By Wally Waits
One of Muskogee’s early residents was a man of distinction. He was Major John A. Foreman.
John was the son of Reverend Stephen Foreman and his wife, Sarah W. Riley. His father, who John said was half Cherokee, was a student of Samuel Worcester, the noted Presbyterian missionary to the Cherokees. John was named for his grandfather, John Anthony Foreman.
John was born in the Park Hill community located in the Cherokee Nation five miles outside of Tahlequah. His birth on June 10th, 1844 placed him fifth in what would be ten children.
Since his father was well educated, having attended Princeton among other schools, his parents stressed learning from an early age. John was educated by his parents and likely also attended Cherokee Nation schools.
The family sided with the Union cause during the Civil War. This was likely the result of his father residing in New Jersey for several years and because of their religious beliefs.
John served as Captain of Co. A in the 10th Regiment of Kansas Infantry. By July, 1863 he had been promoted to the rank of Major. He was barely 19 years old.
In an effort to resupply Union forces stationed at Fort Gibson, a supply train was sent south from Baxter Springs, Kansas. The troops guarding the supply train learned of an ambush prepared by Col. Stand Watie’s Confederate force at Cabin Creek, located in what is now Mayes County, Oklahoma.
Determined to push forward, Major Foreman led the initial assault across the waist-high stream on July 2nd. He led the first unit of African-American soldiers into combat fighting alongside a white unit. John was slightly wounded during this fight that ultimately dislodged the Confederate troops.
The next decade is a bit of a blur for John. He decided to build a mill northeast of the Muskogee Station train depot, also near the famed Texas Road.
This mill, first powered by wind and later by steam, was the first manufacturing plant in the Muskogee area. As a business owner, he was one of the co-conspirators who fretted over the relocation of the US Indian Agency. He approved in the salting of a well to sabotage plans of the Agency moving away for the Muskogee settlement.
Not long after the salting episode, tragedy struck one day when he had an accident at the mill. His arm was pulled into some gears and was severely mangled. Fortunately, a doctor was able to amputate the ruined portion and saved the upper part. Major Foreman moved to Vinita where he operated a general merchandise store for several years.
On Saturday, November 16, 1878 he testified in opposition to the proposition for breaking tribal control through the allotting of land to individual tribal members. His testimony resulted in the delay of over fifteen years in the breaking of tribal control in Indian Territory.
Five years later, John Foreman married and raised two sons named John and Leonard. Just before the end of the 1800’s, he moved to El Reno, Oklahoma Territory. His death there was erroneously reported in the Muskogee Phoenix on July 20, 1899.
He had, instead, left El Reno and moved to the New Mexico Territory. A year after his mis-reported death he operated a hotel on Pecos Avenue in Roswell. The 1910 census shows that he was retired from the hotel business. Instead, at age 66, he was farming a garden patch in Roswell in company with his wife.
John A. Foreman should be remembered for two reasons. As Major Foreman, his leadership helped begin America’s racial integration. As a miller, Foreman’s enterprising efforts helped start Muskogee down the path of growth.