Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 16, No. 4
CHIEF SAMUEL CHECOTE, WITH SKETCHES OF CHIEFS LOCHER HARJO AND WARD COACHMAN.
John Bartlett Meserve.
Roley McIntosh concluded his interesting career of thirty-eight years as chieftain of the Lower Creeks in 1859 and was succeeded
by Moty Cannard. The next few years were blurred chapters in the political life of the Creeks. There was little semblance
of organized government in the Creek Nation during the perilous years of the Civil War, occasioned largely by the internecine
strife among the Indians which that conflict provoked. The Creeks became divided in their allegiance and the breaches so created
were to linger through the years. A gesture toward reuniting the Upper and Lower Creek factions was made in 1860 by the adoption
of a written constitution but the intervention of the war postponed its accomplishment. Out of the reconstruction efforts
of the tribe came the adoption of a formal written constitution at Deep Fork, on October 12, 1867. Samuel Checote was chosen
as the first elected chieftain of the Creek Nation and to him was committed the task of composing the discordant elements.
Samuel Checote, born in the Chattahoochee valley in Alabama in 1819, came with his parents to the old Indian Territory in
1829. He was a full blood Creek Indian, of the Lower Creek or McIntosh faction. His parents settled west of Okmulgee but passed
away within a few years after their removal. At the age of nine years, he was sent to the Asbury Manual Labor School near
Ft. Mitchel, Alabama, and after the removal, he attended Harrell's academy at Muskogee. Early in life, he became a member
of the Methodist Church and later entered the ministry of that denomination. He is a concrete evidence of how completely the
missionary altered the life of the American Indian. The Lower Creek Council manifested a hostility toward the
missionaries in 1835, by ordering them out of the country. The places of worship were closed save where supplied by native
ministers, but within the next few years these self-sacrificing Christian mentors began to return to the Creek country and
resume their labors among the Indians. The Council again in 1844 expressed itself by prohibiting the native ministers from
preaching the Christian religion, under a penalty of fifty lashes, and, as a consequence, several were whipped under the provisions
of this law. Samuel Checote, who had done some preaching at that time, with other tribal members so engaged, fled from the
Creek country to escape persecution. The young minister appealed directly in person, to Chief Roley McIntosh for an abatement
of the persecution and as a result, through his efforts, all further attempts to interfere with the teaching of the Gospel
were abandoned, by orders of the chief. The ministerial activities of Samuel Checote date back to October 28, 1852, and continued
intermittently until his death, save as suspended during his service in the Civil War and during his political career. His
religious endeavors became the absorbing interest of his life and his high religious character is reflected in his political
life. He was chosen as a delegate by the Methodist church to the Ecumenical Conference at London, in 1882, but illness prevented
Samuel Checote entered the Confederate service as captain of Company B of the First Regiment of Creek Mounted Volunteers,
on August 13, 1861, at the Creek agency.2 On August 19, 1861, he became Lieut. Colonel of this regiment which was attached to the division commanded by Col. D. N.
McIntosh. The army service of Col. Checote was of the highest and most efficient character and quite unlike many other enlisted
members of his tribe, he remained faithful to the cause of the Confederacy until the close of the war. The Civil War may be
termed an age of heroics in American history and the thoughtful student
will pause in homage to the stout hearts, both North and South who braved death in the courage of their convictions. Samuel
Checote, a Creek Indian of intelligence and fully capable of resolving his alignment during that struggle, evidenced his courage
in a most abiding manner.
The long enduring cleavage created by the tribal division into the Upper and Lower Creeks, was augmented by the line up of
its members during the Civil War. The Upper Creeks, composed mostly of full bloods were allied with the Union forces, while
the Lower Creeks or McIntosh faction went with the South. It was a highly disorganized Creek Nation which confronted Samuel
Checote when he assumed the reins of tribal government in 1867. This trouble was provoked largely by members of the hitherto
Upper Creek faction who were led by Oktars-sars-har-jo, whose adopted name was Sands. These Indians had served in the Union
army and were unwilling that there should be shown to any of their erstwhile foes any preference, even though that preference
was overwhelmingly expressed at a tribal popular election. An immediate difficulty grew out of the disbursement of a payment
of monies made by the Government to the tribe. Sands and his followers insisted that the fund be divided equally between the
Upper and Lower Creeks while the Checote administration made a per capita disbursement of the monies among the entire tribal
membership, ignoring the former tribal division. Sands became an unsuccessful candidate against Checote in the fall of 1871
and, stung by his defeat, led a force of some three hundred of his adherents upon the capital at Okmulgee, in October 1871,
and dissipated the Council, then in session. Gen. Pleasant Porter was placed in command of the lighthorsemen and with the
assistance of Federal agents composed the insurrection without any loss of life. Sands died in the following year and the
opposition to Chief Checote collapsed. The Chief was reelected in the fall of 1871.
Chief Checote was defeated in his candidacy for a third consecutive term on September 6, 1875 and Locher Harjo was elected.
The language of his concluding message to the Council
in October, 1875, after his defeat, reflects the high Christian statesmanship of the retiring chief, as he concludes,
"Before closing I must speak of the peaceful manner in which our late elections have been conducted—there were no disturbances
anywhere in the Nation—the campaign was not characterized by ill feeling nor illegitimate practices, but was dignified and
honorable to all parties. And the ready acquiescence of all to the decisions made at the polls, by the people, in a lawful
manner speaks in the very highest terms of the natural good qualities of the Creek people and indicates their capacity for
perfect self government and is an augury of most favorable import, of the high stand they will take as conservative and law
abiding and law loving citizens. . .thus the onward advancement of our government towards a more perfect system will be the
legitimate outgrowth of experience and not the fitful dreams of theorists who experiment upon the passions and feelings of
imaginary wants of a simple people."
His concluding words were those of a statesman. Upon his retirement from office, the chief again resumed his residence at
his farm home some six miles north of the old Nuyaka Mission and in what is today, Okmulgee County, Oklahoma.
Locher Harjo, the newly elected chief, was born in the Creek country in the East sometime during the first quarter of the
last century and came with his parents to the old Indian Territory with one of the numerous caravans during the removal period.
He lived at Newyorker town, southwest of Okmulgee, and served as a delegate from his tribe to the initial peace conference
at Ft. Smith on September 15, 1865. He was a Union soldier in the Civil War and was elected chief of the Creek Nation at the
fall election of 1875. The new chief was a full blood and spoke only the Creek language. Late in 1876 a delegation of some
ninety Sioux Indians came to the Indian Territory to investigate and reach conclusions upon the possible exchange of their
lands in the Dacotas for lands in the Territory. The contingent camped near Okmulgee late in November and upon invitation
of the chief visited the Creek National Council House where they were welcomed by Chief Harjo.
"My Brethren;—I am well pleased to see you here, in the Muskogee Nation, brethren of the same race as ourselves. I was told
a long time ago of my red brethren, the Sioux that were living in the far northwest. I have heard of your great men, great
in war and great in council. I have heard of your troubles on account of the intrusion of white men on your reservation in
search of gold. I have heard that the United States government had determined to remove you from your lands to the Indian
Territory to the west of us. When I heard that you might possibly come to this territory which has been 'set apart for the
home of the Indians forever' I was glad. I would like to have all our red brethren settled in this Territory as we have provided
in our treaty. . . .We believe our right to the soil and our government which is best suited to our peculiar necessities would
be safer if all our race were united together here . . . . I give you this welcome to our life of a higher civilization which
is better than the old life so long led by our race in the past."3
The words of welcome were briefly responded to by Chief Spotted Tail of the Sioux;
"My red brethren, we are glad to meet you and listen to your talk. We have come in peace to your country to see it for ourselves
as our Great Father has wished. White men gather all things together for themselves. When he gathers, he don't want any one
to take it away. My country is covered with gold. I have made a bargain with the Great Father to sell it, because the white
man came and took it . . . . I am looking at this country and when I get through I want to see my Great Father and talk with
him and then I can tell you more about it."
The meeting was rather dramatic as was also a meeting held a few days later at Muskogee.
Shortly after the induction of Chief Harjo into office, he became embroiled in difficulties with the council.4 Impeachment proceedings were lodged against him by the House of Warriors wherein he was charged with dictatorial conduct
in the removal of certain persons from office by executive order and in refusing to remove from the Nation certain alleged
unprincipled white men who were charged with controlling his administration of affairs. He was charged with refusing to enforce
certain acts of
the Council which had been passed over his executive veto and in the usurpation of powers not delegated by the Creek constitution.
On December 15, 1876, the impeachment charges were approved by the House of Kings and the chief removed from office. The political
disabilities which the impeachment carried with it were subsequently removed. Chief Harjo at first evidenced a disposition
to go on the war path and again trouble was averted by the prompt, conciliatory action of Gen. Pleasant Porter who influenced
the followers of the deposed chief to return to their homes. The Chief passed away at his home at Newyorker town, about seven
miles southwest of Okmulgee, where he was buried, on February 23, 1879. He had married, early in life, Sakhatup Hokey, who
Chief Harjo was succeeded by Ward Coachman, the second chief, who filled out the unexpired term.
Ward Coachman (Co-cha-my) was born at Wetumka, Alabama in 1823.5 His ancestry is traced back to Lacklan McGillivray, who was born at Dunmaglass, Scotland, and at the age of sixteen emigrated
to America, landing at Charleston, South Carolina. He became an Indian trader and in 1738 married Schoy Marchand, a half blood
French and Creek Indian woman. Alexander, his eldest son was born in 1740, became a celebrated chief among the Creeks and
died on February 17, 1793. Sophia, a daughter of Lacklan McGillivray was born in 1742 and married Ben Durant, a Frenchman.
She was the mother of Polly Durant who married Muslushobie or Pitcher and became the mother of Ward Co-cha-my. The parents
of Ward Coochman died when he was quite young and his educational advantages were limited to the neighborhood schools in Macon
County. He did not remove to the West during the removal period, but was reared and made his home with his Uncle Lacklan Durant
in Macon County, Alabama, until 1845 when he came to the old Indian Territory. In 1848 he returned to Alabama and conducted
back with him to the territory, a party of 65 Creeks who had been held in slavery by the whites, arriving
at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, on June 24, 1848. His early residence among the whites in the East highly qualified him as a most
proficient interpreter among his people in the West. He entered the employ of an Indian trader covering the country around
Wewoka and Wetumka until 1857, when he engaged in farming. During the Civil War, he entered the Confederate service as a Second
Lieutenant of Company E in the Second Creek Indian Regiment under Col. Chilli McIntosh, on November 3, 1862, and served faithfully
until the conclusion of the war.
Ward Coachman served as clerk of the district court of Deep Fork District in 1868 and as a member and speaker of the House
of Warriors in 1875. He was court clerk of the Wewoka District in 1873-4, served as a member and President of the House of
Kings in 1888 and was dispatched as a delegate from the Creek Nation to Washington upon five different occasions in 1881-2.
In the fall of 1875, Ward Coachman was chosen second chief and became Principal Chief of the Creek Nation upon the impeachment
and removal of Chief Locher Harjo on December 15, 1876. His tenure as chief was rather uneventful and he was defeated in his
efforts for reelection on September 1, 1879, and Samuel Checote again was chosen.
The name of Ward Coachman is carried on the approved rolls of the Creek tribe opposite roll number 5109 as shown by census
card number 1587 and to him was allotted his distributive share of the public domain. The chief passed away at his home some
four miles northeast of Wetumka on March 13, 1900, where he was buried in an unmarked grave. He married Lizzie Carr in 1851
and after her death, married Lizzie Yohler in 1864. The chief was a man of intelligence far above the average of his people
and enjoyed the respect and esteem of the members of the Creek tribe.
The interesting Samuel Checote again resumed the executive office of the Creek Nation after the election of September 1, 1879.
This was his third term, the completion of which covered a period of twelve years. His preference for the third term was
rather feebly expressed as his election was evidenced by a bare majority of 15 votes. Charges of fraud were made by the Coachman
adherents but no trouble ensued. The third tenure of Samuel Checote featured much advancement among the Creeks. The establishment
of an Indian University at Muskogee by the Baptist Mission led by Rev. A. C. Bacone was approved and financial assistance
provided. Matters of general education received the marked attention of the chief. The grant of lands to the Seminoles was
effected for which the sum of $150,000 was received.
Internal strife threatened the peace of the Creeks in December, 1881, when recalcitrant members of the tribe led by Isparhecher,
a full blood agitator, undertook to establish an independent government with its capital established at Nuyaka, some twelve
miles west of Okmulgee. Chief Checote exhausted all peaceful and persuasive measures to calm the disturbance, but with no
avail. Bloody reprisals ensued in a struggle known as the Green Peach War. The armed forces of the Checote government were
finally called into service under command of Gen. Pleasant Porter and after several months of open defiance, the insurrection
was quelled. Peaceful relations were restored through the efforts of United States Commissioners at Muskogee in August, 1883.6 The address of Chief Checote at Muskogee, on August 10, 1883, approving the settlement, was of statesmanlike character.
At the tribal election of September 3, 1883, Chief Checote again sought preference, but was defeated and Joseph M. Perryman
was elected. He was dispatched as a delegate from the tribe to Washington the following year and this service concluded his
political career. The years had been strenuous. His guiding hand had directed the political life of the Creek Nation from
the concluding years of the Civil War. He passed away at his home at Okmulgee, on September 3, 1884, where he lies buried
and where his grave is marked.
The chief was married twice, his first wife being Priscilla, after whose death he married Lizzie; the last names of these
women are not known.
Samuel Checote was the outstanding character among the Creek Indians during the early post bellum years. His years of understanding
threaded back to the early day of their residence in the West. When the Indian left the East, he was an unfinished sketch.
In his initial days after removal as well as in later years, the Indian naturally had his class differences, provoked largely
by his contact and intermarriage with the whites. These distinctions caused divergent concepts of his ultimate destiny and
were provocative of internal dissension. These class distinctions must be considered in any appraisal of his social or political
life because the Indian cannot be labeled and disposed of in one gesture. Among the Creeks, this natural situation was intensely
aggravated by the tribal division having its inception in the East and long before the removal period. The Civil War was a
zero point in the morale of the Creeks. The task of uniting the sentiments and aspirations of the Creeks was placed upon the
shoulders of Samuel Checote. He understood these people as did no other Creek leader of his times and to him great credit
is due for placating many of the major tribal animosities of that period. His stern, spiritual life contributed to his influence
among his people. Chief Samuel Checote gave to the Creeks a splendid service and died in poverty.7
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