O. A. Lambert
The subject of this sketch was born in the year 1819, in the Chattahoochee Valley, Alabama. When a young lad he came with his parents to the Indian Territory. They were among the first Creek people to leave their old home in the South, to dwell beyond the Mississippi River, in that land which the Great Father at Washington had promised "should be theirs so long as the grass grew and the rivers flowed."
Very little is known of his parents, only that they were full-blood Creeks, and while living in Alabama they had knowledge of the religious instruction and influence of the white missionaries, for as soon as the opportunity offered them in their new home they sent their son to a missionary school, near the town now called Eufaula. It was a Methodist missionary school named Asbury in honor of the first Methodist bishop in America.
As a young man, Checote came under the influence of that faithful pioneer of Methodism in the Indian Territory, Uncle John Harrell, who came early to the Indians and led many of them to espouse the cause of Methodism. It was he, more than all others, that influenced Checote to preach the gospel to his people. This he did with great fervor and zeal until the Creek Council passed a law forbidding any of the tribal members to preach under penalty of fifty lashes on the naked back. Checote with several others fled from the Territory, and remained until an appeal was made to Chief McIntosh, annulled the law and ordered the punishment and persecution of the preachers stoped. In the year 1852, he joined the Indian Mission Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and was actively engaged in preaching among his people until the outbreak of the Civil War. There are no doubt several reasons why he espoused the cause of the southern Confederacy. He was a product of the South, his early life was spent there, its history, traditions and customs were his, he was a preacher in that branch of Methodism that was then in sympathy with the South on the great issue that divided the Nation. The Indian
affairs of our Government at Washington was then under the direction and control of men from the South who exerted their influence among the Indians against the North. But not all the Indians of the Creek Nation were engaged or sympathized with the South, for many were loyal to the North and after the close of the War, as these two factions returned to their homes, they were for a time the source of much disturbance which finally led to civil war among their people.
Checote was in command of the first Creek regiment that went into the service of the South. Such was his ability and resourcefulness that he returned at the close of the War as a lieutenant colonel.1 One of the most picturesque happenings in the Indian Territory during the Civil War was participated in by Checote and his Creek Regiment forming a part of the First Indian Cavalry Brigade of the Confederate Army. Early in September, 1864, a large Federal supply train was on its way from Fort Scott to Fort Gibson. This train consisted of 300 wagons, 205 of which were loaded with Government supplies, the remainder with supplies for settlers and traders. The train was under the escort of 2600 Kansas cavalrymen who were joined on the way by fifty Cherokee horsemen from Fort Gibson.
At about this time Gen. Sterling Price had started on his famous raid through Missouri toward Kansas City. The 2000 available Confederate soldiers in the Territory, including Checote, and his men, co-operating with General Price, crossed the river about fifteen miles above Fort Gibson, killed the guards and burned a Federal hay depot of some 5000 tons. At Cabin Creek, Checote’s men, with other troopers, began an attack on the Federal train at midnight and the next morning, having driven the Federal troops off, they marched south with the captured train valued at $1,500,000. At Pryor Creek they were attacked by a detachment of Union forces, which they repulsed, saving the valuable prize which greatly encouraged the Confederate forces. Although the War did not end until ten months later, this was the last meeting between the Federalists and the Confederates in the Indian Territory.
At the close of the War, Colonel Checote resumed his work as a preacher, serving as circuit rider and presiding elder in the Indian Mission until the year 1872, when he was elected as principal chief of the Creek Nation. The War had
left his people devastated and torn by dissension, their slaves had been freed and left to live among them with the rights of citizenship, their problems were similar to those of the defeated South, the status of the freedman was for a time their "bone of contention." Chief Checote deplored the mixture of the Indian race with that of negro blood. He would have, if possible, given them separate lands so they might live apart; but in this and in other measures he proposed for the betterment of his people he met bitter opposition by a full-blood named Ispiechie, who was at that time Supreme Judge of the tribe. He was a young man of ability and ambitious for Checote’s place. He had been loyal to the North during the War and under his leadership, he gathered the "loyal" Indians and freedmen and bitterly opposed the chief in many of his reform movements, which finally culminated in civil strife which was called by the Indians "The Green Peach War," on account of its occurrence when the peaches were green. Ispiechie was worsted in the engagement but after a time he became reconciled to the policies of Checote and in later years became chief of the Creek Nation. During the twelve years that Checote was chief, the Creek people reached their highest standard in moral and religious living. He broke the habit of plurality of wives practiced by some at that time. By precept and example he taught his people the importance of peace and industry. He had the council to confer the rights of citizenship upon a limited number of white men that the nation might have the benefit of their superior knowledge in civilization and leadership. His ability was recognized by the other chiefs of the Five Civilized Tribes and his counsel was respected and often sought. General Grant once said of him: "He is the greatest Indian I have ever met." Capt. F. B. Severs, who for years lived among the Creeks and one time was the secretary of Chief Checote, said to the writer: "I have lived a long time and met many men, but I have found no greater mind than his, especially in way of executive ability." Some of the documents he helped to prepare and sign, which were presented to the government at Washington, in the years 1872-74, protesting against the proposal of our Government extending territorial jurisdiction over the Five Civilized Tribes, were statesman-like and lofty in appeal and worthy to find a place along side with other great papers of State.
One of these protests, after reciting the several treaties the Government had made with the Indians from Washington to the treaty of 1866, all of which safeguarded the Indian jurisdiction and rights to their territory; then referring to the bills pending in Congress to annul these treaties, they conclude their protest by saying: "This movement is none of us. We are constrained to tell you this is instigated by our enemies. Some of these propositions are plain and unmasked. Others are insidious and hidden, but they all look to our confusion and destruction. The country at large does not demand this. For ourselves, we are not destitute of the hope that statesmanship and the honor, that would maintain the good faith of the United States, are not yet banished from Congress. To that sentiment in behalf of our people do we earnestly appeal."
As chief of the Creek Nation, he displayed marked Executive ability and was quick in an emergency. On one occasion, when a murder had been committed, the murderer was promptly arrested, but his friends gathered enforce, overpowered the officers, killing two and wounding others. The trouble spread until within a few hours scores had armed and taken sides. A general uprising was imminent. Checote, acting quickly, called out 1200 men, captured the disturbers and quelled the mob and prevented, by his quick action, what might have spread to a serious outbreak.
He was not only great as chief in the initiation and execution of Creek laws, but he was a great Christian example and preacher to his people. While chief ruler he never neglected to keep his appointments for preaching and it was a strict rule of his life never to speak on matters politically to his hearers who had gathered for religious purposes. So strictly did he adhere to this principle that when the Indians came on Saturday to stay through Sunday for religious preaching, until late Monday, he would not take advantage of their coming together to speak on political issues because their gathering had been for religious instruction and worship and not for worldly things.
During his first term as chief, he had erected a large arbor near where the council house now stands in the city of Okmulgee. To this place the Indians came from all over the Nation and camped about for days listening to his religious
instruction and preaching. One of his familiar texts was the saying of King Agrippa after listening to Paul’s defense: "Thou has almost persuaded me to become a Christian." On one occasion when in Washington over Sunday, he was invited to preach in one of the leading Methodist churches. He impressed his hearers in a wonderful way by preaching from the text: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." Gen. 49:10.
His religious impressions came to him in early life. It is recorded that he said that when a small boy he witnessd some children being baptized by some missionaries, and was deeply moved to join their number and be baptized but no one invited or spoke to him on this subject on account of his being so young; but in later years, with maturer mind, he was converted and lived among his people a strictly religious life rarely equalled among men. Many were the examples of his conscientious convictions. On one occasion he was summoned by a Government Agent to meet him at Tahlequah to give testimony concerning some tribal affair. The day fixed for his appearance was Monday, but he did not arrive until one day late, Tuesday. The Agent was irritated and impatient at the delay and wanted to know why he did not appear on Monday. After an apology for the delay, Checote said: "Had I appeared here on Monday, it would have been necessary for me to have traveled all day Sunday. This I could not do because I believe it wrong to use the day that way." The agent, humbled by his remarks, accepted his excuse and told him that he had done the right thing in obeying his conscience in the matter.
In the year 1882, he was selected by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as a delegate to the Ecumenical Conference to convene in London, England, where delegates from all over the world of Methodism were to meet, but on account of illness he was prevented from going. On September 3, 1884, he died at his home in Okmulgee and was buried just beyond its limits. His son, Martin L. Checote, also a preacher, lives close by and is a familiar figure on the streets of Okmulgee. He is a college graduate and his life displays many of the traits of his noble father.
As we have talked to the "old Indians" of to-day about
Checote, they all speak of him as their "Great Chief," gentle as a child, courageous as a lion, whose life left an impress on his people for good more than all other chiefs in their history.
Truly he merits a place on the records of history as "The Patriot Chief and Christian Example of the Creek people."
O. A. LAMBERT,