By John Bartlett Meserve
The career of Allen Wright paralleled a tragic period in Choctaw history. A zenith was attained when he became 1Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation in the fall of 1866 serving until the fall of 1870. Those were the drab years of reconstruction following the Civil War during which struggle due processes of law among the Choctaws had been short-circuited and a state of lawlessness ensued. The leadership of Allen Wright contributed much to salvage the Choctaws from this wreckage. His contribution to the spiritual, educational and political concerns of his people is of compelling interest.
During the inceptive days of our War of the Revolution, William Fry, a white man from Kentucky ventured into the Choctaw country which many years later became the State of Mississippi, where he effected his permanent home. He married a full blood Choctaw Indian woman and their daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) married a full blood of the Choctaw Nation and became the mother of Ishtemahilvbi, the father of Allen Wright. The wife of Ishtemahilvbi and the mother of Allen Wright was a full blood Choctaw Indian woman of the Ahepat (Hayipatuklo) Okla Clan. Allen Wright, a Choctaw Indian of the seven-eighths blood was born on the left bank of the Yaknukni (now called the Yokahockany) River in Attala County, Mississippi in the latter part of November, 1826. The precise date of his birth being unknown, he combined the observance of his birthday each year with Thanksgiving Day. At birth he was invested with the name Kiliahote, by his parents and in later years was given the name of Allen Wright. He was born amid humble, sequestered environs and of a parentage who were typically Indian of that period. They neither spoke nor understood the English language although the father learned something of the French language from the French traders. In 1832 his father removed to the vicinity of his parents on the Ta-lu-buchcha (now called Talobucha) creek, a western branch of the Pearl River. The mother of Allen Wright passed away in June, 1832.
Ishtemahilvbi with his own mother, sister and brothers and their families, and with his own four children, formed themselves into a self-emigrating party which departed from Mississippi early in October, 1833, arriving at Luk-fa-to creek in what is today McCurtain County, Oklahoma, in March, 1834. Adversity disciplined their souls during those early days. Young Allen Wright was ignorant of even the most elementary processes of education before his emigration. Schools which he encountered in the West began
1Under the constitution of 1857, the Chief Executive was styled "Governor of the Choctaw Nation," but the constitution of 1860 titled him as "Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation," and all public documents were so signed although the "Principal Chiefs" were quite uniformly addressed and referred to as "Governor."
to enlist his interest and in response to his urgent appeal, his father, shortly after arrival, enrolled him in a Choctaw school at Boktuk-lo, near Skelton Depot in the fall of 1834 under the tutelage of Miss Eunice Clough,2 a missionary. Upon entering this school, he was given the name of Allen Wright, by Miss Clough following the practice inaugurated by missionaries and teachers of investing Indian children with English names upon their entering school. At that time the Rev. Alfred Wright was the leading missionary in charge of mission work among the Choctaws and it was from this distinguished Christian leader that the surname accorded Allen Wright was adopted. In the spring of 1834, the lad had briefly attended the school at Bok-tuk-to under the teaching of Joseph Dukes,3 in the Choctaw language. Skelton Depot was a few miles west of the present town of Broken Bow. The father of Allen Wright passed away in May, 1839, and the homeless lad went to live with an uncle. Provision was made in the fall of 1840 for him to enter the mission school at Pine Ridge near Doaksville, which was under the management of the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury4 who but recently had arrived from the old Mayhew Mission in Mississippi. In the diary of this illustrious missionary is noted under date of December 14, 1840, his reference to the arrival of Allen Wright, "May he be a blessing to us and we to him." When he entered Pine Ridge school, Allen Wright neither could speak nor understand English. He remained with Reverend Kingsbury until May, 1844, when he entered Spencer Academy where he remained until February, 1848 when, with four others, he was chosen by the Choctaw Council to enter an eastern college in the States. He entered Delaware College at Newark, Delaware, in September, 1848. When this college was closed, he entered Union College at Schenectady, New York, in 1850, from which he graduated with an A. B. degree in July, 1852, and where he became a member of the Delta Phi fraternity. In September, 1852, he entered the Union Theological Seminary in New York City completing the theological course in May, 1855. At this time he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts and was the first Indian student from the Indian Territory to receive this degree. Immediately afterward he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry and also became an honorary member of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions. Upon completion of his scholastic training he returned to the Choctaw country and served as the principal instructor at Armstrong Academy during the years
2Miss Clough later married Noah Wall and lived at Mayhew, in what is today Bryan County, Oklahoma. Among her descendants is Mrs. T. J. Hogg, wife of the present (1941) state senator from Elk City, Oklahoma.
3Joseph Dukes was the father of Chief Gilbert Wesley Dukes of the Choctaws. For sketch, see Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. XVIII, pp. 53 et seq.
4Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury was born at Alstead, New Hampshire, on November 22, 1786. He came to Pine Ridge on February 25, 1836. He died on June 27, 1870, at Boggy Depot where he is buried.
1855-6. He was ordained to the ministry by the Indian Presbytery in 1856.
Our interest is to know of the inspirations which influenced the spiritual career of Allen Wright. In his early childhood he knew, nothing of the Christian faith and at first was disposed toward skepticism. Responsive to the efforts of the Christian missionaries, his indifference was dissolved and in April, 1846, he united with the Presbyterian Church at Wheelock and contemplated a theological course which he later accomplished. He was an ardent student and emerged from his scholastic career, a character of culture and refinement. Portions of the Holy Writ became available to the Choctaws through his translations from Hebrew to the Choctaw language. The spiritual concerns of the Choctaws remained an engaging effort throughout his eventful life as he bore the gospel message to his people not in sermonizing words alone but also by his exemplary life. The Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury and Dr. Eliphalet Nott,5 President of Union College at Schenectady, New York, left an inspiring impress upon the life of Allen Wright.
The young Allen Wright married Miss Harriet Newell Mitchell on February 11, 1857. She was a daughter of James Henry Mitchell of Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry and of Martha Skinner of Pennsylvania. Harriet Mitchell was born at Dayton, Ohio, on August 16; 1834. Her parents were of the Presbyterian faith and in 1855 she came to the Choctaw country as a mission teacher under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Missions. She was a lady of high Christian character and a remarkable coordinator with her distinguished husband in his religious efforts. She passed away at Atoka on December 25, 1894, and was buried at Boggy Depot.6
The political affairs of the Choctaw Nation were not solidified when Allen Wright became a member of the Choctaw Council in the fall of 1856 and undertook his eventful public career. From the days of emigration, the Choctaw government had been administered by three district chiefs and a legislative council composed of twenty-seven members. The district chiefs were also ex-officio members of the council, two of whom were invested with power to veto any legislative action. Efforts to unite the executive factions under a single head were finally realized by the adoption of a new constitution at Skullyville in January, 1857. This instrument abolished the offices of the district chiefs and centered all executive powers in the office of the Governor of the Choctaw Nation, and Boggy Depot became the temporary capital. This constitution was not submitted to the Choctaws for their expression and much dissatisfaction arose occasioned by a fear that too much centralization of executive power had been inaugurated. Allen Wright evidenced his opposition to the Skullyville consti-
tution and materially aided in resolving a new constitution which was submitted by the Doaksville convention in January, 1860. This constitution which was submitted to and overwhelmingly approved by the Choctaw electorate vested the supreme executive power of the Choctaw Nation in "one Principal Chief, assisted by three subordinate District chiefs," one for each of the three districts into which the Nation was divided for governmental purposes. Three coordinate branches of government were created and with few amendments this organic instrument served the Choctaws throughout the remainder of their tribal organization. The capital was removed to Chata Tamaha (Armstrong Academy) by a constitutional amendment in 1863 where it remained for twenty years. In 1885, Allen Wright was one of a committee appointed by the Council which established the capital permanently at Tuskahomma.
In 1857, the Rev. Allen Wright was stationed at Mt. Pleasant in old Blue County from which he kept six regular preaching engagements. During his year as principal of Armstrong Academy, he entered into partnership with a white man by the name of Hammil from the States, in the operation of a good sized farm and cattle ranching business at Fairfield, within a few miles of the Academy. In May, 1858, when Hammil made a business trip to New Orleans, Wright moved his family to Fairfield and took charge of the farm and ranch, at the same time continuing his missionary labors and preaching engagements. After being stationed at Boggy Depot, he disposed of his interests at Fairfield and built his permanent home at the new location, operating a farm in connection therewith. Sometime later he continued his cattle ranching interests in what is today Coal County, Oklahoma, and also maintained a good sized farm where the present town of Wapanucka, Johnston County, Oklahoma, is located. The old home at Boggy Depot, Atoka County, is still standing, one of the few southern type, pre-war residences remaining in Oklahoma. He removed to Boggy Depot in 1859 where he assumed charge of the Presbyterian Church and all missions within a range of fifty miles. Boggy Depot remained his home during the remainder of his life and from this place he maintained his spiritual service until his death. It was also in 1861, that he served as a delegate from the Indian Territory, Synod of Arkansas, to the church conference at Augusta, Georgia, when the Southern Presbyterian Church was formed.
Allen Wright was first elected treasurer of the Choctaw Nation in 1859 which office he held until the election under the new constitution in August, 1860. His political leadership was evidenced further when he became a member of the lower house of the Choctaw Council in 1861. Earlier in this year, he had functioned as a Choctaw delegate to the intertribal conference with Gen. Albert Pike of North Fork, Creek Nation, where he became a signer of the treaty with the Confederacy, on June 12, 1861. With the
courage of his convictions, he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private in Captain Wilkin's Company of Choctaw infantry on July 25, 1862, being transferred to Company F of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles on June 13, 1863. Allen Wright again was appointed treasurer of the Choctaw Nation in the fall of 1863 and reappointed in 1865. Upon the conclusion of the Civil War he was dispatched by Chief Pitchlyn as a delegate to the Ft. Smith conference with the United States commissioners where a preliminary treaty or armistice was signed. In October, 1865, he was appointed one of the five delegates from the Choctaw Nation to undertake a completion of the treaty negotiations at Washington. He was one of the principal negotiators and a signer of the treaty of April 28, 1866,7 wherein all relationships between the Choctaw Nation and the United States government were amicably restored.
8The treaty of April 28, 1866, featured an adjustment of financial differences provoked by the Civil War. An assumption of payment by the General Government of annuities aggregating $1,500,000 which had been suspended in the war, together with confiscated bonds, school and general funds due the Choctaw Nation were given consideration in this treaty. The famous Net Proceeds claim approximating $2,500,000 according to the Senate award of 1859 also was considered. The inclusion of these details in the treaty and its subsequent ratification challenged the finesse of the Choctaw delegation. It is manifest that an outstanding service was rendered by Allen Wright and his associates although in later years much controversy arose. Amazing indictments of infidelity were hurled against Allen Wright but were without warrant. These defamations were launched for political purposes. The public service of Allen Wright during those negotiations as well as throughout his life was rendered sincerely, honestly and courageously for the welfare of his people. Time has emphasized his high character and sterling worth.
Each of the treaties of 1866 with the Five Tribes contained special provisions with reference to the ultimate creation of an intertribal council which it was hoped would result in a territorial regime for the Indian country, but it was only in the Choctaw-Chickasaw treaty of April 28, 1866, that the proposed territory was accorded the name "Oklahoma." It was upon the suggestion of Allen Wright that the name "Oklahoma" was employed. His explanation was that the word had its derivation from the Choctaw language, the word "Okla" meaning people and "humma" or "huma" meaning red. The phrase "Territory of Oklahoma" meant the Territory of Red People. The proposed territory did not, materialize but from this incident the forty-sixth state derived its name in the galaxy of the Union.
Diplomatic engagements postponed the return of Allen Wright from Washington to the Choctaw country until the autumn of 1866. He was absent when the Choctaw electorate in August, of that year summoned him to the chief executiveship of the Nation. Shortly thereafter he returned home and with some reluctance assumed the obligations of office. He faced a highly disordered internal situation among his people. It was by the evolutionary processes of experience that the Choctaws had climaxed their form of self-government by the adoption of the Doaksville constitution in 1860. This instrument was designed for the administration of their civil affairs and such local police regulation as might be required. Little or no thought was given to military necessities, their tribal entity being guaranteed by the General Government. But with the advent of the new tribal government came the Civil War with their necessary involvment. The struggle assumed a major factor in both political and civil affairs of the Choctaws and the orderly processes of Tribal government designed to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were more or less suspended. The first two chiefs under the new regime seemed unable to properly appraise a rapidly growing lawless condition and evidenced an unwillingness or inability to protect the lives and property of their citizenship from foes within as well as without. Chief Pitchlyn had spent the last year of his tenure in Washington. A depressing situation confronted Allen Wright when he took over the responsibilities of government. His administration was a struggle with public debt, moral and educational collapse, the freedman problem, the depredations of cattle thieves, the breakdown of law enforcement and other reconstruction problems which seemed insurmountable. The concluding words of his first message to the Choctaw Council delivered on November 17, 1866, are reflective of the high character of Allen Wright:
"Our people have suffered enough for the last few years past. Now let each one study to restore peace, harmony and good order, which were lost amidst confusion and war.
"No lawful means shall be spared me to study to effect the greatest good—especially or reestablishing and maintaining the schools for the education of our rising generation. To sustain and promote education cannot much longer be neglected without inflicting a lasting injury to ourselves and our posterity.
"Fellow citizens, rest assured that I will do what I can according to my constitutional obligations to promote every public measure and interest for the welfare of all. For I will not be a chief for any party nor district but for the people as a whole people. In enumerating these principles and future policy to be pursued, I would have to ask and humbly hope and rely upon the full cooperation of the Honorable Members of the General Council. For you have the power to do much in sustaining the administration, to promote the harmonious action of our government. Therefore what I say is to all. We must be a united people aiming to attain one grand and noble object, that is to be a happy and prosperous nation.
"In conclusion let me ask the indulgence and forbearance on the part of the people in the discharge of my duties as an executive officer. 'To err is human' and no man can boast of his wisdom to rule without com-
mitting some grievous errors. If I err in the administration of this Nation, which is very possible, it will be of the head and not of the heart.
"In undertaking this new position of trust, I do it with reliance upon God as my Guide, who I trust will guide me and give me wisdom in conducting the National affairs as He, as a Tower of Strength, has supported me in private life. And I will daily invoke his blessing upon your deliberations, upon the whole people as I do for myself."
Allen Wright was a capable, conscientious executive and in a patient, effective manner revived the morale of his people and restored the orderly processes of government. He was reelected in the fall of 1868 after a bitter campaign against him waged by the anti-treaty party. It was in this campaign that defamations were lodged against him in connection with the financial adjustments growing out of the treaty negotiations at Washington in 1866. The reelection of the chief manifestly vindicated and absolved him from those political charges.
Upon his retirement from public affairs in the fall of 1870, Allen Wright again devoted himself primarily to his ministerial and spiritual efforts for which he had long hoped. Except when absent from his post on official duties, he continued steadily at his work as a missionary preacher. A son wrote of him, "his life was one of continuous activity in the Master's work. * * * He was the very pillar of his Presbytery, punctual in attendance and thorough and efficient in every duty. His culture and courtliness, his fine social qualities and excellent good sense, won for him much consideration at Washington, whither he was called from time to time. * * * He was sound in doctrine, strong in faith and humble in his daily walk and conversation. * * * A firm trust in God that made him calm and patient under whatever stress of labor and trial, was a leading trait of his character."
He was persuaded to reenter the domain of tribal politics in 1876 when he made an unsuccessful race for the chieftainship and Coleman Cole was elected. He ever evidenced an abiding interest in the political affairs of his people. Sessions of the General Council usually saw him in attendance as a visitor, lending his knowledge and counsel in the matter of legislation, looking to the progress and development of the Choctaws as a people, many of the laws having been drafted and translated by him. From 1880 to 1884 he served as superintendent of the schools of the nation.
The high scholastic attainments of Allen Wright were evidenced by his translation of the laws of the Chickasaw Nation from English into the native language, in 1872. He became compiler and editor of a Choctaw dictionary for use in the tribal schools in 1883, and in 1883-4 completed his translations of the Psalms direct from the Hebrew into the Choctaw. He served as editor and translator of the Indian Champion, at Atoka, in 1885. In 1876 he was chosen one of the American delegates to the World's Presbyterian Assembly in Scotland but was unable to attend owing to the illness of his wife. In 1880, he again was selected as a delegate and attended
the assembly of the church which met in Philadelphia. He was elected president of the Union Theological College alumni in New York City in 1885. Allen Wright was a member of the masonic fraternity being a charter member of the first masonic lodge9 formed after the Civil War within what is today the State of Oklahoma. He belonged to the Royal Arch Masons in Maryland where he united in 1866.
Allen Wright was a man of rare intellectual qualities and was preeminently the scholar of his tribe. He was a masterful executive and will ever adorn the pages of Choctaw history as one of its most distinguished leaders. He passed away December 2, 1885, at his home at Boggy Depot where he lies buried.10
Other sources of information anent Allen Wright are: Leaders and Leading Men of the Indian Territory, O'Bierne; Standard History of Oklahoma (1916), Thoburn; History of Oklahoma and Its People, Thoburn and Wright; Delta Phi Centennial Catalogue, 1927-8; The Story of Oklahoma, Muriel H. Wright; Oklahoma Place Names, Gould; Oklahoma Imprints, Carolyn Thomas Foreman; and The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, Debo.
9The first Masonic lodge to be formed in what is today the State of Oklahoma was located at Boggy Depot, was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in October, 1869, and named Oklahoma Lodge, A. F. & A. M. by Rev. Allen Wright.
10The writer acknowledges indebtedness to Miss Muriel H. Wright, a granddaughter of Rev. Allen Wright, for much valuable assistance. Miss Wright is a writer of note and has been a generous contributor to The Chronicles.