Item #8757 [A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]. Stuart Walter Case.
[A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]
[A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]
[A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]
[A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]
[A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]

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[A group of eight letters by a young clerk in Fayetteville describing the Trail of Tears and the Arkansas scene.]

Fayetteville, Arkansas and elsewhere, November 1837–April 1840. 8 autograph letters, signed, on bifolia, 9.625” x 7.5” to 12.75” x 7.75”). 22.5 pp., of which 2.5 are cross-written. CONDITION: Most letters very good, occasional separations along old folds and small losses at wax seals, with minimal loss of text; 31 August [1838] letter with numerous document tape repairs, and lacking top right quarter of final p.; 4 August 1839 letter with several document tape repairs and smaller losses to final p., esp. at top right corner and lower-right margin.

Eight letters written by a young Arkansas clerk to his father in Indiana, providing a fascinating eyewitness account of the Trail of Tears through Fayetteville, with discussions of the deadly animosity between the Cherokee factions, the businesses that sprang up to provision the forced emigrants along their route, and the bustling, diverse, and rapidly shifting community in Fayetteville.

Stuart Walter Case (also “Stewart Walter Cayce,” 1819–1876) was born in New Albany, Indiana to Thomas Case (1790–1840) and Jane Simonton Case (1791–1850). Intent upon settling in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Case left home at the age of eighteen or nineteen to work as a store clerk for one “Mr. Wilson,” evidently a family acquaintance, who had initially planned to establish himself there. Of the eight letters offered here, seven were written from Arkansas. In the earliest of these, dated July 6th, 1838, Case tells his father that Wilson had, contrary to expectation,

purchased a small farm near the boundary line between the Neosho Territory & Arkansas State. This place is a point of considerable importance, being just where the “military Road” that leads down to Fort Gibson leaves the state line. This Road is one of the best any where near here and there is an immense amount of travel on it, Waggons passing constantly going down in the Nation among the Indians to trade, loaded generally with Meal Bacon & flour and most other Kinds of provisions all these articles are worth about one hundred pr ct more in the Nation than they are here flour is worth here 5 to 6$ pr 100 lb meal is 75 to 100 pr Bushel Bacon 16 cts Corn flour 75 to 100…

Case goes on to describe the diversity of customers who frequent Mr. Wilson’s establishment: “our customers being a great many of them Indians or mix’d blood…some of them being very fine people…a white man with a black wife is an occurrence not at all uncommon here, & vice versa.” He then discusses the fear among the locals about the Creek Indians, who have mingled with the Seminole, and the possibility of a war with them:

These Creeks are mixed with the Seminoles who have just fetched from Florida in Irons same as the Creeks were. They were fighting with the whites just before they left and they are trying to stir it up again. I have no doubt but there will be an Indian War here at no distant date. Any person will think so, that knows the circumstances under which they came, many of them in Irons…the greater part of them removed from their homes in Florida forcibly, & it is natural that men treated so must come here with very embittered feelings against the whites…

Despite the heavy traffic, Wilson’s was evidently a lonely place for Case, and his next letter, dated October 11th, is written from Fayetteville, where he had found “a Situation with a Mr. James Sutton of this place at an advanced salery,” and where he would witness a significant portion of the Cherokee removal firsthand. On December 4th Case discusses “the preparations going on to defend the frontiers,” including the construction of “two large forts,” one to become “the head quarters of the South Western Division of the Army, now under the command of Gen’l Arbuckle,” and reports that “Great preparations are also making for the emigrating Cherokees who are daily expected, agents are riding all about the country, buying up provisions, corn &c for their sustenance, stands are being erected every ten miles all through Missouri & Arkansas as depots for corn. It is said that 1200 are within a few days march of here now, the whole number to come is computed at 14 to 15 thousand souls…”

Four months later, on March 31st, Case reports that the

stir and bustle of the Cherokee emigration is beginning to die away, most of them having already arrived and taken up their abode in the far west to all appearances well satisfied, though it is all one with them whether they are or not, they having nothing before them but ‘Hobson’s Choice,’ [i.e., no choice at all]…the agents are busily engaged in dispensing of the waggons & horses which were used in bringing them out, and the farmers around here laugh in their sleeves, at the cheap bargains that they get out of them.

He goes on to describe the political disagreements that broke the Cherokee Nation into two factions: the Ross party, which is “by far the most numerous, and is principally composed of full blooded Cherokees…opposed to the removal of themselves west, the Treaty was made by the other party without their consent,” and the Ridge party, which is “principally composed of half breeds & mixed blood’d Indians, together with white men who have married into the nation, they being principally all well off. These rival factions cannot bear the sight of each other, and if they happen to meet any where there is always sure to be a fight.” Then, picking up a related thread, Case asks: “By the By what think you of marrying into the nation? A fine way to make a fortune without much trouble, they always prefer a white man…”

A lengthy letter dated August 4th, 1839—about a month after the assassination of Major Ridge by members of the Ross faction—offers another discussion of intratribal tensions, and their ripple effects on the white community:

The state of the Cherokee Nation at this time is dreadful, a civil war is on the point of commencing, the nation is divided into factions and the head of one part has been assassinated by the orders of the other where it will end no body knows, the parties have (one on the point of doing so) assembled their entire force with the intintion of deciding the war by a single blow. Genl. Arbuckle the commander at Fort Gibson is trying his best to make peace between them…Much alarm has been felt by the people of this county, some families have left and some are leaving.

Elaborating further on the dire political situation among the Cherokee, Case reports on September 30th that “Council after Council has been held and dissolved again, without effecting anything,” and that two of Ross’s “most distinguished braves” were found dead in the woods near his encampment, “each with a single bullet in him, done tis thought by Ridges men.” Meanwhile, “One of the surviving chiefs…of the Ridge party has gone on to Washington City to see if their ‘Great Father’ Martin [van Buren] will do anything for them (it may be all right and good for Martin to be styled Great Father by the Indians, but if I was in his place I should be sorry for the morals of my children).”

Alongside his accounts of the Cherokee, Case’s letters provide an intimate portrait of a racially diverse and bustling Arkansas frontier community (Mr. Sutton enjoying “splendid business”), which was at first “very civil and orderly” but which rapidly devolved into “the rendevous for all the devils on the face of the earth.” Later letters include accounts of the raising of volunteer companies, an increasingly armed population, and a skyrocketing crime rate: “many murders…have lately taken place, for within the last five weeks in this country no less than fourteen persons have come to violent death, exclusive of three that were hung last Monday” before a crowd of some 3000 people, “including the women children & Blacks, of which there was probably five hundred armed.” Case offers a rich eyewitness description of a lynch mob (down to the “white foam o[o]zing slowly” from the mouth of a dying man), and an unequivocal estimation of the general state of Fayetteville: “Suffice it to say this county and town in particular has become one of the most lawless and uncivilized places in all creation. There is men here from Mexico, men from Iowa Territory, & men from Texas, who all coincide in saying that its equal is not to be found. Shooting, stabbing, knocking down and dragging out, appear to be the order of the day at present in this place.” The last letter in the group, written “two long, long years since I left you for the land of the stranger,” suggests how life in Arkansas has changed him: “It seems to me sometimes that I am more changed in my way of thinking, that I have grown selfish, and callous to any thing save my own interest, but I suppose I am only a little older in the ‘ways of the world,’ and think (as I heard a man express himself the other day when accused of cheating) ‘That the world is only a large violin, and that the Smartest man got the Sweetest music out of it.” Case soon returned to Indiana (leaving “a certain young lady” behind in Fayetteville), and married Hester Robinson in 1845. They and their children later moved to Mobile, Alabama, where Case worked as a hardware merchant and died in 1879.

The Trail of Tears was a network of water and land routes by which the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes were forced from their ancestral lands in the southeast into Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. Arkansas is the only state through which the routes of all five tribes passed, and the town of Fayetteville witnessed eleven groups of Cherokee. As Case’s letters discuss, this forced migration presented opportunities to ambitious—and sometimes cruelly deceitful—white businessmen and added disorder to an already tumultuous environment, while for the Cherokee themselves the devastating toll of removal included, though of course was not limited to, violent political divisions.

A revealing collection of letters providing a firsthand account of the Trail of Tears and its impact in Arkansas.

Item #8757

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