Elias C. Boudinot was a Cherokee Indian who served as a leader in the tribe, and appeared as a defense attorney in front of Judge Parker many times. This speech was delivered during a Memorial Service for E.C. Boudinot held in the United States courtroom at Fort Smith, Arkansas on Thursday, October 9, 1890.
GENTLEMEN OF THE BAR: On receiving the resolutions offered as a testimonial of his worth by his brethren of the profession to which Colonel Boudinot belonged, I trust it will not be deemed inappropriate for me to add a word to what has been so appropriately, eloquently, and well said by the resolutions offered, and the remarks of the gentlemen who have spoken.
Solomon, that wisest man of antiquity, in his Proverbs, said: "Boast not thyself of the morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
How forcibly we are reminded of the truth of this declaration by the death of our friend and legal brother. But a few days ago he was among us in the full vigor of mature manhood. When I saw him, then leaving here on a mission of mercy, on the 9th of last month, the very picture of health and in the most buoyant of spirits, I little thought in twenty days thereafter we would join a long procession of mourning friends to follow his remains to the tomb.
Day after day we see our friends falling around us. "The air is full of farewells to the dying and mourning for the dead." In the midst of this grief for the departed ones, let the thought of Longfellow occur to us, because it is consoling -
"There is no death; what seems so is transition.
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call death."
This event, so fruitful of sorrow and grief, has its deep meaning. We have but to reflect to be fully impressed with the fact that no life is ever lived in this world which, when it goes out, does not leave behind it an influence for good or evil, to be felt by all within the circle of its power. A human life, with all that makes it up in its influence, is like a pebble dropped in water as it starts a rippling, circling wave that reaches the farthest shore. So, when a human life has a place in the great ocean of Time, it exerts an influence felt by all around it, and often by those who are yet unborn. That life starts a wave of influence which goes beyond even the shores of Time, and is felt in Eternity.
The life of a good man, as an example to be followed, is as useful and cheering to the tempest-tossed soul in this world as the beacon-light of the light-house is to the storm-driven mariner as he is drifted by winds and waves toward the dreadful rock-bound coast. The life of a bad man looms up dark and gloomy before us, as does the rock in mid-ocean to those who go down to the sea in ships. The things which go to make a life a bad one are to be shunned as the mariner shuns the dreadful rock. The useful character of such a life is in teaching us to avoid the shoals and quicksands of folly, vice, crime, and immorality which make it up. So, good or bad, no life is without its influence. We are all sowers of seed in the field of life. These bright or gloomy days of our lives are the seed-times. Every thought of our intellects, every emanation of our hearts, every word of our tongues, every principle we adopt, every act we perform, is a seed whose good or evil fruit will be the bliss or bane of some human life. By our example, we may raise a mortal to the skies, or we may drag even an angel down. To us on this side of the grave, the great lesson of a death is to call attention to the life that has gone out, that we may take it as an example to be followed or shunned.
Mr. Dickens, that wonderful pen-painter of human emotions and the nature of man, when writing of the influence on the living of the death of the young, with wonderful beauty and power says:
"For every fragile form from which He lets
The parting spirit free
A hundred virtues rise,
In shapes of mercy, charity, and love,
To walk the world and bless it;
Of every tear
That sorrowing mortals shed on such graves,
Some good is born, some gentler nature comes."
So it is with any death. I have known our departed friend well on to twenty years. I have seen him mingling socially with the great and powerful of our land, and the very talents which God gave him, and which he had improved by cultivation, qualified him to entertain presidents and cabinets, generals and statesmen. The highest and lowest in the land have been entertained, edified, and instructed by his beautiful recitations, and the music of that rich, mellow, sweet voice, as it often brought out the sentiment and beauty of the songs he sung. How often have we all, at social gatherings, listened to him, and by doing so been elevated and made better in thought and purpose. Some part of our better nature was quickened by sentiments uttered by him; some chord of memory he caused to vibrate so as to bring vividly to our minds some sacred recollection of the forgotten past. He touched some sentiment of affection that makes the whole world kin. He could produce the tear of sentiment or sorrow, or the smile of amusement or joy. All his efforts to entertain his fellow-men were lofty grand, and elevating. They would be sometimes amusing, but they were never low, vulgar, or groveling. He was a man of broad, liberal views. He had a heart filled with kindness for all mankind. He had a hand ever ready to do a charitable deed. He had a tongue that never spoke evil of any mortal. He was a man that could not entertain malice. He was a man of such ability that, if he had devoted his time and talents from early manhood to his chosen profession, he would have taken very high rank in it. He was a good thinker, and he possessed the happy faculty of arranging his thoughts so as to present them briefly to a court or jury. His manner in court and before a jury was that of the most affable, gentlemanly, and pleasing character. He was, consequently, a good advocate. Whether at the bar or in the forum, he was an orator.
I think he was very much misunderstood by some of his people. They had a belief that he was not true to their interests, and that he was willing to barter away their rights. This was a great mistake. He was as jealous of the rights of the Indian as any of them, and I believe he was ever ready to defend their rights of life, liberty, and property. He was just a little ahead of his people. He wanted them to fall into the ranks of that great column of civilization and progress as it goes marching grandly on to that higher, greater, and nobler goal of the nation. He saw they must accept the civilization of the century as well of the future. To do this, they must look forward, and not backward. Colonel Boudinot believed that the position of the Indian was side by side with his white brother, as a citizen of this great Republic.
Colonel Boudinot, like Moses of old, died in the very sight of the "promised land"; for we all now see our red brother will very soon take such a stand affecting his political relations that he can point with pride to the fact that he too is an American citizen, in possession of all the great rights that status brings. Then Colonel Boudinot's position will be fully vindicated, and his having learned "to labor and to wait" will not have been in vain. Then his memory will be held in gratefully remembrance by those of his people who have misunderstood him. This event, so important to the Indian, will come with his full and free consent, in God's own good time; and that time is even now in sight.
Our friend was not without his faults. Who is? Echo answers: No one. If we find such a one we must look higher than mortality.
But we can truly say that Colonel Boudinot has not lived in vain, for the world is better for his having lived; for he favored and advocated all that is great, noble, and grand in our progress and civilization. We can say, with truth, he has left for good effects "his footprints on the sands of time."
Delivered during a Memorial Service for E.C. Boudinot held in the United States courtroom at Fort Smith, Arkansas; Thursday, October 9, 1890.
As reported in the Fort Smith Elevator, October 24, 1890
Later printed in: Adams, John D. Elias Cornelius Boudinot: In Memoriam. Chicago: Rand McNally Company, 1891. Later reprinted in The Chronicles of Oklahoma, V.XLI N.4, pages 400-402.