By Sallie Cotter Andrews
When the Civil War began, 35 Wyandot men joined the 6th and 12th regiments of the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, part of the Kansas Indian Home Guard. This was part of the Union army. But just as the Civil War split families and sometimes caused brother to fight against brother, it also divided the Wyandot nation into opposing sides.
William Long recorded in his Indian-Pioneer History interview that two Wyandot men rode with Confederate guerrilla fighter and leader William Clarke Quantrill fighting in the battles at Baxter Springs, Hudson Bottom, Blue Mound and Pea Ridge. The two that he named were Frank Whitewing and Nicholas Cotter. Were they really Confederate sympathizers or were they simply caught up in time of agitation? Well, for Nicholas Cotter, we might conclude that his feelings for the Southern cause did in fact run deep. Nicholas had already named his son Jefferson Davis Cotter.
Jefferson was born on September 28, 1861, in Wyandotte County, Kansas. His mother was Susan Nofat, born 1837. Nicholas, who was born in 1822 and was 39 at the time of Jefferson’s birth, had already had a very adventurous life. He was among the Wyandots living in Michigan who joined with the Wyandots in Ohio and moved on to Kansas; there he became a ferryman. Several accounts list Nicholas as one of the three scouts who went with Freemont to California in 1849. He had a daughter named Caroline and had buried his wife by 1853. He fought in the Civil War and then moved on to Indian Territory where he was a translator for the Friends missionary, Jeremiah Hubbard. Later in life Nicholas became a delegate of the Wyandotte nation and travelled to Washington, D.C., on tribal business. There, in 1875, he was photographed by William H. Jackson. He served as Chief of the Wyandotte nation in Oklahoma from 1880 to 1882. Nicholas had travelled from coast to coast.
Jefferson moved from Kansas to Oklahoma after the Civil War and spent his life near Wyandotte, Oklahoma. The date of his mother’s death is unknown. B. N. O. Walker recorded about Jefferson’s early years that he had “gained his own way in the world since he was a small boy.” In later years, his father married Elizabeth Arms. She was 25 years younger than Nicholas and 16 years older than Jefferson. They formed a blended family. On the 1886 roll, Nicholas is listed as the father (age 66), Elizabeth as the mother (age 41), Jefferson as a son (age 25), Joseph (Joel Anthony) as a son (age 18), and Huldah Bonwill Cotter as a daughter (age 11). Other affidavits show Jefferson and Huldah as being half-brother and half-sister, both being the children of Nicholas. Jefferson and Huldah attended the Seneca Indian School and all three children (Jefferson, Joel and Huldah) attended the Haskell Institute.
As a young man, Jefferson was a farmer. In 1909, he was employed by the U.S. government and went to work as a policeman for the Quapaw Agency serving at the Seneca Indian School at a salary of $20 per month. Jefferson’s work as a policeman was well respected. He never married, and generally he lived within his means. He had received a land allotment of 74.35 acres in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. He rented out the usable 40 acres of farmland for which he received $60 per year. The remaining 34.35 acres were covered with brush, and were rocky and hilly.
Over the years Jefferson applied to the federal government for permission to sell part of his allotment to get money to build a house since the house on his property had burned down. In 1919, he requested to sell his land for his “treatment.” He ended up owning the 34.35 acres of his allotment – it was the part that was brushy, hilly and was crossed with a canyon or ravine.
On September 23, 1925, he died. Mr. J. L. Suffecool, superintendent at the Seneca Indian School, contacted W. H. Mitchell Drugs, to handle the funeral arrangements at a cost of $92.50. When the bill was presented to the school some five years later, there was no money on hand in Jefferson’s name to pay for his funeral. The land remaining in his estate, which was bequeathed to his half-sister, Huldah, was valued at $212. She finally had a buyer for the property, Mr. Z. Neher of Avilla, Missouri, and received $175 for Jefferson’s 34.35 acres.
Jefferson’s legacy is that of a life well lived in service to the community. He was a good, respected man. He was a woodcarver, as evidenced by his little pendant. His father left a remnant of history upon his son by giving him the unique name “Jefferson Davis.” By word and deed, they stand in history as a monument to the times in which they lived.