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Rancher and businessman Nathaniel Skinner serves as an example of an early cattle entrepreneur in Indian Territory. Born in 1851 in Kentucky, Skinner and his brother James ventured to the Cherokee Nation in the 1870s to trade. On March 4, 1879, Nathaniel Skinner married Nannie Kell, a Cherokee citizen. He and his brother, armed with a trader's license from the Cherokee government, built a grocery store in Vinita in the early 1880s. In 1883 and 1884, as Texas cattlemen began looking for grasslands where they could fatten their cattle, the Skinners delved into the cattle business, as did many Cherokee citizens with capital. The Skinners sold the business to a Kansas merchant, and in 1886 Nathaniel partnered with E. N. Ratcliff, obtaining a mercantile license and engaging in ranching.

Skinner ran cattle in northeast Oklahoma into the twentieth century, and one historian categorized him with other Indian Territory "cattle barons." His wife died in 1889, leaving him to raise three children. In the early 1890s Skinner and other area stockmen, such as William Halsell and Robert Owen, were intermittently accused of illegally employing white herders, as the Cherokee government tried to keep Texas interests out of the nation. The courts never convicted Skinner, who belonged to the Texas Livestock Association and was a pioneer of the Cattlemen's Protective Association of Indian Territory, serving on the executive committee.

As the allotment process began splitting the land, evidence suggests that Skinner moved his operations into Kansas, near Coffeyville. In December 1903 the Vinita Chieftain reported that Nat Skinner, of Coffeyville, Kansas, had visited Tulsa and printed his account of the area's early history. The 1910 U.S. census reported that Skinner lived in Coffeyville. This rancher's story mirrors many other Indian Territory merchants who branched into the cattle business until land fell out of tribal control. Some, like the Halsells and Frederick Severs, had the means to purchase or lease land from freedmen and allotees, while others lacked the finances or political influence.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Norman Arthur Graebner, "History of Cattle Ranching in Eastern Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 21 (September 1943). William Curry Holden, A Ranching Saga: The Lives of William Electious Halsell and Ewing Halsell (San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 1976). Indian Chieftain (Vinita, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory), 31 January 1889, 23 October 1890, 10 March 1892, 23 February 1893, and 27 April 1893. Vinita (Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory) Weekly Chieftain, 31 December 1903.

Larry O'Dell

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