Irving Washington

Washington Irving at Fort Gibson, 1832

The McIntosh Creeks had been located along Arkansas River near the Verdigris on fertile timbered land which they began at once to clear, cultivate, and transform into productive farms. The treaty of 1828 with the Cherokee gave the latter a great tract of land on both sides of Arkansas River embracing that on which the Creeks were located. This was accomplished by a blunder of the Government officials, in the language of the Secretary of War, 1 “when we had not a correct knowledge of the location of the Creek Indians nor of the features of the country.” This situation produced much unhappiness and contention between the people of the two tribes. The Indians had other grievances, and the Creeks took the lead in calling the attention of the officials to their needs by the preparation of a memorial in which they complained of frequent attacks upon them by bands of wild Indians from the south and west of their location. They asked the Government to appoint a commission to meet with them for the redress of their wrongs, and to call a council of the different tribes for the adoption of measures to establish peace and security in their new home.

The Creek memorial and a long report by the Secretary of War on February 16, 1832, were transmitted to Congress by President Jackson, 2 who recommended that three commissioners be appointed as requested in the memorial, and recommended by the Secretary. It appeared from the report of the Secretary of War that there were then west of the Mississippi twenty-five hundred Creeks, six thousand Choctaw, thirty-five hundred Cherokee and three thousand Delaware.

The President’s recommendation was enacted into law by Act of Congress of July 14, 1832, providing for the appointment of three commissioners to examine the country west of the Mississippi set apart for the emigrating Indians; to help adjust difficulties between them concerning their boundaries and locations; to report on proper places for locating emigrating tribes; to compose difficulties with hostile Indians; and to report on the manner in which emigration of Indians had been conducted and recommend improvements. The commissioners with headquarters at Fort Gibson were to hold office for two years, and twenty thousand dollars was provided to carry the act into effect.

Montford Stokes

Montfort Stokes
Montfort Stokes

Commissions issued on the date of the act, 3 to Montford Stokes, 4 Governor of North Carolina, Governor William Carroll of Tennessee, and Roberts Vaux of Pennsylvania, as commissioners under the act. Governor Stokes accepted, but the others declined, Vaux for the reason that as he belonged to the religious order of Friends, he could not consistently assume the obligations implied by the military attachment which was to attend the commission. Reverend John F. Schermerhorn of Utica, New York, who had been a persistent applicant for appointment on the commission, was passed over until several others had declined it, when he was appointed along with Henry L. Ellsworth of Hartford, Connecticut. Colonel S. C. Stambaugh 5 was appointed Secretary at five dollars a day. On the date of the act, a letter 6 was addressed by the Secretary of War to Colonel A. P. Chouteau, requesting him to cooperate with the commission and give it the benefit of his extensive acquaintance and friendship with the Indians, and at the same time he wrote the Commissioners to consult freely with Chouteau and avail themselves of his information about the Indians. Captain William Armstrong 7 had been appointed on July 2, 1832, superintendent for the removal of the Choctaw. 8

During the Black Hawk War in Illinois, Congress passed an act, July 15, 1832, providing for a battalion of mounted rangers, to be composed of six companies of approximately one hundred volunteer officers and privates to each company, to serve for one year. Captain Jesse Bean of Tennessee raised a company in Arkansas, and made his rendezvous at Batesville the last of August, 9 taking up his march to Fort Gibson where he arrived September 14, and where his company, the first of the rangers at that post, was to attend the commissioners upon such duties as should be required of them. Bean was soon to meet one of the world’s greatest writers, whose coming to Fort Gibson was the result of a series of happenings that were then taking place in the east.

Mr. Ellsworth was the first of the commissioners to prepare for departure to Fort Gibson. He was planning to go by way of the Arkansas, but after learning from the Secretary of War that Colonel A. P. Chouteau was at Saint Louis, concluded to meet him there and return with him to Fort Gibson by way of the Missouri and Independence. He left Hartford August 20, by way of Lake Erie and the Ohio River, hoping by this northern route to avoid the cholera that was then raging further south.

Washington Irving

Irving Washington
Irving Washington

Washington Irving sailed from Havre for New York in the summer of 1832. On the same boat were Charles Joseph Latrobe, an Englishman, and Count de Portales of Switzerland, whom he had met in Europe. The three became friends and made several sight-seeing trips together after their arrival in New York. While traveling on Lake Erie, they met Ellsworth whom Irving described 10 as a very gentlemanly and amiable person, and an excellent traveling companion. And well he might think so, for in an excess of amiability Ellsworth invited the three of them to accompany him to Fort Gibson. They were delighted to accept the invitation, and were enthusiastic over the prospect of visiting this far western outpost of which the east was then hearing so much. And the “idea of traveling on horseback through the forests and prairies, camping in tents at nights, and hunting deer, buffaloes, and wild turkeys,” Irving wrote to his sister, strongly fascinated them. They arrived at Cincinnati September first, embarked on a boat there the third, changed at Louisville the next day, and arrived at Saint Louis on the eleventh. While there preparing for the overland journey, Irving went to Jefferson Barracks to see the prisoner Black Hawk, whom he described as an old man, upwards of seventy, emaciated and enfeebled by the sufferings he has experienced, and by a touch of cholera. They also drove out to see Governor Clark, “a fine, healthy, robust man, tall, about fifty, hair getting gray.”

Providing themselves with horses and a covered wagon for transporting their equipment, they purchased from the American Fur Company tents, bear skins, blankets, and other personal effects, and left Saint Louis on the fifteenth. Traveling on the north side of the Missouri to Franklin, they crossed the river above Boone’s Lick. As they neared Lexington they “met the long train of trappers, which annually crosses the great western desert toward New Mexico, returning from the Rocky Mountains and Santa Fe; their mules laden with skins for which they had dared that long and perilous pilgrimage. They were about seventy in number; men worn with toil and travel, bearing in their garb and on their persons evident marks of the adventurous passage of those immense prairies which lie to the westward. Seven of their number had fallen in combat with the Indians on their return.” 11

After nine days on horseback they reached Indpendence, then a straggling village five years old. But it was three days before the arrival of Ellsworth and a companion who had essayed the journey by steamboat which had grounded one hundred miles below Independence and forced the passengers to seek other methods of locomotion. The party consisting of Ellsworth, Latrobe, General Clark, 12 Irving, Chouteau, Portales, and Doctor O’Dwyer set off on the twenty-sixth. Some of them traveled in a dearborn wagon and others on horseback. They camped in the open except the nights spent at Harmony and Union missions and at Chouteau’s house. Their journey of twelve days to Fort Gibson was a succession of novel and interesting experiences.

Colonel Chouteau

The Territory Served by the Chouteaus
The Territory Served by the Chouteaus

Because of his many qualifications, by common consent Colonel Chouteau was looked to as the leader, and he was generally in the van; and the whole party was indebted to his courtesy and extensive information on every subject connected with the country and its inhabitants, for much of their comfort and entertainment. Among the Osage, whose principal trader he was, he possessed great influence; he had hunted, feasted, fought for and with them, and was considered by them as a chief and a brother. From him the travelers took their first lessons in hunting, camping and backwoods-man’s craft, accomplishments that had endowed him with the good health indicated by a fine physique and ruddy countenance.

They stopped at Colonel Chouteau’s house near the Grand Saline on Grand River. It was an imposing establishment in the midst of the wilderness where Chouteau lived with his Osage wife, Rosalie, by whom he had an interesting family of children. Surrounded by a retinue of colored and Indian retainers, he was the feudal lord of this whole country. A shrewd Indian trader, of dominating personality and great influence with the Indians, he lived a carefree life with all the luxury obtainable in the wilderness. His was a double log house with a large passage through the center from which a stairway ascended to the second story and the whole was covered with whitewash. A piazza extended across the front, with buffalo and bear skins draped over the railing, while one end was loaded with harness, where dogs and cats were sleeping together. One room, the treasure house of the establishment, contained his guns, rifles and traps.

In a large yard in front of the house a number of Indians were roasting venison under a tree; negroes, half-breeds, and squaws welcomed the distinguished visitors; negro girls ran about giggling, while others took and tethered the horses. Numerous dogs and pigs, hens flying and cackling, turkeys, geese, and ducks, all fat and happy, sounded a noisy welcome, making the scene one of animation and color.

They passed to their supper through the open hallway where Indians sat on the floor. And such a supper! Venison steak, roast beef, fricasseed wild turkey, bread, cake, wild honey, and coffee served by Masina, the half-breed sister of Rosalie, as curious Indians peered at them through the window. Chouteau was a lover of horses, and his establishment included a race-track a quarter of a mile from his house, on a level piece of prairie. And for the entertainment of his guests, his negro retainers rode and drove by the house a great number of horses. Chouteau’s children, together with those of his neighbor, John Rogers, were taught by Mr. B. H. Smith, a white man who wore a calico surcoat cut on Indian lines.

They visited the saline near the house of Mr. Rogers, set in the midst of a locust grove. On a hill above the house, where a Pawnee village formerly stood, they observed the holes in which the Pawnee cached their effects when they left on their hunting trips. They left the saline on the seventh, stopped over night at Union Mission, and arrived at the Creek Agency on the Verdigris the next day. Stopping long enough at the Agency to leave with General Campbell, the Creek Agent, the baggage of Latrobe and Portales, and passing through woods and canebrakes, they soon saw across Grand River the white fortifications and block-houses of Fort Gibson. Crossing in a scow, they arrived at the gate of the post where they were admitted by a neat looking sergeant, and passing by culprits in a pillory and others riding the wooden horse, they soon arrived at the log house of Colonel Arbuckle, whose guests they became.

The day after their arrival at Fort Gibson, Ellsworth reported to the Secretary of War and informed him of Irving’s presence with him. One of the first persons he met there was Samuel Houston. Ellsworth learned on his arrival that Colonel Arbuckle had no information concerning the coming of the commissioners, but knowing of the policy of the Government, had decided to send Captain Bean with his newly recruited company of rangers on a tour to the southwest to give the troops something to do, and incidentally overawe the wild Indians of that region with this new arm of the service. They had been gone but two days when Ellsworth and Irving arrived, and the former decided to join them, thinking that the best way to employ his time while waiting for the other commissioners. At his request, Colonel Arbuckle sent two Creek Indians to overtake the rangers, who were advancing up Arkansas River, and direct them to wait for the commissioner and Irving. Ellsworth wished to explore the country lying between the Canadian and Cimarron rivers, with a view to the location in that section of some of the tribes from the east.

While Latrobe wrote his impressions of this expedition, Irving’s account 13 is more graphic and detailed. Latrobe and Portales had planned to part from Irving at the Creek Agency and accompany the Osage on their buffalo hunt; but finding the Osage already gone, the commissioner was kind enough to invite them to go with him and the rangers, which they were glad to do.

Colonel Arbuckle detailed Lieutenant Joseph Pentecost of the rangers, in command of fourteen men of that company, as an escort for Ellsworth and his friends until they should overtake Captain Bean in command of the remainder of the company. On the morning of the tenth, accompanied to the Agency by Colonel Arbuckle and Governor Houston, Ellsworth and Irving left Fort Gibson, crossing Grand River in front of the post, and proceeded to the ford of the Verdigris just below the falls, where the Creek Agency was located. Crossing the Verdigris, they made their way to the Osage Agency, which consisted of a few log houses on the bank of the river, and presented a motley frontier scene. There they found Lieutenant Pentecost and his escort awaiting their arrival. The law under which the rangers were recruited made no provision for furnishing them anything but food and ammunition; the nature of their service being of the roughest, uniforms were dispensed with. Each provided his own horse, rifle and clothing. So it was a weird looking crew that greeted the sight of Irving and Ellsworth on the bank of the Verdigris. 14

“Some in frock-coats made of green blankets; others in leathern hunting-shirts, but the most part in marvelously ill-cut garments, much the worse for wear, and evidently put on for rugged service.

“Near by these was a group of Osage; stately fellows; stern and simple in garb and aspect. They wore no ornaments; their dress consisted merely of blankets, leggings, and moccasins. Their heads were bare; their hair was cropped close excepting a bristling ridge on the top, like the crest of a helmet, with a long scalp lock hanging behind.”

And there were Creeks also; dressed in calico hunting-shirts of various brilliant colors, decorated with bright fringes, and belted with broad girdles, embroidered with beads; with leggings of dressed deer skin, or of green or scarlet cloth with embroidered knee-bands and tassels; their moccasins were fancifully wrought and ornamented, and they wore gaudy hand-kerchiefs tastefully bound around their heads.

And there were many others in this striking picture on the bank of the Verdigris. Trappers, hunters, half-breeds, Creoles, negroes of every hue. The whole little settlement was in a bustle; the blacksmith’s shop was a scene of preparation; a strapping negro was shoeing a horse; two half-breeds were making iron spoons in which to melt lead for bullets. An old trapper in leathern hunting frock and moccasins, had placed his rifle against a work bench, while he superintended the operation, and gossiped about his hunting exploits; several large dogs were lounging in and out of the shop, or sleeping in the sunshine.

It was two o’clock when the notes of the bugle sounding through the great pecan and walnut trees lining the Verdigris River gave the signal for departure, and the cavalcade 15 took up its march through the country recently settled by the Mcintosh Creek Indians on the north side of Arkansas River; “thridding lofty forests, and entangling thickets, and passing by Indian wigwams and negro huts, until toward dusk we arrived at a frontier farm-house, owned by a settler of the name of Berryhill.” Passing northwest in the general direction now pursued by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad from Muskogee to Tulsa, it was three or four days before they overtook the larger body of rangers; after joining them they continued about thirty miles above where Tulsa is now located, and crossed Arkansas River above its confluence with the Cimarron, called by Irving the Red Fork. They ascended the Cimarron about eighty miles, then crossed it, and struggling through the Cross Timbers, arrived at the Canadian near the site of Oklahoma City. 16

After a month of adventure, hardships, and privations graphically described by Irving, their horses so nearly exhausted that the travelers were compelled to walk and lead them, they returned and arrived on the ninth day of November at noon, at a clearing on the bank of the Arkansas six miles above the Verdigris, and reached Creek Agency about sundown. The luxury of corn bread, sugar, salt, and log houses to sleep in was most alluring and the horses revelled in a return to a diet of corn and cane. Ellsworth and Irving left the agency the next morning for Fort Gibson, where they resumed their quarters with Colonel Arbuckle; Latrobe and Portales remained on the Verdigris.

At the post, Irving sketched a picture 17 of several bachelors languishing for the smile of Mrs. Nicks, 18 a plump buxom dame, the young widow of General John Nicks, the late sutler at the fort, who, at the age of fifty married her, had amassed a fortune of twenty thousand dollars and, recently dying, had multiplied the allurement of his wife. General Clark and Colonel Arbuckle both aspired to her favor. A lawyer named Lewis, with the militia title of Major had just made his appearance at the fort as aspirant, and occasioned some jealousy among the military men who all united against the intrusion of the visitor. The widow was serenaded by the “horrible drover’s voice of the quartermaster, that broke the sleep of men, women, and dogs throughout the fortress.”

Fort Gibson in 1875
Fort Gibson in 1875

The evening of their return, the steamboat Little Rock arrived at Fort Gibson, and Irving took passage on her for the return trip. At two o’clock the next day he boarded the boat at Fort Gibson, and as Colonel Arbuckle and the other officers bade him goodbye, the steamer slipped down the river to the Arkansas and turned up the Verdigris to the agency and trading post, to take on a cargo of freight. While waiting there he took tea with Latrobe and Portales who were to remain two weeks longer. There he noted Creek Indians crossing the river in canoes and leading their horses, while other Indians were lying about the banks. And after he came aboard again the boat dropped down a mile below the agency, where she tied up in the still, deep water under the great trees that almost touched across the river; and from there he watched the night come and the gleam of sky along the water between the lines of trees that fringed each bank gave way to the light of the moon rising among the trees. There was a large consignment of merchandise to unload, and furs, peltry, pecans and other produce to take on, and it was six o’clock in the morning before the boat got under way. And as in the early light they headed into the beautiful dawn, they passed fires on the banks around which Indians were moving; a canoe was fastened to a bush near by; streaming flocks of wild ducks passed over them, and pigeons in clouds rising from the sandbars where they went to drink and pick up gravel. Other clouds of pigeons were flying over the trees. Passing down the Arkansas River, they stopped to land Mr. Brown, a Creek Indian and trader, at his place opposite the mouth of the Illinois. Crossing the river, they landed for wood, while passengers went ashore to shoot pigeons. Their boat arrived at Little Rock on the thirteenth, and left the next day for the mouth of the Arkansas.

Latrobe and Portales remained at the agency on the Verdigris and employed their time shooting the prairie chickens that came in countless thousands from all points of the compass to sleep at a favored spot on the prairie. A shot from the gun caused them to rise in thousands, and the sound of their wings could be heard for a great distance. After rising, for about half an hour they would crowd scattered trees on the edge of the prairie by hundreds at a time. On the twenty-third of November, Latrobe and Portales departed in a thirty-five-foot canoe for their six hundred-mile voyage to the mouth of the Arkansas, with two ex-soldiers to manipulate the boat.

Captain Bean’s company of rangers went into quarters in a rich and retired nook on Grand River, about six miles above Fort Gibson, where they built themselves huts for the winter. In December, two more companies of rangers arrived at Fort Gibson, and went into similar quarters nearer to the fort, called Camp Arbuckle. One of these companies was under Captain Nathan Boone, a son of Daniel Boone, and the other was commanded by Captain Lemuel Ford. These companies brought the number of troops at Fort Gibson to eight hundred.

When Ellsworth returned to Fort Gibson his associates on the commission had not reached there, and it was December before Reverend J. T. Schermerhorn arrived on the steamboat Spy, and Colonel S. C. Stambaugh, Secretary, came on the steamboat Volant. In the early part of February, 1833, Governor Stokes arrived on the steamboat Arkansas, a new boat of one hundred twenty tons.

While Ellsworth was waiting for his associates, he reported to the Secretary of War. 19 He wrote that availing himself of an unexpected steamboat, Mr. Irving had secured passage and left immediately for Washington on his way to New York. “He assured me he will call and see you and inform you generally of some matters of interest respecting this country.”

On his arrival at Fort Gibson, the secretary of the commission not having arrived, Ellsworth offered the position temporarily to Mr. Irving. Irving declined the appointment as it would detain him from his literary pursuits; but although he probably would not accept the pay of secretary in full, Ellsworth said, “he will accept and receive I trust enough to cover his expenses which are more in consequence of losing a horse which he purchased for the occasion.” Ellsworth purchased for the Government from Mr. Irving his saddle and stirrups, bridle, pair of mackinaw blankets, a large bear skin and an Indian mat, for the sum of thirty dollars. This act of ready accommodation formed part of the basis for charges that were afterward made against Ellsworth. Five thousand Choctaw were crossing Arkansas on their way to their new home in the West, and Ellsworth reported that cholera had broken out among them in the vicinity of Little Rock. But he was able to report that the Cherokee had twenty-five thousand and the Creeks fifty thousand bushels of surplus corn that would be available for feeding the emigrant Indians.

Foreman, Grant. Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co. 1926.

Search Military Records - Fold3
  1. U.S. House, Executive Documents, 22d congress, first session, no. 116, President’s Message submitting the memorial of the Creek Indians.[]
  2. Ibid, Message of President Jackson.[]
  3. Cass to Carroll, Stokes and Vaux, July 14, 1832, Indian Office Letter Book, no. 9, p. 32ff.[]
  4. Montford Stokes was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1760. Entered the merchant service when very young and left it in 1776 to enlist in the Continental Navy under Commodore Stephen Decatur. Captured by the British before he had served a year and held on a prison ship in New York harbor. After the war Stokes returned to North Carolina, and from 1786 to 1790 he was assistant clerk of the State Senate, where he was very popular. Elected to United States Senate but declined. In 1816 he was again elected senator, this time in place of James Turner who had resigned, and he took his seat in the Senate on December 16, 1816; at the expiration of his term, reelected and served until March 3, 1823. Served as state senator from 1826 to 1829 and from then as state representative. He was elected governor of his state in 1830 and served until he resigned to accept the appointment given him by Andrew Jackson as commissioner to the Indians west of the Mississippi River which brought him to Fort Gibson.

    Stokes was trustee of the University of North Carolina from 1805 to 1838 and for part of the time was president of the board. In 1830 he was president of the board of visitors to West Point. He was the father of several children one of whom, Major Montford S. Stokes served with distinction in the war with Mexico. Governor Stokes fought a duel at Mason’s old field near Salisbury with General Jesse D. Pierson and was severely wounded.[]

  5. Stambaugh was editor of the Pennsylvania Reporter published at Harrisburg, when he was appointed Indian agent at Green Bay in 1830.[]
  6. Cass to Chouteau, July 14, 1832, Indian Office, Letter Book, no. 9, p. 42 ff.[]
  7. William Armstrong of Nashville, Tennessee, on the death of his brother Major Francis W. Armstrong succeeded him as Choctaw agent and acting superintendent for the Western Territory. December 26, 1843, Captain Armstrong was confirmed by the Senate as superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Western Territory, which office he held until his death at Doaksville, near Fort Towson, June 12, 1847.[]
  8. On July 29, 1832, an act of Congress provided for the appointment by the President, by and with the consent of the Senate of a commissioner of Indian Affairs to act under the Secretary of War.[]
  9. Arkansas Gazette, (Little Rock), August 8, 1832, p. 3, col. 2. Joseph Pentecost was first-lieutenant, Robert King second-lieutenant, and George Caldwell, third-lieutenant. They were delayed on the road by an epidemic of measles but arrived at Fort Gibson September 14, 1832. They were immediately mustered into the service and on October 6, departed for the west on the expedition that was joined by Washington Irving (Arbuckle to Jones, Adjutant-general, September 15, 1832, 167 A. 1832).[]
  10. Irving, Pierre M., The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, vol. iii, 34.[]
  11. Latrobe, Charles Joseph. The Rambler in North America, vol. i, 103.[]
  12. William Clark, the brother of George Rogers Clark, who conquered the Northwest during the Revolutionary War, and the associate of Meriwether Lewis on the famous transcontinental expedition of 1803-06, was born in Virginia in 1770. He entered the army in 1792, and shared in several western campaigns, notably that of Wayne in 1794-95. In 1796 he left the service on account of ill health, and became a hunter and trapper. After the expedition to the Pacific coast, Clark was stationed at Saint Louis as Indian Agent and Brigadier-general of Militia. In 1813 he became governor of the Missouri Territory, which at first included Arkansas. Upon the admission of Missouri to statehood, he was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs, and remained at Saint Louis in this capacity until his death in 1838. – Thwaites, op. cit., vol. xiii, 134, n.[]
  13. Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies. Hudson Edition, The Crayon Miscellany.[]
  14. Irving, Washington. Op. cit., 28.[]
  15. They were accompanied by a captive Wichita woman, probably living with the Osage, whom they intended to use as an interpreter.[]
  16. Colonel Arbuckle had ordered Bean (Arbuckle to Jones, Adjutant-general’s office 184 A. 1832), to ascend Little Red (Cimarron) River, sixty miles and then to proceed due south to Red River, thence down that stream to the mouth of the Washita then northeast to the waters of L’eau Bleu (Blue River) which he was to ascend to the western borders of the Cross Timbers thence north to North Fork of Canadian, and northeast to Fort Gibson. But the hardships of the undertaking prevented their compassing more than half the task set for them; and after reaching a point near where is now Oklahoma City and engaging in the buffalo hunt described by Irving they abandoned further progress toward the south and turned their steps toward Fort Gibson.[]
  17. Trent, William P. and George S. Hellman., op. cit., vol. iii, 169.[]
  18. On January 1, 1832, the day after the death of General Nicks, Colonel Arbuckle appointed his widow, Sally, sutler at the post (Adjutant-general’s office, Old Records Division 5 N. 32, order no. 2), until she could dispose of the ten thousand dollars worth of goods left by her husband. And thus she probably became the first business woman within what is now Oklahoma. She was married December 3, 1835, to Robert S. Gibson, a merchant and postmaster at Fort Gibson to which post he had succeeded General Nicks.[]
  19. Ellsworth to Cass, November 18, 1832. Indian Office, Retired Classified Files, 1S32 Western Superintendency.[]

1 thought on “Washington Irving at Fort Gibson, 1832”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top