Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans, by Thomas James

Chapter 7

We start for home--A stampedo--Loss of a hundred horses--Interview with a Chief and his tribe--Pursued by Indians--Passage through the Cross Timbers--Death of horses by flies--Night travelling--Arrival at the Arkansas--Death of horses by the Feresy--Loss of skins and robes by embezzlement--Start for home--Breakfast with a Cherokee Chief--James Rogers--An old Cherokee--Interview with Missionaries--Arrival at home--Troubles from debt--An emergence at last--Conclusion.

AFTER PARTING with these simple children of nature, we prepared for our departure homeward. On the next day after packing up the goods, we abandoned the Fort and began to descend the river in perogues and by land, with the horses. Those in the boats who started before the others with the horses, were to stop at the unfinished Fort one hundred miles below, and there await them. I travelled by land with the horses and met with no occurrence worth mentioning till the second day. Then commenced a series of misfortunes and unavoidable accidents, which continued till I reached the settlements, and which destroyed all hope of profit from the adventure, and the consequences of which, have weighed upon me to this day with a crushing weight. As we travelled along the north bank of the river, a small herd of buffalo suddenly rushed out from the river bank on our left, before the horses and frightened many of them into a stampedo as the Spaniards call the thundering sound of their stamping, flying hoofs on the prairie. A few of the men rode after them and succeeded in turning them back; but their shouts and use of the whips gave them another fright and they returned in a stampede among the drove, and thus spread the panic among them. About one hundred ran off at a furious rate, on the route of the river by which we had come. Placing the best rider in my company on Checoba, I ordered him to try his best speed and bottom in the pursuit. He started and ran sixteen miles, where he headed the flying horses that had become mingled with a wild drove, and he was driving them all before him and Checoba, when a rattlesnake bit the noble animal on the fore foot. Checoba immediately sickened and was brought back with great difficulty. On the following morning his foot and leg were swelled, and he was very lame and weak. I placed him in mud and water where he stood for several hours, when the swelling subsided and he was much relieved. By this accident I lost all the horses which ran off in the stampedo, and Checoba was materially injured for life. I remained till the next morning, when Checoba was able to travel, and I started with him in advance of the company. Soon after crossing a small branch, I saw an Indian about two hundred yards ahead in the prairie, who riding onto a high mound, hailed me with the word Tabbaho? As I replied, yes. I perceived several Indians approaching me from the prairie and my company behind, also observed them. McKnight and Adams hastened to reach me before the Indians, who came up friendly, and spoke to us in the Spanish language. As we three spoke Spanish, they took us for Spaniards, and said that they were of the Caddo tribe, who were in alliance with the Camanches. Some of the latter tribe and a number of Towashes were in their party, which they said was on its march behind them. They had just come out of a battle with the Osages, by whom they had been defeated, and were proceeding to tell us of the battle when I observed a party of about two hundred Indians coming towards us and also noticed a small grove a short distance before us. I ordered my party to hasten forward to this grove and occupy it in advance of the Indians. As they drove the horses forward, the rope which held the pack on a horse, which I had brought from home with me, got loose and was trod on by the horses behind, which pulled the pack under his belly. He started forward, kicking and pitching until he had got rid of his load, and then returned at full speed among the drove, which broke into another stampede. Off they flew, and many of them ran entirely out of sight on the level prairie, with the speed of birds on the wing. I lost about thirty in this flight. We reached the grove at the same time with the Indians, who then discovered us to be Americans and not Spaniards, which greatly displeased some. The Chief, however, was friendly. An Indian took up and examined McKnight's gun, which he had left leaning against a tree, and riding into the crowd, brandished it over his head, exclaiming that we had stolen the horses; that they ought to take them from us and kill us. The old Chief ordered him to be silent, and he said if they would not kill us he would go and bring men who would do so, and started off in a gallop towards the Canadian with McKnight's gun. Many of the Indians charged us with having stolen Checoba from Alasarea the Towash, and seemed to believe the charge, and to consider us thieves who had been preying upon their countrymen. One who appeared to be the most blood thirsty, shot an arrow into the side of one of their own horses near the lights. The horse bounded forward and fell dead. This act excited them to the highest pitch, and the old Chief had great difficulty in protecting us from an attack; by an harangue and a decisive course he at length assuaged their animosity and excitement. Their late defeat by the Osages had embittered their minds, and pre-disposed them to view us with suspicion. Seven men among them carried wounds received in the late battle, and by request of the Chief I dressed these wounds with salve and sticking plaster. While I was thus engaged, I sent the men forward a short distance, when they awaited me with their rifles ready to return the fire of the Indians. But they parted with us peaceably, and the Chief with great cordiality entreated me to return to his country and trade with his tribe. We want, said he, the friendship and trade of the Americans. I always observed that the most sagacious and far-seeing of the Camanche Chieftains sincerely desired the friendship and alliance of the Americans. A proper course towards them will make them our fast friends and most valuable allies. An opposite one will render them most deadly and dangerous enemies, and especially so in the event of a war with England. A course of justice, fairness and liberality is the only judicious one; and in dealing with them, the greatest tact and much knowledge of Indian character is requisite for success in gaining their confidence and securing their lasting esteem and friendship. The Pawnees and all the tribes west of the Osages, called by the national name of Camanches, are all of the same original tribe, though bearing various names, and all speak the same language. They are in the strictest alliance with each other, and could probably muster a force of forty or fifty thousand warriors at the time I was among them. The United States should provide against the consequences of their hostility.

After parting from the Caddo Chief, I sent the company with the horses forward, and remained behind with McKnight to watch against pursuit by the Indians. Finding that we were not followed, we hastened on and overtook the rest of the company, and all reached the unfinished Fort in the afternoon, where we found the perogues and swivel in charge of the men who had brought them down the river and were awaiting us according to arrangement. We travelled on in company till night fall, when the land party crossed the river at a bend and encamped with the others in a grove. We carefully secured our horses. On the following morning, as we issued from the timber into the prairie, a dead buffalo cow was seen with her calf standing near her. We soon saw another cow lately killed by a party evidently in pursuit of us. We travelled in company with the perogues, that we might have the benefit of the swivel in case of an attack. In the Cross Timbers, which we reached in four or five days after leaving the last mentioned Fort; we again parted company with the perogues and struck out into the prairie. Here we soon afterwards observed a herd of buffalo running rapidly with their tongues hanging out of their mouths, and also, eight Indians mounted, who did not perceive us. In three days we passed the Cross Timbers and reached the long-grass prairies on the east of them. Here the horse flies were so numerous and ravenous as nearly to destroy the horses which were frequently covered entirely by them. Many of the horses died and all were wasting away under the inflictions of these venomous insects. To avoid them, we travelled only by night and slept by day. I took the direction by guess and in eight days, or rather, nights, we struck the Arkansas just five miles below the three forks, where Fort Gibson now stands, and the point which I was aiming to reach. I went up to the forks where Barbour's trading establishment was then situated and there obtained a canoe. Barbour, I afterwards learned, had died in New Orleans, whither he started with my keel boat on my outward trip. We travelled down the Arkansas to the mouth of the Canadian, and found the rest of my company with the perogues, awaiting us at the Salt works. Here I took an account of my stock, and found that out of three hundred and twenty-three horses and mules which I had purchased of the Indians and started with for home, I had lost by flies and stampedos, just two hundred and fifty-three, leaving but seventy-one now in my possession. These I allowed to rest one day, and on the next day lost five of them by a disease called the Feresy, which causes a swelling of the breast and belly and generally terminates fatally. On the day and night following, eight or ten more of the horses died and about twenty were sick with the disease. I was too anxious for my family and too desirous of seeing them to delay my departure any longer. Here, at the mouth of the Illinois River, a branch of the Arkansas, and near the mouth of the Canadian, I left the few horses and mules remaining, and the perogue containing the skins and robes, in charge of Adams & Denison. I never saw them again and lost all--horses and mules, beaver skins and buffalo robes. I returned home with five horses; just the same number I had started out with. Most of them died, and those that lived were never accounted for to me. The skins and robes were sold by James Adams, at Eau-Post, in Arkansas, on the river of that name, and the whole proceeds, amounting to a large sum of my money, were embezzled by him, the said Adams. He had been employed by McKnight and was unknown to me. In every respect, pecuniarily and otherwise, this was a most unfortunate venture. I lost by it my best and dearest friend, John McKnight, and all the money I had invested in it, with the vain hope of being thereby set free from debt and made an independent man. The object was a great one, and the risk proportionately great. I lost all that I had set upon the stake and was still more deeply involved than before. A dreary future lay ahead, but I determined to meet and struggle with it like a man.

Leaving the river, in company with twelve men, some afoot and some with horses, we directed our course for the Cherokee country. We found no game and for several days all suffered severely from hunger. We at length approached the Cherokee settlements; and I went forward alone promising the men to have a meal prepared for them at the house of John Rogers, a half breed Cherokee Chief. When in sight of his place I met Rogers and told him I wanted breakfast for myself and twelve men; that I had been among the Camanches trading, and that my company was coming up nearly starved. He replied that his tribe had been at war that year, with the Osages and had raised but a small crop, and that he had to pay one dollar per bushel for his bread "But," said he, "I will get you something to eat," and entering his house, requested his wife to prepare breakfast for twelve men, and with a smile, "twelve hungry men at that." I noticed in his house, all the usual furniture of our best farmers, and he was evidently living well and comfortably. The men came up, and by their rough exteriors, long beards and hair, lantern jaws and lank bodies, they strongly impressed me with the idea of a gang of famished wolves. They glared at Mrs. Rogers, while she was getting their breakfast, like so many cannibals, and had she not been very quick in appeasing their appetites, I cannot swear but that they would have eaten her up. She, the good woman, squaw though she was, exerted herself in our behalf like an angel of mercy, and in a miraculously short time she set before us a noble meal of bacon, eggs, corn bread, milk and coffee; there was enough for us all and we arose filled, leaving some on the table, not from politeness but from inability to eat any more. Well Mr. Rogers, said I, what shall I pay you for our breakfast. 'What," said he, laughing, "would be the use of charging men who have just come out of the woods and cannot possibly have any money." No, said I, I am not begging my way; I will pay you with goods that I have. I then drew out my stock and sold him twelve dollars' worth, after paying for our meal. The father and sister of Rogers now came in and talked with us some time. The father, who was a white man, said that his son John killed the first Indian at the battle of the Horse-shoe, where both served on the side of the Americans under Jackson. "The Creeks," said he, "always fight till death. It takes one Cherokee for every Creek, and of the whites a little more than one for one." Both father and son spoke in the highest terms of Gen. Jackson, as a man, a soldier and a commander.

I requested provisions to subsist us till we could get a supply, and obtained from him sufficient to carry us to Matthew Lyon's trading house at the Spadre. Below this is a large Missionary station, which we were informed was well supplied with flour and meat, of which a boat load for their use had lately arrived. "If you find the missionaries in good humor," said Mrs. Rogers, "and do not go on the Lord's Day, you will be able to get some provisions, but not without. I was down at the station last week on Saturday and staid over Sunday. A Cherokee woman came in on Sunday from Piney, twenty miles above on the river, with some chickens to buy some sugar and coffee for a poor woman who had been lately confined. I interpreted for the woman, and went to brother Vail and told him what the woman wanted. I don't deal with the females, said he; you must go to sister----. We went to the sister that brother Vail had named, and she told me that they neither bought nor sold on the Lord's Day. Then take the chickens as a gift said I, and give the woman what she wants. We neither give nor take on the Lord's Day, said she, and the poor woman had to go back with her chickens, and so I advise you not to go to the Missionaries on the Lord's Day." I could hardly believe that bigotry and fanaticism could go so far as this, until I found by experience, when I reached the station, that their meanness was fully equal to all I had heard. We left the hospitable house of the Cherokee Chief with many thanks and proceeded on our way. At a short distance from the Spadre, I was riding alone in advance of the company, when I met a gentlemanly and intelligent halfbreed Cherokee, of whom I enquired if I could procure provisions at that place. He said I could not, but invited me to alight and take breakfast with him. There are too many of us said I, twelve beside myself. This did not daunt him and he immediately extended his invitation to all, and the whole company accordingly entered his house and partook of an excellent breakfast, such as that which his brother had furnished us two days before. This man was James, the brother of John Rogers, and lived like him in comfort and elegance. His wife was a handsome half-breed, whom I presented with some articles of dress, against the wish of her husband, who refused all pay for our breakfast. He purchased of me goods to the amount of fiteen dollars and paid me the money for them. We passed the Spadre that morning, where I saw the grave of Matthew Lyon, a man who made a considerable figure in politics in the Alien and Sedition times of John Adams. "After life's fitful fever he sleeps well." At Piney I saw a number of Indians, and enquired of them for provisions. We are hungry said I, and have nothing to eat. A negro woman said they were starving themselves and could not help us to any thing. I told the man we should be compelled to fast until we reached Weber's or the Missionaries. An old Indian who stood behind me during this colloquy, caught hold of my arm as I started on, and with a sharp enquiring look into my eyes, exclaimed, "nothing! nothing to eat?" Nothing at all said I. Come with me said he. I followed him about one hundred yards up the bank of a creek where he turned up a hollow and entered a cabin under the brow of a hill: going to the chimney he took from within it a stick holding three pieces of bacon and gave me two of them. I offered him money. "No, said he, I take no money, but when you meet a hungry Cherokee share with him whatever you have, as I have shared with you." Such conduct as this, thought I, is practical Christianity, call it by what name you please. Parting with this warmhearted Indian, we hastened on toward the Missionary station, which we reached the next day. This was situated on the north side of the river, and was composed of about one hundred persons, old and young, who occupied some twenty buildings arranged in a square. Here we hoped to obtain a full supply of provisions, being informed that one hundred barrels of pork and one hundred and fifty barrels of flour had lately arrived for the use of the Missionaries and their families. Entering the town I enquired for and found the head of the concern, named Vail, laid before him our destitute condition and misfortunes in the Camanche country, and asked him for provisions enough to last us to the settlements on the Little Red, seventy miles below. "Well, said he, I will speak to brother such a one about it," and went away for that purpose. Another man soon came up and asked me how much we wanted. I replied, about one hundred pounds of flour and fifty of pork. "Well I vow and declare, I don't know how we shall be able to spare it; how much would you be willing to give?" Any reasonable price said I; what do you ask? We are suffering from hunger and must have provisions. He left me, saying he would see brother Vail about it and I waited an hour without seeing either of them. I then searched out brother Vail and repeated my request for provisions. He vowed and declared that he did not think they had more than enough "to do them the year round." I then asked for one half the quantity I had named before. 'We have a very large family, and if we should get out we could not get any more from the settlements." I said that what little we wanted would not make more than one meal for his family, and he could easily procure a new supply to prevent any suffering. "Well, said he, what would you be willing to give?" Set your own price on your property, said I, and I will give it, as I cannot do without provisions. He then went away, saying he would see the others, naming them. Robert McKnight now came from the blacksmith's shop, where he had got his mule shod on the fore feet and had been charged for that service the sum of two dollars. We concluded that they knew the price of horse-shoes, if not of flour and pork. Again I sought out the "brethren," Vail and the other, reiterated to them our wants, and requested relief as before: the eternal question was again put, what would you be willing to give? Any thing that you choose to ask said I. "We do not think we can spare any provisions," said one. They were waiting for a bid, and I determined not to huckster with the canting hypocrites, nor gratify them by paying an outrageously exhorbitant pace, which they were expecting to get from my necessities. Without further parley I left them and went up to the bakery of the Station, where some of my company were trying to get some bread. I offered to pay for whatever they could sell. "No, we can't sell any thing without brother Vail's permission. I offered to buy two or three bushels of fragments of bread, which I noticed on the table in a corner. 'We use them in soups and for puddings and do not waste any thing." My men were now furious and ready to take possession of the bakery and divide it out among them. With great difficulty I restrained them from this act. I told them they would render us all infamous in the settlements as robbers of Missionaries, those holy men of God; that we should be regarded with horror by all, wherever we went, if we preyed upon these lamb-like and charitable christians. I told them we must go on and trust to Providence. "What!" said McKnight, "travel on without provisions when there are plenty of them here. I will have some if need be by force." I at length prevailed on them to start without committing any depredation. When leaving the town, I saw Vail at a distance, rode up to him asked, what are you doing here? "We are instructing the Indians in the Christian religion." I think, said I, you might learn some of the principles of your religion from the Indians themselves. An old Cherokee yesterday gave me two out of three pieces of meat which he had, and refused pay for them in money. He told me to do the same by a Cherokee should I meet one in want. Here you are afraid to put a price on your flour and meat for fear of not charging enough. You wish me to name an exhorbitant pace. You wish to make the most out of me and you shall make nothing. He was saying that charity began at home, he must provide for his own household and so forth, as I left him in disgust with his meanness and hypocrisy. We now left the river and bore eastwardly, and that evening killed a turkey, upon which we lived two days and a half, when we reached Little Red River, where we procured an excellent dinner, and a supply of food from a settler whose name I forget. This was the first meal we had eaten, sufficient to break our fasts, since we had left James Rogers' house, five days before.

From this place I hastened home without any occurrence of note. My family was sick when I arrived, and my creditors soon became more clamorous than ever: each endeavored to anticipate the others, and the executive officers of all the Courts, from the United States District Court down to those of Justices of the Peace, swarmed around me like insects in August. I gave up all my property, even the beds upon which my children were born, and after all was sold, though the officers supposed there was enough to satisfy the judgments against me, there yet remained a large amount still due. The whole is now paid: in the twenty years which have intervened, I discharged all my debts on account of these two expeditions of which the narration is now closed. I lost by them about the sum of twelve thousand dollars, and after all the hardships I had endured, found myself poorer than ever. The reader has been told how I incurred these losses, most of which were, perhaps, under the circumstances, to have been expected. I was the first American that ever went among the Camanches for the purpose of trading. Before my first trip among them, their name was unknown to our people: the Americans called them Pawnees and knew them only by that name. They were then wilder and more ignorant of our power than now, when they have probably learned that we do not all live in one village, and derived from their kindred tribe, the Pawnees, and other neighbors, a tolerably correct indea of our strenth and numbers. Traders would now run very little risk of the robberies which I suffered from them, and probably none at all of being killed in time of peace. The trade would now be profitable; equally so as when I was among them, and from the greater cheapness of goods a greater profit could be made, while the dangers would be far less. Were it not for advancing age, I should repeat the adventures, notwithstanding their unfortunate issues heretofore. Age, however, forbids any farther attempts to retrieve my fortune in this manner. I have been enabled through the real friendship of a brother to support my family and give my children the rudiments and foundation of an education; which, though not such as I would have given them had better fortune attended me, is sufficient, if properly improved, to enable them to go through the world with honor and usefulness. I have uniformly endeavored to instil in their minds principles of integrity and republicanism; and for myself, to bequeath, as the richest inheritance I could leave them, a good example and an unsullied name. With strong bodies and habits of labor, with honor and intelligence, they will succeed in a country of liberty and equal rights to all. I have always been true to my country, and uniformly studied to advance the interests of my countrymen in all my transactions with the savages and Spaniards; and I have my reward in the satisfaction derived from a consciousness and patriotic discharge of duty on all occasions. At the age of sixty-three, with broken health, I feel none of the peevishness of age; I look forward cheerfully and hopefully on the coming days, without

Shuddering to feel their shadows o'er me creep,

and rejoice, in my decline, over the rise and glorious prospects of my country. I have the consolation of being able to recall to my mind several manifestations of the confidence and esteem of my fellow-citizens, exerted towards me at a time when the hand of misfortune bore heaviest upon my head. They did me the honor, in eighteen hundred and twenty-five, of electing me General of the Second Brigade, First Division of the Militia of Illinois, an office which I now hold. I was also elected, in the same year, to represent the country of Monroe in the Legislature of Illinois, of which I was a member for two sessions. I was appointed Post Master in the same county in eighteen hundred and twenty-seven and have held the appointment ever since.

I would mention my agency in the Black Hawk war of eighteen hundred and thirty-two, in which I served as Major, were it not a war in which no honor was gained by any one; and the history of which, for the credit of the country, ought never to be written. These proofs of the esteem of my countrymen are gratifying and consoling amidst the difficulties which have so long weighed me down, and are evidence that a generous people will appreciate the intrinsic character of a man, independent of adventitious circumstances, the frowns or the favors of fortune.