MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 1, 2014

Alice Callahan was Muskogee novelist

Sophia Alice Callahan holds the distinction of the being the first Oklahoma novelist.

Though, in fact, she died before Oklahoma statehood and probably would not have considered herself an Oklahoman. She was born in Sulphur Springs, Texas, to Samuel and Sarah Elizabeth Callahan.

The Callahans, who were Creek citizens, came to Indian Territory before the Civil War, but Sarah moved the family to Sulphur Springs at the outset of the war while her husband served in the Confederate army. They continued to reside there after the war ended, and several children were born to the Callahans, including Josephine, James, Walter and Alice.

Josephine married a merchant and cattleman named Homer Spaulding, and they moved to Muskogee in 1884. They immediately became involved in the Methodist Rock Church and were important to the development of the city. The Spauldings invited the Callahans to join them in their new hometown.

Samuel, daughter Alice and son James came to Muskogee and they also were quickly involved in the community. James Callahan served as a prominent doctor in town and was a strong promoter of developing the east side of the city. His efforts garnered him the honor of having a street named for him.

Alice was 17 at the time when she arrived in Muskogee. At age 18 she began teaching at a Creek school in Okmulgee. Following that, she spent two years attending the Wesleyan Female Institute in Staunton, Va.

When she returned to Muskogee at age 20 she took a position at Harrell International Institute, a Methodist school for girls located at Cherokee Street and Okmulgee Avenue. She taught English and also was the editor of the Methodist newspaper, Our Brother in Red, which was published at Harrell. While at this school, she worked on a novel about a young woman whose story somewhat mirrored her life.

Alice completed the book, titled “Wynema: A Child of the Forest,” in the spring of 1891 and announced its publication in the June issue of Our Brother in Red. The novel addressed some of the political topics of the day including allotments, statehood and other Indian issues. Alice employed the “native dialect” which was popular in that day. Callahan was the first American Indian woman to be published.

It is possible that Callahan’s novel played at least a small role of influence in the life of a fellow Creek author. Alexander Posey was a student at Indian University (Bacone College) at the time “Wynema” was published. He would later name one of his children Wynema after the title character in the novel. He too used the native dialect in his popular “Fus Fixico Letters” that he published in the Indian Journal newspaper.

Alice spent two years after the novel’s publication working at the Wealaka Mission School near Stone Bluff. She was planning to return to college and then hoped to open a school. Sadly, she died in 1894 of pleurisy at the age of 26, but she had entered the history books with a book of her own.  

Jonita Mullins’ novel, “Journey to an Untamed Land,” is now available at CreateSpace.com/4627261 and at local bookstores and gift shops.

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

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