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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 4
December, 1933

By Charles Francis Meserve.1

Page 1040

I am unwilling for this session of the Conference to close without attempting to remove, at least in part, any unfavorable impression made upon your minds by this morning's discussion of the allotment of lands in severalty.

It was my good fortune to be present when the land was being allotted on Chepenne and Arapahoe reservation in Oklahoma territory and I have made a study of this question in that part of the reservation known as the Seger Colony, having visited that Colony at least once a year to observe the operations of the law. As a rule, the land allotted to the Indians lay in the bottom lands of the North and South Canadian and Washita rivers and was considered at the time, the most fertile land on the reservation. The remaining lands were sold to the whites and the Indians have had the example of thrifty white settlers all around them. There was, however, a mistake made at the time in supposing that the uplands were not fertile. The rivers seem to act as sewers in conducting off the waters occasioned by the rainfalls while the uplands retain it. Nearly every year since the land was allotted, the crops have been good and this year the wheat crop was heavier on the uplands than it was on the bottom lands. Oklahoma, during the wheat harvest in June was a land flowing with milk and honey for there were indications everywhere of plenty and prosperity.

Page 1041

With the money realized from this year's crop, many of the Indians have been enabled to remove from a dug out or sod house into a frame house and some are now riding in surreys instead of Studebaker farm wagons. More than 70% of the 200 Indians in this Colony are living on their allotments and nearly all of their houses have been built since 1888. It was my pleasure to travel extensively over the reservation in company with Mr. J. H. Seger, the founder of the Colony and the present superintendent of the Seger School. Much of the success of the allotment of lands in severalty among the Indians of the Seger Colony has been due to his very wise, practical and judicious management. I have studied him and his work for a number of years and I have convinced myself that he is the wisest worker among the reservation Indians in the entire country and has done more towards solving the real problems of the Indians and in adjusting him to his new environments than any man living. In this Colony, there were Indians who raised this year, considerable wheat and other grain and also much cotton. I do not wish to convey to you the impression that these Seger Colony Indians are hungering and thirsting for an opportunity to labor—far from it. But I do wish you to understand that they have made progress in the last ten or fifteen years and it is my opinion, formed from observation and approval by Mr. Seger, that if the Government rations and other aid now granted were withdrawn, they would become independent and self-supporting.

That they are making real progress is evidenced by their desire to have their children attend school and by adopting the ways and customs of civilized life. They are not only anxious to have their children attend day school but also the Sunday School. The Mission Church near the Seger School is made up largely of Indian members. They have materially altered their ideas concerning the medicine men as well as their burial rites and customs. The white physician is summoned and medicine taken and his instructions carried out so far as possible. There are Christian services at the burial of the dead and a cemetery has been established near the church and school. In some instances, these Indians have erected head-stones over the graves of their loved ones.

Since most of the denominational schools have been and the task of educating Indian youth taken over by the Govern-

Page 1042

ment, there should be near every school, a Mission or Church, to look after the spiritual needs of the Indians. There is danger when the head and hand are trained that the culture of the heart will be neglected.

I was deeply touched in visiting the little cemetery near the Seger Colony Mission. In a little salt box standing on the top of a child's grave, was a pewter cup, a drinking cup, spoons and an assortment of bottles, some empty and others partly filled with medicine. In mute eloquence they told how loving hands had done everything in their power to save the life of the one "called home."

Perhaps the best way I may show you how education and the allotment of lands in severalty are solving the Indian problem will be by taking you along with me on a visit to the home of James Inkanish, a Caddo Indian, 27 years of age. James was a student for six years at Haskell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas and during these years, he obtained a good English education and also became a very good carpenter. He lives six miles south of Seger School. His wife was Mary Littlebear, a reservation Indian girl who had never had the advantages of an education at a non-reservation boarding school. They had a two room house with walls and ceiling, sheathed. The house was 14 by 28 feet. With my wife and Mr. and Mrs. Roe, I visited the missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church at the Colony. As we approached the house, Mary saw us coming and at once turned away from the door and went and washed her hands and face and came out and 22 acres of Indian corn, 29 acres Kaffir corn and also cane and millet. His stock consisted of two milk cows and calves, five hogs, shook hands with us. James was hoeing in the garden. He had six pigs and a lot of chickens. He had also dug a well for water and rode in a surrey. His wife makes butter once a week. James talks good English, is thrifty and industrious but had no time to talk politics. He was married about two years ago and after the white man's fashion. When we called, Mary wanted to remain out in the kitchen because, as she said, she did not look clean enough to see company. We persuaded her to the contrary. Mary is about 25 years of age and uses good English. The room was adorned with pictures and a map of Cuba hung upon the wall. In addition to his other labor, James cuts and hauls wood at $4.00

Page 1043

a cord and at the time of my visit had about 20 or 30 cords cut and seasoned and was to haul it in July after the rush of the harvest was over. His home was better than was that of some of the white settlers. Curling irons, comb and brush were in evidence in the modest home of this Indian and his young wife. Mary had a sewing machine, the money to pay for which was earned by her. The house displayed a commendable neatness and the flies were routed by a fly poison which Mary had manufactured by soaking the coffee bean in milk and our advices were that the poison was sure to kill the pests. In the yard was a tepee in which they slept nights in the summer time. An outside cave kept the butter and milk cool. Mary used an oil cloth on the table which was provided with a butter dish, sugar bowl, pepper and salt shakers, a syrup cup and spoon holder. Near the house a line of washed clothes were drying in the wind. And the baby, well it was neat and clean. It might be mentioned in passing that the complement of dogs which every Indian habitation always has, did not bark. I presume that they too were civilized. James informs me that wild cats sometimes kill his hogs. Alice, a sister of James, rode with us in the carriage and we drove past a home and 160 acres of land which belonged to her. She has this tract rented to a white man who is putting it in good shape for her.

At the Seger School, another school building was in the course of erection and Grasshopper, a Cheyenne Indian whose English name was Ed Harry, and Scabby, another Cheyenne, Little Chief, Onohoe and Hartley Richbear, Arapahoes, were quarrying stone and tending mason, receiving as wages $1.25 a day. Mr. Seger insisting that the value of their services was depreciated only by their inability to understand the English.

The enactment of the "Land in Severalty" Act, if wisely administered as in the Seger Colony, is anything but a failure.

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