Cherokee, Indian Removal, John Howard Payne, Daniel Butrick, Native Americans
These two handsome books bring into print the contents of six manuscript volumes from the Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago. How those many pages of ethnographic material on Cherokee people during the removal era came into the possession of turn-of-the-twentieth-century collector Ayer is unclear. But they are what survives of an extraordinary effort to document the Cherokees in the 1830s and 1840s undertaken by John Howard Payne, a New Englander perhaps best known as the man responsible for the lyrics of "Home Sweet Home."
After a modest international career as an actor and an undistinguished stint as a journalist, and before being appointed as U.S. counsel to Tunis, Payne found himself almost by accident in Cherokee country as a guest of Chief John Ross in 1835. What began with a journalistic interest in Native American resistance to Federal and state removal policies became personal when Georgia troops crossed not only into Cherokee Nation territory but across the line into the state of Tennessee to arrest Payne and Ross on trumped-up charges of obstructing a census. Payne also stood accused of being an abolitionist and a French spy. After his release from imprisonment, Payne made it his business to publicize nationally the illegality of his arrest and the treatment of the Cherokees more generally, particularly in the Treaty of New Echota, which provided the legal [End Page 279] basis for removal. Payne spent a few weeks in Cherokee country before his arrest in 1835, four months in Indian Territory after removal in 1840 and 1841, and some additional time with Cherokees in 1842. On that last occasion, he was employed by the U.S. government to investigate the results of the New Echota Treaty; his honest report got him fired.
Along the way, Payne not only became deeply interested in Cherokee history and religion but met a man who probably knew those subjects more thoroughly than any other Euro-American. Presbyterian missionary Daniel Butrick lived with Cherokees for more than thirty years, from his arrival at the Brainerd Mission in Tennessee 1818, through the horrors of the Trail of Tears, until his death in what is now Oklahoma in 1851. The first of the six bound volumes at the Newberry is the result of Payne's collaboration with Butrick, a polished but never published manuscript of what Payne hoped would be the first of three books. An overview of Cherokee religious beliefs and ceremonies, the text is heavily—at times nearly fatally—infused with Payne's and Butrick's then common-place theory that Native Americans were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The third Newberry manuscript appears to be a rough draft of one of the subsequent books Payne envisioned. These compilations are valuable not only for the many nuggets of Cherokee traditions that peek through the interpretive scheme but because they attribute particular stories and pieces of information to individual Cherokee informants, and thus allow glimpses of distinct persons and perspectives.
But in many ways the remaining manuscripts—which in this edition occupy the middle of volume 1 and all of volume 2—are far more interesting. The second Newberry manuscript consists of miscellaneous notes that Payne compiled during his visits to the Cherokees. Sprinkled through lists of clans' and chiefs' names, transcriptions of laws and magazine articles, and other bits of information are biographical sketches of such well-known figures as Ross, Shoe Boots, and Sequoyah; notes on interviews with Native leaders; and accounts of the machinations of U.S. officials. Manuscript four, which opens volume 2 of the printed collection, consists of letters written to Payne about the Cherokees. Most are from Butrick, and they include long, insightful essays on religious beliefs, calendrical ceremonies, the ball play, and countless other matters, only snippets of which made it into Payne's proposed books...