By DORIS CHALLACOMBE
"O, golden breasted bird of dawn,
Oklahomans, as they peruse the rare poems of the greatest native poet, are privileged to have their lives sweetened by this sentiment. As a political and educational leader, Alexander Posey was excelled by none of his contemporaries. Living during a period when tribal affairs were being concluded, he served his people as only one of incomparable understanding could serve them.
Lewis H. Posey, father of Alexander, was Scotch-Irish. He was born in the Indian Territory in that section known as the Creek Country in 1841. He was said to be a man with a jovial disposition. This trait was outstanding in his son, Alexander. Lewis Posey had a knowledge of the English language and of mathematics. He served as United States Marshall at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, before his marriage.
The mother of Alex Posey was Pohas Harjo whose English name was Nancy Phillips. She was a full blood Creek of the Wind clan. She married Lewis Posey at the age of fifteen, and Alexander was born during her seventeenth year.
The Harjo family is one of the most noted Indian families. It is the oldest family of the Muskogees or Creeks.
Mrs. Posey was a devoted mother and a devout and sincere Christian, belonging to the Baptist Church. She was urged by her husband to use her inherited wealth in the education of her children.
Alexanader L. Posey was born in the Creek nation about eight miles from where the town of Eufaula, Oklahoma, now stands, August 3, 1873.
Alex was to show marked genius in human understanding and an unusual comprehension of the beauty of the soul and the spirit. He was a child of happy disposition, carefree and playful. He grew into manhood with Tom, a full blood, whom his father had adopted. Alex tells in one of his stories about the Creek prophet and medicine man, Chologee. He and Tom had on one occasion placed a dead snake in the path where the old man would have to pass. They waited in hiding to see if he would be frightened.2 This story and other similar ones were evidences of the wit and humor which made him popular with his companions.
Mrs. Posey was a true mother in thoughtfulness and care of the boy. He tells in later years of the "sweeps" she made for him. He speaks of the "days of lost sunshine" when he played in them.
Early in life, Lewis Posey arranged for the beginning of Alexander's education. A private tutor was his first experience. He studied the English language, but always seemed to prefer to speak in his native Creek tongue. Alexander tells this story in one of his writings.3
"I never spoke any English until compelled to speak it by my father. One evening when I blurted out in the best Creek I could command, and began telling him about a horse hunt, he cut me off shortly: 'Young man, if you don't tell me that story in English after supper, I am going to wear you out.' I was hungry, but this put an abrupt end to my desire for the good things I had heaped on my plate.
"I got up from the table and made myself useful—brought water from the well, turned the cows into the pasture—thinking maybe this would cause him to forget what he had said. My goodness, however, was without
avail, for as soon as he came from the table he asked me in a gentle but firm voice to relate my horse-hunt. Well, he was so pleased with my English that he never afterwards allowed me to speak Creek."
Alex attended grade school in Eufaula. He proved to be a student with an immediate desire for learning. During the long winter evenings, he listened to the tales, legends and folk lore of the Indian race, as related by his mother. His desire to write did not develop until after he had entered Bacone University.
He was able to enter the second academic grade at the age of seventeen. Although he was timid and reserved, the kind and thoughtful guidance of A. C. Bacone, President of the College, soon caused him to feel free to indulge in the campus activities with enthusiasm and success.
Posey acted as librarian on Sundays during his stay at the University. He set type after school hours on week days for the Bacone Indian University Instructor. Posey made his first contribution to the literary world in the October, 1892, issue. It was the poem, "The Comet's Tale." His next article published was "The Indian: What of Him?" This was followed by "The Sea God", "Death of a Window Plant", "The River Strange", and "Fixico Yahola's Revenge."
He attracted great attention by the delivery of the commencement address at the time of his graduation from college at the age of twenty-two. His subject was "Does it Pay to Educate the Indian?' The genuineness of his interest in the subject, and the fervor of his delivery, made this speech the oustanding address of the evening.
Posey was a young man of striking appearance, dressed usually in tailored attire, with immaculate gloves and a stick. In describing his appearance, F. S. Barde, of Guthrie, writes:
"His complexion was swarthy, his hair glossy black, and his eyes, brilliant, dark, and expressive. His features bore marked resemblance to those of Shelley. His imagination, tinged with the melancholy of his race, and his love of nature, tender and romantic, were inheritances from
tribal generations that knew all the ways of the wind, the sky, and the earth."4
The Creek nation affairs were in need of an able and honest leader at this time. Posey was elected in 1895 to a seat in the House of Warriors, of the Creek Legislature. He attended all the meetings of the Councils or Conclaves in the Indian Territory where he acted with shrewdness and competency for his tribe.
In 1896, Posey was Superintendent of the Creek Nation Orphan Asylum at Okmulgee. A short time before, he had been introduced to Miss Minnie Harris of Fayetteville, Arkansas, a woman of culture and charm. The following entry was written in his journal under the date of January 4, 1897:
"I have nowhere mentioned my 'better half'. The story of our courtship and marriage would make a readable romance. I was introduced to her one morning nearly two years ago by J. N. Thornton, 'ye' editor of the Indian Journal, at breakfast in the hotel at Eufaula. The beauty of the young school teacher thoroughly charmed me; and though I saw her frequently, I could not sufficiently overcome my Indian nature to talk with her. She went away. I thought of her constantly; would sometimes grow anxious to declare my love by letter. Two months passed and she returned to take up her work. One day I made it convenient to pass by the school-house. I got a glimpse of her as I hurried by on my 'ballie', and another as I returned. My love grew deeper. Three months later I was elected to the position I now hold. One night I was at Eufaula, and by chance, met her. I offered her a place in my school. She accepted it and when summer was come again, 'two hearts beat as one'."5
Posey was superintendent of the Orphans Home at Okmulgee until 1897, when he resigned. The Superintendency of Public Instruction of the Creek Nation was the next public position he occupied. He did not serve long, however, as he saw the need of going back to his home near Stidham, Oklahoma.
4Private Collection of Letters and Clippings in the Oklahoma Historical Building, Loaned me on June 23, 1933.
It was during the time he spent on his farm that he wrote the most beautiful of his poems. The prevailing atmosphere of his home was one of contentment and tranquility. He was able to spend most of his forenoons in writing. His aftrenoons were spent in rambling through the woods of his farm in company with his wife. The companionship of his family was a constructive factor in the success of his writings at this time. His great love for his mother was an added inspiration. He never failed to spend Christmas with her.
Posey was a scholar of marked ability. This was shown in the selection of books for his library. He was very fond of reading, and while on canoe trips down the Canadian River he read books on Creek anthology.
He was not to remain undisturbed long. A man possessing such executive ability could not go unnoticed. The National High School at Eufaula needed a superintendent, and the people of his tribe persuaded him to serve. Then, after serving satisfactorily in this capacity, he was persuaded to become superintendent of the Wetumpka National School. Following this, he returned to Eufaula to take editorial charge of the Indian Journal.
It was at this time that the Dawes Act was closing up affairs of the Five Civilized Tribes, and sentiment among the members of the tribe was divided on important matters. Posey sought to express his opinion and the opinion of the leaders of his tribe in a series of letters dealing with the course of events by which the Indian was being displaced in his native land. They were designed as conversations between Wolf Warrior, Kono Harjo, and Tookpofko Micco, old Creek men, and men prominent in Indian Territory affairs. These prominent white men were spoken of with the following names: Tams Bixby was "Toms Big Pie;" Pliny Soper was "Plinty-so-far"; Secretary Hitchcock was "Secretary Its-cocked"; Governor Haskell was "Governor C. N. Has-it"; Senator Owen was "Colonel Robert L. Owes-em." These letters attracted world-wide attention. The London Times asked for permission to print them. They were known as "The Fus Fixico Letters."
Posey edited the Indian Journal for more than two years. He was next employed on the Muskogee Times at Muskogee. He
had worked with the Times only a short time when he was offered a job in the United States Indian Agency at Muskogee. With Drennan C. Scraggs, he took charge of the Creek Enrollment Party of the Five Civilized Tribes, at the request of the Dawes Commission. It was the duty of this party to appraise the land held by the Indian Tribes, preparatory to the making of allotments. The Indians had great faith in Posey and he was enabed to do a good piece of work in this field.
The wiser men among the tribe thought it best to call a constitutional convention and apply for statehood. Accordingly, they met at Muskogee, August 21, 1905. Posey was made secretary of this body. He formulated in large the constitution and proposed the name "Sequoyah" for the new state. Much credit for the success of Indian Territory is due Posey.
At the close of this period in the fascinating life of the Indian bard, he decided to return to the Indian Journal at Eufaula. Upon notice of his intentions, the McAlester News wrote under the caption "Fus Fixico Back":
"Alexander Posey again takes charge of the Eufaula Indian Journal. There will be joy at least throughout Oklahoma newspaperdom over the following announcement in the Muskogee Phoenix: 'Alex Posey, the Bard of Tuledge, the writer of the famous Fus Fixico Letters, has gone back to his rightful calling after four years of battling the vulgar commercial world . . . . . . . This is the oldest newspaper in Oklahoma, having been established in 1877. During the years of 1902 and 1903, Mr. Posey was editor of the Journal and won fame as an Indian dialect writer. He then came to Muskogee and was employed on the old Muskogee Times, after which he went into the Government service where he remained until a little over a year ago. While in the government employ, Posey succeeded in getting Crazy Snake to come in and take his allotment. In addition to editing the Journal, Mr. Posey will do literary work. The press of Oklahoma will welcome him back into the fold.'6
6Private Collection of Letters and Clippings in the Oklahoma Historical Society Building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
A short time after this, Posey became quite a figure in the dispute over the location of the McIntosh county seat. Posey was a strong advocate for its location at Eufaula, while a group headed by Oblenness of Hoffman were working for Checotah. Many articles and items were exchanged in the ensuing contention. Eufaula was eventually chosen.
On the 27th day of May, 1908, Posey started from Muskogee to Eufaula with R. D. Howe, an attorney. This trip was destined to prove fatal for the one who was honored and revered among his people. The railroad bridge had washed out near Wells and it was impossible for the train to go on. The train was stopped and the two men talked over the idea of walking the rest of the way. They found the road bed and the track were both washed out, so they planned to have two negroes row them across. The water was so swift that the boat became unmanageable. After jumping into the roaring swirling stream, they tried to swim to shore. Obstructions in the form of railroad ties, wire, and siding, prevented Posey from reaching shore. Assistance from his companion and the efforts of those on shore and in boats failed to save him. His body was recovered about a month later.
A tribute to Posey written in the Muskogee Phoenix by S. M. Rutherford July 23, 1908, reads as follows:
"What we mourn here is not Posey, but the workshop, the tenement of clay in which he developed and cultivated those qualities of heart and mind which alone move us to this devotion . . . He loved nature, and in the silence of his own heart and in his own way, worshiped nature's God . . . . . . In all his thoughts and expressions, however, he disclosed a belief of and a reliance in a universal religion, comprehensive enough for the whole human race . . . . . To him life was not vouchsafed as a period for selfish indulgences, nor to be regarded as a void in the cycles of eternity, but rather as an earthly sojourn of probation full of life and consequences for which he was to answer at the last great day. Instead of mourning, let us look up and address in the words of the poet:
'The day has come, not gone,
Thy life is now beyond
Among the relatives still living are Mrs. Pohas Harjo-Posey, mother of Alexander Posey, who lives on a farm near Wewoka, Oklahoma. A son lives in the East, and his wife, Mrs. Minnie Posey, is living in California. Her exact address is not available at this writing.
Barde, F. S. Autobiography. Guthrie, Oklahoma, July 23, 1924.