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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 2
June, 1939
CHIEF THOMAS MITCHELL BUFFINGTON
and
CHIEF WILLIAM CHARLES ROGERS

by
John Bartlett Meserve.

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Thomas Buffington

The Cherokees were irritated by the white adventurers who crossed the Alleghanies in the middle decades of the eighteenth century and began to impress their tribal lands in Tennessee for settlement. They supported the British during our War of the Revolution and in so doing were responsive to the British agents and traders who lived among them and in numerous instances had intermarried into the tribe.1 After the Revolution, the Indian tribes were militant towards the new United States government, their war spirit being encouraged by the Spanish authorities at New Orleans and Pensacola, from which source military supplies were available for the southern tribes. English traders and influential mixed bloods were conveniently used by Spanish Governor Carondelet to contact the Indian leaders.2 The reprisals exacted by the Indians during this period were of a sordid character. They were the years of the tomahawk and scalping knife and many horrors and cruelties were perpetrated. The Cherokees have been maligned because of the savage atrocities committed during those twilight years, but against that, they must be pardoned an interest in the preservation of their ancient homeland even though they were unable to define it with precision. The crushing defeat of the northern tribes at Fallen Timbers by General Anthony Wayne





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in 1794 produced a sobering effect upon the southern tribes. They further were affected, indirectly, by the Napoleonic wars in Europe which caused the suspension of Spanish military supplies. By the spring of 1796, the outrages practically had ceased and a more composed posture towards the white settleres was assumed by the Cherokees. The more unreconciled members of the tribe, about 1809 began a gradual, voluntary removal to the White River country in what is today the State of Arkansas where they were to become known as the Western Cherokees. The status of these Indians was recognized by the Government by the terms of a treaty entered into with them on July 8, 1817.3 Then followed the years of their warfare with the wild Osages.

Accompanying the adventurous party led by Capt. John Rogers, in 1821, to join the Western Cherokees, in Arkansas, was Ellis Buffington, a quarter blood Cherokee Indian and his family. He was a son of Ezekiel Buffington a Scotchman, and Mary Emory,4 his wife, who was a daughter of Ludovic Grant, the celebrated Scotch trader. Ellis Buffington was born in Georgia where he married Catharine Daniel. He first settled at Dardanelle, but later his family removed to lands near Mulberry, in what is today Crawford County, Arkansas. Ezekiel Buffington, a son of Ellis Buffington and Catharine Daniel, his wife, was born in Georgia in 1809. He married Louisa Newman, a daughter of Jonathan Newman. She was born in Tennessee in 1817 and died in Goingsnake District in the old Cherokee Nation in 1898. Ezekiel Buffington was a Presbyterian minister and, while farming and stockraising were his gainful pursuits, his spiritual labors as a missionary among the Cherokees were the engaging efforts of his life. It was not until 1835 that Reverend Buffington removed with his family to the Indian Territory where he settled upon lands in Going-





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snake District, northeast of the present town of Westville, Oklahoma, where he passed away in 1864.

Thomas Mitchell Buffington, the fourth son of Rev. Ezekiel Buffington and Louisa Newman, his wife, was born on the old farm in Goingsnake District, Cherokee Nation, on October 19, 1855. He attended the tribal schools, his education being reenforced by the private tutelage of his parents. Early in life, he engaged in farming and in about 1887 established himself upon a farm in the Delaware District on Mustang Creek, some eight miles east of Vinita.

Young Buffington entered the domain of Cherokee politics in 1885 when he became secretary for his brother John D. Buffington who had been elected senator from Goingsnake District. He entered more actively into political affairs in August, 1889 when he was chosen district judge of the Delaware District. His election to the judiciary was not inspired by any peculiar fitness he may have exhibited as a lawyer, because, in fact he was not a lawyer and at no time pretended to be such. The constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation made no requirement of legal training for its judiciary. The young jurist resigned from the bench to accept a position in the senate of the Cherokee Council to which he had been elected from the Delaware District in the fall of 1891. The young senator was elected president of the senate which was an evidence of his standing and prominence among the Cherokees.

Chief Joel B. Mayes of the Cherokees passed away on December 14, 1891 being preceded in death by four days by Henry Chambers, the assistant chief. This situation automatically vested the chieftainship in Thomas M. Buffington, as president of the senate, and he served in that capacity until December 23, 1891 when Colonel J. Harris was chosen by the council to serve out the term and Buffington was selected as a delegate to Washington. Upon the completion of his term as senator he removed to Vinita where he was elected and served as one of the earliest mayors of that city. He resigned this position when he became the candidate of the Downing Party for chief at the tribal election held on August 7, 1899, his opponent being Wolf Coon of the National

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Party. Buffington made no active campaign but was elected by a majority approximating four hundred votes. He succeeded Samuel H. Mayes as chief of the Cherokees.

Affairs moved rapidly between 1895 and 1899 to conclude the independent status of the Cherokee Nation. The ensuing four years, covering the administration of Chief Buffington, witnessed the final arrangement of details to conclude the allotment of the tribal domain and the dissolution of the tribal government. They were years of much internal dissension because the allotment policy of the Government became controversial among the more conservative full blood members of the tribe. It awakened no Utopian dreams in the hearts of these well-intentioned tribal members. Obviously, it was difficult for these simple folk, who were so inured to their traditional system of land tenure, to yield their distinctive privilege of self-government and become an integral part of American life. To Thomas M. Buffington was committed the task of reconciling his people to an acceptance of their altered status. He was a strong supporter of the policy of the Government.

Details for the allotment of the Cherokee domain were crystalized into the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902. Under the leadership of Chief Buffington, this act was approved by the Cherokee electorate at a special election called by the chief and held on August 7, 1902. This Act of Congress, referred to as the Cherokee Supplemental Agreement, divested the Cherokee Nation of its major functions of government. As a political entity, it was to lapse entirely on March 4, 1906.

The chief, in his message addressed to the council, in November, 1902, evidenced his complete appraisal of the situation. Speaking, as it were, over the heads of the council members, he sought to lay upon the hearts of his people, the gravity of the situation. He endeavored to lead them to an unreserved acceptance of the new situation which confronted them and to awaken them to the consequent responsibilities of American citizenship.

"The cycle of time has added another year to our existence as a people and stamped the unmistakable marks of decline and decimation upon our tribal government. One by one the attributes of Indian sovereignty have been wrested from us and the exercise of that supreme power by the great and powerful government of the

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United States has been introduced in its stead. Every political innovation affects most powerfully our property rights and when the two are intimately connected, entwined and inseparable, conditions will ever be complicated, serious and perplexing. Owing to this state of affairs and the resultant pecuniary loss to every citizen by further delay and our consent to a change became apparent to a majority of the Cherokee people, this absolute necessity was consummated on the 7th day of August, by the ratification of the Act of Congress approved July 1, 1902 . . . . Time is the prime requisite for the application of its provisions. By its terms our communal interests will be individualized. The system of land tenure goes from national to a personal ownership. The result of this method makes every Cherokee citizen, a landlord. . . . The distribution of our land among our citizens necessarily requires that more careful and scientific methods be employed in the cultivation of the land. New conditions have come into existence and created a demand for a different kind of activity. The blending of all Indian tribes into the Anglo-Saxon form of government and their absorption as a part of the population, is being rapidly consummated and it is a question of a short time until its final completion. According to the teachings of Christian civilization, the red man should gain morally, intellectually, physically and economically . . . . The proper course to pursue in order to have some weight and prestige in moulding the government of this country after ours is gone, is a subject of the greatest vital concern to every Cherokee citizen . . . . If there ever was a time in the history of any country that demands a grand, harmonious movement to the end that a government be secured 'for the people and by the people' at the earliest practicable moment, that time is now. . . It is not wealth, not royal blood, not learning that make true men, but a life of noble deeds, true manhood, devotion to family, home and country and a talk and conversation void of offense that constitute true worth . . . . We are passing off the stage of action; the places that know us now will soon be filled by others and the admonition is that we so conduct ourselves here that hereafter we may meet the reward of the just upon the Otherside. I trust that our hopes, beliefs, faith and anticipations may go out to a higher, better, purer and Eternal life."5

The tribal rolls were completed and the allotment of tribal lands well nigh completed during the administration of Chief Buffington, which drew to a close in the fall of 1903. He rendered valuable assistance to the officers of the Government in their efforts and, to his efficient service, the Cherokee people are greatly indebted. The term of Chief Buffington practically concluded all administrative functions of the old Cherokee Nation and what ever of details remained, it would seem, should have been com-

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mitted to him. Through some legerdemain of Cherokee politics, the chief was denied the renomination by a narrow margin in the fall of 1903 and William C. Rogers became the candidate of the Downing Party and was elected.

Upon his retirement from office, Chief Buffington returned to Vinita which remained his home until his death. He engaged in the stock business and later, to a modest degree, in the oil business. The chief became an outstanding character in public affairs at Vinita, serving that city again as its mayor upon numerous occasions, concluding his last term in 1917. Upon the approach to Statehood, he became a strong advocate of single statehood for the two territories. He was a member of the Presbyterian church and of the Masonic and Elks secret societies.

Chief Buffington married Susan Woodall on May 10, 1878 who died on November 11, 1891.6 Thereafter he married Emma Gray on December 28, 1895. She is a daughter of D. A. Gray of Tahlequah, was born in North Carolina on October 18, 1872 and lives (1939) at Vinita. Upon the Cherokee approved rolls, the name of Thomas M. Buffington appears opposite roll number 9823 as shown by census card number 4073 as a one-eighth blood Indian and to him was allotted his distributive share of the tribal domain.

The chief was a large man, but well proportioned, standing six feet, six inches and weighing around 250 pounds. His posture was pleasant, agreeable and easy of approach. He enjoyed the respect and esteem of his people and maintained an abiding influence with them. During the last years of his life, the old chief became rather inactive. Chief Thomas M. Buffington answered the last summons at his home at Vinita on February 11, 1938 and rests in the Fairview Cemetery near that city. He was the last surviving elected chief of the Cherokees and his passing closed the final chapter in the history of a splendid people.

We now pass on to William Charles Rogers, who succeeded Chief Buffington, as chief of the Cherokees.

The celebrated Chief John Jolly (Oolosleeskee) left his Haw-





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William Rogers

assee Island home in February, 1818 with a party of 331 and joined the Western Cherokees. The interesting old white trader, John Rogers departed from the East with a party of 31 emigrants on October 18, 1817, arriving among the Indians in the White River country on April 18, 1818.7 John Rogers, of Scotch-English descent, had lived and traded among the Cherokees for many years which reached back to the period before the Revolution. It was an undocumented era among the Indians and hence little is preserved of what must have been a most adventurous career. We learn that his life was saved by John Sevier in 1782 and that in 1805, along with Major Ridge and Alexander Saunders, he became involved in the killing of Chief Doublehead of the Cherokees. Much of the success of Chief John jolly, who became chief of the western Cherokees upon the death of his brother shortly after removal, was due to the counsel and support of John Rogers, the trader, who was his brother-in-law and a headman of the tribe.

John Rogers married (1) Elizabeth Due nee Emory, the widow of Robert Due, a Scotchman and a grand-daughter of Ludovic Grant, the Scotch trader. By his first wife, John Rogers became the father of two sons, James and John both of whom achieved prominence among the Cherokees. (2) He married Jennie Due, a daughter of his first wife and a sister of Chief John Jolly and among his children by this wife was Tiana, who became the Cherokee wife of Gen. Sam Houston.8

John Rogers, a son of John Rogers, the trader and Elizabeth Due, his wife, was born in Burke County, Georgia in 1779. He was known among the Indians as "Nolachucky Jack" Rogers and acquired the title of "captain" through his command of a company of Cherokees, under Gen. Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-14. Captain Rogers removed to the country of the Western Cherokees in 1821, removing to the old Indian Territory in 1829. He first settled at or near Dardanelle, Arkansas, subsequently settling near





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Mulberry, in what is today Crawford County, Arkansas and upon the death of Chief Jolly in December, 1838, became a chief of the tribe. He was the last chief of that division of the Cherokees. The captain was a member of the delegation which departed for Washington on December 28, 1827 and became a signer of the Treaty of May 6, 1828 which provided for the removal of the Western Cherokees to lands in the Indian Territory. He ran trading posts at Ft. Gibson and Ft. Smith in co-partnership with Col. John Nicks9 and on June 17, 1836 conveyed a tract of 308 acres near Ft. Smith to the Government upon which the permanent fort was erected. The captain again was dispatched as a delegate to Washington in November, 1831, by Chief Jolly.

The enforced emigration to the old Indian Territory of the thousands of Eastern Cherokees, in 1838-9, led by Chief John Ross, at once began to imperil the independent political autonomy of the Western Cherokees who were thereafter referred to as the "Old Settlers." Ross insisted upon an immediate liquidation of the government presided over by Chief John Rogers, to which Rogers and his associates strongly objected. A constitutional convention inspired by Ross was held, a written constitution adopted and the absorption of the Old Settlers became quite complete. Ross easily was chosen the constitutional chief of the new government. Captain Rogers vigorously opposed the efforts for amalgamation and until his death, declined to contribute, in any manner toward its accomplishment. In 1840, he made a hurried journey to Mexico City to avoid adding his signature to an agreement of union of his people with the Eastern Cherokees. It is highly improbable that Capt. John Rogers ever celebrated the birthday of John Ross.

Sam Houston acquired from Colonel Chouteau the salt springs on the Grand River near the present town of Salina, Oklahoma, in 1830, but being prevented from operating them, he very soon disposed of the same to his friend Capt. John Rogers. Rogers christened the springs, Grand Saline, installed a rather extensive



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plant and continued to operate the salt works until the entire property was confiscated by an act of the Cherokee Council of October 30, 1843, which declared all salines to be the property of the Cherokee Nation. The animosity of John Ross toward Captain Rogers probably inspired that action. He thereafter removed to Ft. Smith but subsequently and for the last few years preceding his death, established his home on the south bank of Panther creek some 2½ miles southeast of the present city of Claremore, Oklahoma. In 1846, the old chief again journeyed to Washington where he attended a conference and again urged consideration of what he considered the paramount rights of the Old Settlers. It was his concluding protest. Captain John Rogers passed away at the boarding house of Mrs. Eugene A. Townsley in Washington, D. C. on June 12, 1846 and rests in the National Cemetery in that city. Captain Rogers married Elizabeth Coody who died on July 14, 1842.

Charles Coody Rogers, a son of Capt. John Rogers and Elizabeth Coolly, his wife, was born in Georgia about 1810. He married Elizabeth McCorkle, a white lady of Irish descent who was a native of Arkansas. He subsequently married Nannie Coker nee Patton, a widow and later married Jennie Harlan. He lived at the old farm home southeast of Claremore and later at the old town of Skiatook where he passed away in June, 1885. He was a farmer and trader and served as judge of Cooweescoowee District in 1857 and again in 1871-3-5.

William Charles Rogers,10 a son of Charles Coody Rogers and Elizabeth McCorkle, his wife, was born on his father's farm southeast of Claremore, Indian Territory, on December 13, 1847. He was modestly educated in the tribal schools and early in life engaged in farming, establishing himself upon a farm some two miles north of the present town of Skiatook, Oklahoma. He maintained his residence upon this farm until his death and it is today (1939) owned by his widow. It was upon this farm that young Rogers, about 1877, built a general store and where he



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established the old town of Skiatook which he removed to its present site in 1905 when the Midland Valley Railroad was built. The trading and stockraising activities of William C. Rogers were highly successful.

William C. Rogers entered the political arena of Cherokee Nation politics when he was elected to the lower house of the council from Cooweescoowee District in the fall of 1881 and reelected in 1883. He was chosen from that district to the senate in the fall of 1889 and again in 1895. He was prominent as a member of the council when the sale of the "Strip" was made and in the years of preparation for allotment of the tribal domain and the dissolution of the tribal government. This service fitted him most capably for the service he was destined to render his people as their last elected chieftain. At the last tribal election, held in the Cherokee Nation, on August 3, 1903, William C. Rogers, as the candidate of the Downing party was elected chief, defeating E. L. Cookson, his opponent of the National party. He succeeded Chief Thomas M. Buffington.

The administration of Chief Rogers was rather perfunctory. The Government had assumed all major functions leaving few if any administrative features to the discretion of the new chief. The position was simply honorary. Under the terms of the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902, the tribal government was to expire on March 4, 1906. This probationary period was provided to enable the tribal authorities to undertake a final disposition of the assets of the tribal government. Tribal title was held to the old capitol building at Tahlequah and numerous other institutions which included the old building formerly used as a jail, the Advocate building, Orphan Asylum, Insane Asylum and several school buildings which included both the Male and Female Seminaries and the Colored High School. The allotment of tribal lands had proceeded far enough to evidence that fractional residues of unallotted lands would remain and of which disposition must be made. A disposition of these assets, which were frozen in so far as the Cherokee Nation was concerned, became a problem of the new chief. Chief Rogers sensed the situation concern-

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ing which he addressed the council in his initial message on November 7, 1903.

"In fact, there are a number of unsettled relations with the government of the United States and I recommend that a commission be appointed of sufficient number, authorized and empowered to meet with the proper authorities of the government of the United States whenever the Secretary of the Interior indicates his willingness to receive them to adjust all unsettled relations between the Cherokee Nation and the government of the United States, as well as to provide for the disposition of all of our surplus lands, common property and moneys of all kinds derived from all sources."

A most interesting meeting was the concluding session of the old Cherokee Council which assembled at Tahlequah on November 9, 1904. It was the end of the trail and the closing words of Chief Rogers in his message to them, are of interest. Perhaps no chief executive in all history ever faced the concluding moments of the political automony of his people, so abruptly destined, as did Chief Rogers. He greeted them,

"But a crisis in our affairs is at hand. The Government which our forefathers cherished and loved and labored so hard to perfect, has been sentenced to die. The scepter must soon pass to other hands. Still, we must force back the resentment we feel and accept the conditions as they are. The decrees of fate are inexorable. Representative bodies are usually brought together to organize or maintain a government; seldom indeed is the spectacle afforded of such a body of men calmly assembled together to prepare for its own dissolution and yet your coming together is largely for that purpose. The importance of this melancholy fact must not be underestimated or approached in a spirit of indifference. The best service of which you are capable is the demand of the hour and painstaking effort should characterize your every act so that the result may redound to the everlasting credit and benefit of our people."

The Indian had left the "land of dreams" to enter the "land of promise"; his traditional oddities had lost their significance; he had become sophisticated; his duel with the white man was concluded. Not unlike the ancient Briton whose blood became intermingled with that of the successive hordes of Saxons, Danes and Normans, the American Indians have fused their blood, Cherokees and culture with those of the conquering race. The Cherokees have risen to their full stature as American citizens.

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Upon the completion of his four year term, the chief was retained in the position to aid the Government in making the final adjustments. The affixing of his signature to the thousands of patents evidencing title in the individual allottees, constituted his primary service during the latter years. And so the concluding years of the once powerful Cherokee Nation were piloted by Chief William C. Rogers, whose service was of the highest character. He labored in close harmony with the allotment officials of the Government. A futile effort was undertaken in the fall of 1905 to provoke trouble. The excuse was the refusal of the chief to call the usual biennial election at which new council members might be chosen. The chief declined to issue such a proclamation because the tribal government would cease to function within a few months. Some sort of an election was held, however, and the council members so elected convened on November 11, 1905, proceeded to impeach and remove the chief and elect Frank J. Boudinot to the position. This gesture was influenced largely by an element in the tribe who were dissatisfied with the entire allotment policy. Chief Rogers carried the entire matter to Washington, in person, and received the approval of the Secretary of the Interior.

Chief Rogers enlisted, on July 12, 1861 and served thereafter as a private soldier in company E in the First Regiment of Cherokee Volunteers, in the Confederate Army, under Col. Stand Watie.11 He married Nannie Haynie at Kansas City, on February 15, 1892. She was a daughter of S. B. Haynie and Georgiana Humphrey, his wife and was born on October 2, 1869. She lives (1939) at Skiatook, Oklahoma.

The chief was a member of the Masonic Fraternity. His name is carried upon the final rolls of the Cherokees opposite roll number 14781 as evidenced by census card number 6199, as an Indian of the one-fourth blood. He remained chief of the Cherokees until his death. The old chief passed away at his farm home near Skiatook on November 8, 1917 and rests in the Hillside Cemetery about 3½ miles north of the present town of Skiatook, where his grave is suitably marked.



grave marker

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