1837 carried the following advertisement: "Just published and for sale at office of Arkansas Gazette 'Sketch of the Cherokee and Choctaw In-

Page 668

dians,' by John Stuart, Captain U. S. Army, price 37 ½c." I found this advertisement a number of years ago and have been searching since then in all the libraries of the country and book lists of rare book dealers to locate a copy of this sketch, but in vain. The following extract from the Arkansas Gazette gives a suggestion of the interesting content of Stuart's pamphlet.


We are sometimes glad of an opportunity to be relieved from the trouble of noting the circumstantial details of the day, and of stealing a leisure hour, in the perusal of works of fancy or of fact. The recent emigration of Indians to our western frontier, may be a subject of solicitude to some, and anxiety to others; but it would tend considerably to relieve all false impressions of fear from the mind, were the true history, and character, and habits of the Indian sufficiently known. For this purpose, we recommend to the observation of all interested in the subject, a perusal of a small pamphlet, entitled "A Sketch of the Cherokee and Choctaw Indians: By John Stuart, Capt. U. S. Army, Choctaw Nation," and printed in this city, some weeks ago. For our part, we were much gratified with the Sketch, which, though making no pretensions to "learned refinement" or careful polish, is nevertheless delineated in a style at once correct and graphic. As a mere record of facts, it is highly useful, and is the first historical step that has been taken in Arkansas, or its territory, for the preservation of the customs and manners of a people, who are fast losing their distinctive national character, in their intercourse and amalgamation with the whites. The pamphlet is divided under several heads, such as the description of the country, manner of living, dress and manners, &c. Under this last head, we give an extract of the character of the Cherokees

"The Cherokees are a proud and lofty-minded people. They appear to be unassuming, and are courteous in their manner, showing no ferocity of temper or disposition on ordinary occasions; but are ever ready to resent any indignity or affront that may be offered to them. They are fond of amusements, and are naturally gay in their dispositions, and they, as a people, very much resemble

Page 669

the native French of this country. Some of the females are very handsome, and are very modest and retiring in their deportment and manner; but when spoken to directly, they show a very becoming degree of animation. The social amusement of the Cherokees consists principally in dancing to the music of the violin, of which they are very fond, and frequently practice."

The Captain very justly ridicules the idea of any difficulty ever happening with the Cherokees, and says, "they have not the most remote idea of making war upon the whites."

We will give another interesting extract. It relates to the struggles and the triumphs of genius, and shows that intellect is not confined to any particular color, and that, in the difficulties he had to encounter, in the perseverance he evinced, and in the success he experienced, George Guess may be ranked with those early pioneers of type and letters, Wynken de Worde and John Caxton.

"George Guess, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, is a man of about sixty years of age. He is of a middle stature, and of rather a slender form, and is slightly lame in one leg, from disease when young. His features are remarkably regular, and his face well formed, and rather handsome. His eyes are animated and piercing, showing indications of a brilliancy of intellect far superior to the ordinary portion of his fellow men. His manner is agreeable, and his deportment gentlemanly. He possesses a mild disposition, and is patient, but is energetic and extremely persevering and determined in the pursuit or accomplishment of any object on which he may fix his mind. He is inquisitive, and appears to be exceedingly desirous of acquiring information on all subjects. His mind seems to soar high and wide; and if he could have had the advantages of an enlightened education, he would no doubt have brought himself to rank high among the acknowledged great men of the age in which he lives. He has been in the habit, ever since he could apply his language in that way, of keeping a

Page 670

journal of all the passing events which he considered worthy of record: and has, at this time, (it is said), quite a volume of such matter.
"His connection in blood with the whites, is on the side of the father. His mother was a fullblood Cherokee; and he was raised entirely among the uncultivated portion of the Cherokees, and never received much, if any, advantage from an intercourse with the whites. He does not speak one word of the English language. From a very early age, he has possessed a natural talent for drawing, and very far surpasses any man in his nation in that art; but he never received any kind of instruction from any practical artist. He can draw a horse, hog, deer, &c. remarkably well; and no man in the United States can surpass him in drawing a buffalo. He can also draw rough portraits, a circumstance which, connected with his fondness for drawing, contributed very much toward inducing him to attempt the formation of a type for his language.
"Mr. Guess, when engaged in the very laudable purpose of inventing his alphabet, had to encounter many very serious obstacles, and which but few men would have surmounted. No one had the least confidence in the success of his project, and thought him to be laboring under a species of mental derangement on that subject. He was laughed at by all who knew him, and was earnestly besought by every member of his own family to abandon a project which was occupying and diverting so much of his time from the important and essential duties which he owed to his family—they being, in some measure, dependent on his daily labor for their subsistence. But no argument or solicitation could induce him to change his determination. And although he was under the necessity of working much at night, by lights made from burning pine, he persisted until he accomplished fully the object of his desire. Even after he had completed the alphabet, and the art of applying it to writing, and when he was fully able to write any thing that he might

Page 671

wish, and when he made records in books, and kept a running book account of his monied transactions, &c.— even then, it was with great difficulty that he could induce the members of his own family to believe that it was any thing more than a wild delusion. At length, however, he prevailed upon one of his young daughters to learn of him his newly invented alphabet, and its arrangement, she being the only one of his family, and in fact the only person, he could prevail on to undertake the supposed useless task. She made rapid progress in learning, and soon became able to write and read with ease and fluency any thing the father would write. This began to open the eyes of the family and of some of the neighbors, but did not prove to be entirely satisfactory. A meeting, therefore, was held, of the people, on the subject, and by separating the father and daughter, and requiring them to write, as dictated to, by the company, and to read, while separated, the writing of each as dictated to them by others, and that being accordingly done in every instance, led the persons present into a full conviction of the truth, as well as the utility, of the invention. And several of the most influential men in the nation immediately learned it, and discovering all its practical advantages, recommended it in high terms to the people. From that time it spread into a general use; and the people of the nation are at this day in the full enjoyment of its great benefits.
"George Guess, in forming an alphabet for the Cherokee language, found that eighty-six distinct characters would be necessary. To make so many distinct figures differing so much in their shape, as to be easily distinguished from each other, and, at the same time, to be easily and quickly made with a pen on paper, was a matter of much difficulty. But, being one day on a public road, he found a piece of newspaper, which had been thrown aside by a traveler, which he took up, and, on examining it, found characters on it that would be more easily

Page 672

made than his own, and consequently picked out for that purpose the largest of them, which happened to be the Roman letters, and adopted them in lieu of so many of his own characters—and that, too, without knowing the English name or meaning of a single one of them. This is to show the cause and manner of the Roman letters being adopted."

We would fain give some extracts from the Choctaw sketches, but must delay it to another time. We hope Captain Stuart will favor us soon with as interesting a sketch of the other prominent Indian tribes already west. His position gives him favorable advantages for the task, and we doubt not his ability will be competent to the task.

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