Ranney Letter #13
Lyman writes from Fort Smith Arkansas, which is only ten miles from where he has been living at Van Buren, but looks across the river at the “Indian Nation.” The fort not only defends the boundary between the United States and the Indian territory established by the removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw people from Georgia in the 1830s, but it is the center for trade with the Indians. Lyman writes that in a couple of months the Indians will receive their annual annuity of between $800,000 and $1 million, and that this cash payment will result in a frenzy of selling as the Indians try to turn the government scrip into something they can use.
Lyman writes bluntly about the Indians, but he has also taken the time during the few days he has been in Fort Smith to find out that there are three nations of crowded together in the territory across the river, and that they can’t communicate with each other. He ironically quotes a southern song (All I ask in this creation, Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation, Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation), and then declares that he would rather live in Fort Smith, because it is more lively and he likes trading with the Indians.
Illustration: Fort Smith, from Harper’s Weekly, March 9, 1861
Translation note: Dido: a mischievous or capricious act: prank, antic. Often used in the phrase cut didoes. (Merriam-Webster online)
Fort Smith Arks. April 28th 1851
You may think it somewhat strange to receive a letter from this remote corner of the Earth 9as you think I suppose), but it is so. I came up here about a week since to stay a few days as Mr. Bishop has a store at this point and the young man that has been attending to his business here is sick. I had to come up and supply it.
This is a great business point, although most of the trade is with the Indians. All that separates this place in the Indian nation is the Arkansas River. We can look across and behold the Indians on the opposite shore, cutting up all sort of “didoes.” They are over on this side every day, sometimes hundreds of them, trading. And most sure to get drunk, most of them.
Fort Smith is situated on the Arkansas River ten miles above Van Buren. It has more inhabitants than V.B. But the society is not near as good as at Van Buren.
There is to be paid out at this point more about this point about eight hundred thousand of one million dollars appropriated to them by Congress. It will (they expect) be paid to the Indians about the first of June next. Which if it is there will be a great chance of making money as you can sell to the Indians at double price and they would not know the difference.
I am way off down near the Cherokee Nation, but I have no pretty little squaw or big plantation. There is three different nations of Indians that join this place: the Cherokee (the most numerous), the Choctaws and the Chicisaws all talk different and cannot understand each other no more than they can the white man. But there is a great many of them that can talk English considerable.
I shall leave this place for Van Buren, I expect, in about one week, as the young man is getting able to be about. I think I had rather live here than at V.B., it being more lively. And I like to trade with the Indians.
Give my love to all our friends in the Yankee land, the land of my birth.
Hoping that this may find you and your family all well I close as I am writing on the counter and expect a customer in every moment.
I remain Faithfully Yours
Lyman A Ranney
P.S. I wrote these scattering remarks as I had nothing else to do just at this time and thought perhaps you would like to hear from this point.