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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 1
March, 1933
A SURVEY OF TRIBAL RECORDS IN THE ARCHIVES OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT IN OKLAHOMA

By GRANT FOREMAN

Page 625

About the time the federal agency known as the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes had superseded the functions of the tribes, namely, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole, having no facilities for their preservation, the tribes deposited with this commission their tribal records. During the period in which the commission was engaged in making up the rolls of these tribes as a basis for the allotment of their lands and making the allotments themselves, these tribal records were referred to frequently to aid the commission in the performance of its duties. That work was completed, however, nearly twenty years ago, and these records for the most part being boxed up, have been stored in the attic of the federal building at Muskogee since the commission moved into that building. There are other records, in bound volumes, containing the proceedings and acts of the legislative bodies, the courts and administrative officers of the tribes, that have been placed upon the shelves in the vault of the commission and in the attic of the federal building.

Having long been familiar with these tribal records and their historical significance, at the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society on the first day of February, 1927, I offered the following resolution which was unanimously adopted, reading as follows:

"WHEREAS, the life of the Five Civilized Tribes is unique on this continent, and forms one of the outstanding features of the history of the State of Oklahoma, and
"WHEREAS, a considerable part of the history of these tribes is contained in a large mass of tribal records, documents, laws, council proceedings, reports, and correspondence now forming part of the

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archives of the office of the Superintendent for the Five Civilized Tribes at Muskogee, and
"WHEREAS, the Five Civilized Tribes have ceased to function any longer as tribes and the period of general supervision over said Indians is drawing to a close; and a large part of the tribal records above mentioned are not necessary to the administration of Indian affairs but do constitute most important historical source material concerning the State of Oklahoma
"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Oklahoma Historical Society in annual meeting assembled that such of said records as are not essential to the administration of Indian affairs would form a valuable addition to the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and should be deposited there where they could be properly arranged and classified and indexed for reference purposes and preserved against loss, and
"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the necessary steps be taken to ascertain what part of said records may properly be removed to the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society at such time as they will be no longer necessary to government administration of Indian Affairs, and
"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that authority for the removal of such tribal records to the archives of this Society be solicited to be carried into effect when this Society shall have a fire proof building in which to preserve them, and
"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of these resolutions be furnished to the members of the Senate and House of Representatives from the State of Oklahoma with the request that the object of said resolutions may be given effect by said members."

Impressed with the importance of taking steps to preserve these records for their great historical value to posterity I discussed the subject with Judge R. L. Williams of the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and agitated it at the meetings of the board. Finally after the enactment of the bill appropriating $500,000.00 and authoriz-

Page 627

ing the construction of a fire proof building to house the Oklahoma Historical Society and its archives, on July 2-5, 1929, Judge Williams moved that a copyist be employed to calendar these records under the direction of myself as I had volunteered to supervise this work without compensation. The motion also provided for the purchase of the necessary typewriter, stationery, cards and steel filing cases. This motion was duly adopted by the board and on September 9, 1929, the work was commenced.

The Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes and his staff very kindly furnished a place for the work to be done. They provided the necessary tables on which to arrange the files and facilities have been at all times extended to us for promoting this work.

The files which first engaged our attention were deposited in little or no order or arrangement in thirty steel filing cases. Mrs. Watts, the copyist, and myself first made a comprehensive survey of the work and I prepared a form of a calendar card from the form employed by the Library of Congress which has been followed since that time. We decided first to take up the Cherokee files and classified them under the following titles: Advocate (newspaper), Asylum—Insane, Asylum—Orphan, Building, Building Insurance, Cemeteries, Citizenship, Courts, Divorce, Elections, Estray Property, Federal Relations, Ferries, Foreign Relations, Intruders, Land Division, Marriage Licenses, Minerals, National Attorney, Per Capita Payment, Payments—Strip—Orphan, Permits to Non-Citizens, Probate Attorneys, Railroads, Schools—Colored High, Female Seminary—Male Seminary and Religious, Townsites, Townsite Commissioner, Traders, Treasurer, Tribal Officers and Tribal Records. It required several weeks to classify these files under their proper heads before the work of calendaring could begin. Each card contains an entry indicating in a general way the character of each document. It includes the date, the name of the writer and there is enough further information on the card to indicate its content, historical significance and identity, information which will enable the research worker to determine whether he wishes to examine the original. The original papers are filed in large manila envelopes under the same heads and in the same chronological order as the cards themselves.

Page 628

After the calendaring of the Cherokee material, we began on the Creek material. The arranging of this required about a month and we classified it under the following heads: Agricultural Leases, Asylums—Colored Orphan—Creek Orphan and Miscellaneous, Auditor, Attorneys, Blacksmiths, Buildings, Census, Citizenship, Constitution & Laws, Courts, Divorce, Doctor & Vaccination, Elections, Estray Property, Fairs, Federal Relations, Ferries & Toll Bridges, Foreign Relations, Hunting & Fishing, Intruders, Land Division, Marriage Licenses, Licenses to Non-Citizens, Licenses to Attorneys, Light Horse, Liquor & Gambling, Minerals, Miscellaneous papers, Miscellaneous papers in Creek Language, National Council, Newspapers, Outbreaks, Pardons, Pastures & Stock, Pensions—Indigents, Orphan Payment, Per Capita Payment, Postoffices, Principal Chief, Railroads, Roads, Saw & Grist Mills, Schools, Tax Collectors,—Drovers, Townsites, Traders, Treasurer, Warrants and Wills.

We then began on the Choctaw material which was classified under the following heads: Attorneys, Auditor, Buildings, Cattle, Census, Citizenship, Courts, Court of Claims, Divorce, Doctors, Elections, Estates, Federal Relations, Foreign Relations, Indigents, Intruders, Land Division, Marriage Licenses, Minerals, Miscellaneous papers, Miscellaneous papers in Choctaw language, National Agent, National Council, National Secretary, Per Capita Payments, Permits to Non-Citizens, Principal Chief, Railroads, Roads, Schools, Sheriffs, Tax Collectors, Timber, Townsites, Traders, Treasurer, Whisky & Gambling.

The calendaring of the Chickasaw material followed, under the following heads: Agricultural Leases, Attorneys, Buildings, Cattle, Census, Citizenship, Constables, Courts, Doctors, Elections, Estates & Guardianships, Federal Relations, Ferries, Foreign Relations, Indigents, Jailer, Lands, Marriage Licenses, Minerals, Miscellaneous papers, National Council, Per Capita Payments, Railroads, Roads, Special National Agent, Hay, Permits to Non-Citizens, Timber, Schools, Sheriffs, Telephones, Orphan Home, Townsites, Traders, Attorney General, Auditor, Governor, Expert Accountant, National Interpreter, National Recorder, National Secretary, National Treasurer.

Of Seminole material the amount is almost negligible.

Page 629

To date the work done totals about fifty-five thousand cards representing that many different documents and in some cases, such as vouchers, voucher stubs, subpoenas in court cases and other matters of minor interest where the separation of the papers was not important, a number of such documents are recorded on one card with sufficient information to enable the student to understand the contents and significance of the documents.

Information of this work has become current throughout the state and beyond, with the result that students and teachers and others interested in the history of Oklahoma and of the Five Civilized Tribes have visited these archives and have been offered opportunity for examining them. When it is remembered that before this work began these papers were so badly mixed and unorganized that systematic examination of them was impossible and when it is known that under the present arrangement of the papers and the cards it is possible for students to secure ready information concerning the material as a whole and reference to particular documents which they desire to examine, the value of the work done will be apparent.

Bound Records Not Calendared
CHOCTAW

I made a survey of the tribal records of the Choctaw Nation in bound volumes comprising manuscript entries of proceedings of the national council, records, criminal and civil dockets, minute books of the district, county, probate and Supreme Courts, renters' and laborers' permit records, treasurers' records, records of conveyances, marriage records, records of coal leases and operations, records of cattle brands, records of administrators, executors and guardians, records of conveyances of property, records of estray stock, records of county warrants, record of rangers, records of commissions and bonds of officers, records of non-citizens in the nation, records of jurors and witnesses, and auditors' records.

The records of the national council consist of journals of the House and Senate, acts, resolutions and memorials of the general council, letters of the principal chiefs, and ledger accounts of Armstrong Academy. Of these there are 36 bound volumes containing more than 10,000 pages.

This nation was divided into three districts. The first

Page 630

district was divided into five counties, (each of which had its individual records), totaling 43 bound volumes, making in all over 7500 pages. The second district contained seven counties, with 119 bound volumes, totaling over 16,000 pages. The third district contained five counties with 78 bound volumes of such records that totaled more than 13,000 pages.

Of the district courts for the three districts there are auditors' reports, court dockets, records of marriage licenses and divorces, records of witnesses, execution and minute books, criminal dockets, equity dockets, execution dockets, totaling 42 bound volumes, comprising nearly 7300 pages.

Of the Supreme Court records there are five volumes of dockets and minutes of court proceedings.

These total about 56,000 pages of which 11,740 pages are in the Choctaw language and in the process of translation by Peter J. Hudson, an educated Choctaw Indian in the employ of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

CHEROKEE

A survey of the Cherokee records discloses 524 bound volumes in manuscript. Of the national council records there are 45 volumes of copies of acts of the council, journals, registers of appropriation acts and miscellaneous national council records. Ten volumes of records pertaining to the schools include the minutes of the Board of Education and miscellaneous records relating to the Male and Female Seminaries, Colored High School, primary schools and others. In connection with the work of the citizenship commission of the Cherokee Nation there are 17 volumes, including records of claimants, affidavits of citizenship, journals, records of citizenship cases, freedmen doubtful cases, Cherokee rejected cases. The 17 volumes of the Cherokee auditor include register of claims, clerks' reports, warrants, Insane Asylum, etc. The Cherokee Treasurers' records include 22 volumes of reports of national funds, of revenue collected, registers of vouchers, cash journals, sheriffs' and district clerks' sales of estray property, appropriation acts, etc.

The volumes pertaining to the eight districts of the Cherokee Nation relate to reports of administrators, estray property, records of wills, civil and criminal district court records, circuit and supreme court records, records of bonds, of appraisements of improvements, court minute books, records of

Page 631

appointments, records of marks and brands of live stock, making a total of 139 bound volumes.

In addition there are 34 volumes of books listed as miscellaneous including records of marks and brands, bills of sale, registers and letter books, register of warrants, officers' reports of town lot payments, records of national prison warrants, register of town lots, annual reports of national funds, index to Cherokee freedmen strip payment, record of Cherokee commissioners, sheriffs' registers. Besides 80 volumes of stubs of general and school fund warrants and 150 volumes of sheriffs' reports of estray property, claims, bonds, election contests, officers' reports, permits, etc.

The foregoing make a total of 524 bound volumes of manuscript record material of the Cherokee tribe of Indians.

CHICKASAW

The Chickasaw records include records of the Chickasaw Senate and of the House, national treasurers' records, records of citizenship commission, guardianship, orphan home and labor school, auditors' records permit records for non-citizens, court records, schools, appropriations, attorney generals' report, acts of the Chickasaw Nation totaling 46 bound volumes.

CREEK

The Creek records include 56 volumes of acts and proceedings of the house of kings and house of warriors, records of trial courts and the supreme court, brand books, ferry licenses, non-citizen permits, etc.

At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the historical society on January 28, 1932, a motion was made and carried that some one be employed to compile material relating to the history of the Indians residing within western Oklahoma. Miss Martha Buntin was employed to do this work and has been engaged in surveying and classifying records with which she has long been familiar in the files of several Indian Agencies in western Oklahoma, not connected with the Five Civilized Tribes.

These records are found in four agencies and have long ceased to be of service or value in connection with the current business of those officers. They have in fact been regarded as of so little value that they have been sadly neglected and the lack of space and accommodation for caring for them has resulted in the loss of much of this material and threatened loss

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of the remainder. Because of the condition in which these files are found at this time it is impossible to present an accurate survey of their extent and content. With Miss Buntin's assistance and information furnished her by the agents, I am able to give the following incomplete account of these records.

At the Shawnee and Sac and Fox Agency the old Shawnee records are stored in a warehouse occupying space much needed by the agency for other purposes. These papers are contained in nine large packing cases. Only one of these cases has been opened for the purpose of this survey and Miss Buntin reports that it is probable that the Kickapoo files back to 1874 are contained in them. These papers contain the history of this agency from its founding in 1898 or 1899 to the present and a complete history of the opening of the country and the difficulties of the Mexican Kickapoos. There is one letter book written at Fort Griffin, Texas, from 1878 to 1881 concerning the Lipan Indians.

Mr. Charles Eggers, Superintendent of this agency, has written me under date of February 17, 1933 that "Most of these files have been boxed up in our storehouse where there is very limited space and it is my opinion that if the necessary authority could be secured it would be better that these files" be deposited with the Oklahoma Historical Society where they could be classified and arranged and thereby made accessible to officials of the Indian Department. He says further, "I believe if these files were kept by your society as outlined above it would insure their safe keeping as they may be lost or destroyed in later years if kept here."

Miss Buntin reports that the papers of the abandoned Sac and Fox Agency now in the custody of Mr. Eggers are in the loft of an old warehouse of the agency now used by an Indian for storing vegetables. The roof of the building leaks and the papers are in danger of destruction from moisture. "This file covers the history of the Sac and Fox Indians in the form of letters and reports from 1840 to the consolidation of the agency with the Shawnee Agency in 1919. There must be at least 50,000 letters and other documents in this collection. It also includes the history of the Mexican Kickapoos from 1874 to 1899 and of the Shawnees from about 1870, and various small bands settling among these Indians from time to time."

Page 633

Concerning the Cheyenne and Arapaho files at the agency of L. S. Bonnin, superintendent, Concho, Oklahoma, Miss Buntin finds that "there are four large boxes which were supposed to contain records . . . and there were more than a hundred letterbooks stored in the coal bin at this office. Several press copy books of John D. Miles were placed on the top of the steam heating pipes in the basement. A number of the papers have been burned by accident and design. I fear that the papers were destroyed by fire when the building in which they were stored burned. Mr. Bonnin is doing the best he can to protect these records but like other agencies he is without sufficient storage space for them. These papers contain accounts of the relations of the Indians with the United States Government and the white men with whom they came in contact, their raids, rations, and censuses from the time of John D. Miles and possibly earlier."

The Kiowa files are in the custody of Superintendent W. B. McCown at Anadarko, Oklahoma. These include the records of the Wichita Agency from 1864 to the time of its consolidation with the Kiowa and Comanche Agency in 1878; the papers of the Kiowa and Comanche Agency from 1868 to 1878; and the papers of the joint agency to 1901 or later. From her examination, Miss Buntin estimates that there are 75,000 or more documents in this collection of historical interest, while there are many others which should be preserved in the fire proof building of the historical society. These papers, Miss Buntin writes, "are kept in a loft in an old frame warehouse. The loft is twenty by thirty feet and the floor is covered with letters, papers, documents of many kinds, and bound volumes of letters, to a depth of from one to three and even four feet in some places. There are also a number of letter books stored in the vault and a few in the basement of the office. These books contain accounts of the affairs of the agency, the relations of the tribes to the United States, traders, settlers, and other Indians. Both incoming and outgoing letters are included."

Mr. McCown under date of February 11, 1933, wrote me as follows: "I understand a bill is to be introduced into Congress authorizing superintendents of various agencies to store their old files in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society. We have quite a number of files which are

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of historical value but so far as this office is concerned they are never referred to. These files have not been given much attention and are stored in various places at the agency for the reason that we do not have sufficient storage space to properly care for them. Should this bill become a law and we have authority to turn these files over to the historical society where they may be arranged for convenient access I shall be glad to turn them over."

Besides the tribal and departmental records described herein there are records in other agencies in Oklahoma that I have not had the time or opportunity to examine, many of which doubtless have ceased to be of service in the current business of the agencies and are in the same need of care, preservation and adequate housing in the fire proof building of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

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