Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Seminole Freedmen Win Rights for Health Services

 Earlier this year many were shocked when one of the members of the two Freedman Bands in the Seminole Nation showed up to receive a Covid Shot. She was refused service, then the Lighthorse police were called to escort her out of the building.

The Freedman was a member of the tribe, and even serves on the tribal council as Chief of the Bruner band. Many were shocked how a person who serves her tribe, was turned away from a life saving vaccine, during a worldwide health epidemic. 

Well, today an interesting ruling has come down from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, declarining that Seminole Freedmen are eligible for Health Services of Indian Health Services--IHS.

As enrolled members of a Federally recognized tribe they are eligible to receive these benefits. For many years health services have been denied to Freedmen. 

Seminole Freedmen are generations long members of the Seminole Community having arrived in Indian Territory in the 1840s many as free people. They lived among Seminoles  for generations, and have been a part of the political structure of the tribe continaually. They are also people of African descent.

However, the past 3 decades have brought many challenges to Seminole Freedmen with their status being challenged. In the 1980s a strong anti-black sentiment arose, and even to the point of disenrolling the Freedmen from the tribe. They filed suit and won their case, and were re-admitted. However, their admission came with a price. They were to receive no benefits as citizens. The only thing that they could do was vote for people running for office, but nothing more. No health services, no educatonal benefits, no assistance with housing issues, etc.

The letter of October 5th from the Department of Human Services signals a change of direction. Those in the Freedmen community applaud this new development and many are hopeful that more changes will be seen coming from the other tribes of eastern Oklahoma.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Remarkable Freedwomen of Indian Territory

Left to Right:
Top Left-Sallie Walton, Top Center-Bettie Ligon, Right Center-Hagar Meyers
Bottom Left-Malinda Hall, Bottom Right-Lucinda Davis

Since March is Women's History Month, I thought that I would honor some often overlooked Freedwomen from Indian Territory. 

There are some women whose name should be said aloud. They are seldom mentioned in annals of Oklahoma history and even less so in the texts of tribal history. However, freedwomen from the Five former slaveholding tribe were not passive pawns in a system that worked against them. They lent their bodies and minds and spirit to cause to uplift those of their community. Some spoke up and showed courage during times of conflict. Others dared to resist and insist that they be acknowledged for who they were. Others simply told their story with all of the cultural nuances that they embraced. And others nurtured children who lived to tell their stories.

These were patient souls from whom we descend.  Some were well known, and others were simply quiet steadfast warrior women, worked tirelessly in their own domain. It is from such women who were the matriarchs of the families, and we must speak their names. These daughters of Oklahoma soil should no longer be bypassed in the annals of history. We honor them.

So weekly I shall profile at least one Freedwoman from Indian Territory, whose life was an inspiration and whose story deserves to be told.

To be honored this month: 

Sallie Walton, Choctaw Freedwoman, Matriarch of the Walton family of Skullyville
Bettie Ligon, Choctaw & Chickasaw Freedwoman - Head Litigant in Equity 7071
Hagar Meyers, Creek Freedwoman - Peacemaker woman of courage of the Green Peach War
Malinda Hall, Choctaw Freedwoman - Instructor and Educator of Choctaw Freedmen
Lucinda Davis - Creek Freedwoman - Survivor of Slavery, cultural storyteller of life in Creek culture

May they  never be forgotten.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Honoring Black Soldiers of the Indian Home Guards in the CivilWar

There are many men from Indian Territory who were enslaved in the Civil War. They escaped with Opotholeyahola into Kansas. Some joined the Kansas Colored Regiments, and they later became part of the US Colored Troops.  But there were many who also remained with the Creeks and they too enlisted in the Union Army. The would participate in every major battle of the Civil War. From Cabin Creek, to Honey Springs, and points in between.

It is important to know that the Home Guards (1st, 2nd and 3rd) were the only Indian Union Regiments.
The remaining 20+ Native American regiments from the Five Tribes, were Confederates. 

The following is a partial list of soldiers who were of African descent. who served with the Indian Home Guards.  May their legacy as freedom fighters in the Civil war be added to those of the Kansas Colored infantries and the regiments of the US Colored Troops.  May they always be remembered.

Index to Pension File of Sugar George, Company H, 1st Indian Home Guards

Black Soldiers of the Indian Home Guards 

Sugar T. George 
Wheat Baldridge
Adam Dyle
Samuel Barnett
Dennis Harrod
George Marshall
Green McGilvray
Saucer Bradley
Robert Benjamin
Abram Colonel
Harry Stedham
Jacob Bernard
Snow Sells
Simon Brown
George Monday
Abe Prince
Billy Caesar
William Hawkins
John Cooks
Jacob Perryman
Dennis Marshall
Manam Marshall
Troy Stedham
Sage Barnwell
Toby Drew
Thomas Marshall
James Quabner
William Peter
Love Jimboy
Tally Lewis
Thomas Al 
Gabriel Jimison
Solomon Renty
Jacob McGilvray
Pickett Renty
Charles Renty
August Deer
George McGilvray
Thomas Bruner (Identified as a free man of color)
August Deer
Abraham Caesar
Latah Harjo
Benjamin Ab
Scipio Sancho
Morris Kernell
James Kernell
Ben Sancho
Redman Kernell
Peter Stedham
Joseph Sambo (Sango)
Billy Hawkins (Identified as free man of color)
John Kernell
Jim Barnett (Identified as free man of color)
Aaron Sancho
Samuel Wade 
Joe McGilvray
William Grayson
Isaac Smith
Tucker (This was Silas Jefferson)
Adam (Identified as free man of color)
Alex Hawkins
York McGilbra

(courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society)
Silas Jefferson (enlisted as Tucker) was also a leader within the Creek Nation

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Honoring Creek & Seminole Civil War Veterans

African Creeks were among the first men of African descent to find themselves in battle in the Civil
War. They were among the many who travelled with Creek leader Opotholeyahola into Kansas early in the war.

Entering the free state of Kansas, new options were presented to them and they seized their freedom, enlisted in the Union Army and became soldiers in two regiments of the US Colored Troops.  Their enlistment began as the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored regiments. 

By 1862, they engaged in battle in Missouri at the battle of Island Mound. They then moved into northern Arkansas, and were involved in numerous battles in Arkansas, and later their native Indian Territory. Their record is a distinguished one, and notable depictions of their actions at the Battle Honey Springs have been well documented. 

Their courage and honor should never be forgotten.  

Headstone of Robert Bowleggs - 79th US Colored Infantry
National Cemetery, Ft. Smith Arkansas

Partial List of Creek Freedmen in the 79th US Colored Infantry

79th US Colored Infantry 
Benjamin Barnett
William Bruner
August Deer
Scipio Gouge
Billy Island
George Jonah
Smart Lewis

83rd US Colored Infantry
Abran Caesar
Edward Caesar
Phillip Caesar
William Caesar
Samuel Chambers
Henry Daniels
Adam Doyle
Tony Doyle
Jackson Gouge
Henry Grason
Aaron Grayson
Robert Grayson
William Grayson
Jack Hampton 
Samuel Harry
Israel Hawkins
Jackson Holmes
William Jackson
Gabriel Jameson
George Jeffrey
Nessa Lovett
Isaac Marshall
Moses Marshall
Sandy Marshall
James McGilbry 
Quash McGilbry
Wm McGilbry
Sandy Morrison
Jackson Perryman
Wm Peters
Adam Prince
Samuel Ranty
Soloman Ranty
Samuel Renty
Simon Renty
David Robinson
Jesse Taylor
Benjamin Thomas
Samuel Wade

Seminole Freedmen in the US Colored Troops
Samuel Davis
Cyrus Bowleggs
George Bowleggs
Robert Rowleggs

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Honoring Chickasaw Freedmen Civil War Veterans

Because the Chickasaw Nation was located farther away from military conflicts, opportunities for Union occupation, and recruitment of enslaved men to enlist in the Civil War were limited. Among the enslaved men in Indian Territory, Chickasaw-held people in bondage faced further restrictions on their movement. In addition, other tribes had begun to come into Chickasaw country with their slaves to avoid conflict and to reduce chances of enslaved people to get to the Union line and to find freedom.

However, some enslaved men of African descent did manage to find their way through war torn country in the Choctaw and Creek nations and they did manage to enlist. And for those few Chickasaw who managed to make their way from bondage, they are also honored here. In their honor an image from their military service file is placed here.

Boynton Colbert (Bynum Colbert)
54th US Colored Infantry

Isaac Alexander 79th US Colored Infantry

Quash Bear, 79th US Colored Infantry

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Honoring Choctaw Freedmen Civil War Freedom Fighters

People enslaved in the Choctaw Nation found themselves close to incredible activity that would change the trajectory of their lives. The time was 1863 and the conflicts of the Civil War was close by. Many lived in proximity to the Arkansas state line, and nearby Fort Smith provided an opportunity to seize their own freedom and to enlist in the Union Army. Several regiments recruited soldiers from both Cherokee and Choctaw Nations when they were encamped there.  For the enslaved men, with their slave holders and overseers from the two tribe having joined the confederate army, there was no one to prevent them from seizing their freedom and enlisting. They walked off the plantations and farms were they were held in bondage, and walked into freedom, and committed themselves to fight for the freedom of those left behind.

When Union forces came into Fort Smith one of the regiments that was organized in that city was the 11th US Colored Infantry. Some from the Skullyville district of the Choctaw Nation heard the call for able bodied men, and they enlisted. Others living in close proximity to Cherokee and Creek areas enlisted in the 79th and 83rd, which had been formed from the Kansas Colored regiments. And later when those units came back through Fort Smith more opportunity came for Choctaw held slaves to enlist.

As the war continued and they entered the conflict, some would not survive the war and live to see freedom. But others would survive, and lived several decades afterward, but died before statehood and the land allotment era, in their native Choctaw Nation. But these men served and are honored here. And it should be noted that for many their service is the only footprint on paper that is left that bears their name.

This is written to honor those men of courage whose names are seldom mentioned, but whose names belong on the Wall of honor of freedom fighters of Indian Territory. They are among the forgotten sons of Oklahoma, whose names I call, as Freedman History Month continues.

Partial List of Choctaw Freedmen in the Union Army

11th US Colored Infantry 
Theodrick Birgit
Thomas Blackwater

79th US Colored Infantry
Samuel Burris
Jefferson Rogers

83rd US Colored Infantry
Mobile Boyd
George Boyd
Ephraim Clark
Simon Clark
Joseph Dunforth
Phillip Fulsom
Austin Geary
Robert Hawkins
Hommedy James
Richard La Fleur
Jackson Monroe
Aaron Newberry
Cannon Ormsby
Thomas Phillips
Phillip Rushington
Duncan Walker
Dickson Williams

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Honoring Cherokee Freedmen Civil War Freedom Fighters

 In the US Civil War, men of African Descent were active in the quest for freedom.  Some had followed Creeks into Kansas. While there, some found themselves in a new status--that of free men. The opportunity to engage in the battle for freedom, several enlisted in one of three groups--Indian Home Guards, 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries, or the US Colored Troops. Note that the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored regiments were later re-designated as the 79th and 83rd US Colored Infantries, respectively.

Cherokee Freedmen are found mostly among US Colored Troops, in both 79th and 83rd regiments.  However, a few names are found in other regiments as well. 

To honor Cherokee Freedmen Civil War Soldiers a partial list is placed here. Additional research is much needed to compile a comprehensive list, and hopefully someday such a project will be undertaken. Many of these men died during the war, and others died prior to the Dawes enrollment era, so many names have simply been forgotten with time. And some were born and enslaved in the Cherokee Nation, but moved away from the Territory in later years. Thankfully, Civil War records reflect their names, and their place of birth, their names can still be called and should be remembered.

Partial List of Cherokee Freedmen Civil War Soldiers

Indian Home Guards
Buck Bushyhead

11th US Colored Infantry
Aron Alberty 
George Bench

79th US Colored Infantry

Moses Carter
Wiley Carter
Thomas Daniels
George C. Davis
Isaac Rogers
Franklin Ross
Nelson Ross
Thomas Ross

83rd US Colored Infantry

Amos Adair
Andrew Brewer
Jacob Brewer
George Bushyhead
Moses Fields
Zachary Foreman
William Funkhauser
James Geary
Ephraim Isaac
Andrew Johnson
George Johnson
Israel Johnson
Moses Johnson
Henry Kidd
Dick Linch (Lynch)
George Martin
Hugh Martin
Toby Martin
Melton Washington
Edward Peter
Lewis Theodore
Burgess Thomas
John Webb
Daniel Webster
David Whitman
William Anderson
Aughter Williams

May the service of these men of the Cherokee Nation who served honorably in the Civil War and the quest for freedom, be remembered and honored. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Honoring I.T. Freedmen Civil War Veterans


Painting Depicting 1st Kansas Colored Infantry
This unit consisted of many men from both Cherokee and Creek Nations
Image accessed from Black

Among the missing stories fromt Oklahoma and it pre-staehood history are the stories of slavery, the quest for freedom and the stories of the Freedmen. Embedded in the quest for freedom comes the story of men both enslaved and free, who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. This untold Oklahoma story is rich reflecting stories of courageous of these black freedom fighters who joined the battle for freedom. They are honored this week during Freedmen History Month

Almost 200,000 men of African descent served in the American Civil War. Within that large number were men who served in several portions of the Union Army--the United States Colored Troops, the Indian Home Guards and the 1st & 2nd Kansas Colored.

Within these units were men who had a background that distinguishes them from other soldiers. These men had lived in Indian Territory, within Five native tribes. Many had been slaves while in these tribes, and some or their parents had come to the Territory on the forced migration known widely as the Trail of Tears. The tribes from which they came are Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations.

Many of these men have their names inscribed on the Civil War monument in Washington DC. Their participation in the Civil War is not widely known, even by many who descend from them. However, their legacy is a strong one, and as a result they are to be honored throughout this week, of Freedmen History month.

The Regiments in Which They Served

1st Indian Home Guards
2nd Indian Home Guards
3rd Indian Home Guards

1st Kansas Colored Infantry
2nd Kansas Colored Infantry

11th US Colored Infantry
54th US Colored Infantry
79th US Colored Infantry
83rd US Colored Infantry

Battles in Which They Fought

Baxter Springs, October 6, 1863 Kansas 2nd US Kansas Colored Infantry
Boggs Mills, January 11, 1864  Arkansas  11th US Colored Infantry
Cabin Creek, Cherokee Nation July 1-2 1863 and Nov 4,1865  2nd Kansas Colored, & 83rd US Colored Infantry
Clarksville January 18th 1865  79th US Colored Infantry
Cow Creek, Kansas November 14th  1864  54th US Colored Infantry
Ft. Gibson, September 16,1864  79th US Colored Infantry
Horse Head Creek Arkansas February 17, 1864  79th US Colored Infantry
Honey Springs July 17m 1864 1st Kansas Colored Infantry
Island Mound, Missouri October 27th & 29th 1862 1st Kansas Colored Infantry
Jenkins Ferry Arkansas April 30th 1864 83rd US Colored Infantry
Lawrence Kansas July 27th 1869  79th US Colored Infantry
Lotus Steamer (near Dardanelle) Jan 16, 1865 83rd US Colored Infantry
Poison Springs Arkansas  April 18th 1864  1st Kansas Colored Infantry
Prairie D'Ann  April 13th 1864  1st & 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries
Timber Hills, November 19th 1864  1st Kansas Colored Infantry

May the forgotten freedom fighters from Indian Territory long be remembered. Their legacy should no longer be overlooked.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Remembering Oak Hill Academy & Dawes Academy


Thanks to the work of Robert Flickinger, the history of Oak Hill Academy is known. This school was founded by Presbyterians who lived and worked in the Choctaw Nation. The school was established in the late 1880s when the goal was to bring education to children of  Choctaw Freedmen. The school was noted for the immaculate grounds and the structures of dormitories for both boys and girls. 

Many of the graduates of Oak Hill remained in the area to emerge as leaders. Wiley Homer established a church in the area working with the Presbytery of Kiamitia. 

Wiley Homer with Presbyterian Church in Grant, I.T.
Homer was a notable graduate of Oak Hill Academy

A roster of students who attended has not yet been found, but the work by Flickinger written in 1914 did include some impressive images of several of the students, staff, and also the grounds of the school.  The name was later changed to Elliott Memorial in 1912 and was remembered for many years after that time as Elliott Memorial. A historical marker is located near Valiant Oklahoma dedicated to the memory of the school once known as Oak Hill.

Marker for Elliott Academy - Oak Hill Academy

* * * * *  

Image Source:
The Daily Oklahoman
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
August 8, 1971

In 1901 a decision was made by a group of Chickasaw Freedmen to establish a literary and industrial school near Berwyn. An appeal was made to the public for assistance in purchasing the property to become Dawes Academy.

The school did not last many years after statehood, and by the 1920s a segregated school system was established throughout Oklahoma, and local public schools were established.  Years later an article appeared in the local newspaper, the Daily Ardmorite about the school in May 1969. Following that article Mrs. Gladys Rhodes wrote a letter to the editor, describing the exact location of Dawes Academy in response. Additional notes about the school were later added to the letter as note, perhaps by the recipients interested in the school's history on the newspaper staff.

Transcription of letter

                                                                                       Sulphur Oklahoma
                                                                                      May 16th 1969

Dear Sir:

In regard to the Reporter's Notebook in the Daily Ardmorite of May 15th, the Dawes Mission School is about three miles north of Berwyn, now Gene Autry, and six miles east of Springer, in later years it was known as Dawes Academy.

A church is still there, known as Calvary Baptist. You ask for this information.

Very Respectfully,

Mrs. Gladys Rhodes
1428 W. Vinita
Sulphur  73086

An image of the letter, followed by a close up image, both appear below.  Also several interesting notations were written upon the letter clearly written in a different handwriting, possibly by newspaper staff.

Letter sent to Daily Ardmorite about Dawes Academy in 1969

Close up of letter sent to the Daily Ardmorite
Gladys Rhodes, Mrs. Dawes AcademytextDate Unknown; ( February 13, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History,; crediting Ardmore Public Library.

A sketch of the school was found in an old article from the Daily Oklahoman. The article described the history of the old Calvary Baptist Church, and included an image of the old church with attached school.

Over the years various articles about Dawes Academy have appeared in the press. One such article about education in the Territory included a statement written by Attorney B.C. Franklin. 

In the same article from the Daily Oklahoman (cited below image of church) it is revealed that Miss Mary Elizabeth Allen, who married Hiram Dawes, and it was they who migrated to the Territory to work "among the Negroes in Muskogee."  After her husband's death she raised about $1000 and started a school in Berwyn. In 1893 she gave management of the school to the Baptist Home Missionary Society. It is said that the school was named in honor of her husband.  

The Daily Oklahoman
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
August 8, 1971

Although little else is known about Dawes Academy, hopefully it will not be forgotten as one of the pre-statehood schools for Freedmen of Indian Territory.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Remembering Evangel Mission for Creek Freedmen in Muskogee


Evangel Mission School, Muskogee I.T.

At the top of the old Agency Hill area in Muskogee, one finds the only Freedman school from the 19th century, that is still standing. The school was once known as Evangel Mission School, which was a school and residence for Creek Freedmen. Prior to the establishment of the school in the 1880s, itw as the site of the old Creek Agency, from which the term Agency Hill comes.

Beyond the original article that I wrote about Evangel Mission in 2011, this is simply an effort to place the history of this school in the minds of those who study the African American presence in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

This building that now holds the only still-standing structure built for Oklahoma Freedmen, is now known as the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. Many historical markers and notable aspects of the history of the area are found upon the grounds of the Museum. However, unfortunately, not one item mentioning the school, its founders, nor the students can be found. The black history of this former structure has been omitted.

A few facts about Evangel Mission School

-Established in 1883 by Baptist Missionaries
-Ira A. Cain, President/Superintendent of the School
-Located in the old Muskogee Agency building
-Names and Number of Students and Teachers: unknown to this day.
-Uses of the school building--Dance Hall, Tea Rooms, American Legion
-Current use: Five Civilized Tribes Museum

Hopefully someday more details about the school, the staff, and students will be known, but it is remembered during Freedmen history month. May those with ties to this part of Muskogee history, and Creek Freedmen history bring forth it's story.


Evangel Mission School Today

Five Civilized Tribes Museum

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Remembering the Creek and Seminole College of Boley


Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society

Like the other institutions, nothing remains of the old Creek and Seminole College, an educational institution built on five acres of land donated by Lucinda Holloway McCormick. The founder was John Leftwich of Alabama who was strongly influenced by Tuskegee founder, Booker T. Washington.

The school was sustained mostly by donations and endured several years of financial distress. In 1912 a tragic fire struck the school, which resulted in the deaths of 5 of the students. The fire closed the school for several years, but by 1916 the school was removed to Clearview, and the Creek Seminole Baptist college was established there. The school operated till the mid 1920s before closing its doors, never to reopen.

The few short years of the Creek Seminole College were an effort to bring education to Freedmen communities in Oklahoma, a land where the new state law of segregation brought more obstacles to the descendants of Freed people. Though the life of the school was short, its history is remembered here, in an effort to honor institutions that should be a part of the narrative of Oklahoma's Freedmen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Remembering Tushka Lusa Academy for Choctaw Freedmen


Tushka Lusa Academy, Talihini, Choctaw Nation
Courtesy of Eric Standridge

Tushka Lusa was an academy located in Talihina, Choctaw Nation. This was a school built exclusively for Choctaw Freedmen. The school was only a few miles east of the town of Talihina, and the remains of this school, like many other Freedmen schools, lies somewhere beneath the overgrowth and has been lost to time. The name comes from the Choctaw words that mean "black warrior", and it's one of the many forgotten landmarks of Indian Territory. This was the only institute established by the Choctaw Natoin forthe children of their former slaves.

Basic Facts of Tushka Lusa Academy

Location: Talihinia, Choctaw Nation
Superintendent:  Henry Nail (Choctaw Freedman)
Student Population: Approximatly 40 per year
Educational Offered:  Elementary Education (not secondary)
Staff:  Henry Nail, Dora E. Johnson, Julia Coleman

Partial Student List from 1894 (Girls):
Sarah Butler
Mary Butler
Julia Coleman
Jane Garrett
Emma Gross
Sarah Gross
Berda Howell
Mumbra Humbe
Sophia James
Dice Nail
Annie Nail
Amelia Nail
Amanda Peachlyn (sic) (Pitchlynn)
Eliza Riley
Martha Rodgers
Lucretia Shoals
Emma Thompson

Partial Student Listfrom1894 (Boys):
Miles Burras (sic) Burris
Caesar Eubanks
Ben Nail
lee Nail
Walter Pickens
Mariod Reed
John Richards
John Stanley
Walton Shoat (sic)
Solomon Sexton
Israel Tyms

By the mid 20th century, the school had ceased to exist. The school is now a forgotten landmark, but its history should not be forgotten.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Remembering the Cherokee Colored High School


Courtesy of Dr. James McCullaugh, University of Northern Iowa

A few miles northwest of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, somewhere lost overgrowth one might find what may still remain of an area known as  Double Springs, I.T. In that area, there may be a few bricks that may be the remains of the Cherokee Colored High School. Original plans were to place this school in the Bartlesville area, but those plans were changed when white citizens of the Bartlesville area thwarted the plans, wishing to have no Negro school in their area. 

The site was selected in a very remote location away from any city or town. S. W. Ross was interviewed in the 1930s about the school and he summarized the history briefly in the Indian Pioneer Papers:

University of Oklahoma Libraries, Western History Collection
Interview with S. W. Ross, October 29, 1937

The building stood empty for a few years except for one caretaker after the school closed. It was then set ablaze and burned to the ground. The school was the one sole school for Cherokee Freedmen, citizens beyond the primary grades. 

A detailed history of the school was written by Dr. James McCullaugh from the University of North Iowa. The journal was published in the 2010 issue of Voices of Indian Territory.

The schools is one of the missing landmarks of Oklahoma Black history. Hopefully its history will not be forgotten.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Freedmen Schools of IndianTerritory

 Every one of the schools that provided education for Freedmen of Indian Territory is gone. Except for one building that is now a museum, not even the foundation remains. Some have historical markers, and some are mere mentions in various books about Oklahoma history.  

In an effort to honor those schools that took many Freedmen families from darkness into the light of literacy, they will be mentioned each day this week.

These schools provided what education there was, and for many became the foundation upon which many families were able to grow and prosper. They are honored here.

Cherokee Colored High School - Double Springs, Cherokee Nation
Creek and Seminole College -  Boley, Creek Nation 
Dawes Academy -  Berwyn, Chickasaw Nation
Evangel Mission -  Muskogee, Creek Nation
Oak Hill Academy - Valiant, Choctaw Nation
Tullahassee Manual Labor School - Tullahassee, Creek Nation
Tushka Lusa Academy - Talihina, Choctaw Nation

Only one of these school buildings is still around, and now houses the Five Civilized Tribes Museum, located in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Two of the schools do have official Oklahoma State markers--both Oak Hill and Tullahassee. Oak Hill Industrial Academy was later changed to Elliott Academy and the marker bears the name of the newer name and not Oak Hill. 

The school in Tullahassee bears the original name of the school--Tullahassee Mission. That reflects the school established for Freedmen The marker does mention that it was later operated as a school for Freedmen.

No other markers reflect the remaining schools for Freedmen. However, these institutions shall not be forgotten, and shall be remembered for foundation and impact that they had as the freed people from these nations moved into a new and challenging future.


Caesar Bowlegs Seminole Freedman Card #1


Courtesy Kevin Mulroy

Caesar Bowlegs was a man of influence and importance in the Seminole Nation. He served the nation in many capacities, but is best known as an interpreter being fluent in Creek and he moved easily between both Creek and Seminole communities. Bowlegs had traveled during the Civil War into Kansas according to historian Kevin Mulroy. After the war, he worked for some time as a mail carrier between Ft. Gibson and Wewoka, and he later operated a toll bridge over Wewoka Creek as well. 

Because of his language skills, he served as a personal interpreter for Dr. C. P. Lynn, and later Dr. Virgil Berry. He instructed the doctors about medicinal practices of Seminoles and Freedmen, and he was later the personal assistant to Dr. Berry accompanying him on medical calls. During an epidemic of smallpox, after inoculating themselves, Caesar Bowlegs and Dr. Berry traveled throughout the nation with the goal of vaccinating the entire nation. 

As stated by scholar Mulroy, "Bowlegs helped gain widespread acceptance for scientific principles and medical technology among the Seminoles and freedmen.  Caesar Bowlegs died in 1912 in Seminole County, Oklahoma."

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

(Source: Same as above)

He was the first enrolled as a Seminole Freedman due to his status and influence. He is not forgotten and should be remembered by all who study Oklahoma Freedmen history. 

First Creek Freedman: Paro Bruner Card #1 and Roll #1

Paro Bruner
Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

Source:  Same as Above

Much has already been written about Paro Bruner from the Creek Nation. He was a leader among Creeks as well as interacting closely with Seminole Freedmen. He was, in fact, full brother to Caesar Bruner, chief of the Bruner Band of Seminoles. His relationship to his brother Caesar was highlighted in Volume 2 of Freedmen of the Frontier.

Paro Bruner was Town King of Canadian Colored Town in the Creek Nation. He was also the founder of the Prairie's Edge Settlement, which is now part of the Holdenville Community. Like many Creek and Seminole leaders, he was bilingual and moved between both categories of Creeks. He was involved in various aspects of tribal affairs of the Creek Nation, and like his brother Caesar in the Seminole Nation, he was a man of influence. He often pressed for more legislation regarding relations of the tribe with the US government, but he also involved himself with issues as they affected African Creeks as well.

Paro Bruner worked with other African Creek leaders such as Monday Durant, illustrating how schools for Creek Freedmen were often allocated less than schools for citizens designated as people "by blood". This act alone did result in the tribe allocating $3000 for the establishment of a boarding school for Creek Freedmen children. In addition Freedmen neighborhood day schools were also established in Freedmen communities. Thanks to the efforts of Paro Bruner, along with other leaders, literacy and other opportunities opened up for Freedmen in the Creek Nation.

Paro Bruner's name is one that should be called frequently from those who study both Creek history and Oklahoma history. He was a leader, and his presence at the "front of the line" as the Dawes enrollment process began is understood.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

First Chickasaw Freedman: William Alexander Card #1

The story of William Alexander is an interesting one. He was a relatively young man when the Dawes enrollment process unfolded in Indian Territory. This young man had become active politically in the community of Chickasaw Freedmen. He was among a group of Freedmen who met at Dawes Academy where a convention of Freedmen had gathered. This meeting in 1898 was a critical one because the status of Chickasaw Freedmen was one of an un-adopted people, without a nation to call their own. This convention was a major one where they addressed their concerns about an uncertain future.

William Alexander was also connected to other Chickasaw Freedmen of note. He was the son of Margaret Wilson, who was the mother of Bettie Ligon, the head litigant in a major lawsuit made by Freedmen. This case is referred to as equity Case 7071. William Alexander was Bettie Ligon's half brother.

When the Dawes Commission came to the Stonewall area in September 1898, William Alexander was the first to be interviewed.  He was placed on Card #1 and his roll number is also #1.

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

Source: Same a above

 The participation of William Alexander in the social issue of the day would have brought about a strong belief in his influence as a leader, and his stature on the local level. As an active member in the Committee of Chickasaw Freedmen it is understood how he was the first to be interviewed in his area by the Dawes Commission.

His influence should not be forgotten.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Simon Clark - Card #1 & Amelia Folsom - Roll #1

 During the Dawes Enrollment era, for Choctaw Freedmen, the process began in the Stonewall/Ada community. Simon Clark appeared in front of the commission to enroll himself with his family. His name and that of his family were inscribed on the very first card of the Choctaw Nation.  This occurred in September of 1898.

 However upon examination of his card, one can see that his name was actually removed, with the line drawn through his name. And in addition--the actual roll numbers of his wife and children were not 2 through 5 as would be expected on a low card. Their actual roll numbers were much higher than single digits that one might think.  So what happened in his case?

Choctaw Freedman Card #1
NARA Publication M1186 Record Group 75, Roll 49

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

Simon Clark had been enslaved by Jincy Chochran. His parents were Jacob and Tena Clark. Interestingly, upon reviewing the application of Simon Clark it does appear that his enrollment was not a complicated one.

But the reality is that Simon's name was not placed on the final roll. He had been challenged about the time that he had returned to the Choctaw Nation after the Civil War. But when challenged her provided more information about it, and one can learn about his exact movement after the war.

But when you look at the enrollment card more closely---it is clear that something did not satisfy the commission. Firs of all, he was on Card #1. And being the first person interviewed on that card, his number should have been also #1. Secondly the members of his family who were later enrolled, should have had their number as 2 through 5, respectively.  But instead their roll numbers are much higher.

The notes at the bottom of the card reflect the issue around his movement after the war, and his return to the Choctaw Nation. But clearly, the reason why his name was not placed on the final rolls, is revealed. Apparently Simon Clark passed away in 1902 4  years before the rolls were closed.

But there is another side to Simon Clark's story.  The reason he left the Territory and returned to the Territory a year later, was that he fought for his own freedom. He left and joined the Union Army as a soldier in the US Colored Troops. 

Later in life he applied for and received a pension for his service in the Union Army.

His being a former soldier and a Civil War pensioner would have provided him with a certain degree of honor and respect in his local community and and around Ada. Many in that area were not former soldiers, so he would have been well honored in the community of Freedmen where he resided.

However because he died before the process ended, his name was not placed on the final rolls, although it had been approved.

Several months later in the spring of 1899, there came Amelia Folsom. She lived in the town of Doaksville, and she was 52 years of age, and not far in age from Simon Clark. Her name is found on card # 163, and she was listed alone on the card. She was married to a Chickasaw Freedman named Henry Folsom, which is why only her name is on the card alone.

However, she, Amelia Folsom is given the roll number of #1. She was not "next in line" behind Simon Clark, and in fact appeared in front of the commission sever months after he did. As one looks at the enrollment cards that follow her card, the numbers on those cards are in numerical order, with cards # 2,3,4,5, etc. These interviews were occurring in April of 1899 in Towson County in the Doaksville area. 

Amelia's voice is not found in her file. Her husband Jordan Folsom was interviewed, and it is his voice that we hear:

Like many of the interviews conducted in Chickasaw country, the interview was one of the many abbreviated ones, with short questions and answers. Amelia's name was approved without difficulty, but full details about her life are not known.  How she came to be Choctaw Freedperson #1 more than six months after the process began,  is not clear. She was roll #1, but clearly Simon Clark was one of the firs to appear a the "front of the line."

Interestingly, when Simon Clark appeared with the Dawes Commission in the fall of 1898, the cards that follow his card do not increase in numerical order. In fact they are not sequential in any way. The possibility exists that the commissioners did not assign number in exact numerical order, nor did they go through the blank cards in numerical order. The final roll number assigned, was clearly done in a different manner that does not appear to be clear.

However, nevertheless, Simon Clark's card number placed in clearly in the early process of the Dawes enrollment for Choctaw Freedmen. Amelia Folsom enrolled alone among those who lived in the Chickasaw community of Ada and she was thus assigned the number early on when the commissioners were in her area.

Chances are that the numbers followed the commissioners and it was they who assigned roll numbers within a specific range, no matter when they began interviewing in their designated areas.

Clearly, Simon Clark was at the front of the line, and Amelia was at the front where she lived in Doaksville. Both were good people living the lives that fate had delivered to them. As ordinary as their lives may have been they were clearly determined to involve themselves in a process that would carry forward their legacy into an uncertain future in a complex status of a complicated land.

They are both honored on this 3rd day of Freedmen History Month.

Freedmen History -First Freedman John H. Ross


Cherokee Freedman Card #1 Roll #1
The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

From Muskogee, I. T. came the application of John H. Ross, a Cherokee citizen. John Ross was the son of Stephen Ross who had once been enslaved by Cherokee Chief John Ross. 

The family lived in Muskogee. Taking note of John H. Ross, age, he may have been the first person in the family line born into freedom. He was born about 1866. His parents were Stephen Ross and Emily Humphrey. While his father Stephen was enslaved by John Ross, his mother Emily Humphrey who was still living at the time. With him on the card is his son John H. Ross Jr.,  and daughter Elnora.

Emily, his mother was on her own enrollment card, and she was clearly a woman who was the matriarch of her own family. When there was a concern about daughter Elnora whose name appears on the card, Emily, the grandmother went to testify on her behalf.  She was an elderly woman with a strong sense of self.

John Ross's Mother's testimony for Elnora
John H. Ross's case became a complicated one, although his was a small family, and at first glance it was an uncomplicated one. But the case became more complicated when in 1902, he applied to enroll an Elnora Ross. There were many questions about child Elnora, because the grandmother Emily claimed that the mother was Peggy and John himself claimed that the mother was Dora, who had died earlier. It was later revealed that there were two children both of whom were called Elnora, and fathered by John H. Ross.

Eventually the issue surrounging the child Elnora was revolved and her name was added of John H Ross' card.

A question arises about how John H. Ross came to be the first Cherokee Freedman enrolled and place on the card.  This likely stemmed from the fact that John H. Ross had been connected to one of the more proinent Cherokee families. But at the same time, the status of being once connected to the family of Chief John Ros, could have influenced his being placed to highly on the Freedman Roll. The cse of the child Elnora's status is what made an otherwise simple case to a more complicated one.

After Elnora's enrollment case was resolved, the issue of land was later complicated by the fact that lands allotted for John Ross Jr. and sister Elnora were impeded as non-citizens had already begun settling on the land. It is not clear if they were truly "intruders" but land assigned to them were disputed for some time. Guardians were appointed for the two minor children, but the record does not indicate clearly whether the two Ross children ever received their allotments. Many cases of guardians were reported in the years after statehood, where Freedmen and Indians by blood lost land to guardians, and land grafters and swindlers. Hopefully the Ross's did get some of the lands allotted to them, but the allotment files did not present a clear resolution of the outcome of their case.

Eventually the family of John H. Ross was resolved, but unfortunately this was after his death about 1908. However, the family continued to thrive. His Presence in the nation continued through his daughter. The Ross family did thrive into the 20th century.

This has been an effort to document some of the stories from Indian Territory. The case of the first Freedman case to unfold in the Cherokee Nation, provides an interesting glimpse into late 19th and early 20th century living in the Territory. John H. Ross was the first of over 3000 cases of Cherokee Freedmen to follow. He made history as the first Freedman, but left the door open through which thousands more followed.