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Western Cherokees "Old Settlers"

Western Cherokees "Old Settlers"

In 1794 the first group of Cherokees fled to the valley of the St. Francis River in Southeast Missouri, after their leader, The Bowl was accused of leading a massacre on trespassers. Though later vindicated, he and his followers remained in the New Madrid area where in 1811, a massive earthquake caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards, and for months tremors continued. Convinced the Great Spirit was displeased, they moved to Arkansas. The Bowl remained chief until 1813, when he was succeeded by Takatoka who was chief from 1813-18.

Led by Tahlonteeskee in 1809, 300 others including the aged chief Takatoka migrated to Arkansas. Here too, the Bowl and his followers stayed until they decided to go to Texas in 1819-20. Takatoka resisted missionary efforts, but it was at his place on the Illinois Bayou in Arkansas that Sequoyah first taught the use of his syllabary.

On a trip to Washington City, Takatoka died at Kaskaskia, IL. and, Tahlonteeskee, an uncle of Sequoyah, became the third chief of the Cherokees West. Tahlonteeskee and Doublehead, were signers of a treaty in 1805 that labeled them traitors. Tahlonteeskee departed for the West, Doublehead remained and was later slain by Major Ridge. Ridge later became a proponent of moving to the West, and because he had signed the Treaty of New Echota, he too, was killed by the anti treaty faction after the Removal (Trail of Tears).

Tahlonteeskee, permitted missionaries to establish Dwight Mission in Arkansas, the first western chief to allow Christianity to come to the Cherokees. Tahlonteeskee died ca 1818, his brother John Jolly then became chief. Jolly had moved west in 1817.

These early Cherokees migrated from Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama and were called Arkansas or Cherokees West, to distinguish them from their tribesmen who remained in the East. Later they were referred to as "Old Settlers."

Western Cherokee Government Established

Sept. 11, 1824 - While in Arkansas the Cherokees formally organized their government along democratic lines. Executive power was vested in a - first, second and third chief. John Jolly was elected first chief, Black Coat was second chief and Walter Webber was third chief. War with the Osages necessitated having three leaders.

Cherokees had a hunting area ceded to them known as Lovely’s Purchase, the Osage considered it their hunting ground too, which caused continual strife between the two tribes. Fort Gibson Military Post was established as a buffer zone, in 1824 to protect these two tribes from one another.

Western Cherokee land was becoming settled by whites, this intrusion caused alarm, and on December 28, 1827 they appointed Black Fox, John Rogers, Thomas Graves, Thomas Maw, George Morris, Tobacco Will and George Guess (Sequoyah) to go to Washington to protest this intrusion.

This delegation had no authority to cede land however, they were forced to negotiate a treaty on May 6, 1828, whereby they gave up land in Arkansas for land in what is now Oklahoma. The Cherokees were given until July 1829 to start moving, but many had to move early as settlers went into their homes and crowded them out.

The Move to Present Day Oklahoma

In 1828-29 Cherokees established settlements in Indian Territory (eastern Oklahoma). Jolly’s home was about 3 miles east of present day Gore. His hewed log home had massive stone fireplace chimneys and large comfortable rooms. Other buildings served as homes for the servants who operated his large plantation, well stocked with cattle. His home was always open to visitors of which he had many. It is reported that Jolly never slaughtered less than one beef a week throughout the year for his table.

Jolly’s name was Oo-loo-te-ke meaning "He-Puts-the-Drum-Away." Wise, intelligent and affectionately called, "Beloved Father," he was a half-blood who spoke no English. Mixed bloods were considered full

bloods if they spoke only Cherokee. He dressed, as did most Cherokees, in a hunting coat of cotton or wool, cloth leggins, beaded moccasins, and a cloth turban. His word was "inviolable, and his generosity knew no bounds, but the limitation of his means." Jolly died in December of 1838.

Sam Houston 1829-1832

In January Houston married Eliza Allen, daughter of an ex-governor. Elected in 1827, Houston resigned in 1829, as governor of Tennessee when his marriage ended. With no explanations he left his state, wife, friends, and family for a three year stay with the Western Cherokees.

Arriving aboard the steam ship Facility, runners reached Jolly with the news of the arrival of his adopted son, "The Raven." Notables of the nation were on hand to receive the distinguished visitor who was escorted to the home of Jolly.

News reached all parts of the Nation. Citizens began arriving at Jolly’s home. Among the guests were Big Canoe, Black Coat, Walter Webber, Little Terrapin, Young Elder, and Old Swimmer. No greater crowd of Cherokees ever gathered in what is now Sequoyah County than when Sam Houston arrived.

Houston established a home north of Fort Gibson and lived with his Cherokee wife, Tiana Rogers, daughter of John Rogers and niece of John Jolly. She shared "Wigwam Neosho" with Houston until he went to Texas.

Active in political affairs of the Nation, Houston was adopted as a tribal member by the Cherokees October 31, 1831. Besides helping the Cherokees, the Creeks and Osages sought his advice. He made trips to Washington in their behalf.

In Texas, Houston became commander-in-chief of American forces, and on April 21, 1836, defeated Santa Anna’s force of 1800. Upon establishing the Texas Republic, he was elected its first president. After Texas became a state, he was elected governor.

In the summer of 1829, Houston lay on a mat of corn shucks under the loving care of the Jolly household. In Sept. he wrote, "I am very feeble from a long spell of fever which... well nigh closed the scene of all my mortal cares, but I thank my God that I am again cheered by the hope of renewed health."

Cherokee Capital 1828-39

A capital was established east of Jolly’s home. The council house, grounds, and home of the first chief made up the national capital called Tahlonteeskee to honor the chief’s brother. The general council met here to make laws from 1828-39.

The general council elected chiefs who served for 4 years. The first and second chief received $100 annually, and the third chief $60. The general council consisted of two houses, national committee and council. These two bodies were made up of two representatives from the districts of the nation, thus, there were eight members in each house. The general council convened in October and was divided into four districts; Sallisaw, Lee’s Creek, Illinois and Neosho.

District officials were judges and two Light Horse elected by citizens for two years. District judges received an annual salary of $25, the Light Horse received $40.

National Laws

Laws passed by general council were approved by the chief. Punishment was whipping or death, and penalties were decided by the judge and administered by the Light Horse. Crimes such as theft, rape, robbery, breaking open or burning houses were punishable by 25 to 60 lashes on the bare back.

A person guilty of cutting down a pecan tree was fined five dollars; part of the fine went to the informer and part to the Light Horse. The same fine was inflicted on a person for setting woods on fire before the first of March.

Another law provided death for bargining away land of the nation. If a person was found guilty of laying off land sections or other divisions he received 100 lashes on the bare back.

Any citizen who harbored a criminal of the US was to pay a fine of $100. This law was the first passed by any tribe in the present state of OK, dealing with the outlaw problem, a serious matter for the US and Indian Territory.

In 1832 schools were provided in each district and employed Sequoyah to supervise the teaching of his syllabary at $400 annually.

After the forced removal of the Eastern Cherokees in 1838-39, Tahlonteeskee as a capital was discontinued. For a short time the capital was at Takatoka north of Tahlequah, but was eventually moved to Tahlequah, where it remains today. John Ross was the leader of the Eastern Cherokees, and he was elected principal chief. He served in this position for approximately 40 years.

Tahlonteeskee continued as the Illinois District and a meeting place for Old Settlers. Meetings were held at Tahlonteeskee with the purpose of settling differences between the factions of the tribe. By 1846 there was unification of the three factions (Old Settlers - Treaty Party and the Anti-Treaty Party also called the Ross Party), and the Cherokee Nation moved into what has been referred to as the "Golden Age," as they became prosperous through their industry and cooperation. The outbreak of the Civil War ended this peaceful period, as ‘battle lines’ were once again drawn. John Ross wanted to remain neutral while others, mainly those who had signed the Treaty of New Echota and Old Settlers wanted to fight for the southern cause.

The reconstructed site of Tahlonteeskee (3 miles east of Gore on HW 64) has a council house and courthouse. There is also a log cabin that belonged to the Carlile-Foreman family, who were Old Settlers. North of this site are the remains of Tahlonteeskee (private property) there are still signs of a foundation, an old well and a little cemetery almost erased from sight.

Among the Cherokees (1981) by C. W. "Dub" West

Early History of the Cherokees (1917) Emmet Starr

Sequoyah County Times (1957) H.D. Hagland

Reminiscences of the Indians (1869) by Rev. Cephas Washburn


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