Ranney Letter #17

Lyman writes to Henry for the first time from Tahlequah, where he says he is “no longer under the protection of the laws of the United States.” He has been put in charge of Baker & Bishop’s store there, at a salary of $350 annually. Lyman also says he has “found” $350, so perhaps he was given a bonus to take the position.

Tahlequah was about thirty miles from the U.S. border, and was a town of about 400 people at this time. It was established in 1838, and became the capital of the Cherokee Nation the following year. Lyman describes the people and the Cherokee government, and mentions that two schools have been set up for Indian boys and girls. Although he says “some of the students are far advanced,” Lyman seems to consider it odd that they study Greek and Latin: “English and
dead languages, and no Indian language is taught at the school.”

My Transcription:

Tahlequah Cherokee Nation Oct 28 /51
Dear Brother,

You may be somewhat surprised to be hailed from this quarter of the globe. I am no longer under the protection of the laws of the United States as I do not remain within their limits. My employers Messrs Baker & Bishop have established a store at this place and wanted me to take charge of it, to which I accepted. This city is situated in the C. N. about 30 miles from the line of the States. It is regularly built with a square in the center. Population of about 400 persons out of which number but about
twenty entirely white. And some of them have Indian wives. But the Indians around here nearly all civilized. The greater part can talk English. They are greatly amalgamated, you can scarcely find a full blood. Some half and some as white as anybody.

The Nation built two fine seminaries of learning, one for the males and one for the females. Cost about ninety thousand dollars. One is about one mile and the other about three miles from this place. Some of the students are far advanced, studying in the
Greek and Latin languages. They study the English and dead languages, and no Indian language is taught in the school.

They have a chief & 2
nd chief here, and have a house of councilmen & house of committeemen chosen one member from each district. The two houses are now in session. They pass laws, make appropriations, &c.

I wrote home to Michigan last mail and sent
Anson ten dollars to help him attending school this winter as the last two years of my attending was the making of me. It may be the case with him also. I wrote you from Van Buren before coming here, to direct your letters, papers &c, and also to have my regular papers, those sent from office of publication, directed here to this place: Tahlequah, C. N. Arks.

You will please answer this on receiving it and let me hear from you.

Truly Your Brother
L.A. Ranney

P.S. I am getting a salary of 350$ per yr and found 350$. L.A.R.

Ranney Letter #16

Lucius writes to Henry in the Fall of 1851, mentioning that he has had letters from Henry in Ashfield, Alonzo Franklin in Phelps, and Lyman in Arkansas in the same week. Lucius says everyone in his household is well, although his wife and niece have had bouts of fever. Their brother Lewis, however, is fighting for his life.

Lewis had traveled down to Ashfield the previous Spring, and had returned home with an illness that “used him up.” In the fall, he developed an infection in his leg that completely immobilized it. The doctors described this as erysipelas, which is an acute streptococcus bacterial infection of the skin and lymph nodes. As Lucius says, the infection was often fatal, through septic shock, spreading through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, and necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh eating” infection).

Lucius says the illness prevented Lewis from working for most of the summer, so in addition to being ill, Lewis is in a tight financial situation. But Lucius remarks, he has “a smart wife.” Lucius also reports what he knows about Lyman and Priscilla, and says no one has heard from Lemuel in half a year.

The harvest was apparently very good in Michigan, because Lucius says the price of wheat is down as low as fifty cents a bushel. And due to Lewis’s illness, no one in the family raised any peppermint. As a result of the “uncommon hard” times, Lucius will have to defer payment again on the loan Henry gave him. But he hopes to be able to come down to Ashfield himself in a year and repay his brother.

Lucius closes by saying their youngest brother, eighteen year-old Anson, has just returned from Lewis’s place fifty miles away, and that Lewis is doing better.

My Transcription:

Allen Oct 12
th 1851

Dear Friends

I was very much gratified by receiving a letter from you, one from Franklin, & also one from Lyman the past week, & as you all seem to be in a prosperous situation, it is somewhat a consolation to us here. I shall however write but a few lines, as I intend to write to you all this afternoon. We are well here at present. Clarissa has had the ague & fever some this fall, also Ellen Franklin’s little girl has had it some.

Lewis is very sick with a swollen leg. The doctors, the species of irrasiplas. He has not been out of the house for about eight weeks. The swelling commenced on the inside of the leg just above the knee. It makes the cords & joint stiff . It is drawn up in a triangle form & there remains. It is swollen very large and very hard. For the past two weeks it has been increasing & working upwards, & unless it is checked it will work up into his bowels & kill him. Mother is there. I saw him yesterday He has failed very much since I saw him a week ago. It is hopeful that he may get along but I am afraid that he will not live but a short time. He has the best of care & has had three Doctors. They opened it for fear it might be materated, but it was not.

Lewis had a bit of sickness this summer after he left Ashfield, which used him up. He has not been rugged since. He has not been able to do much the past summer. It makes it bad in his situation, although he has a smart wife.

Lyman writes that Bishop & Co. are going to send him out among the Indians with a stock of goods. When he wrote he was at Napoleon on the Mississippi on business for the firm & was going to return soon.

We have not heard from Lemuel since last spring. Densmore was here yesterday. He says Priscilla’s health is pretty good.

Produce is very low this fall. Wheat is worth from 50 to 55 cts per bushel. We had about 200 bushels. As for oil peppermint, in consequence of Lewis health they did not raise any.

The demands you have against me I am afraid that I shall not be able to send you this fall. But I think & hope that I shall be able to go down next fall myself & pay you. Times are uncommon hard in the state this fall. If the wheat crop comes in good next summer I will try & send you a quantity of flour if it should be desired.

I must draw my letter to a close. Anson has just come from Lewis. He says that L is better. Good news. Write on the receipt of this. Give my respects to all enquiring friends.

Yours in haste
Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #15

Lyman writes Henry in the fall, after a trip down the Arkansas River to its mouth on the Mississippi just beyond Little Rock, Arkansas. Lyman has been ill, but tells Henry he is moving up to Tahlequah in the Cherokee Nation, to take over a store there for his employers. Tahlequah was the first town incorporated in the territory given to the Indians after their removal from Georgia on the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s. The territory became the state of Oklahoma in 1907.

Lyman says the payments to Indians he described in a previous letter have begun, and he says the “appropriation” money comes to $800,000 more than the Indians regular annuity. This is apparently a payment associated with the 1851
Indian Appropriations Act, which allocated funds to create a system of reservations and move Indians onto them. This was a boon to the local economy, since as Lyman also described earlier, the Indians have nothing else to do with all this money but spend it in stores like Mr. Bishop’s. And it apparently came at a good time for the white community, since a three month drought had reduced the cotton and corn harvest by up to half.

Lyman also mentions a young man he met who claimed to be related to the Gardner family of Ashfield. He gives quite a bit of detail, although he never even got the man’s first name. The Gardners were not closely connected to the Ranneys as far as I can tell (no marriages, no correspondence in the archives, etc.), so perhaps Lyman’s interest in this person suggests his continuing homesickness and nostalgia for home.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Sept 27
th 1851

Dear Brother

As I have just retnd from a trip down the river I thought I would let you know how I am getting along. I have been to the mouth of the Arkansas River after goods and arrived here on the 25
th of Sept after an absence of over three weeks. I enjoyed very good health while gone except the last two or three of my trip when I was taken with the chills & fever. But I made out to reach home. I am now taking medicine and think I will be able to work in a few days.

I am a going up in the Cherokee Nation in a few days (to take charge of a store for Messrs.
Baker & Bishop) at a place called “Tahlequah” about 25 miles from the American line. There is some whites and a good many Indians & Half Breeds that live there, but it is supposed to be a good place for selling goods. The payment of the Indian appropriation money has commenced to be paid out on the 22nd of this month which amounts to over 800,000$ beside the regular annuity which is nearly half that amt.

It has been remarkably dry here this season. Not over half or two thirds of a crop either in
corn or cotton. There has not been any rain of consequence in about three months.

I saw while down the river a young man by the name of Gardiner. Says he is a relation of the Gardiners of Ashfield. He was formerly from Springfield Mass, did not learn his given name. Has been west two years or more, most the time in Cinti Ohio but came to Little Rock (capital of this state) last spring. Is engaged in merchandizing I think. Is a young man about 25 years old.

You will please direct all letters & papers, also please inform the offices from which I have papers sent (I have recd the
Atlas & Tribune) to direct them to “Tahlequah” C. N. (Cherokee Nation) Arks. I must draw to a close as I am quite weak yet and not able to write any more at this time.
Give my
Love to your family & our friends in your vicinity. Write on receiving this without fail and let me hear all.

Affectionately Yours
L. A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #14

Pasted Graphic
Lyman writes to Henry in June 1851, acknowledging receipt of a letter of Henry’s forwarded by Lucius. The brothers apparently forwarded each other’s letters onward, which may account for some of the gaps in the Ashfield collection. In some cases, as we’ll see, they also transcribed letters so they could send the latest news along to several places at once.

Lyman says he has been well, but that there has been an outbreak of cholera, both at Fort Smith and in Van Buren. It originated with soldiers who had lately come up the river, Lyman says, although he blames the disease on the soldiers’ drinking and debauchery once they arrived, not realizing that they probably brought it with them.

The political season was in full swing, Lyman reports, and the hot topic was “disunion.” Due to its location near the lands recently taken from Mexico in the war ending in 1848, Arkansas was very interested in the debate over extending slavery into the newly acquired territories. Arkansas Congressman Robert Ward Johnson was Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs and a fervent supporter of South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, who had urged southerners to reject compromise. Johnson shocked moderate Arkansas Democrats with his extreme position, and then declared he would not run for reelection in 1851. This created the confusion Lyman mentions. Johnson was appointed by the Arkansas State Legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate, and later to the Confederate Senate. His political career ended when the South lost the Civil War. Lyman apparently favored the Whig candidate, Col. John Preston, but he didn’t come close to winning as Lyman predicted.

Lyman tells Henry that Mr. Bishop has taken on a partner and that they will have $100,000 in stock for the upcoming season, if the new partner can find a way to float his recent purchases up the dangerously low river. This is an interesting reminder that before the age of railroads, merchants and their customers depended on water transportation that was much less predictable. Dry goods bought in Boston had to be shipped down the Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, where they were loaded on flat-bottomed steamboats (which began carrying freight on the Mississippi and its tributaries right after the end of the War of 1812) and shipped north. Although steam power had reduced the trip upriver from months to days, the boats were still affected by weather conditions and especially by low water levels.

Steamboat Washington, built in 1816.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks June 30
th 1851

Dear Brother

I recd your esteemed favor (via Michigan) a few days since and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well. I have enjoyed very good this summer so far but the cholera is among us. There has been some 10 or 12 deaths from that disease here within a few days. First the cholera has been raging at Fort Smith, a point on this river about ten miles above this place. It first originated among the soldiers who had lately come up the river and who had been exposed and had been dissipating and drinking. There has been some thirty or forty deaths among the soldiers at Ft. Smith.

There is some considerable excitement here in this state at present of the union question. The nominee of the Democratic convention for M. C. in this district is a dis-union man and there is a great split among the Democrats about it. They will probably run a union candidate or vote for Mr. Preston the
Whig nominee who is a strong union man and a smart man. Mr. Robt W Johnson is the Democratic nominee who has represented this district in Congress for the last two years.

The candidates are canvassing the district. They were both of them here and spoke yesterday. Mr. Preston will probably be elected.

The Arkansas River is very low at present. None but the smallest of boats can come up it at present. Dr. Baker, Bishop’s new partner, has been on East to Boston, New York & Phila. and bought about 50,000$ stock of dry goods and am afraid he will not be able to get them up if there does not come a rise in the river. Mr. Baker bought of one house in Boston (Blanchard Converse & Co.) over 12,000$. The firm will have about 100,000$ stock this year which is quite a stock for this country.

Harvest is finished here. Wheat cut about 2 weeks since, green corn sometime since. The weather is not as hot here as it is at the north. At times the thermometer scarily even getting above 98. But it is more steady heat here than at the north.

Give my best respects to
Marie and our friends in general. And to Aunt Jerusha, to whom I would write but I have not time at present. Write as often as convenient and let me know what you are doing down in the Yankee land. Lucius made a raise of a half sheet of paper partly filled and sent it with your letter.

Yours affectionately
Lyman A Ranney

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)

My Transcription:

Fort Smith Arks. April 28
th 1851
Dear Brother

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.

Ranney Letter #12

Lucius writes to Henry in February 1851, in his “leisure moments while our folks have gone to meeting this afternoon.” After giving news of the family, Lucius announces that he and a neighbor have gone into the “thrashing” business, and have processed 10,000 bushels, or about a third of the local wheat. They made $360, most of which went toward the $250 purchase of the thresher, wages, and other expenses. But the business seems promising, and Lucius plans to lease his farm and pursue the opportunity.

Henry had asked Lucius for details on the cost of flour and transportation the previous fall, but Lucius was ill with typhus and unable to respond. Henry was apparently considering buying flour in Michigan for shipment to New York. The flour was cheap enough, Lucius reports, but transportation was high, and “advanced about 80 per cent” toward the end of the season. It’s doubtful that Henry could have made money on flour that cost him over five dollars a barrel. The high railroad rates made it too expensive to ship the Michigan wheat.

About two-thirds of the way through the letter, Lucius mentions that he and Clarissa had a daughter the previous fall. Lucius says the baby “is healthy & of course a smart & good girl.”

Lucius asks Henry for an extension on a loan, explaining that due to his illness and building a house for his boarder he’s short of funds. But he will borrow locally to repay his brother, if Henry needs the money.

After closing the letter, Lucius writes another long paragraph about items that had slipped his mind. Their mother has “failed considerable” since returning from a visit to Ashfield, and Lucius is considering a trip East himself once he has leased his farm. At the very end, Achsah Ranney writes a few lines to Henry’s wife Marie, asking her to kiss the children for Grandma.

Illustration is a threshing machine, ca. 1851

My transcription:

Allen Feb 2
nd 1851
Dear Friends

Thinking that a few lines would be gladly received, I therefore embrace the few leisure moments while our folks have gone to meeting this afternoon, or P.M. We are all well. I was sick last fall about six weeks, four weeks confined to the house, with the chill & typhus fever, but have regained my health again. Anson was also sick about the same time. He was very dangerously sick a few days but recovered faster than I did. He goes to school this winter. Lewis and wife and Harrison are well, or was a few days previous. Priscilla & Densmore live at Albion yet. They were out here a few days ago visiting. They are a boarding out, & have been the most of the time since they have lived there. He gets $1.50 per day, Priscilla binds shoes what time she gets. Light shoes only. We have not heard direct from A. F. since you wrote.

We received yours of December the 12
th /50. We received a letter from Lyman about four weeks since. He was well, his year with Bishop was then about up. He expected to stay longer. As for your boy Lem, he is a regular tramping Ger. His habits remain good, he takes love easy. Or in other words, enjoys life. He started last fall for Illinois. He went there, he stopped at Galena, stayed and worked about one week. He says they were all old country people that worked in the shop, consequently he left for some other port. When he wrote he was in Wisconsin, about 60 miles from Milwaukee. He was at work there. He gets good wages he says. He is a coming back here in the spring.

The weather is fine. We have about 2 inches of snow now. The ground has been naked the most of the winter. We have had good sleighing about 2 weeks with about 4 or 5 inches of snow. It is a good time for slaying the forests & I will assure you the time is not lost.

I & one of my neighbors bought a thrashing machine last fall. We paid $250 for it. We hired a man to work with us, of which we worked at thrashing about 2 months & thrashed about ten thousand bushels of wheat which come to $360. Our hired help & expenses would not exceed $60 & the machine is not damaged the amount of $30. We can thrash & clean fit for marketing eighty bushels in sixty minutes. A
Mich story but true. The town of Allen raised about thirty thousand bushels of wheat this year & other products in proportion (though not of Ashfield). We had two hundred fifty bushels of wheat.

You wrote to me last summer something concerning the worth of flour here & the transportation &c. After wheat began to come in to market I went to Hillsdale to make some arrangements & enquiries concerning it & should have written immediately to you but I was taken sick the next day, so I excuse myself. At that time I could get a bbl of flour for five bushels of wheat and wheat was worth sixty five cents. Which of course would be $3.25 & transportation to New York was about $1.00 or to Buffalo about .60 cents. Late in the fall transportation advanced about 80 per cent & wheat about 3 or 5 cents. Therefore you can judge whether you could made a speck on flour or not.

I have let my farm on shares for three years. The conditions are these: I furnish a team & necessary utensils, one half the seed of all kinds & have one half the grain delivered in the half bushel. I also put on three cows fifty sheep of which I have one half the butter cheese &c., one half of the wool, one half of the increase & growth of the stock. We have the privilege of keeping one cow for ourselves. He has the same privilege of the cow. I have reserved about four acres which contains the house & yard & orchard &c. I am to build him a house to live in. I am now a building it. The size is 17x20, one and a half story high. I shall stay on the place & make what improvements I can & in the fall thrash. He takes possession in the spring.

We have a little daughter. She was born the 22
nd Sept. We have named her Carroline Elisa. She is healthy & of course a smart & good girl.

The money I am owing you if you wanted I will try & borrow it if I can. Sickness & building will bring me rather short until next fall. If you can wait until next fall it would favor me some. I rather think that Lewis cannot pay you until then. I have two teams, one I shall keep for my own use.

As you are not acquainted here I cannot write you much news. To describe the country here is I presume all useless for I presume you have heard a great many
Mich yarns. There is all kinds of country here. Just about here it it similar to Phelps Town land. The railroad running west from Hillsdale goes through this town three miles from here. It will be completed to Chicago I expect next season. I do not want to urge you out of your way but I should like to have you come to Mich next season. We have a very good society here.

You discover that my pen is always poor, but writing good. Don’t forget to write as soon as you receive this. Anson has received some papers from you of Cato.

Yours in haste
L. Ranney

I like to have forgotten some small matters. I had a horse hooked by a two year old heifer this fall. He died a short time after. The horse was worth about sixty five dollars. We also had two hogs die when they were nearly fatted. They would weigh about five hundred the two. I consoled myself by saying as the Paddy did they are but a small loss. Franklin’s little girl lives here with us. She goes to school. Clarissa sends her respects to you, although she is a stranger. Mother sends her love to you all & all enquiring friends. Mother has failed considerable since she was to Ashfield. Lewis and Harrison intend to mint it some next season. They are doing tolerably well. My object in letting my farm is to save hiring & get as much improved as I can fix for building &c., & perhaps go to Ashfield.

Marie, I send a great deal of love to you and Henry and want to see you and the children more than I can write. I want you to kiss them for me. Grandma.