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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 12, No. 2
June, 1934
A CENTURY OF PROHIBITION

By Grant Foreman

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Choctaw Indians many years ago said that Neal Dow the Maine apostle of temperance was yet a boy when the first "council fire against whisky was kindled" by them.

No class of people in this country had more reason to understand and dread the evils of intemperance than the American Indians. Particularly susceptible, they were from an early day the victims of white exploiters armed with this most potent weapon of spoliation. The government in the administration of what passed for an Indian policy, enacted laws intended to protect the Indians from its devastating influence. As far back as 1802 in what was called the Indian intercourse act the president was empowered in his discretion to prevent tthe sale of liquor to the Indians. Twenty years later congress strengthened his hands slightly by the grant of power to search the stocks of traders in the Indian country for ardent spirits. In 1834 after the enactment of Jackson's famous Indian Removal bill and the emigration of the Indians from the southern states was under way, a measure was enacted declaring a vast domain west of the Mississippi River to be "Indian Country." This measure revised and superceded the intercourse act and stringent laws with severe penalties were enacted to prevent the introduction and manufacture of liquor in the region. Under the supposed protection of this act most of the Indians arrived in the West at the end of the tragic forced migration from their ancestral homes in the southern states.

But while outlawing whisky in the Indian country when introduced by others, the government reserved to itself the use of it in negotiations with the Indians. For the employment of liquor equally with bribery of the responsible members of the tribes became part of governmental policy in dealing with the Indians east of the Mississippi River. Hand in hand these two agencies for influencing reluctant Indians were employed by representatives of the government delegated to negotiate "treaties" with the Red Man. Though dignified by the name, the hundreds of so-called "treaties" between the United States government and the Indian tribes were in nearly all instances documents by which the Indians were wheedled out of parts of their lands; few that did not contain cession of their tribal domain.

To the more intelligent Indians, treaties with the government

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came to have the sinister significance of territorial divestiture and to be associated with whisky and bribery, gatherings at which the Indians were gorged with meat and the smartest and most influential of them were treated freely to liquor and in return for signing the desired papers, returned home with money in their pockets.

As part of the plan of the white people engaged in driving the Indians from their homes, vendors were permitted to go about the Indian country without let or hindrance selling whisky to the inhabitants to hasten their ruin and break down their morale and resistance to removal. On the sad journey to the West shameless white men all along the route dogged the footsteps of the unhappy. Indians selling them whisky as long as they had a penny left or a horse, gun or blanket to trade for it. The appalling death rate of between fifteen and twenty thousand Indians during the removal and the first two or three years after their arrival in the West was due in no small degree to the curse of the white man's liquor.

Immediately on the arrival of the immigrant Indians in the present Oklahoma, whisky sellers by the hundreds set up their shops on the borders of Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. Others more venturesome brought the contraband into the country by land and up the Arkansas River. The introduction of whisky by water grew to such proportions that an army post was established on the river bank about ten miles west of the Arkansas line. Here at Fort Coffee a company of the Seventh Infantry was stationed to intercept boats ascending the river. All boat captains were warned to stop here for inspection of their cargoes under threat of having their boats fired into by a cannon mounted in the fort if they failed. Fifty-two steamboats stopped for examination in a sixty-day period during the summer of 1835. Not far north of the Arkansas River was a road of evil repute running from Fort Smith to the interior of the Cherokee and Creek nations called the "Whisky Road" testifying to the boldness and success of those who scorned the risk of detection.

The immigrant Indians who came from the southern states to live in the present Oklahoma are called the Five Civilized Tribes. Not the least of their claims to that name is the fact that many years ago they began to observe the harm to their people produced by the introduction and use of whisky and took measures

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to combat it. No white people ever had such cause to fear it from observing its devastating results.

In 1801 the chiefs of the Choctaw nation were induced to meet commissioners of the United States and agree upon a treaty yielding part of their domain, accept new boundaries, and grant a roadway through their territory to the Mississippi River. Indignant at what they saw there the proud chiefs addressing the commissioners said: "We came here sober; we wish to go away so; we, therefore, request that the strong drink, which we understand our brothers have brought here, may not be distributed."

In the subsequent treaty of 1820 where a further divestiture of their tribal domain was achieved by Andrew Jackson and another United States commissioner, the Choctaw representatives had a provision incorporated that an agent should be appointed to live in their Nation vested with power to seize and confiscate all the whisky that might be brought into their country; that introduced by the agent or the three principal chiefs was excepted, as the provision was intended "to promote sobriety among all classes of the red people in the nation, but particularly the poor."

The people in the Five Civilized Tribes like the whites were of all classes ranging from the aristocrat who farmed with several hundred slaves to the poorest and least intelligent who belonged to what were called in the tribes "common people." There were the thrifty and improvident, the temperate and intemperate. After the arrival of the immigrant Indians in the West impoverished, broken-spirited, and embittered at their enforced removal from the homes they loved, a large part of them were easy prey to the unscrupulous whites along the border of Indian Territory who sold them whisky in exchange for their meager substance. The removal of the Choctaw Indians was substantially completed by 1833 and for the next few years sickness and whisky took a sad toll of life and stamina. The intelligent leaders of the tribe rallied round the indomitable missionaries who accompanied them west and organized temperance societies to which there were many adherents among the Indians. Laws were adopted by the Indians in council to prevent the introduction and sale of whisky in their country; and in 1849 a petition was circulated and signed by many people praying the Texas legislature to prevent the sale of whisky by citizens of that state to members of the Choctaw tribe.

Creek removal was accomplished principally through the winter of 1836-37 and was a more tragic undertaking than that of the

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Choctaw Indians. Thousands of them died along the way and the white whisky sellers completed the demoralization of most of the survivors who gave themselves up to drunkenness and debauchery. However, as soon as the leaders of the tribe got their government to functioning again, encouraged by the missionaries they began enacting measures to prevent the introduction of liquor with some measure of success.

But it was in the Cherokee Nation that the temperance movement took form in its most interesting and spectacular aspect. The most of this tribe was removed through the autumn and winter of 1838 overland through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas, to their new home in the Indian Territory. About four thousand of them died on the way and the survivors were so impressed by the dreadful effects produced by the sellers of whisky deliberately conceived by the whites to force them from their old home, and by those along their unhappy route, called by them "The Trail of Tears", that they had scarcely begun to erect new homes in the strange country to which they had been forced, when they called temperance meetings to formulate plans for the suppression of the introduction and sale of liquor in their new country.

In April, 1839, the month of the arrival of the last of the emigrants, meetings were held at the homes of Rev. Jesse Bushyhead and W. A. Adair, near the Arkansas line, and resolutions were signed by one hundred Cherokees at one and sixty-two at the other, declaring that all whisky introduced in the Nation should be seized and destroyed; if the person so introducing it were a Cherokee citizen he should be punished, and if a white man he should be reported to the commanding officer of the nearest military post. The Cherokees present organized a company of lighthorse consisting of a captain, lieutenant and twenty men to carry their resolutions into effect, and the signers bound themselves to render all assistance in their power. But their neighbors saw something sinister in the plans for curtailing their sales of liquor and carried tales to the commanding officer at Fort Gibson that the Indians were inciting reprisals against the forces that removed them from their old homes in Georgia.

The Cherokee people reestablished their government, adopted a constitution and code of laws in the autumn of 1839 and returned to an era of government by laws enacted by their legislative body, construed by their courts and administered by their chief and other constitutional officers. The Cherokee Temperance So-

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ciety had been organized in 1836 among the few thousand Cherokee Indians already living in the West and by 1843 the combined factions of the tribe contributed a total of over two thousand members to this temperance organization. This society held annual meetings where the evil effects of the use of liquor were impressed upon all who would listen, and in that year more than 400 additional names were added to the rolls.

So influential had the temperance movement become at this time that the Cherokee National council on October 25, 1841 enacted stringent laws against the introduction and sale of liquor in the Cherokee country. These laws were printed and circulated all over the Cherokee Nation for the information of all; and remained on the statutes of the Cherokee Nation as long as it existed. An important Indian council in the summer of 1843 at Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, was attended by representatives of eighteen western tribes of Indians. Hundreds of Indians were in attendance and the Cherokee sheriff of the district seized and destroyed over 1700 gallons of whisky brought to the neighborhood in barrels, jugs and bottles for sale to the people gathered there.

Besides the annual meetings of the national temperance society, auxilliary societies were organized in different parts of the Nation so that all the people of the tribe were under the influence of the movement. Stirring meetings were held and speeches were made in English and Cherokee. Those gathered at these meetings sang "Stalks Abroad a Direful Foe," "The Penitent Rum Drinker," and "The Drunkard's Dying Wife"; "The Drunkard's Wife," was sung to the tune of "Ingleside." And the children sang "Come and Join the Temp'rance Army," and "Away with Melancholy, nor doleful Changes Ring." And the people were then invited to come forward and sign the pledge. And they did sign. Surely these were earnest people to have been moved by such songs.

Cherokees came to these meeting from many miles around; they crowded the little log church or school house for hours listening to the programs while hundreds unable to gain admittance stood around the building. Dr. Elizur Butler, the missionary who shared Dr. Worcester's martyrdom in the Georgia penitentiary for his devotion to the Cherokees, fascinated the people with exhibitions of "Dr. Sewell's plates" which contained pictures of the stomach of a "beastly drunkard" to compare with

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the normal organ of a man who did not drink. "This is a new source of information to our people respecting deleterious effects of intoxicating drink and one I think well calculated to make a deep impression on the mind," said an intelligent Cherokee. The good doctor traveled all over the Cherokee Nation showing and explaining his plates to everybody who would look and listen. Leaving with one group or household his lesson of temperance, he would pass on to impress others.

The temperance movement grew until it transcended in interest all other subjects of general concern in the Cherokee Nation. A Young Men's Temperance Society was organized with several hundred recruits and to make a particular appeal to the youth of the Nation a society called The Cold Water Army was formed in which many children were enrolled. They met annually in November at their National capital where they would "form a march of allegience" around the capital square, carrying banners and singing temperance songs written and set to music by the Rev. Samuel A. Worcester, the Presbyterian missionary who also printed temperance tracts on his press at Park Hill.

With great good sense William P. Ross, secretary of the Cherokee Temperance Society, and nephew of the chief, John Ross, stressed the significance of the organization and education of the children under the banner of temperance: "Commencing thus early in life, to march along the path of temperance, these youthful soldiers, now the beauty and hope of our country, and hereafter to become its mothers, fathers, laborers, law-givers, and guides, must exercise an immense influence, and perhaps are those destined to consummate the great cause in which they have enlisted."

Rev. Mr. Worcester traveled all over the Cherokee Nation carrying in his wagon a little melodeon or "seraphine" and his daughter who played accompaniments wherever people congregated, for the singing of her father's temperance songs; in log churches, or school houses, or homes, under brush arbors, under the shade of forest trees, or in the open on the bank of a stream or beside a cooling spring, Mr. Worcester taught the people to sing temperance songs and preached to them on the evils of intemperance. The Cherokee Advocate, the national newspaper, printed half in English and half in the Cherokee characters invented by the great Cherokee, Sequoyah, was an ardent supporter and aided tremendously in spreading the gospel of temperance.

During this period of intense concern in this vital subject

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the agent of the Cherokee people was the gallant Pierce M. Butler, former governor of South Carolina, who departed from the Cherokee country to command the Palmetto Regiment and lay down his life at the Battle of Churubusco, Mexico, in 1847. Upon the termination of his service as Cherokee Indian agent he made a final report which contains some interesting observations on the working of the temperance movement among the Indians:

"Temperance has been a God-send to the Cherokee nation. Its progress has been marked by a successful suppression of vice, and a happy subjugation of the turbulent and depraved passions. The number of members is, as will be seen, about 2,700—a larger proportion of the whole people than can be found in any other of equal extent of population. Private associations among themselves of a similar character, produce a like effect, working, perhaps, a more lasting and permanent reformation, from the fact that they pride themselves on their undeviating adherance to a promise, and their fidelity to this pledge. The saving influence of this society shows itself not only in the voluntary abstinence from the use of spirits, but also in their manifest demonstration of an intention to prevent its importation into their country."

And there is something strangely familiar and prophetic in the following wise monitory words of Agent Butler: "From my observation and acquaintance with the Indian Tribes, I am decidedly of opinion that all restrictive laws or arbitrary action by superior power is productive of evil consequences . . . The effect of the present law is to introduce by stealth, liquors of a bad quality, and at exhorbitant prices, whilst the consumption is induced by frolics in a spirit and temper in proporton to the efforts to restrain the inclination."

Interest in the temperance movement was not sporadic. The meetings were kept up year after year until the country was devastated by the Civil War. "That last meeting before the Civil War put a stop to all such things was on July 4, 1860, after the death of its founder" said his daughter, Mrs. Hannah Hitchcock. "On that day 125 children marched in line around the public square at Tahlequah. Every child carried a little banner with a printed device; the girls' banners white, the boys' pink, besides the twenty-foot streamer at the head of the line with "Cold Water Army" in large letters painted on it and many other banners of different devices and mottoes. The years had passed until I was no longer a child; two of my children marched in that company,

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and a third one, too small to keep up, was carried by her father alongside."

Then came that dark hiatus, that war in which the Indians had no concern and tried to remain neutral; when they were forced to take sides and flee to the north and south leaving their homes and flocks to be looted and burned by the bushwhacker. Then after the years when with faltering efforts they attempted to reconstruct their homes and governments, temperance again became a vital subject with the Indians.

The introduction of railroads and the influx of white people and the building of towns in the Indian country brought fresh inroads of whisky to demoralize the Indians and perplex their lawmakers. For a time Federal courts in the adjoining states exercised jurisdiction over the Indian Territory and attempted to stem the illicit tide of liquor. The government took from the Five Civilized Tribes the western half of their domain for the settlement of prairie Indians and later opened this area to white settlement and made of it Oklahoma Territory. The Indian Territory then remained an Indian country into which the law forbade the introduction of liquor, legal in all the adjoining territory and states. The Indians published their laws against the introduction and vending of whisky and endeavored consistently if unsuccessfully to enforce them.

Federal courts were then set up in the Indian Territory and the fight against the introduction of liquor continued. An army of United States marshals boarded passenger trains entering the Territory from Kansas, Arkansas and Texas, prodded under the seats of the passengers for suspicious packages; suit cases were lifted and shaken for the clink of glass or the gurgle of whisky in the bottle. Suspicious trunks garnered from baggage room and express office were brought to court houses and opened; and where thousands of bottles were smashed the earth and the sides of brick buildings for years were bathed in illicit liquor. "Drug stores" sprang up over the land where liquors were retailed. The United States courts appointed scores of commissioners who held inferior courts in which thousands of liquor cases were heard. When they made it too hard to bring whisky into the country "Chill Tonics", "Peruna," "Bitters", "lemon extract" and other substitutes had an extensive vogue.

The inroads of whites and the resulting problems of government resulted in a movement to induce the Indians to relinquish

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communal holdings of their tribal domain, and agree to the allotment of their lands in severalty. When that was accomplished the next step was to make a state out of this Indian country, which had been in contemplation for many years, much against the wishes of the Indians and in violation of the promises incorporated in their treaties. Congress provided for this in an act that permitted the admission to the Union of a new state to be formed of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory combined, with a number of conditions, including a provision that the constitution should prohibit for twenty-one years the introduction of liquor into the new state. In compliance therewith the constitution upon which the State of Oklahoma was admitted in 1907 contains an article prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors for twenty-one years and thereafter until the people of the State shall amend the constitution. Besides this protection, stringent federal laws still forbade the introduction and sale of such liquors in the eastern half of the State of Oklahoma that was formerly the Indian Territory. This area remained until today practically all that is left of that vast western "Indian Country" created and impressed in 1834 with prohibitory laws relating to liquor.

Repercussions of the recent repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment are evidenced by the measure lately enacted by Congress and signed by President Roosevelt repealing the federal laws on the subject as they apply specially to Oklahoma. And now after a century of federal prohibition a petition is being circulated in the state to secure the necessary signatures for initiating a vote to repeal the prohibition section of the Oklahoma constitution, with a good prospect for its success.

When this measure shall have been effected the eastern half of Oklahoma will lose the last of the legal and political distinctions that for a century have set the region apart from the remainder of the country. And for the first time in one hundred years and thenceforth such protection against the liquor traffic as 150,000 Indians may enjoy, will rest entirely on local sentiment of more than two million white fellow citizens of the state and general laws enacted by Congress.

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