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Manuscript Collection: John Lowery Brown

Institution: Thomas Gilcrease Library and Archive
Language of Material: English
Description: 1 item
Period covered: 1779 - 1852
Collection summary derived from "Guidebook to Manuscripts", 1969: Journal of John Lowery Brown, a Cherokee. Brown and a party of fellow tribesmen left Grand Saline (near Salina, Oklahoma) on April 20, 1850, for the gold fields of California. After suffering many hardships, the party arrived late in September. The last entry is November 10, 1850. This journal is in English. A transcript with notes is printed in Vol. XII of the Chronicles of Oklahoma (Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, June, 1934). See full transcript from the original and annotations by Muriel H. Wright.

Background: Staff, interns, and volunteers of the Thomas Gilcrease Library and Archive have contributed to the organization and maintenance of the files since the collection passed to the City of Tulsa in the 1950s. The Gilcrease Foundation acquired these materials before 1964 and is housed in the Helmerich Center for American Research (HCAR). The library currently receives most materials through community donation, board members, artists and the acquisition of manuscript collections.

Restrictions: Please, contact the Rights and Reproduction Department for information on publishing or reproducing materials included in these records. Permission will be granted by the Gilcrease Museum as the owner of the physical materials, and does not imply permission from the copyright holder. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all necessary permissions from the copyright holder.

Availability: This collection is open for use by appointment only at the Helmerich Center for American Research (HCAR). Contact the Library at 918-631-6449 or in advance to inquire if materials exist pertaining to your research interests.

Arrangement Title Description Date
John Lowery Brown, Folder 1 John Lowery Brown's account of his journey from Grand Saline to California

Foreword by Muriel H. Wright, June 1934.
See transcription field for full text.

Yellowed and crumbling with the passing of eighty-four years, the pages of a small, leather bound notebook reveal the story of the overland journey of a party of Cherokees who set out from the Grand Saline, Cherokee Nation, for California in 1850. This journal was kept by a young Cherokee, John Lowery Brown, who recorded the progress of the emigrants day by day. It tells the difficulties encountered along a wilderness trail through the Rocky Mountains; the perils of travel over vast stretches of desert with­out water and food; the danger of attack by hostile Indians living in those regions; and the terrible epidemic of cholera that swept the West, causing the deaths of thousands of emigrants along all the thoroughfares to the Pacific coast in 1850. Something in the flourish of the faded words “Off for California” at the top of the first page of this old journal still imparts the enthusiasm and high courage that fired the spirits of the adventurers to leave their nation in view o f such hazards. Lured by the discovery of gold in California, several parties of Cherokees, other than Brown’s, set out about the same time. Many of them were young men who never returned home.

The journal was written in ink, an entry being made every day from the time Brown left a point near present Stillwell, Adair County, Oklahoma, on April 20, until reaching the gold fields in California on September 28, a total of 161 days. Intermittent entries were set down in the journal up to December 11, 1850. The writing, spelling and punctuation compare well with other early records, kept in the midst of the excitement and the hardships attending life on an overland trail. The pages are not numbered, all entries having been set down consecutively on the right hand page up to and including page forty-four, after which regular entries were made on both sides of the leaf. There are seventy- five pages of entries, additional notes appearing in the date margins and on several pages to the left up to page forty-four.
The publication of this journal for the first time and its presentation herewith to readers of Chronicles of Oklahoma were made possible through the loan of the original by its present owner, Mrs. E. W. Gist, of Oklahoma City, a granddaughter of John Lowery Brown. 1 The transcript which follows is an exact copy of the original, including spelling, punctuation, position of the entries on the page, marginal notes, and left hand page notes. However, in some places where no punctuation appears in the original, spaces have been left in the transcript to make the reading less confusing. In all instances, annotations by the editor,in the text, are designated by small figures. Numbers of the pages, counted and indicated by the editor, appear in brackets.

Taylor taking his place. The route followed through Oklahoma lay northwest from the crossing of the Grand River, near the Grand Saline, across Pryor Creek to the Verdigris, fording that stream near Coody’s Bluff, thence up California and Caney creeks and across to the Arkansas Valley near the present northern boundary of Oklahoma. Proceeding north, the party struck the Santa Fe Trail about eight miles east of Turkey Creek, in present Kansas, and followed this trail to Bent’s Fort in Southeastern Colorado. The route then led by way of Pueblo, Cherry Creek (Colorado) and Bridger’s Fort (Wyoming) to Salt Lake City; thence across the Salt Lake Desert and the mountains of Eastern Nevada to the Humboldt River, following that stream and the Carson River on up to Carson’s Pass over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and down to Weaverville (Weberville), a mining camp or town in Eastern California at that time. That the parties of gold seekers from the Cherokee Nation had an important part in the history of immigration to California, be­ginning with 1849, is shown by the fact that the name “Cherokee” can be found in the records and on the maps of that period, clear across the western half of the continent. The trail from Pueblo, Colorado, to Fort Bridger, Wyoming, via Bridger’s Pass, followed by the famous Overland Mail in 1862, was well known as the “Cherokee Trail.”2This was approximately the same route fol­ lowed by the Cherokees of Brown’s party. The former town of Latham, Colorado, on the Cache La Poudre River, an important point on the Overland Mail Route, was first called “Cherokee City.” Present day maps still carry the name of “Cherokee Park” in Northern Colorado, while those of Western Wyoming show the town of “Cherokee” on the Union Pacific Railroad. Both of these places were in the vicinity of the old Cherokee Trail. In 1850, there was the “Cherokee Cutoff,” a short route from the Upper Humboldt River to the Feather River country in North Central California.3 There was also the mining camp or town of “Cherokee” in the northern gold field near the Feather River.4 Thus, the journal of John Lowery Brown is valuable and interesting as an original record both in the history of immigra­tion to California and in the history of the Cherokees. It is a rare docum ent that helps to tell Oklahoma’s part in the story of the mirage of the Golden West, the great gold rush of more than three quarters of a century ago.
Foreword Annotations
1 John Lowery Brown was the son of David and Rachel (Lowery) Orr Brown. Rachel Brown was the fifth child and youngest daughter of George and Lucy Benge Lowery. George Lowery born about 1770, was one half Cherokee and Scotch. He was town chief of Willstown in the Cherokee Nation East and also a leading citizen after the immigration to the West. He died in 1852. David Brown was three-fourths Cherokee, the son of John and Sarah Webber Brown. David’s sister, Catherine Brown, noted for her beautiful character and personality, was the first Christian convert among the Cherokees, at Brainerd Mission, Tennessee, in 1818. After her death, a book “ Memoir of Catherine Brown” was published in her memory by the American Board at Boston in 1824. David attended both Cornwall Mission School, in Connecticut, and Andover Theological Seminary, in Massachusetts. After his return to the Cherokee Na­tion East, he was prominent in religious and educational work among his people. For a time he lived among the Western Cherokees in Arkansas and clerked in the store of his half brother, Walter Webber, who later moved up the Arkansas River and settled what is now known as Webber Falls, in Muskogee County. Just before Sequoyah made known his invention of the Cherokee alphabet, David Brown and his father-in-law, George Lowery, completed a Cherokee spelling book in English characters. In 1826, they were both appointed by the General Council of the Cherokee Nation to make the first translation of the Cherokee laws and the New Testament in the Cherokee language using Sequoyah’s alphabet. After John Lowery Brown returned to the Cherokee Nation from California, he and his wife, Ann E. (Schrimsher) Brown, made their home at Fort Gibson. Their second son, Martin R. Brown, was born in 1858. In 1887, Martin R. Brown married Miss Nannie Adair. He was a successful business man and prominent in educational circles in his nation, elected clerk of Illinois District in 1881, member of the National Board of Education in 1886, and superintendent of the Male Seminary in 1894. Mr. and Mrs. Brown were the parents of Mrs. Gist who is the namesake of her great-aunt, Catherine Brown. She was married to Mr. Emmet W. Gist, of Oklahoma City, in 1915. They are the parents of one daughter, Dorothy, who graduates from Classen Highschool, Oklahoma City, this year (1934).
2 Grant Foreman, Early Trails Through Oklahoma, Chronicles of Oklahoma. Vol. III. No. 2, pp. 110-2; LeRoy R. Hafen, The Overland Mail. (Arthur II. Clark Co. 1926), p. 230; Captain Randolph B. Marcey, The Prairie Traveler, p. 4. Captain Marcy’s description of the “Cherokee Trail” in 1859 was as follows: “ Another road which takes its departure from Fort Smith and passes through the Cherokee country, is called the ‘Cherokee Trail.’ It crosses Grand River at Fort Gibson, and runs a little north of west, to the Verdigris River, thence up the valley of this stream on the north side for 80 miles, when it crosses the river, and, taking a northwest course, strikes the Arkansas River near old Fort Mann, on the Santa Fe trail; thence it passes near the base of Pike’s Peak, and follow’s down Cherry Creek, from its source to its confluence with the South Platte, and from thence over the mountains into Utah, and on to California via Fort Bridger and Salt Lake City.”
3Kimbell Webster, The Gold Seekers of ’49, (Standard Book Company, Man­chester, N.H., 1917 ), p. 98.
4 Hubert Howe Bancroft, History o f California, Vol. VI, p. 368.
Wright, Muriel H. "The Journal of John Lowery Brown, of the Cherokee Nation En Route to California in 1850." The Chronicles of Oklahoma XII, no. 2 (June 1934): 177-213.

April 1850