Dr. Morrow’s Incredible Story (Monograph 4)

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes


By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

The Descendent of an Old Indian Fighter

To better understand the subject of this vignette, a biography of our subject’s grandfather is essential. Grandpa George was a true patriot. George Doherty fought the Shawnee at Point Pleasant in 1774, a battle that is considered by some to be the first in our War of Independence. He marched as a Captain under the command of Sevier and Campbell in 1778 to Chief Oconastota’s Chota, the Cherokee Capital, driving the Cherokees from their homes, burning their villages, and killing many warriors. He fought in similar actions against the Cherokees in 1779 and 1780. On his return home from these actions against the Cherokees, he found that his brother, John, had been tomahawked to death by Cherokees. 

On October 7, 1780, he fought as a patriot captain under Gen. Marion at the Battle of King’s Mountain. George Doherty was awarded 2000 acres in farthest West Tennessee in 1784 by the State of North Carolina for his service in the Revolutionary War. He was a Brigadier General of the East Tennessee Brigade in the Creek War and served under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. It was this single battle that had the largest Native American death toll of all the Indian wars– 857 Creek were killed. 600 Cherokees fought for Gen. Jackson that day. Following one of the Cherokee battles, a victory in which Doherty fought, the Jefferson County area of the State of Franklin was obtained by negotiations with the Overhill Towns’ Cherokees in the Treaty of Dumplin Creek. 

Introducing the State of Franklin

It was the only document created by the State of Franklin. George Doherty had moved there in 1785 and became one of the foremost early pioneers serving in both the militia and the government. He died in Jefferson County, Tennessee at the age of eighty-three. He was the grandfather of the subject of this vignette, Dr. Wm. I.I. Morrow, born in Jefferson County on November 25, 1802, the second of fourteen children. Young William would have heard all of his grandfather’s stories many, many times. And he would have grown up around many Cherokees, undoubtedly having Cherokee friends.

William Isaac Irvin Morrow became both a physician in medical practice and a husband to Lavinia Jarnagin in 1826 in Jefferson County. She was the granddaughter of Capt. Thomas Jarnagin, another Revolutionary War hero, as he was a member of Major- General Henry (Light-Horse Harry) Lee’s “Light-Horse Brigade.” Jarnagin was one of the earliest settlers of Jefferson County in 1783 and owner of the first mill in the county. In 1830 the Morrow family, including their three children, moved to Madison County, Tennessee just twelve years after the area’s purchase from the Chickasaw Nation. A fourth child, Sarah Rebecca Morrow, was born in June of 1833, but died in December of that same year.

The Start of the Cherokee Removal

The Treaty of New Echota, the removal treaty supported by the “pro-treaty” faction of the Cherokee Nation and opposed by Cherokee Chief John Ross and the National Party faction, was signed December 30, 1835. Twenty members of the pro-treaty faction signed the treaty; Chief Ross and the National Party refused to sign; only 400 of the 17,000 Cherokees favored the treaty. Great unrest and conflict ensued in the Cherokee Nation between the two groups, as Chief Ross instructed his supporters to refuse to cooperate with efforts to prepare for removal. Federal troops under General John Wool were sent into the Nation to quell the unrest and provide provisions during the transition period of two years. Dr. Wm. Morrow served as a surgeon in Col. Richard Dunlap’s volunteer regiment during 1836 under Gen. Wool’s command in the Cherokee Nation. Dr. Morrow would have provided care for militia and Cherokees.

On September 21, 1838, Dr. Morrow was appointed Attending Physician to the Taylor Detachment on the Cherokee removal to their new home in the government-mandated Indian Territory. His youngest child, ten-month-old James Martin Morrow, was born on November 3, 1837; leaving his wife and five children would have been a very emotional departure. Dr. Morrow’s diary did not begin until February, 1839. The following quotes are from that diary with the punctuation uncorrected, listed chronologically:

Feb. 21,1839, “Went to bed half past 8 o’clk did not get to sleep until late thought a great deal about Lavinia & the children….visited Mr Thompson before breakfast, thought his symptoms some better – same treatment continued – visited Mr Thompson frequently through the day – left him at 8 o’clk….”

Feb. 22,1839, “…visited Mr Thompson, his symptoms still bad,,,,,”

Feb.25,1839, “…buried Lewis Perdo…”

Feb.27,1839, “…four Indians died, and were buried viz – 2(children) of Mills family, old Byrd, and Mary Fields…”

Feb.28,1839, “Tried hard to get to return home, Mr Taylor would not consent – had the hippo badly – thought much about home – would have given all I had to have seen Lavinia and the children.”

Mar.2,1839, “…Mrs Thompson came to camps, her husband Johnston Thompson died at Potosi…”

Mar.13,1839, “Came on to Springfield 8 miles. Got no letter from home – much disappointed.”

Chief Medical Officer

Dr, Morrow was in charge of the well-being of one thousand people of all ages; with many he would have developed a caring relationship. His job was an impossible task under ideal circumstances. Under the conditions of the trail with human suffering surrounding him, the diary indicates he could not sleep when he was in camp; his only respite came when he slept in settlers’ cabins away from camp. He could not prevent the tears and deaths on the trail; neither could he care for his young family while on the trail. 

As chief medical officer, he was responsible for safe burial of the dead, which he records without emotion or expressions of grief. Likely he was in such an emotional state while engaged on this fateful trek that he would not allow himself to even begin to grieve, knowing there was no end to it. His personal home-sickness and heartache (hippo) and deep concern for his family nearly five hundred miles away are obvious. The Springfield Post Office was probably his last opportunity to get news from home before he began his weeks-long homeward trip. He was powerless to prevent the deaths on the trail or even get news from home. He was responsible for so many lives and yet powerless to keep them alive.

He got home to Madison County, Tennessee, and found that his young son was gravely ill. Dr. Morrow did not arrive in time to save James but only in time to bury him on September 23, 1839. There were few happy outcomes from the Trail of Tears for anyone.

His affinity for Native Americans was confirmed in 1851 when he gave up his medical practice and accepted an appointment as Agent to Indians by President Fillmore. He served the Quapaw, Seneca, Osage, and Shawnee Tribes from his newly-settled farm in Newton County, Missouri. Along with his immediate family, his parents, his sister, and his brother and their families, they all caravanned in covered wagons to their new homes in Missouri. He had learned his way on the Trail of Tears….


3D Diorama Along the Trail of Tears

By William Ambrose

On the western side of the state of Missouri, the Trail of Tears is generally the Springfield to St. Louis Road.  The General Land Office (GLO) surveyors, those earliest government surveyors who surveyed the unsettled frontier lands ahead of any land sales, were required to draw the existing roads on the township plats beginning at about the time they surveyed the western half of Missouri.  The Springfield to St. Louis Road was pre-historic – it was a trace on the ground from Springfield to St. Louis used by Native Americans for travel for trade and hunting long before Americans arrived in the state.  The GLOs were the building blocks of President Jefferson’s rectilinear survey system, known as the Public Land Survey System, created by the Land Ordinance of 1785, a federal law. The system was laid out in 6-mile-by-6-mile squares, each square being known by its north-south “Township” number and its east-west “Range” number. 


Scott‘s

By William Ambrose

From 1837 to 1839, the Federal Government forcibly removed 17,000 Cherokees from their centuries-old homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Alabama.  The Cherokee families were rounded up at gunpoint by Federal troops, held prisoner in detention camps, divided up into detachments of about 1000 people, and then forced to walk the 1000 miles to “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma. Approximately 4000 died during that process. 


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