By George Riley Hall
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:
"Thou unrelenting past!
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
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,
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
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
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
These time-stained ivied walls have echoed back the shout
These storied walls have heard the passioned cry
And here the stolid Isparhecher stood in gloom,
And pious Motey Tiger, with a smile for, all,
And here the learned Posey tuned his harp to song
These mortared walls have seen a nation, silent, die.
And still the star of hope can never set or fade.
And solons yet unborn shall proudly claim a trace—
As kindly Nature heals man's scars on earth with grass
And we who mark the trend of events here today
—George Riley Hall.
At the conclusion of his address Mr. Hall was called upon to read his own—the Oklahoma classic poem:
LAND OF THE MISTLETOE
Land of the Mistletoe, smiling in splendor,
O, Oklahoma! fair land of my dreaming!
Land of the Sequoyah, my heart's in thy keeping,
Let the deep chorus of life's music throbbing
Land of the mistletoe, here's to thy glory,
—George Riley Hall.