When you see so many of you on a screen, I appreciate you coming back again today to visit.

This Cherokee battle airbag was acquired by the Gilcrease Museum in 2011. The bag itself is significant for its tremendous craftsmanship in executing floral designs in the beadwork. It also represents a transitional style between the more common Cherokee bandoliers of the 1820s and 30s and what later became known as the prairie style. This bag is particularly significant because of the letter that came with it, documenting the gifting of this shot pouch, a pipe, and a plug of tobacco on April 20th, 1846, by a respected Cherokee veteran of the Red Stick War named Aqua (or The Point) to an army officer, Second Lieutenant Cave Johnson Couts of the First Brigade stationed at Fort Gibson. The letter was written by the Clerk of the Cherokee Senate, William Potter Ross.

This letter reveals the symbolic growth this bag played in the political intrigue surrounding the post-removal factionalism in the Cherokee Nation. Other research reveals a fascinating story of ambivalence by the United States Army and conflicting reports about the murders that led up to the Treaty of 1846, which granted amnesty to everyone who had participated in the post-removal Cherokee violence.

On July 12, 2010, the bandolier bag was appraised on the Antiques Roadshow in San Diego, California. It was appraised by a tip trutta, who valued it solely as an object without fully recognizing its historical significance. The bag was in the possession of the 93-year-old great-granddaughter of Lieutenant Cave Johnson Couts and had been in her family for four generations. After the appraisal, she and her family decided it was time for someone else to take care of it. We were very fortunate to obtain this bag and bring it back to Oklahoma.

Let me first talk about the bag itself. It has indigo macramé strips with a floral design throughout. The back of the bag has a printed calico and brown strap cloth. The lobes of the bag on the front side have a rattlesnake design, symbolizing power. White seed beads are sewn on with linen thread on a silk foundation. The red tassels have been restored based on the original materials. The beadwork itself is about 98% intact. The main feature is the anthropomorphic figures on the face of the bag: two females and a male in the center with sprouts coming out of their shoulders. The bag opens with a slip, which is a Delaware pattern, but it is certain that the Cherokees were using similar bags at this time in 1840.

This is a bag from the same period, held at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington. It has a V-shaped flap, and on the inside of the flap, it is embroidered “To General Jackson from Sam Houston.” We believe this bag dates to about 1825 and also has red yarn tassels.

Despite the fact that bags like this were commonly used during the second quarter of the 19th century, perhaps no more than two dozen have survived to the present. Among those, only about five have known histories. Among these are the bag belonging to Osceola, now with the Florida Seminoles, a bag belonging to Indian Mothma, now in a private collection, and the bag presented to Andrew Jackson.

The letter written by William Potter Ross, dated April 20th, 1846, states:

“Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, April 20th, 1846

Along with this note, I have the pleasure to send to you a beaded shot pouch, a pipe, and a piece of tobacco. They are a present from my friend Aqua, a venerable man who fought with General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War. He is a pensioner on the government, has received a rifle gun ordered to be made for him by President Madison as a token of his heroism at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. What induces the warrior to make this present is the correct and manly views you have publicly expressed regarding the recent disturbances and the real character of the many desperate men who have fled from this country due to their crimes. They endeavor to solicit sympathy and protection from officers of the United States by portraying themselves as refugees from political persecution. He is glad to find in you a friend to truth and justice and hopes that you will be assured of his regard for the same, his love and desire for peace, his feelings towards the whites, and his earnest desire to see the people and government of the Cherokee Nation happy and prosperous. Hoping that the present may be acceptable, coming as it does from a brave, honest, and old man much respected by the Cherokees, whose life has been threatened by the Pantene.”

To fully appreciate this letter, it’s necessary to analyze its contents. It’s amazing how much information is contained in the letter. Without the context, it is virtually meaningless. In the second sentence, Ross refers to Aqua’s military war record. This can be verified by looking at pension applications for Cherokee warriors. On August 16, 1837, prior to removal, two medical doctors associated with the Cherokee Agency in the East wrote a letter certifying Aqua’s injury at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Six years later, in the Indian Territory, another document confirmed Aqua’s service and injury. As a result of this disability, he was granted a military pension amounting to four dollars per month, starting from March 14, 1814.

The Creek War of 1813-14 involved over 300 Cherokees serving with the East Tennessee Militia. They trained at Ross’s Landing in January 1814. Aqua’s enlistment records show he served from January 27 to April 14, 1814. The decisive battle at Horseshoe Bend occurred on March 27, 1814, where Aqua was wounded. The Cherokees played a significant role in this battle, capturing canoes and crossing the river to engage in combat.

Today, Horseshoe Bend is a National Military Park. A rifle presented to Aqua by President Madison is one of the prized possessions at the park, although there is some controversy regarding its origins. Two rifles were made for Aqua, but it’s unclear which one he received. The letter accompanying the bandolier bag indicates that Aqua had a rifle in his possession in 1843, supporting the claim that the rifle at Horseshoe Bend is the first one.

William Potter Ross was born in 1942, graduated from Princeton, and returned to the Cherokee Nation. He married Mary Jane Ross, and they played significant roles in the Cherokee Nation during this turbulent time. Ross wrote a letter seven days after the Congressional report demanding the arrest of those involved in the disturbances, presenting the bandolier bag to Lieutenant Couts.

Lieutenant Cave Johnson Couts, stationed in the Cherokee Nation, disagreed with his superiors regarding the nature of the disturbances. His connections to the Ross party and his social activities in Tahlequah may have influenced his perspective. After the Mexican War, he was sent to California, where he married Isadora Bandini, becoming one of the wealthiest men in California.

Couts left behind a large family, a significant estate, and a bandolier bag that now resides in the Gilcrease Museum, symbolizing a piece of Cherokee history and the complex relationships and events of the 19th century.

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Dr. Duane King – Political Intrigue – 2012 TOTA Conference

When you see so many of you on a screen, I appreciate you coming back again today to visit. This Cherokee battle airbag was acquired by the Gilcrease Museum in 2011. The bag itself is significant for its tremendous craftsmanship in executing floral designs in the beadwork. It also represents

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