Friday, April 22, 2011

Secret Society of Pin Indians Disappear Into History After Civil War

by Velda Brotherton

The Civil War was to have a great impact on everyone who lived in Arkansas, and that included members of the Civilized Cherokee tribe. While Chief Ross forbade his people to take part in border warfare or to organize a band of guerrillas to help protect Arkansas, Elias Boudinot, a resident of Arkansas, encouraged Ross’s nemesis, Stand Watie, to fight for the Confederates. And so was formed a secret society of Cherokee known as Knights of the Golden Circle, finally changed to The Southern Rights party.

Another organization, made up of full bloods who called themselves Keetoowahs began to operate in the Indian Nation on the side of the Union. They were reorganized in 1859 by Evan Jones and his son John, and were claimed to be designed to perpetuate tribal traditions. It was common knowledge in the Nations that they really had been reorganized to fight slavery. This group of Cherokee became known as Pins Indians because of the insignia of crossed pins they wore on their hunting shirts and coats.

Asked to leave the Nations, the Pins reverted to their ancestors way of fighting. Though supposedly aligned with the United States against the Confederate States of America, they consistently raided their arch enemies the Knights of the Golden Circle, using guerrilla warfare at every opportunity.

It was only natural that settlers in the area just across the border in Northwest Arkansas should become unwitting targets of these hit and miss raids by this unruly band of warriors. In fact, according to records, Jones, said to be a white man with his own agenda, trained the Pins in a school in Cincinnati near Cane Hill, Arkansas.

After much political ado, Cherokee Stand Watie was made a General in the Confederate Army. When he and his men attempted to raise the Confederate flag in the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah, about 150 Pins led by Chief Doublehead stopped him.

In the book, The Cherokees, by Grace Steele Woodward, the final mention of the Pins Indians is made when the factions, split by the Civil War reunited in the Indian Nation in 1867.

In the book Mankiller by Chief Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis, the Pins are referred to as an ultra secret society. They used secret signs to identify themselves to other members. Touching their hats in salutation would be followed by “Who are you?”, with the proper response being, “I am Keetoowah’s son.” Among the Cherokees it was also known that those who had split from the tribe and fought for the Union forces wore strips of split corn husks in their hair before they went into battle.

Chief Ross never wished to align himself with the Confederate cause and slavery, though many Cherokees did indeed own slaves. So when the Union troops entered Indian Territory in 1862 he welcomed them and left under their protective custody.

Ever a rival of Chief Ross, Stand Watie saw his chance when Ross left the Indian Nations, and declared himself the new principal chief of the Cherokees. Many members of the tribe did not back Watie, and the war within a war spilled into Arkansas to affect those already under constant attack by gangs of bushwhackers.

Pin Indians attacked, burned and killed southern sympathizers on both sides of the border. Those living in Washington County became unwilling victims in this battle between the two factions of Cherokees as well as the two factions of men fighting in the Civil War. Many of the Cherokees caught up in this guerilla warfare fled into neutral lands in Kansas. Hundreds of Indian refugees, being cared for rather poorly in Kansas by the Federal Government, died during the first year of the war.

While down in the Indian Nations and Arkansas, the two factions continued to wage a bitter war. In 1864 Stand Watie was promoted to Brigadier General in the confederacy, the highest rank to be achieved by any Native American. The confederate troops led by General Stand Watie continued to fight long after General Robert E. Lee surrendered his confederate army at Appamattox, Virginia April 9, 1865. It would be late June before Watie’s army finally laid down their arms. In all, 7,000 Cherokees lost their lives in that war. Their homes, libraries, businesses and livestock suffered devastating losses.

White settlers living along the borderland of Northwest Arkansas suffered great losses as well. The white man’s law held no power in the Indian Nation and on the Arkansas side Indians were free from tribal jurisdiction. Outlaw gangs frequenting the area could step across the border from either direction and be free from punishment for their crimes committed on the other side.

According to Conrad Russell, a native of Cane Hill and a historian who wrote many articles about the Civil War from stories he heard at his grandfather’s knee, Jones was white and his name probably wasn’t Jones at all. It was known that he hated slavery in any form and didn’t care how it might be stomped out. He taught the young men to kill, rob and otherwise destroy slave owners. Soon they didn’t much care who they raided. Russell said that soon no man, woman or child was safe from raids by the Pin Indians. The group of outlaw Indians held no loyalties to either side. It was known that they raided both Confederate and Northern sympathizers alike.

Isaac Buchanan, a prosperous farmer living near Cane Hill became a victim of the Pins. One day three of them arrived at his farm and asked for food. Buchanan led them to his cellar where he gave them some apples. When he followed them from the cellar and turned to close the door, they shot and killed him. Buchanan’s three sons had already been cut down by bushwhackers and this deed left his womenfolk defenseless. Finally tiring of the killing, a band of Confederates and local citizens in the beleaguered area gathered weapons and ammunition and set up a series of clever ambushes. Spotting a large band of Pins headed for Cane Hill, they lay in wait south of the settlement along the road they were known to travel.

A group of about 60 Pins rode through and the first contingent closed up any retreat, driving the band into the second and third group who waited in hiding. By the time the renegades made the border, there were few left. It is said they never returned to pull another raid on the citizens around Cane Hill. Thus, according to Arkansas legend, ended the reign of the Pins and they disappeared for good into Indian Territory. Cherokee writings make no more mention of the secret Pins Indians after 1867.

Stories always differ, depending on which side the storyteller is on, but the story of the Pins has been recorded in most Cherokee histories, but few whites. Conrad Russell admits the stories he heard from his grandfather are only hearsay, as is most of our folk lore. However, the written history of the Pins by Cherokee sources are more than hearsay. The mystery of who is entirely correct will probably always remain just that. A mystery.

Velda Brotherton is currently working on a history of Springdale, Arkansas, which will be published by Arcadia Publishers in their Making of America Series.
Copyright © 2001 Velda Brotherton originally published in The White River Valley News, Elkins, Arkansas