The Dawes Severalty Act…”We’re from the Government, and We’re Here to Help…”

Today in History, February, 1887:

President Grover Cleveland signs the Dawes Severalty Act into law.

Massachusetts Senator Henry Laurens Dawes authored the bill with the intent of facilitating the integration of native Americans into the white society.

Dawes and others felt this was the only way to “protect” the Indians, by forcing them to cease their communal way of living. The law broke up the tribal holdings, giving individuals the land.

Married men were given 160 acres of land, single men 80 acres, boys 40 acres and women no land.

The thought was that by forcing the native American families into individual units, as whites lived, they would be assimilated.

As seems to have happened with all acts to “benefit” the Indians, hidden within the law was a land grab. The law provided that after the lands had been apportioned, any land that was left could be sold to non-Indians. The result was that by the 1930’s, when Congress reversed the act and gave the tribes back their rights as nations, the tribes had lost fully 3/4 of their previous land holdings on the reservations.

Initially the 5 Civilized Tribes in Indian and Oklahoma Territories were exempt, but eventually policies were initiated that effected them also. Much of the land that wasn’t sold outright to non-Indians was eventually sold by the Indian owners when they were down on their luck, reducing tribal holdings even more.

The act also had other negative effects on the Native American community, as it forced changes in the community dynamic; the traditional roles for men and women in the tribal leadership were changed.

The Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934 repealed the Dawes Act, but much of the damage was irreparable.

For as Long as the Rivers Run and the Grass Grows…I Wonder if our Native American Ancestors Rolled Their Eyes?

Today in History, January 27, 1825:

Congress designates a portion of the Louisiana Purchase as “Indian Territory” where Indian tribe could exist undisturbed, stretching from present day Texas to the Canadian border.

Over time the area would be reduced to the borders of current day Oklahoma. Which, in the end, would be taken as a state also.

Killed in the Line of Duty at 71…

1924 – This should make you Oklahoma proud. Law enforcement proud. THIS is what its all about: On this day, William Tilghman is murdered by a corrupt prohibition agent who resented Tilghman’s refusal to ignore local bootlegging operations. Tilghman, one of the famous marshals who brought law and order to the Wild West, was 71 years old.

Known to both friends and enemies as “Uncle Billy,” Tilghman was one of the most honest and effective lawmen of his day. Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1854, Tilghman moved west when he was only 16 years old. Once there, he flirted with a life of crime after falling in with a crowd of disreputable young men who stole horses from Indians. After several narrow escapes with angry Indians, Tilghman decided that rustling was too dangerous and settled in Dodge City, Kansas, where he briefly served as a deputy marshal before opening a saloon. He was arrested twice for alleged train robbery and rustling, but the charges did not stick.

Despite this shaky start, Tilghman gradually built a reputation as an honest and respectable young man in Dodge City. He became the deputy sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, and later, the marshal of Dodge City. Tilghman was one of the first men into the territory when Oklahoma opened to settlement in 1889, and he became a deputy U.S. marshal for the region in 1891. In the late 19th century, lawlessness still plagued Oklahoma, and Tilghman helped restore order by capturing some of the most notorious bandits of the day.

Over the years, Tilghman earned a well-deserved reputation for treating even the worst criminals fairly and protecting the rights of the unjustly accused. Any man in Tilghman’s custody knew he was safe from angry vigilante mobs, because Tilghman had little tolerance for those who took the law into their own hands. In 1898, a wild mob lynched two young Indians who were falsely accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Tilghman arrested and secured prison terms for eight of the mob leaders and captured the real rapist-murderer.

In 1924, after serving a term as an Oklahoma state legislator, making a movie about his frontier days, and serving as the police chief of Oklahoma City, Tilghman might well have been expected to quietly retire. However, the old lawman was unable to hang up his gun, and he accepted a job as city marshal in Cromwell, Oklahoma. Tilghman was shot and killed while trying to arrest a drunken Prohibition agent.

An Oklahoma Sheepdog Fights to the Death in Defense of his Flock

Today in History, October 26, 1944:

OKLAHOMA PROUD.

Did you know that we Okies make up only a little over 1% of the US population? And we’ve been around as a territory or state for less than half our nation’s history. Yet I keep finding that we’ve given a much larger accounting of ourselves in courage, commitment and love of our neighbors than that…much more than our 1% share.

Whether its the Sooners in the Great Land Rush, US Marshal Bill Tilgman, Will Rogers, the survivors of the Dust Bowl, OKC in ’95, our many astronauts, or the man in the photo, Ernest E. Evans, we are everywhere.

During the Battle Off Samar, in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct. 24-26, 1944), Commander Evans (Oklahoma Cherokee) found his tiny destroyer and a couple of others, the only defense for the light carriers of “Taffy 3” from a massive Japanese force that included battleships, cruisers and destroyers.

For 3 hours he and his crew fought so hard that the enemy thought they were fighting a much larger combatant. In the end, the enemy retreated from the fierce American defense. Evans and his crew continued until they were sunk, and Evans went down with his ship. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Commander Evans knew his tiny ship did not stand a chance against the larger ships, but he placed himself and his crew between the enemy and his helpless charges…a true Sheepdog.

Free Land! 130 Years Ago

Today in History, April 22, 1889:

The Oklahoma Land Run…each person that managed to stake out a 160 acre area on this date, and promised to improve it, would have that land for free in “Indian Territory”. Many snuck in early…why we are called “Sooners”. Amazingly, before the end of the day…the streets of Guthrie and Oklahoma City would be laid out…and their population would exceed 10,000.

Just What a War-Weary Audience Needed

Today in History, March 31, 1943:

Historically Broadway musicals had gone for flash and opened with a bang.

So most critics expected this folksy, country new musical, opening on Broadway in the middle of WWII, to bomb.

They misunderstood the mood of the nation, which had been in the midst of world war and the related personal losses and stress for years.

When Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! premiered on this date in 1943 on Broadway, it opened with the melodious tunes of a cowboy singing as he greeted a peaceful morning.

Almost in unison the war weary audience let out an audible “aaaaahh”.

By the time the cast had sung the title song and closed the play, Joan Roberts (Laurey) says that the applause was deafening through two encores. The record setting musical would run for 15 years, 2,212 performances, before closing.

Texas Statehood

Today in History, December 29, 1845:

The United States annexes the Republic of Texas, the only US state to have been an independent nation. The Republic had gained quite a bit of debt in it’s short life, and part of the bargain was for the Republic to relinquish parts of modern day Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming to the US in exchange for ten million dollars in bonds. As a sovereign nation, the new state of Texas gained rights most other territories and states did not, which is why Texas has profited from her oil rights on land and off her shores.

Downtown Athletic Club Trophy…aka Heisman Trophy

Today in History, December 9, 1935:

The Downtown Athletic Club Trophy is awarded for the first time to “the most valuable football player in the east”, Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago. The following year, with the death of the Club’s director, John Heisman, the name of the trophy was changed and opened to athletes nationwide.

I counted eight Oklahoma recipients, not including runner-ups!

“Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.” —Chief White Antelope, age 75

Today in History, November 29, 1864:

The Sand Creek Massacre.

As the morning was dawning in the sleepy village, Chief Black Kettle saw them approaching, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes above his Tipi as a sign of brotherhood and peace.  And then the blue coated soldiers began firing.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho of Colorado had settled in for the winter along a bend in Sand Creek in eastern Colorado.  Resources in the barren area were in short supply and they expected a harsh time.  900-1,000 people in hundreds of Tipis, although many were out hunting buffalo that morning.

The Civil War raged further east, and in Colorado and New Mexico a few months previous.  Colonel John Chivington of the Colorado Volunteers had fought in those battles, but now was looking for a new fight.  After a family of settlers was killed, allegedly by Arapaho or Cheyenne, the Governor tasked Chivington with raising a regiment to defend against hostile Indians.

But his regiment’s enlistment was nearly up and he hadn’t found any hostile Indians.  So he took over 700 troops to attack the peaceful village along Sand Creek.

After the earlier attack on the settlers, the white authorities told the peaceful Indians to encamp at military forts and facilities where they would be protected. If not, they would be considered “Hostile.” A word synonymous with “shoot on site” for Indians in the old West.

Chief Black Kettle had spoken to the commander of nearby Fort Lyon, seeking to comply.  He was told to keep his people at Sand Creek until the commander received further orders, and they would be safe.

Hundreds of women and children dropped to their knees in front of the soldiers that morning, imploring them for mercy.  There was no mercy given as the women and children were shot down or had their skulls caved in.  Many then ran for the creek where they sought cover, or fled north.  For the next several hours Chivington’s soldiers chased them down and killed as many as they could.

Seeing what was happening, Chief White Antelope approached the soldiers, folded his arms, and began singing his death song,

“Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.”

Chief Black Kettle carried his wounded wife and fled north towards another band of Cheyenne.  He would make his way to Oklahoma, where he led his people to again attempt peaceful existence.  He would live two days shy of four years more…when he and his wife would be chased down and killed by soldiers of George Custer’s command at the Massacre along the Washita River.

One of the Union officers present at Sand Creek that day refused to follow commands and ordered his company not to fire; and tried to save some of the victims.  Captain Silas Soule was career Army and recognized the cowardly acts being carried out.  The next day he wrote a letter to a Major friend of his back east, telling of the horrific behavior of Chivington’s “mob”.  He told of women and children having their brains bashed in.  He said that Chiefs had their ears and genitals cut off as trophies, and all those killed were scalped.  The crazed killers cut out many of the women’s genitalia as souvenirs.

Chivington would escape court martial by resigning from the Volunteers.  But even during the Civil War, the government and the people were aghast at the atrocities carried out at Sand Creek, and Congressional hearings were held in 1865, during which Captain Soule testified at against Chivington.

For his trouble he was gunned down in the street in Denver a few months later.  His murderers were never prosecuted.

The assault was supposedly intended to force peace for the nascent settlements in Colorado.  It had exactly the opposite effect, as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and others fought a decade’s long war with the settlers, their trust of the white people destroyed.

The story was eventually all but forgotten, and was a touchy subject when it was spoken of.  However Colorado eventually began to come to terms with this dark part of its history, and in 2007 the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established, run by the National Park Service.

Many visit the site in homage to the approximately 200 Native Americans who died that day.

Several of the sites I read in preparation for this posting indicated the subject was not covered much until the 2000’s.  However if you read (or watch) James Michener’s “Centennial”, you’ll find that he covered the events very well, just with a change in names.