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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 18, No. 1
March, 1940
CHIEF GILBERT WESLEY DUKES

BY JOHN BARTLETT MESERVE

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CHIEF GILBERT WESLEY DUKES

As the Choctaws approached the threshold of the new century, the allotment of their tribal domain in severalty had become but a matter of detail. The acquiescence by them in the Atoka Agreement of April 23, 1897, embodied as section 29 of the Act of Congress of June 28, 1898,1 practically had terminated the years of their efforts for self-government. Their tribal government was destined for liquidation but, as modified, was to be continued for eight years from March 4, 1898 "in order to carry out the requirements of this agreement." It was a complete revolution in the economic and political life of the Choctaws. Their colorful past had approached the shadows of evening and they were soon to become an integral part of American life but in no sense were they headed for the museum. The contribution of the Choctaws to the public life of the State of Oklahoma has been and is of sterling character.

The Choctaws and Chickasaws were the first of the Five Tribes to make an adjustment of their tribal affairs with the Dawes Commission but this was not accomplished without stern opposition and was to remain a controversial issue for the next few years. The second term of Chief Green McCurtain drew to a close in the fall of 1900. The Chief had been an aggressive advocate of the allotment policy of the Government and, being ineligible for a third consecutive term, sponsored the candidacy of Gilbert W. Dukes of the Tuskahoma Party, who was elected. The background of Chief bakes is of much interest.

William Dukes was a white man of French-English extraction, his French descent reaching back to the unfortunates who followed a "trail of tears" from Acadia in 1755. Early in life he gravitated into the Choctaw country in Mississippi where he married Nancy Wade who was a sister of John Wade, a signer of the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty and was also an aunt of Gov. Alfred Wade of the Choctaws. Their son Joseph Dukes was born in Mississippi, where he married Nancy Collins on September 7, 1834. She was a daughter of Charles Collins, a white man and Mary Bell, a full blood Choctaw Indian woman, his wife. Joseph Dukes became an interpreter and translator for the early missionaries, being associated with Rev. Cyrus Byington at the Mayhew Mission in Mississippi. Very shortly after the signing of the removal treaty, Joseph Dukes



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removed with his family from Mississippi to the Choctaw country in the old Indian Territory where he settled upon lands near Ft. Towson in Boktuklo County and where he engaged in farming and in his spiritual endeavors as Presbyterian minister. He served for twenty-five years as a teacher and new testament translator under Rev. Alfred Wright at Wheelock Mission. Joseph Dukes died near Ft. Towson in what is today Choctaw County, Oklahoma, in 1861 and is buried at Wheelock. Shortly thereafter Nancy, his wife, removed to the Wade settlement near old Lenox about eight miles east of the present town of Talihina, Le Flore County, Oklahoma, where she passed away in 1875 and rests in the old Wadeville cemetery in what was then Wade county. The contribution of Joseph Dukes to the spiritual welfare of the Choctaws during those Gethsemane years must not be minimized.2

Gilbert Wesley Dukes, the tenth in the family of twelve children of Joseph Dukes and Nancy Collins, his wife, was born at Lukfatah, in the Red River country, in Boktuklo County, Choctaw Nation on November 21, 1849. He was modestly educated at Spenser Academy, subsequently read law and engaged in occasional practice before the old Choctaw tribal courts. He was admitted to practice before the United States courts for the Indian Territory and, upon Statehood, qualified as a member of the bar of the State of Oklahoma. Farming and stockraising were his gainful pursuits. In about 1870, he established himself upon a 500 acre farm some four miles east of Talihina which remained his home until 1912, when he removed to a farm about nine miles southeast of Talihina where he lived until his death.

The political career of Gilbert W. Dukes began after his removal to the immediate vicinity of Talihina, when he was elected sheriff of Wade County. Later and beginning in the late seventies, he served as a member of the house and senate of the General Council, from that county. He functioned as a judge of the Supreme Court from 1885 to 1889 and as circuit judge of the second district for seven years being from 1889 to 1895. He became National Auditor in 1895 serving for two years. Judge Dukes was an active participant, although not a delegate, in the convention held at Atoka



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in April, 1897 and aided materially in framing the famous Atoka Agreement, the ratification of which he subsequently urged. His accord with the Government in its allotment policy was quite complete.3

The Atoka Agreement became a paramount issue at the election held in the fall of 1900 when Gilbert W. Dukes became the candidate of the Tuskahoma Party for the chieftainship of the Choctaw Nation, having behind him the support of the powerful McCurtain faction. His party platform pledged fidelity to the Atoka Agreement, a speedy settlement of tribal affairs and a continued leasing of the mineral lands for the support of education. He was opposed by Jacob B. Jackson of the National Party with extremely conservative views and by E. N. Wright of the Union Party which sponsored a radical program. Dukes was elected and to him was committed the task of inspiring the concluding processes which might be required of the Choctaw Nation for final allotment. He marshaled to the task a wealth of experience in the public life of his people.

The allotment controversy with its consequent closing up of all tribal affairs became the all engrossing question of the administration of Gilbert W. Dukes. The new chief promptly convened the Council in extra session in January, 1901 and in his message to that body defined and emphasized the issue in unmistakable terms:

"There are many moving considerations in favor of closing the rolls at an early date; the one of primary importance is an early allotment of lands and a division of all our common property. There is a growing anxiety among the Choctaw people to divide this property that each one may know what is his own; that they may build their homes and make other lasting improvements on their lands; that they may get their property in shape to be protected by the property rights laws; that they may be able to give their children something more substantial, something more profitable than an undivided interest in a doubtful estate. This argument is not without reason. * * * Another reason of almost equal cogency in favor of an early closing of the citizenship rolls, is the approach of tribal dissolution. * * * It means the end of our political existence; it means the disruption of all tribal government; it means the breaking of concert and political unity of our action. * * * The amount and importance of the work to be done preparatory to safe tribal extinction requires an early closing of the rolls and allotment of lands. * * * I would therefore respectfully recommend that you provide for the appointment of a Commission to meet and negotiate an agreement, supplementary to the Dawes-Choctaw-Chickasaw Agreement (Atoka Agreement), with the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes to close the rolls at an early date and begin the allotment of lands at the earliest date possible."

The chief had expressed the sentiment which prevailed among the Choctaws touching the allotment question as expressed in the preceding general election. The Council made immediate provision



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for the appointment of such a commission which was headed by Chief Dukes. Through this commission a supplemental agreement was entered into with the Dawes Commission on March 21, 1902, being incorporated in the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902.4 It is problematical if the Choctaw delegation as such, had very much to say in framing the terms of this agreement. It was doubtless prepared by the Dawes Commission and was accepted by the Choctaw representatives with little or no alternative. This agreement concluded the required details for allotment and in accordance therewith, Chief Dukes called a special tribal election for September 25, 1902 at which this supplemental agreement was submitted to the electorate of the Choctaw Nation for rejection or approval. The agreement was ratified by an overwhelming vote and the final chapter had been written.

The administration of Chief Dukes was rather uneventful. The Government was rapidly moving in and had already taken over many of the administrative features of the Choctaw Nation. As a political entity, the Choctaws assumed a hesitant posture awaiting final dissolution. Much distress, due to famine, was occasioned among the Choctaws in 1902 and Congress, upon the request of Chief Dukes appropriated $20,000 for relief which was disbursed by the chief.

The political situation among the Choctaws in the fall of 1902 became very much confused as the one term of Chief Dukes drew to a close. His renomination by the Tuskahoma party would seem to have been the logical finale, but this he was denied, and former Chief Green McCurtain again became the candidate of that party. Chief Dukes was a cogent supporter of the Supplemental Agreement and also evidenced a feeling of security about his continuance in office; at least such was his posture in the early summer of 1902.5 The militant return of Green McCurtain to the political arena




5

"Talihina, I. T. April 26, 1902.


Hon. D. C. McCurtain,
     Washington, D. C.
Dear Mack:

I will have to ask your forgiveness for delaying the answer to your last two letters. Norman has been off to the Dallas Reunion and I have just left it stand until his return. I am glad that you have taken the steps to secure the appropriation for famished Choctaws and I note from the Globe Democrat that the bill appropriating this fund has passed both houses and now awaits the signature of the President to become a law. I have been accused of requesting this for political reasons, but the idea of political prestige by the move, was far from me. I did not seek to gain any political prestige but asked for it for the suffering Choctaws of undisputed right. I would like that you wire me when this bill is approved by the President and send or rather have it sent, a copy of the bill as passed and approved.

I am glad to note the bright prospects of securing the ratification of the Supplementary Agreement and I trust that Mr. Potter will not secure any changerelative to the 'Court Citizen' clause. I suppose that is what he seeks to change. In this Nation, it is meeting considerable opposition on account of the Coal Clause, the Townsite provision, the sale of the Sulphur Springs and the change in the word 'location' in the appraisement of lands. I trust that we shall be able to get it ratified and think we will. Along this line I think it a good idea and would suggest that you write an open letter to some paper, giving your ideas on the Treaty and just how Congress and the Department views the matter and the general trend of their action in the premises. This is suggested because many are of the opinion that we can stand back and refuse to ratify, and that we will have another chance to treat and will be able to make our own terms and secure them.

The little meeting we had at Tuskahoma on the 15th, although premature as the agreement had not yet been ratified, brought out a good many things which leads me to think that some of them are going to make the fight of their lives against the agreement. Your father (Green McCurtain) did not come down and I am very sorry he did not because some who opposed it could have been brought right and some good work could have been done while waiting for its ratification by Congress and it would have been all right, if, as you think, the agreement passes in its present form.

You ask who are the probable candidates for Chief? I cannot say positively, but think Mr. W. H. Harrison, Mr. A. Talle and Mr. Tom Hunter. Some say that your father will enter the race but I hardly think so as he has told my friends that he was for me and that he did not want the office himself. I will see him in a few days I suppose for I wrote him that I would like to meet him soon and have a talk with him and I know he will give me the date.

Solomon Homer is working for Tom Hunter, but Tom himself says he is for me and that he will work for me—so the rumor that he is in the race may be a false alarm.

I dont think that the National party will put out a man this year but will Support some one of the Tuskahoma party, its nominee or Independent if such comes out.

I wish you were here to lend your assistance and support to my cause although you are away I want you to do everything you can for me through your friends here.

Nothing great has happened since I saw you—everything is moving along nicely, unless it be National politics and I hope that that will be O K in a short time.

Let me hear from you often and see that those persons whom were listed get a copy of the Supplemental Agreement.

Your friend,                         
G. W. Dukes."

Copy of a letter, an office copy of which is among the Dukes Papers in the archives of State Historical Society.

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at this particular time has been more or less enigmatical. The Secretary of the Interior, it seems, was not adverse to the election of McCurtain and may have influenced his candidacy. Disaffected by the nomination of McCurtain, Chief Dukes and many of his supporters bolted the convention and held another meeting at which Thomas W. Hunter was nominated.6 The candidacy of Hunter was endorsed by the old Union party. The Supplemental Agreement became the controversial issue in what was one of the most severely contested elections ever held in the Choctaw Nation, with Hunter



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leading the opposition. Chief Dukes felt no alternative but to extend his support to Hunter and this he did in a vigorous manner, but with the issue so sharply drawn, the situation obviously became one of some embarrassment to him.

The aftermath of the election provoked much disorder when a canvass of the returns was undertaken. It is a sordid story and many illogical things were done. Representatives of the Interior and Justice Departments of the Government, who were present as disinterested observers in the interest of peace, presented a divided front. The gravity of the situation caused the dispatch of two companies of troops from Ft. Reno, to preserve against violence. The votes were canvassed, the election of McCurtain was declared and the last general election in the old Choctaw Nation became a matter of history. In the succeeding October, Chief Dukes yielded the robes of office to Green McCurtain.

Upon his retirement from office, Chief Dukes resumed his residence upon his farm near Talihina but his efforts on behalf of the Choctaws were unabated. A rather picturesque final session of the old Choctaw Council was held at Tuskahoma in October, 1911, during the regime of Chief Victor M. Locke, Jr. Chief Dukes presided over the senate during this interesting session at which he was selected one of the delegates from the tribe to attend the meeting of Congress in Washington. It was upon this occasion that the delegation became instrumental in inducing Congress to set aside four sections of unallotted land and $50,000 of tribal funds for hospitalization purposes. The land was selected northeast of Talihina, and the Indian Hospital near Talihina stands as a monument to Gilbert W. Dukes and his associates who were instrumental in procuring the project.

As an evidence of the state-wide prominence of Chief Dukes, it will be observed that, in the fall of 1910 he became the candidate of the Republican Party for Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma, receiving 94,621 votes as against 118,544 cast for Col. J.J. McAlester, his successful opponent.

The Chief married Angeline Wade in 1870. She was a daughter of Gov. Alfred Wade, was born on December 7, 1849, died on October 19, 1887 and is buried in the old Wadeville cemetery. After her death, he married Isabella, a daughter of Horace Woods, a white man who was a native of Massachusetts where he was born in 1801. He died in the old Indian Territory in April, 1878. His father, Stephen Woods, was a soldier of the Revolution. Isabella Dukes nee Woods passed away on November 1, 1922 and is buried in the Post Oak cemetery.

Chief Dukes was an elder in the Presbyterian Church at Post Oak and a member of the Masonic, Odd Fellows and Knights of

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Pythias secret societies. He was a commanding figure standing six feet four inches and weighing well over 200 pounds. He was a forceful speaker using both the English and Choctaw languages with fluency. The Chief served briefly as a soldier in the Confederate army in the concluding days of the Civil War. As a lad of 14, he enlisted in the regiment of Col. Jackson F. McCurtain.

Gilbert W. Dukes was a man of sterling character. He had ever been a progressive in public affairs and had served efficiently in each of the three coordinate branches of the Choctaw government. His integrity in public and private life was unquestioned and his administration of affairs as chief executive of the Choctaws was most capable. His fireside was one of great hospitality. He adopted, reared and educated several orphaned children of his race who pause today in reverent thought of this unselfish service. Upon the final Choctaw rolls, the name of Gilbert W. Dukes appears opposite roll number 6386 as evidenced by census card number 2203 as an Indian of the one-half blood and to him was allotted his distributive share of the public domain. He passed away at his home southeast of Talihina, on December 26, 1919 and rests in the Presbyterian Church cemetery near Post Oak some twelve miles southeast of Talihina, where his grave is unmarked.

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