Biography of John L. McCoy

John L. McCoy is a half-breed Cherokee, and has for more than fifty years figured conspicuously in the affairs of that nation, having held many positions of trust and honor, reflecting credit on himself and his people. He is eminently a self-made man, having enjoyed but limited educational advantages in his youth. At the age of nineteen he was placed by his father in a store, where he remained one year, during which time, by dint of determined perseverance, he mastered, with but little assistance, the rudiments of an English education. His principal textbook was Webster’s blue-back speller. Of strong will, of fine natural endowments and firm, unflinching integrity, he was, even as a young man, recognized as a leader among his people, and each succeeding year brought with it fresh honors and new triumphs.

In 1835, just prior to the New Echota treaty, he, with a large part of his tribe, moved to the Indian Territory. By this treaty the Cherokees ceded to the Government all their lands east of the Mississippi 8,000,000 acres, for which they were to receive $5,990,000. Besides this, the Government appropriated July 2, 1836, $600,000; in 1838, $1,047,067, to pay off spoliations, reservations, pre-emptions, removal and subsistence. In 1842 John McCoy was first delegated by the old settler party to prosecute their claim against the Government. In 1847 he was sent to Washington, alone, with instructions to remain until the work was consummated and final settlements made. After a sojourn of three years at the capital, the Government decided on the sum of $419,000 with a 5 per cent interest. Mr. McCoy’s arduous efforts were thus far rewarded, the bill being carried after a nearly all night session by a majority of one vote. When the result of the vote was made known to Mr. McCoy, the Washington Chronicle says that he gave a “King Indian yell” which resounded through the corridors of the capital. But there was still a balance of $1,333,333 and interest until date a 5 per cent, due the old settlers in 1875, and Mr. McCoy the same year called a council to establish the claim. The council convened and appointed three delegates to visit Washington and prosecute the matter before Government. John L. McCoy, Joseph M. Bryant and William Wilson were the individuals chosen, each borrowing from the nation the sum of $1,200 to defray expenses. After an absence of three weeks Mr. Wilson returned, leaving the affair in the hands of McCoy and Bryant. Then arose a difference of opinion between these delegates. Bryant wanted to have the matter adjusted by the court of claims, and McCoy according to the treaty of 1846. The result is (according to Mr. McCoy’s own statement) that Bryant has been visiting Washington ever since without securing any money for his people, but at the same time putting them to enormous expense, having (says Mr. McCoy) already contracted away, perhaps, nearly half of the principal. The treaty of 1846 declares that none of the moneys due the people shall be paid to liquidate any debt, but shall be paid directly to whom it is due. Mr. McCoy has been doing his utmost to awaken the old settlers to these facts, and they know the state of affairs. NOW LET THEM ACT.

The Washington Chronicle dated February 8, 1885, gives a lengthy sketch of Mr. McCoy and contains two engravings of that gentleman, one taken in 1848 and the other in 1885, while in his seventy-third year. It is quite interesting to hear the enthusiastic, yet thoroughly refined, old gentleman describe the strange and thrilling history of the old settlers, the Tom Starr war, and the amnesty of 1846, in which he himself represented the old settlers. He is now living with is daughter, Mrs. Emma Hanks, widow of the late Calvin Hanks, at her beautiful home near Webber’s Falls, and he is a happy man among his grand-children, in whose musical accomplishments he takes his greatest pride.


Indian Territory,

O'Beirne, Harry F. and Edward S. The Indian Territory: Its Chiefs, Legislators, and Leading Men. St. Louis. 1898.

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