I have been reading the following book and have found it fascinating. Although it recounts incidents with a particularly "missionary religious zeal", and sheds great insight as to how our ancestors were turned from their ancient beliefs and "Christianized", it also tells about the events of the day and how people lived. Below is the introduction and first letter in the book, which was published in 1910 and is now in public domain. This is an experiment to see if people are interested in this type of information. Please feel free to contact me and let me know your thoughts email@example.com
In writing any portion of a history of the Cherokee tribe of Indians it is necessary to make references, that to the general public, and even to those best posted in Cherokee history, are fugitive and inaccessible. For this reason I have found it necessary to republish, and collate much that bears on our history.
Cephas Washburn, whose memoirs follow, was a native of Connecticut. His memoirs are characterized by fidelity and discriminative understanding. He died March 17, 1860.
The "old Settler" Cherokees, were all those who came to the Cherokee Nation, west, before the
conclusion of the "New Echota" treaty of 1835. I give their laws in this volume because, if I
gave them in "Cherokee," their dates would be identical with the dates passed by the council of
the Cherokee Nation, east, and for this reason would be confusing to many. My forthcoming volumes will
"Cherokee Phoenix and Advocate"
"Cherokee State Papers"
The "Cherokee Phoenix" and "Advocate" were weekly newspapers published by the Cherokee Nation; the former from 1827 to 1833 and the latter from 1844 to 1906.
And now, that the Cherokees have ceased to be a nation of savages, it must be apparent to all that the distinctive features which characterized them in their primeval state, must have passed forever away. And while no Christian philanthropist can fail to rejoice that this change has taken place; yet every inquisitive mind would seek to know something of their ancient manners and habits, as the Cherokee of the present day is not the Cherokee of forty years ago. This natural and proper desire will find gratification in the following "Reminiscences;" and the gratification will be greatly enhanced by the reflection that the details read are not the romantic musings of some transient tourist, who has relied upon his fancy for arguments and his imagination for facts. Here are the sober statements of one whose life was principally spent among them, and in circumstances the most favorable to the acquisition of reliable knowledge.
That the American Indians were a race of men far above the ordinary grade of barbarism found on the other continents, is doubted by no-one acquainted with their history; and among all the tribes that have peopled our native forests, the Cherokees , it is believed, stood pre-eminent.
In January, 1828, the writer of this memoir, when a missionary of the General Assembly’s Board, on his way to Little Rock, was detained for near a week at Montgomery’s Point, waiting for a passage up the Arkansas. At the same place was a delegation of Cherokee chiefs, waiting for an opportunity to ascent the Mississippi, on their way to Washington city. I regarded myself in no ordinary degree favored by being permitted to occupy the same apartment with these dignified men. The delegation, so far as is now remembered, consisted of John and James Rogers, Major Maw, George Morris, Black Fox, J.W. Flowers, and Guess, the celebrated inventor of the Cherokee alphabet. The white men here, as is generally the case at places of public resort, were, many of them, boisterous and profane, gamblers and drunkards. But the chiefs were sedate and dignified, no profaneness was heard from the lips of those who spoke English. There was a peculiarity about them which made an impression upon my mind, which a third of a century has not effaced. Their tall figures, bronze complexions, statue-like attitudes, and unknown language, all pointed them out as a peculiar variety of our race, and led me strongly to desire a more intimate knowledge of them as a people. Among these singular men sat one whose name will descent to the latest posterity as having accomplished a greater literary achievement than any other individual known to history. Cadmus is said to have invented the Greek alphabet, or be a part of it; but even this is doubted, as he is believed to have been acquainted with the Phoenician character and language. But Guess, as is well known, did not understand a sentence of any language but his own, and yet he invented a character for the Cherokee language, and reduced it to a legible form, capable of being acquired by the natives in an almost incredible short period of time.
My curiosity in regard to the Indians was soon after this gratified by a visit to the old Dwight Mission, located on the Illinois Bayou, in what is now Pope county, Arkansas. At that time, the Cherokees were settled along the Arkansas river, from Point Remove to where Van Buren now stands. There I witnessed the self-denials and the toils of the missionaries, their diligence and faithfulness as instructors, and the remarkable improvement of the Indian children in their schools; and there I became acquainted with the subject of this memoir.
No-one, I am persuaded, could have spent a week at that station and witnessed the extensive operations, moving on like clock-work without being impressed with the abilities of Mr. Washburn, whose wisdom, prudence, and vigilance, kept all in successful operation. I was soon convinced that he was no ordinary man. In his personal appearance, he was prepossessing; of scarcely medium height, he was erect and graceful in his movements. his countenance bespoke benignity and goodness of heart. His manners were soft and conciliatory; and yet, on all occasions, he evinced great firmness and decision. He never appeared in haste, while he permitted nothing to suffer by delay.
During one of my visits to the mission, I accompanied him on a preaching tour among the natives. The manner of conducting the exercise was novel Bowing to the extreme difficulty of acquiring the language, Mr. Washburn always preached through an interpreter. At the appointed hour, the congregation, composed of both sexes and all ages, took their seats with unusual stillness, the very smallest children keeping their seats without noise. I remember no instance of anyone, old or young, ever occasioning the slightest inconvenience to the speaker. Mr. Washburn stated that this respectful manner of conducting themselves during religious exercises was almost universal. He related one instance, however, which afforded a ludicrous exception. While preaching on a certain occasion, an Indian, who was partially intoxicated, spoke out in approbation, I believe of the sentiments presented. A chief who was present gave him an expressive look. In a little while, order was again interrupted by the same person. The chief then, by a significant gesture, directed him to the door, and followed him out, and in a few minutes returned alone. As soon as the exercises were concluded, the chief came to Mr. Washburn and asked him to step out, saying, at the same time, "I want to show you how I fix people who won’t behave themselves at meeting." When they had proceeded a few rods behind the church, they came to the man, who was standing with the back of his head against a sapling, with a handkerchief in his mouth tied behind the sapling. The chief then untied the handkerchief, took it out of his mouth, and let him go his way.
Preaching through an interpreter is, at best, a tedious and awkward mode of conveying instruction. The first time I tried it, I found myself placed in circumstances the most embarrassing I had ever experienced. The congregation were seated and waiting. The interpreter, a tawny son of the forest, took his seat by my side. I announced my text. The interpreter in strange tones repeated it to the people. I then uttered the first sentence of my discourse and stopped short. Again the strange sounds commenced, and my whole attention was attracted by them. When he ceased I had entirely forgotten the words I had spoken. I was obliged to speak, but I knew it could have no connection with the foregoing sentence. I said something, and so continued, speaking in a great degree at random, mortified by the consciousness that I was conveying no connected instruction. The next time, however, I was enabled to confine my thoughts to the subject, instead of the strange sounds and unusual circumstances around me.
The missionaries sometimes found it exceedingly difficult to procure competent interpreters, and at other times to procure those in whom they could place entire confidence as to the honesty of their interpretations. As an instance of the latter class, Mr. Washburn had for some time been suspicious of one of his interpreters, and at length inquired for a person, in whose knowledge and truthfulness he could confide. This person assured him that his interpreter was not faithful, and gave him the following specimen: "Mr. Washburn," said the interpreter, "tells me to say to you, that, in the sight of God, there are but two people, the good people and the bad people. But I do not believe him. I believe there are three kinds; the good people, the bad people, and a middle kind, that are neither good nor bad, just like myself." This information being derived from a reliable source, it was soon found convenient to dispense with the interpreter and his comments.
Though the Indians are proverbial for their taciturnity and gravity, they are said to be, at times, remarkable for the keenness of their sarcasm. The people of the frontier settlements, in early times, who owned cattle, were accustomed to prepare what was usually called lick-logs. These were simply fallen trees with notches cut in them a few inches deep, and at the distance of two or three feet apart. To these logs it was usual to repair once or twice a week and salt the cattle. In this manner, each man attended to his own flock, and was enabled to keep them separate from others. A Baptist minister and Mr. Washburn happened once to lodge together where a number of Indians were present, and the conversation turned upon the success of their respective labors. The Baptist remarked that he had lately been favored with quite a revival at one of his preaching places among the white people, and that a considerable number had united with his church and been immersed. During the conversation he also stated that they had nearly all been members of the Methodist Church. "Oh," said Mr. Washburn, "then you and I attach different ideas to the word revival. If those persons were worthy members of the Methodist Church, I should consider their connecting themselves with your church as only a change of church relationship. By a revival I mean a change of the heart from sin to holiness." "Well, however, that may be," replied the Baptist, "they came to my lick-log, and I put my mark upon them." An Indian present, who had been listening with deep interest, as soon as he heard this remark, using the peculiar shrug and ejaculation, exclaimed, "If any man puts his mark upon my cattle when they go to his lick-log, I call him cow-thief."
The early mode of electing officers was very simple, and if we mistake not, possessed some advantages over the practice of more civilized people. The following account of an election held during the early period of his abode among them, was given to the writer by Mr. Washburn, who was present. Whether or not it was their invariable custom is not known. A day had been made known throughout the nation on which a principal chief was to be elected, and all legal voters notified to meet at a designated place. This was perhaps on the borders of a prairie. Towards that place, on the appointed day, were seen the tall forms of warriors converging from all directions. When all had assembled and in silent readiness, two individuals who may be termed electors stepped out, and taking their stand a short distance apart in front of the multitude, one of them in a loud voice named a distinguished warrior as in his estimation well qualified for the important office. He was then silent. The other then announced another as his choice. Each elector then called upon his candidate to come out of the crowd and follow him. They then led their nominees to some distance beyond the view of the company. Leaving them there they returned and each in a short speech pointed out the virtues and qualifications of their respective candidates, and requested the voters to show their preference by taking their stand in two straight lines on the right and left hands of the speakers. The mass then began to move, some to the right and some to the left, until in a short time all were seen silently ranged in two separate lines. The electors then proceeded to count. When this was done, each in a loud voice announced the number in his line. The difference was soon acknowledged. They then repaired to the concealed candidates, and brought them back. The successful one was placed before them, and proclaimed as the duly elected chief. All then retired to their respective homes in quietness and order.
It was the earnest and oft repeated wish of many of Mr. Washburns’ friends that he should reclaim from oblivion the principal characteristics of this peculiar people, who differed so widely from all the other aborigines of our land in the language and customs. This has in part been accomplished in the following "Reminiscences," though it was the design of their gifted author to have extended them to much greater length, especially was it his intention to have given the details of the extensive revival which so signally crowned his labors, after so many years of discouragement and toil. The loss of these facts we must now deeply regret, as the hand which along could have described them lies motionless in the tomb.
J.W. Moore, 1869.