Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 2
CHIEF THOMAS MITCHELL BUFFINGTON
CHIEF WILLIAM CHARLES ROGERS
John Bartlett Meserve.
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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-
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.
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.
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