Indian tradition relates that before the coming of the red man's pale-faced brother the country lying west of the Mississippi River and stretching away into the unknown, beyond the setting of the sun, was a "happy hunting ground," always to remain the possession of the tribes which had wandered over it through the unnumbered centuries of the past. The wants of the tribes were few and primitive; and their rude civilization had reached a point beyond which they never would advance, so that the land, yielding to them the fruits which Nature would afford, was found always to meet their simple requirements. But the possessions of the red men were not destined to remain forever undisturbed. The settling of the white races along the Atlantic Coast, and their gradual penetration of the forests westwardly, began to be regarded by the Indians as the beginning of the end of their long and uninterrupted holding of the country beyond the great river.
And so it was and so it ever will be, so long as there is greed for gain and the strong man is willing to take from his weaker brother that which he rightfully and innocently holds. It ought not to be thought strange or wonderful that the Indian is of a sad countenance, and that he has a far-away look in his eye; the former has come to him from the experience he has had in innocently endeavoring to hold his own; the latter is the expression of his contemplation of the "happy hunting ground," which the Great Spirit will give him, where his possessions will never be disturbed by the tread of his pale-faced brother. This is his only hope; for here his posessions[sic] have been almost wholly taken from him, and his habitation has become circumscribed within limits which are a vexation to his naturally roving spirit. He is not the builder of cities, nor is he the projector of great and widely extended commercial enterprises: but he does love nature. and he silently pleads to be let alone in the simple, primitive enjoyment, which the unbroken plains and the primeval forests bring him. The history of the passing of the American Indian is a pathetic story. It is fewer than three hundred years since the white races began actively to dispossess him of his rightful holdings; but the work is so far accomplished that little, if anything, is left of his former glory; and within another century the account will be closed, and he will be known only in the annals of what are called the higher civilizations, which have slowly but rudely crowded him off the earth.
Formerly the Cherokee Indians had their hunting grounds in the hills and mountains of the State of Georgia, where the government had provided them a reservation. For many years prior to 1817 it had been urged that the tribe was in the way of the rapidly enlarging settlements of the white race, and it was as strongly urged as necessary that the Indians should "move on;" and it was as much desired on the part of the Indians themselves, for their habitation was being surrounded, and the land which they possessed there was not suited to their primitive wants. They were glad of an opportunity to move westwardly. In the year 1817 the tribe was moved to Arkansas, where they were granted lands, in exchange for their Georgia holdings; but it was not long until another change was thought necessary. In 1828 the government made another treaty with them, the purpose of which was to secure to the tribe "a permanent home, which should, under the most solemn guaranty of the United States, be and remain theirs forever; a home that should never, in all future time, be embarrassed by having extended around it the lines, nor placed over it the jurisdiction of any State or Territory, nor be pressed upon by the extension over it, in any way, of the limits of any existing State or Territory." By this treaty the Cherokee Indians exchanged their possessions in the State of Arkansas, for 7,000,000 acres in what was afterward known, and is yet known, as the Indian Territory, lying west of Arkansas and Missouri and south of Kansas; and this they were to have and to hold forever. In addition to the freehold, which passed to them under this treaty, they were guaranteed perpetuity to have and enjoy an outlet to, and the unmolested use of, the country lying west of their ceded or purchased possessions, that country now comprised within the limits of Oklahoma.
In the exchange of their Georgia possessions, for the lands in Arkansas, there was a money consideration, also, amounting to $5,000,000, in favor of the Indians, and which was not paid at the time of the treaty. Really, at the time that the Cherokee Indians were moved from the State of Georgia to the State of Arkansas there was no exchange of lands; the government gave them the Arkansas lands, and in 1835 bought their Georgia lands for $5,000,000, the government holding the money in trust for the tribe. At the time of the treaty of 1828, when 7,000,000 acres, now comprising the Indian Territory, were ceded to the Indians, they were dissatisfied, urging that the tract would not be sufficient for their needs. In order, therefore, to appease their dissatisfaction, the government sold them a strip of land, 25 miles wide and 50 miles long, lying between the State of Missouri and the Osage Reservation, for $500,000, to be deducted from the $5,000,000 which the government owed the Cherokee Indians for their Georgia lands. This strip of land, which now comprises Cherokee and Crawford counties, was then known as the Cherokee Neutral Lands. We now come to consider some of the more interesting incidents relating to this much disputed district.
As early as 1835 settlements by white men began to be made in what is now Cherokee County, although those who came knew that the land belonged to the Cherokee Indians. The white population grew very slowly. In the year 1842 the government endeavored to secure a tract of land on Spring River, on which to build a fort. The land belonged to John Rogers, and he demanded $4,000 for it. The officer in charge of the company of soldiers was not authorized to pay more than $1,OOO. As a result of the failure to get the land, the officer, under the direction of the Secretary of War, selected the site of Fort Scott, and there the fort was built and barracks erected for the garrison. This change in the government plan had the effect of checking what otherwise would have been a brisk immigration into the Indian lands; for in 1860, 25 years after John Rogers settled in what is now Lowell township, Cherokee County, the white population of the whole Cherokee strip was only 1,500. However, by the year 1858 the settlers had become sufficiently numerous to give rise to much dissatisfaction among the Cherokee Indians; and in that year the government sent Albert Sidney Johnston, who afterward became a distinguished Confederate general, to make a survey of the Cherokee lands, preparatory to moving the settlers off the tract. The survey being finished and duly reported to the government, Captain Lynn, who in 1861 was killed at the battle of Wilson's Creek, near Springfield, Missouri, was sent from Fort Scott, in 1859, with a battalion of soldiers, to move the settlers off. The work was completely done; for, in addition to moving them off, all their improvements were burned or otherwise destroyed. James A. Sheridan, who died in Columbus only a few years ago, and who is widely remembered in Cherokee County, was among the settlers who were compelled to get off the lands.
It is almost entirely unknown, among the people now living within the limits of what was formerly known as the Cherokee Neutral Lands, now comprising Cherokee and Crawford counties, that these lands were pro-slavery territory for a time. On the first day of June, 1861, the council of the Cherokee Indians, acting under authority of the tribe, sold these lands to the Confederate States of America, then at war against the United States, for the consideration of $500,000, of which amount $250,000 were paid in gold, and $250,000 in Confederate money. As a further obligation on the part of the Indians, they agreed to, and did, raise two regiments of soldiers for the Confederate army, one commanded by Colonel Standwattie, the other by Col. William Penn Adair. Jefferson Davis sent Col. Albert Pike, as the representative of the Confederacy, to conclude the treaty with the Cherokee Indians. In 1866, D. C. Finn, who now lives in Columbus, was sent from Topeka, by Governor Samuel J. Crawford, to make an enumeration of the settlers then living on the Cherokee Neutral Lands, and also to circulate a petition among them, asking that steps be taken toward organizing Cherokee County. At the same time a petition was signed by a large number of the settlers, addressed to the President of the United States, asking protection of the settlers in their holdings. This petition was sent to James H. Lane, then one of the United States Senators from Kansas, and he presented it to President Johnson. For a time the President was undecided; but Senator Lane, knowing that five years before that time the Cherokee Indians had sold the lands to the Confederacy, and being well acquainted with Col. Albert Pike, who made the purchase for the Confederacy, hunted up Colonel Pike, who then lived at Washington, and brought him before the President, to make a statement concerning the transaction. "Did you pay the Cherokee Indians in Confederate money, for these lands?" asked the President. "The consideration for the lands was $500,000," said Colonel Pike; "of this amount the Indians were paid $250,000 in gold, and $250,000 in Confederate money." After considering the matter for a moment, the President said: "In view of the fact that the Cherokee Indians got value received for their lands and passed title thereto to the Confederacy, the lands properly belong to the United States. The settlers will be protected, as far as the Indians are concerned, until the status of their treaty rights can be determined."
In August, 1866, a treaty was made between the government and the Cherokee Indians, whereby the Cherokee Neutral Lands were conveyed to the United States, in trust, and the Secretary of the Interior was made the agent for selling the lands, sealed bids for which were to be filed with him for the purchase of lands, at not less than $1.25 an acre, no indivi dual being permitted to buy more than 160 acres. But this process was too slow for selling so large a body of land as 800,000 acres. The Secretary of the Interior, therefore, entered into a contract, August 30, 1866, for the sale of the whole tract; but as the terms of the sale did not require an immediate payment it was set aside. An effort was then made to sell the whole tract to General Fremont; but this failed; and it was not until October 1, 1867, that a sale was effected. At that time James F. Joy, of Michigan, made a bid of $1 an acre for the entire tract; and this being the highest and best bid, the contract was concluded. But all settlers that had been in possession of claims prior to August 10, 1866, were permitted to buy such claims at the values set by a commission appointed for that purpose. These values ranged from $1.50 to $4 an acre. Some negotiations followed between the American Emigrant Company and Mr. Joy, growing out of the fact that this company was the grantee in the first sale, which had been set aside for the reason that the terms of the sale did not stipulate a cash down payment. The company claimed that it was not any fault of theirs; that the terms had been agreed upon, and that the government ought to stand to it. These negotiations were concluded, and the company, for a consideration of which the narrative makes not mention, transferred all its claims to Mr. Joy, and on December 18, 1868, he opened a land office in Fort Scott, offering the lands to individual buyers, at prices ranging from $2 to $5 an acre. Then it was that Mr. Joy's real trouble began. He was confronted by a condition of affairs more perplexing than the intricacies of an Indian treaty. By the time that the lands had become his, through purchase and payment, more than 1,000 white settlers had selected claims upon the premises, and more than 5,000 people were living thereon; and they had come to stay. They believed that the Joy purchase was perpetrated as a fraud upon them; that the government was recreant in its duty to protect the private citizen against the encroachment of great aggregations of wealth. Through the constant and persistent urging of their rights, whether real or supposed, the Legislature of the State took up the matter and passed resolutions declaring that the Cherokee Indians had never possessed any legal rights to the lands in question; that even granting that they had, in the treaty of 1835, acquired any rights, those rights had been parted with when the Cherokee Indians ceded these lands to the Confederacy, in 1861, at the Tahlequah treaty; that when the United States took the lands, in trust, from the Indians, in 1866, the Indians had no title to pass, and that the transaction was void, for that reason.
At the time of which I now write, the settlers had organized into an offensive and defensive body known as the Land League. They employed William R. Laughlin to present their claims before Congress. He consulted with William Lawrence, of Ohio, Benjamin F. Butler, of Massachusetts, and George W. Julian, of Indiana. These gentlemen did what they could to determine the facts covering all the treaties concerning these lands. This they did in the light of the laws governing treaties; and it was their finding and opinion that even if the Cherokee Indians had not parted with their title, by passing it to the Confederacy, the ceding of lands to Indian tribes does not carry with it the right to alienate to others, without the approval and ratification of the government. On the other hand, it was held that the Joy purchase was a valid one; that the title passed, in fee, and that the lands had been legally conveyed to him. The controversy grew warmer, and on the part of the League grew intensely bitter. Persons entering land at the Joy land office were in many instances driven out. Capt. A. V. Peters, who had settled in Spring Valley township, and had purchased land through the Joy land office, was served with the following notice:
rsville, June 2, 1869.
Mr. Peters--Dear Sir: I presented your case before the League last night, who, after consideration, agreed to permit you to return, if you would sign an obligation to refrain from speaking, acting, writing or otherwise operating against the League, or object which that institution may have in view. Said obligation is in my hands, and the oath will be administered by me. Please call at my house immediately after you return.
By order of the Spring Valley League.
John T. Cox was the agent for the selling of the Joy lands, with his office located at Fort Scott. Many persons secretly bought land through him, but did not take possesssion[sic] of it, being intimidated by the League men, who had close organization all over the lands in controversy. As showing the unfriendly, not to say bitter, feeling, the following resolutions, passed by the Lincoln Township League, Crawford County, are given in full:
First. Resolved, That if John T. Cox does establish an office in Crawford County, Kansas, for the purpose of affording the settlers an opportunity of "proving up," as it is termed, under this contract, we will hold the same as a common nuisance, working hurt, doing injury and annoying the people; and (the right of self-preservation being the paramount law of nature), we have the right to, and we will, abate such nuisance; peaceably, if we can; forcibly, if we must.
Second. Resolved, That any member of our League that shall refuse to assist in abating the said John T. Cox and office shall have meted out to him like treatment which we propose to John T. Cox.
Third. Resolved, That any person living in Lincoln township who shall, after this date, prove up" before the said John T. Cox, under the Joy contract, shall have the same or like treatment administered to him.
Fourth. Resolved, That any one sympathizing with or aiding or abetting the said John T. Cox, in establishing or maintaining his nuisance, is no better than he is, and deserves the like treatment.
Fifth. Resolved, That any settler belonging to this League who will remain firm and not "prove up," shall be protected; and any one "proving up," or buying such settler's claim, shall never enjoy the land; that we pledge ourselves to hang him higher than Haman, and that without benefit of clergy.
Sixth. Resolved, That we mean action, and that we will put the above resolutions in force, and that we will make an example of the first person that violates any of these resolutions.
W. G. CUNNINGHAM,
J. S. ARMSWORTHY,
W. G. CLARK,
Things ran along much in this line for a number of years, and during all the time there was a vague uncertainty in public affairs, and this stood in the way of building up the material interests of the country. The people were watchful of those coming in from other States, for there was a determination, on the part of the League, to force the Joy faction out of the land, if within their power to do it. But the tide finally turned. On June 10, 1869, troops were sent into the Cherokee Neutral Lands. These were infantry. Three other companies joined them on August 5th, and with these a detachment of artillery came, and later, on October 9th, a company of cavalry joined the forces already in the field. Early in 1870 one company of infantry was withdrawn. The remaining troops were held until 1872, as by that time the force of the Leagues was reduced, and the number of persons not belonging to it had grown greater than those who belonged to or sympathized with it. But the trouble was not over until the matter had been taken to the United States Supreme Court. A test-case was brought for the purpose of determining the validity of the Joy title to the lands in dispute. This case was argued in the Supreme Court, April 16 and 17, 1872, and the decision was handed down November 18th of the same year. The title of the case was: "Peter F. Holden, Appellant, versus James F. Joy, Appellee." Benjamin F. Butler, William Lawrence and W. S. Rockwell were the attorneys for Holden, who represented the interests of the Land Leagues, and B. R. Curtis and Willard P. Hall were the attorneys for Mr. Joy. The opinion is set out in full in Book 21 of the Supreme Court Reports (The Lawyers' Co-Operative Publishing Company's Edition, 1884), beginning at Page 523, and through the opinion Mr. Joy's title to the lands was decided valid. Practically, this was the end of the operations of the Land League. In the meantime Mr. Joy had sold the lands to the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad Company, and it was for the protection of the railroad company's interests that troops had been kept in Cherokee and Crawford counties, from June 1O, 1869, until December, 1872. The Supreme Court having decided the matter in favor of Mr. Joy, the troops were withdrawn. Peace then settled over the broad and generally untouched prairies. Up to December 31, 1870, the railroad company had sold 283,012 acres of the land, and had taken in $1,705,398, and the company yet owned about 400,000 acres, much of which was afterward sold at higher rates. These figures pertain to the whole tract of land formerly known as the Cherokee Neutral Lands, now embraced within Cherokee and Crawford counties.
Before leaving this particular subject, we deem it not improper here to relate a matter which, as far as we now know, has never been put into print. Through his connection with the controversy between the early settlers and James F. Joy, Benjamin F. Butler's attention was attracted to the natural resources of Cherokee County, and particularly to the water power of Spring River. He sent an agent here to make an investigation of the stream, and it was understood at that time that it was his intention to buy up the land on each side of the river, build dams for securing the water power and to establish a number of manufacturing industries, an enterprise such as is now being put forward by The Spring River Power Company, and which is even now well under way. General Butler died before anything had been done beyond the examination into the feasibility of the project, but it is believed that he fully intended to go forward with the work, which, had he lived, would doubtless have been completed long ago.
Cherokee County is divided into 14 municipal townships, which, beginning in the northeast corner of the county, and alternating east and west, are named as follows: Pleasant View, Cherokee, Mineral, Ross, Sheridan; Lola, Salamanca, Crawford, Shawnee, Lowell, Garden, Spring Valley, Lyon and Neosho. The cities and towns are located as follows: Columbus, in Salamanca; Galena and Empire City, in Lowell; Baxter Springs, in Spring Valley; Scammon, in Mineral; Weir City, in Cherokee; Mineral City, in Ross. The towns are as follows: Lawton, Pleasant View and Kniveton, in Pleasant View; Turck and Stippville, in Mineral; Cokedale, Folsom and Stone City, in Ross; Sherman City, in Sheridan; Hallowell and Sherwin, in Lola; Quaker Valley, in Crawford; Crestline and Peacock, in Shawnee; Lowell, in Garden; Neutral, in Spring Valley; Keelville, in Lyon; Melrose and Faulkner, in Neosho.
That came to what is now Cherokee County were David M. Harlan, Richard Fields, George Fields, John Rogers and Dennis Wolf. Harlan settled two and a half miles east of the present site of Baxter Springs. John Rogers settled where the town of Lowell now stands, while the Fields brothers and Wolf settled farther north, all in what is now Garden township. They came in 1835. All these men were one-fourth Indian blood; their wives were white women. All of them were natives of Georgia, and were of the Cherokee tribe. Harlan and Rogers were commissioners in behalf of the Cherokees in the treaty of 1817, when the Indians were ceded lands in Arkansas, and afterwards in the Indian Teritory[sic]. These men had some kind of misunderstanding with their tribal officers in the Territory, and on account of this they, with their families, withdrew and came north. Mrs. Lucinda Harlan Willard, who now lives in Baxter Springs, and who is a daughter of David M. Harlan, was born two and a half miles east of Baxter Springs, June 28, 1840. She is now 64 years old, and she has lived all her life in this county. I visited her at her home, on June 24, 1904, when she talked freely about the incidents of the early days. When a child she saw deer, antelope and buffalo in large herds by day, and at night she often heard the coyotes and gray wolves as if the whole earth were alive with them. According to the information obtained from her, A. Baxter, who laid a claim, where the big spring flows out of the hill, from which Baxter Springs was named, settled there about the year 1850. He came from some place in Missouri, and after settling near the spring he built a small tavern, for the accommodation of the few travelers passing over the country in those days. He did not seem to care much for the accumulation of property. Living was cheap, game was plentiful, and he was satisfied with making a little money. He was an infidel and in some other ways a hard man. He got into trouble with a man by the name of Commons, who had settled on the east side of Spring River, about three miles northeast of Baxter's place; he wanted the claim on which Commons had located, and he threatened violence, if Commons refused to move off. Baxter probably wanted the claim for his son-in-law, who is said to have been a nondescript character and a kind of dependent. Baxter, accompanied by his son-in-law and another man, whose names I have not been able to get, went across the river and started up toward where Commons lived, for the purpose of driving out the latter. Commons, in some way, heard that they were coming, and he called in a friend to help him in the defense of his rights, the possession of the claim. As Baxter and his companions approached the log house in which Commons and his force were fortified, they opened fire on Baxter and his companions. The fire was returned. Baxter and his son-in-law were killed, as was the man whom Commons had called in to aid in repelling the invasion. There was not much excitement over the tragedy, chiefly for the reason that there were not many people to become excited. The remaining part of Baxter's family, when the war came on, joined their fortunes with the Confederacy, went south and were never heard of any more. David M. Harlan, Mrs. Willard's father, lived several years after the close of the war; but of John Rogers, the Fields brothers and Dennis Wolf little, if anything, is known as to what became of them. Upon the scenes of those early days the curtain has fallen. Later events have come trooping on down through the years, and the perspective of memory, with those who can recall much of that which entered into the former annals of the land, narrows down to a mere point in the distance. Beyond that one has to depend upon tradition, whose weak and often broken threads give but a vague, uncertain conception of the incidents of prehistoric times. Here are found the mists and the shadows which dim the vision, and which, like the mantle of charity, shut out many a grewsome scene. The historian must content himself this side of the line which lies between tradition and the field of known facts.
It is thought best to take up the townships in the order in which they are usualy[sic] mentioned, and give what facts can be obtained of their early settlers. Some of these facts will give to some of the townships a larger mention that can be made of others, for the reason that a few persons have done what they can to aid in this work, while others, though equally interested, have given it no attention at all.
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