Cherokee Chief
Cherokee Chief
Native American Indian (NAI) Profile©

The Five Civilized Tribes was a confederation, formed in 1859, of 
North American Indians in what was then WESTERN INDIAN TERRITORY 
(in present-day Oklahoma).  The group comprised the Iroquoian-
speaking CHEROKEE and the Muskogean-speaking CHICKASAW, CHOCTAW, 
CREEK, and SEMINOLE.  They were described as "civilized" because 
of their early adoption of many of the white man's ways.  Under 
the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Five Tribes were deported 
from their traditional homelands east of the Mississippi and 
forced to settle in Indian Territory. Each organized an 
autonomous state modeled after the U.S. federal government, 
established courts and a formalized code of laws, constructed 
schools and Christian churches, and developed a writing system 
patterned on the one earlier devised by the CHEROKEE.

The removal of the Five Civilized Tribes to Oklahoma was a 
process which lasted more than 20 years, beginning with CHOCTAW 
treaties of 1816, 1820, and 1825 and the CHEROKEE treaties 1817, 
1828, and 1835. The movement ended with the efforts to comb the 
SEMINOLES out of the Florida swamps in 1835-42

Members of the Five Tribes absorbed many cultural features of 
their white neighbors, including plow agriculture and animal 
husbandry, European-style houses and dress, and even the 
ownership of black slaves.  Some tribesmen joined the Confederate 
forces during the Civil War.  Thereafter the United States 
instituted a policy of detribalization and gradually curtailed 
Indian control of tribal lands.  The tribal nations remained 
independent until 1907, when statehood was granted to Oklahoma 
and the federal government opened WESTERN INDIAN TERRITORY to 
white settlement.  Today, a great many descendants of the Five 
Tribes live on reservations in Oklahoma.

Before forced settlement in WESTERN INDIAN TERRITORY, the members 
of the Five Tribes, some of which were traditionally enemies, 
shared many culture traits.  All relied primarily on maize 
agriculture, with fishing, hunting, and foraging an important but 
subsidiary means of subsistence.  Village life was highly 
developed.  Households generally included small extended 
families, with kinship based on a matrilineal clan system. Among 
the more western tribes, notably the Creek, social stratification 
existed in the form of noble and common classes that were marked 
by their mode of dress. Independent communities were politically 
integrated into confederacies. Temple architecture, ceremonial 
centers, and elaborate rituals -- such as the CORN DANCE -- 
existed, centered on the growing of corn and worship of the Sun.  
Traditional crafts included coiled pottery, woven blankets, and 
articles of wrought copper.

   Indian Territory
The term Indian Territory was originally applied vaguely to huge 
areas of the western United States occupied by the American 
Indians.  Laws passed in the 1830s, however, most notably the 

Indian Removal Act (1830) and the Indian Trade and Intercourse 
Act (1834), defined Indian Territory as the area of present-day 
Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas to which Indian 
tribes were then being forcibly moved.  

By creating the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, with the 
KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT (1854) further limited the area to the 
territory of the FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES in present-day Oklahoma.

Because the Indians had allied themselves with the Confederacy, 
these tribes were forced by new treaties negotiated in 1866 to 
relinquish the western half of their territory, which became part 
of the Oklahoma Territory.  In 1907 the remaining Indian 
Territory was absorbed with the Oklahoma Territory into the new 
state of Oklahoma.

Spanish and French explorers, in search of the proverbial pot of gold 
at the end of the rainbow, traversed the Oklahoma section time and 
time again as early as 1541. (Chronicler of the Coronado expeditions, 

At this time there were only two main types of Indians in the 
area now known as Oklahoma: the nomadic, bison-hunting Plains 
tribes (principally the Kiowas, Commanches, and Kiowa-Apaches) 
and the sedentary, agricultural village tribes (Caddoan-speaking 
peoples notably the Wichitas and the Caddos proper).
"Westward" for the red man ended with Oklahoma when it 
became the last gathering place of the displaced Indian.  Here 
the Indian gave up the nomadic existences of his forefathers and 
was forced to accept the white man's mode of living.  

In 1819 the United States government began forcing the Indians to 
give up their homes in the southeast and move westward to the 
INDIAN TERRITORY.  For the next two decades the CHEROKEES, 
their ancestral homes in the southeastern states and moved under 
military escort to the wilderness west of the Mississippi River, 
which had been acquired in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.  
This was one of the most dramatic, and un-honorable, of all 
events in American history, this mass exiling of Native 

To their credit, these so called "Five Civilized Tribes" 
set about energetically to recreate new "permanent" 
homes, sometimes with coals carried all the way from the communal 
hearth of their old homes.  Capitals were established, courts set 
up (all but the Siminoles had written constitutions), and schools 
provided for.  Then, after a brief era of progress, came the 
Civil War; and the tribes, with divided loyalties, found 
themselves engaged on both sides, North and the South.

Says historian EDWIN C. McREYNOLDS, "No part of the South or 
the boarder region where the actual fighting took place, suffered 
losses more horrible than those of the Indian Territory."
Life and property alike were destroyed and there was a general 
lowering of moral levels and of political and educational 

Reconstruction for the Indians meant starting at the bottom.  
This process was soon interrupted by the coming of the railroads, 
"a powerful factor" according to McReynolds, "in the 
final surrender of the natives to the culture developed by the 
European invaders of North America."  Another blow to the 

hopes of the Indians for keeping their reservations free of white 
men was provided by the cattle drives.  At the end of the Civil 
War a steer on the Texas range was worth four or five dollars.  
At the market, reached by the railroads penetrating Kansas and 
Nebraska, the same steer brought as much as one hundred dollars.  
The "Chisholm Trail" and later the "Western 
Trail" were soon clogged with giant herds of northbound 
cattle.  During the 1870's, at the height of these cattle drives, 
as many as 400,000 to 600,000 cattle were herded across western 
Oklahoma.  About this same time many northern and eastern tribes, 
unwanted elsewhere in an expanding country, were moved into 
western Oklahoma on land taken from the  "Five Civilized 
Tribes" as punishment for their participation in the Civil 
War on the side of the South.
By 1889 all of present-day Oklahoma, with the exception of the so-called 
"Unassigned Lands" in the center of the state, was occupied 
by, or assigned to, various Indian tribes.  However, this center section 
of rich farming land had already been invaded by "boomers", 
bands of impatient settlers.  Each time these white settlers were 
rounded up by the U.S. Army and expelled.  But the pressure finally 
became too great, and on Aug. 22, 1889, Congress authorized the first 
of Oklahoma's illfamed "runs".  At the sound of a pistol 
shot, some 50,000 hopeful greedy homesteaders poured across the line 
in Creek and Seminole land.  By nightfall Oklahoma Territory was a 
going concern, with thousand of boisterous tent cities dotted over 
the prairie.

During the influx of new settlers, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas 
farmers seemed to favor the western and northwestern sections of 
the state, while those from Arkansas, Missouri and Texas 
preferred the southern and eastern parts of the state.

After Oklahoma became part of the United States with the Louisa Purchase 
in 1803, it was included in the Indiana Territory.  In 1812 it was 
combined with the Missouri Territory, and in 1819 with the Arkansas 
Territory.  For several years, most of Oklahoma was included in what 
was called the Indian Territory, which continued until about 1893 
when the section was divided into Indian Territory and the Oklahoma 
Territory, the latter being thrown open to white settlements.
On May 2, 1890 the Territorial Government was established with Guthrie 
as its first Capital, an island of whites surrounded by Indians. This 
situation could not last long.  Three small reservations nearby were 
opened to whites by the "run" in 1891.  The vast Cheyenne 
and Arapaho Reservation to the west were similarly opened Apr. 1892, 
and the Cherokee Outlet on Sep. 16, 1893.  The Kickapoo land was opened 
in 1895.  And from July 9 to August 6, 1901, a giant lottery threw 
open to settlement the Kiowa, Comanche, and the Apache Reservation 
to the southwest.  The days of Indian Territory to the east (which 
were told they would become a separate state) were numbered. A court 
decision and an act of Congress awarded Green County to Oklahoma in 
1896.  Prior to that time it had been claimed by both Oklahoma and 
Texas.    The state of Oklahoma created by the enabling act of June 
16, 1906.  All Indian Nations perished.  Oklahoma became the 46 
state to enter the Union when it was admitted November 16, 1907.  The 
Capital was moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City on June 12, 1910.

Source & Reference Notes!
        Bailey, Minnie T., Reconstruction in Indian Territory (1972);

        Cotterill, Robert S., The Southern Indians;
        The Story of the Civilized Tribes before Removal (1954);

        Debo, Angie, A History of the Indians of the United States
        (1970; repr.  1984);

        Debo, Angie, And Still the Waters Run (1984);

        Foreman, Grant, The Five Civilized Tribes (1934;  repr. 1966)
        Foreman, Grant, Indian Removal:
        The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes (1932;  repr.  1966);
        Gibson, A., The American Indian (1980);

        Perdue, T., Nations Remembered (1980);

        McDonnell, Janet A., The Dispossession of the American Indian,
        1887-1934 (1991);

        Swanton, John R., The Indians of the Southeastern United States (1946).

        Weeks, Philip, Farewell, My Nation:
        The American Indian and the United States, 1820-1890 (1990).

        File: NA_VOL03.TXT
        Revised: Jan. 15, 1995
        By: Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.    [email protected] 

End of File!

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Text - Copyright © 1996-2001 Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Aug. 10, 2001