In February, 1828, the vanguard of Creek immigrants arrived at the Creek Agency on the Verdigris, in charge of Colonel Brearley, and they and the following members of the McIntosh party were located on a section of land that the Government promised in the treaty of 1826 to purchase for them. By the treaty of May 6, 1828, the Government assigned the Cherokee a great tract of land, to which they at once began to remove from their homes in Arkansas. The movement had been under way for some months when there appeared among the Indians the remarkable figure of Samuel Houston. The biographers of Houston have told the world next to nothing of his sojourn of three or four years in the Indian country, an interesting period when he was changing the entire course of his life and preparing for the part he was to play in the drama of Texas.
When Houston was a first-lieutenant in the First Regiment of the United States Infantry in 1817, General Andrew Jackson appointed him Cherokee sub-agent under Colonel Return J. Meigs. Houston conducted from Knoxville to Washington City a delegation of Arkansas Cherokee chiefs who were favorable to the views of the Government, for the purpose of making a treaty which would locate the Cherokee west of the Mississippi. In 1819, Jackson, who was Houston’s warm friend, offered him the position of agent for the Cherokee in Arkansas – the place held by William J. Lovely up to the time of his death – but Houston declined the appointment. Houston resigned from the army March 1, 1818, and went to Nashville as he himself stated, “without education more than ordinary – without friends – without cash – almost without acquaintances – consequently without much credit, and here, among talents and distinction, I have made my stand.”1 He studied law and was selected as Attorney-general for that section of the state; elected to Congress in 1823, and again in 1825; on June 5, 1826, he was appointed chairman of the Board of Visitors to West Point; in 1821 he had been made Major-general of the militia of his section of the state. During part of the time he was in Congress, his warm friend, Andrew Jackson, was senator from Tennessee. In 1827,2 Houston was elected governor of Tennessee, and his campaign for re-election began at Nashville, in April, 1829. His rise had been remarkable, and he seemed to want only one thing to fill his cup of success. In January, 1829, he married Miss Eliza H. Allen, daughter of a rich family of Sumner County, Tennessee. It was the sensation of the whole country and the mortification of his friends and admirers, when he left his wife a few weeks after the wedding, and shortly after the beginning of his campaign for re-election as governor.
Houston’s Family Troubles
The public sought to throw the mantle of oblivion over the family troubles that blasted his reputation and career, and various speculations as to the cause of his separation from his wife were offered. The friends of Mrs. Houston’s family in Sumner County felt it was due to her to call a meeting of the citizens of the county at the courthouse, to give expression to the opinion entertained by them as to her character. The committee appointed for the purpose prepared a report in which they charged that Houston rendered his wife unhappy by his unfounded jealousies and his repeated suspicions of her coldness and want of attachment, and that she was constrained by a sense of duty to herself and her family to separate from her infatuated husband and return to her parents. Houston was chivalrous enough to address a letter to Mrs. Houston’s father, in which he acquitted her of any blame in the matter, and this letter the committee made public. Houston refused to discuss the matter with any one, and his version of the difficulty never became known.3
Such was Houston’s bitterness, that he abandoned not only his wife but all his friends and the civilized country that had honored him; and he turned to the Cherokee Indians whose society he had learned to enjoy in his youth, while he was sub-agent among them and whose language he spoke fluently. The next month, Houston passed two days at Little Rock on his way up Arkansas River to join the Cherokee. At the mouth of the Illinois River he stopped with John Jolly, a chief of the Cherokee, who had adopted him as his son and whom Houston called his Indian father. Houston made his home with the Cherokee, adopted their dress, drank to excess, and in every way emphasized the renunciation of the former life and friends from whom he had turned.
Houston Adopted into the Cherokee Tribe
The Cherokee Agency was then located on the north side of Arkansas River, above Fort Smith and not far from where Fort Coffee was located in 1834. Houston was there during the payment of the annuity in October, 1829, and on the twenty-first of that month he was adopted as a member of the Cherokee Tribe of Indians, and a certificate was given him in the following language:4
“Whereas, an order has been published by the agent, of the Cherokee Nation, requesting all white men who reside in the Nation without the consent of the chiefs of the said nation, to comply with certain rules, and regulations set forth in said order: Now, Be it known by these presents: That General Samuel Houston, late of the State of Tennessee, has been residing in the Nation for sometime past and has manifested a disposition to remain with us: In consideration of his former acquaintance with, and services rendered to the Indians, and his present disposition to improve their condition and benefit their circumstances and our confidence in his integrity, and talents, if he should remain among us; We do, as a committee, appointed by order of the principal chief John Jolly, solemnly, firmly, and irrevocably, grant to him forever, all the rights, privileges, and immunities, of a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and do as fully empower him with all the rights, and the liberties, as though he was a native Cherokee, while at the same time the said Houston, will be required to yield obedience to all laws, and regulations made for the government, of the native citizens of the Cherokee Nation.
“In witness whereof we have this day set our hands this 21st day of October, 1829.
“Cherokee Nation, Illinois. Walter Webber, his mark, President Commt. Aaron Price, his Mark, Vice President. APPROVED. John Jolly, his mark, Principal Chief.”
After the payment of the Cherokee annuity at the agency, Houston went up the river to Cantonment Gibson, and from October to December he seems to have employed his time in and around the Creek Agency and Cantonment Gibson, where he either built or purchased a house nearby, which he called The Wigwam, in which he engaged in trading with the Indians. There he listened to the tales of the wrongs which the Creek Indians claimed to have suffered at the hands of their agent, Colonel Brearley, and with Houston’s help they prepared a memorial to President Jackson which Houston, because of his close relation to the President, was able to bring promptly to his notice. It contained a number of charges, some of them indicating faults of the governmental method of dealing with the Indians, and others charging turpitude at the hands of their agent; that for personal gain he had speculated on their contracts for subsistence, had retained the cash provided for their annuities, and had given them due bills instead. Houston became a bitter critic, not only of Brearley and Crowell, their agent in the east whom they blamed for the killing of their chief, General McIntosh, but of Colonel Thomas McKinney, head of the Indian Department at Washington. He charged that McKinney’s department had failed to give the Indians, who were very needy indeed, the blankets, guns, ammunition, beaver traps, and kettles promised them in the treaty; and that later, when McKinney selected Luther Blake to succeed Brearley, he was appointing a relative of Crowell, who was interested with him in speculating on the necessities of the Indians, and charged that McKinney was to blame for many of their wrongs.
In December, 1829, Houston, clad in the turban, leggins, flap or breech-clout and blanket of the Indian went to Washington in company with Walter Webber and John Brown, both prominent Cherokee Indians. They arrived in Washington January 13, 1830. Webber was engaged in trading with the Indians, and was hostile to the Cherokee Agent, E. W. duVal. Carnes and duVal were traders at Fort Smith, and their goods to the value of ten thousand dollars, shipped into the Indian country, had been seized by Colonel Arbuckle because a barrel of whiskey was found among them. Later, on September 24, 1829, the War Department ordered the release of the goods, and rendered the naive opinion that the act was not a violation of the law, because a barrel of whiskey was not suited to Indian consumption and did not fit the description of whiskey “which they can purchase in quantities to produce the inconvenience which it was the object and policy of the law (Act of May 6, 1822) to provide against.”
Removal of Indian Agents in Washington
Houston spent some time in Washington, and, for good measure, included the name of the Osage Agent, Hamtramck,5 among those condemned by him as fit subjects for removal; and the list of those removed included the names of Colonel Brearley, Major E. W. duVal, Hamtramck, and Colonel McKinney himself. Following Brearley’s removal, his assistant, Anthony, served for a short time, until General John Campbell of Tennessee was appointed to the post at the Creek Agency on the Verdigris. In March, 1830, Campbell was reported as passing Little Rock, up-bound in a keel boat with his family, destined for the Creek Agency. During that month, however, a question arose resulting in recalling Campbell’s appointment and directing Luther Blake to repair to the agency and assume the duties of agent. This was only temporary, and in a short time Campbell began his duties as Creek agent. Upon the removal of duVal as agent for the western Cherokees, Captain George Vashon, formerly of the Seventh Infantry, was appointed to the place on March 12, 1830. P. L. Chouteau, a brother of Colonel A. P. Chouteau, and who had been acting as Osage sub-agent, was on April 30, 1830, confirmed by the Senate as Osage Agent to replace Hamtramck.
Houston had other business in Washington beside securing the dismissal of Indian agents. He went to President Jackson and proposed that the Government make a contract with him, authorizing him to supply rations to the Indians who, in the future, would be removed to the Indian country. He claimed that the Government had been paying contractors too much, and that the Indians had been defrauded by them, and represented that if the contract were given to him he would furnish the rations at much less than had been paid. Jackson referred Houston to General J. H. Indians in giving to them the full ration, and of good quality, should we get the contract, must be regarded as a ‘sine qua non’ with us.
“If Mr. Rose and you can obtain the contract upon the foregoing premises, I will be very happy to unite with you jointly, and will furnish the capital necessary for the next six or nine months. So if you get it, it will be necessary for one of you to be out before fall! The other may take his station about Cincinnati and watch the fall market. All this in the event that emigration goes on with the Indians. If needful, you are hereby authorized to sign my name to the bond, and bind me, equally with yourself and Mr. Rose, for the performance of the contract.”6
After his return to the Verdigris, Houston wrote again to Van Fossen on August 22, about the contract, advising the latter to be in Washington to attend to the matter, and intimating that he and the Secretary of War were not friendly. “I am just about to make a grand purchase of Salt Springs,7 and trust in God that I will be in a way to ‘do well’. My fortune must not wane, it must full, if I live and meet with my deserts (in my humble opinion).” He told Van Fossen also to watch the papers for articles written by him over the signature of “Tah-lon-tusky”, the name of the old Cherokee Chief, attacking certain officials in the Indian Service and defending himself.
Houston’s Letter to Colonel Arbuckle
After leaving Washington, Houston started on his return to Fort Gibson, stopping at Nashville and Little Rock on the way. At some place in the east he had purchased a supply of goods for his trading house, for at the latter place, he wrote the following letter to Colonel Arbuckle:8
“Wigwam, 21st July, 1830. Colonel Arbuckle. Sir: I have the honor to inform you of the arrival of my Boat at the Verdigris in the Cherokee Nation on yesterday, with an assortment of goods which I will proceed to open and make sale of so soon as convenient.
“I have thought proper to report to you for the reason that I do not wish to be molested by either mis-apprehension or design. You are the only public officer in this country to whom I will or could report. There is no agent of the Cherokees in the Nation at this time (Capt. Vashon George Vashon was born in Maryland 1786, and entered the army from Virginia. He was transferred to the Seventh Infantry May 17, 1815, and resigned from the army on December 31, 1819. April 15, 1829, Captain Vashon was appointed by the Secretary of War, Indian Agent for the Delaware, Shawnee, and other small tribes in Missouri. Upon the removal of Major E. W. du Val as Cherokee Agent, Captain Vashon was, on March 12, 1830, appointed to that office and afterward took up his residence at Fort Gibson. He held this agency until it was abolished and then was appointed sub-agent for the Cherokee and Seneca Indians, which post he held until his death, which occurred at the Seneca Agency on January 2, 1836. His remains were brought to Fort Gibson and buried with military honors. He was succeeded in office by Governor Stokes.)) not having arrived) or I would with great pleasure report to him and if necessary obtain from him a license to trade and as there is no one else authorized to grant a license, I now report to you and will await the arrival of Capt. Vashon.
“My situation is peculiar and for that reason I will take pains to obviate any difficulty arising from a supposed violation of the intercourse laws. I am a…”
Houston to Governor Joseph McMinn, February 15, 1823, Indian Office, Retired Classified Files, Cherokee Nashville. ↩
At the same time David Crockett and James K. Polk were elected to represent Tennessee in Congress. ↩
Guild, Joe C. Old Times in Tennessee, with Historical, Personal, and Political Scraps and Sketches, 269 ff. ↩
Arbuckle to Secretary of War July 23, 1830, enclosing Houston’s papers; Indian Office, Retired Classified Files, 1830 Cherokee West. Houston was at Fort Gibson in June 1829, and on the 24th of that month at the post wrote a letter to the Secretary of War recommending Colonel A. P. Chouteau to undertake to make treaties between the Osage and Pawnee, and volunteering to accompany him on the mission. ↩
John F. Hamtramck was born in Indiana and graduated from West Point July 1, 1819; at the age of sixteen he was a sergeant in Major Zachary Taylor’s expedition up the Mississippi River in 1814, and received his appointment as cadet for his good conduct in action, opposite the mouth of Rock River, Illinois, July 19, 1814, against seven hundred Sauk and Fox Indians, supported by British batteries. He was the son of Captain John F. Hamtramck, distinguished in the battle of Miami in 1794. Resigned March 1, 1822, and became a planter near Saint Louis. In May 1826, appointed United States Indian Agent for the Osage tribe and served until 1830; served in the Mexican War as colonel of Virginia volunteers; and was governor of Saltillo from March 8, to July 20, 1848; died April 21, 1858. ↩
Houston had written over the signature of Tah-lan-tuskee: “Cherokee Nation, Wigwam, Neosho, 23d December, 1830… Under the notice issued I made no offer, nor did I put in a bid. To say that Gen. Van Fossen did make a bid, I believe is true, but I was not in partnership with him in this bid.” The Advocate (Little Rock), Feb. 16, 1831, p. iii, cols. 1, 2. ↩
The Osage reserve on Grand River which Houston purchased from Colonel Chouteau, near the present site of Salina, Oklahoma. ↩
Arbuckle to Secretary of War, July 23, 1830, enclosing Houston’s letter. Indian Office, Retired Classified Files, 1830 Cherokees West. ↩