By Robert L. Williams
Tams Bixby, born on Dec. 12, 1855, at Staunton, Virginia, was the son of Bradford W. Bixby, who was born in Massachusetts, and his wife, Susan J. (Clarke) Bixby, who was born in Maine.
On April 27, 1886, he and Miss Clara Mues were married, who, with their three sons, Edson K., Joel H., and Tams, Jr., survived him. His widow and the sons, Edson K., and Joel H., have since passed away.
In 1857, the family removed to the Territory of Minnesota1, and settled at Stillwater. After short residences there, and at St. Paul, and Hastings, they removed to Red Wing in the fall of 1862, where the father established a bakery shop and confectionery. There the son spent his boyhood and early manhood, receiving his education at the local parish school until he was 12 years old, and then at the public schools until 13 years of age. Beyond that, his educational advantages were such as a youth with an alert and active mind, and ambition, may derive through reading, application, observation and experience. With remarkable enterprise, he employed his abilities and talents in that pioneer field. In a business way he was engaged as storekeeper, news agent, baker, hotelkeeper, and publisher.
When the Young Men's Christian Association was in its infancy in the Northwest, he was instrumental in organizing a local association, being its first Secretary.
When 19 years of age, while in virtual charge of the business, his father died, the son continuing the same.
Having served a short apprenticeship in 1884 he embarked in the printing and newspaper business. He became editor and publisher of the Red Wing Sun (Goodhue County), a weekly paper, and also editor of the North Star, and for a time of the Grange Advance, official organ of the patrons of husbandry, precursor of the Farmers' Alliance. Later, with consolidation of papers he formed the Red Wing Republican, later a daily paper. With this venture he became active politically, his first official political position being chairman of the Republican County Central Committee. His party activity brought about his speedy advancement to the secretaryship of the
1Territorial government organized under Act of Mar. 3, 1849; Enabling Act, February 26, 1857; Act for Admission into the Union, May 11, 1858.
State Republican League, and then to Secretary, and in turn to Chairman, of the State Central Committee. His first remunerative public office was that of Secretary of the State Railroad and Warehouse Commission.
In the campaign of 1888, when the election of a Governor of the state and also a President of the United States was involved, he was chairman of the speakers' bureau of the Minnesota Republican Campaign Committee. In 1889, whilst Secretary of the State Central Committee, Governor William R. Merriam appointed him as his private secretary, and he was so continued after the Governor's reelection in 1890. In 1892 he was re-elected Secretary of the State Committee. The Honorable Knute Nelson being elected Governor in 1892, he appointed Mr. Bixby as his private secretary, who in 1894 was again re-elected as Chairman of the State Committee. Governor Knute Nelson having been re-elected in 1894, the incoming legislature elected him as United States Senator. Lieutenant-Governor David M. Clough then became Governor of the state and Mr. Bixby was again selected and continued as the Governor's private secretary.
In 1893, Mr. Bixby, who had given up his newspaper and publishing business, again acquired an interest in the Red Wing Republican, and retained same throughout his service as private secretary to Governors Nelson and Clough.
In 1897, Mr. Bixby, in recognition not only of his political services, and influence, but also of his eminent qualification, was tendered an appointment as a member of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes in the Indian Territory. He requested W. H. Angell, who was at that time Chief Clerk in the Governor's office and later head of the land office in Atoka, Indian Territory, to investigate as to the importance of the Commission, who reported that it had been created by Act of Congress of March 3, 1893, 27 Stat. 612, 645, section 16, providing for appointment of three Commissioners to, enter into negotiations with each of the Five Civilized Tribes in contemplation of the subdivision of lands of each tribe and allotments in severalty to members thereof, at that time the holdings being in common with the right of occupancy only by individual members, and to treat with each of the tribes for the discontinuance of tribal government, and not only for the survey and appraisal of the lands and determination of the values thereof, but also for the enrollment of citizens belonging to each tribe, and to cause to be deeded to such member under rules and regulations, his or her appropriate share of the lands, as measured by value per acre.
The purging of the citizenship rolls in each tribe of names of persons not of the blood of the Tribe, or not members by adoption or intermarriage, and not entitled to be enrolled as such and to participate in the allotment of lands of the tribes, of which type many thousands of such claims were to be investigated and adjudicated, in
addition to other duties, occasioned a vast amount of work and responsibility—a monumental task.
As members of this Commission, the President appointed Henry L. Dawes2 of Massachusetts, Meredith H. Kidd of Indiana, and Archibald S. McKennon of Arkansas, at which time the Five Civilized Tribes occupied about twenty million acres of land, to-wit:
Land offices were established in each of the Five Civilized Tribes for filing allotment selections and contests, hearings, and awards subject to appeal, as follows: Chickasaw Nation, originally at Tishomingo but later at Ardmore; Choctaw Nation at Atoka; Cherokee Nation at Tahlequah; Seminole Nation at Wewoka; and Creek Nation at Muskogee.
During progress of allotment a number of fullbloods termed Snake Indians assumed an obstinate attitude against allotment and refused to file applications therefor, thereby causing arbitrary allotments to be made to them by the Commission in awarding allottee his or her part of the distributed landed estate, necessarily made after the more desirable lands had been voluntarily selected on the allottee's application. Oil and gas was afterwards discovered on such allotments, which developed into valuable holdings.
In making the citizenship rolls, it was essential to establish an extensive and competent legal department, through which to determine citizenship matters. Each enrolled citizen of the Five Civilized Tribes, with exceptions for which proper compensation was provided, received allotment of lands as follows:
In such distribution of allotments, intricate complications arose, occasioned among other things by locations and improvements, and contests arising as to prior improvements and occupancy rights.
During the year 1895 the Commission was increased to five members by appointment of Thomas B. Cabiness, of Georgia, and Alexander B. Montgomery, of Kentucky, and upon the resignation of
2Henry L. Dawes, a Representative and a Senator of the United States from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1893, and for years a member of the Senate Indian Committee.
Commissioner Kidd, General Frank C. Armstrong was appointed as his successor. The commission vainly labored with the Indians without making successful progress toward the conclusion of the contemplated treaties.
In May, 1897, Tams Bixby, of Minnesota, Thomas B. Needles, of Illinois, and later Major Clifton F. Breckinridge, of Arkansas, were appointed members of the Commission as successors to Cabiness, Montgomery, and Armstrong.
The chairman of the Commission being of an advanced age, the duties of the chairmanship rested on Mr. Bixby as acting chairman, who was its leading and dominant spirit.
Mr. Bixby, taking up his initial work in an atmosphere of hostility, encountered not only stubborn opposition on the part of Indians by blood, but also the squaw man or intermarried citizen, the cattleman who had been using vast acres practically free for the grazing of his herds, and to a great extent the whites or non-citizens engaged in farming in a small way, were not pressing for any change. The principal sentiment for change was among the whites located in the towns and villages.3
His most difficult work was to effect tribal sentiment so as to bring the leading Indians of the respective tribes to such a frame of mind as to participate in negotiations. Patience, diplomacy, and personality gradually broke down the barriers with the result that what is known as the Atoka Treaty or Agreement was entered into with the Chickasaws and Choctaws on June 28, 1898 (30 Stat. 495), with a supplemental treaty, ratified and confirmed by the United States on July 1, 1902 (32 Stat. 500), and by the two tribes on September 25, 1902—and treaties with the Seminoles on July 1, 1898 (30 Stat. 567), and the Creeks and supplement thereto, and with the Cherokees on March 1, 1901 (31 Stat. 848). The treaty with the Creeks was ratified by Act of Congress on May 1, 1901, and by the Creek Council on May 25, 1901, with supplemental Creek treaty ratified by Congress on June 30, 1902 (32 Stat. 500), and by the Creek Council on July 26, 1902. The agreement with the Cherokee Nation was ratified by Congress on May 1, 1901, but rejected by the Cherokee Council. The Congress on July 1, 1902 passed an act providing for allotment of lands in the Cherokee Nation (32 Stat. 716), which was agreed to by the Cherokees on August 7, 1902.
In the early part of 1899 Mr. Bixby conferred with C. H. Fitch, at that time in charge of the Geological Survey, under whose supervision the sectionizing of the Indian Territory had been prosecuted and was about completed, with a desire of securing as employees of the Commission men who had been active in the survey of the Indian Territory and who were familiar with the conditions existing at that time.
3Vol. 18, issue No. 2 (March, 1940) pp. 171, 181, and issue No. 3 (September 1940) pp. 248, 249, Chronicles of Oklahoma.
Mr. Fitch recommended to Mr. Bixby some ten employees of the Geological Survey as men who had been particularly efficient in their work; among whom were W. O. Beall, W. J. Cook, Robert Muldrow, Rees Evans, Wyatt Hawkins, Henry Hackbush, and Joseph S. Gibson, all of whom, while not active in Democratic politics, were in fact Democrats.
Mr. Bixby accepted Mr. Fitch's recommendation, and later, about April 1, 1899, caused the appointment of the parties to various positions under the Commission. No mention was made in the conference between Fitch and Mr. Bixby as to political affiliations.
Mr. Bixby's standard of qualification for employment by the Commission was the efficiency of the man under consideration. During that period necessarily many recommendations were made by the chairmen of the Indian Committees in the United States House and the Senate for appointments in the various branches of the Commission's work. Mr. Bixby in instances was moved by these recommendations, but where the appointee did not measure up to and fulfil his ideal of efficiency such employee was dropped or resigned and in some cases discharged. In many instances vacancies thus created were filled by Democrats who met Mr. Bixby's standard of efficiency. Among these were such as Guy L. V. Emerson and Dave Yancey, who received appointments to responsible positions solely on their qualifications to fill the positions to which they were appointed.
Upon the retirement of A. L. Aylesworth as Secretary of the Commission in the latter part of 1903, W. O. Beall, upon the recommendation of Mr. Bixby, was appointed Secretary of the Commission, and served in that capacity until he resigned from government service on December 31, 1906. The salary of the Secretary of the Commission was probably the highest in the Indian Territory at that time outside of members of the United States judiciary and members of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. Many Republicans in the Indian Territory considered that a position of such magnitude belonged to a Republican, and used their utmost endeavors to have Beall removed as Secretary and a Republican appointed in his place, but Mr. Bixby's reply was that he knew he came from a Maryland family of Democrats, and he assumed that he was a Democrat but that he had taken no active part in politics in the Indian Territory, and that whenever a Republican was presented to him who had the ability and was as conscientious in the performance of his duties as had been Mr. Beall, then he would consider the matter.
This built up a loyal and an efficient organization, the test and the qualification being fidelity and efficiency, with preference given to the men of his own party when they had equal qualification including efficiency. This brought about merit without an applied civil service rule under the administration of the Commissioner who recognized what was to be accomplished in winding up this great
Indian estate, and who, wound same up with such faithful service to the Indian and such performance of duty to the government as that at the time of his death there was not a blot on his name.
The Congress of the United States recognized such fidelity and efficiency. Section 3 of Act of Congress, March 27, 1908, 35 Stat. 312, provides that:
"***the rolls of citizenship*** of the Five Civilized Tribes***shall be conclusive evidence as to quantum of Indian blood of any enrolled citizen***and the enrollment records of the Commissioner of the Five Civilized Tribes shall hereafter be conclusive evidence as to the age of said citizen or freedman."
This work, diversified in character, affecting the five estates, with such a great number of allottees or heirs participating, was consummated without scandal, or suspicion, or injustice, and without abuse of power, showing the stature of Tams Bixby as an outstanding administrator for all time in the records of the United States government.
Facing the task of building such an organization for the great work in hand, his genius developed same, working with precision and with obstacles to success eliminated.
A large number of members of the Creeks, led by Chitto Harjo, rebellious against division of tribal properties, and many members of other tribes striving to impede the work on the part of the government, as well as swarms of human traffickers for gain following the meetings of the Indians and seeking to reap a harvest, yielded to his able, efficient, and honest administration.
In a trial in the United States District Court involving title to a Chickasaw allotment, in which an effort was being made to show a different paternity of the allottee, and to substitute an heir to what was thought to be a valuable oil property, the census card being introduced, it was disclosed that the notation thereon with reference to the father was in the handwriting of the late Tams Bixby, who at the time of said enrollment was acting Chairman of the Commission. Counsel on each side admitted that the notations on said card were in his handwriting and it was further disclosed that at the time the evidence was taken as to the enrollment, Tams Bixby was present in charge of the enrolling party. The evidence showed that his administration as to such enrollments was characterized by industry and efficiency and detail, and with thorough method. The claim set up on the part of the heir as to being the child of a Chickasaw father other than such as shown by the census card and the roll, faded. The attorney defending the title under the enrollment, upon his return to his home in another state, wrote to another party relative to his experience in the trial of the case and stated that from that time "the ghost of Tams Bixby marched along during the trial as an important witness in favor of his title."
It was under Tams Bixby's guidance that new treaties were negotiated by which their Tribal governments were discontinued, and they became citizens of a State and of the United States, each,
accepting his or her proportionate share of land. When his work was concluded, Indian Territory was considered as ready for admission into the union of states as a part of the state of Oklahoma.
In his early 20's Mr. Bixby was a railroad contractor, and before he was 25 years of age, had staunch friends among the most important railroad heads in Minnesota, including the late James J. Hill.
He was a dominant figure in Minnesota politics, for twelve years exercising a directing hand, and in 1897 when he came to the Indian Territory was a counsellor and advisor of the National Republican organization.
In 1906 he acquired the controlling interest in the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Daily Phoenix, later absorbing the Times Democrat, both of which are now controlled by his family. He was the guiding figure in establishment of the Oklahoma Free State Fair at Muskogee, the largest institution in the country, to which admission fees are not charged, and a leading participant in the organization of the Muskogee Town and Country Club. He was President of the Health Association and Anti-Tuberculosis League of the Red Cross Society in said city and county (Muskogee), and during the World War was Chairman of the County Council of Defense.
He passed away on January 17, 1922 at Kansas City, Missouri on his return trip from California, where he had gone seeking restoration of his health.
All three of his sons, to his delight, served with distinction in the World War, the youngest attaining the rank of Major in the Field Artillery. Tams Bixby, Sr., having volunteered for active service, it was declined on account of his age. Then he offered his service as a cook, as being qualified by his experience in a bakery as a boy, and that was declined evidently on the ground that his services were more valuable in an organizing capacity at home.
Whilst a partisan, he put country first. During the election in 1920, through his papers he supported the democratic nominee for United States Senator as against that of the Republicans on account of his support of Victor Berger in the contest over his seat in the United States Congress, and matters in connection therewith.
He was a builder and an administrator, with a proper consideration of the public welfare. He never permitted his personal business to become so absorbing as to stand in the way of his service to his community. His pride in civic development and his contribution to charity, without ostentation, were unexcelled. He supported the city (Muskogee) managerial form of government to promote efficiency and economy.
Having been appointed to the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes on May 2, 1897, he served as such until July 1, 1905, when the Commission by Act of Congress was succeeded by the office of Commissioner, which had been created in lieu thereof. He was
appointed such Commissioner and held the office until July 1, 1907, when he resigned and returned to Minnesota. There he and his associates acquired control of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which was successfully operated under his management until during the year 1910 when such interest was disposed of to advantage and he returned to Muskogee, Oklahoma, and took charge of the Muskogee Daily Phoenix, becoming editor and publisher. In 1915 he also acquired the Muskogee Times Democrat, and until his death was publisher and editor of both papers.
He was founder of the city of Bemidji, Minnesota, and president of the Bemidji Townsite and Improvement Company at the time of his death. His administrative genius was demonstrated in both states.
His body was brought from Kansas City to Muskogee, where funeral services were held, before being taken to Red Wing, Minnesota for interment.
On January 19, 1922, the wheels of industry in Muskogee ceased revolving for an hour, and a solemn hush hung over the city, the silent tribute of a community to its greatest citizen, whose mortal remains lay upon the funeral bier. Hundreds braved the cold to attend the funeral at his home, which was conducted by the Rector of the Episcopal Church. A guard of Knight Templars escorted his body from the undertaking parlors, and a score of uniformed members of the American Legion bore their own wreath to the altar of death, and sat silently through the brief service when the crowd filed silently out and stood, heads bared, in the cold, awaiting to accompany the body to the station, uniformed ex-service men of the American Legion forming an open rank through which the pallbearers carried the casket to the hearse. The Legion men, with active and honorary pallbearers, also formed the last escort of the body as it was placed aboard the train to be carried for interment at Red Wing, where with the simple Episcopal grave ceremony it was laid to rest in a mausoleum, later to be removed to a family mausoleum erected in his memory.
Virtually every business house in the city closed from 2:30 o'clock to 3:30 o'clock in honor of his memory. The Federal Court adjourned its pressing session to honor his memory and for attendance upon the funeral. The United States Indian Agency closed during such period. The offices in the county court house and at the city hall also were closed.
He climbed the ladder to great achievements. For the Five Civilized Tribes, he put an immeasurable accomplishment with definite results in a short span of ten years. Following his governmental work, as a business man and publisher he was an outstanding figure.4 His life should be, and is, an inspiration to every ambitious struggling boy.