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John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

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The Red Man and The Blues
by Max Haymes
(converted to web format from the original typescript by Alan White)


Chapter III - Indians' Removal To The Nation - Black/Red Oklahoma

Although some extremists, both within the U.S. Government and outside it, not only favoured total extermination of the native Americans, but actually justified their attitude as a furtherance of 'civilizing' the United States, thankfully, a more humane approach generally prevailed at least until 1830. It could be argued that more Indians suffered over a far longer period, in the case of the latter approach; the appalling suffering and loss of life on the infamous "Trail of Tears", sustained by the Cherokees, for example, when they were forcibly removed in the winter of 1838. 

But at least one can point out today (1990) that surviving Indian populations are actually on the increase. The only danger regarding their extinction now, apart from the all-encompassing nuclear one, is one that faces all ethnic minorities (including the white man!); genetic and cultural homogenization.

So in an effort to further this "civilizing" process, spurred on by the burning desire for more land, the U.S. created a barrier for herself, not long after the 1812 War, by "establishing a 'permanent' Indian Territory immediately beyond the western borders of Missouri and Arkansas."(1). This was a large tract of land which incorporated present-day Oklahoma. The object being to get the Five Civilized Tribes to move west of the Mississippi River, by one way or another. Initially, Lavender reports, "Even a few Eastern Indians seemed to think that moving was a good idea. In 1809 Cherokee hunting parties roaming as far as today's Oklahoma had sounded out their tribesmen about locating there, but when the majority of the nation disapproved, the idea came to nothing."(2). However, tired of the increasing pressures from white speculators after cotton land, some Cherokees and Choctaws, from eastern Tennessee and central and southern Mississippi respectively, "...between 1816 and 1820 agreed to swap their Eastern lands for new holdings in what became Arkansas Territory."(3). But after the creation of the latter territory in 1819, these Indians had to move again, and as Lavender says "some Cherokees settled, to their coming sorrow, in north-eastern Texas, on land obtained in 1824 from the Mexican government,"(4).

Because of their more civilized life-style and therefore less war-like tendencies (comparatively speaking), the Cherokees had increased in population, even after white/European contact. Enough of them moved westward to cause Wissler to observe, that they "...were geographically separated into two divisions, the Eastern and Western Cherokee."(5). Although the Indians west of the Mississippi River were not counted at the time, in 1825 a census showed there to be "...13, 563 in the Eastern division alone."(6). It was these Eastern Cherokees who, it was revealed in the same census, owned 1,277 black slaves as already referred to in Chapter I. And, before their enforced removal to Indian Territory in 1838, it was largely these same Cherokees that so many Blues singers claimed blood-ties with. The Chickasaw, in 1822, also "...began began to settle west of the Mississippi", (7). But despite these initial moves and President John Quincy Adams' attempt at 'peaceful persuasion' for the southeastern tribes removal to Indian Territory, Young tells us that by the year 1830 "East of the Mississippi, white occupancy was limited by Indian tenure of northeastern Georgia, enclaves in western North Carolina and southern Tennessee, eastern Alabama, and the northern two thirds of Mississippi. In this twenty-five-million-acre domain lived nearly 60,000 Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws."(8).

This was a state of affairs that the incoming President, the ruthless Andrew Jackson, clearly would not tolerate. He set about instigating forcible removal, which did not rule out the legalized murder of Indians. Debo informs us that "His policy was embodied in the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which expressed the settled purpose of the Government to locate the Eastern tribes beyond the frontier."(9). But even prior to this legislation, soon after his election in 1828, Jackson commenced"...extension of state laws over the Indian tribes."(10), in an effort towards acculturization of the latter. 

Briefly, this was the white man's devious way of getting his hands on "...the much coveted domain of the civilized tribes."(11). The argument ran thus. If the Indian is so civilized, he can behave like a white man and in the style of John Locke, own as much land as he can farm and otherwise cultivate, become a U.S. citizen in the state where he is living, and accept all the burdens and responsibilities that being such a citizen entails. If he cannot cope with the white man's life-style, then "he should be liberated from the tyranny of his chiefs and allowed to follow his own best interest by emigrating beyond the farthest frontiers of white settlement."(12). The extension of state laws over the Indians' southern habitat, meant curtailment to their former liberty, despite the 'tyranny' referred to. The Indian could now be "...sued for trespass or debt" (13), and in Georgia and Alabama his testimony in a court-room would it be accepted. While in Mississippi, the shadow of "...mustering with the militia, working on roads, and paying taxes."(14), also hung over him. This was "acculturization."

Most of the Five Civilized Tribes ceded their eastern lands and started moving westward in 1830, commencing with the Choctaws and swiftly followed by the Chickasaws. But the white man did not acquire this latest 'land-treasure' without a fight. Approximately 24,000 Creeks were forcibly removed in 1836, and "The stubborn Cherokees,... refused to budge until herded west by troops in 1838,"(15). But it was the Seminoles who put up the strongest resistance "digging into Florida's almost impenetrable swamps, they waged a desperate war that cost the United States Army more than fifteen hundred lives and upwards of twenty million dollars before remnants of the tribe were finally thrust westward among the relocated Creeks in today's Oklahoma."(16).

Table 1.

Tribe States Inhabited Date Of Removal To Indian Territory
l. Choctaw. Central & southern Mississippi, 1830.
  Louisiana, Arkansas, northeast Texas.
 
 
2. Chickasaw. Northeast Mississippi, Tennessee.
 
1832.
3. Creek. South Georgia, Alabama.
 

1836.

4. Cherokee. Virginia, North & South Carolina, 1838.
 

Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas.

 
5. Seminole. Florida, Georgia, Alabama.
 

1842.


By the time removal of the southern tribes was done, (see Fig.2.), "the United States had acquired, since the Revolution, 442,866,370 acres of Indian land in the East."(17).


Fig. 2

The Indian Territory or Nation was first named "...by the Choctaw Allen Wright 'Okla' (people) 'homa' (red),"(18). Although in a later contribution to an American encyclopedia, the second Choctaw word, it is noted, is "humma"(19). On arrival in the Nation, the Indians "...tried tried to cling to familiar climates by huddling close to the eastern boundary of Oklahoma. This brought them within easy reach of the Arkansas settlements."(20). Although in fact the southeastern tribes owned nearly all of what is now Oklahoma (see Fig.2.), because they threw their lot in with the Confederates during the Civil War, they had to relinquish the western half of the territory to the U.S. Government. This western territory became known as the Territory of Oklahoma. So in fact the eastern section was all the Indians had, whatever the climate, and "...continued to be known as the Indian Territory."(21).


Fig. 3

This Territory was divided among the Five Civilized Tribes and they were distributed as shown in Fig.3. Comprising of some 19,525,966 acres which included large coal fields, some of the state's best agricultural land and ... a large share of that flowing gold that was to make Oklahoma famous for its fantastic wealth."(22). As Debo pointed out "the Indians still owned a princely domain."(23), which was roughly the size of South Carolina. Naturally, this "fantastic wealth" attracted people from outside the Nation. This included whites, some of whom became legal residents, and others who were lawless land-grabbers, and "A large number of Negroes also came in as laborers in the mines or as tenants on the Indians' farms." (24). In fact the initial U.S. Federal census of "the Five Tribes area, made in 1890, showed a population of 109,393 whites and 18,636 Negroes (former slaves of the Indians reinforced by Negro intruders) to 50,055 Indians."(25). And by 1907 the Indian Territory on admission to the Union, "had a colored population of 80,649..." (26). Many white mens' towns sprang up in the latter half of the nineteenth century, except in the Seminole Nation, but the other four southern tribes did not involve themselves with the maintenance of these towns, apart from the Cherokees. "As a result the physical appearance of Indian Territory towns presented a shocking contrast to their real prosperity. There were no city taxes except in the Cherokee Nation, hence no schools except voluntary subscription schools, no police or fire protection, and no sewers, city lighting, or paving;"(27). Added to this major factor of lack of local law and order, for most of the rest of the tribal period, and certainly before 1889, the Federal law was also absent; and "...crime flourished in the Indian Territory."(28). With the absence of civil law, which greatly annoyed the white residents, "There was no way of enforcing the payment of debts, and people who had a dispute over property had no recourse except to "shoot it out", or refer it to the arbitration of the Indian Agent."(29). As a report puts it, "...the general situation in Indian Territory was progressing from bad to worse. The area contained no judicial structure to punish lawless Indians and encroaching whites, and its confines became the haven of bands of outlaws who used it as a refuge from the law enforcement officials of surrounding states."(30).

This lawlessness and lack of white constraint attracted many blacks to the Nation. Although black leader, Booker T. Washington, claimed in 1908, that all of the blacks who moved into Indian Territory were honest, diligent, skilled workers, he probably was unaware of (or didn't want to know) an additional group of down-and-outs, gamblers, prostitutes, criminals, etc. also moved into this 'haven'. This latter group included the first Blues singers. Although, to be fair, when extolling the success of a Negro town called Boley, which attracted black farmers, doctors, lawyers, "and craftsmen of all kinds", Washington does concede that "The fame of the town has also brought, no doubt, a certain proportion of the drifting population."(31).

Certainly, bawdy singer, Lucille Bogan, a self-confessed 'whisky-selling woman', who had, judging by some of her recordings, probably spent some time in a brothel, would not have counted as one of Booker T. Washington's 'craftsmen of all kinds'. Yet in July, 1927, she announced:

"When I leave here, daddy, pin crepe on this town,
When I leave here, daddy, pin crepe on this town.

An' you know by that, me an' my man is Oklahoma bound."
(32).

With an obvious eye on an even more lucrative market for her "wares" in the lawless Indian Nation. The phrase in the first lines of Alabama-based Ms. Bogan's blues is an extension of the southern black custom to pin black crepe over the front door when there is a death in the house. As far as racist Alabama was concerned, she and her man were dead, because they'll never be seen in that state again.

In the 1880's, greed for even more land, kept the white settlers pushing ever westward and encroaching even more on the Indian Territory. This factor, coupled with the popular idea amongst liberal reformers, that the Indian would be better off as a bona fide U.S. citizen "rather than have him remain a citizen of separate tribes or "sections" living in a kind of colonial state."(33), resulted in the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, "which authorized the dissolution of tribal government and the allotment of land to individual Indians,"(34),. The Five Civilized Tribes offered the strongest opposition to this legislation by skilful negotiation, resulting in a postponement of the "application of severalty to themselves for several years."(35). So the parts of Indian Territory occupied by these tribes would have been without much white law and order into the 1890's; not long before, together with Oklahoma Territory, admission to the Union, in fact.

Nevertheless, the evil day arrived when these Indians had to finally accept the Dawes Severalty Act, or more precisely the General Allotment Act. They then received arbitrary allotments of land in what is now the state of Oklahoma. Some of these allotments were of "...undesirable land"(36). But in 1913 the value of some of this land soared to fantastic heights by the discovery of the great Cushing oil pool in Creek County."(37). In the same year, in an effort to equalize these allotments among the Creek Indians, the U.S. Government "began suits in their behalf that it was hoped would increase their wealth enormously, but the attempt was largely unsuccessful."(38). This was because oil companies who held leases from "original allottees" or "heirs", fought not only each other, but also the Federal Government, for possession of these leases. There were over a dozen cases, but less than a quarter of them resulted in any gains for the Creeks. One of these cases was a claim made in the name of Tommy Atkins. Although there was always some doubt as to the actual existence of such a person, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against this case, in the "ensuing litigation between oil companies and their proteges... Five living "Tommys" and three "mothers" of deceased "Tommys" appeared at one time, each sponsored by an oil company holding a lease, and supported by an army of witnesses."(39).

Intriguingly, a recording made by Papa Harvey Hull entitled "Two Little Tommies Blues" came out in 1927, one of the 'golden' years of oil supremacy for Oklahoma. Although Paul Oliver lists the record as "Two Little Tommies (or Tonys) Blues" (40). It refers to women in the lyrics:

"Got two little tommies, they is black an' brown,
Got two little tommies, they is black an' brown.
One lives in the country, the other lives in town."(
41).

and significantly in the Atkins case, the allotment went to a woman, "...one Minnie Folk, who managed to prove that she had given birth to an illegitimate son named Tommy Atkins,"(42). Returning to Ms. Bogan once more, some two months after Papa Harvey Hull had recorded, she berates her 'wandering' man:

"Heyyy! Jim Tampa, heyyy! Jim Tampa,
Hey! Jim Tampa, you treat your woman so mean.

You treat your tommy like a woman you ain't never seen."
(43).

Calt & co., quite rightly I feel, state that "...the term was once a common one for women."(44). Though I think they are wrong to say "It was probably suggested by the use of "tommies" for tomatoes".(45). More than likely they obtained this information from Partridge, who listed six other definitions. Only one is connected with women and that alludes to 'womens' troubles'! Number seven reads "The CURSE: feminine: late C.19-20. By personification."(46). In 1938, an excellent mandolin-player and guitarist from Tennessee, Yank Rachell, recorded his "Texas Tommy", he definitely sings "Tommy" and is addressing the woman he loves. And ten years earlier, an otherwise unidentified female singer recorded using the psuedonym "Texas Tommy".

Another possible connection between the oil of eastern Oklahoma, the Five Civilized Tribes and the Blues singer, is the title made by Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Oil Well Blues". Recorded in 1929, Lemon was obviously familiar with drilling jargonese, as indeed Papa Harvey Hull must have been:

"I'm a long-distance driller, wildcat the country through,
I'm a long-distance driller, wildcat the country through.

But I've done wildcatting, if I bring in this well for you."
(47).

Not only because of the 1913 Cushing oil pool but also the earlier "...oil oil strike at Caddo Lake in 1906 which made a boom city of Shreveport."(48). As Oliver said, that in 1960 when he was researching over there, "...Shreveport has a large non-white population, a third of its people being black or Indian in origin,"(49). A 'wildcat' "as all Oklahoma understands, is an exploratory well-a well drilled in "unproven territory."(50). The singer using fairly obvious sexual imagery here! Possibly Blind Lemon was inspired by this verse in "Oklahoma Man Blues":

"Says, I'm goin' to Oklahoma, goin' to split my oil with you,
Say, I'm goin' to Oklahoma, goin' to split my oil with you.

For these oil wells in Texas, swear they jus' won't do."
(51).

Lucille Bogan using the 'puny' Texas oil wells, in comparison to the ones in Pennsylvania in the 19th. century, in an analogy to downgrade the virility of Texas males!

That some of the first Blues singers and some parents of the second generation, tried their luck in what was infinitely a more attractive deal; i.e. a life in lawless Indian Territory rather than remain in the racially-segregated southern states, seems readily apparent. They mixed and interbred with the Indians, and indeed many had been slaves to the southern tribes. The first U.S. census of the Nation since removal, was effected in 1890. It revealed that there were, among the Five Civilized Tribes, 18,636 blacks and 50,055 Indians; the latter representing just over 28% of the total. Whites, of course accounted for the rest. The results of a special U.S. Government census in 1907, preparing for Oklahoma's statehood, showed "the following racial distribution: white, 538,512, or 79.1 per cent; Negro (tribal and immigrant), 80,649, or 11.8 per cent; and Indian, 61,925, or 9.1 per cent."(52). By 1980, Indians were 5.6% of the population in Oklahoma and blacks represented "...about 6.7% of the population,"(53). Although the percentages for both black and red races had gone down, the actual numbers had increased.

If the many references in the Blues to Oklahoma/Indian Territory/The Nation do not necessarily prove black blood-ties with the Indians of the southern tribes, they surely reflect an attitude on the part of the Blues singers indicating a sense of being socially inferior, and at the same time, a desire to be identified with these native Americans. We shall be exploring this in some detail in the next chapter which commences, in historical terms, when Oklahoma was "Formed in 1907 from Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory,"(54). This was usually referred to by Blues singers as the "Territo" or the "Nation."

Notes 

1. D. Lavender. p. 177.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. C. Wissler. p. 142.

6. Ibid.

7. "Encyclopedia Americana Vol.6."p. 437.

8. R. Nichols & G. Adams. p. 133.

9. A. Debo.p.4.

10. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p. 136.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.p.137.

15. Lavender.ibid.p.182.

16. Ibid.p.p.182-183.

17. Ibid.p.183.

18. F.J. Dockstader. p.47.

19. "Encyclopedia Americana Vol.20. p.690.

20. Lavender.ibid.

21. Debo.ibid.p.6.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid. p.12.

25. Debo. "Oklahoma Footloose And Fancy Free."p.24.

26. Debo. "And Still The Waters Run."p-72.

27. Ibid.p.18.

28. Ibid.p.19.

29. Ibid.

30. Nichols & Adams.ibid.p.192.

31. H. Aptheker.p.873.

32. "Oklahoma Man Blues." Lucille Bogan(vo.), prob. Will Ezell (pno.).c.-/7/27. Chicago, Ill.

33. Dockstader. ibid.

34. Nichols & Adams.ibid.p.201.

35. lbid.p.206.

36. Debo.ibid  p.273.

37. Ibid.p.37

38. 58.Ibid.p.38.

39. Ibid.p.274.

40. P.Oliver.p.63.

41. "Two Little Tommies Blues." Papa Harvey Hull(vo.), Long "Cleve" Reed(vo.gtr.), Sunny Wilson(gtr.).c.8/4/27-Chicago,Ill.

42. Debo. ibid.

43. "Jim Tampa Blues." Lucille Bogan (vo.), Papa Charlie Jackson (speech, bjo.). c.-/6/27. Chicagm, Ill.

44. S. Calt & co. Yazoo I.P. L-1017.

45. Ibid.

46. E.Partridge. p.981.

47. 0il Well Blues." Blind Lemon Jefferson (vo. gtr.). c.-/3/29. Chicago, Ill.

48. P.Oliver. Flyright L.P. 260. P-1

49. Ibid.

50. Debo."Oklahoma Footloose And Fancy Free."ibid. p.64.

51. "Oklahoma Man Blues."ibid.

52. Debo."And Still The Waters Run. ibid. p.133.

53. "Encyclopedia Americana Vol.20."ibid. p.693.

54. Ibid.p.690. 

Illustrations 

Fig. 1. C. Wissler.p.73.

Fig. 2. "The Oxford History of the American People." London & New York.1965.

Fig. 3. A. Debo. "And Still The Waters Run."

Photo at start of chapter "Cherokee Sunset. "Samuel Carter III. 1976. (between p.p.250-252.).

_________________________________________________________________________

Chapter IV  - The Red Man And The Blues

Bibliography

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