Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: November 17, 1937
Name: Nancy Jane Rider (Mrs.)
Post Office: Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: 1853
Place of Birth: North Carolina
Father: Simpson Stephens Place of Birth: North Carolina Information on father: died in October, 1923, buried at the cemetery at Park Hill
Mother: Mahala Clayton Stephens Place of birth: North Carolina Information on mother: died before 1923, buried at the cemetery at Park Hill
Field Worker: Ella Robinson Interview 12143
Civil War Experiences of a Pioneer Indian Territory Woman
I was born in North Carolina in 1853. My parents were Simpson and Mahala Clayton Stephens. They were born in North Carolina and lived there until 1855, when they emigrated to the Indian Territory. They stopped for a short time in Arkansas at Evansville, near the Cherokee line. My father was a mechanic and had stopped along the way and route west to work, paying their expenses in that way. They were on the way for one year making the entire trip in an ox wagon. They lived at Evansville for some months and then moved to the little community of Stilwell on the exact location of the town by that name at this time. There was a post office, a blacksmith shop, one store owned and operated by Henry DANNINGBERG, and a few small dwelling houses. Father's special work was constructing mills; water mills were the only kind built in this country at that time as that was the only power available. The first one he built after coming to the territory was for Mrs. Nancy ADAIR, a well known Cherokee woman and the mother of William Penn Adair, a very prominent man in Cherokee affairs. The mill was located on a creek fed by large springs that were a source of never failing source of water. The old mill is still standing but has long since fallen into disuse.
Father also built many of the good substantial houses in that vicinity; most of which were burned or destroyed during the Civil War. We had lived in that location for five years when the Civil War broke out in '61. Father did not believe in fighting and did not enlist on either side thinking that the trouble would soon be over. He with a few other men decided they would hide out until matters were settled; the result was that they remained in seclusion for the entire duration of the War.
That entailed a dreadful hardship on my mother as it was left entirely to her to provide for her large family of nine children. Father and his companions stayed in the dense woods in the mountains, sleeping in caves. Mother always knew where they were and sent my oldest brother with food for them. Father had a small rifle with which he killed game, getting their meat supply in that way.
While my parents were of Cherokee blood, on their arrival in the Territory they did not try to establish citizenship, as my father did not care to own land and farms. However, later when they attempted to establish citizenship, they failed to do so as all their witnesses were living in North Carolina. Mother and we children were the one who suffered most during those dreadful days of War times.
Our horses were all stolen at the very beginning of the War and we had no teams left except the oxen and one pony which we children rode. Mother and the oldest boys raised a small crop of corn each year to provide feed for the stock including a number of milk cows from which was recruited a new yoke of oxen every year or so. To mother fell the tack of breaking the wild young cattle to work and she would no more than get one pair gentle for working before they would be driven off by the invading army. With the help of my oldest brother, Henderson, she would manage to tie the steers to a tree and get a rope on them; then they were yoked together until they became accustomed to it when they were hitched to a two wheeled cart and taught to pull the cart. The cart was used to haul small loads when the large wagon was not needed. Mother was a large woman of unusual strength, otherwise she could not have accomplished the things she did.
As there was nothing to be bought or sold in our community she made regular trips over the line to Evansville, where she bought apples, butter, eggs, and any other produce obtainable; she always took a neighbor woman with her for company but left us children at home in care of our older brothers. After filling the cart, she returned home and spent the night; next morning before daylight she would start to Ft. Gibson to sell her products at the commissary store there, always receiving cash. Small as the amounts were, she managed to secure food that we did not raise and a few clothes for her many children; we would have fared much better had we not been robbed regularly, first by the Northern Army, then by the Pin Indians. What the Federals left, the Pins got.
Our bedsteads were homemade affairs with ropes stretched over them. On that were cowhides placed then a bed tick filled with hay or straw and a feather bed. Often we were stripped of everything and we children slept in our clothes on the bare cowhides. Mother would take her dress skirt off and wrap it around the baby and lie down on the floor to sleep. When the raids were made the soldiers took what could be of any use to them and destroyed the rest; ripping the feather beds open and scattering the feathers over the countryside. They always took all the food in the house, both raw and cooked. As we lived on the main road it seems to me there were soldiers passing constantly and they often camped near. Once they camped in our yard all around the hours; the officer in command told my mother she would have to cook for them and she spent the entire night cooking; they paid her a little change for that. I well remember that we had shelled several bushels of corn ready to take some distance to a mill and the soldiers parched it all during the night and took it with them leaving us entirely without any. They always took our clothes also.
Once they made a raid and my two older brothers, who had grown almost to man size started to run to the woods for fear they would be taken prisoners. The soldiers called to them to stop and began shooting at them and Mother began begging and praying for them not to kill her boys. They did not kill the boys but they took their clothes off of them, leaving them standing in their underwear and afterwards this same man told his friend that it was that woman's prayer that saved the boys.
We children were very much attached to our pony and on that occasion not having a chance to take him to the woods and hide him we put him in a shed room at the back of the house but when they ransacked the house they got him.
As all the men in the community were away no mills were in operation within our reach and we had either to go two miles to a neighbor's who had a little steel hand mill that you turned by hand to grind corn or pound it in the mortar that we used for making hominy grits; either way was an awful pass and taxed our childish strength to the utmost. We finally secured a little hand mill of our own; one day some soldiers came and ordered Mother to bake bread for them and I had to grind the meal as she baked the hoe cakes and I thought they would never get enough. After our pony was taken we had to walk long distances when we were sent on any errands. During the latter part of the War, food was very scarce as no crops had been made during that time. We always had a little garden in season and a small corn crop. We subsisted on what produce Mother had left over from her sales. Occasionally the boys would find a wild hog in the woods that was fat enough to kill and we would have meat for awhile. Occasionally we would pen a milk cow but it wouldn't be but a short time until someone would claim it or the soldiers would drive it off. Mother's oxen were driven off every year and she was continuously having to break a new pair.
At the close of the War Father came home and began to gather things together to start living again. The whole country was in desolation; we moved across the line into Arkansas and Father built a mill there. We stayed for two years and came back to Flint District and located at Peavine, near Stilwell. I attended school while we lived there for three months and that was the only opportunity I ever had to attend school. Lem SANDERS, a cripple man, taught a private school and was my only teacher.
In 1871, I was married to Wilson RIDER, Cherokee, although he had blue eyes and brown hair, he was almost a full blood and did not speak English very well. He had served in the Northern army as had some of the Indians of each tribe.
After we were married we lived a few miles south of Park Hill, near Standing Rock. My husband was away the greater part of the time buying and selling stock. I was left alone with my two babies; before dark the wolves in the mountains would begin to howl and I would be scared almost to death. Every night I would sit on the stone step at the front door and cried tears enough to melt the stone.
It was seven miles to the nearest neighbor and no one ever felt more alone.
We lived there some three years, then moved to Sulphur Springs and stayed until 1878 when we moved to Muskogee, and my father and husband opened the first meat market in Muskogee. There were only two drygoods stores in Muskogee at that time. They were owned and operated by J. A. PATTERSON and J. E. TURNER. One hardware store owned by J. S. ATKINSON. The meat market was in the same block as the other stores on Main Street facing the Katy Railroad.
We lived in a little box house on second street that my father had erected. Later he built a little better house on South Cherokee Street near the Methodist Church. My children attended the Methodist Sunday School. Reverend C. F. BREWER was pastor of the church at that time and took quite a fancy to my oldest little girl who he thought was unusually bright, and wanted me to give her to him. He said he would rear here and give her a good education but I couldn't give up even one of my seven children; we educated her and several more of the children at the Cherokee's seminaries at Tahlequah.
We lived in Muskogee for several years, then moved back to Park Hill where we owned a home and farm and where my father died in October, 1923 at the age of eighty-eight. My mother had previously died at the age of fifty-five. At the time of her death the doctors who attended her during her last illness said that the muscles in her arms had become completely hardened due to long year of extreme heavy work.
Both my parents are buried at the cemetery at Park Hill.
When the Cherokee lands were allotted I was given an allotment as an intermarried Cherokee citizen. Since the death of my husband I received a government pension paid to widows of Northern soldiers. I own a little home in Ft. Gibson, where I live comfortable with my daughter, granddaughters and three little grandsons.
Transcribed and submitted by Gloria Bidinger <email@example.com> 12-99