Indian Pioneer Papers - Index
History Project for Oklahoma
Date: October 11, 1937
Nathaniel Dow Willis
Post Office: Route #1,
Date of Birth: April
Place of Birth: Dawson
Place of Birth:
Information on father:
Place of birth:
Information on mother:
Field Worker: Wylie Thornton
I was born April 15th, 1867, in Dawson County, Georgia. I received very
little education there in the public schools.
I came to the Cherokee Nation at the age of twenty-two years. I bought my
ticket for Illinois station, Indian Territory. This today is the town of Gore.
At that time, the railroad was the Arkansas Valley railroad, and then this
later became the Iron-Mountain Railroad, and was then changed again to the
Missouri-Pacific Railroad. I got off the train at Illinois Station and hired a
man to take me across the Arkansas River in a ferry-boat toward what is now
Webbers Falls; then we went on southwest to a point near the present site of
Briartown, beyond where Porum is now.
We came to a place where I expected to find [my] two brothers, Ben and John
WILLIS, who had come to this country a year before. I was disappointed to find
that they had left for a place near Wauhillau, Indian Territory, not over two
miles from right here where I am today; they had rented part of Sicky SANDERS,
place. Sicky Sanders was Long John Sanders brother and everybody knew Long
Here we all farmed for two years and made some mighty good crops on that
rough land. The dirt we did scratch up was black as the ace of spade, and corn
and cotton grew almost too large for us to gather.
We boys were making money all right and during all this time we were trying
to learn the Indian language.
We talked it over several times and thought in as much as we were about
one-sixteenth part Cherokee blood ourselves we ought to be able to master the
Indian language, but we never have been able to talk the Indian language to
this day. We can only understand the Indian enough to know when they are
trying to tell us that they want something.
My grandfather and grandmother left the state of Georgia in the year 1833
and came to this new country of the Cherokees. They made the journey in a
covered wagon. My grandfather’s name was Pickens Willis and Father was named
after him. My grandparents endured great hardships on that journey in 1833;
there were no bridges over the large streams of water; there were no roads, no
medical aid, and few homes - and these homes were from fifteen to twenty miles
The open Indian Country was absolutely alive with wild animals and game of
all sorts, and the underbrush and grass and vines almost covered the dim,
My grandparents were helped, and protected by some very faithful negro
slaves who came out here with them.
The negro slaves went ahead of the wagons with axes and guns to cut out the
way for the on-coming train of wagons and to kill any wild beasts they might
see. The wolves were very dangerous at night, coming quite near to the
My grandparents said afterward that they often saw panthers slipping up
near them. The wild pigeons would come over in great swarms and in such great
numbers that they would cover the skies and many times the daylight was shut
off by these flocks of wild pigeons, and the sky as dark as on an evening
My grandfather decided to go no farther, and they settled on a place a few
miles south of what is now Siloam Springs, Arkansas, on what finally came to
be known in the last few years as the Old Ledbetter place. They began to chop
out and clear up the land for cultivation and they had to fight with wild
fowls and "varmits" to keep them from eating up their crops.
The squirrels would run up and down the corn rows, and the dead trees in
the new ground afforded roosts for squirrels to outrun their pursuers and they
would just run up and down rail fences to keep from being caught by hand, and
wild coons did about the same thing, and wild turkey gobblers would come into
the yard to fight the home fowls.
Once, Grandfather sent two of his slaves to a certain place to hew out some
certain kind of timber and instructed them to get a certain amount done for a
Anyway they were until after dark getting it done, and they started home
and got lost in the woods, and wandered in the woods for two weeks seeking
They killed wild beasts for food and their clothes were almost worn out
when they finally reached the camp.
Finally, my grandfather died up there on the newly settled place now known
as the Ledbetter place and was buried by his own family somewhere on the
place, and today no one knows just where his grave is.
A few years after her husband’s death, grandmother married a man by the
name of Barnhill and he began to squander her savings and she left him and
returned to her old home in Georgia and died in a few years and was buried in
After my brothers and I had worked the Sicky Sanders’ place for two years
we separated or rather I ceased to work with my brothers. I got a job working
in a store that was started by T. P. Tankersley about three miles west of Old
Wauhillau, and Tip finally got a post office put in his store, and this was
the first post office in this part of the country.
I worked three years for Tip Tankersley until he gave up the post office to
Levi Keys who put up a small store. I changed and followed up the post office
and began to work for Levi KEYS and I worked for Levi Keys for two years.
During all the time I was working for these two little stores and post
offices I had quite a time teaching the people, especially the Indians, what
the post office was for, and how they could write to distant relatives and
these relatives would receive their letters. They could not understand why
anybody would want to go so far to give a letter to a person for only two
Many people would ride on horseback ten miles to our store to trade for a
package of coffee, or just a block of soda or a little salt, or box of
matches, or a dime’s worth of horseshoe nails, or a box of cartridges for a
The price paid for produce was very small. There was no way out to market
for most of the produce. Cattle was the only thing that a native or a farmer
could possibly sell; we bought no eggs or chickens, no potatoes, tomatoes,
onions or anything of the kind.
You could buy a two hundred pound fat hog for $12.00 and as for eggs, the
boys often threw them at one another on Sunday while playing Indian War.
Usually the farmers had eggs by the tubsful.
We had no trouble getting the hens to lay in those days and every little
while another hen would show up with a flock of baby chickens. She would come
up out of the weeds where she had hidden her nest, and we always had more
chickens than we knew what to do with, and our hogs increased in just the same
The woods were absolutely full of hogs and many grew to be wild and no one
knew to whom they belonged and did not care, as there was no market for them.
About 1890 some hog buyers came to this country and later on about 1895 or
1900 we began to handle a few chickens and eggs, paying about .05 to .10 per
dozen for eggs and .15 to .20 apiece for chickens.
When I went into the little store, my brothers went down on the creek west
of here and bought a place from Daniel RATLIFF, and it grew to be a famous
little farm for those days. It was the original home place for General Stand
Watie of Civil War fame.
Aunt Lucindie KEYS, Levi Keys’ wife, told me about the place having
belonged to Stand Watie before the Civil War. I have been on the place, and it
looks like a choice old homestead, and there is where my two brothers, John
and Ben Willis, lived and died.
About 1890 there was no Stilwell and no Welling, but instead of Stilwell,
there was a small store located in a black-haw thicket, which was a very muddy
place, and we called it The Flint Store, and Henry DANNENBURG was the first
store-keeper in that country, and he finally had a post office in his store.
The mail was carried by horseback from Evansville, Arkansas, to Flint, Indian
Territory. Later on, about 1890, we succeeded in getting a man to bring the
mail on to Wauhillau on horseback.
I ran a store of my own from 1909 to 1919 at the place where the Wauhillau
store is now located, and I also helped plan many a community gathering such
as the Anti-Horse Thief Lodge, and I helped with all kinds of religious
campaigns. Prominent among the early day settlers who were interested in
church and religious matters was Mat J. WHITFIELD.
Transcribed by Wanda
Elliott <firstname.lastname@example.org> 10-1999.