Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Eva Heiliger's Book about Meta Chestnutt Sager (3)

Heiliger's book is replete with dialogue among the characters. This raises the general question of direct discourse in historical accounts. How can historians accurately report conversations and speeches for which there is no record? In some instances, the author actually heard the dialogue or the address, yet no one transcribed it. In other cases, the author was not present and only knows that something was or might have been said. The first historian to deal with this question in print was Thucydides. In a famous passage in The Peloponnesian War, he wrote:

As to the speeches that were made by different men, either when they were about to begin the war or when they were already engaged therein, it has been difficult to recall with strict accuracy the words actually spoken, both for me as regards that which I myself heard, and for those who from various other sources have brought me reports. Therefore the speeches are given in the language in which, as it seemed to me, the several speakers would express, on the subjects under consideration, the sentiments most befitting the occasion, though at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.[1]

Due to its practicality and often necessity, this approach has had many followers ever since. For example, in the "Introduction" to his 2008 memoir, Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote:

The reader is entitled to ask if the material here is factually reliable. Reliable is the perfect word in this context. The book is not strictly factual, in that conversations are reported which cannot be documented as having taken place word for word. Yet it is reliable in that these words might well have been spoken. There are zero distortions here--no thought is engrafted in anyone that alters the subject's character or inclinations, or even habits of speech.[2]

Although Eva Heiliger never explained it as Thucydides and Buckley did, she seems to have taken the same approach. That leaves the question of the reliability of everything else in her book. Here, the reader is on much firmer ground. As noted earlier, she intended and worked to make her book "factual." No one else who actually knew Meta Chestnutt Sager did more research or wrote nearly as much about her. It is true that although Heiliger understood the significance of context in a historical accounts--her manuscript ends with a bibliography of four books--she did not have the training to write a critical biography.[3] Nevertheless, for the reasons cited here, aside from its occasional dialogue, the biography by Heiliger should be considered a reliable source.


[1] Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.22.1, Charles Forster Smith translation, Loeb Classical Library.

[2] Buckley, William F. Jr. Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater (New York: Basic Books, 2008), xi-xii.

[3] Eva Heiliger, "Born to Meet Adversity," unpublished book manuscript, 203.

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Death of Jim Guy, Billy Kirksey, and two Roff Brothers, May 1, 1885

One deputy U.S. marshal killed in Indian Territory was James Harris "Jim" Guy, a Chickasaw Indian, published poet, nephew of Cyrus Harris, the first elected governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and a brother to William M. Guy, a future governor of the C.N.[1] His story reveals how, in I.T., the death of one or more law enforcement officers often meant injury or death for other people as well. On May 1, 1885, Guy and a posse of about ten men set out to arrest notorious criminals Dallas Humby, charged with killing his wife, and brothers Jim and Pink Lee, well known cattle rustlers.[2] The men were holed up at the Lee ranch house in the southern part of the Chickasaw Nation, not far from the Red River. According to Joe T. Roff, a brother to two of Guy's men who died that day, one of the outlaws inside the house indicated that he and the others were willing to negotiate their surrender. No one in the posse suspected that there were as many as a dozen men inside. Within seconds after the men outside relaxed, a shot was fired from the house, instantly killing Jim Guy. A moment later, a hail of bullets burst from the house killing two more men, Jim Roff and Billy Kirksey. Andy Roff was also hit, but was able to crawl to a nearby tree. The other members of the posse were able to escape. Andy Roff's body was recovered sometime later. Powder burns on his clothing made it clear that after the others had fled, he had been executed.[3]


[1] Joe T. Roff, "Reminiscences of Early Days in the Chickasaw Nation," Chronicles of Oklahoma 13, no. 2 (June 1935), 185. On James Harris Guy as a poet, see Robert Dale Parker, ed. Changing is Not Vanishing: A Collection of American Indian Poetry to 1930 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 141-46. On Cyrus Harris and William M. Guy as governors of the Chickasaw Nation, see Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 297-99.

[2] Roff, "Reminiscences," 185-86.

[3] Ibid., 186-77.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Eva Heiliger's Book about Meta Chestnutt Sager (2)

In May 1979, Heiliger sent a form letter to several "Family and Friends of Aunt Meta," requesting information about her. "We need to receive from each of you a letter or a tape recording telling us as little or as much as you know. A sentence isn't too little and a long letter or 12 tapes isn't too much."[1] Heiliger wrote several more letters to Stenholm in 1979, going so far as to send her a few pages of a proposed film script. Finally, in September of that year, Stenholm wrote, "I wish I could be more encouraging about it, but I am afraid, judging from the material you have sent, that we could not use it for a film."[2]

At that point, Heiliger changed her plan. She wrote to Stenholm that she would, instead, write a book. She was still determined and had to be the best qualified person: "I find that I am the only one still living who really knew her (and that in her later years)."[3] Around the beginning of 1982, Eva Heiliger had completed her book manuscript. But it was rejected by three publishers.[4] She was encouraged by at least one editor to revise the book by turning it into something more like a historical novel: "The only route to go now is to add fiction to Aunt Meta's life story," she wrote to friends and family. But Heiliger made it clear she was unwilling to do it. The idea of adding fiction to her account, she said, "goes against my grain. . . . I am a factual writer."[5] 


[1] Eva Heiliger to "Family and Friends of Aunt Meta," May 1, 1979, box 1, folder 1, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[2] Mrs. Katherine Stenholm to Mrs. Dick Heiliger, September 26, 1979, box 1, folder 4, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[3] Mrs. Dick Heiliger to Mrs. Katherine Stenholm, October 29, 1979, box 1, folder 4, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[4] Eva Heiliger to "Family and friends," April 4, 1984, box 1 folder 1, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[5] Ibid.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Eva Heiliger's Book about Meta Chestnutt Sager (1)

Although never published, a book about the life of Meta Chestnutt Sager has already been written. As early as the 1940s, Eva Heiliger, Sager's great niece, aspired to tell her story. Heiliger was a freelance writer with over a decade of experience as a reporter for a small daily newspaper.[1] Her mother had attended El Meta Bond College. Sager had visited in the Heiliger home on at least one occasion. And the two women carried on an extensive correspondence for several years, due mainly to Heiliger's fascination with her great aunt.[2] Even with that, Heiliger felt she knew far too little to write a book about her subject when Sager died in 1948. For the time, she contented herself that she had published an article or two about her illustrious relative. But thirty years later, at the age of sixty-three, Heiliger was thinking about film, not print, and she had new resolve: "It just seems that the life of Aunt Meta should be told." She wrote those words to Katherine Stenholm of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.[3] By then, Stenholm was well-known in American fundamentalist circles as the founding director of Unusual Films, a production company affiliated with BJU. In 1950, Bob Jones Jr. had announced to Stenholm, a speech instructor at the school, "Dad says we're starting a film program, and you're going to head it." Overwhelmed, Stenholm explained to Bob Jones Sr., the president of the school, that she would need training for a job like that. Soon, she was spending the summer on the west coast, where she took film classes at the University of Southern California and completed an internship in Hollywood with Stanley Kramer who would go on to produce High Noon (1952) and direct films like Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967). Upon returning to South Carolina, Stenholm devoted herself to the new challenge. She served as chairperson of the School of Cinema at Bob Jones from 1950 to 1989, during which time she produced dozens of Christian films, including five feature-length movies she directed.[4] In 1977, just two years before Heiliger first wrote to her, Stenholm had directed her magnum opus, Sheffey, a film about nineteenth-century, circuit-riding preacher Robert Sayers Sheffey (1820-1902).[5] Heiliger thought that if the life of Sheffey was worthy of a Christian film, then why not the life of Sager?


[1] Mrs. Dick Heiliger to Mrs. Katherine Stenholm, February 1, 1979, box 1, folder 4, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[2] Several long letters from Sager to Eva Heiliger, written between 1940 and 1945, are in box 1, folder 10, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[3] Mrs. Dick Heiliger to Mrs. Katherine Stenholm, Bob Jones University, January 16, 1979, box 1, folder 4, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[4] Ellyn Bache, "Unusual Films started with Katherine Stenholm," Greenville (South Carolina) News, April 18, 2001, 57, 60; "Katherine Corne Stenholm," Greenville News, November 7, 2015, A10. On Stanley Kramer, see David Thomson, New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 6th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 574-75.

[5] Internet Movie Database page for Sheffey, accessed August 17, 2021, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0278031/. Stenholm's movies flourished only in the world of distinctively-Christian film. There is no entry for her or any of her movies, for example, in Barry Keith Grant, ed., Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, 4 vols. (Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007).

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Murders of Ben and Alex Clark, 1885

On May 30, 1885, a young man named Lincoln Sprole murdered Ben Clark and his eighteen-year-old son, Alex. The murderer and his victims worked as renters on the Sam Paul farm in Paul's Valley, Chickasaw Nation. Ben Clark had had a disagreement with Sprole about the watering of livestock on the property. On the day of the murders, the Clarks were returning from a trading excursion at White Bead Hill. Sproule hid in a thicket near the road. As the wagon approached, he shot Ben, the father, in the chest. He then pursued the fleeing son. Although he pled for his life, Sprole also shot him in the chest. Ben was dead within hours. His son survived for seventeen days. Deputy U.S. marshal John Williams eventually tracked down and arrested the suspect and brought him to Fort Smith. When the evidence was presented at trial, one newspaper commented: "It is only to be regretted that he has not two necks to break instead of one."[1] Judge Parker issued two death sentences to Sprole. He was hanged, just once, at Fort Smith on July 23, 1886.[2]


[1] Glenn Shirley, Law West of Fort Smith: A History of Frontier Justice in the Indian Territory, 1834-1896 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1957), 219.

[2] Indian Chieftain (Vinita, I.T.), May 6, 1886, 3; "Hangman Helped to Pave Statehoods [sic] Way," Oklahoma State Capital, April 12, 1908, 13.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Meta Chesnutt's Academic Success

When Meta Chestnutt was growing up, her brother, Isaac, teased her for being so tall and thin. He said she looked a bean pole and started calling her "Beany." The nickname apparently stayed with her, even after she was grown. When someone at Bethel Academy, comparable to a modern high school, mailed her spring 1882 grade report, they addressed it to "Beny Chestnutt."[1] But there was nothing laughable about her school work. During the semester ending April 7, 1882, she was never absent or tardy. Her lowest grade was in Algebra: 94 percent.[2] Two years later, in June 1884, she graduated from Bethel, was named the class valedictorian, and delivered an address at the commencement ceremony. That fall, she began her studies at the Greenville Institute, later named the State Teachers' College, in Greenville, North Carolina. Upon graduating from the Institute in the spring of 1886, she was approached by her principal, J. W. Duckett, a former North Carolina State Superintendent of Schools, who had a surprise. Without her knowledge, Duckett had secured for her a full scholarship from the North Carolina State Board of Education and a place in the incoming class at the Peabody Normal School, later known as the George Peabody College for Teachers, in Nashville. By then, she was a confident twenty-three year old, well-prepared for the next academic challenge. During her student days at Peabody, she made time to teach Bible classes at the South Nashville Christian Church.[3] David Lipscomb served as one of the congregation's elders until he died in 1917. South Nashville's first revival meeting was conducted by Larimore in 1887, during which 123 people confessed their faith in Christ and were baptized.[4] It must have been at the South Nashville Church that Chestnutt met Larimore, one of the best-known evangelists among the Churches of Christ in his generation.[5] Larimore learned about Chestnutt's dream of conducting an educational mission among Indians. He told her he knew W. J. and Annie Erwin, Christians and residents of Silver City, Indian Territory, a community that needed a teacher.[6]


[1] Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection, box 3, folder 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Eva Heiliger, "Born to Meet Adversity," 16-18.

[4] John Wooldridge, Elijah Embree Hoss, and William B. Reese, History of Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville: H. W. Crew, 1890), 496-97.

[5] Douglas A. Foster, "Larimore, Theophilus Brown (1843-1929)," in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 452-53.

[6] Heiliger, 18.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen, 1848-1889

Belle Starr, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1886
One well-known story from post-war I. T. featured Belle Starr, the infamous "bandit queen." Starr grew up in a family of ruffians. Two of her outlaw brothers were killed by lawmen. Her first husband, James C. Reed, had once been a member of Quantrill's Raiders. He was killed in 1874 while resisting arrest. After a relationship with Cole Younger, a member of the Younger Gang and sometime associate of Frank and Jesse James, Belle Reed married Sam Starr. Their family lived in a cabin along the Canadian River at a site known as Younger's Bend, near present Eufaula, Oklahoma. Younger's Bend served as a hideout for the couple's notorious friends, including the James Gang. In 1886, Sam Starr was killed after an argument. And in February 1889, just seven months before Meta Chestnutt arrived in I.T., Belle Starr was gunned down by an unknown assailant.[1]


[1] Adriana G. Schroeder, "Starr, Myra Maybelle Shirley (1848-1889)," in Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, 2:1442; Paul I. Wellman, A Dynasty of Western Outlaws (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1961), 10. See also Bill O'Neal, "Younger Gang, " in Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, 2:1664-65.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Outlaws and Lawmen in Indian Territory after 1866

The story of lawlessness in America is partly about the delayed arrival of law and order in areas of new settlement. The history of post-Civil War Indian Territory and early Oklahoma certainly fits this pattern. Following the war, neither the federal government with its few active army posts, nor the Indian nations with their undermanned units of law enforcement, could do much to effectively police Indian Territory. Government at the local level hardly existed. Organized criminals held free rein in many parts of I.T., which came to be known as Robbers Roost. The United States provided some relief beginning 1871, when it brought the territory under the federal jurisdiction of the Western District of Arkansas. In 1875, President Grant appointed Isaac C. Parker to the bench at Fort Smith. Over the next two decades, Parker, the so-called "hanging judge," heard nearly 9,000 cases and issued the death sentence to approximately 160 convicts, only about seventy of whom were executed.[1] The legend of the supposedly hard-nosed Judge Parker is well known. Yet the larger story involves the deadly business of bringing order to the territory. That the U.S. Marshals Museum is in Fort Smith, the place from which hundreds of lawmen were sent out, is no accident. In the years that followed 1875, approximately sixty-five deputy U.S. marshals lost their lives in Indian Territory.[2]


[1] W. David Baird and Danney Goble, Oklahoma: A History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 126-27. See also John R. Lovett, "Lawmen and Outlaws in Indian Territory, 1866-1907," in Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, 4th ed., ed. by Charles Robert Goins and Danney Goble (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), 134-35.

[2] Glenn Shirley, Law West of Fort Smith: A History of Frontier Justice in the Indian Territory, 1834-1896 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968), ix; H. D. "Dee" Cordry, Jr., "Deadly Business: The Early Years of the Crime Bureau," Chronicles of Oklahoma 63, no. 3 (Fall 1985): 250. See also Frank R. Prassel, "marshal, federal," in New Encyclopedia of the American West, ed. Howard R. Lamar (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 678-79.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"For Five Years I Even Buried the Dead": Meta Chestnutt's Ministry, 1889-94 (1)

In a brief retrospective piece she wrote near the end of her life, Meta Chestnutt Sager spoke about her thirty years of work as an educational missionary in Indian Territory and Oklahoma: "Christian work was always paralleled by the intellectual and social training, for five years I even buried the dead."[1] The "five years" ranged from 1889, when she first arrived at Silver City, Chickasaw Nation, until 1894. By then, several more preachers affiliated with the Stone-Campbell Movement had come to the area and sometimes visited the congregation at Minco, the town along the railroad that replaced Silver City in 1890. Around the same time she penned those words, she also wrote her own funeral service. The document details the order of her funeral, Scripture selections, prayer leaders, the songs to be sung and who should sing them. It also includes five pages of her life story, a eulogy of sorts. It even provides specific directions for the committal service: "The three ministers standing at the head of the open grave, Brother Smith give the words, The others join him in the 'Amen'."[2] (Even in death, the old school teacher and college president would direct everyone and everything). In the eulogy section of the service, she wrote, "In that early day, beginning September 8, 1889, I taught school, I taught the Bible, I buried the dead, I set the Lord's table. There was no man to do it then."[3] There is no record of her officiating at a wedding or baptizing a new believer.


[1] The two-page document written in her hand is titled "Meta Chestnutt Sager," box 3, folder 12, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[2] "Funeral Arrangements Written by Mrs. Meta Chestnutt Sager before Her Death," box 3, folder 13, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection.

[3] Ibid.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Meta Chestnutt Sager Genealogy and Early Life

By her own account, Meta Chestnutt "was born on a plantation near Kinston" in "Lenoir County, North Carolina, September 8, 1863."[1] Her earliest experiences included being "taught the Bible around the fireside in a Christian home."[2] Wiley Nobles, her maternal grandfather, was a planter and physician who served as a preacher among the Disciples of Christ. He became acquainted with Alexander Campbell during his visit to North Carolina. Her mother, Almeda Nobles Chestnutt, was "a charter member" of the Bethel church, a Disciples congregation.[3] Eventually, every member of Meta's immediate family became a member of that church, her father "being the last of the family to come in."[4] Her father, Lemuel Allen Chestnutt, was a believer who had perhaps been immersed before he became a part of the Bethel church. Meta notes that he entered the church "having dropped his denominational name."[5] At the age of twelve, in August 1876, she was baptized by a "Dr. H. D. Harper" in Contentnea Creek, while those gathered on the shore sang "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand."[6]


[1] Meta Chestnutt Sager, undated manuscript, Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection, box 3, folder 12.

[2] Meta Chestnutt Sager, "Funeral Arrangements written by Mrs. Meta Chestnutt Sager before Her Death," MCS Collection, box 3, folder 13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Spreading the Lord's Table: History of an Idiom (3)

Naturally, the language of well-known hymns made its way into the common speech of people who sang them. For example, in his series "On the Breaking of Bread," published in 1825, Alexander Campbell quoted an English translation of John Calvin's monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion to the effect that "Every week, at least, the table of the Lord should have been spread for Christian assemblies; and the promises declared, by which, in partaking of it, we might be spiritually fed."[1]  In 1861, Isaac Errett noted that Restoration Movement congregations in his time would typically "spread the table in the name of the Lord, for the Lord's people, and allow all to come who will, each on his own responsibility."[2] According to David Lipscomb, the Lord's Supper is "a board spread with the food our Father has prepared for sustaining and developing the spiritual life of his children." In response to the Lord's intention, it is the duty of the church, "our mother," to "spread the table with the life-invigorating viands provided by the Father, and invite the children to partake of them at the regular interval."[3]


[1] Alexander Campbell, "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things. No. IX. On the Breaking of Bread. No. IV," Christian Baptist 3, no. 4 (November 7, 1825), 85.

[2] "Letter from I. Errett," Millennial Harbinger, Fifth series, 4, no. 12 (December 1861), 711.

[3] David Lipscomb, "The Lord's Supper," Gospel Advocate 10, no. 9 (February 27, 1868), 200.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Spreading the Lord's Table: History of an Idiom (2)

Two more hymns indicate that the language of "spreading the Lord's Table" remained current among the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches in America up to the dawn of the twentieth century. "Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless," was composed by James Montgomery (1771-1854), a Scottish poet and hymn writer. It appears in The Christian Hymn-Book (1865), The Christian Hymnal (1871), and The Christian Hymnal, Revised (1882). Its lyrics include the two following stanzas:

Be known to us in breaking bread,
But do not then depart--
Savior, abide with us, and spread
Thy table in our heart.

Then sup with us in love divine;
Thy body and thy blood,
That living bread and heavenly wine,
Be our immortal food.

Edward Henry Bickersteth (1825-1906), an Anglican clergyman, composed "Till he come, O let the words," which was included in the New Christian Hymn and Tune Book (1882). In this song, worshippers are reminded of the eschatological feast as well as the present one:

See, the feast of love is spread:
Drink the wine, and break the bread-
Sweet memorials-till the Lord
Call us round his heavenly board-
Some from earth, from glory some,
Severed only - "Till he come."