An Interview with Lydia Keys Taylor

Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: November 10, 1937
Name: Lydia Keys Taylor
Post Office: Vinita, Oklahoma
Residence Address: 380 North Brewer Street
Date of Birth: September 16, 1858
Place of Birth: near Welling, Tahlequah District, IT
Father: Monroe Calvin Keys
Place of Birth:
Information on father:
Mother: Lucy Lowrey Hoyt
Place of birth:
Information on mother:
Field Worker: James R. Carseloway
Interview #:

James R. Carseloway
Journalist
November 10, 1937.

An Interview with Lydia Keys Taylor,
380 North Brewer Street, Vinita, Okla.
On Her Life As a Cherokee Instructor.

My name is Lydia Keys Taylor. I was born on a farm, near Welling, now Cherokee County, southeast of Tahlequah on September 16, 1858. My father’s name was Monroe Calvin Keys. He was the son of Sallie Riley and William Keys and Sallie Riley was the daughter of Samuel Riley and Gu-lu-sti-yu.

My mother’s name was Lucy Lowrey Hoyt. She was the daughter of Lydia Lowrey and Milo Hoyt. Lydia was the daughter of George Lowrey and Lucy Benge and George Lowrey was the son of [Moxie], a full blood Cherokee of the Holy clan and George Lowrey, Sr., who was one of the Chiefs of the Cherokee tribe.

My grandmother, Lydia Lowrey Hoyt at the age of sixteen joined the Presbyterian Church at Brainard Mission in Georgia, January 31, 1819. She wrote the first hymn ever written by a Cherokee. This hymn came to her in a dream.

My grandfather’s name was William Keys, a full blood Irishman and he had two full brothers, Samuel and Isaac Keys. They both married full blood Cherokee sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Riley, sisters of my grandmother. My grandfather Keys had a large plantation in Tennessee with many slaves. About 1831 he and his brother, Isaac Keys rigged up a small steam boat and with their families and thirty other families, they set sail for the Indian Territory and landed at Barren Fork, near Fort Gibson. Here they built cabins and established their residence for four years before the “Old Settler” Cherokees arrived from Georgia. At Barren Fork, they established “New Hope Mission”, with the Mr. O’Brien, a missionary, in charge. They established a ferry over the Arkansas River with the little steam boat. My grandfather, William Keys, and two of his children died of pneumonia the first year they were here.

Before my grandfather left Tennessee, he had an agreement with the state authorities of Tennessee that in case he failed to return and claim his property within twenty years, it would revert to the state. His wife being a Full Blood, did not understand this and let the time lapse and so lost a $20,000 estate. I found it out years afterward but it was too late to claim the estate.

George Lowrey Hereditary Chief

George Lowrey was one of the hereditary chiefs who came to the Cherokee Nation with the Eastern Emigrant Cherokees. He was born about 1770 and his wife Lucy (Benge) Lowrey was born about 1786. He died October 20, 1852 and his wife died October 10, 1846.

John Ross was the other chief, back in Georgia who emigrated with the Eastern Cherokees. George Lowrey was the principal chief but on account of his meager education after removing to the Cherokee Nation he insisted that John Ross be made principal chief on account of his fine education. John Ross had been sent to Princeton University where he was graduated. George Lowrey said that John Ross was more able to cope with the white man and he wanted him to take the lead after coming to the new country which he did.

Children of Monroe C. Keys

My parents, Monroe Calvin Keys and Lucy Lowrey Keys were the parents of one son and six daughters.

Mary Eunice Keys’ husband, Hamilton Balantine, became blind at the age of twelve years. He learned to read and write in the Braille system for the blind and had raised letters for his Bible. He became a shrewd business man before he died. He started in business, on his farm near Pleasant Hill by making brooms and mattresses, before Vinita was established. Shortly after Vinita was established he moved to Vinita and opened a grocery store on the east side of the M. K. & T. and was one of the first merchants of Vinita. He continued in business at the same place until his death in 1900.

After his death his wife continued the business for several years. She died in 1920, leaving two daughters, Mary and Ellen, who still live in Vinita.

Educated at Northfield, Massachusetts

Female Seminary – 1909 – Tahlequah, OK

I received my education at the Female Seminary at Tahlequah and the Moody College, Northfield, Massachusetts, being a graduate of both schools.

When I finished my education, I went to the Creek Nation for three years, when I returned to the Cherokee Nation and taught in the Cherokee Orphan Asylum, under Joseph F. Thompson, as superintendent. I went from there to the Female Seminary and taught a number of years under Miss Florence Wilson, who was principal of the seminary from about 1885 to 1896. She died a few years after retiring from her school work. She never married. She was succeeded as principal at the Female Seminary by Lillian Alexander, who served only a few years, being succeeded by a Miss Rider who served until the school was turned over to the state authorities.

In 1897 I was married to the Reverend Mr. C. J. Taylor, a Baptist minister, who was pastor of a little church at Alluwe, located in Cooweescoowee District. We went from there to a farm near Pleasant Hill, seven miles northwest of Vinita where we lived from the early settlement of Vinita until Mr. Taylor’s death in 1908.

We were the parents of two daughters, one of whom died in infancy.

Father was in Stand Watie’s Army

My father, Monroe Calvin Keys served in Stand Watie’s army during the entire period of the war and was placed in Captain Joe F. Thompson’s brigade, composed entirely of Cherokee Indians. Captain Thompson was a fine officer and much loved by all of his men.

My father was in the battles of Cabin Creek, Pea Ridge, and in fact in most of the skirmishes fought in the Cherokee Nation.

My father’s health gave way during the war and he was an invalid during the remainder of his life. He had six daughters, all of whom were school teachers and five of us were teaching at one time, the sixth being married.

After my father’s health failed my mother, who had been an early day teacher, went back to teaching for some time.

Three of my uncles, Isaac, Looney, and Samuel Keys served in Stand Watie’s army under Captain Benjamin Wisner Carter and were known as the “First Cherokee Mounted Volunteers.”

During the War, 1861 – 65

When the Civil War broke out, my father took his family to the Choctaw Nation which was headquarters for the Southern Army. He built a cabin for us to live in and then joined the army. He left one of his slaves in our house which we left near Tahlequah.

When we returned after the war our house was burned and all our stock was gone. The old slave who was still there said that our cattle and hogs had been shot or stolen.

My grandmother’s house was still standing, near Wauhilla, in Tahlequah District and we moved into her house.

Pin Indians were Bad

The Pin Indians were bad, following the war and killed many Southern soldiers who had returned from the war. They came to our house one Sunday to kill my father but he had gone to Sunday School and they did not find him. My mother was sitting in the door with a baby in her arms and they threatened to ride over her and into the house on their horses and would have done so, but for the fact that they could not get the horses to go through the door.

That same day they went down to the home of one of our neighbors named Thomas Carlisle, called him to the door and shot him down. His son, who bore the same name as his father was last superintendent of the Female Seminary at Tahlequah.

Left Tahlequah District

After Thomas Carlisle was skilled my father thought it unsafe to remain longer in the Tahlequah District and moved his family further to the northwest, to what he termed, “The Great Wide Prairie”, where he could find peace and quite for himself and family. We landed in the Pleasant Hill District seven miles northwest of the present town of Vinita in 1872. We found the Chamberlain and Balentine families already here when we arrived.

As soon as we got located my father went back to the Tahlequah District, after the rest of our things but found that the house had been broken into and all the furniture and other things we had left had been cut into kindling wood and some of our cattle had been killed. He found some of the cattle on the range with arrows shot into their hides. The arrows were still sticking into the hides of these cattle. Father was certain then that he had made a good move.

Times in the Prairie Country

After being raised in the timber country, as we were, it seemed like there was no end to the great wide prairie which we passed through to reach our new home, but when we got there we felt safe, as there were no Pin Indians to molest us and everything was peaceful and quiet.

The only pests we had at our new home were horse thieves. One had to watch his horses very closely or they would be stolen.

The Queen Band of Horse Thieves

The Queen band of horse thieves were well known in our neighborhood. Joe Queen lived in the Pheasant Hill District and his children attended the Pheasant Hill School but he was scarcely ever at home. He had an organized band of horse thieves which got so bad that the citizens of Vinita organized a “Vigilance Committee” in 1874 to rid the country of horse thieves. If a horse thief was caught, he was put to death.

Finally one day, as the Reverend Mr. Chamberlain was riding across Cabin Creek, he came upon the body of Joe Queen and one of his men, lying on the west bank of Cabin Creek at what is now known as the “Meek Crossing”, where they had apparently been shot down by the Vigilance Committee. The Reverend Mr. Chamberlain and his son, Ned, dug a small grave and buried both bodies on the west bank of Cabin Creek. This double killing put an end to horse thieving in that neighborhood for sometime.

Comanches Threaten to Raid Vinita

When my sister Mary married Hamilton Balentine they went to Chetopa, Kansas on a wedding trip and while they were there they learned that the Comanche Indians were planning a raid on Vinita and they hastened back to notify us. They came back through Vinita and found that the town was expecting the raid and that the men had gone so far as to charter a train and had loaded all of the women and children on this train ready to leave should the town be raided.

That was in 1873 and the men were all armed ready to defend the town, against the marauders if they showed up but the Indians evidently got word that the town was armed and never showed up.

My Mother Knew Sequoyah

My mother was personally acquainted with Sequoyah or George Guest. She was present when he made his last visit to see Chief George Lowrey. Sequoyah told Lowrey that he was going west to search for a band of Cherokees, whom he termed “The Lost Cherokees”. They had emigrated further west before the war and Sequoyah told George Lowrey that he wanted to find them and bring them back and wanted to teach all the Cherokees how to read and write from the alphabet which he had invented. He believed the white man had something the Indians did not possess until he discovered his alphabet and that was how he learned to read and write.

Sequoyah also believed that the Indian had strayed away from the worship of “The Great Spirit” and he believed with the discovery of his alphabet that he could bring them back to worship the Great Spirit.

In accordance with this belief, Sequoyah, accompanied by his oldest son, Teesey, who was his constant companion and a small body of others, set out to the west in search of his lost tribe.

They journeyed for days, and Sequoyah became weary and had to rest. (My mother said that Sequoyah was in the last stage of consumption when he left.) They made camp and waited for Sequoyah to rest up.

All the rest of the company set out one day in search of meat and did not return for two days. When they returned Sequoyah was gone but he left a note to his son telling the direction in which he had gone and set out in search of him. They had not gone far before they found the body of Sequoyah where he had died by the wayside.

Being on foot the little party could not carry the body back home and they carried it to a cave nearby, where they left it with his gun, some of his writings and the bronze medal that had been given him by the United States Government for inventing the Cherokee Alphabet.

His son, Teesey and party sealed up the mouth of the cave and returned home to get a conveyance to carry the body back home. They returned as soon as possible but never could find the cave. They hunted, until they were thoroughly convinced that they never could find the cave and finally came home and today the body of the great Cherokee Inventor lies buried in an unknown cave.

Many years after the death of Sequoyah, my mother saw an article in a newspaper stating that a body had been found in a cave out west. She wrote and had a picture of the cave sent her, with a full description of the skeleton found and was convinced that it was not Sequoyah. The skeleton which had been found had a broken leg which Sequoyah did not have. There was no trace of a gun found and while there was a medal of some kind found, it was scarcely visible.

Sequoyah was married twice. The first time to “Sallie”, a full blood Cherokee woman and the second time to “U-Ti-Yu” also a full blood Cherokee. He had four children by his first wife and three by his second wife.

Teesey’s daughter, Katie Downing was living near the Female Seminary in Tahlequah when I went to school there, and was married to Joseph Downing. She was known to all as “Aunt Katie Downing.”

Mother First Graduate of Female Seminary

My mother, Lucy Lowrey Hoyt, graduated with the first class that graduated from the Female Seminary in 1855 and she taught school before the Civil War.

*Hereditary Chief is Mrs. Taylor’s expression, and is accepted as given. – Editor.

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