My Tryphena – A Love Song

Singing a love song for all of us today and sending out a reminder that love can be found anytime and anywhere.

This blog is about a sweet Choctaw wild rose. Beauty beyond compare. The fairest maiden in all of the Choctaw lands – with a shining spirit to match her countenance. Her epitaph on her headstone was a moving tribute in only two words –Tryphena’s Grave – writ by a distraught husband.

Tryphena Wall Stewart was a remarkable, well-educated, and beautiful Choctaw woman; called “a missionary to her own people.” She died at the age of 25 in 1849 from the dreaded “white plague” (tuberculosis), leaving Charles, her husband, and four small children.

It seems that instantly she became a tragic legend in her own time. People remembered her beauty, her sweetness, and the sorrowful ending of her young life but not many other facts.

Eventually she became known as the “Choctaw Princess,” her family line going back through her grandmother, Aiahnichih Ohoyoh, the full-blooded Choctaw woman who had married the white trader Nathaniel Folsom, fondly called “the father of all Choctaw Folsoms,” in Mississippi before the Removal. Aiahnichih’s uncle was named Puskush, a direct descendant of a great Choctaw Miko, or Mingo, or in the white man’s parley “a King”. Puskush, spelled Puscus by historian Peter Hudson, is considered to be the brother of Chief Homastubbee of the Middle Division.

Over time people added more flourishes to enhance her legend – that her step-mother Eunice Clough married her father Noah Wall in order to raise Tryphena in a Christian setting; that against her family wishes, she eloped to marry a ne’er-do-well white man; that she died in a canoe on the Kiamichi River following the birth of a premature child (see Frances Imon’s story); that she is buried with her fifth child, an infant, at her side.

I have not found much truth in any of these statements. But it was a humbling experience for me, learning about the real Tryphena Stewart. I had always pictured her as more myth than real, glamorized by terms such as Choctaw princess and a natural beauty. I was in for a big lesson. Never take anyone for granted, even those who are called beautiful and a princess.

So the other day I asked myself: ‘What do I really know about Tryphena Stewart?”

  • That Tryphena has the coolest gravestone in the Choctaw Nation? Well, yes, in my humble opinion. Who hasn’t been captured by the old weathered headstone engraved with nothing else but “Tryphena’s Grave.” It speaks of such profound love and loss.
  • Was Tryphena a real Choctaw Princess? Hmmm, really?  Not sure about this one. Did the Choctaws even have princesses or royalty? She did have a Mingo somewhere back in her family tree.
  • Was Tryphena beautiful? We don’t know for sure, but there must be some reason that her beauty and kindness and personality are still talked about. Photography had barely come into existence by the time of her death in 1849. No old photos survive her but we do have a charming photo of her great-granddaughter Dorothy Berry acting in a school play.

  • Was Tryphena raised and mothered by Miss Eunice Clough at Lukfata, the same woman who also taught “Kiliahite,” aka Chief Allen Wright, and who later married her widowed father Noah Wall? That’s a nice story. But by the time Miss Clough married Noah Wall in May 1840, Tryphena was grown and a teacher in her own right at Mayhew. Miss Clough had arrived in Mississippi in January 1830 and was assigned to teach at the Old Mayhew Mission. Perhaps she briefly taught Tryphena for a year or two before the Wall family migrated to the Indian Territory. She came west with the Choctaws, taught for some years at Bethabara Mission at Eagletown, then began teaching in 1835 at Lukfata.
  • Did Tryphena run away and elope with some itinerant store clerk who never treated her well? Her husband Charles Fanning Stewart was an intelligent, prosperous merchant who provided well for her and their children. In one of his letters to family, Mr. Stewart reports that he bought the tavern belonging to his father-in-law Noah Wall.

Relatives had more insight regarding the marriage and Tryphena’s impact on her New England family: From Muriel Wright: “Although his relatives back east had been ready to disown Charles F. Stewart for marrying an Indian girl, yet his loving comments about her as his wife, her own affectionate letters, and the glowing accounts of her loveliness given by the brothers who visited Mayhew and the friends who journeyed back to New England, finally won them. The descriptions of Tryphena’s character and beauty remained a tradition in the Stewart family ever afterward. Many years later, when Maria, (Mrs. Berry) was growing up, her Aunt Arianna said, “Maria, you must hold your head high for your mother was a beautiful woman!”

Tryphena is more accurately known as one of the very first Choctaw educators, along with Lavinia Pitchlynn, daughter of the Choctaw leader Peter P. Pitchlynn. Tryphena taught at the Mayhew mission school near Clear Boggy Creek. She was the daughter of Noah Wall and Lucretia “Lucy” Minerva Folsom. They had brought her and her five siblings across the Trail of Tears when Tryphena was about nine years old. Tryphena’s descendants give her siblings names as Sarah, Tom, Jesse, David, Charlotte, and Lavina. Her mother whose health had been severely impaired during the journey, died in January 1833 at Lukfata soon after arriving in Indian Territory.

Tryphena’s uncle was the great Col. David Folsom, husband of Rhoda Nail, giving her familial connections to the influential Nail and Pitchlynn families. Col. Folsom helped to raise Tryphena and sent her to the best missionary schools available at that time. He was an ardent supporter of Presbyterian Missionary work. Several missions and schools populated the Doaksville vicinity.

One of the early schools was the Pine Ridge Academy, located two miles north of Doaksville. The school was presided over by the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, the senior missionary to the Choctaw Nation for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Rev. Kingsbury was a well-known face at Doaksville and preached there regularly. He would later marry Tryphena and Charles at the Pine Ridge Mission on May 9, 1842.

According to research by Choctaw historian Muriel Wright, when Tryphena was four years old, she began attending school at Mayhew Mission back in the old Choctaw country east of the Mississippi River. The mission was founded in 1820 by Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury. Sometime after the death of his wife in 1833, Noah Wall brought his family west, eventually locating about five miles west of Clear Boggy River, in what is now Bryan County, on the road between Fort Towson and Boggy Depot.

Another church was built in 1839 by Rev. Kingsbury near Mr. Wall’s place, and named Mayhew Mission. Some months later, a school was added at Mayhew, and 16-year-old Tryphena Wall was appointed a teacher for the school by Captain William Armstrong, U. S. Agent to the Choctaws. She proved an able educator and earned the respect of Captain Armstrong.

The commercial endeavors of Charles Stewart prospered at Mayhew, for  Mayhew’s location on the main route to the new Republic of Texas made it an important stopping place. The route from Fort Smith to Beal’s Ferry on Red River saw a great increase of immigrants after Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836. In the same spring that he and Tryphena were married, Charles bought a stock of goods from his old employer, Mr. Polk, of New Orleans, and set up a general merchandise establishment at Mayhew.

Letter from Charles to his brother Thomas C. Stewart, of New Orleans, dated June 11, 1845:

“Since Henry’s visit here last summer, some changes have taken place with me.  Last fall I purchased the Tavern [which] belonged to my father-in-law. I have rented out the Tavern and have opened my House to the public. It is the best stand in the country, being half-way from Fort Towson [army post] and Fort Washita [army post] between which two posts there is a large amount of travel. The road building from Washita to Fort Smith is to be turned so as to pass by my place. I am still doing a very good business selling goods. I have just got my goods purchased for me in New York last October but the prices I sell at pays for the delay. You will see by the backing of this letter that I am P. M. for this place which appointment was obtained for me by a friend in Washington last winter. I … have one of the largest stocks of cattle, horses and hogs in the country numbering about 4 to 500 head and on the whole am a tolerable big bug for this country.

[…]Nothing would give us more pleasure than a visit from you this summer. We have a fine boy about two years old, Charles after his daddy, and a fine daughter Maria ten weeks named after our dear mother. I have one of the best of wives and am living as happy as a lord. Write me soon and tell me all you know of home and what you are doing. If anyone in New Orleans enquires after me, give them a bit. There are some of the fellows I would be glad to see. Tryphena sends much love to you and your wife. Remember me to her. Your brother C. F. Stewart”

A few letters from Tryphena to her husband’s relatives in Connecticut have survived and echo the happiness and contentment she felt with her life and her children. Muriel Wright describes one of the letters:

“A year after Mr. Stewart had written Thomas, his brother, in New Orleans, a letter from his sister in Connecticut and a package of photographs of her and her mother and sisters was received at Mayhew. That of Anna Stewart was particularly beautiful.

It fascinated Tryphena who saw in the face a counterpart of her own little girl. Holding it at arm’s length, she studied it thoughtfully, then suddenly said, “Just look!”

Glancing up from the midst of his sister’s letter and seeing the graceful, unconscious pose of his lovely wife intent on the photograph of the beautiful Anna, was too much. Charles burst into tears.

Tryphena sent a letter of acknowledgment for the pictures. It was written in delicate, even script expressive of tender sentiment and warm affection for the mother and sisters back east. There were details of the children. “Bub,” little Charles, could talk quite plainly and knew half the alphabet. “Sis,” the baby Maria, was ten months old, could walk all about the place, and tried to say “pa and ma.”

Tryphena went on to say, “I often wish I could see you all but I am afraid that we never shall see each other. I heard that H. wanted to come out here. It is not too late yet, if you should ever come, you would find a home, Br.—and Sister.

 I thank you a thousand times for your likenesses, for whenever I think of you now, it seems as if I can see you at the same time. Charles says to tell you he has a pretty little Fice dog, he calls Beauty. He says he loves his Grandma and Aunteys, too. I expect his Papa will send, or take him to the north, when he is old enough to leave his Mamma, and home.

He looks like he was three years old. He is a smart little boy. Sometimes he brings some wood in, and will say “Mama I am going to make a fire for you.” And Sis tries to sing whenever she hears some of us singing. I wish you could see her, she is a little beauty.

I expect husband will write some in this letter, so I must draw to a close. I send a great deal of love to you and to all the Family.

I am your very affectionate Daughter & Sister, Tryphena W. Stewart.

Tryphena Wall Stewart died on June 27, 1849 at Doaksville. She left behind her loving husband and four little children — Charles, Maria, Lavinia, and Henry. In a letter dated July 10, 1849, Choctaw Nation, Charles F. Stewart wrote his mother of his tragic loss:

“My dear, dear Tryphena is gone

—and to use her own expression —

gone ‘to sleep in the arms of Jesus,’

and her spirit is now in heaven.

She died as an infant falling into a sweet sleep.”

Tryphena’s daughter, Mrs. Fanny P Berry saved the tribute written by Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, Tryphena’s old friend and mentor. Here is a portion of that tribute.

“Died in this village on the 27th of last month, Mrs. Tryphena Wall Stewart, wife of Charles F. Stewart, aged about twenty-five years.

For some months past, Mrs. Stewart had been in declining health and some two or three weeks ago, she came to Doaksville with her husband and two of her children, that she might enjoy the advantage of medical attendance. But it soon became evident to her friends, that it was too late. Disease had too strong a hold on her frail system, to be arrested. She came to make her grave in our midst, while her bereaved husband has had to make his lonely journey back to his desolate home without her.

At the age of about four years, she commenced attending school at Mayhew, one of the mission stations in the old Choctaw nation, and continued her attendance until the school closed, previous to the removal of the Choctaws to their present country.

The instruction she received at school was well improved, and produced a happy effect. One very important trait of character displayed in the early years of Mrs. Stewart was her cheerful and ready obedience to those under whose care she was placed. It is not recollected that during the whole time of her attending school at Mayhew, she needed to be corrected for obstinacy of temper or disobedience.

While attending school at Mayhew, both her parents became pious. From that time their precepts and example, were united with those of her teachers, to train their beloved daughter to paths of virtue and piety. Happily for her she was disposed to listen to their instructions.

After the removal of her father and the family to this country, Tryphena was under the instruction of the excellent Mrs. Barnes of Eagle Town.

At the age of about fifteen, she united with the Presbyterian Church at Mayhew, on the Boggy. Making a profession of religion was, with her, a serious and solemn duty; and she did not as some others unfortunately have done, after the lapse of a few months or a few years, give up her Savior and return to the world. She felt that she could not break her covenant engagements with Him who had died that she might live. She was assailed by temptation as were others, but she persisted in following her Savior.

She was one of the first of the Choctaw females, who engaged in the arduous work of instructing the youth of her own nation. And so well did she succeed in the work, that for a time she was employed to teach one of the public schools with a liberal salary.”

In 1941 the Oklahoma Historical Society announced that Muriel Wright had obtained the papers of Charles F. Stewart.  I was not able to find these papers at the Research Center, leading me to think they are bundled up with other documents, perhaps in the Muriel Wright Collection.

FOOTNOTE:

Her husband, Charles, married a Connecticut-born teacher Juliette Slate at the Goodwater Mission on November 28, 1849 at the request of his wife, so that her children would have a kind and Christian mother (announced by the Choctaw Telegraph, November 29, 1849). Two children, Arthur and Alice, wife of John Points, survived to adulthood.

Charles, Sr. died at Mayhew on July 21, 1855, from injuries received a few months earlier while evacuating his store contents during a fire. Juliette returned home to Connecticut. She died in July 18, 1885 in Omaha, Nebraska. See Find-A-Grave Memorial for Juliette.

Son Charles F. Stewart, Jr., born in 1843, died about 1864 in the Indian Territory under unknown circumstances.

Daughter Maria Fanning Stewart, born 1845, was married at Manchester, Conn, to Isaac Newton Berry on April 27, 1868. Three children: Isaac, Arthur, and Edgar. Granddaughter Dorothy Berry. Photo at Find-A-Grave Memorial page for Mrs. Berry.

Daughter Lavinia Stewart, born 1846, married twice. First to Charles Lewis on May 1, 1865 at Manchester, Conn.; second to William R. Senter on Dec 19, 1889 at Bonham, Texas. Seven children with her first husband: Charles, Florence, Arianna, Rush, Dora, Frank, and James. . Photo at Find-A-Grave Memorial page for Mrs. Senter.

Son Dr. Henry Stewart, born 1848; executed at Fort Smith, Arkansas on Sep 20, 1879, for his involvement in the assassination of Dr. J. B. Jones during a train robbery in the Choctaw Nation. More information as his Find-a-Grave memorial page.

***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***

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Sources:

Frances Imon, “Does a Real Princess Sleep Here?” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Okla,) Sunday, Jan 30, 1966, insert, page 10.

Muriel Wright, Tryphena, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 9, No. 2 (June 1931), page 180

The relationship of Puskush, as uncle of Aiahnichih Ohoyoh, is stated in H. B. Cushman’s “History of the Choctaws and Chickasaws,” page 328.

Photograph of Dorothy Berry, dated 1906, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, Box 2/1860s – 2006, Item# 22183.5, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Muriel Wright obtains papers of the Trader Charles Stewart, The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Okla,), Friday, March 21, 1941, page 12

Beautiful image of Ribbon Work Heart is courtesy of Mary Jo Hiney Designs and the Ribbon Muse.

Death Notice for Juliette Stewart, Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska), Friday, Jul 17, 1885

Ad for English Kitchen Restaurant, A.F. Stewart, proprietor, The Atchison Daily Globe (Atchison, Kansas), Tuesday, Dec 30, 1879.

3 thoughts on “My Tryphena – A Love Song

  1. Thank you, this was extremely interesting. I’ve looked at the grave over the years and pass it many times travelingvaround.

    On Tue, Feb 16, 2021, 5:19 PM Choctaw Journeys into the Past wrote:

    > laredoleach posted: ” Singing a love song for all of us today and sending > out a reminder that love can be found anytime and anywhere. This blog is > about a sweet Choctaw wild rose. Beauty beyond compare. The fairest maiden > in all of the Choctaw lands – with a shining spirit” >

  2. Thank you for compiling all of this history and sharing it. Tryphena is my great, great, great grandmother and Tryphena is my middle name. Tryphena’s daughter, Lavinia, was my grandfather James’ grandmother. I grew up in Oklahoma and have visited Tryphena’s gravesite. I am now in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and would love to get connected with some of the extended family, particularly if any are in this area.

  3. Laura,
    We are related. Aiahnichi Ohoyo is in my family tree, as is Peter Pitchlynn.

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