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Main Street Oklahoma: Stories of Twentieth-Century America

Main Street Oklahoma: Stories of Twentieth-Century America

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Oklahoma historian Angie Debo once observed that all the forces of United States history have come to bear in the development of the Sooner State. This collection of essays provides a series of snapshots reflecting both the singularity of the Oklahoma experience and the state’s connections to America’s broader history.

Spanning the Civil War era and the present, this book develops historic themes as varied as the causes of Indian land dispossession, the Statehood Day wedding ceremony, the oil industry’s environmental impact, the Tulsa Race Riot, labor relations during the New Deal, the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, the state’s unique Native artistic traditions, and its musical landscape.

Oklahomans have always represented multiple races and cultures, lived in big cities or small towns or on farms, and promoted prosperity and cultural achievement while battling poverty and ignorance. The American Main Street has been the site not only of the best principles of community spirit and traditional values but also of shocking cases of prejudice and violence. Rather than shrinking from difficult subjects, Main Street Oklahoma describes the state’s abundant human, natural, and cultural resources, paying tribute to the true grit of Oklahomans, but also exploring some of the more troubling moments in Oklahoma’s past. The editors and contributors provide engaging perspectives on the state’s rich and diverse history.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806144016
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 08/21/2013
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Linda W. Reese is retired as Associate Professor of History at East Central University and is the author of Women of Oklahoma, 1890–1920.

Patricia Loughlin is Professor of History at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of Hidden Treasures of the American West: Muriel H. Wright, Angie Debo, and Alice Marriott, named the Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History by the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Read an Excerpt

Main Street Oklahoma

Stories of Twentieth-Century America

By Linda W. Reese, Patricia Loughlin


Copyright © 2013 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5056-7


"For Our Own Safety and Welfare"


Bradley R. Clampitt

From 1861 to 1865 the American Civil War raged after decades of sectional animosity between North and South, and the fratricidal bloodbath lives on in the imaginations of countless Americans. The endless public fascination with the Civil War has prompted one prominent historian to describe it as "the war that never goes away." One need not be a native of a former Confederate state to fall spellbound to the tragic "war for Southern independence," and one need not hail from a Northern state to appreciate the Union's heroic effort to preserve the nation and eventually dismantle the abomination of chattel slavery. But clearly the distinctiveness of one's home state—"where we come from," as some would have it—influences individual perceptions, and many Americans understandably seek to comprehend the role of their state in their country's most transformative event.

The Civil War began forty-six years before Oklahoma statehood, but its ravages transcended political distinctions such as statehood. The residents of what was then known as Indian Territory experienced its horrors vividly. When Oklahomans and students of history consider the region's role in the Civil War, do they think first of individuals who remained loyal to the United States, or do those who struggled for Southern independence first come to mind? Perhaps the answer should be "neither." Oklahoma history presents a unique interpretive framework, a war within a war: the American Indian population waging their own war for independence, and indeed survival, within what began as someone else's conflict. That quest for sovereignty most accurately frames the story of the Civil War in Indian Territory. The story of the Indians' Civil War also serves as a reminder that history is rarely about "good guys" and "bad guys" and that people tend to defy simple categorization.

Relative to the war's primary theaters of operations and the economic and political centers of the Union and the Confederacy, Indian Territory must be considered remote and sparsely populated. Approximately seventy thousand individuals resided primarily in the territory's eastern half on lands claimed by the nations known as the Five Tribes—Chickasaws, Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks (Muscogees), and Seminoles—who had been forcibly relocated from the southeastern United States decades earlier, while settlers and members of Plains tribes occupied the western portions of the territory. Confederate officials in particular hoped that the territory might provide resources that they could ship to more important locations east of the Mississippi River, but claims that the two belligerents desperately sought to control an Indian Territory rich in resources exaggerates reality. What Indian Territory offered paled in comparison to the resources found in other contested border grounds such as Kentucky. Two other factors—geography and the question of the Indian population's allegiance—contributed far more to the territory's significance. Its location made Indian Territory potentially important and placed its residents in a precarious situation. Union-controlled Kansas bordered the territory to the north, while the Confederate states of Texas and Arkansas loomed to the south and east respectively. To the northeast, Missouri included residents with divided loyalties. A Confederate-controlled Indian Territory might serve as a military buffer zone to protect the more important Texas and could potentially provide a base of operations for Confederate invasions of Kansas or even the rich gold fields of Colorado. Conversely, Union officials viewed the territory as a buffer to protect those regions and as a potential highway of invasion to Texas. Its location between the belligerents increased the likelihood of competition for control of Indian Territory and virtually guaranteed the involvement of the region's Indian population in the conflict.

Neither side could realistically assume that the Indian nations sympathized with its cause. Union officials could hardly be surprised if Indian leaders exhibited no great affection for the U.S. Army. Confederate officials recognized that southeastern states bore great responsibility for the removal of the Five Tribes to Indian Territory and that Texas had forcibly removed other Indians to the territory in more recent years, and that resentment certainly lingered. Still, because Union and Confederate officials displayed interest in Indian Territory, Indian leaders needed to be concerned about the looming war.

Neutrality appeared virtually impossible and was perhaps ill-advised anyway because war threatened to envelop the Indians' homelands. Perhaps the Indians' best course of action was to enter the war on their own terms—and that is what they did. The vast majority of residents of Indian Territory chose a side, but they did so for myriad reasons unique to their own experience, not necessarily out of affection for the Union or the Confederacy. Old grievances (intertribal and intra-tribal) made a united front unlikely, and each nation acted individually, with most tribal leaders motivated by what they considered the best course of action for their people.

Most of the territory's Indians supported the Confederacy, some chose the Union, a relative few changed allegiance during the war and others attempted to remain neutral. Numerous concerns factored into the tribes' decisions. Existing treaties with the United States, dependence on the U.S. government for a degree of financial support, and reliance upon its military for physical security motivated some remaining loyal to the Union, while resentment, genuine belief in the propriety of slavery, and/or a stronger cultural connection with the South motivated others to support the Confederacy. Members of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek Nations collectively owned approximately seventy-seven hundred slaves. An 1860 speech by Republican William H. Seward, who would become Abraham Lincoln's secretary of state, also alarmed many Indian leaders. Seward pointed to American expansion into western lands as the key to suppressing the intense sectional conflict and called for yet another relocation of Indians to clear the way for white settlement. Therefore, while a Republican victory in the presidential election of 1860 likely promised an end to the expansion of slavery into the western territories, it promised absolutely nothing to the inhabitants of Indian Territory. For all of these reasons, the Civil War would explode into more than simply a "white man's war."

The Choctaws and Chickasaws doubtless displayed more affection for the Confederacy than other tribes would demonstrate for either side during the war. Before either the North or South took official action to secure alliances in Indian Territory, and months before the war began, the Five Tribes planned a meeting to determine their roles in the looming conflict. That meeting occurred February 17, 1861, though neither the Chickasaws nor the Choctaws attended. Although there remains no official explanation for their absence, Chickasaw and Choctaw leaders likely anticipated and rejected the cautious response of the other groups, who at the urging of the Cherokee delegation resolved "simply to do nothing, to keep quiet and to comply with our treaties." Ten days earlier, the General Council of the Choctaw Nation had approved a resolution that plainly expressed their sentiments. In the event of the permanent division of the United States, Choctaw loyalty would rest with the new Confederate States of America. The Choctaw council's resolution concluded, "We shall be left to follow the natural affections, education, institutions, and interests of our people, which indissolubly bind us in every way to the destiny of our neighbors and brethren of the Southern States." Two months before the famous shots at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, started the Civil War there could be no doubt where the Choctaws stood. According to the council, an alliance with the Confederacy best served tribal interests because longstanding cultural connections with Southern states linked the tribe's future to that of the would-be Southern nation and because such an alliance conformed to the sentiments of the Choctaw people. The Chickasaws followed suit May 25.

Meanwhile, during February and March 1861, the provisional Congress of the Confederacy took initial steps toward securing official alliances with the nations of Indian Territory by enacting legislation that created a Bureau of Indian Affairs and appointed a commissioner of Indian Affairs. Also in February, the Texas secession convention appointed representatives to visit the Five Tribes in hopes of enticing their hosts to support the Confederacy. The Texas commissioners found considerable support for the Confederate cause among the Five Tribes, although they found the least sympathy among the Cherokees. The Texans' report claimed that the tribes feared "Northern aggression," and that as soon as the Indians were in a "defensible position" they would declare their allegiance to the Confederacy and raise thousands of good fighting men. According to the Texans, one Indian leader declared that "Lincoln may haul his big guns over our prairies in the daytime, but we will swoop down upon him at night from our mountains and forests, dealing death and destruction to his army." Regardless of whether any Indian leader actually made such a boast, only the official Confederate representatives could form alliances with the nations of Indian Territory, and dramatic events would soon hasten those arrangements.

The famous events at Fort Sumter in April 1861 and Lincoln's subsequent call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion forced the hand of the eight slave states that had not seceded immediately after the presidential election of 1860, as seven had. Four states—Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware—remained loyal to the Union, while the other four—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama—seceded and joined the Confederacy. Meanwhile, activities in and near Indian Territory in April 1861 more immediately affected the course of the war there. As fighting loomed, federal soldiers occupied three forts in the territory and one just across the Arkansas border: Fort Smith. The latter served as a supply depot to the three others, which helped to protect the Five Tribes from Plains tribes. Fort Washita stood in the southeastern portion of the Chickasaw Nation, about sixty miles southeast of Fort Arbuckle. Farther west, Fort Cobb was located in present-day Caddo County, approximately forty miles north of present-day Lawton. Fort Cobb supplied the nearby Wichita Agency, which served a number of small bands that had been removed from Texas, including Wichitas, Caddos, Anadarkos, Penateka Comanches, and others, and protected them against bands of Comanches, Kiowas, and Kickapoos.

After a sequence of orders that initially called for the concentration of federal forces at Fort Washita, Union officers ultimately ordered the evacuation of the military posts in the territory, leaving the Five Tribes without the military protection guaranteed them by federal treaties. From the Union perspective, this action did not represent a calculated decision to abandon the Indians. Union officials ordered the evacuation of military posts elsewhere in areas threatened by Confederates and considered the soldiers' presence in the East more important. Moreover, the subsequent Confederate occupation of the territory and Confederate ascendancy in Arkansas rendered federal control of the posts tenuous anyway.

Not surprisingly, however, some Indians considered the federal evacuation tantamount to abandonment. The evacuation certainly cleared the way for Confederate diplomats who sought to form official alliances with the Five Tribes and other groups within the territory. Considering conditions in Indian Territory in 1861, the cultural connections between many members of the Five Tribes and the Southern states, and the perception that the federal government had abandoned them, it is hardly surprising that most members of the Five Tribes now cast their lot with the Confederacy. One historian has argued that federal ineptitude with regard to Indian policy in general significantly enhanced the Confederates' chances for success in securing the services of Indian allies. An even simpler point should not be overlooked—in the minds of many Indians the Confederacy presented them with at least the opportunity to fight for the lands supposedly reserved for them.

To secure the Indian alliances, Confederate officials wisely appointed Arkansas resident Albert Pike, well known to many members of the Five Tribes and Plains tribes. Pike spoke several languages, fancied himself a poet, and possessed considerable experience working among Indian peoples. The Confederate envoy met with Cherokee leader John Ross on June 2, but the chief stood firm in his commitment to his nation's neutrality, first announced on February 22. Ross sought to maintain relations with both governments, pointed to his nation's extant treaty obligations with the United States and the financial considerations involved, and hoped not to alienate the majority of his nation who supported the continued relationship with the United States. Ross also worried that he might lose his position as principal chief to his rival, Stand Watie, who represented a growing pro-Confederate minority within the Cherokee Nation. Finally, the chief understood that concluding a formal alliance with the Confederacy would equate to a declaration of war by his nation against the United States. For the time being, Ross declined Pike's proposed alliance.

Pike next traveled to the Creek Nation, where he met also with Choctaw and Chickasaw leaders. Among the Creeks, Pike found divisions that dated back to the days of removal. The pro-Confederate faction included "mixed-bloods" who had formally endorsed removal, while the group who insisted upon continued loyalty to the United States arrayed themselves behind the aged leader Opothleyahola, a "full-blood" who had been an ardent opponent of removal. On July 10, Pike concluded a treaty with the pro-Confederate faction, led by the McIntosh brothers, Chilly and Daniel, and Principal Chief Motey Kennard. This would not be the last the Confederates would hear of Opothleyahola, however. The passionate divisions among the Creeks and Opothleyahola's determination to resist a Confederate alliance would ultimately lead to the first Indian bloodshed in the territory during the Civil War.

Just two days after he arranged the compact with the Creeks, Pike easily concluded an official joint treaty with the Choctaws and Chickasaws. The diplomat then journeyed to the Seminole Nation, where, despite resistance from traditionalist leaders who wished to remain uninvolved in what they considered someone else's war, Pike concluded a treaty on August 1. Having formed official alliances with the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, Pike headed west to the Wichita Agency with plans to treat with the various groups who resided there and, if possible, the Comanches, Kickapoos, and Kiowas who frequently tormented them.

On August 6, Pike reached the Wichita Agency with a large escort that included other Confederate representatives, Seminole principal chief John Jumper, Creek principal chief Motey Kennard, and some sixty Creek and Seminole horsemen. To Pike's delight, upon his arrival he found representatives from the agency groups, but also envoys from the Kickapoos and certain bands of Comanches (Naconis, Taneiwes, Yaparihcas, and Cochoticheas). Kickapoo leaders, already suspicious of the entire spectacle, withdrew from the council without reaching an agreement with the Confederates, while the Kiowas simply declined to attend. For several days Pike stated the Confederate case, reminded Indian leaders of Union designs on the tribes' hunting grounds, and lavished gifts upon the Indian representatives. Eventually, on August 12, Pike secured agreements with the agency tribes and the Comanche bands that placed all parties under the authority and protection of the Confederacy and obligated the Plains tribes to cease all hostilities with their old enemies the Texans, now their brethren under the Confederate banner. The accords promised the reserve Indians the right to remain in the region known as the Leased District and obligated the Confederate government to supply the signatory groups with rations and agricultural tools and supplies.


Excerpted from Main Street Oklahoma by Linda W. Reese, Patricia Loughlin. Copyright © 2013 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 3

Chapter 1 "For Our Own Safety and Welfare": What the Civil War Meant in Indian Territory Bradley R. Clampitt 9

Chapter 2 The Mock Wedding of Indian and Oklahorria Territories Malia K. Bennett 29

Chapter 3 "The Land We Belong To Is Grand!" Environment and History in Twentieth-Century Oklahoma Sterling D. Evans 46

Chapter 4 Oil and Natural Gas: Putting Oklahoma on the Map Dan T. Boyd 76

Chapter 5 Petroleum, Planning, and Tribal Property: Oil Field Development on the Osage Reservation, 1896-1950 Houston Mount 92

Chapter 6 Butchers against Businessmen: The 1921 Packinghouse Strike and the Open Shop Movement in Oklahoma City Nigel A. Sellars 110

Chapter 7 "Spirited Away": Race, Gender, and Murder in Oklahoma in the 1920s Christienne M. McPherson 134

Chapter 8 Native American Art in Oklahoma: An Interpretation Alvin O. Turner 154

Chapter 9 Let Us Help You Help Yourselves: New Deal Economic Recovery Programs and the Five Tribes in Rural Oklahoma James Hochtritt 175

Chapter 10 The War on Poverty in Little Dixie, 1965-1974 Jennifer J. Collins 201

Chapter 11 Conservative Oklahoma Women United: The Crusade to Defeat the ERA Jana Vogt Catignani 221

Chapter 12 On the Illinois: The Making of Modern Music and Culture in the Oklahoma Ozark Foothills J. Justin Castro 239

List of Contributors 257

Index 261

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