Recently I was presenting Our Land! Our People! at the Talbot Library and Museum in Colcord, Oklahoma. I did not expect to find much in the little town of Colcord, Oklahoma, but I was wrong. Talbot publishes some significant works on Cherokee history, and their facsimile editions of the 1843 Claims were illuminating on the John Bell family in several respects. For the first time I could actually see the English and Cherokee handwriting of four key family members—John Bell, the father, and three of his Bell sons—John Adair, David Henry, and Devereaux Jarrett (better known as Chicken Trotter).
The 1843 Claims record unreimbursed losses prior to the Cherokee Removal in 1838-39, usually due to thefts or confiscations of property by non-Cherokee white men. They were submitted to recover those losses, and they had to be witnessed by at least two other reputable citizens. The Bells served as reporters of their own claims, witnesses to others, and, in the case of Chicken Trotter, an official recorder of several dozen claims by others.
Chicken Trotter’s reports are some of the clearest and most beautifully written in all of the volumes. Deciphering other writing was sometimes impossible, but “D. J. Bell” provided some of the best. That surprised me, because in other places he is recorded by the simple notation “his mark,” and I never found evidence that he had attended any of the Cherokee schools. It is no wonder that he didn’t sign his work “Devereaux Jarrett” but “D. J. Bell” works well, and there is no competitor for the use of those initials among the Bell family. David Henry Bell would be “D. H.” and he just signed as “David Bell.” As these claims were recorded in the first few months of the year, there was enough time for Chicken Trotter to get back to Texas in order to work with Governor Sam Houston to conclude the Treaty of Bird’s Fort on September 29, 1843, which ended the four years of conflict between the Texas government and several tribes. Conflict followed the second Texas governor, Mirabeau Lamar’s attempt to eradicate the native population. Sam Houston, the first governor, an official Cherokee himself, had tried to grant reservation status to the Cherokees among others. From one administration to the next, the policies reversed from welcoming people of different cultures to trying to destroy them, and back again.
Chicken Trotter, according to the records of the Texas Cherokee population, had come to Texas during the mid-1830’s, when Chief Duwali (or Bowle, as he was also known), led the tribe. They were and continue to be located in Rusk, Cherokee and Smith Counties, as the areas are known today. When in 1839 Governor Lamar and the Texas militia killed Duwali and at least half of the tribe in a genocidal attack, Chicken Trotter soon became one of the remaining leaders.
Because of the Texas Cherokee account I rewrote Our Land! Our People! removing Chicken Trotter from Alabama, where his father lived, and from the Bell Detachment on the Trail of Tears, and putting him in Texas through the late 1830’s. After publishing, I found evidence that Chicken Trotter served his brothers in the Bell Detachment as a treasurer paying bills along the route. If he accompanied the group the whole way, he was travelling to Indian Territory from September 1838 through early January 1839, before returning to Texas in time to be in danger during the massacre of Duwali and the Cherokees in July.
When a group of Cherokees, including John Adair Bell and David Bell travelled to Texas in September and October of 1845, accompanied by the diarist and newspaper reporter William Quesenbury, they visited the northeast Texas Cherokee settlement, and Chicken Trotter was there leading the group, having established a community farm, including watermelons and pumpkins as Quesenbury notes, because some of their horses got loose and tore up the patch.
In 1848, Chicken Trotter was again in Indian Territory, joining his brother Sam and other Cherokees planning a journey to California to prospect for gold. Sam died on the way but Chicken Trotter and his wife Juliette got there before returning to their people in Texas a year or so later. There is no record about his success or failure in finding gold.
Chicken Trotter was a busy man, travelling back and forth quickly in days when travel was difficult. Maybe that is how he acquired his name.