STORIES OF THE SHAWNEE INDIANS
By S. C. Turnbo
It is said that at the breaking out of the war between the United States and England in 1812 the Shawnee Indians were divided into two tribes. The majority favored Great Brittain. The remainder favored the United States. If I am not misinformed the Shawnees formerly inhabited a strip of country reaching through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. The part of the tribe friendly to the United States were headed by Chief Lewis. The famous Chief Tecumseh commanded those who took aides with England. I am told that many years ago that White River from a few miles above Batesville to some distance up this stream was ceded to the Cherokee Indians. This was called the Cherokee Grant. But it is told the tribe never occupied it. Whose fault it was I am not able to say. Lewis Indians were brought to it about 1819. There were about 2,OOO of them of all sexes and ages. These Indians divided into three parties and each had a village on the river. One town was situated at the mouth of Livingstons Creek. Another village was somewhere near the mouth of Pine Bayou and the other a few miles below mouth of Big North Fork. Finally several Indians located where Yellville, Arkansas, now stands on Crooked Creek. Everyone acquainted with the history and nature of Indians understood their greed and love for whiskey. An incident of this kind which shows their ungovernable temper for fire water was told by old timers and occurred at the mouth of Livingston Creek near where Mount Olive is now. Two white men of the name of McCoy and Bill Clifton brought a barrel of whiskey up the river in a large canoe. The Indians were on the alert and learned of the whiskey being aboard before the arrival of the canoe. As the men with their canoe hove in sight of the village the Indians began stirring around lively. The white men suspicioned that the red men were aware of the barrel of whiskey being in the canoe and they hovered as close to the opposite shore as the water would permit with the hope that they would not be molested. In a short time a crowed of Indians had collected on the shore and gave the two white men a sign to bring the canoe to their side of the river, but they refused and pushed the canoe along as fast as they could. The Indians seeing that the white men had disobeyed their sign a lot of them ran along the bank ahead of the canoe then waded across the river and captured the canoe by superiority of numbers. Clifton was brave and stood in defense of his craft and bill of lading, but the other fellow leaped into the water and retreated to shore and ran into the forest. Clifton did his utmost to prevent the surging crowd of Indians from taking the barrel of whiskey and fought them desperately with hie canoe pole, but they were too many for him and he was compelled to yield. The Indians dragged the canoe to their side of the river where their village stood and rolled the barrel ashore and turned the man and his craft loose. Cliftons temper was wrought up to a high pitch. He was angry enough to have cleaned out the whole crowd of Indians if it had lay in his power, but seeing now that further resistance was useless he left the shore silent and disgusted. A few of the wiser heads in the village saw what was coming for the whole village would soon be in a drunken row and they hurriedly collected all the arms in the village and put them together and stood guard over them with clubs. All the ballance of the Indians, little, big, old and young, got drunk and kept up a terrible yell night and day for half a week. During their drunken carousel a few whites visited them but they were careful to avoid trouble with them. Clifton visited them too and sought revenge for the loss of his barrel of whiskey at the moment he would catch a drunken Indian away from camp he would knock him down and stomp him then let him up and wait for another one to come along and he would treat him likewise.
When the Indians occupied Shawnee town where the fine little city of Yellville was afterward built they were a lively crowd. White settlers visited them from far and near. The Indians erected several small huts mostly of cedar logs. They covered these with boards 6 feet long with about two couses to the side. It is told that the Indians notched their logs on top instead of the bottom like white people do. John H. Tabor, who died near Powel, Ark., in 1902, and Allin Trimble, who died in 1889, told some interesting stories concerning these Indians, especially about their green corn dances which occurred annually about roasting ear time either at Shawnee town or at their village just below mouth of Big North Fork. A noted Indian by the name of Bob lived at the latter village. Jake Wolf and Stalling and Dearmond had a trading post at mouth of North Fork and when the Indians would arrange for a dance at the village below the trading post a goodly number of Indians would go down there from Shawnee town and have a gay time dancing and getting drunk. Trimble and Tabor said they were present on several occasions when these dances occurred. In describing the dancing floor they said the Indians would make a ring about 150 feet in circumference and clean the ground off nice in the circle similar to an old fashioned wheat yard that the settlers use to tromp their wheat out on with horses. When all the arrangements for the dance was complete the performance began. One of the Indians beat a drum made of a hollow log that had been hollowed out until the walls were thin. The ends were covered with dry hide. As the drum would be beat the Indians would dance and half march around on the yard once then face about and go back the other way. As they did so they would sing or chant. They would have their leggins filled loosely with small pebbles and mussel shells which rattled together as they danced and hopped around the circle. This combined with chants and noise made by beating the drum including the action of the performers was a scene of fun and curiosity. They would not dance long before they stopped and filled their bolls of their pipes that was fixed in their tommyhawks with tobacco or a substitute if they did not have tobacco and sit down and after lighting their pipes would take a puff then pass it around until every Indian took a draw from each pipe then they would rise and go on with the dance. This was repeated several times before they become weary of their work. If whites were present they would invite them onto the floor to dance with them. If they accepted the Indians would make sport of their awkwardness. If the whites smoked with them the Indians considered them friends. Allin Trimble said he was present one day while a green corn dance was going on at Shawnee town and one of the Indians got beastly drunk and was unruly and boisterous. Some of the other Indians tried to quiet him but failed. After enduring his recklessness awhile longer they all quit dancing long enough and with buck skin thongs they tied his hands and feet together like tieing a hog and picked him up and dumped him into the shade of a tree where he was allowed to remain until he was sober enough to behave himself. After the Indians vacated their huts some of the whites occupied them. It is told that Ben Woods lived in one of these cabins several months. The settlers called him Cedar Wood after that because the Indian hut he occupied was built of Cedar. Ben was a brother of William Woods, the first county judge of Marion County. The settlers called Judge Wood "Dancin Bill" because he was considered the best dancer in the county. Mrs. Mary A. Holt, before her death at Lead Hill, Ark., told an amusing anecdote which is too good to be lost which occurred at Shawnee town, now Yellville, Ark., after the greater number of Indians had gone west. Mrs. Holt said that her grandfather, Jimmie Adams, settled in the river bottom 2 ½ miles above big North at an early date. Some years after his arrival here he built a little mill on a small stream supplied with a fine spring of water. One of his sons named Matt usually attended the mill. In 1838 the country was visited by a protracted drouth and corn crop was short. In the following year several settlers done without bread. My grandfather instructed Matt if a customer come to the mill with a small amount of corn in his sack and was without means to buy bread not to toll it but put a tall dish full in his sack and grind it free of toll." Mrs. Holt went on to say that before Mr. Adams built this mill Jess Everette built a little mill on Mill Creek just south of the Indian village where Daniel Wickersham built his mill afterward. Everettes mill was the first one built in what is now known as Marion County, Ark. "One day," said Mrs. Holt, grandfather and one of his black slaves named Jess went to Everettes mill on horseback. Jess the colored boy did not love Indians and did not appreciate the idea of being in their presence. As it was some distance to mill Mr. Adams was late in the day before arriving. While waiting for his grist grandfather took the negro boy and rode into the Indian village. Some of the Indians were preparing a repast by broiling fresh meat on the fire and when they got ready to dine they invited grandfather to eat with them. The invitation was accepted. The Indians also invited the young negro to share their generosity. But he declined without saying anything. The Indiana were kind and friendly and kept insisting on the colored boy to eat with them, but he shied off for he was afraid of them. The Indians told him that the meat was good and well cooked on the live coals of fire and that he was welcome to all that he could eat. But they could not prevail on him to speak much less to eat. At last the Indians grew impatient and offended at the stubborn boy and one of the Indians exclaimed in broken English., "White man leetle better than injun. Injun lettle better than nigger. Nigger leetle better than dog." The cutting remark cast toward the lad created a roar of laughter among the Indians and grandfather joined in with them and he took many merry laughs about it for years afterward. When Jess was grown he was a religious turn of mind and turned out to be a Baptist preacher and lived at Springfield, Mo. a few years after the war."
Springfield-Greene County Library