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
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
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
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
it be accepted. While in Mississippi, the shadow of "...mustering with
working on roads, and paying taxes."(14), also hung over him. This was
Most of the Five Civilized Tribes ceded their eastern lands and
started moving westward in 1830, commencing with the Choctaws and
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
thrust westward among the relocated Creeks in today's Oklahoma."(16).
Date Of Removal To Indian Territory
Central & southern Mississippi,
Louisiana, Arkansas, northeast Texas.
Northeast Mississippi, Tennessee.
South Georgia, Alabama.
Virginia, North & South Carolina,
Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas,
Florida, Georgia, Alabama.
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
in the East."(17).
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).
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
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
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
(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
with drilling jargonese, as indeed Papa Harvey Hull must have been:
"I'm a long-distance driller, wildcat the country
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
"Says, I'm goin' to Oklahoma, goin' to split my oil
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
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,
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."
1. D. Lavender. p. 177.
5. C. Wissler. p. 142.
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.
18. F.J. Dockstader. p.47.
"Encyclopedia Americana Vol.20. p.690.
24. Ibid. p.12.
25. Debo. "Oklahoma Footloose And Fancy Free."p.24.
26. Debo. "And Still The Waters Run."p-72.
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.
33. Dockstader. ibid.
34. Nichols & Adams.ibid.p.201.
36. Debo.ibid p.273.
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
c.-/6/27. Chicagm, Ill.
44. S. Calt & co. Yazoo I.P. L-1017.
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•
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.
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.
Chapter IV - The Red Man And The Blues
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