Settlement of the Tribes in the Indian Territory, later Oklahoma


After the main body of the Cherokees had arrived at their new reservation in the West, they had to cut down trees, build log cabins, and clear land for cultivation. They were still homesick and many of them cherished a feeling of resentment or hatred for those of their number who had signed the treaty which resulted in the removal of the tribe. This finally led to the assassination of Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot (see Biographies of Prominent Men in Oklahoma History) and others who were the leaders of the pro-treaty faction, as it was called. This was the beginning of the feud, or war-like quarrel, between the Ridge, or "pro-treaty party", and the Ross, or "anti-treaty party", the latter being so named because John Ross, who, as principal chief of the tribe, had led the opposition to the treaty and its enforcement.

When the Indians of these immigrant tribes came to the west, they were accompanied by the missionaries who had been laboring among them as teachers and preachers in their old reservations east of the Mississippi. New mission stations were built, with churches and schools, and printing presses and shops and mills as well as farms. These missionaries represented five denominations, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Moravian and Presbyterian. The English language was taught in all of these mission schools, but many of the older Indians were taught to read in their own languages, in which books, tracts, hymns, songs and portions of the Bible were printed. The Cherokee people had an alphabet which had been invented by one of their own number, Se-quo-yah (see Biographies of Prominent Men in Oklahoma History) by name. This alphabet, which consisted of eighty-six characters, represented every possible syllable in the Cherokee language, so that any Cherokee who learned it was able to read without further instruction. The alphabet used by the Creek and Choctaw tribes was devised by Rev. John Fleming, a Presbyterian missionary among the Creek people. Nearly all of its nineteen characters were borrowed from the Roman alphabet.

The methods of travel between the Indian Territory and the states to the eastward were improved during this period. The first steamboat to ascend the Arkansas River to the mouth of Grand River and land at Fort Gibson was the "Facility", commanded by Captain Phillip Pennywit, in 1828. Thereafter steamboats ascended the river to the post each year, carrying supplies and merchandise.

Explorers and travelers continued to visit the Indian Territory and to write about it during this period. The Santa Fe Trail, a wagon road extending from the Missouri River to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was laid out by a commission representing the government of the United States in 1825-26. It crossed Cimarron County, in the extreme northwestern part of Oklahoma. In 1832, Washington Irving visted the Indian Territory and took a long horseback ride into the interior, including the valleys of the Cimarron and North Canadian rivers as far west as the central part of the state. Irving's book, "A Tour on the Praries", tells the story of the trip and the various school buildings bearing the name of Irving, in Oklahoma towns and cities, mark Oklahoma's appreciation of his beautiful description of the country as he saw it. The Leavenworth expedition, in the summer of 1834, was of interest because it blazed the trail, from the mouth of Grand River to the Red River, which afterward became known as "The Texas Road", over which so many pioneer families migrated to the neighboring state on the south. After marching up the valley of the Washita many of the soldiers were taken sick and a hospital camp was established on land which adjoins the site of the present town of Davis. There General Leavenworth and many of his men died. The mounted troops pushed on westward, to the valley of the North Fork of Red River, where a council was held with the Wichita, Comanche and Kiowa Indians, in the western part of Kiowa County.

Three military posts were established in the Indian Territory during this period, Fort Coffee, which was built on a picturesque bluff overlooking the Arkansas River in LeFlore County, about fifteen miles above Fort Smith, Fort Wayne, which was located in the Spavinaw Hills, in Delaware County, and Fort Washita, which occupied a commanding site overlooking the valley of the Washita River. Fort Coffee was occupied by a garrison from 1834 to 1838, during which time the post of Fort Smith was abandoned. Fort Wayne was occupied from 1838 to 1842, and its commandant was Captain Nathan Boone, a son of Daniel Boone, the Kentucky pioneer. Fort Washita was garrisoned by united States troops from 1842 until it was abandoned at the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1861.

One of the notable events of this period was a great inter-tribal peace council which was held at Tahlequah, in the Cherokee Nation, in the summer of 1843. Twenty-three tribes of Indians were represented. James M. Stanley, an eminent portrait painter from Washington City, was present and painted many Indian portraits during the course of the council.

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