Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: May 12, 1937
Name: William Anthony Cummins
Post Office: 1021 West 20th St., West Tulsa, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: August 20, 1856
Place of Birth: Washington County, Arkansas
Father: William Cummins Place of Birth: England in 1814 Information on father: came to America in 1838
Mother: Elizabeth Sharp Place of birth: Information on mother:
Field Worker: W.T. Holland Four interviews with William Anthony CUMMINS:
I was born in Washington County, Arkansas, on the 20th day of August 1856. My father, William Cummins, was born in England in 1814 and came to America in 1838. About the time he reached America or not long after, the trouble with Mexico was brewing so, when war was declared, or before, he joined the United States Army and fought under Winfield SCOTT during this war, 1845-46 & 47, being mustered out of service in New Orleans. He took a boat at New Orleans, went up the Mississippi to the Arkansas, then up that river to Fort Gibson, where he landed.
He lived in or about Fort Gibson until 1849 when he re-enlisted for 5 years in the army, getting out in 1854.
He was married to Mrs. Elizabeth SHARP, June 24th, 1855, and I was born August 20, 1856, in Arkansas, where my parents then lived.
My father having served in the U.S. Army for eight years, his sympathy was with the Union during the Civil War, but being 47 years of age, he didn't enlist, but stayed at home. He was killed by "bushwhackers" in 1864. They shot him as he was on his own porch, on October 24, 1864.
Having been born in Washington County, Arkansas, near the western boundery (sic) of the state, at an early age I decided I wanted to travel a bit and I decided to go over into the "Nation" as it was called then. We didn't speak of it as Indian Territory, but as Creek or Cherokee Nation or just "Nation". Well, I came over to Muskogee which at the time was a small village of a few frame houses and some tents. The MK&T Railroad had been built that far north, having come into the Territory from Dennison, Texas and through the Territory as far north as Muskogee. I came into the Territory in a wagon with a family who were on their way to Texas. They went on and I stayed in Muskogee.
I remember James MITCHELL, a man from Mississippi, owned and ran a hotel and James PATTERSON had a store. There were so few in town I could have "knocked" on every door in 30 minutes. I found work with John A. FOREMAN, a Major in the army, stationed at Fort Gibson, but interested in business and ranches near Muskogee. He came from Michigan. I rode herd some for Major Foreman and cut meat for him at other times, he having a meat shop there. He also had a cotton gin and grist or corn mill. This mill was unusual as it was run by wind. Foreman built a building 50 x 50 ft. and two stories high. The roof of the building was pointed, the rafters all coming to a center from each side. On the point, he built a tower and on this tower was his wind mill. This wheel or mill had 12 spokes, 22 feet in length. This made the wheel, including the hub, about 45 feet in diameter. Each spoke had a fan made of heavy duck cloth or tent cloth. This furnished ample power to grind corn and to gin cotton. I worked here in the fall and winter. We used horse power to bale the cotton. Major Foreman owned and operated the grist mill, cotton gin, butcher shop and ranch.
I also knew Colonel Wm. A. PHILLIPS and Captain John W. SHANON of Fort Gibson. They were officers there at the same time Major Foreman was in the service. While I think of it, I have two brass keys used in the original buildings at Fort Gibson, built in 1845. These keys were to officers quarters and given to me by my father who helped build or rebuild the buildings there. (Interviewers note: I saw the keys.)
In the spring of 1875 I got a job with the Railroad Company as baggageman and also as a mail carrier, as the post office was only a few steps from the depot and when the post office is located within a certain distance from the depot, the baggageman had to deliver the mail bags; or at least that was the law then and that was one of my duties. I was later made express agent too. This was under the Pacific Express Company. We didn't have the American or Adam Express Companies then. I worked for the railroad ten years.
In 1881 I married a Cherokee maiden. She was about 1/8 blood and named DANIELS. At that time when a white man wanted to marry a Cherokee, Delaware or Shawnee Indian girl, he had to get a petition, go among his neighbors and get 10 signatures. But before this, he had to be a citizen of the district of at least six months duration. Well, I got my petition signed and then had to present it to the Clerk of the Court of the district in which I lived. There were nine districts in the Cherokee Nation, each having a Judge, Court and Clerk, similar to our present County and Country government. So, I went to my district Clerk and he examined the petition and said he knew all the signers and it was all right. So, I would have to pay $10.00 and take an oath, then I could be married. I asked him what the $10.00 was for. He said $5.00 went to the Capitol, Tahlequah, $2.50 as a clerk's fee and $2.50 for performing the ceremony.
"Well," I said, "I don't want you to marry me." "Well," he said, "the fee is the same anyhow." So I asked him about the oath. He told me I would have to renounce my allegiance to the United States and swear allegiance to the Cherokee Nation and to submit all grievances to their courts, in other words become a Cherokee Indian. I couldn't take that oath and told him so. I told him I would never "sever my relations with the United States under any circumstances, so good-bye"; that I would get married some place else. I went back to Muskogee with my "intended", named Elizabeth MCDANIELS, and we were married by Theodore F. BREWER of the Southern Methodist Church, a missionary to the Indians. No license was required, only as I told above, so Brother Brewer married us and then gave us a marriage certificate of marriage. No court records were made then of such marriages, but they were legal and customary.
So, I got married and didn't have to take the oath of allegiance to the Cherokee Nation. My marriage was on August 31st, 1881. At that time an Indian man could marry a white woman when he pleased, but she was not recognized as a member of the tribe, as were white men when they took the oath. The white women weren't allowed to take the oath of allegiance.
Date: May 14, 1937 Name: William Anthony Cummins Post Office: 1021 West 20th St., West Tulsa, Oklahoma Field Worker: W.T. Holland
After my marriage in 1881 to a Cherokee girl, I picked out a lot in Muskkogee (sic) and built a small house out of rough lumber I had obtained from a saw mill west of town. This mill was run by steam. The boiler was hauled in on an ox wagon. I bought what furniture we had to have, and could pay for, from Clarence Turner, hardware dealer. I bought two bedsteads, a small cook stove and a chair or two. You couldn't get a title to land then, so all you had to do was just pick out a lot and go ahead with your building. We lived pretty well even on a small salary of $45.00 per month.
White men in the Creek Nation had to pay 50 cents per month for permit and the Creek Government had a special officer to collect this fee. J. A. PATTERSON, another merchant in Muskogee in the early days, came to Indian Territory as a pack peddler, carrying his load of dry goods on his back, but before long he had his own store and it grew until his was the main store in Muskogee.
In 1888 Muskogee had a bad fire and it burned about every business house except one and I was instrumental in saving this store. I happened to have on a pair of rubber boots and could stand on the roof, so got up on the roof and the men passed what water they could get up to me and with that and a lot of salt, I succeeded in putting out the fire.
Clarence TURNER, hardware merchant, brought the first repeating rifles into Muskogee. This was about 1880. These were sold to Indians, which was legal at that time. I've seen young Indians come into town on a $10.00 pony and with $1.00 worth of clothes on and wearing a $15.00 pistol. They were proud of their guns. The first cartridge pistol I ever saw was in 1875. Tom FRAZEE sent to Massachusetts and got them, a "brace of pistols." They were nickle plated and had ivory handles.
People continued to come into the Territory and in and around Muskogee until it became quite a trading center. Major John A. FOREMAN, who owned the cotton gin and grist mill, in order to encourage farming, sent to Texas and bought a car load of cotton seed and this seed was given to all who would promise to plant and raise cotton. He would allow them to take 2bushel of seed for every acre to plant in cotton. This was in 1873 and in 1874 there was a good crop. Helping to run the gin, I was in a position to know. He gave seed to all Creek Freedmen and all "permit" men, who would promise to plant and cultivate the cotton.
However, all workers on the MK&T Railroad were exempt from payment of permit as the railroad made a deal with the Indians to that effect. The railroad also had an understanding with the Indians through the government, that they were to receive the right of way and every other section of land where the road ran, but when they finally got the railroad through, the only land they were allowed to hold was the right of way and in addition a plot of land 80 x 440 ft. every ten miles. This was for future depots and sidings. I was living at Muskogee when the Creek Indians had their Civil War in 1888. Sam CHECOTEH, half-breed and chief of the Creek Nation, was leader of one faction and ISHARHECHER, full-blood, was the leader of the other side. The trouble started over the election of a Chief for the Creeks. These two leaders were candidates, Checoteh for re-election and Isharhecher claimed he was cheated out of the place through fraud in the election. Pleasant PORTER commanded Checoteh men and Isharhecher his own forces. Their major battle or fight took place on Deep Fork Creek and at this fight, 15 or 20 men were killed. Checoteh ordered a lot of rifles and ammunition and these came through Clarence TURNER, who ordered them for the Chief. I was station agent when these rifles came into Muskogee. There were 25 boxes of them and it was my duty to guard these until Checoteh's men came to get them, which they did, and the boxes were hauled away in wagons. Isharhecher started a move into Okmulgee but was stopped by U.S. Troops which had been brought in to put down the trouble. Colonel Armstrong was sent in from Washington to handle the situation and he did in a short time. He told me he scared them into submission by telling them that too much trouble by them would be considered by the Government as an overt act and would cause the troops to be sent in to take charge. They settled down but didn't feel very good toward each other.
Date: May 17, 1937 Name: William Anthony Cummins Post Office: 1021 West 20th St., West Tulsa, Oklahoma Field Worker: W.T. Holland
I was commissioned a Deputy U.S. Marshal under Judge Parker at Fort Smith, on October 15, 1890. The Western District, as I have mentioned before, reached from western Arkansas west for five hundred miles and from the Red River on the south to the Kansas line on the north, so that it took several deputies to cover the territory. At the time I was commissioned, one hundred forty-nine other men received theirs, and the sad part of it now is, that only a very few of that number are now alive. I served three and one half years. My principal duties were to enforce the revenue laws. I got so much per mile for travel and so much per paper served. All cases where a white man was concerned came under the jurisdiction of Judge Parker's court, but cases where only Indians were parties were tried in the Indian country. Quite a lot of stealing was going on at that time, both horses and cattle, and of course we had to look after that.
An interesting incident in connection with cattle occurred in the fall of 1875. This was before I was an officer, but I knew of it. The COLLINS Brothers of the Brazos River Cattle Company of Texas shipped five hundred head of longhorn cattle into the Territory and unloaded them between the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers, and about four miles north of Muskogee, Indian Territory, where the M.K.&T. Railroad had erected an unloading chute. With the shipment came Sam BASS, Joel COLLINS, Brady Collins, and Bill ELLIOTT, a Texas gent. The four men took time about building feeding pens and herding the longhorns. Marshalltown, as this section was then called, was inhabited principally by Creek Freedmen. The cattle company paid these Freedmen $1.00 per bushel for corn with the shuck on and in the ear, and five dollars per ton for wild prairie hay, measured in the rick. They fed the cattle here for three and one half months, when they were loaded on cars and shipped out. After the cattle were shipped out the feeders broke camp and came over to Muskogee to stage a last "blow-out", so after much drinking of "boot-leg whiskey" and shooting of their sixguns, one Martin Buzzard FLOPPER, a full-blood Cherokee from Goose Neck Bend, on the Arkansas River, was found dead near the hitching racks, with a Colts navy bullet through his body. The cowboys, knowing full well his death would be investigated by the U.S. Marshals, mounted their "broncos" in the dark of the night and headed south for Texas, which place I understand they reached safely.
While the cowboys were feeding these cattle, a white man and his son who lived on the opposite side of the railroad track, had a cow killed by a passenger train. The owner of the cow went to the railroad company and demanded payment for the cow. The railroad company agreed to pay for the damage, but not as much as the man thought the cow was worth. So, one night this man and his son walked across the railroad bridge and invaded Duncan WILKY's tool box and got wrenches and punch bars. Then they walked east on the track one mile to the foot of Negro Hill, where they took out a rail track joint and aimed to ditch the passenger track that night, but the passenger train was late and a freight train came along first, and it ran into the open space and was overturned, killing the engineer and fireman, and eighteen loaded freight or box cars, loaded with canned goods, fruit, sugar, green coffee and flour, were ditched.
The Creek Freedmen and a few whites heard the crash of the wreck and lost no time in getting to the scene of the disaster, and before the train crew could do anything or get help, which had to come from Parsons, Kansas, they proceeded to help themselves to groceries and everything they could get their hands on or were able to carry away. Coffee (green) came in 155-pound bags, and one old Freedman turned his attention to coffee and gathered up so much of it that he later sold it by the bushel. In about thirty days deputies John W. JOHNSON, James MERCHON, and L.W. MARKS, of Vinita, had succeeded in rounding up about fifteen of the men connected with the theft, and brought them to Muskogee. The prisoners were all chained together with trace chains when they reached Muskogee. They were later taken to Fort Smith, tried, and convicted.
The next move was to apprehend the train wreckers. So, in clearing away the wreckage they found a small day book lying between the rails, which contained the name of the man who had lost his cow, or whose cow had been killed by the train. The rest was easy. He was arrested and taken to Fort Smith, together with his son, and the elder man was tried in Judge Parker's court and convicted. He was given a sentence of forty years and was sent to the prison at Detroit, Michigan.
The son, being under legal age, was sent back to his home and told to help his mother in the support of her and his sisters and brothers. So ended this episode.
The Creek Indians, who inhabited this section, have by some people, been held as only second to the Cherokees. The Creeks had some good laws. One in particular was that an Indian of another tribe or Nation was forbidden to bear arms into the Creek Nation unless he was a commissioned officer.
I've seen some bloody fights in Muskogee between Cherokee boys and Creek Nation officers. The Creek Nation officers called themselves the lighthorsemen. They had the same duties as a sheriff of today.
Date: May 20, 1937 Name: William Anthony Cummins Post Office: 1021 W. 20th St., West Tulsa, Oklahoma Field Worker: W.T. Holland I lived in Muskogee until 1889. I had married in 1881, so we decided that we would move up near Catoosa and stake out a claim. This was before allotment and even before the government had surveyed any of this territory. So, my wife being a Cherokee and having children who, too, would inherit land, I thought it time to stake a claim and hoped we would be able to hold it.
We located about two miles west of Catoosa and south of the railroad. I staked 480 acres of prairie land and 240 acres of adjoining timber land. We needed timber for fences and for building.
I farmed but not extensively. I raised the first cotton grown in this section between Vinita and Sapulpa. Had ten acres and it made good cotton. The soil was deep and black. My first crops were sod crops. You could plant sorghum cane seed as a sod crop and it would make a good crop without cultivation. The sod was hard to pulverize, especially with the tools we had. I had a 12-inch turning plow, but had to carry a file to sharpen the point about every hour or I couldn't keep it in the ground. I plowed the ground about three inches deep; this turned the grass and the sun killed the roots.
I also sowed some bee clover, known as sweet clover. This was the first crop of this kind in this section. My main reason for sowing this clover was for my bees. I would often find a bee tree out in the woods. I would go to the house, build a hive, and return to the woods and cut the tree. I would try and often succeeded in hiving the swarm of bees and, too, usually got a large quantity of good honey. This was the way I got started in the bee business. I captured several stands of bees. The clover grew up to a great height and was full of blooms. It furnished food for not only my bees, but it seems all bees from miles around came to the feast.
I have ten relatives buried in the cemetery two miles south of Catoosa. This cemetery was first laid out in 1870 or 1872. It was originally intended for full-bloods only, and only full-bloods were buried there until 1881, when the whites began to bury there. A lot of people came into that section when the railroad came through. They came from everywhere and were of every class. Some were diseased and some brought in disease. So in 1881-82 and 83, there was a lot of smallpox among the whites and Indians, too. It seemed to be worse among the Indians as they weren't as sanitary as the whites. The government built a pest house on Spunky Creek near the old Confederate Fort and brought in doctors and nurses to care for the Indians. Lots of children died during this period from summer complaint. The smallpox reached the epidemic form.
Some of the full-bloods buried at this cemetery are: White Water, Thirsty Water, Jawskin, Arch Luck, and Bill Skullah.
SCHOOLS: My Indian children were first taught in local schools by Cherokee teachers. Later, when they grew up, my boys went to a school just south of Tahlequah and my daughters went four terms to the Female Seminary, north of Tahlequah.
TRAIN SERVICE: I remember very well the first full passenger train to run from Vinita to Sapulpa. It was on August 8, 1895. Prior to that we had mixed trains, or accommodation trains carrying box cars, flat cars, and on the end would be an old passenger coach. One train each way was all they had for a long time. This was on the Frisco Railroad.
ROADS: Along in the nineties the roads, being used more or less, required some work. This was done by the people living in the community. They would be notified when and where to report to work and on the day appointed would meet. Some would carry shovels, some take plows and teams, and would go over the part allotted to them and fill up all the deep ruts and holes in the road, but no grading was done. However, culverts were built of logs. Logs were used as sleepers and split logs for top or floor of culvert. No road taxes were assessed or paid, just volunteer work by all. I remember, too, mighty well, Jim WOFFORD, who ran the ferry on the Verdigris, between Catoosa and Claremore. I was at the mouth of Bird Creek and north of the railroad on the Verdigris River. I have crossed there many a time. Some of the family still lives there near where the old ferry was.
FAIRS: The first fair I knew about was at Muskogee. John A. FOREMAN, J. A. PATTERSON, the postmaster, and other merchants, business men and citizens, formed what they called the "International Indian Fair." This was in 1874, that is, the first fair was in 1874, and they continued to have an annual fair for years. It was a typical fair. Everybody came except for those with a price on their heads or who were dodging the marshals. Indians on their ponies and dressed in their best. Blanket Indian women and men, children and dogs.
Pony races and various sports of that time were indulged in. And, of course, it had its commercial phase, too. The merchants did a good business. I recall the excitement caused by "Custer's Last Stand" or the fight with the Sioux Indians under Sitting Bull. I was working for Major Foreman and on that particular day was cutting oats with a cradle. The telegraph wires were kept hot with the details.
Of course, I knew many Indians and white men of prominence and some of rather shady character. The much talked-of and written about Belle STARR and her daughter, Pearl REED, were known to me. And contrary to opinion and statements of many men and writers, Belle Starr was not an Indian. She didn't have a drop of Indian blood in her. She was the daughter of a highly respected white man, Judge SHIRLEY of Carthage, Missouri, who was also a minister of the Methodist Church in Carthage. Belle, it seems was an unusual woman even at an early age developing a headstrong disposition, a disposition to do as she pleased, and to do things that were not becoming to a lady. At an early age she met a man by the name of Jim REED, a fugitive from Texas, a gambler and a general outlaw. Belle's father learned of this man and his character and, of course, didn't approve of him; but Belle continued to slip out and meet Reed. And when confronted with the facts of the man's character by her father, she asserted that if he were as bad as all hell, she still loved him and intended to see him when she wanted to. She finally married Reed when she was eighteen.
Their first child was a boy who was given the name of Ed. He was rather wild but never as wild as either his mother or father. At one time he was a deputy marshal. Pearl was their second child. Jim Reed was shot from ambush on the North Fork of the Canadian River in Younger Bend, I think in 1882. Jim and Belle lived in Younger Bend where their home was the hideout of criminals and where they disposed of liquor.
After the death of Reed, Belle met and married Sam STARR, son of Tom Starr. Of the older Starrs, there were three brothers who came here from North Carolina in 1836. Their names were Tom, Noon and Hock Starr. Belle and Sam Starr were sent to the penitentiary in Michigan for horse stealing. They were tried in Judge Parker's court at Fort Smith and sentenced to one year and one day in the pen. John West, a deputy marshal, was the officer who led the posse that captured Sam and Belle. West was an old soldier and a Cherokee. The Starr brothers were also Cherokees. Sam Starr and Frank West, bitter enemies, met at a dance December 15, 1886, and as each was looking for the other, their eyes met and the fireworks started. When the smoke cleared both were dead. They had killed each other. Belle continued to live in the Younger Bend and continued the same kind of life. She leased her land to a man by the name of WATSON. They had trouble all along and on April 10, 1888, when returning from a visit with a neighbor, Belle was shot from ambush and killed. Watson was accused of this murder and arrested but they failed to prove it on him and he was released. I lived only about ten miles from the Younger Bend.
Belle was buried in the yard of her home, and a tombstone placed at her grave which still stands to mark the final home of a rather notorious character.
Belle rode a black charger, used a side saddle and carried a brace of pearl handled pistols. She was a good shot and won many prizes at fairs. Pearl Reed led pretty much the same kind of life as her parents. She finally settled at Van Buren, Arkansas, where she built a three-story brick house which was her place of business, and such a business as she conducted was not very elevating. In fact, the country would have been much better off without such characters as Belle, Pearl, Sam Starr or Jim Reed.
[Submitter's Comments: William A. Cummins mother's full name is Elizabeth Pembrook (Anthony) Smith Sharp Cummins. She was born 09 Sep 1817 in Rutherford County, Tennessee. She died in childbirth in August 1856. Also, his father was born on the Isle of Wight in England.]
Transcribed and submitted by Gwen Nolte
[great-granddaughter of William Anthony Cummins] <Gwennolte@aol.com>