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CHOCTAW COUNCIL HOUSE,
Driving along the winding U. S. Highway 271 recently, between Antlers and Tuskahoma, I was deeply impressed with the panoramic beauty of Pushmataha county, that stretches into distance on either side of this highway for several miles, particularly along the foothills of the Kiamichi.
Not many years ago, overland traveled between these two points was a difficult task. But with our splendid highway now, this distance is negotiated now in a very short time, besides offering the traveler beautiful mountain scenes of historical interest.
Tuskahoma was the seat of the Choctaw Nation, the home of the first permanent settlers in what has become Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. Tuskahoma is derived from the Choctaw words, Tuska-homa, meaning red warrior. Pushmataha was taken from Pushmataha district one of three divisions of the Choctaw Nation. Pushmataha District was named for that illustrious Choctaw warrior, leader and statesman, Apushimalhtaha, meaning the "sapling is ready or finished for him."
Historical records show that Pushmataha, during the war of 1812, after a ten days' council, attended by all of the tribal leaders, decided against a neutral course, in these words: "The Creeks were once our friends. They have joined the English and we must now follow different trails. When our fathers took the hand of Washington, they told him the Choctaws would always be friends of his nation and Pushmataha cannot be false to their promises. I am now ready to fight against both the English and the Creeks."
Pushmataha led 500 Choctaw warriors, engaging in 24 fights and serving under General Jackson in the Pensacola campaign. He maintained rigid discipline under his command and became popularly known to the whites as the "Indian general." This illustrious leader, a true son of the forest, while in Washington to negotiate another treaty in behalf of his tribe, became ill and died within 24 hours. He was buried with military honors, a procession of 2,000 persons, military and civilian, accompanied by President Jackson, following his remains to Congressional Cemetery.
The old Council House of the Choctaw Nation, erected in 1883-84, stands alone about two miles north of the present town of Tuskahoma. Old settlers of Tuskahoma still refer to the Council House surroundings as the Old Town. The building, erected at a cost of over $25,000.00, and the most beautiful edifice in the Choctaw Nation at that time, plainly shows the ravages of time and today is sadly needing repairs.
Peter J. Hudson of Tuskahoma, a recognized authority on Choctaw history, who has unfolded many interesting historical facts, was closely associated with leaders of the Choctaw Nation for many years, and the following information, concerning the Council House, by him is especially interesting.
When the main body of the Choctaw people removed to their new land, in 1834, they recognized the government of their nation, and among the first important measures decided was the selection of a capitol site. About a year after the reorganization meeting, a general council met with citizens of the nation on the banks of the Kiamichi and appointed a special committee to select a location for the capitol. This committee selected a spot one and one-half miles northwest of the present town of Tuskahoma.
Construction of the original capitol was completed in 1838. Thomas Oakes of North Carolina directed the construction of the building as head carpenter. Oakes remained in the Indian Territory and married in to the Everidge family, a prominent Choctaw family. He was the father of Thomas E. Oakes of Soper and Lemuel Oakes of Hugo.
The first session of the general council was held in the new council house in the fall of 1838. Distinguished Choctaws present at this meeting were chiefs of the three districts: Nittakechi of the Pushmataha District, nephew of the Great Pushmataha; Thomas LeFlore of Oklafalya, later changed to Mosholatubbee District, cousin of Col. Greenwood LeFlore of Mississippi and Joseph Kincaid of Musholatubbee District.
At this session, it was decided the capitol would henceforth be known as Nanih Waya, meaning "mountain that produces." These two words held significant meaning to the Choctaws in tribal legend. Children of the forest, their religion and philosophy of life were interwoven with deep reverence for Mother Nature, their guide and protector. The Choctaws, with renewed hope, resumed life, making the best of the most adverse circumstances.
In 1842, constitutional amendment increased the general council to two legislative bodies, senate and a lower house. Another building was erected near the original capitol house for the use of the House of Representatives. Nanih Waya remained the seat of the Nation until 1850, when it was moved to Doaksville, now Fort Towson, in Choctaw county. Beginning with 1850, the capitol moved several times. In 1857, it was moved to Boggy Depot, in the western part of Pushmataha District on Clear Boggy. The capitol site became a political issue and after a vote of the people for the adoption of a new construction in 1860. Doaksville again became the capitol. Dissatisfaction arose, however, and the capitol was moved to Armstrong Academy in 1863. During the war between the states, Armstrong Academy remained the capitol and for several years afterwards.
After 1883, during Jack McCurtain's administration, provisions were made for the erection of a new capitol, directing that it be located about two and one-half miles east of old "Nanih Waya." And so after thirty-three years, the capitol again returned to Tuskahoma, and the Choctaw citizens were pleased with the change.
The first General Council meeting at Tuskahoma was a momentous occasion. The session was marked with the inauguration of Edmund McCurtain as principal chief or governor, succeeding his brother, Jack McCurtain. The McCurtains were great leaders as attested by the fact that four members of the same family served as principal chief of the Choctaws. Cornelius McCurtain, father of Jack, Edmund and Green, served a four year term as chief of the Mosholatubbee District from 1850 to 1854. Jack McCurtain finished out the unexpired term of Governor Garvin, elected the same year, 1880, and reelected in 1882. Edmund McCurtain was chief in 1884, serving one term. Green McCurtain was the last elected chief of the Choctaws. He served from 1896 to 1900, returning to this same position in 1902 and remaining chief of the Choctaws until his death in 1910.
Another interesting historic spot is the former site of the Tuskahoma Female Academy, founded in 1892. Peter J. Hudson of Tuskahoma was appointed superintendent of this school, which position, he filled with great honor for several years. This institution remained in operation until 1925 when the main building was destroyed by fire and the school was disbanded. This school was located about four miles northwest of the present town of Tuskahoma. Ruins of the buildings still remain, bearing mute evidence that here was once the site of a great institution where Choctaw girls received their first education.
About twenty miles out of Antlers, beyond Finley on U. S. Highway No. 271, may be seen a dim trail, which crosses the main highway. This was the old Military Trail between Fort Smith and Fort Towson. On this road, about two miles east of Tuskahoma, Spring Station was an important post. This post was named after John Spring, who had located at this point in the early days.
Another point of historic interest in this vicinity is the McKinley Rock, located in the Kiamichi mountains, two miles southeast of Tuskahoma. An interesting story has been told by Peter J. Hudson of Tuskahoma, who was present when the history of the McKinley Rock was made.
Shortly before the allotment of lands in the Choctaw Nation, a field party consisting of J. George Wright and a clerk from the Muskogee Indian office, together with Colonel Burgoyne, a prominent settler who became an industrial leader in the Choctaw Nation, set out to investigate certain tracts of land in the Kiamichi mountains. Peter J. Hudson acted as guide for the party. Mr. Hudson led the party along an old trail, over the high mountain south of Tuskahoma, down a deep canyon to another steep ridge. On this ridge are three huge boulders and upon arriving at the base of one of these, the party climbed to the summit to get a view of the country. While they stood, admiring the beautiful panorama around them, Colonel Burgoyne suddenly said, "Mr. Hudson, offer a prayer, dedicating this great rock to President McKinley."
Mr. Hudson complied with the request, whereupon Colonel Burgoyne perked a flask of whiskey out of his hip pocket and smashed it against the side of the boulder. Mr. Wright, a silent witness until then, remarked quietly, "Colonel, you will regret this."
J. George Wright recently resigned as superintendent of the Osage Agency at Pawhuska, ending a career in the Indian Service that started with clerical work in an agency for the Sioux Indians of North Dakota when a young man.
Many white men came to the Choctaw Nation to live among the Indians, some as farmers, stockmen or traders, and today most of the old timers of this county live in or near Tuskahoma. Many white men or women came to the Council House settlement and found employment.
An interesting character of today is George W. Bell, who lived near Tuskahoma most of his life, moving to Antlers about a year ago where he now makes his home. Mr. Bell's father, George H. Bell, moved to Tuskahoma from Texas at the outbreak of the Civil War, staying only a few months before moving to Van Buren, Arkansas. Mrs. Bell and her son, George W., lived at Van Buren until at the close of the war, moving back to Tuskahoma, after receiving word that Mr. Bell had died in the army. He had joined the Union forces.
Mrs. Bell became the wife of Captain John Anderson, an Indian who had been a captain of a company of Choctaw soldiers that fought with the Confederate forces. There were few white people then, and George W. Bell grew up among Indian children. He learned to speak the Choctaw tongue, and after growing into manhood, he became an influential citizen among the Choctaws.
Mr. Bell was superintendent of an Indian school at Sardis from 1895 to 1899. Afterward, he was County Judge of Jack Fork county. Jack Fork county was comprised of the territory lying west of the Kiamichi river, which would include Antlers. It is noted that Major Arthur Farr* of Antlers succeeded Mr. Bell as county judge and was the last county judge of Jack Fork county, Choctaw Nation.
(Note: *Read correction on the bottom of the page on Major John G. Farr)
Mr. Bell was ordained a minister in 1905 in the Missionary Baptist Denomination and has devoted his time to religious work among the Choctaws ever since Mr. Bell and Thomas Tupper, aged Indian, who also lives in Antlers, are great friends and living across the street from each other, they spend many happy hours together, rapt in reminiscent thought. Thomas Tupper is one of the few Choctaws living who served in the Choctaw Regiment that fought with the Confederates.
A young man, named Will Isherwood, came out of the east, from Washington, D. C., and became a school teacher among the Choctaws. Later he became a merchant at Tuskahoma and with the exception of a few months, he has been a merchant there ever since.
Mr. Isherwood married the daughter of Judge Gilbert Thompson, an outstanding Choctaw citizen. Isherwood was one of the three commissioners who laid out the county commissioners district of Pushmataha conty, when statehood was affected. A few years ago, two substantial families of Pushmataha county were united by the marriage of Miss Pearl Isherwood and Sidorous Butler, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Butler of Antlers, pioneer citizens in this vicinity.
Ed Box, druggist of Tuskahoma, is one of the real old timers too. Mr. and Mrs. Box have reared a family in Tuskahoma. Edward Box, Jr. was a county attorney of Pushmataha county, resigned before his term was ended to accept a position of secretary to Governor M. E. Trapp in 1924. The younger Box is an attorney now of Oklahoma City, in partnership with Prince Freeling, former Attorney General of Oklahoma.
W. M. Orr came to Tuskahoma years ago and was employed at the Council House of the Choctaws. A daughter, Miss Estelle, born near the Council House, is a Deputy County Treasurer of Pushmataha county at the present time.
Another old timer is Wm. Gardner, now operating the Gardner Hotel, a beautiful structure facing the Kiamichi mountains. Mr. Gardner has about retired from active life and his son, William Jr., is one of the live citizens of Tuskahoma. William served as turnkey under the administration of John Helm, sheriff, before the present administration.
Abe Chapman, brother of A. D. Chapman of Antlers, is an old timer Tuskahoma citizen. For many years, has operated a store there. The Chapman brothers located at Tuskahoma before statehood and opened a store there and Abe Chapman is the only one left there.
E. M. Gladney came to Tuskahoma in the early days and is one of the leading citizens. He has operated a cotton gin there for many years.
George Lockard, former county commissioner from the Tuskahoma district, first located at Kiamichi about twenty years ago. Later, he moved to Tuskahoma and has lived there since. Lockard, in the insurance business in Antlers with Robert Nash, spends the week-end in Tuskahoma with his family.
Ed Glendening, realtor and former banker, is one of the Tuskahoma's live wires. Glendening is a member of the county excise board, and is proving his qualifications in a splendid manner.
Peter J. Hudson came to Tuskahoma to assume the superintendency of the Tuskahoma Female Academy in 1892. Mr. Hudson was a great leader and teacher among his people under the Choctaw Government and is today considered the leader of the Choctaws. Mr. Hudson married Amanda Bohanon, daughter of Sim Bohanon. The Bohanons were prominent Choctaw families.
Mr. Hudson, upon leaving the Tuskahoma school, was elected National Auditor of the Choctaws, which position he held until 1912, when the office was abolished by Act of Congress. In recent years, Mr. Hudson was associated with the Historical Society of Oklahoma at Oklahoma City where he contributed valuable history pertaining to the Choctaw Government. His name will go down in history as one of the greatest Choctaws who ever lived.
Early day citizens of Tuskahoma include George P. Ewing, merchant for many years, who recently sold out his store to Mr. Isherwood. Mr. Ewing is a progressive citizen.
Names of other old timers are Ed Beck, Newt Hooser, R. N. Anderson, Bunyan Bruce, Milton Bruce, Walter Logan, Edmund Calvin, Green Bohanon, Al Renegar, Trueworth Gardner, Earl Campbell, grandson of George Campbell, who settled near Tuskahoma years before statehood, still lives in Tuskahoma. Herbert Nelson has been in Tuskahoma several years, operating a barber shop and a tailor shop.
Many old timers have passed on and many others have moved away but Tuskahoma still remains an important town in Pushmataha county and surely the historic center of Southeast Oklahoma.
The vicinity of Tuskahoma was the scene of numerous Indian activities unrecorded in history. The Choctaws gathered near the original council house, Nanih Waya, during the war between the states, and held the war dances of their forefathers. The Choctaws staged many pashofa dances, one of the social events, near this place.
The council house is the property of the Southeastern Teachers College of Durant and it is hoped that the historic building will be preserved in its original creation.
(3 Dec 1931)
In our historical review last week, relating to the Council House of the Choctaw Nation, it was shown that Major Arthur Farr had served as County Judge of Jack Fork County. This is incorrect and we hasten to rectify our error. Major John G. Farr, a real pioneer of this country, was the county judge, and Arthur Farr is his son.