The Civil War in Indian Territory/Oklahoma

The Shadow of War

By the middle eighteen forties the disturbed conditions in the Indian Territory which had prevailed for the first few years after removal had begun to pass away. Homes had been established, farms had been put into cultivation, and livestock or other property had been accumulated. The treaty of 1846, by which the two parties in the Cherokee Nation had agreed to compose their differences, helped to reduce disorders in the country of that tribe. The news of the discovery of gold in California in 1848 sent a considerable number of Cherokees and not a few Indians of the other tribes hurrying westward to seek their fortunes in the remote region. These were, most cases, the more restless and adventurous spirits whose removal from the Indian Territory was perhaps not without at least some slight influence in making conditions there more stable and peaceful. Not many of these adventurers, however, remained for long in the Far West. In three or four years most of them came drifting back, no gentler or more peaceful and law-abiding after their experiences and associations on the trail and in the diggings

The brief period of comparative peace and quiet that had followed the years of dissension was to prove only a lull before a new outbreak of the storm. The fires of hatred and jealousy which still smouldered in the Cherokee and Creek nations constantly threatened to flame up anew. The murders of 1839 and the reprisals that had followed them still rankled, and a new generation was growing up all too ready to take over the quarrel of their fathers. The older generation itself had become no less bitter with increasing age. Moreover, new sources of dissension and factionalism were appearing. The quarrel between North and South was growing in its intensity and was soon to result in an appeal to arms. It seemed impossible for the Indians to avoid being drawn into this conflict or to refrain from choosing sides; the distrust and suspicion which each faction felt for the other made it certain that they could never agree as to which side to choose.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes, like every other Indian tribe, and for that matter like every white community or social group, tended to split into two divisions, one conservative and the other radical or progressive. The conservative element included a large part of the full bloods who were wedded to the old Indian customs and way of life. Most of them were poor and very few owned slaves. Since they had formerly lived in part at least by hunting and fishing, and since they objected to the ways of white civilization, it might be assumed that these elements had formerly favored removal to a new land remote from the whites. As a matter of fact, the opposite was true. They had been so conservative that they could not bear the thought of leaving the native land where their children had been born and where their ancestors lay buried. They were fearful of anything new and strange, whether it was customs and civilization or a new and strange land in the distant West. They were equally distrustful of new leaders and clung to their old chiefs with a simple childlike faith that at times seemed almost pathetic.

In the Cherokee Nation this element revived the old secret society that had formerly existed in the East and had perhaps never entirely died out. This was the order known as "Kee-too-wah", or sometimes as the "Night Hawks". The insignia of the Kee-too-wah consisted of two common pins worn in the form of a cross on the coat or shirt in consequence, the members were commonly called "Pin Indians" or "Pins". They favored the old Indian manners and customs and were on the whole not sympathetic toward slavery. For leadership they looked largely to John Ross, who, though himself a slave holder, a man of wealth, education and only one-quarter of Cherokee blood, derived much of his political support from this full-blood element.

The opposition, which at least claimed to be the progressive group, consisted largely of the leaders of the Treaty or Removal Party--the Ridges, Waties, Adairs, Boudinots, Bells, and their relatives and friends. Many of these were mixed bloods, and not a few of them owned a considerable number of slaves, cultivated large farms, and were well educated. In many respects this group was not unlike the aristocratic southern whites. They readily joined chapters of the Knights of the Golden Circle when that pro-slavery organization reached the Indian Territory.

As the stormy controversy between North and South grew steadily more intense, it inevitably reached the Indian country. Some of the missionaries were New Englanders of abolitionist tendencies who declaimed against slavery. To the east lay Arkansas and Missouri, both slave states, in which the Indians had many white friends. Also, the tragic struggle going on in Kansas just north of the Cherokee country no doubt had its influence. Most of the Indian leaders were well informed and regularly read newspapers published in the nearby states. Naturally, they could not view unmoved the fast-gathering storm nor could they fail to form their own opinions on the controversy.

The Cherokee, Creek and Seminole tribes were for the most part divided on the question of slavery and on the whole matter of the threatened conflict. The Choctaws and Chickasaws, however, were largely united in their sympathy for the South. All the United States agents to these tribes were southern, as was their superior, the head of the Southern Superintendency. These men did not fail to use their influence among the Indians to persuade them to view the cause of the South in the favorable light.

The withdrawal of the southern states from the Union left the Five Civilized Tribes facing a grave crisis. To many it seemed impossible for them to remain neutral. Those who favored the North realized how difficult it would be for the Union to afford them protection if they tried to remain loyal to the Untied States. The soldiers had been withdrawn from Fort Gibson in 1857, and to the east and south lay the powerful Confederate states of Arkansas and Texas. The eventual decision of the tribes to form alliances with the South was only natural and logical. They could hardly do otherwise. Perhaps it was well that they could not foresee the tragic results of that decision.

OKGenWeb Index Page | USGenWeb Index Page | WorldGenWeb Project Index Page | USGenWeb Archives | OkGenWeb Archives | Twin Territories Project of the OkGenWeb | State and Unknown County Queries | The Civil War in Indian Territory Index Page | Civil War Battle Sites in the Indian Territory | The Civil War in Indian Territory - The Story in Brief | The Shadow of War | The Mission of Albert Pike | Civil War and the Kansas Refugees | The Military Operations of General Pike | The First Indian Expedition | Difficulties of the Southern Indians | Division of the Cherokees | Occupation of the Cherokee Country by the Union | Waning Fortunes of the South | Last Phases of the War | Bibliography

This information has been gathered from research done in several areas. Source information is available on the bibliography page. This page has been designed and put together by Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK. If you would like to add anything, please contact me at the address below.

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