MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

January 13, 2013

Douglas brothers key in creation of state

Younger sibling used Phoenix to argue for merger of Twin Territories

— The family of George and Margaret Douglas moved to Oklahoma before statehood from Missouri by way of Texas. Two of their sons would become influential leaders in the development of the state.

Stephen Douglas, the oldest son, moved with his parents to Indian Territory sometime before 1887. A blacksmith by trade, he worked with his father to establish a ranch in what is today Carter County. When the Santa Fe Railroad built into the area from Texas, Douglas worked as a tool dresser for the construction crews. His blacksmith shop is considered to be the first business in Ardmore.

Stephen Douglas helped to organize the Republican Party in Indian Territory in 1890 and became active in local politics. He also was Ardmore’s postmaster for a number of years. After statehood, he served on the State Capitol Commission. Under the governorship of Robert Williams, he was the assistant supervisor in the construction of the Capitol in Oklahoma City.

His younger brother, Clarence, had been the first of the family to come to Indian Territory, having arrived in 1884. He later spent some time in Ardmore on the family ranch and was admitted to the bar of the Southern District of Indian Territory in 1896.

Clarence Douglas worked for the Dawes Commission, which sent him to Muskogee around 1900. Having military experience, he helped establish the Indian Territory Volunteer Militia and served as a colonel in its First Regiment.

Col. Douglas bought the Muskogee Daily Phoenix in 1904 just as the statehood debate was coming to a fever pitch. He was a zealous single-stater – he wanted the Twin Territories to be joined to form a single state. He used the Phoenix to push this view, both through news articles and rousing editorials.

When Congress considered a bill to promote single statehood in 1904, Douglas called for its passage. However, it died in the Senate, prompting Douglas to write this editorial comment: “Physicians in New York have discovered a man entirely without brains. They ought to send him to the United States Senate.”

Douglas covered the Sequoyah State Convention in Muskogee in 1905 in great detail, even though he opposed the effort to form a state solely from Indian Territory. His coverage was remarkably respectful, however, and he even published the entire Sequoyah Constitution, although he urged citizens to vote against it. They didn’t,  approving the statehood measure instead.

Clarence Douglas was delighted when a single statehood bill finally did pass Congress. But he did an enormous favor to historians by covering the Sequoyah effort so closely. A fire destroyed all the Sequoyah Convention documents, and the Phoenix records are all that are left to inform us of this important part of Oklahoma history.

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

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