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Indian Pioneer Papers - Index

Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: March 24, 1937
Name: Thomas M. Buffington
Post Office: Vinita, Oklahoma
Residence Address: 147 South Brown Street
Date of Birth: October 19, 1855
Place of Birth: Westville, Goingsnake District, I.T..
Father: Ezekiel Buffington
Place of Birth: Georgia
Information on father: Old Settler
Mother: Louisa Newman
Place of birth: Tennessee
Information on mother: buried Carselowey Cemetery, Craig Co,
Field Worker: James R. Carselowey

My name is Thomas M. Buffington. I was born near Westville, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, October 19, 1855.

My father's name was Ezekiel Buffington. He was born in Georgia in 1807 and came to the Indian Territory with the first removal of the Cherokees in 1835, and was known as an old settler.

He was married to Louisa NEWMAN, who was born in 1817, in Tennessee, and died February 15, 1898, and was buried in the Carselowey Cemetery, Sec. 25, T. 24, R. 20, Craig County, Oklahoma, being on the place where my first wifeís parents settled in 1870, after moving here from Goingsnake District, near Westville, I.T. To this union there were born, four sons and four daughters, all deceased except Thomas M. Buffington, who will be 82 years old on October 19, 1937.

I received my education at the Old Baptist Mission School, located four miles north of Westville and I believe this was one of the first schools to be established, after the removal of the Cherokees to this country. On May 10, 1878, I was married to Susie Woodall, daughter of Isaac M. and Mary Jane WOODALL, at Westville, Oklahoma. I remember I had come to the Woodall residence in a right new wagon to take the family to Sunday School. I had spoken to the Mother about our marriage, which was to take place after Sunday School but had not said anything to her father. Mrs. Woodall said, "Tom, have you said anything to Isaac about your marriage?" I said, "No." "Well, you had better see him before you go any further," she said. Then with trembling legs, (I was 6 feet 6 inches tall) I made my way out to where he was standing and proceeded to tell the old fellow my troubles. He just smiled and said, "All right, Tom, if you think you can support a woman, itís all right with me." In that same year Isaac Woodall and his family, my wife and I all moved from Goingsnake District to Delaware District and settled on a farm which we improved from the ground up, ten miles southeast of Vinita, where we lived until I moved to Vinita, I believe, in 1900. Susan Buffington was born July 30, 1847 and died November 11, 1891 and was buried in the Carselowey Cemetery Section 25-24-20, Craig County, Oklahoma.

I was married the second time to Miss Emma GRAY, a teacher in the Cherokee Schools, on December 28, 1895. She was born in North Carolina and came to the I.T. with her parents when still a small child. To this union five daughters were born, namely: Lucille, Sue Nell, Maxine, Marie and Marguerite, all of whom are married.

In Cherokee politics, we had two parties, a Downing party and a National party. I was a Downing man and had always taken an active part in politics, from my youth up, always helping the other fellow but never asking for anything for myself. Finally, one day one of the old politicians said to me, "Tom, you are getting old, your hair is beginning to turn. Why donít you run for something yourself?" I had never thought of politics for myself but upon his suggestion, I went down to Tahlequah at the next session of the National council and they appointed me on a Senate Committee called "Committee on Claims" for which I received $5.00 per day.

At the next general election held in Delaware District, where I lived, some one put my name before the convention for the office of District Judge. I easily defeated John DANIELS and Bob LUNDAY in the convention and was the regular nominee on the Downing ticket for District Judge. I was elected and held the office for two years. That office was similar to our County Judge of today and my jurisdiction was only in the bounds of Delaware District. That was in 1891 and 1892.

Then came the climax of my life in office seeking. They put me up for Senate against Hooley BELL, a man who up to that time had never been defeated. He had held the office of Senator from Delaware so long then that even the school children would swear by him. A teacher in the public school one day asked her class, "Who is president of the United States?" One little boy threw up his hand and said, "I know, Hooley Bell." It made Hooley so mad when I came out against him that he told some of the neighbors that he had put Tomís first white shirt on him and now he was going to take it off of me. But he did not. I was elected and made president of the Senate but not until after Joel MAYES, then principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, had appeared before the senate and said, "Gentlemen of the Senate, it hasnít been long since our principal chief, Louis DOWNING, and our second chief, Robert DANIEL, both died during the same term of office. Therefore, I advise you to elect a man as president of the senate who is also capable of acting as principal chief of this great Nation."

It was a queer incident, but that very term both Joel Mayes, principal chief and Henry CHAMBERS, assistant chief, of Claremore, I.T. both died, leaving me as president of the senate, to succeed as principal chief. It was the duty of the senate and council then to elect or appoint a man to succeed me and they urged me to accept the appointment but at that time I did not want it and urged them to appoint Colonel C. J. HARRIS, then executive secretary, under Chief Joel Mayes. Harris was appointed and finished out the unexpired term.

Chief Harris then appointed Cornelius BOUDINOT and myself as delegates to Washington to represent the Cherokee Nation. As a territory we were allowed delegates in Congress to look after our interest but were not allowed a vote. Benjamin Harrison was President at the time we were in Washington and we held several conferences with him about Tribal affairs. We stayed in Washington one year.

When we returned from Washington another election was due in our Nation and I ran for Circuit Judge of the Northern District, comprising, Delaware, Cooweescoowee and Saline. I held court in each one of the districts alternately. Each district had its own court house. The Delaware and Saline court houses were built right out in the woods. The Delaware court house was on Honey Creek, a few miles south of Grove, near Grandma SNELLís place. She was a full blood Cherokee woman and kept a boarding house where all attending court would eat and sleep and I remember we were well fed.

The Saline court house was located one mile east and one mile south of the present town of Locust Grove, right out in the timber and I remember on one trip to the place that Jim DAVENPORT, attorney from Vinita, was with me and as it was getting late, I told Davenport we had better leave yet tonight as it looked like they might have trouble there that night. There had been trouble brewing for some little time between two factions of Indians and we drove on down the road a few miles to a little store and stopped to eat supper when a messenger came up and announced that a shooting scrape had taken place at the court house, one man killed and one or two others were wounded.

At the same time I was elected circuit judge, Hooley Bell came out again and was elected to the senate. We were neighbors, both of us living on Cabin Creek, where we had settled since coming to Delaware and Hooley soon forgot his bitterness toward me and we were again the best of friends. I held the office of circuit judge four years and then entered the race for principal chief, to which I was elected in 1900 and held the office for four years. At the time I was elected as principal chief I was serving my third term as mayor of Vinita having defeated J. B. BURCKHALTER for the place. Felix COWAN, president of the council filled out my unexpired term as mayor and was succeeded by Guy PATTON, an attorney. I served as mayor of Vinita three terms, prior to 1900 and again from May 5, 1913 until May 5, 1917.

I was a delegate from the Third Congressional District to the National Democratic Convention that convened at Denver, Colorado, and which nominated William J. BRYAN for the presidency. I have always been a staunch Democrat in National politics and in my early life took an active interest in fraternal affairs. I am a 32nd Degree Mason, a member of Vinita Lodge No. 5 A.F. & A.M. Indian Consistory, McAlester and Akdar Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. at Tulsa and am a member of Vinita Lodge No. 1162, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

While serving my last term as mayor in 1917, on attempting to alight from a passenger train, I dislocated my hip and have been a cripple ever since. I managed to come down town in an automobile and attended public gatherings in the same way until the spring of 1936. Since that time I have not been able to leave the house. I read a lot and enjoy my old time friends and new ones as well, calling on me to talk over things, both present and future. I have seen my people strive to make a living ever since the last bunch of Cherokees arrived over the trail of tears to the present time. I have seen many of our tribe deed away their land to satisfy a mortgage of which they were not able to cope.

I have had many ask me the difference in an "Old Settler Cherokee" and an "Eastern Emigrant." An old settler is a Cherokee who came with the first bunch from Georgia without being forced by the government. An eastern emigrant is one that remained behind and was forced by the government to remove to the new country, west of the Mississippi and this movement was known as "The Trail of Tears."


I was delighted in January 1937 when I picked up the little home paper and found that they were again preparing to honor me and I desire here to extend my thanks to my many friends everywhere for their kind thoughts and deeds. The article follows:

"Recognition by the state will be give to Thomas M. Buffington, last living Chief of the Cherokees, as a result of a movement launched by Pryor and Vinita citizens to give honor to the only living head of the once proud nation, within a nation.

"A committed will meet Monday night with District Judge, N.B. Johnson, at Claremore to discuss plans for the proper recognition of Chief Buffington. Members of the committee are: Richard Wheatley, H.R. Warner, Sam Parks, W.F. Reynolds, Jess Ballard and Carey Caldwell. "This committee was appointed for Vinita at a meeting held at Pryor Wednesday night, when a small group of interested friends of the Cherokee Nation and its last chief met and appointed Johnson as general chairman of the Buffington Memorial Committee. The other members of the committee from Pryor are: Judge R.A. Wilkerson, Harve Langley and Jake Proctor. It is planned to hold a public meeting in Vinita when the honor is given, Johnson told the committee.

"The Committee will have hung in the Hall of Fame in the Oklahoma Historical Society at Oklahoma City, a large portrait of Chief Buffington.

"So popular with his people was he that he held almost every office in their power to give him. He opposed and defeated Hooley Bell, who before had been regarded as unbeatable, for a position in the Cherokee Senate.

"Chief Buffington resides, at the present time, with his family at 147 South Brown Street, Vinita, Oklahoma."

Submitted to OKGenWeb by Wanda Morris Elliott <jwdre@intellex.com> 10-2000.