MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 16, 2013

Passing of leader marked end of era

Death of Pleasant Porter came as Indian Territory ended

— President McKinley had once commented of Pleasant Porter that he was “the greatest living Indian.” Certainly he was one of the most influential men in Indian Territory history having been involved in many of the significant events taking place before statehood.

Porter was born in Indian Territory in 1840 on his family’s plantation located along the Arkansas River between the Presbyterian missions at Koweta and Tullahassee near the town that would one day bear his name. His father was an Englishman named Benjamin Porter; his mother was Creek. Pleasant grew up in a bilingual home, comfortable with both Anglo and Indian cultures.

He attended school at Tullahassee Mission and reached adulthood just in time to be caught up in the Civil War. He enlisted in the First Creek Regiment in 1861 after the Creeks had signed a treaty with the South. During the war, Porter was wounded three times, once being shot in the head.

After the war, he returned to the family homestead to find it destroyed. Responsible now for his widowed mother and younger siblings, Porter rebuilt their log home, fenced his property with a split rail fence and began to develop a cattle herd. Through the years, Porter increased his cattle and land holdings and made a fortune in leasing grazing land to Texas cattlemen who herded their beef up the Shawnee Cattle Trail to Muskogee.

Porter was actively involved in Creek national affairs. In 1867, he served as the superintendent of schools for the Creek Nation. He made frequent trips by rail to Washington to lobby Congress on behalf of his tribe. In 1872, he married Mary Ellen Keys, the daughter of the chief justice of the Cherokee Nation which afforded him influence and political ties among the Cherokees as well.

His military experience made him a natural choice to lead the Creek militia on more than one occasion when political unrest stirred up conflict among the Creeks. It was his service during the "Green Peach War" in 1882 that earned him the title general.

Porter was elected principal chief of the Creek Nation in 1899 and re-elected to a second term in 1903. He used his position to pull together the Sequoyah State Convention, held in Muskogee in 1905. Serving as president of the convention, Porter worked to write a constitution for the State of Sequoyah. Congress rejected Indian Territory’s bid to become a state, requiring instead that it join with Oklahoma Territory for statehood.

Pleasant Porter did not live to see the new state of Oklahoma join the Union. He died of a stroke while traveling to Missouri on Sept. 3, 1907 at the age of 67. All businesses in Muskogee closed the next day in honor of the chief.

His body was taken by rail to the Porter family cemetery near Leonard, arriving at sunset. Hundreds walked from the rail line to the place of interment as the sun sank behind the Concharty Mountains. An elderly Creek minister offered a final prayer in the Muscogee language. He delivered it with so much heartfelt sorrow that when he concluded the crowd stood for long moments in perfect silence, heads bowed as darkness slipped over the land and a chapter of greatness in Indian Territory history came to a close.

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

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