Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On This Day In Indian Territory

This feature is an opportunity to provide a look at life in Indian Territory and how the atmosphere shaped the everyday life, culture and politics of all who lived there.

As we look back at our ancestor's we tend to place our opinions, attitudes and beliefs on them without taking into account all they lived through that was vastly different from what we experience.

Then sometimes the old saying; "if you don't know your history, you are bound to repeat it" rears up to remind us how true that statement is.

Indian Chieftain November 9, 1883 P2 C1
Keep in mind the Indian Chieftain was "Devoted to the Interests of the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles and Creeks, and all Other Indians of the Indian Territory." In that sense, the Indian Chieftain was a mouthpiece for the Cherokee Nation as well as the other four slave holding tribes.

I'm still trying to make sense out of this next article that appeared on the same page in the same paper as the one above that spoke so eloquently about the need for fairness, justice and equality for the "poor man." but uses disparaging terms in equating a familiar phrase from the Declaration of Independence.

Indian Chieftain Nov. 1883 P1 C3
 As I stated in the beginning, we can learn a lot from our past and the various newspapers that existed in Indian Territory provide a great deal about the political and social atmosphere our ancestor's lived and navigated for us to be here today. 

Now for the other side of the story! 

Muskogee Cimeter Nov. 9, 1905 p 12
R.A. Givens, Watchmaker photo circa 1890 
Newspapers like the Indian Chieftain and Daily Ardmoreite were not black owned papers and rarely ran stories that portrayed black people in positive ways. Fortunately there were a few black owned papers in Indian Territory and for the most part they were more even handed in their view of life in the communities of Indian Territory freedmen and "state Negroes."

The ad showing R.A. Givens in his workshop circa 1890 is an example of the progress blacks were achieving in Indian Territory. Many who settled in the area sought to better their life and became productive citizens only a generation or two removed from slavery.

What should not be overlooked is the existence of a newspaper meant there was a reading public of black people who had a desire to be informed of local and national issues. 

This ad is also an example of a man who has realized the importance of advertising his business and implies there was a class of blacks who had disposable incomes that could afford his service.

In most of the papers there were sections that could be compared to National Enquirer or Facebook today. These sections are the areas that provided local and national news from the point of view of "over the back fence reporting." 


During the period leading up to Oklahoma statehood the population was divided on how that should occur and if there should be a state that comprised the "Twin Territories" of Oklahoma and Indian Territory. 

The Muskogee Cimeter provided it's readers with the details of that struggle and where the publisher stood on the issue.

We also see how involved in Republican party politics black people were prior to their migration into the Democratic Party where we see large numbers today. 

I was amused at the assessment of traveling to Dallas, Texas voiced in the first article and how the editor felt about "visiting" the area in 1905.

The news that Booker T. Washington was coming to Muskogee was big news in 1905 and the Muskogee Cimeter was there to provide all the information it's readers required to be at the event where Mr. Washington was speaking.

It must have been a highly anticipated visit for the people of Muskogee to have Booker T. Washington visit the area. 

We can learn a lot from the pages of history as it was written in the voices of the people who lived it, perhaps I will be able to locate the edition of the Muskogee Cimeter that reported on Mr. Washington's visit in an issue following his visit?

All of this demonstrates how the life of former Indian Territory slaves were changing dynamically following their enslavement. On the one hand they were members of certain tribes, many cases tenuously hanging on to their citizenship. 

Yet, at the same time forces around them were beginning to change how they viewed themselves and their connection to the tribes and lifestyle they had become familiar and attached. This lead up to statehood was beginning to have an enormous effect on the lives of all who lived in Indian Territory and especially those formerly enslaved in the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muskogee) and Seminole Nations.

Over the years many people have voiced to me their thoughts on what happened to their ancestor's allotment. From Chickasaw freedmen descendants to Seminole freedmen descendant's all have this desire to know what happened to all of that land wealth given to their great grandparents or grand parent as in my case. 

The story has yet to be told on that saga of our history but there are indications that from day one or quite frankly from the day before day one, people known as grafters have preyed on the uneducated former slave for the sole purpose of separating them from their land.

I would hazard to say they were quite successful in that endeavor when we look at who among us can say they owned their ancestor's "original allotment?"

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