Arrival at Fort Coffee

The bell aroused us in the morning, at six o’clock, and we found ourselves the sole occupants of the building. It consisted of a single room, about twelve feet square, erected of small logs, “scotched down” with the broad-ax on the inside. The edifice was covered with “shakes,” had a rough, loose floor, two windows, a batten-door, and an outside chimney, built of clay and cobble-stones.

Having hastily made our toilet, we went directly to the breakfast-table, where we saw none but strange faces, not one of whom had we seen or heard of previous to that morning. We regretted to learn that Rev. W. H. Goode, three days before our arrival, had set out upon his journey through the Indian country north to Missouri river, and thence down the river and across the country home for his family. He had expected us at the mission before his departure, but, owing to the low stage of water in the Arkansas, we had been detained and delayed a number of days, rendering our journey tedious beyond our anticipations. We had been thirteen days on the way from Louisville to the Indian country, and yet exerting ourselves to the utmost to make a speedy trip. Ordinarily eight or nine days would have been sufficient for the journey. Had we not been favored with a rise of the river, caused by the melting of the snows upon the mountains, our boat could not have ascended higher than Little Rock, and we should have been forced to make the last three hundred miles of the travel in coaches, over the mountains and rocky wilderness. Those floods usually occur about the middle of June, sometimes almost a month later in the season; or, rather, there are frequently two summer floods, caused by the melting of the snows in different sections of the Rocky Mountains. The overflow of the Nile is not more certain than that of the Arkansas river.

We found the family to consist of Mr. C. Cotton and wife, and A. Shultz and wife. Mr. Cotton was employed as carpenter, and Mr. Shultz and wife as cook and housekeeper. There were a few other hands employed, from time to time, as necessity demanded. Having finished breakfast and worshiped together, for the first time, Mr. Cotton handed me the keys of the establishment, with the information that I was Superintendent of the mission and all its interests during the absence of Mr. Goode. The cabin in which all had slept proved to be the office. On opening the desk I found full, specific, and satisfactory information relating to every interest of the mission; the plans and the details of the work were given so clearly that we were not left in doubt or uncertainty with regard to what we should do to advance the work, and consummate the designs and purposes of the Superintendent. Strict method and studied accuracy we found to be characteristic of Mr. Goode. He was scrupulously correct in all that he did, keeping his accounts posted, his will made, and his work in the most intelligible manner possible. On setting out upon a long or perilous journey he would settle all his accounts, add the necessary codicil or explanatory note to his will, and so keep himself in readiness for whatever might befall him. It has never been my privilege to know one who labored more earnestly to be always in readiness for the final summons of his Master.

Our line of duty was plain; the work was fairly commenced, hands were employed, the estimates were made, and the most of the materials were procured. It devolved upon us to execute the plans, prosecute to its completion the work laid out, and have the buildings ready for occupancy when Mr. Goode and family should arrive, that the Academy might then be open for the reception of pupils. The time set for the return of the Superintendent was the first of November. To repair the old structures was no slight or insignificant labor. The doors and windows were so broken and damaged that new ones were required, all of which the carpenter must make; the painting and glazing were done by the Superintendent pro tempore; the chinks required to be filled anew with mortar, the rooms must be cleansed thoroughly, and the walls whitewashed with lime.

A new frame house was to be erected, thirty-eight feet in length, eighteen feet in width, and two stories in height. It was to have porches in front and rear, and a stone chimney at each end, with fireplaces above as well as below. The house was to be divided into rooms and finished for the accommodation of two families.

The growing crop of corn and vegetables required the entire labor of one hand. To keep matters mov­ing on smoothly and in the right direction was no ordinary task, in that country, where good and faithful hired hands are not easily procured. Where slavery exists it is exceedingly difficult to employ capable and reliable day laborers. To hire out as servants is degrading: hence good white men rarely consent to be employed. Scarcely any could be obtained except discharged soldiers In times of emergency we sometimes employed Indian men and slaves to do such work as required but little skill. They felt not the slightest obligation to earn their wages: hence we were forced to exercise a vigilant supervision or their services would not compensate for their food. They were quite deliberate in their movements and not easily aroused, but there was good service in them which we made available by dint of perseverance.

But in the prosecution of our work about the field and buildings of the mission we were frequently very sorely tried by the delinquencies and incompetence of the men employed. We were compelled to dismiss men, and run the risk of procuring others who should be more capable and faithful, and such changes frequently resulted in no advantage to the mission; they only subjected us to a repetition of our trials and perplexities.


Benson, Henry C. Life Among the Choctaw Indians and Sketches of the South-West. L. Swormstedt & A. Poe. 1860.

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