Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose
The Cherokee at Little Prairie
This is the story of several men and how the events which occurred when the Cherokee arrived at Little Prairie have been rediscovered. Evan Jones was born in Wales in 1788. At an early age he was apprenticed to a linen-draper, to learn that trade. Married in 1808, he pursued more formal education in the classics, hoping that teaching or tutoring would better provide for his growing family. Those potentials failed, so he returned to his linen trade until 1821, when he and his family emigrated to America. A teacher at heart, he responded to a job opening from the Baptist Foreign Mission Board for a family to go into the heart of the Cherokee Nation at a newly established “missionary seminary” to teach.
Missionaries from other denominations had been in the Cherokee Nation since 1801, all being located on the periphery of the tribe where established roads offered access to mostly mixed-blood Cherokees, as the Cherokees there had interacted with Whites for decades. Many of these Cherokees could speak English and had largely acculturated to White society in many lifeways. That was not the case for the Cherokees Jones and his family would be serving.
A Remote Posting
He was being sent to the Valley Towns central portion of the Cherokee Nation – a remote, inaccessible location where Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama come together. Deep in the Nation and remote from White influences, the Cherokee fullbloods there spoke only Cherokee, were poor, and conservative – and firmly attached to traditional Cherokee religion and lifeways. For these fullbloods, their surroundings of mountains, valleys, caves, streams, and even meadow clearings held sacred significance for them – they were “of the land” – not just living there. This was classic for Baptists outreach and missionary effort as they had worked mostly among the poor ever since the Reformation.
Developing Cherokee Ministers
Here in the heart of the Nation, Jones developed deep positive relationships with the Native fullbloods of the Nation, a demographic that totaled ¾ of the entire Tribe. As his relationships developed with the missionaries, and seeing the power that the Christian teachings had on the accepting Cherokees, he followed a calling to become an ordained Baptist preacher. Evans determined early in his ministry that the most effective preachers were the Native Fullbloods, preaching in their native language. He focused intensely on finding and training these specially gifted Cherokee leaders who could become ordained Baptist preachers.
It was that group that Jones credited the tremendous success of the Baptist missionary outreach, which has led to the Baptist denomination to be by far the largest in the Cherokee nation today. He became not just a teacher and preacher, but also a consistent advocate for the Cherokee Nation as he itinerated the gospel throughout the Valley Towns region in the Hiwassee watershed over the almost 20 years of his occupancy and service there. He became close friends and councilor to the native fullblood head men in that area, including those being in leadership for the Tribe at large, including John Ross, the mixed blood chief.
Jones Mistering in the Cherokee Language
His relationships to the Cherokee citizens and his value as a representative of the Tribe were greatly enhanced by his commitment to learning the Cherokee language. The language was originally thought to be easily learned and translated, as it was the language of a primitive people. Evan Jones, using his linguistic skills, learned it over his lifetime of study. His command of the Cherokee language allowed him to translate and print in Cherokee Syllabary figures much of the Bible for their use. During his lifetime with the Cherokee people, he fought for their human rights, described as “inalienable” in the United States Constitution, and for the Tribe’s national sovereignty, as guaranteed by many ratified treaties with the United States.
Jones Begins Advocating for the Cherokee
When the weight of frontier advancement by the Whites, often sanctioned by the United States government, caused disruption for the Tribe, Jones was there working to minimize the trauma to the sovereign Cherokee Nation and to maximize the life-saving efforts of food, shelter, and protection for the Cherokee people. He often advised Chief Ross in his negotiations with State and Federal Governments, and later in his life represented the Cherokee Nation in discussions with government agencies.
Jones Becomes a Cherokee Citizen
In October of 1865, after nearly 45 years of missionary service that included leadership for the enhancement of general educational opportunities for the Cherokee people and consistently advising, counseling, and representing the Cherokee Nation, Evan Jones was granted citizenship, along with his family, in the Cherokee Nation in an act by the Cherokee National Council, paraphrased:
“It is now more than forty years since missionaries of that Baptist Missionary Society came into the Cherokee Nation. When the Cherokees were poor and covered with darkness, light with regard to the other world was brought to us by Evan Jones….And we do bear witness that he has done his work well, and has striven to discharge the duties incumbent upon him in doing good to the people and performing faithfully his duties to God….And now, after the close of the war, we are informed that the Missionary Society have determined to resume their work in the Cherokee Nation,…and we declare that it is our desire that he will more strongly than ever push forward his work of enlightening our land….Be it enacted by the National Council, That Evan Jones…be admitted to citizenship in this nation, together with his family.” – An act by the Cherokee National Council
The Forced Removal Starts
Specifics of the forced removal in the Valley Towns region are seen on this map below. Fort Lindsay was built in 1837 by the North Carolina militia, it being the northeastern most removal fort. Dense forestation and rough terrain in the region of Valley Towns gave many fugitive Cherokees opportunity to elude capture.
On July 11,1838, Evan Jones wrote to Chief Ross:
“…I accompanied brother Bushyhead who, by permission of the General, carried a message from the chiefs to those Cherokees who had evaded the troops by flight to the mountains. We had no difficulty in finding them. They all agreed to come in on our advice and surrender themselves to the forces of the United States though, with the whole nation, they are still as strenuously opposed to the treaty as ever. Their submission therefore is not viewed as an acquiescence in the principles of the terms of the treaty, but merely as yielding to the physical force of the United States.”Evan Jones
On their way into the Fort Lindsay region they met a group of 1,300 Cherokee prisoners who were being escorted toward Fort Butler, also shown on the map. All the smaller forts fed into the major detainment camp, Fort Cass, a 30 square-mile military complex ringing the city of Charleston. Approximately 13,000 Cherokees left from Fort Cass on their Trail of Tears, all passing through Missouri.
The Cherokee Contract For Their Own Removal
During the forced removal epic of the Cherokee people, after the extreme loss of life which occurred when the U.S. military led the first several detachments, Chief Ross requested and received permission for Cherokees to lead each future detachments constituted by these 13,000. Ross divided the Cherokees remaining in the detainment camps into 13 detachments, each detachment to be led by headmen from the towns with their citizens. Situagi, headman of one of the towns in the Valley Town mountainous region where Evan Jones lived and worked, led the detachment that left Fort Cass on October 16, 1838. Situagi could not read or speak English; Evan Jones was assigned to his detachment as Assistant Conductor and interpreter. Situagi’s detachment included 1,250 people, 560 horses, and 62 wagons – the aged and very young rode in the wagons as space was available.
A Letter From Little Prairie
On December 30, 1838, Evan Jones wrote a letter to Chief Ross from the “Camp of the 4th Detachment of Emigrating Cherokees, Little Prairie, Mo. It is the only extant letter related to this reach of the Trail of Tears:
“We have now been on our road to Arkansas seventy-five days and have travelled five hundred and twenty-nine miles. We have been greatly favored by the kind hand of providence of our heavenly father. We have met no serious accident and have been detained only two days by bad weather. It has however been exceedingly cold for some time past which renders the condition of those who are but thinly clad very uncomfortable…Every morning we make fires along the road at short intervals. This we have found a great alleviation to the sufferings of the people. At the Mississippi River we were stopped from crossing by the ice running so that the boats could not pass for several days. Here Bro. Bushyhead’s detachment came up with us and we had the pleasure of having our tents in the same encampment, and before our detachment got all over, Rev. Stephen Foreman’s detachment came up….Our native preachers are very assiduous in their labors….There influence is very salutary….There will be an immense amount of suffering and loss of life attending the removal. Great numbers of the old, the young, and the infirm will inevitably be sacrificed. And the fact that the removal is effected by coercion makes it the more galling to the feelings of the survivors.”
Arrival at a Tremendous Cost in Lives
Situagi’s detachment completed its “Trail of Tears” on February 2, 1839. Only 1,033 of the 1,250 Cherokee in the detachment arrived in Indian Territory. Many more of these Cherokees died over the next 2 years of malnutrition, exposure to severe weather, and communicable diseases as a result of the failure of the Federal Government to provide, as they had promised, for food, shelter, and medical care in their new Arkansas home. Jones helped Situagi complete his final report of expenses for Chief Ross so that the Cherokee Nation could recover the cost of his detachment’s removal. Please note the comment in Evan’s letter about Bro. Bushyhead and Rev. Foreman; both were Native fullblood Valley Town headmen, Bushyhead brought to and trained in the Christian faith by Evan, and ordained as a Baptist preacher. Twenty years after the removal, Jones wrote that “in circumstances of great destitution…that our Native Preachers should be encouraged…Troublesome times we know have often been seasons Chosen of God to do great things for people…” And in reference to the removal, he wrote, “There was sickness and great suffering among them and multitudes, almost all the young children and old people, died of the hardships, (yet) many sinners were brought to see and acknowledge their guilt and danger.”
Finding Little Prairie
Where is “Little Prairie, Mo.” on the Trail of Tears in Missouri? Has anybody ever asked?
From Lt. B.B. Cannon’s invoices, we know that he purchased from Archibald Jones 30 bushels of corn and 560 bundles of fodder for forage for the horses on the Cannon Detachment on December 7, 1837, at Little Prairie in Crawford County, Missouri. In the Cannon Journal for Dec. 6, 1837, Cannon recorded, “Marched at 9 O’c A.M., passed Masseys Iron Works. Halted at Mr. Jones’ ½ past 3 O’c P.M. Encamped and issued corn and fodder. 12 miles today.” The GLO plat finished in 1833 of T38N, R7W is instructive for this location. Little Prairie is shown in Sections 34 and 35 with the “Springfield to St. Louis Road” drawn in coming from Big Prairie to the North-east. Only a fraction of Big Prairie is in this Township, the bulk of Big Prairie being in T38N,R6W.
Following the Springfield Road
This plat shows the intersection of the “Road from Masseys Iron Works” with the “Springfield to St. Louis Road” on Big Prairie in the North-east quarter of Section 19, now in St. James, Missouri. But Archibald Jones’ land, where the Cannon Detachment camped, is in Section 23 of T38N,R7W, approximately 2 miles west of Big Prairie and 2 miles north of Little Prairie. Little Prairie nor Big Prairie, being upland plains, had significant water resources; but Archibald Jones’ land, on the headwaters of the Bourbeuse Creek, had abundant water needed for the encampment. Cannon used “Little Prairie” as the location of the camp because it was nearby and well-known.
Wishon’s Frontier Post Office on the Prairie
Evan Jones used “Little Prairie, Mo.” as the location from which he sent the letter because by 1836 there was a post office and general store on Little Prairie at the intersection of those multiple early roads across the area. Note in Section 34, T38N, R7W the image of a corn field and house that were there at the time the GLO was drawn in 1833. The postmaster in 1838 was Benjamin Wishon, who sold land to Archibald Jones. Dr. Morrow, physician on the later Taylor Detachment, recorded in his journal on “February 28, 1839, traveled to Mr. Wishon 11 miles.”
Image: Benjamin Wishon (1806 to1874)
The Original Land Owners
Obviously, Jones and Wishon met Evan Jones on his Trail of Tears journeys, Jones having made the trip several times moving his family to the new Cherokee land in the West. 20 years after the Trail of Tears the County of Phelps was established, and its first County Court met at John Dillon’s house in Section 33 on the Springfield to St. Louis Road, just west of the Little Prairie post office. Jones, Wishon, and Dillon had been at Little Prairie since 1832. This partial image of the original landowners in T38N-R7W from Family Maps of Phelps County, Missouri by Arphax Publishing Co. shows the relationship between Wishon in Section 35 and Jones in Section 23 properties. Don’t let the dates shown confuse you; land pre-emption allowed individuals to put their names on properties to hold them from sale to someone else until they could pay for the land.
Image: Family Maps (Jones & Wishon)
30 years after the Cherokee Trail of Tears, B.F. Shumard, in his Reports on the Geological Survey of the State of Missouri, wrote that “No one who has traveled in this county can have failed to admire its broad and fertile prairies, or the well-cultivated farms that stretch for miles along the St. Louis Road.” That was 30 years after the Trail of Tears; the truth is that in 1838 there were distances on the road of 20 miles or more where there were no established farms or available supplies.
The Dry Springfield Plain
The Springfield Plain upland was very slow to fill with farmers because there were no navigable waterways into the region; everything – people and building material and farm implements – all had to come down the Springfield to St. Louis Road – a long, slow process. Where the topography allowed, the Trail stayed up on these prairies, avoiding as many water crossings as possible. The Springfield to St. Louis Road is the Trail of Tears here in Phelps County, and all the way to Springfield. Today, there is nothing left of the town of Little Prairie, but the town of Dillon, a railroad town, is nearby.
Image: Little Prairie & Big Prairie in Phelps County
This image is an early map of Phelps County showing Little Prairie, Big Prairie, the Bourbesue River, and the town of Dillon. All of this information is essential in finding the exact path the Trail of Tears took through this region, in locating accurately the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and in interpreting the tragedy of Trail of Tears epic 180 years after its occurrence.
If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.com
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