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First-Hand Accounts of Cherokee Culture and U.S. Political Encounters: Dr. Rowena McClinton Edits New Volumes of the Payne-Butrick Papers

First-Hand Accounts of Cherokee Culture and U.S. Political Encounters: Dr. Rowena McClinton Edits New Volumes of the Payne-Butrick Papers

The Newberry Library houses the well-known and frequently utilized 14-volume John Howard Payne Papers, also known as the Payne-Butrick Papers. In the fall of 2010, the University of Nebraska Press published the first six volumes of the Papers, edited and annotated by William Anderson, Jane Brown & Anne Rogers. University of Nebraska Press has asked Dr. Rowena McClinton, professor in the SIUE Department of History, to edit and annotate volumes 7-14 of the Papers. McClinton received the Lester J. Cappon Fellowship in Documentary Editing from the Newberry in 2011 to assist with the project. She also received support from SIUE’s 2011 New Directions Program.

The Papers began as the work of Congregationalist missionary Daniel Sabin Butrick. Though scholars have discounted his ideas, Butrick's private interviews with elderly Cherokees and his fluency in Cherokee gave him access to sacred formulae, the incantations that made up the inner soul of Cherokee life. A monumental work, the first six volumes of the Papers document the spiritual realm of the Cherokees. Because of the Cherokees’ highly regulated and ritualistic dietary habits and sexual rules, Butrick tied their ancestral heritage to the Lost Tribe of Israel, espousing the notion that contemporary Cherokee customs mirrored ancient Jewish customs.

Butrick passed his collection to John Howard Payne, a New York poet, actor, and writer. Payne was famous for “Home Sweet Home,” and his visibility during this romantic period of literature gave his collections and handwritten manuscripts a high profile. In 1836, Payne went into the Cherokee Nation and befriended Chief John Ross. Ross worked to have their ancient and contemporary histories recorded to bring their "history alive" in an effort to maintain their sovereignty as a nation in their homelands, as well as preserve their ancestral heritage and lands.

Volumes 7-14 of the Payne-Butrick Papers encapsulate the historical social and political actions between the Cherokees and the U.S. Volume seven begins in 1794, depicting Cherokee leaders visiting Washington, D.C., and Secretary of War Henry Knox with pleas for the U.S. to honor the boundaries set in the 1785 Treaty of Holston. The Papers end with Payne's delineation of how much the U.S. government owed the Cherokees for their 1838-39 removal to Native American Territory, including the improvements on their lands such as cattle, houses, and cash crops.

As a Cherokee sympathizer, Payne’s goal was to use the collection to publish a history of the Cherokee. Although Payne published articles based on information in the Papers, he was ultimately never able to publish the entire collection. The Papers were purchased by collector of Native American manuscripts and artifacts Edward E. Ayer. He donated the Papers to the Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection at the Newberry Library in 1911. Ayer's penchant for bringing to the scholarly world as much knowledge and understanding as possible to undergird Native American cultural integrity and history reinforces the significance of these volumes to the general and scholarly public.

Rarely do scholars of Native American history have opportunities to access contemporary observations, particularly observations collected mainly by non-missionary persons, such as John Howard Payne.  A complete publication of the Payne-Butrick Papers will supplement a host of scholarship already published about the Cherokees, but also other tribes who are mentioned widely: Creeks, Chickasaws, Natchez, Choctaws, the Sioux, Shawnees, Illinois Confederacy, and Delawares.

McClinton’s edited version draws from several sources of knowledge about the Southeast Native Americans. She also received advice from the colleagues at the Association of Documentary Editing and the University of Nebraska Press. The Newberry staff and the Newberry's Director of the Ayer Collection assisted her in preparing the final draft of the volumes for publication. McClinton expects the book to be published in 2016.  

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