Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bryant Takes Long Walk and Describes Indian Children at Boarding School, 1901

Beasley’s Farm and Home Weekly, Charlotte, N.C., July 31, 1941

Took Round Trip of 20 Miles…Only to Find That Old Jim Walkingstick Had Nothing to Say and Said It

By H.E.C. (Red Buck) Bryant

Jim Walkingstick was a Cherokee Indian in 1901 but no doubt he has passed to the Happy Hunting Ground long before this, for he was 77 years old in that old horse and buggy era when I made his acquaintance. One Sunday morning in November, I was walking from Bryson City, Swain County, to the Eastern Cherokee Training School, 10 miles away on the banks of the Oconee-Lufty River.

I had for a companion on that 20-mile round trip jaunt a traveling salesman I had never seen before. He heard me say that I was going to walk and insisted on accompanying me. I asked him if he had been used to such strenuous journeys afoot, and he answered in the negative but boasted that he could do the task if I could. He was what George Ade called a wind-jammer.

We made the journey, up hill and down hill, in very good time. I never saw that pal again for 15 years, and then in Washington. On a popular business street he stopped me, and recalled the ramble in the mountains, and added that he went from Bryson City to Knoxville, Tenn., where he was out of commission for nearly three weeks. He had undertaken, too much, when he was not used to it, and it laid him up.

To the Cherokee School

Back there, 40 years ago this coming winter, I wrote:

“Bryson City, Nov. 22—If one would know North Carolina he must travel from the Atlantic to the Smokies. Out here I almost feel like I was in a foreign land. The topography of the country and the people are so unlike what I have been used to around Charlotte. But the more I know of this section and its inhabitants the better I like them. To fully appreciate the country or the people one must make excursions into the rural districts. There mountain men and women live. They are the salt of the earth.

“Bryson City is a very lonesome place for a stranger on Sunday. Of course there are churches to go to but I go to those at home. One soon tires of laying around a hotel and is compelled to do something in self-defense. That I did yesterday. And, being interested in Uncle Sam and his work, I walked out to the Cherokee Training School.

“I had for a walking mate a pill seller who walked well for an inexperienced mountain climber. We made the visit between 9 and 5:30,and with the exception of a ravenous appetite, a few sore muscles and a great desire to sleep, I did not feel any the worse from the jaunt.

“What I saw at the school and on the way there and back affords material for a good story.

Meets Old Man Jim Walkingstick

“Seven miles out of town we began to see Indians—real Indians. I have seen Catawbas and Croatans but none of them look like the Cherokees, who have red, copper color, the high cheek bones and the long, straight black hair.

“The first individual we met was old man Jim Walkingstick. He was leaning against the fence that enclosed the red man’s church at Bird-Town. His eyes were fixed on the far off mountains and his mind, no doubt, on the Happy Hunting Ground. He was not the only man there for two dozen or more young bucks stood along the fence, and others loafed in front of the church. All waited for the services to begin. As we approached every mouth was closed. If any conversation had been going it was stopped. Each Indian looked as if he had lost his best friend. The atmosphere was heavy with Indian piety. I felt like I was offending the Indians by desecrating the Sabbath. But I have since come to the conclusion that they were simply playing ‘possum or pouting. I believe they thought the two pale-faced tramps were after doing the Red-skin harm. I tried to draw Jim Walkingstick into a conversation, but he did nothing but grunt. He could not tell his own name. His silence sealed the lips of the younger men. It was impossible to get a word of information about the country, or the people. And when I insinuated that I would stay for preaching the whole crowd looked more downcast than ever, and some few bucks grunted and walked away. If we had offered to go in the church I do not believe the pastor would have had a corporal’s guard.

Women Look Neat

“We moved on up the river toward the school and met a score or more of women going to Bird-Town. Most of them wore red shawls or capes over their shoulders and red bandana handkerchiefs on their heads. Their skirts were made of some plain cloth and had been made when the water was high, for they did not swing lower than the shoe top. They were made to walk in. I saw no one but who looked neat. As a rule the women are large and strong looking. Several of the girls wore strings of beads.

“The Eastern Cherokee Training School is maintained by the federal government. From year to year Congress appropriates enough to provide for 150 children. The school draws from all the Cherokee families east of the Mississippi River. At present 168 children, 90 boys and 78 girls, are in the school. Their ages run from 6 to 18.

“The work done at this school is decidedly practical. The boys and girls are trained to work as well as taught to read and write. The purpose of the education is to prepare the boys for earning an honest living by honest labor, and the girls for making good housekeepers, good wives and good mothers.

How the School Operates

There are 140 acres of land in the school tract. The boys work in the gardens, in the dairy, in the carpenter shop, in the blacksmith shop, in the shoe shop, where the girls learn to sew, to cook, to wash. The boys milk the cows and the girls take the milk and prepare it for the church and the table. The boys care for the barn and the stock while the girls help cook food and make clothes. The school is made self-sustaining as far as possible. One department helps the other. The work of a session is so divided that every boy must take a turn in each department. For instance, one week he will work on the farm, the next in the blacksmith shop and so on through. The object is to make him an all-round workman. The girls are worked in the same way.

“There are about 18 buildings in the enclosure. The main ones are the girls’ dormitory and dining hall, the boys’ dormitory, the teachers’ quarters, the superintendent’s cottage, the commissary, the school building, the office building, the baker’s shop, and the carpenter’s shop.

“The school is a model for neatness and cleanliness. Every building is kept in ship shape. The boys and girls are required to make their beds and clean their rooms. The superintendent makes a close inspection every Sunday morning from 9:30 to 10 o’clock. He goes to the sleeping apartments and each and every child is expected to be dressed in his or her best clothes, and standing by his or her bed. Order and system prevail everywhere. Along with several other visitors I was conducted into the large bed room of the girls, the dining hall, the kitchen and the school building. The girls sleep in a large room on iron beds equipped with comfortable mattresses and coverings. Boys and girls eat in the same dining room, though they occupy separate buildings and have separate play grounds.

“We arrived at the school soon after dinner had been served. The children were at play on the lawns. Fifty or more boys, handsome little fellows, with black eyes, black hair and red-tinged faces, were scattered over a hill side and a valley, inside the fence, playing shinny. They were like so many lambs skipping about. Further on, the little girls were running and jumping about on their lawn. They were pretty to look upon in their dainty, clean Sunday clothes with their raven locks arranged in plaits tied with bows of ribbon at their backs and on top of their heads. It was an attractive picture. There was a beam of happiness in every little black eye. The children seemed healthy and satisfied. As they romped they did not make much noise. Now and then, however, a boy would give a regular Indian yell. Uncle Sam, thru the teachers, has already accomplished much at this school. He has taught the boys and girls how to keep clean, how to dress, how to work and how to live together in peace and harmony. They should make good citizens.

‘It will no doubt be of interest to other schools’ boys and girls to know the names of 10 of the Cherokee children. Here they are: Masters Owen Walkingstick, Joe Coloniheiski, Jesse Ropetwister, Wilson Gadageski, and cunuaneeta welch, and little Misses Ona Youngdeer, Wahueeto Standingdeer, Yon Youngbird, Maggie Walkingstick, and Josephine Jessan. Those will do to remember. The girls who bear these names are good looking and young. The boys are bright and attractive.

“The location of the Cherokee school could not be improved upon. It is in one of the most charming mountain spots of North Carolina. The Oconee-Lufty River circles around the ground with its clear, swift water in full view of the buildings.

“The children go to Sunday school in the forenoon and to special service in the afternoon every Sunday.

“The Cherokee tribe of North Carolina numbers about 2,500 persons. Jesse Reed is chief and his board of councilmen is composed of 17 of the leading Indians of this section. They met a few days ago.

“On our way to Bryson City, we saw Jim Walkingstick out strolling. He was more communicative than he had been in the morning. On being asked where some Indian wares could be had he piloted us to the house of his son, John, where we purchased a small basket made by Lady Walkingstick. Near the Bird-Town church we bought some table napkin holders made out of laurel. It was then that the Indians became more interesting. Several of them condescended to talk a wee bit.

Whittier’s, on the Murphy branch of the Southern Railway, seven miles east of here, is the most convenient station to Cherokee.

“Many of the most promising boys, after leaving the school here, go to the Carlisle Indian School, of Carlisle, Pa.”

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