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Chapter 26: Cherokee feuds.

“what is about to happen?” we enquire of a settler at Olathe, a city with six log shanties, a church, a school, a drinking bar, and a fringe of maize. Olathe is suffering from a scare.

Three weeks ago, five men with masked faces, stopped the train running from Fort Scott to Kansas City, in open day. Two of the five men kept guard, their rifles cocked, while their pals entered the cars, and rifled the express of thirty thousand dollars. No one interfered, for who could tell how many passengers were members of the gang? Why should a man expose himself to fire and steel? The thieves got off. But that affair is three weeks old; the present scare arises from events to come.

“A gang of Cherokees, under Billy Ross, their savage chief, are coming up the country, [263] swearing they will burn out the White men and carry off the White women from Vinita, that is what's going to happen,” growls a settler on the Kansas plain.

“But surely,” I venture to put in, “those Cherokees under Billy Ross are civilised people, not wild animals like Cheyennes and Osages. Are they not settled on the land? Have they not farms and sheep-runs, schools and chapels? Are they not dressed in caps and coats, and called by Christian names? Billy Ross does not exactly smack of tomahawk and scalping-knife.”

“Ha, ha!” roars the Kansas settler, “bully for you. I see you'll bite. Then tell me, stranger, what is the difference whether you call a savage Flying Hawk or Billy Ross? Will a name wash off war paint, or turn the Indian's yep-yep into Home, sweet Home? Guess Billy Ross is a savage, like the fathers of his tribe.”

Vinita is a Cherokee town. Why should the Cherokees burn their own cabins and sack their own farms?”

“Because they are some cuss. Look at this news from Texas. They are expecting an attack by Ross. The women and children are aboard the [264] train, ready to pull out at a moment's notice. Two thousand armed men, mostly full-bloods, are about the place. Spies report them within twenty miles of Vinita-guess you'll say that's not a sort of news to make a scare?”

“ This news, you say, comes in from Texas. Is not Texas a long way from Vinita?”

“ Guess they're smart boys, those Texas reporters. Sure as Grey Eagle scalped poor Germain, and stole his daughters, Billy Ross will scalp the boys of Vinita, and bear their women to his camp. The boys will fight, but one would like to hear of that train of women and children being safe under the guns of Fort Scott.”

Vinit4, as we find on reaching it, is a camp or town of the Cherokees; the chief place of this Indian nation, though their paper capital is at Tahlequah. Vinita is a nest of sties and shanties, lying among a few patches of maize and weeds. Here the Cherokees have a school, a chapel, and a secret grog shop; secret because Chqrokees are not allowed to buy and sell whisky, otherwise than on the sly. *Blood has been shed, and may be shed again in Vinita; but not, we find, the blood of White men [265] and women. In spite of smart reporters, no White women live in Vinita; and no White men, except seven or eight railway servants, and a dozen fellows who have married squaws. The only White men who have got into trouble at Vinita, are two scalawags, who brought whisky to the place, and tried to sell it, contrary to law. Some braves got drunk; a row began, and while this row was on, the two whisky vendors got hung. No one can tell me how it happened. No one but myself enquires. Who cares about a scalawag more or less? Dead men collect no bills.

But a more serious fray than a whisky broil threatens the prosperity of Vinita. These Cherokees are cursed with a tribal feud; a feud which has a counterpart in every Indian camp.

When the Cherokees were being ousted from their ancient hunting-grounds in Georgia and Alabama, and were offered their present lands-given to them in exchange, to be their own “as long as grass should grow and water run,” the Indians were divided in counsel as to what they ought to do. A cunning chief, who had assumed the name of Ross, became the leader of such Cherokees as wished to [266] treat the Pale-faces as enemies — to reject their offers of an exchange of lands, and stand out against them as long as his braves could draw a bow and pull a scalp. A second chief, who had assumed the name of Adair, became the leader of such Cherokees as wished to try the Pale-face customs — to accept the new homes, to give up hunting game, and cultivate the land. One party was feudal, the other party radical. Ross was for war paint, cattle lifting, common property, and despotic chiefs; Adair for soap and water, settled homesteads, personal property, and equal laws.

Two brothers, named Strong Buck and Stand Watie, were the active radical chiefs; Strong Buck the thinker, Stand Watie the soldier of their band. Adair was but a nominal head. Strong Buck had been sent by Elias Boudinot, a kindly French planter, to a good school, where he had learned to read, become a Catholic, adopted the name of his French patron, and married a woman with White blood in her veins. While the tribes were moving to their new grounds, Ross and his friends were all for fighting, Boudinot and his friends were all for parleying with the Whites along the roads. As they [267] approached Fort Gibson, further differences broke out. Ross wished his men to live as Cherokees had always lived, in tribal order, holding common property under a reigning chief. Boudinot proposed a change. He wished to live like White men, under law, and to divide the tribal lands among the heads of families. Words led to blows, and blows to murder. Thirty of the Ross party stole to Boudinot's ranch, and finding him absent in a field, sent four of their body to beg him, as a favour, to mix some physic for a sick squaw. On his turning back with them towards his cabin, they led him into a snare, when a dozen fiends sprang on him, and with yells and curses plunged their knives into his heart.

Stand Watie took up the mission of avenging his brother's blood, and in the Cherokee fashion he raised a band of avenging braves. He chased the murderers, fighting them day and night, till nearly all were slain, and he was weary of his great revenge. From that day forward, the Cherokees have been ranged in opposite camps; one side adhering to Stand Watie, while the other side have adhered to Ross. All those who wished to settle down,, [268] divide the land, adopt White customs, and prepare for citizenship, rallied round Stand Watie and Adair. All braves and hunters who preferred to roam and thieve, and keep their ancient order, rallied round Ross. These factions were now divided, not by opinions only, but by cries for blood.

Ross formed his chief adherents into a secret brotherhood, called the Pin League. The members ,of this secret league are known to each other by a pin fastened in their hunting shirts. They have their signs and grips, their rules and oaths. They :swear to put down radical opinion, and support the customs of their tribes, as well as to avenge their slaughtered partisans. A branch of the Pin League, with functions very much like those of the Danite band, is known as Light Horse. Well-armed, and mounted on swift ponies, the captains of these Light Horse scoured the country, firing lonely ranches, and murdering helpless enemies, on a secret sign from Ross.

Except Stand Watie, every man among the radical party was afraid of this Pin League and these Light Horse. The Cherokee Ironside was never molested; but their hands lay heavy on less [269] warlike members of the tribe. One day, seven of the Light Horse, led by Bear Paw. one of Ross' warriors, broke into Adair's house, and finding the chief sick in bed, dragged him into the open yard, and shot him in the presence of his squaws. His son, according to the Indian rule of Blood Atonement, was also taken out and shot.

For these black deeds Bear Paw was made a captain in the Light Horse, and his example spurred on other braves to imitate his heroism. One party caught a lad named Webber, a nephew of the murdered Boudinot, and, for his uncle's sins, hacked him to pieces with their knives. A party followed Ridge, an uncle of Boudinot, into Arkansas, and shot him from his horse; while another party rode to the ranch of another Ridge, a cousin of Boudinot, dragged him out of bed, and in the presence of his wife, plunged no less than twenty-nine daggers into his chest.

Jack Ross has been succeeded by his son Billy, a cunning fellow, who contrives to keep his hold on the conservatives of his party-thieves, polygamists, and communists, who wish to keep their ancient ways. The leadership of his opponents, the [270] radicals, who wish to imitate the Whites, has fallen to Colonel Adair, a son of the murdered chief, and Colonel Boudinot, a son of Strong Buck.

Dressed in English attire, Colonel Boudinot might pass for a southern White. This young Mestizo speaks with force and writes with point; but his accomplishments are causes of suspicion to the ignorant Cherokees, not one in five of whom can understand an English phrase. It is a saying in Vinita, that the son of Strong Buck is rather White than Red.

The scare of which we heard at Olathe, on the Kansas frontier, is an incident in. this tribal feud. Colonel Boudinot is in Washington, but Colonel Adair is living with his nation near Vinita. On Christmas Day, Lewis, a son-in-law of Colonel Adair, invited some of his friends to a carouse. Ross tried to spoil their sport. Consena, a deputy-sheriff, and three other Indians of their party, rode to the place, pretending they were sent for to assist in keeping order; and as the radicals arrived they took possession of their arms and whisky-flasks. Some yielded readily; but two of Adair's party, Tom Cox and Jack Doubletooth, refused to give up .270 [271] either flasks or pistols. On Consena threatening them with force they fired into his party, and a fight began. One of the deputy's friends was killed. The deputy was scratched, but managed to retreat. Tom Cox and Jack Doubletooth were both disabled by their wounds, and nearly twenty of the Cherokees were badly hurt.

The Pins turned out, swearing they would raze Vinita to the ground, converting their poor copy of a White hamlet into a real Indian camp. They have not done so yet. The feud is likely to go on, until the causes which produce it shall have ceased to act. Ross will not readily give up his power; nor will his chiefs give up their common property in the tribal lands.

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