Reconstruction and Tribal Settlement in the Indian Territory


The end of the war found the people of the Five Civilized Tribes in a pitiable plight. Throughtout the Cherokee and Creek nations, most of the homes of the people had been destroyed by the partisans of the opposing factions. In many respects the struggle resembled a personal feud or quarrel. In the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations there had not been so much property destroyed, but the people of those tribes were made poor because many of the people from the other tribes sought and found a refuge there and they had to be fed and clothed. The Choctaw and Chickasaw people had taken sides with the seceding states almost to a man, so they had no trouble among themselves to distract them. In the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations, however, the people had divided, a part of them adhering to the Union while many of them supported the alliance with the Confederate States. Each of these three tribes, therefore, had to adjust their domestic differences as well as to renew their treaties with the Federal Government.

The first peace council after the end of the war was held at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in September, 1865. A number of tribes were represented. The commissioners of the Government required that certain conditions should be accepted and agreed to by each of the five civilized tribes. These were as follows: (1) That surplus or unused land of each of the several reservations should be opened for the settlement of other of the Indians, from Kansas or elsewhere; (2) that the negroes who had been slaves of the Indians should be given full tribal rights and citizenship; (3) that rights-of-way for the construction of two railroads across the Territory, one from north to south and the other from east to west, should be granted; (4) that Congress should have power to establish a territorial government, with an inter-tribal legislative council. To each of these requirements many of the Indians were bitterly opposed. The hostility between the two factions of the Cherokee Nation was so marked that it, too, tended to defeat the purpose of the peace council, which finally adjourned to meet in Washington, D. C., in spring of 1866.

When negotiations were renewed at Washington, the people of the rival factions in the Creek and Seminole nations buried their differences and those tribes entered into new treaties which complied with all of the demands and conditions of the Government commissioners. The former slaves were not only accorded full tribal citizenship but also a proportionate interest in all lands and tribal funds. The reservations of both tribes were greatly reduced in size by the cession of large areas in the central and western parts of the Territory. The Choctaw and Chickasaw nations opposed tribal citizenship for the former negro slaves and finally succeeded in limiting the land interest to the negroes to forty acres each, with no share in the tribal funds. The Cherokees, divided by the bitter hostility of the two factions, were very slow to reach an agreement with the Government commissioners but, finally, all of the five tribes had been induced to enter into new treaties. The Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, holding their reservation jointly, united in one treaty with the Government.

It was during one of the discussions between the delegates from these Indian tribes and the Government commissioners that the name of Oklahoma was first suggested for the name of the state which now bears it. While the proposed territorial form of government for the Indian Territory was being discussed, one of the Government Commissioners asked: "What would call your territory?" Reverend Allen Wright, a full-blood Choctaw Indian, who had been educated in New York and who was a Presbyterian minister, instantly responded "Oklahoma", much to the surprise and consternation of some of the delegates from the other tribes, who wished to deliberate before answering the question. In the Choctaw language, "Okla" means people and "humma" or "homa" means red; hence the signification of the word thus compounded is "Red People". It was in accordance with this suggestion that the treaty which the delegates from the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations signed with the Government commissioners referred to the proposed territorial organization as "the Territory of Oklahoma". In due time the name thus suggested became a household word.

During the ten years following the end of the Civil War, the people of the five civilized tribes were largely engaged in re-establishing themselves and recovering from the effects and losses which they had suffered as the result of the war. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway was built across the territory, from the Kansas line on the north to the Red River on the south, in 1871, 1872 and 1873; and the Atlantic & Pacific (later the Frisco) built its line from the Missouri line to a junction with the Missouri, Kansas & Texas line at Vinita.

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.