The Life and Customs of the People of Indian Territory, present day Oklahoma

The Life and Customs of the People of Indian Territory, present day Oklahoma

After the troublesome times of enforced migration and settlement in a new country there followed a period of peace and prosperity among the Indians of the tribes which had immigrated from the southern states to Oklahoma. The younger Indians became reconciled to the change though many of the older people never did. Their country was not thickly peopled and wild game was abundant. They had many cattle, horses and swine and some sheep, most of which ran at large upon the open range of woodland and prarie. They tilled small fields of corn and cotton. Some of the Indians were slave owners, having brought their negro slaves with them when they came from the states east of the Mississippi. Many white men had intermarried in some of the tribes and a great many families were of mixed Indian and white descent. Some of the people, expecially among the mixed-blood families, were well to do and their children were sent East to some of the states to complete their education.

Most of the people lived in log houses or cabins of one or two rooms. In nearly every case there was a large stone fireplace and chimney. Some of the wealthier mixed-blood families lived in larger houses of frame, stone or brick that would have been a credit to any community in the States. The people lived simply and much of what they had to eat and wear was produced at home. They killed and cured their own port, dried their own beef and venison, ground their own corn. Before cotton-gins were introduced, cotton was raised for home use, the seed being separated from the lint by hand. Both cotton and wool were carded, spun and woven into durable home made fabrics, the spinning wheel and hand-loom forming part of the equipment of the best regulated homes.

The people were hospitable by nature and delighted in entertaining their friends. Fishing, parties, picnics, dances, ball play, horse races, fox hunts and house raising "bees" also figured in social affairs and popular sports.

Excepting the scattered clearings, most of the country was still in its original condition, a forest with limited areas of prairie scattered through it. Throughout its length and breadth it abounded in wild game, dear, bear, opossum, racoon, squirels, rabbits, wild turkeys, bobwhite quail and prairie chickens while there were times when the skies were darkened by the flight of countless myriads of wild pigeons. The buffalo and antelope were always plentiful on the greater prairies, only two or three days' journey to the west. Fish of several kinds were abundant in most of the streams. Wild bees were common and cutting down a bee tree to capture and possess its treasured stores of honey was a welcome addition to the table, even when seasoned with a few stings. Gathering pecans, hickory nuts, walnuts, hazel nuts and chinquapins added to the pleasures of the autumn season. Not much attention was given to fruit culture by most of the people, a few seedling peach trees being about all that was to be found growing in many places. However, wild fruits were common and of many varieties, including plums, grapes, blackberries, dewberries, huckleberries, strawberries and a number of others.

At first there were three tribal governments, Cherokee, Creek-Seminole and Choctaw-Chickasaw. After 1856, when the Chickasaw and Seminole tribes set up their own governments there were five. Each of these tribal governments was a miniature republic, with its executive, legislative and judicial departments. Their people took great interest in their political affairs and the campaigns which preceded the election of tribal officials and counselors were hotly contested.

Trade and travel between the Indian Territory and the states to the eastward was largely by steamboats on the Arkansas and Red rivers. Small steamboats of light draft made regular runs on the Arkansas to Fort Gibson. Most of these came from Memphis or St. Louis, though occasionally one might hail from Louisville, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh and, in the early summer, when there was plenty of water in the river, big side-wheel steamers came up from lower Mississippi. Not so many steamboats ascended the Red River to the Indian Territory as there were on the Arkansas. However, when the Red River had a good stage of water, steamboats came up as far as the mouth of the Kiamitia and, sometimes, even ascended to the mouth of the Washita. The arrival of the steamboad at the landing at or near one of the trading settlements, such as Skullaville, Webbers Falls, Fort Gibson or Doaksville, was always a great event in the life of the community.

The number of missions and schools increased and among the preachers and teachers and other mission workers were included a number of Indians whose education had begun in the mission schools and had been continued or completed in eastern colleges and seminaries. The Cherokees had a Bible Society and a Temperance Society as early as 1845. The Choctaws raised money to send to the Irish famine sufferers, in 1847. This was probably due to the number of mixed bloods who were of Irish descent. The people of these tribes generally sent delegates or representatives to aid and assist the government commissioners who went to hold peace councils with the people of the "wild" tribes on the western plains. So it became evident that the people of these tribes were not only "civilized" themselves, but also that they were willing that the rest of the world should be benefited by their civilization. The main reason for the difference in the "civilized" tribes and the "wild" tribes, however, was that the Five Civilized Tribes all had a constitutional form of Government, that had existed for many years.

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This information has been compiled from various resources, and through much research. If you would like to add any information please contact me, Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK, at the address below.