A history piece about Muscogee (Creek) political representation
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — Legislation creating an ambassador position for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was passed during the December 2018 National Council meeting.
The language for the bill cited Chitto Harjo and his trek to Washington D.C. to represent the tribe to address the allotment of Muscogee (Creek) Nation land, which is an interesting reference when you consider how he became a representative of the Nation.
Land ownership and Muscogee (Creek) factionalism are the main components to the story of Chitto Harjo, the Ambassador.
While researching Harjo’s role, it was difficult to find anything written down about the man born with the English name of Wilson Jones but the two sources used for this article are ‘The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914’ and a dissertation by Kenneth W. McIntosh, ‘Chitto Harjo, the Snakes and the Birth of Political Activism in the Twentieth Century.’
The absence of academic material may be chalked up to oral traditions of Muscogee (Creeks). It’s hard not to wonder if the lack of materials might be related to the public perception of Chitto Harjo and the Snakes. Their reputation is legendary, at times on the verge of tall tales.
In the preface of his dissertation, McIntosh mentions how Harjo was misunderstood by the world outside of the Nation.
McIntosh stated ‘journalists conjured up frightening impressions and perpetuated mistaken images long associated with Native Americans via his name,’ when in fact he was a conservative Mvskoke man who carried the spirit of those who fought in the Red Stick War in the early 1800s, the ones who wanted to protect their traditional way of life.
The Red Stick warriors fought in the homelands to preserve the Mvskoke way and rejected colonial influence. The complete ruthlessness of the U.S. army wiped out 900 of the 2,500 who believed in this ideology and eliminated what one might consider ‘traditionalists’ in great numbers.
But it did not completely eradicate the idea from the psyche of Mvskoke people. In 1900, it came in the form of the Snake movement.
In 1887, the Dawes Act started the enrollment and allotment process for Native Americans. The U.S. gained authorization to survey and divide the land amongst individuals of tribal nations.
MCN had avoided enrollment for 11 years until the U.S. government passed the Curtis Act, which abolished tribal courts and declared Indian law would not be enforceable in federal courts.
During this time when the federal government was trying to enroll the Muscogee (Creeks), Pleasant Porter was elected as MCN Principal Chief on September 5, 1899 on the platform of cooperating with the Dawes Commission.
According to McIntosh, Porter had the assumption allotment would be universally accepted by the Muscogee (Creek) people.
McIntosh asserted, ‘Creeks rarely, if ever, unanimously agreed about Creek policies, particularly regarding relations with whites.’ Factions usually evolved around local leaders whenever discord developed especially concerning Muscogee (Creek) and Anglo relations.
This can be seen throughout Muscogee (Creek) history with the Creek Civil War, the U.S. Civil War, Green Peach War and the eventual Snake movement.
According to McIntosh, factionalism was a dominant characteristic of the Creek experience in the 17th, 18th and 19th century stating the Nation was never a single tribe but more of a loose confederacy of tribes living in towns scattered over a wide area.
He goes on to state Muscogee (Creek) people had an understanding of each town as a distinct political unit, retaining its autonomy, special identity and regulation of internal affairs.
Harjo and the members of Hickory Ground created their own faction with members Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles joining the movement to oppose allotment.
McIntosh also noted how skilled of an orator Harjo was and was the ‘heneha’ or speaker of his town.
‘Rooted in historic traditions that justified factional opposition to Council decisions, connected to the spirit of Opothle Yahola’s adherence to the Treaty of 1832 and inspired by a charismatic orator, a minority of Creeks attempted to halt the allotment of their tribal land by turning back the clock to 1832.’
The Mvskoke people were the ones to appoint Harjo, Lahtah Micco, Hotulke Fixico and two others, not the MCN government at the time.
Harjo and his company were elected by the people at the Brush Hill convention to represent the Muscogee (Creek) Nation against allotment.
Once they arrived in Washington D.C., the group met a lawyer named Lorenzo Bailey who convinced the party he could help them achieve their goals and organize themselves as a separate government.
According to ‘Dawes Commission,’ the misfortune of meeting Bailey was not the other trouble the party was exposed to, excluding Harjo, they were quarantined for smallpox.
Harjo was allowed to leave and made it back to Oklahoma. He began speaking at stomp dances telling the Mvskoke people of their victory in Washington.
When Porter was alerted of Harjo’s activities, he feared the worst and felt the need to act on the issue.
Porter wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to give to Fixico notifying him that the group would not be allowed to use MCN funds for their expenses of the trip because they were not an authorized delegation of the tribal nation.
The Council then passed an act authorizing an official delegation to go to Washington in order to counter the previous group.
Porter appointed A.P McKellop and H.C. Reed to represent the tribe at all commission proceedings but this action did not stop the Snake movement.
Once the Snake delegation returned to MCN, they voted at Hickory Ground to form a separate government.
According to ‘Dawes Commission,’ the Snake government appointed 50-60 Lighthorse to prevent enrollment, which ‘resulted in beating and threats of violence to both Creeks and the many whites living in the Creek Nation.’
The build up led to a battle between the U.S. Army and the Snakes when a deputy marshal attempted to arrest the Snake leaders, which resulted in the death of a U.S. officer.
Harjo would eventually be arrested with 96 others on charges of conspiracy.
Two days later, Porter issued a notice to all Muscogee (Creek) citizens informing them of the authorized delegation and how ‘no recognition has been given to those who claim to have authority to put in force the old laws and treaties.’
‘He urged the tribe to “accept the inevitable,” ’ when it came to enrollment and allotment.
The inevitable did occur and the Dawes Rolls ink dried on March 4, 1907.