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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 2
June, 1935
THE OLD COUNCIL HOUSE

By George Riley Hall

Old Creek Council House

Page 133

The session of the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society, which met at Okmulgee, May 10 and 11, 1935, was held in the Old Council House of the Creek Nation.

While this building is not as old as some other structures in the old Indian Territory, yet it is one of the most interesting, picturesque and historic places in the State of Oklahoma. It was, at one time, Capitol of the Creek Nation.

In this old building are the rooms where the different departments of the Creek government were administered; here are the halls where the sessions of the two branches of their legislature were held before Oklahoma became a state and their remnant of sovereignty merged into that of the Sovereign State of Oklahoma. It was not "the Senate and the House" in the Creek government, but the "House of Warriors" and the "House of Kings."

It was in the House of Warriors that the Society held its 42nd Annual meeting—perhaps the most interesting number on the program was the address by George Riley Hall, editor, Henryetta. Free Lance, including an original poem entitled: "The Old Council House." His address follows:

—D. W. P.

My friends, in retrospect I see again Okmulgee as it was in 1890—a straggling village, but the capital of a nation. In memory I see the members of the House of Warriors and the House of Kings assembled here in solemn conclave on affairs of state. I see the light-horse captains and their force of men. I see the stern-faced justices that constitute the Red Man's court of last, resort.

The persons and events I mention here today belong in that dim vista Bryant visioned when he said:

Page 134

"Thou unrelenting past!
     Strong are the barriers 'round thy dark domain!
And fetters, sure and fast,
     Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign."

The Persian master of the quatrain said about the same, and that in language not to be forgotten:

"The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on."

Time's moving finger wrote some chapters in my early life, and tied them firmly to the scenes about this old, historic place. When first I saw this rock-walled capitol, I scarce had charted any course to guide my craft across the troubled sea of life. And fate decreed that I should teach the children of the Indians, and thus prepare them for the coming of the pale-face—an event even looked forward to with dread.

And thus the early events of my life took root about this ancient capital. I met and learned to know the statesmen of those early years. I knew the chieftains, knew the judges and the people of the tribe. Knew the educators; knew their hopes and plans to help prepare the younger people for the change that all felt sure would come.

Political conspiracies existed then, as now, but were confined to Indians alone. A sudden turn in politics replaced the treasurer, and put the youthful Posey in a place of trust when that young man was only twenty-two. To put a nation's cash in such young hands seemed hazardous, and yet no whisper of suspicion ever has been heard.

In 1895 I took a place as teacher in the "Mission" school just east of town. There Alexander Posey held the reins, and there we lived and labored for a time. In idle hours we read the "grand old masters," scribbled verse and dreamed day-dreams of how we hoped to write a line that all might read.

But still another turn in politics gave Posey supervision over all the hundred schools. And later on, in that capacity he visited again the scene. He told me that he scarcely slept, all night, so busy were his memory and super-charged emotions growing out of years he spent in that same school. For there he loved

Page 135

and married. There his first-born son was ushered into life. And from that restless night he spoke about, he wrote as sweet a song as ever came from his inspired pen. For death had been busy. His former music teacher, Rosa Lee, had died of fever; and his little brother, Jim, had passed away since we had all foregathered in the Mission school.

And his abode was then Bald Hill, his father's ranch, where he had lived while yet a boy. And I was living in the Deep Fork Valley on a farm. And he inscribed those lines to me because he knew that I could share his sense of grief, and he concluded the poem with these lines:

"Though far apart we've wandered, Hall,
     'Twixt you and me there's but a single river;
And but a single mountain-wall;
     'Twixt Rose and Jim and us the vast forever."

And now he has joined the Eternal Silence. He is with Jim and Rose, and that same "vast forever" separates them and me!

When I look back into those days, and think of all who have gone on, I feel almost a sense of personal guilt that I am here—lively as a grasshopper, when so many of my compeers have gone on. I put myself in Tom Moore's place when he said:

"I feel like one who treads alone
     Some banquet hall deserted—
Whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead,
     And all but he departed."

Looking back through the years, I might almost sympathize with Tom Campbell's "Last Man" who saw creation shrivel up and die.

But I am glad that I was here to see the primal simplicity that marked this land before the spoilers came with railroads, highways, skyscrapers, air planes and commerce. This country was beautiful then before the haul of man marred its pristine loveliness. Our modern civilization has created great artificial beauty, but has spoiled much natural beauty.

In the presence of such distinguished historians as Dr. Dale and Grant Foreman I shall touch history only where history has

Page 136

touched me. In fact I was not asked for history, but poetry. And the few simple stanzas to which these remarks are but a preface must speak for themselves. It seemed impossible to say these things without a free use of the vertical pronoun, but you will find it entirely absent in the verse.

Nor have I mentioned any person in these stanzas save those I knew personally. The natural eloquence of the Indian is well known, but probably few white men have heard more of this native eloquence than I. I have heard the late Albert McKellop, attorney-general of the Creek nation, in his pleadings before the Supreme Court. I have heard Chief G. W. Grayson in his addresses before the assembled kings of the Indian legislature. And I have listened to the moving eloquence of Chitto Harjo in his patriotic plea to hold the land "so long as grass shall grow or water run." Nor have I ever heard a human voice that carried more appeal or kindled greater sympathy than that of Chitto Harjo—Crazy Snake.

And back of every stanza in this little poem lie unwritten chapters of a people's tragic fate. The friendly rifle-ball that ended Timmie Jack's career was music as compared with legislation which spelled doom to every nation of the Five Tribes.


THE OLD COUNCIL HOUSE

Beneath the giant sycamore, the stately elm
     That guard this old rectangle from the fierce today
May throng the ghosts of those who grasped the helm
     Of Indian affairs, now drifting far away.

These time-stained ivied walls have echoed back the shout
     Of native statesmen in profound, sincere debate
When governmental treaties seemed to be in doubt
     And vast uncertainties obscured the Red Man's fate.

These storied walls have heard the passioned cry
     Of stately Grayson in his patriot appeal
That, though autonomy might fade away and die,
     Yet human destiny the Red Man's will should feel.

Page 137

And here the stolid Isparhecher stood in gloom,
     Unsmiling, stern, implacable, erect and strong,
With sad, prophetic mind he seemed to sense the doom
     That hovered over all the land when came the throng.

And pious Motey Tiger, with a smile for, all,
     Dispensed diminished powers, in his realm of might.
He saw the pillars shaken—saw the structure fall
     But never lost his faith in God and in the right.

And here the learned Posey tuned his harp to song
     And gave his youthful fancy freedom to take wing.
And though that voice is silent yet the music floats along
     And lives in loving hearts that still can hear him sing.

These mortared walls have seen a nation, silent, die.
     Have seen a people's hope submerged in utter gloom,
Have seen a proud ancestral race with scarce a sigh
     Consign their cherished institutions to the tomb.

And still the star of hope can never set or fade.
     A mingled strain of blood shall warm a sturdy race
And in the halls of learning or the busy marts of trade
     The blood of aborigines shall find an honored place.

And solons yet unborn shall proudly claim a trace—
     Some future Owen or a Curtis in the hall of fame
As blood of Erin's kings proclaims that ancient race
     And gives earth's greatest men an Irish name.

As kindly Nature heals man's scars on earth with grass
     Or lovely flow'rs, that leave no tell-tale marks to see,
So Time shall heal these mortal wounds as ages pass,
     And man shall be what God intended man to be.

And we who mark the trend of events here today
     And scribble current history as best we can
Should soothe these ancient, burning wounds as best we may
     And thus bestow a blessing on the coming man.

—George Riley Hall.


At the conclusion of his address Mr. Hall was called upon to read his own—the Oklahoma classic poem:

Page 138

LAND OF THE MISTLETOE

Land of the Mistletoe, smiling in splendor,
     Out from the borderland, mystic and old,
Sweet are the memories, precious and tender,
     Linked with thy summers of azure and gold.

O, Oklahoma! fair land of my dreaming!
     Land of the lover, the loved and the lost,
Cherish thy legends with tragedy teeming,
     Legends where love reckoned not at the cost!

Land of the Sequoyah, my heart's in thy keeping,
O, Talladega, how can I forget!
Calm are thy vales where the silences sleeping
Wake into melody tinged with regret.

Let the deep chorus of life's music throbbing
     Swell to full harmony, born of the years;
Or for the loved and lost, tenderly sobbing,
     Drop to that cadence that whispers of tears.

Land of the mistletoe, here's to thy glory,
     Here's to thy daughter, fair as the dawn,
Here's to thy pioneer sons, in whose story
     Valor and love shall live endlessly on!

—George Riley Hall.

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