Contraband Traffic

The proper authorities have made laudable efforts to keep intoxicating liquors out of the Indian territory, and with a good degree of success. The Indian superintendents and agents were invested with authority in the premises. No one could lawfully carry intoxicating liquors into any of the border tribes; and if a man should be found over the line with liquors in his possession, it was regarded as prima facie evidence of guilt, and any one was authorized to seize the contraband article, break open the casks, and pour the liquors out upon the ground. The technical language of the Indians in such case was “to spill the whisky.”

This regulation operated rather oppressively upon the military officers who were stationed at forts west of the state lines. Steamboats were examined at Fort Smith, and no rum, brandy, or wines were permitted to go any further up the river. They ingeniously managed for a time to evade the law, by fastening casks of spirits under the keels of the boats till they had crossed the border, and then the liquors were brought on board again. After that artifice had been detected the officers at Fort Gibson were compelled to resort to another stratagem to procure the all important supply of rum and champagne. They would purchase their liquors at Van Buren, and have them carried across the Cherokee country in wagons, under the special care of a subaltern, who was careful to avoid any of the agents. That arrange­ment did admirably for some time; it was regarded as a decided success. But owing to the cavalier conduct of some of the army officers toward the Cherokees in the vicinity of the Fort, the latter determined to annoy them by intercepting and cutting off their supplies of liquors. Having ascertained that a cargo of choice liquors were on the road between Van Buren and Fort Gibson, they marshaled a force sufficiently strong to take forcible possession of it. Having stationed themselves at a point where it must pass, they patiently waited its arrival. At length the team came, in the hands of a careful driver, preceded by a pompous sergeant. The Cherokee captain hailed the teamster with the inquiry, “What is the character of your freight?” “Pork, beef, flour, and beans,” was the reply. “No doubt of it,” said the Cherokee; “but it becomes our duty to examine for ourselves.” Here the sergeant expostulated, and insisted that they am an officer of the army, and I command you to let this wagon pass!” The Cherokee retorted with much dignity, “I, too, am an officer, and can not suffer the laws of my country to be violated with impunity.” They then proceeded to examine the load, which consisted solely of liquors all of which were immediately rolled out. The sergeant protested, raved, and swore, but to no purpose. The Cherokee captain was inflexible, and, with mock sympathy, replied, “We are very sorry, indeed; this is unpleasant business; but then the law is clear, and we are forced to do our duty the liquor must be spilled!” And taking a hatchet, they bursted every cask and broke every bottle, leaving the earth to drink in the intoxicating beverages, while the poor officers at the Fort had nothing but cold water to quench their raging thirst.

How matters were subsequently compromised I did not learn; but the Indians, doubtless, dictated the terms of the treaty.



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

Search Military Records - Fold3

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