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Indian Pioneer Papers - Index

Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: August 10, 1937
Name: James B. Russell
Post Office: Route 1, Westville, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: July 10, 1868
Place of Birth: Georgia
Father: John R. Russell
Place of Birth:
Information on father:
Mother: Francis McClure
Place of birth:
Information on mother: Cherokee
Field Worker: Gus Hummingbird

James B. Russell, a pioneer white man, was born in the state of Georgia, July 10, 1868.  His parents were John R. Russell and Francis McClure, a Cherokee woman.

The MCCLURE’s came to the Cherokee Nation with the immigrants in 1836.  They settled in the community now known as Peavine in the center of Adair County.  Francis McClure was only a child when they came to the Cherokee Nation.  They remained in the Indian country several years, then returned to Georgia.

After this [they] returned to the state of Georgia.  Francis married Mr. John Russell and she came back to the Cherokee Nation with her husband in 1878, when James was only two years old.  They settled on the old Sam FOREMAN place which was about two miles south of Fort Wayne on Ballard Creek.*1  The town of Watts is now located at the old Fort Wayne site.  Later the family bought a claim from one of old Sam Foreman’s boys.

The Russell family lived on this place until all the children grew to be men and women.  Joe Russell still lives on the old home place.  Part of this place was claimed by a noted Cherokee by the name of Going Snake.  The district in which he lived was named in his honor.*2

Early Life
Most of the early life of Mr. Russell was spent on the farm operated by his father.  The farm contained about forty acres.  The principal crops in those days were corn, wheat and oats.  There was no machinery and everything had to be done in a crude way.  The wheat had to be harvested by cradles.  Several neighbors would gather and help harvest the crops and this system of helping one another was called “Town Workings.”  Among the old-timers who lived in this community were, Frog SIXKILLER, Johnnie WALKER, Wash LEE, Tom SWAKE, Wilson BUSHYHEAD, Smith BUSHYHEAD, John BLACKFOX and Soldier SIXKILLER.  These men always helped the Russell family harvest.

Wash Lee was elected sheriff several terms in the Going Snake District.

He was murdered sometime later by two boys named George and Fred Duniwoss, who were fullblood Cherokees.  These boys were convicted and hung at Tahlequah.

The first thresher in this part of the district was the one operated by horse-power, owned by Wash Lee, before he was killed.  He purchased this thresher from some white man in Arkansas.

There was always plenty of corn raised in this community.  The Cherokees did not sell much because this was their chief food.  Corn could be used in so many different ways for food.  Mr. Ruseell’s mother was not a full-blood and his father being a white man, he was not reared as many other Cherokee boys of his time.

He was sent to school when very small at the Baptist Mission.  Mr. Russell lived only four or five miles north of the oldest school in the Cherokee Nation.  This was the Old Baptist Mission which was located about three or four miles north of the present town of Westville, Oklahoma.  James Russell started to school at the age of seven.  Two of his old teachers were Carrie (BUSHYHEAD) QUARLES and Charlotte WHITMIRE.  Russell finished the seventh grade at this place.  He did not attend any of the higher institutions of learning which the Cherokee Nation afforded at that time.  Cherokee Male Seminary was the highest institution.

Church Activities
The oldest church in this part of the district, or some say, in the Cherokee Nation was the Old Baptist Mission.  At one time there was also an old printing shop located at this place.  When he was a boy, he, Mr.  Russell, saw some of the old papers that were printed at this place but he does not remember the name of the paper.  He ha been told that the Cherokee Advocate was first printed at this place. The paper at that time was edited by some preacher by the name of John JONES.

The first post-office was also established at this place, before the war.

After the war, in about 1878 another post-office was established with George QUARLES as postmaster.  The first one was named Baptist Mission, and the last one was named Baptist, Indian Territory.
Among the old timers who took an active part in the development of this church was an old Cherokee preacher named Adam LACIE, and also Bushyhead’s, Wash Lee and the FOLSOM family were prominent church workers.

The Camp Meeting was an important event amount the old-timers.  These meetings were held at Baptist about twice a year.  In the summer these meetings would last from two or three weeks.  People from all over the Cherokee Nation would come.  The food was furnished by the people themselves.  Most of the time the meat was furnished by making donations among the Cherokees and a big barbecue would accompany these meetings.

Trading and Milling Points
The early day trading and milling point was Cincinnati, Arkansas, which was only about seven miles from the Russell home.  P.V. CRAIG, who now operates a store at Westville, was an old time merchant at that place.  MOORE Brothers operated the mill.

There were many cattle to be found in the Cherokee Nation in the early days.  Every family owned a small herd of cattle.  John GUNTER was the only man who owned a large herd in this part of the Cherokee Nation; he owned about two hundred at all times.  All other families usually owned about twenty head at all times.  They would not sell cattle by weight, that is the full-bloods would not.  They priced their cattle by the age.  A yearling would bring about five dollars; a two year old would bring ten dollars, and so on.  Most of the cattle that left the Cherokee Nation was bought by white men from Arkansas.

Vol ENGLISH was the early day trader in this part of the country.  Sometimes buyers from Caldwell, Kansas, would come to the Cherokee country.  These men would drive the herds that they bought through the country.  Among the Cherokee full-bloods, Wash Lee and Soldier Sixkiller were stockmen.  These two men usually bought all the stock the full-bloods had to sell.  They then traded with the white men from Arkansas or Kansas.

There is only battlefield in the northern part of the old Going Snake District and that was the battlefield of Ballard Creek.  This battle was fought about 1862 on a spot in the small bottom just west of the present bridge on the Kansas City Southern.  There were several men killed in this battle.  The Union forces drove a small detachment of Confederates out of the District.

Bill and Lock MORTON, Cherokees, took active parts in this battle.  They were stationed at Fort Wayne at that time.  Captain ANDERSON was the Union leader.

Lock Morton told Mr. Russell, that in this battled he killed the horse that the Confederate general was riding.  Mr. Russell does not know anything about the Civil War in the Cherokee Nation.  He only knows what has been told to him by some of the old Cherokees.*3

Lock Morton told Mr. Russell that before the war started in the Cherokee Nation, there were several meetings called among the full-bloods in regard to which side they should favor.  It seems that the Cherokees were divided at that time.  Most of the full-bloods favored the Union.  Morton claims that the division of the Cherokees was caused by an old grudge that they had among themselves.  This grudge or hate started back in the old country.

Those Cherokees and their descendants who were in favor of the removal favored the South.  That faction of the Cherokees who did not sign the treaty favored the North or the Union.  This was the John ROSS faction.

MORTON told Russell that Soldier Sixkiller made speeches in favor of the Union.  Morton also said, that this war caused a division in politics among the full-bloods.  Those who favored the North was now all Republicans.  Those who favored the South are now Democrats.  Among the Cherokees after the war there were two parties.  The present Republican party was called the National, the other was called the Downing Party.

Lock Morton and Bill Morton told Russell that there were about three battles fought in what is now Adair County; the Battle of Ballard; another battle, that was fought in what is now called Spade Mountain, about ten miles west of Stilwell; and the third was fought about three miles southeast of Stilwell.  There was no Commission to the five Tribes at that time, that Russell knows anything about.  Everything was owned by the Cherokee Nation in common.

Cow Towns
There were no cow towns in this part of the Cherokee Nation.  Most of the cattle were raised in the northern districts.  In this part of the Cherokee nation were the grass regions.  Russell’s brother has worked for a few men around Vinita, which was an early cow town.  Oolagah and Talala were also noted as cow town.

Mr. Russell was not acquainted with many United States Marshals in the early times.  He was personally acquainted with one, Tom JOHNSON of Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  Among the Cherokees who received appointments as United States Marshal was Zeke PROCTOR.  This man later became bad in the Cherokee Nation.  The same men that he used to work with had to hunt him.

These marshals were not stationed in the Indian Territory.  They only came to the Cherokee Country when they had a warrant for some Cherokee for whiskey.

It was a violation of law to bring any whiskey into the Cherokee Nation.

Most of the whiskey that was found in the Nation was brought from Arkansas.

Moonshine whiskey was not known then.  When the Prohibition Law was passed in the boundary states that was the time when the Cherokees began to see moonshine whiskey.

There were not very many outlaws in this part of the Cherokee Nation.  The only outlaws who gave us trouble were two Indians named Jack BLYTHE and THOMPSON.  These men lived at Vinita.  Blythe was killed and Thompson was arrested and sentenced to Fort Levenworth for several years.

Road and Trails
The main means of travel at that time were by wagon and on horseback.  There were no highways as there are now.  The main road in the Cherokee Nation, that is this part of it, was the Tahlequah Road.  The Tahlequah Road started at old Fort Wayne on the Illinois River, now the town of Watts, and followed the river for about sixteen miles to about two miles west of the present town of Chewey.  Travelers crossed the Illinois River at a place called Joe CHEWEY’s place, which was called the Chewey Ford, and it still goes by that name.  From this crossing one went to old Oil Springs where at that time there was a Post Office established.  From Oil Springs the road followed the river to the old BOUDINOT place about five miles east of Tahlequah.  The road at this place turned west by the old Walkingstick Spring taking the same route that is now Highway 62.

There was only one ferry in the Going Snake District and that was the old Fisher Ferry on the Illinois River near the Arkansas Line.  Russell does not know the name of the operator of this ferry.

There was only one fair that he attended in the Cherokee Nation that he remembers.  This was a fair held at Vinita.  This fair was held about 1880.  The exhibits were mostly farm products and stock.

The only qualification of a voter was that he should be a Cherokee citizen, that is a bona fide citizen, eighteen years of age, or older.  Mr. Russell voted in the election of 1888.  He thinks in this election Sam MAYES and Rabbit BUNCH ran for the office of Chief.  Russell’s folks being old fashioned southern Democrats, he voted for Mayes in this election.  The people voted by speaking the name of the person voted for.  There was not much chance to cheat a man when you told him that you would support him in any election.  The voting precinct was the Going Snake Court House.  Later they erected another voting precinct at a place called Mitchell’s Place on the Illinois River about three miles northwest of the present town of Watts.  This was called the Mitchell Precinct.  Zeke Proctor lived in this community.  He lived at this place when he was elected sheriff.

There was no railroads in this part of the Cherokee Nation until 1894 when the Kansas City Southern extended its lines south of Siloam.  This railroad was held up at this place for about a year.  It took the Cherokee Council about that long to decide whether the road should come through or not.
This railroad question was the main issue in the election of 1892.  In this election Jonathan WHITMIRE was elected councilman and Richard WOLFE was elected senator.

The fullbloods were not in favor of this railroad coming through their country.  They based their arguments on the treaty of 1866, when they allowed only two railroads to come through their country.  The two roads already in operation were the M. K. & T. and the Frisco.  But the National Council voted the law without the approval of the fullbloods-bloods After the coming of the railroads, the town of Westville was started.

A depot was built at this place, followed by a hotel which is still called the Old Bates Hotel.  A lumber yard was also erected by Ell ALBERTY.  Eli WHITMIRE was an early day peace officer at this place.

The allotment question was one of the most important issues in any election that was ever held in the Cherokee Nation.  But like all other important issues this law was passed by the Cherokee Council without the approval of the full-bloods.  Most of the full-bloods were not in favor of this law.  They wished their country to remain as it was with everything in common.  The educated faction wanted their share of the land.  Too much of this good land was claimed by the full-bloods.  They would not let anyone use this land.  Many acres of fertile land lay idle.  So, in the election before statehood these mixed-breeds and the educated young Cherokees elected a Council that was in favor of this law.

Wolf COON, an early day statesman and a good friend of President Theodore Roosevelt’s protested this law.  He at that time was a Senator from this district and a Chairman of that body.  His protest caused President Roosevelt to issue a proclamation calling another election by a popular vote.  By that time the Night Hawks were so aggravated at the actions of their fellow tribesmen that they would not vote.  The number that did not vote in the said elected caused this law to pass.

This Night Hawk clan is the only secret society, which Mr. Russell knows anything about.  In the early days there were about three hundred who belonged to this society around Chewey Community.  This society is still in existence at that place; their leader is now Eli PUNKIN, but where it started he does not know, nor does he know what it means.

This interview was copied by A. D. Lester from the Oklahoma Historical Society files and he adds the following comments.

*1 Some say they settled on the Illinois River, if this be true, it would have to be north and west of old Fort Wayne.

*2 This writer might add, that the grave of the prominent Cherokee is located near the old Russell home.

*3 The Bill and Lock Morton stories of Civil War battles cannot be proven as told.  The 1862 Battle at Ft. Wayne was fought, but at the 2nd location of Ft. Wayne, about 3 ½ miles southwest of present Maysville, Ark., 17 miles north of Watts.

I have known Mr. James Russell since 1921, and I have always found him, ready to discuss pasty history, but very careful to not mislead one to form an opinion that was not correct.  He always made himself clear, in his expressions as to which he knew to be true, and that which was only legend or tradition.  He and I served on the election board together for a number of years.  And we generally talked about the early history of the Cherokees when together for any length of time. If it had not been for Mr. James Russell, I likely would have never known that the late Congressman, William W. HASTINGS, from this Congressional district, was at one time a teacher at the Old Baptist Mission.

Mr. Russell told of meeting Young Hastings on the road, when he and his father, John Russell, were coming from Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  He said, they were in their wagon on their way home, when he looked back and seen a young fellow approaching them, whom he knew at once was a stranger, traveling the same way they were going.  The young man road by the wagon and asked for permission to tie his horse to the wagon, and he then would ride with them in the wagon for a ways.  There were no objections, and they were soon on their way, with the young stranger in the wagon with them. The young man rode only a short distance, when he inquired how far it was to the Old Baptist Mission.  Mr. Russell told him, and then he said, perhaps I should tell you who I am, and my business.  He said, I am Bill Hastings, a school teacher, on my way to Old Baptist Mission, where I am to begin teaching school this coming Monday morning.  They of course never as much as give it a thought that in the not too distant future, this young man would be representing them in the Congress of the United States.  Nevertheless, he did, for several terms.
by A. D. Lester
Rt. 1 Box #87
Westville, Oklahoma 74965

Submitted to OKGenWeb by Wanda Elliott <jwdre@intellex.com> 10-1999.