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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 2
June, 1935
CHITTO HARJO

Page 139

At the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society, held at Okmulgee May 10th and 11th, a number of historical sketches, or they may be termed essays, written by students of the Okmulgee public schools, were presented to the Society. These sketches pertained to the history and traditions of the Creek, or Muskogee tribe of Indians. The subject was very appropriate as the annual meeting was being held in the capital of the old Creek Nation and in the capitol building. The students of the Okmulgee schools have made a study of their local history and have had the advantage of much of the original source information.

These students are to be commended for their good work in compiling the history and traditions of their own part of the State and helping to preserve the historical events as well as the folklore of the Creek people. All these students' essays are filed in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society and will be available to research workers.

The society voted to have published in the Chronicles the following biographical sketch of Chitto Harjo, better known as Crazy Snake written by Mace Davis, a student of the 12th grade.

—Editor.

Chitto Harjo, popularly known as Crazy Snake, expressed the philosophy of his life when he said that he would not mind so much playing the white man's game if only the white man would not make all the rules. He thus summed up, perhaps unconsciously, the long losing fight he had waged against tremendous odds. He had tried to play the red man's game, but the white man was the referee and changed the rules as often as was expedient. Indomitable of will, firm and unchanging of purpose, Harjo stood firmly but unsuccessfully against the resistlessly inrolling tide of white immigration. It was a final conflict between two civilizations: one powerful with all the massed-up strength of generations, and with land hungry hordes following up and even preceding the conquests of the government; the other was few in numbers, lacking the resources and solidness of a civilized state, and possessing land and homes only at the sufferance of the white man. There could

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be but one issue to such a conflict, but that great Indian, although half-knowing that the fate of the red man was written, followed in the way of his forefathers in defiance of the law of the white man.

Chitto Harjo was born about the year 1854 in Creek Indian Territory, now a part of Oklahoma. Nothing is known of his early life except that he was a follower of Isparhecker, who was the leader of the federal element among the Creeks during the Civil War. Harjo showed promise of leadership and gained prominence in a tribal disturbance called the Green Peach War.

In 1892 the long feared spectre of division of tribal lands took tangible form when Congress created the Dawes Commission for the purpose of inducing the Indians to agree to allotment of lands. Harjo at once became the acknowledged leader of the dissenting faction. As a member of the House of Kings he continually warned his people that allotment of lands would lead to the final step in the white man's dominance over the Indian. He foresaw with the utmost clarity that to break up the old communal system of land ownership by alloting a quarter-section to each Indian would be to crumble the foundation of tribal unity and government. He was a prophet, at once denouncing his people for straying from the way of their forefathers and warning them that the destruction of the Creek nation was imminent.

Harjo's followers were mostly fullbloods, but at a later time many negroes of part Indian blood were admitted into the Snake faction. As Harjo is most widely known as Crazy Snake, and his followers were designated as Snakes, it would be well to explain whence the term came. Chitto is a Creek word meaning snake, and Harjo signifies one who is brave beyond discretion, foolhardy, or in a loose sense, crazy. Thus Chitto Harjo became known to the whites as Crazy Snake.

In general, the half-breeds and intermarried citizens of the Creek nation favored the allotment of lands. Many of them already owned fine farms, and all of them expected to gain if the white man's civilization supplanted the old communal system of tribal ownership. About one-third of the Creeks, counting the Negroes, were followers of Harjo. Between his group actively opposing allotments and the mixed-bloods who supported it was

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a large group who were either half-willing to take allotments or could easily be coerced.

Thus, on one side were ranged the more progressive and better educated mixed-bloods, the eager land agents and promoters, the ego-centric type of community boosters, and the great federal government. On the other side and opposing this group stood Crazy Snake and his little band of about 5,000 followers. They were ignorant, poor, and only half realized the vast forces arrayed against them. They knew nothing but that they desired to be left alone to live as they saw fit on the land which the Great White Father at Washington had promised to them and their children as long as grass shall grow and water flow.

Harjo is known to many as a stubborn old Snake with more "courage to defy the powerful makers of his fate" than intellect and reasoning power. But there is every reason to believe that he possessed great native intelligence. The most serious charge against him is that he was a cross-grained malcontent, standing stubbornly in the way of progress. Apart from the malcontent side of it (though he had great reason to be so), the question as to whether or not he stood in the way of progress is a delicate one. Most certainly he was a hindrance to our Western civilization, but it is not so certain that he was a hindrance to real progress. It is difficult to believe that, behind that broad forehead there was not a thing more than mulish obstinacy, that behind that piercing eye there was not a keen intelligence that had thrust through into the heart of the question. I will expound what I believe to have been Harjo's guiding star and principles of action in opposing our Western civilization.

The progress of civilization, as Harjo saw it, meant that treaties would be made and kept only as long as was profitable, and broken when expedient. In no instance, he saw, were the solemn promises sworn on the honor of the United States allowed to stand for long in the way of "progress." To him the white man's civilization was superior to the Indians only in that the young braves multiplied like flies and were given great power to break the promises of their fathers and take the land of the Indian. He could not know that true civilization does not entail the looting of lands and property from uncivilized people. He did not know, as he

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said before the Senate Committee at Tulsa, that the white man had come to the Indian saying he knew the road that leads to light, and that he was willing to show the Indian this road that the red man might know the blessing of civilization and gain the light. Harjo also knew that the white man himself had not found the light, for his civilization was one of sordid greed.

Over against this, the progress of civilization, stood the simple tribal life he was fighting for. For him the block of allotment plans meant surcease from the continual inroads of the white man. It meant that the Indian would be left in peace to raise his little patches of corn and beans, to hunt and fish, and to keep alive the old customs and traditions. He knew that to place each Indian on a quarter-section as an independent farmer would be to place him on the same economic basis with the white man, who with generations of sustained effort behind him and with his greater skill in tilling the soil, could easily outstrip the Indian in production. Thus the Indian would lose first his government and tribal citizenship, then his lands, and finally his very identity as the conquering race swallowed him up. So on these principles and for these reasons did Chitto Harjo oppose the allocation of Creek lands.

Following close on the work of the Dawes Commission came the Curtis Act. This act, passed in 1898, abolished tribal laws and courts, thus fulfilling the fears of Crazy Snake. Matters came quickly to a head. In 1900 the Creek nation agreed to allot its lands, thereby consenting to the Curtis Act. Crazy Snake realized that immediate action must be taken if the identity of the Creek nation was to be preserved.

His following among the full-bloods had held together with remarkable tenacity against all the forces working to destroy their unity. With implicit confidence in their leader, they supported his attempt to establish them on a separate political status. In 1901 they proclaimed him their hereditary chief. Harjo at once called a national council of the House of Kings and the House of Warriors at Hickory Ground, six miles from Henryetta. The council proclaimed the reestablishment of the ancient laws and courts acknowledged by the United States in the treaty of 1825. In so doing they challenged the authority of the United States to dissolve the government of another nation, and appealed to the sanctity of treaties.

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It has been said that the move was ill-advised. Perhaps it was, but only in that it was unwise for the Indian to hope that the United States would be bound by a treaty which it would break at pleasure. If their attempt to preserve their identity as a nation was ill-advised, then so are all such attempts. It was a desperate effort, but the situation was desperate.

Crazy Snake proclaimed Hickory Ground the capitol of Creek nation instead of Okmulgee. Laws were passed forbidding Creek Indians to employ white labor or to rent lands to whites. A body of light horsemen was organized to enforce the laws. A detachment of them rode into Eufaula and posted a warning to the effect that any Indian renting lands to whites would be fined $100 and given 50 lashes on the back and that all improvements on Indian lands made by whites were to be confiscated.

Wild rumors began to be circulated concerning the activities of the Snake Indians. One was that six hundred Creeks were about to descend on Bristow. It was reported that members of the Snake faction were roving over the whole nation threatening and whipping those who accepted allotments. There is no doubt that there is some truth in this last, but it has been stated by Creek Indians (Mr. Sam Haines and Mr. Johnson Tiger) now living, there was no widespread violences and that Crazy Snake was not overbearing.

The extent of Crazy Snake's measures to expel the white man were no more threatening than those experienced by Mr. George Riley Hall of Henryetta.

Mr. Hall and his brother had rented a farm from a Creek Indian near the Hickory Grounds. They had made considerable outlay on it in time, labor, and money. One evening a Snake Indian named Chowela, accompanied by a light horseman and an interpreter, came to the farm and told Mr. Hall he would have to leave at once. Hall attempted to parley, saying he would lose heavily if he abandoned the farm. Chowela replied they would have to leave regardless, and at once. Then Mr. Hall said he was a citizen of the United States, and would leave only when he was ordered to do so by the federal court at Muskogee. Chowela angrily replied that if he thought he could remain in defiance of the Snake Indian government, he could try.

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The next morning Mr. Hall rode to Henryetta on a pony and on the way he heard that the United States troops had arrived. He hurried on, and to his great relief found that the report was true and the danger was past.

Wild newspaper rumors about hundreds of Snake Indians on the warpath with such foundation as the incident just related, had induced the government to send in the troops. No armed resistance was found, but Crazy Snake and a few followers were arrested, tried, and convicted. All were liberated, however. Thus ended the first Snake "uprising."

But the determination of the full-bloods to reestablish their tribal government had not been broken. They refused to accept the allotments assigned to them, and continued to meet at Hickory Ground. At these meetings Crazy Snake addressed them at length, reviewing the wrongs they had suffered and informing them of the actions and policies of the federal government.

In 1906 a special Senate Investigating Committee came to examine conditions. Harjo spoke before the commttee at Tulsa. He reviewed the Indians relations with the white man from the time of Columbus to the present. He declared that the only trouble the Indian had had with the whites was about land and that it was still the issue at stake. He ended with a plea that the ancient promises and treaties be kept.1

In 1907 Oklahoma was made a state, thus completing the assimilation of Indian territory into the folds of civilization. Meanwhile, Crazy Snake's followers had erected a shanty and dug-out village at Hickory Ground. Numerous Negroes of part Indian blood had been admitted, and in 1908 all who applied were accepted. Soon the Negroes outnumbered the full-bloods; so the latter retired to their hill homes. The Negroes and mixed bloods committed many small depredations, often raiding smokehouses, whence the name "Smoked Meat Rebellion." Crazy Snake was not responsible for these depredations, for they were committed by Negroes who were not members of the true Snake faction. Rumors of another uprising floated about; the newspapers did much to foment fear. The white people demanded military protection.



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Dana Helsey, an Indian agent, and George J. Wright, also connected with the Indian service, were sent by the federal government to investigate. They reported that the situation was not serious.

Officers went to Hickory Ground to arrest Negroes for thefts. A fight occurred in which several were killed on both sides. Instantly the newspapers were aflame with news of the Snake Indian uprising. Panic spread all over the state; the people clamored for militia to defend their homes. Newspapers all over the world proclaimed that hundreds of fully armed Indians were on the war-path.

On receiving orders from Governor Haskell, Colonel Roy Hoffman called out five companies of militia, and martial law was declared in the Hickory Ground country. The militia found no armed resistance, nor any evidence of a Snake uprising, for the full-bloods were in their hill country homes.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Odom had secured a warrant for the arrest of Crazy Snake, whom he considered to be the cause of the trouble. The old Snake at this time lived in McIntosh County at the base of Tiger Mountain. The sheriff and several deputies went there to arrest him. They fired at him without warning. Crazy Snake was shot in the hip, and Charles Coker, his lieutenant, was shot through the chest. Coker killed two of the deputies, and with his chief escaped.

With the aid of Daniel Bob, an old Choctaw friend of Crazy Snake's, the two of them traveled by secret routes to the Choctaw country.

Chitto Harjo lived with his friend, Daniel Bob, for the last few years of his life. He died, in distress from the gunshot wound, on April 11, 1911.

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