12. THE INDIAN RESERVATIONS
I left the family at the old home in Iowa. Gaylord Worstell
Gaylord continued his story:
Soon after my graduation I was made acting medical examiner in the bureau of pensions. I often wonder why I did not remain in Washington and allow my ambition to quiet down to an easy life and sure pay. I was not in good health. For more than five years I had been doing a little too much to finish my course of study. I longed for a season of quiet and rest in some secluded place and yet it was important that I be assured an income. All essentials promised fulfillment in an exchange of positions with a physician in the Indian service in Cherokee, North Carolina
We reached Cherokee in Sept. 1899. The family now included two children, Grace, aged four and Teddy, aged two. We were driven from Whittier to Cherokee by nite. [It might be assumed that the family took the train to Whittier, which is about five miles south of Cherokee. Cherokee is just outside the southern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.] I shall never forget our first morning in our new home. We were in the narrow valley of the Oconoluity river. The mountains rose abruptly from the river and their sides were covered with pines, holly and other evergreens. Interspersed nicely among the green foliage were the gum trees with their bright red leaves; the maple with leaves of gold and bronze; the beautiful yellow chestnut, rhododendrons and many others. The mistletoe clung to the bark of oak trees in great silvery-green clumps. All this touched by September frosts made a picture of surpassing color and beauty. It was an ideal place to rest. A few weeks of light duty and cool, fresh surroundings brought great improvement in my health. It was pleasant to hear crickets chirp again. Off in the woods a whip-poor-will would use up part of the night. The constant sound of the river brought sleep and rest. I used to wander idly along the river and thru the woods, gathering chestnuts, walnuts, persimmons and wild grapes and observe the old sensations of my boyhood return. I fished in quiet pools, gathered flowers and looked about me. It was a delightful place.
Before learning of Cherokees, I was not aware of Indians living so far east. The band has been allowed to remain in its old home by tolerance on the part of the federal government. In 1836 General Winfield Scott was sent to move the Cherokees to the newly formed Indian territory. Some of the Indians opposed the move and hid away in the mountains. Some broke away from the line of march and returned home. Others who made the long journey to the new territory were dissatisfied and returned to the mountains they loved. The band now numbers about 2000 in population. A large tract of land has been set aside for their use in common. The government maintains schools and helps them in many ways.
The principal occupations are lumbering, agriculture and stock raising. Of late years they have planted orchards and vineyards. Thru the influence of various societies, they now give attention to gardens, vegetables and the canning of fruit. Indians learn readily by example and are skillful in handicraft. They produced some pottery and wood carving. The baskets they made were marvelous in design and coloring. Some of their baskets were woven with double walls making a smooth surface inside and out, and fitted with neat, hinged covers. An interesting thing was the blow-gun as made and used by the hunters. It was made of a bamboo rod, ten or twelve feet long and the thickness of a fish pole. It was hollowed out, making a smooth tube. A slim arrow of hard wood about two feet long was wrapped at one end with the fine fibre of thistle or wild cotton. The arrow resembled in shape and size the head and stem of the cat-tail plant. The arrow is placed in the tube, the hunter puts his mouth over the end of the tube and blows the arrow with great force and precision. With this gun they shoot birds and squirrels from the tops of the tallest trees.
The whole of western North Carolina with its crystal streams, its magnificent forests, valleys and mountains is a great natural park. Tourists in increasing numbers each year are taking advantage of that region as a play ground. However beautiful our surroundings, after a year’s residence there we desired a change. I traded my position for a similar one at Cheyenne Agency, South Dakota. I left the family at the old home in Iowa and proceeded to my new location. I was now in a vast prairie country. It was new and strange. It was a “new deal” all around. There is at least a sense of freedom in an open country. We had abundance of room. [Unreadable] when I was to drive one hundred miles to Cherry Creek station to care for a group of small-pox patients, I encountered but one dwelling on the way.
The Sioux Indians are a rugged people. Their habits and environment have long contributed to building a good physique. Like the Cherokee and all other tribes, they are peculiarly susceptible to tuberculosis. That disease alone is responsible for one-half the deaths among Indians. Old Indians told me they were free from tuberculosis until they came in contact with whites. Other prevailing diseases were those of the eye and skin. The Indian like all primitive races is very susceptible to any acute contagious disease and especially to any acute, contagious, eruptive disease. Measles and small-pox will kill many Indians whereas, white patients with the same degree of infection, escape with slight illness. The same is true of influenza. I always got on well with Indians and enjoyed their friendship and confidence. I never clashed with their medicine men. In Cherokee, if an old woman desired to make a decoction of herbs from the forest, place it on the chest of a pneumonia patient and blow her breath vigorously over the moist herbs, it was all right with me. She may have used some of the same barks and leaves that she and her neighbors had been gathering all summer to be sold to drug houses. I was aware that digitalis had come up to the medical profession through just such avenue. In South Dakota, if a medicine man desired to give a small-pox patient a good steam bath — well and good with me. The bath was accomplished as follows: A pit was dug in the ground and filled with red-hot stones. A small tent was erected over the stones and a narrow ledge of ground. The patient was placed under the tent with his head thru a hole in the tent for fresh air and the medicine man poured water on the hot stones. After this steaming the patient runs and jumps into the river. Now I have no objections whatsoever to that treatment for a small-pox Indian. I might go so far as to recommend a wider application of the bath and plunge. It is easy for one who is familiar with a situation, to presume too much on the understanding of his readers. I was drawn into this comment on the medicine man because the government urges the modern physicians to discourage all customs of the Indian doctor. Some of you are wondering why I left that Indian in the river. I did not forget him. He came out all right. I took him from there.
The Indians had an easy life on the reservation. [Gaylord did not foresee the results of the reservation system]. They kept some cattle and horses and made sure to appear at the agency each month to receive their rations. The women were skillful in tanning skins and making moccasins, fur coats and other articles of apparel. With buckskin and beads they made many artistic things of adornment. Their moccasins, decorated with various colored beads and colored porcupine quills were beautiful and in great demand outside the reservation.
The agency buildings as seen from the Missouri river, showed us quite a pleasant village. There were school buildings, dormitories, hospital, store houses for rations and clothing, mission churches, guard house, shops, general store and residences for the employees. All the buildings were painted white with red roofs. The river furnished good water and fuel in the form of drift wood. Mrs. Worstell kept writing to ask about our living quarters — were they ample and warm and all that. The family came on in November. When I crossed the river to meet them I was astonished to find three children in the family. I thought the baby was a cute little rascal. We named him Richard. Just see how time goes!...But let me return to the “golden days” when the children were small and confiding. When little favors made them so happy. When all looked forward for the best things.
As a special favor we used to take the children for a walk along the river. We would go down in the cool of the evening, roll upon the grass, walk under the great cottonwood trees and gather berries and wild roses. Sometimes we ventured aboard the ferry-boat. I shall not tell you just now of my narrow escape from drowning in that old river when one nite I walked into an airhole in the ice. What I have in mind is the river itself. In South Dakota and in many other long reaches of that river the stream seems to be an animated thing that is simply passing through that arid region. It asks no favors of the country, expects no tributary streams and is content with having its cargo and volume made up in far Montana and to arrive at some mysterious destiny. The river along its whole length had good reasons for its existence when it helped the Lewis and Clark expedition into this country and when it served as water way for pioneer boats. The river had its “golden days.”
So Elsie and the children spent her months of confinement with her parents in Iowa Falls, Iowa until after the birth of Richard October 19, 1900. Concerning Gaylord’s near drowning, no family stories exist about this misadventure except a lingering recollection of a story about a hazardous journey involving crossing a frozen river and a courageous rescue. The story may have been recalled for the family in the winter of 1942-43 when Richard was able to assist rescuing two little boys who had broken through the ice at the edge of the Missouri River in Great Falls, Montana.
It is now time again for Gaylord Worstell and family to move on.