Days Gone By - stories from the past

Native-Americans from Oklahoma visited Alabama on 1st Flag Day in World War Memorial Building

Completed in 1940 with Works ProgressAdministration Funds (WPA), Alabama’s World War Memorial Building houses the Alabama Department of Archives and History today. The dedication of the building on Flag Day in 1940 included a visit from representatives of the five largest Native-American tribes who once resided in Alabama and were now living in Oklahoma. Since they were the first residents of Alabama, their banners were presented first during the ceremony. 


Native-American visitor (The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 02, Summer Issue 1940)

DEDICATION HALL OF FLAGS ALABAMA WORLD WAR MEMORIAL BUILDING TOOK PLACE ON JUNE 14, 1940

(Excerpt from Transcribed story from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 02, Summer Issue 1940 written by Marie Bankhead Owen, Director)

The first public program held in the Alabama World War Memorial Building took place on June 14, 1940, immediately after the Department moved into its new quarters. At that time the stately marble corridor on the second floor was dedicated by the Board of Trustees of the Department as the Hall of Flags.1 The second took place when the three archival sections of the Department’s collections were dedicated by the Society on American Archivists on November 11, 1940.

1The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 03, Fall Issue 1940)

The building is a concrete and steel monolith in Greek style, lined with beautiful Alabama cream toned marble.The wings proposed in the original plans were added at the end of World War II. (Alabama Department of Archives and History (photograph www.sslarchitecture.com)

The Flag Day ceremonies were conducted by Honorable J. Miller Bonner, legal adviser to the governor, assisted in certain features of the program by Honorable R. Tyler Goodwyn, for many years a member of the Board of Trustees of the Alabama State Department of Archives and History. The invocation and benediction were pronounced by the Reverend N. McDonald, Word War veteran and rector of the Church the Ascension, Montgomery.

First Flags presented was a group of banners brought from Oklahoma

The first flags to be presented was a group of banners brought from Oklahoma by a delegation of Indians of the five tribes living in Alabama from time immemorial but who had migrated to the West more than a hundred years ago. These tribes are known as Nations and are the Creek, or Muskogee, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and during a later peroid the Seminoles. The Indian banners carried the seals of these several nations, emblematic of the history and characteristics of the respective Indian Nations. These seals have been designed by modern historians but are now used by the Nations in an official way. The pageant of the flags was led by a full blood Creek, Marcellus Williams, who wore his tribal ceremonial costume and was indeed an effective figure. The explanation of the historical significance of the Indian banners was made by Miss Muriel H. Wright, of Choctaw descent, and author of the state history of Oklahoma.

Native-American banners carrying seals of the several nations (The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 02, No. 02, Summer Issue 1940)

Miss Wright’s Address

Five large Tribes

It is with pleasure that we, representing the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw Indian Nations of Oklahoma, have come at your invitation to join you in dedicating Alabama’s Hall of Flags on this National Flag Day of our great country, the United States of America.

This Southeastern region, of which Alabama is a part, was occupied by a confederacy of many Indian tribes, employing the Choctaw language as the trade language and extending from the Atlantic coast to far beyond the Mississippi River. The name of one of these tribes was that of your State, Alabama. However, many of the tribes, members of this Indian confederacy, have long since passed away, leaving only their names in historical records.

We who are here today from Oklahoma represent five large tribes whose lands formerly included portions of Alabama. These are the Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Chickasaw referred to in history since their settlement west of the Mississippi as the Five Civilized Tribes.

Trail of Tears

Over a hundred years ago, our ancestors departed from the country now within the boundaries of Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. They were grief stricken with thoughts of enforced removal from their old homelands forever. Traveling mostly on foot through the wilderness, encountering fierce winter storms in open camp, lack of food, dismal swamps, pestilence and death, the long road west was called the Trail of Tears’ by the survivors.

After arriving in the Indian Territory, still more deprivation and hardships were overcome by them. They established their tribal organizations as republics with written constitutions and laws, under the protection of the United States. Before many seasons had passed, the Indian people were beginning to flourish as nations, with churches, schools, farm and ranch homes, and a budding regional literature—all fine attributes of Christian civilization. Yet they strove to keep the good and true of their real Indian character.

Farms lay in waste after the war

The history of these nations in the Indian Territory forms one of the remarkable chapters in the history of the United States. Though Oklahoma is counted one of the youngest commonwealths in the Union, this Indian history makes the State nearly a century and a quarter old in its social, political, and educational development, linked with the South in much of its culture and romance.

With the South, too, the Indian nations in the West, having aligned themselves with the Confederate States suffered in the dark period of the War Between the States. The bright hopes of the Southern Indian people seemed again destroyed, the end of the war finding their homes and farms laid waste and a vast portion of their lands—the whole western half of the Indian Territory—demanded by the Federal Government. In 1866, these land cessions were made by the five Indian nations in new treaties with the United States. Soon afterward, the Government began moving Indian tribes from other parts of the country to the Territory. This region finally became the home of one-third the Indians of the United States.

Oklahoma treaties and name

The Treaties of 1866 provided plans for the organization of one territorial government in the Indian Territory, delegates from all the tribes and nations living in this region to participate in the organization, though the plans never matured. Of all the Treaties of 1866, the Choctaw-Chickasaw was the only one that gave a name to the proposed territory. In this document, a clause stated: “The Superintendent of Indian Affairs shall be the Executive of the said Territory, with the title of “Governor of the Territory of Oklahoma.”

When the Choctaw-Chickasaw Treaty was being prepared, the name ‘Oklahoma’ was suggested for the new territory by Reverend Allen Wright, one of the Choctaw delegates to Washington in 1866. The name is from the Choctaw words okla meaning “people” and “homma” meaning “Red”. Thus, “Territory of Oklahoma” would mean “Territory of Red People”—i.e., a translation of “Indian Territory” in Choctaw.

The name “Oklahoma”, euphonious and easily pronounced, became widely known during the next quarter of a century. It appeared in many bills introduced into Congress for the regular organization of this region as a Federal Commonwealth. The name was publicized by newspapers in the States, reporting the efforts of the “boomers”, white colonists under the leadership of David L. Payne who claimed the right to settle a large tract in Central Indian Territory, a tract called the “Oklahoma Country” by the “boomers”.

Opened to white settlers

Able Indian leaders in behalf of the Five Civilized Tribes were strong in their opposition to any others than Indians coming to live in the Indian Territory. These leaders demanded adjustment of Indian affairs that had remained unsettled for more than a half-century at Washington. After a ten-year struggle, adjustment of some Indian claims having been made and others under consideration, the cause of the “boomers” finally won in Congress. The “Oklahoma Country” was officially opened to white settlers on April 22, 1889, with a spectacular race from the border for homesteads within the tract. A year later, the western half of the old Indian Territory was organized and officially declared the “Territory of Oklahoma”; the eastern half including the country of the Five Civilized Tribes was still called the “Indian Territory”. In 1907, these “Twin Territories” were admitted into the Union as the State of Oklahoma.

Five ancient seals of the Indian nations

During the Constitutional Convention, the year before statehood, the Great Seal of the State of Oklahoma was adopted. Its design, symbolical of the part the Indians have had in the formation and the development of the Commonwealth includes each of the five ancient seals of the Indian nations—Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw.

Each nation at some time during its peaceful existence as a separate republic adopted a great seal for use on all its official documents. None of the nations regularly adopted an individual flag of its own, though there is a tradition that a company of Choctaw soldiers of a Confederate Indian Regiment carried its own flag (the design based on the Choctaw seal) for a period during the War Between the States.

Alabama World War Memorial Building houses the State Department of Archives and History (Photograph ca. 1950 – Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Having in mind the Indians’ part in this history briefly reviewed and having accepted the invitation of your Director, through the auspices of the Oklahoma Historical Society, to have a part in your Flag Day program, the members of our Indian committee have had banners specially designed and made for this occasion. These banners are in remembrance of the ancient Indian people who first ruled the country within the borders of Alabama. Symbolical of peace with these Indians, symbolical of the prairies assigned them as homelands in the West long ago is the white field of these banners.

That of the Choctaw Nation is surmounted with the Great Seal of this nation, described as “an unstrung bow, with three arrows and a pipe-hatchet blended together, engraved in the center”, in, a law of the Choctaw General Council, approved October 24, 1860. Diplomacy and great strength in a defensive war for their country were characteristics of the Choctaws. The pipe in the Great Seal is a symbol of discussion of national affairs in council. If necessary for defense, the bow is strung and the three arrows made ready for each of the three districts into which the Choctaw Nation was divided by its constitutional law. These three districts in ‘the new country west were named respectively for the noted chiefs Apuckshennubbe, Mosholatubbe and Pushmataha, all of whom signed the Choctaw Treaty of 1820. This date appears on the lower portion of the Choctaw banner and is that of the first cession of lands in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), made by the United States to any of the Indians living east of the Mississippi.

Banner for the Creek or Muscogee Nation not provided in time

We regret that the banner for the Creek or Muscogee Nation has not been provided in time for this program though representative Creeks from Oklahoma are present. The Great Seal of this Nation was officially adopted sometime after the period of the War Between the States. This seal presents a modern symbol of the industry of the ancient Creeks as agriculturists. The device shows a sheaf of wheat and a plow surrounded by the words ‘Great Seal of the Muscogee Nation, I. T

The Cherokee banner bears the Great Seal of this nation and the date of the first cession of lands in the Indian Territory. to the Cherokees,—1928. This seal was adopted by law of the Cherokee National Council, in December 1869. In the center of the Cherokee seal appears a symbol of the mystic number seven, a seven-pointed star representing the seven ancient clans of the nation, surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves symbolical of a strong, virile people. In the margin around this device are the words, “Seal of the Cherokee Nation”. This is followed by the words “Cherokee Nation” in the letters of the Sequoyah alphabet, pronounced “Tsa-la-gi-hi A-ye-li”, and by the date of the adoption of the Cherokee Constitution in the Indian Territory, Sept. 6, 1839.

The banner of the Seminole Nation shows its seal,—a warrior rowing a boat across a lake to a factory (or trading post),—which was adopted in a late period of Seminole history. The executive of the Seminole Nation was a hereditary chief, or his close kinsman, selected to rule for life or successively for a long period of years. Significant of this ancient law, the outer border of the Seminole seal is inscribed with the words “Executive Department of the Seminole Nation.”

The banner of the Chickasaw Nation is surmounted with its Great Seal adopted by the Chickasaw legislature in August 1860. This seal shows a Chickasaw warrior carrying two arrows and a longbow, with a shield swinging on his left shoulder, as he stands looking about him on the heights. The Chickasaw seal in its symbolism blends tradition and history of a proud nation of warriors. The wealthiest of all the Southeastern Indian nations, the Chickasaws purchased their homelands in the Indian Territory in 1837. In behalf of the Indian nations and their delegations here to-day from Oklahoma, I am happy to present these banners to the State of Alabama.

 

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By (author): Donna R Causey
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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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9 comments

  1. What is a former Native American?

  2. Tammy Keenum Jackson

    Exactly how do you become a “former” Native-American?

  3. I guess when you are stripped of all you own by the then government(i.e. Andrew Jackson) and isolated,treated like animals and sent on the Trail of Tears

    1. Amen! Couldn’t agree more. We have this great hoopla going on nowadays banning Confederate flags and destroying Confederated monuments, because they are supposedly evil reminders of slavery in the South. Funny that no one ever questions the atrocities committed against the American Indian under the flag of the USA

  4. Linda Baker

    FORMER?? You might want to reconsider that headline.

    1. Susie Spence

      Agreed. I don’t really think “former” can be used to modify “Native Americans.” Very odd.

    2. Alabama Pioneers

      Agreed! I can not change it on the page but it has been changed on the article. Sorry about the confusion!

  5. Alabama Pioneers

    OOps, I meant former resident of Alabama.

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