MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 1, 2014

Looming end to tribal rule forced statehood debate

The Curtis Act of 1898 set in motion tremendous changes for Indian Territory. Building upon the allotment treaties being worked out among the Five Civilized Tribes, this congressional act signaled the end of tribal sovereignty. Land ownership was shifting from the tribes to their members, cities were allowed to incorporate, and laws were expanded over the entire territory.

The Curtis Act set March 4, 1906, as the date for tribal sovereignty to end. At that point, Indian Territory citizens would have to accept statehood. The question hotly debated was whether Indian Territory would join with Oklahoma Territory to form one state or whether it would be admitted as a separate state.

Passions ran high on this question, and special interest groups lobbied hard for their points of view. Most members of the Five Civilized Tribes favored separate statehood for Indian Territory. But they knew that would be an uphill fight.

 In 1904, Muskogee business owner and Cherokee citizen James A. Norman published a pamphlet calling for a statehood convention for Indian Territory. He proposed the name Sequoyah for the state. The pamphlet apparently garnered little attention, but Norman was not deterred.

In July 1905 he persuaded Cherokee Chief William Rogers to join with Choctaw Chief Green McCurtain to call a convention to consider separate statehood. Muskogee was chosen as the site for this meeting. Creek Chief Pleasant Porter and Seminole Chief John Brown soon added their support to the effort. Chickasaw Gov. Douglas Johnson was opposed to the convention, but he sent William Murray to attend it anyway.

Rogers opened the convention Aug. 21, 1905, at the Hinton Theater in Muskogee. Porter was elected its chairman and his friend Charles Haskell as vice chairman. Creek poet Alexander Posey held the position of secretary, but Norman was an assistant secretary. Other delegates of prominence included Cherokees Robert Owen and W.W. Hastings, who both later represented Oklahoma in Congress.

Subcommittees were formed on specific issues, such as counties, the capital and the constitution. Muskogeeans expected their town would be chosen as Sequoyah’s capital, so a group of city leaders drew up plans for a proposed Capitol. They even selected a site for the statehouse on Turner Hill and laid out a square grid of streets for its grounds.

The very long state constitution was submitted to a vote of the people, and although voter turnout was light, a large majority supported it. Rep. Murphy of Missouri and Sen. McCumber of North Dakota submitted statehood bills in both Houses of Congress. The bills, however, were not even brought to a vote, and Indian Territory’s bid for statehood was defeated.

But the following year, as the Oklahoma statehood convention met, many of the delegates to the Sequoyah convention attended. They played a large role in forming the combined state of Oklahoma.

 Email Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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