Throughout my years of research the one thing that has driven me is the need to capture and preserve the “voices” of my ancestor’s as well as other former slaves and their descendants of the Five Slave Holding Tribes.
In many instances I have found many articles, documents and historical records that provide various first person accounts of what life was like for the people of Indian Territory. It is always enlightening to discover individuals who have impacted the lives of my ancestor’s which serves as background information that helps me understand how they arrived at decisions that kept them strong during some arduous times and experiences.
One of the sources that provide snapshots of life in Indian Territory was the newspapers of the Territory. These publications with and without their biases the newspapers provided information on what was going on socially, politically as well as the financial life in the territory.
“On This Day,” appeared two examples of politics in the territory. The Indian Chieftain of 1901 was the paper of record and on its front page two stories appeared that had a direct impact on Indian Territory Freedmen in general and one article dealt with the politics of the Cherokee Nation that is noteworthy for Cherokee Freedmen today.
It is well documented the people of Indian Territory had issues with the Dawes Commission. The tribal governments of the Five Slave Holding Tribes were resistant to efforts to dissolve the governments and saw Tams Bixby as the figurehead for much of their dissatisfaction.
Freedmen and intermarried whites who found themselves in opposition with the Dawes Commission considered the policies and actions taken by the Dawes Commission were a reflection of their interaction with Tams Bixby.
On this occasion the power brokers in Washington, D.C. saw an opening to remove Bixby and force him to retire based on his seeking political office as a senator from Minnesota, the state he resided.
The article that should be of interest to Cherokee Freedmen has to do with a speech given by the Principal Chief of the day, T.W. Buffington. His talk was wide ranging and covered many topics.
What caught my attention was a small but significant section of that his speech actually given on the
sixth of November 1901.
Chief Bufffington’s message on “matters of import” included issues concerning mineral rights in the nation. He also spoke about the orphan asylum in the nation, finances, education and of particular import; freedmen enrollment and citizenship.
It is the last category of enrollment and citizenship that appears to have a direct connection with the issue of Cherokee Freedmen citizenship issues today in my opinion.
For those who are not familiar with the issue of Cherokee Freedmen citizenship and how the Cherokee Nation has been fighting tooth and nail in efforts to remove citizenship from Cherokee freedmen descendants today this article goes to the heart of the matter.
Today’s freedmen descendants have steadfastly held their citizenship was based on the Treaty of 1866 and historically their claims have been corroborated time and again by the documented evidence.
In Chief Buffington’s message he speaks on this issue and it could not be more clearer the Cherokee Nation viewed the former slaves and their descendants were citizens with rights as “native Cherokees” that meant they were in fact; citizens.
The fact that so many leaders in the Cherokee Nation today have a contrary view on citizenship and freedmen descendants appears to illustrate just how little they know of their own history and the issue of citizenship for Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants.
It is no wonder that so many people within the Cherokee Nation have tried to obfuscate this issue by terming freedmen citizenship as an issue of “non-Indian” or sovereignty. Clearly if these “citizens” and “leaders” took the time to review their leaders who were much closer to this issue they would know the overwhelming belief the term “rights as native Cherokee” was a phrase Chief Buffington understood to mean Cherokee Freedmen were citizens. This is reflected in the “Chief’s Message” page 2, column 4 of the November 14, 1901 issue of the Indian Chieftain, the paper of record for the Cherokee Nation.
Here you have a definitive record provided in the Cherokee paper by the Cherokee Chief, that there were three thousand, one hundred and fifty seven freedmen and their descendants who were included in the twenty eight thousand, nine hundred and five “Cherokee citizens on straight cards, INCLUDING Cherokee, Delaware’s, Shawnee’s, intermarried whites AND Freedmen.”
Though reported in the Daily Ardmoreite November 15, 1906 the attempted assassination of Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves was noted in an article dated on the 14th of the same month.