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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 3
September, 1926
THE KEETOOWAH SOCIETY

James W. Duncan

Page 251

WHAT IT HAS DONE, AND IS DOING, FOR THE CHEROKEE PEOPLE

Its objects and aims are often misunderstood, even by many Cherokees.

James W. Duncan, many years its English Secretary, talks interestingly of its History and Purposes.

Tells also of the night-hawk Keetoowahs. How formerly the one Society split in two, and after many years of estrangement, got back practically, together.

When asked by your correspondent about the workings in the past and the future aims of the Society, Mr. Duncan said:

—EDITOR.

"Keetoowah is a Cherokee word meaning ‘Key’. The Society was organized years before the civil war and was originally composed entirely of fullbloods, but for the last twenty or thirty years a few halfbreeds have belonged to it. In its early years of existence it was a strictly secret organization, but more than half a century of years time has changed it in many particulars. It was originally a semi-political party composed largely of the old Cherokee National Party as opposed to the Downing, but to-day it is non-political, and has so declared itself, and it invited into its membership Cherokees of either of the old political parties and whether Democrat or Republican.

"The original object of the Society was to maintain and assert the rights of all the Cherokee people or the Cherokee Nation under the laws and treaties with the government of the United States, and in fact that principle has been fundamental and carried out all along down the years since its organization, and to-day it is still asserting these rights. Some of these rights are property, some political. Not political in the sense of Democratic or Republican, understand, as I stated above it is non-political in this sense, but political in the matter of its citizenship and business relations with, both the United States Government and the State of Oklahoma.

"As to property rights, perhaps of more importance to the Cherokees than political, many do not know and realize that the Society has, in a number of instances, ‘saved the day’

Page 252

with the nation. The Society in behalf of the whole Cherokee nation, has as the lawyers say, filed its exceptions in law. As examples of this, back in 1896, when the government was about to make and pay what was called the Clifton Roll of 1700 freedmen a part of the Cherokee Strip money amounting to about half a million dollars, the Society convened in extra session and entered a strong protest in writing, setting up their reasons why these freedmen should not be paid this money. Copies of this protest were filed, and are of record to-day, with the Indian Offices, both at Muskogee and Washington. The government, though, proceeded and paid them, but afterward decided they were not entitled to it and took them off the roll. Thus the Society ‘filing its exceptions’ in behalf of the whole people, laid its foundation for a suit in law, for the recovery of this money. The same was done in 1902, when the government was about to begin filing Freedmen on Cherokee lands. These protests or ‘exceptions’ were filed on a number of other occasions when the government was about to pay freedmen Cherokee money which the Society claimed was not due them and when it began allotting lands to Freedmen."

THE 1910 EMIGRANT PAYMENT

"Many Cherokees are not aware of the fact that the Keetoowah Society is the body that collected that money, that is, it let the contract on behalf of the Cherokee people for its collection. The plan was the conception of Mr. Frank J. Boudinot, its present attorney and representative in Washington. The Society, composed, as we called them then, of Head Captains and District Captains, was called in convention at Moody’s in Jan. 1900. When convened it called itself the Cherokee Emigrant Council and appointed a committee of five to let a contract for the collection of the money. This committee, headed by Dave Muskrat, its head Captain and other members of the committee, with Mr. Boudinot as its advisor and attorney, went to Honorable Robert L. Owen and gave him the contract under which the money was actually collected. This money perhaps would not have been paid out to this day, had it not been for Mr. Boudinot’s plan, work, persistence, perseverance and legal talent.

Page 253

"The United States Court of Claims rendered its decree in this case May 28, 1905, and the money was paid in 1910, and the Cherokee people to-day owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Boudinot and the Society, and especially to Mr. Boudinot, for the collection of that old claim of four million dollars of seventy-five years’ standing. It arose under the treaty of 1835, under which the Cherokees moved west. Every Cherokee who participated in that payment, to the remotest corners of the nation, should always be Boudinot’s friend for this one gigantic act, for it was such an act in every sense of the word. Mr. Owen also deserves unstinted praise for his splendid work and attainments in this case, but not so much as Mr. Boudinot."

THE QUESTION OF A CHIEF OF THE CHEROKEES

"Let me say a few words on this point. There is much that might be said but I’ll be brief.

"The old Keetoowah Society split in two over the treaty of 1902 under which the Cherokee Nation was allotted. I will tell in my next article just why they split and what over. It should be of interest to every Cherokee to know it. After this split, part of them took the name ‘Nighthawks.’

"There was an estrangement and not quite a friendly feeling, between the two factions until recently, a little more than a year ago, when they got together, or rather while they are still two separate organizations, they are working together in harmony as one. Also, what is known as the Eastern and Western Cherokee council and the Tulsa contingent, or the Cherokee Executive Committee, the four organizations, the latter composed largely of halfbreed Cherokees, are all working together as one, under the name of the Cherokee Executive Council. Something more than a year ago, these four organizations all wanting to get together and work as one body, agreed to elect a ‘Chief’ as their one head. The Nighthawks named, or nominated, Levi B. Gritts of the Keetoowah Society. (I might say, by way of parenthesis, that the Keetoowahs got incorporated in 1905, under the laws of Oklahoma). The Cherokee Executive Committee seconded Gritts’ nomination and he was elected by vote of all four Societies, in joint convention assembled at Tahlequah. Hence he is acting as such

Page 254

‘Chief’ now and is acceptable to all of these organizations. He might as well have been called President of the associated societies but the Nighthawks just called him ‘Chief.’ But recently somebody, I know not who nor why, suggested the appointment by the government of Mr. Ed. Frye, as chief. Then somebody objected to Mr. Frye and proposed the name of Dr. Bushyhead. It seemed like somebody, I suppose outside of these Societies, did not want Mr. Gritts and there was objection to Mr. Frye and probably would be to Dr. Bushyhead, although any one of these three Cherokees by blood and in sentiment as well, are eminently capable and qualified, there is no reason nor necessity for the government to appoint any one chief. Mr. Gritts was elected by these four societies to act as such for them, and the societies have never asked the government to appoint him, nor anyone else, nor do they propose to ask it. In fact these societies might demur to the government’s right and authority, to appoint one. Of course the government might assume the power, but these societies, representing as they do, practically the whole Cherokee people might fail, to see just wherein the ‘right’ and ‘authority’ would maintain since the Cherokees are no longer ‘wards’ of the government, but have long since been declared citizens, both of the United States and of the State of Oklahoma.

"These Societies are business organizations united under the name of the Cherokee Executive Council for the purpose of transacting the business of the Cherokee Nation."

J. W. DUNCAN

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