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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 3
September, 1933
THE CREEK INDIAN COUNCIL IN SESSION

By ALICE M. ROBERTSON.

Page 895

Although the Capitol of the Creek Nation was established at Okmulgee in the year 1868, I had never been there when the Council was in session in the log Council House. In 1878 I was in Indian Territory on leave of absence from the Indian Department in Washington, where at that time I was employed as a clerk, and was visiting my parents at Tullahassee Mission when I had an opportunity to see the council in session.

Early one beautiful October morning my father and I left Tullahassee with the hack and a pair of Indian ponies,—in the vernacular of that time a hack was a strong, light spring wagon without cover. We crossed the Arkansas River at Henry Texas' ferry, superceded in recent years by what is known as Spaulding Bridge. The drive was one of great charm. We did not mind the open vehicle and our ponies made six miles an hour.

The tall prairie grass waved its russet sprays above golden rod and white and purple asters. At noon we stopped for dinner and to feed our ponies on Cane Creek, where Isaac Smith an enterprising Creek Freedman had built a cluster of log cabins which were the rooms of his hotel. He catered only to white and Indian travelers and patrons usually had a whole cabin to themselves. The cabins were fairly clean though sometimes the small pests, colloquially known as "chinches", were annoying. Father and I spread blankets on the grass out under the trees, and while our noon day meal was prepared we indulged in a siesta in the warm October sunshine. Isaac's was notable for fried chicken with cream gravy, butter milk biscuits, fresh butter, preserves and of course plenty of coffee. After the ponies had finished their eight ears of corn apiece and all the hay they could eat, a negro boy harnessed them up again, we paid two bits each for our dinner and two bits each for the ponies' dinner and went happily on our way, leaving Cane Creek bottom and driving west across the big prairie.

The first evidence that we were coming to Okmulgee as the sun began to drop toward the horizon, was the sight of Severs' pasture. This pasture was three miles square, with a split rail

Page 896

fence, nine rails high. In trading with the Indians Fred B. Severs bought small bunches of their surplus stock for which they took exchange in "store goods." These cattle then had the Severs' brand placed upon them and were turned into the pasture until a sufficiently large herd was ready for market. We forded Okmulgee Creek and went up the road past camps and camp houses to, Smiths' Hotel. This was another colored Smith, who was not a Creek freedman but a States' negro with a Creek freedman wife.

Smiths' Hotel was a rather large frame building a block from the Council house. A front room upstairs was assigned to me. It looked out on an upper porch and its windows were curtainless. Its furnishings comprised a low springless bedstead with a feather bed and pillows, one sheet, and a clean patchwork quilt; no mirror, no chair nor wash basin. Guests of the hotel were expected to perform their ablutions on the front porch, below, where there was a long shelf with buckets of water, gourd dippers, tin wash basins with one roller towel. I had prepared for such an emergency with a plentiful supply of soap and towels, so neither father nor I had to patronize the roller towel and I borrowed a basin so I got along very well. Out in front of the hotel, swinging from its iron frame on a high post was an iron plantation bell. A vigorous pulling of the attached rope was the signal to the town that it was meal time.

Meals at Smiths' Hotel were two bits but there were boarding places at which meals could be had for fifteen and twenty cents and not bad meals either. Each breakfast and supper at Smiths' was a replica of the others, everything that could be fried was fried, bacon, eggs, ham, potatoes, corn, etc. At dinner most foods were boiled but there was often barbecued pork or beef, and chicken appeared with dumplings and gravy. For anyone who asked there were Indian dishes, sofkey, tuklike, tooksey, ahpuskey etc. There was always coffee to drink and water if you asked for it, but it was customary to patronize the dippers in the water buckets on the front porch after each meal.

At early candlelight the Council House bell rang and in the dimly lighted hall I went with my father up the steps of the new Council House, recently completed, and used for the first time at this meeting of the Council. Hymns in their own language were

Page 897

being sung as a congregation gathered in the Hall of the lower house of the Warriors, The "Tustenukkulkee". Men, women and children drifted in during the singing, then a man began to pray and everybody knelt down. The service was entirely in Creek, and the Preacher was the President of the House of Kings, The "Mekkulkee", always addressed as Liketuh Ohliketuh". The Reverend James McHenry, a notably outstanding character, was the son of a Scotch father and Indian mother. During the bloody Creek war which led to the conquering of the Creek people and their exile to Indian Territory, McHenry was a fearless fighter. He foiled all attempts to entrap him and even a standing reward of $1500.00 for him, dead or alive, failed to bring results. Finally taken however he was carried with his exiled brethren to Indian Territory where he began a new life. He was converted and went into the Methodist Church and was duly licensed and ordained as a minister. He had received a rudimentary education in English. No longer an outlaw, he was a leader of his people, a zealous Christian soldier. The service he conducted was not long, for the village kept early hours.

At six the next morning when Smiths' bell told that breakfast was ready, I got up and joined my father downstairs in time for bacon and eggs, hot biscuit, fried chicken and all the rest. Then we walked around awhile exchanging greetings with our Indian friends. At a quarter of nine the Council House bell rang. We had gone a little earlier to pay our respects to the Principal Chief, the "Mekko Hlakko", in the executive office. Ward Coachman was a man of much ability who was born in the "Old Nation" in Alabama and educated there before following his people West. He was a member of the Alabama Creeks and spoke English, Creek and Alabaman with equal fluence and our interview was a pleasant one. From the executive office we went across the hall to the office of the committee on schools where father placed on file his reports of Tullahassee Mission and left his books for financial audit and approval that the treasurer might issue a warrant for funds. The Contract under which Tullahassee was operated provided a division of expense between the Mission Board and the Creek Nation.

Then we went upstairs to the House of Kings. The "Light Horse" who acted as doorkeeper admitted us and gave us seats

Page 898

to the left of the dais, on which was the desk of Mekko McHenry. We watched the routine business of the morning hour. Then Mekko McHenry with great dignity and eloquence of voice and gesture made a personal address which brought a smile of gratification to father's face and embarrassed blushes to mine. With the musical style of Creek oratory he was describing to the Mekkulkee the good works of the Robertson family and their accomplishments for the welfare of the Creek people. The young woman present with her father, he said, was a great friend to the Muskogee people In Washington where she worked for Wuhins Mokko, the Government, and had done many things helping them. Especially he enlarged upon the recent contest among themselves in the election for chief where the papers seemed to have been laid aside and forgotten.

All the public life was at a standstill. Their treasury was empty, their Courts and schools were without funds; even the community blacksmiths had no funds till there should be legal recognition of their government and officials through whom the funds should be paid. Though as they saw she was just a girl, she had interceded, and had been allowed, upon examination of their papers, to write a report which had been adopted, the rightful government had been recognized, and peace came to their people. Then his gavel called all to their feet and as father and daughter stood he led the stately stepping band of Indian Kings through their ceremony of presentation and hand shaking, all returning to their places and remaining standing until the fall of the gavel permitted them to be seated. This was an honor never bestowed upon a woman before.

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