The Snake Band

Bishinik May 1979 Page 8-9

Snake Band Dream of New Choctaw Nation in Mexico

By Len Green

Our educated people tell us that the white man came to this country to avoid conditions which were not as bad as the present conditions are to us: that he come across the great ocean and sought new homes on order to avoid things which to him were distasteful and wrong.

“All we ask is that we may be permitted to exercise the same privilege. While some of our people might choose to remain here and mingle with the white man, we believe that the Great Father of All created the Indian to fill a proper place in the world and that he has the right to exist as a race.” These words were uttered by Choctaw leader Jacob B. Jackson to a delegation of United States Congressmen in Washington, D.C. in 1906. His plea fell upon deaf ears. The request was being made by Jackson and a delegation of Choctaws for the right of a group of some 2,000 Choctaw Indian full-bloods to sell their holdings which are now a port of Oklahoma (mostly in McCurtain county) for the purpose of purchasing land for a new Choctaw Nation in Mexico.

To understand the plea being made by Jackson and the tenor of the times, we must go back to 1893, when the United States Government authorized Sen. William B. Dawes to get up the Dawes Commission to treat with the Indians and cajole or force them to submit communal control of Indian lands and breaking up such lands into individual allotments. In order to “break the back”of the Choctaw Nation, the United States had to accomplish two things. One of these was to force the Choctaw to change his form of government from “horizontal” to “vertical,” copying the European governments and to end the so-called “common ownership” of land. The change from “horizontal” to “vertical” government had been accomplished over a long period of years, beginning with the first written Choctaw Constitution in 1826 (not accepted by the tribe) down through the Constitution of 1860 which finally conformed to the form desired by the US Government.

For, with the Constitution of 1860, the Choctaws fully embraced the European form of vertical” government, with a Principal Chief and downward “chain of command” thus ending much of the Choctaw’s individual power within his government. However, the Choctaws still held fast to their belief that the land belonged to no one and everyone … that the land was brother to man and with man’s sister ..the water.. was placed here for the use of anyone and everyone in keeping with his or her needs and desires.

In 1894, the Choctaws had elected a strong anti-allotment Principal Chief in Jefferson Gardner, who successfully strangled the efforts of the Dawes Commission for the next two years by simply ignoring them. However, elements within Gardner’s own party did not approve of his methods, and as a result the party, officially called the National Party but better known as the “Buzzards” split. Meeting at Tuskahoma in the fall of 1895, one branch of the National Party changed its name to the Independent Party, and nominated Jefferson Gardner for re-election and a second term as Principal Chief.

Then in February of 1896, the other branch of the National Party, made up mostly of full-bloods who resented the leadership of mixed-bloods, met in Atoka and nominated Jacob B. Jackson who was at that time serving as national secretary. In March of 1896, the Progressive Party, popularly known as the “Hawks,” met in Talihina and attempted to nominate Gilbert W. Dukes as their standard bearer to challenge the two conservative or “hard-shelled” candidates. However, since this action did not sit too well with some elements of the Progressive Party, they decided to break with the “Hawks,” and met in May of 1896 in Tuskahoma, naming their “new” group the Tuskahoma Party and choosing Green McCurtain, a known pro-allotment force, as their candidate.

When all the votes had been counted after the August 1896 election, Green McCurtain held 1,405 votes, Jacob Jackson had received 1,195, Gilbert Dukes had polled 613 votes and the incumbent, Jefferson Gardner, had received 596.

Because McCurtain represented those wishing to deal with the Dawes Commission and his national secretary, Jacob Jackson, opposed any dealings with Dawes, McCurtain’s first move was to oust Jackson from office and replace him with Solomon J. Homer. Green McCurtain then led a delegation of Choctaws to South McAlester to meet on Nov. 11, 1896, with the Dawes Commission to “talk the situation over.” In addition to McCurtain, this delegation included J. S. Standley, N. B. Ainsworth, Amos Henry, A. S. Williams, Wesley Anderson, D. C. Garland, E. N. Wright and Ben Hampton.

As a result of the McAlester meeting, the delegation recommended to the General Council that the Choctaw Nation enter negotiations with the Dawes Commission and Chief McCurtain was empowered by the Council to enter such negotiations. This led to another meeting on April 1, 1897, between the Choctaw Delegation and the Dawes Commission in Atoka, and on April 23, the “Atoka Agreement” was signed by Green McCurtain and his fellow delegates. The Atoka Agreement provided that Choctaw lands would be allotted, that the Choctaws might reserve townsites and certain mineral rights and that the tribal government could continue to operate but only within specified limits to be set by the United States Government. At a special session of the Choctaw Council, meeting in Tuskahoma, the Atoka Agreement was ratified by a 13-6 vote in the House of Representatives and a 6-4 vote in the Choctaw Senate.

In the meantime up in the Creek Nation, Chito Horjo, a Creek Indian who become popularly known by the white man as “Crazy Snake” because he used a coiled rattle snake as the symbol of effort, was beginning what was to become known as the “Snake Rebellion.” Insisting that the Dawes Commission had no authority to force the Indians to give up their tribal governments or allot tribal lands, Horjo traveled among other tribes enlisting support for his efforts. Soon, most of the major tribes living in the so-called Indian Territory (now eastern Oklahoma)had formed a “Snake Band,” made up principally of full-bloods who still embraced the “old ways” and opposed allotments and an end of self-government.

Meeting at Smithville, about 600 Choctaws formed the initial Snake Band, electing Jacob B. Jackson as Chief and naming J. C. Folsom, S. E. Coe, Saul Folsom and Willis Jones to the Snake Council. Jackson owned a home and store at a post he called Hocha Tahli (later Hochatown), and most of the activities of the Choctaw Snake Bond were planned and implemented from that area.

In 1898, the National party did not nominate a candidate for Principal Chief. The Tuskahoma Party nominated Green McCurtain for a second term and the Union Party chose Wilson N. Jones as its standard bearer. McCurtain won. Two years later, in the elections of 1900, the Snake Band, now about 2,000 strong, reactivated the old National Party, and naturally nominated Snake Chief Jacob B. Jackson as its candidate.

Jackson had confirmed his leadership in the Snake Rebellion in 1897-98 by leading a group of Choctaws to Mexico where they talked with the Mexican government about relocating the Choctaw Nation from the United States to Mexico. Negotiations had even reached a point that Jackson and his delegation was willing to sell to the tribe. In addition, the Mexican government pledged that they would allow the Choctaws self-rule, and would see that non-Indians stayed outside the boundaries of the proposed “Choctaw Nation of Mexico.”

Since the Constitution of 1860 provided that a chief might serve only two consecutive terms, the Tuskahoma Party nominated Gilbert W. Dukes to succeed Green McCurtain. The Union Party nominated E. N. Wright. But in the August 1900 elections, the Tuskahoma Party hold enough power to elect Dukes over Jackson and Wright, but not by a clear majority. The polarization continued for the next two years, so much so that in 1902 the National Party (or Snake Party) did not even attempt to nominate a candidate for Principal Chief and did not participate in the election.

Over the objections of Gilbert W. Dukes, who felt that he should be allowed to seek a second term, the Tuskahoma Party abandoned him and again turned to Green McCurtain as its candidate. Because of what he considered ill treatment at the hands of the Tuskahoma Party, when the Progressive Party nominated Thomas W. Hunter, Gilbert Dukes threw his support to Hunter.

Balloting was held as usual on the third Wednesday in August, but when the ballots arrived at Tuskahoma, Chief Dukes ordered them locked into a shed and apparently never had them counted. At the request of the Tuskahoma Party, U.S. Army troops from Fort Reno, under the command of Major Starr, were dispatched to Tuskahoma to supervise the counting of the votes. In the meantime, outgoing Chief Gilbert Dukes hod appointed Thomas W. Hunter as Principal Chief and called the General Council into early session in an effort to get them to confirm his appointment.

When the votes were finally counted, Green McCurtain had received 1,645 votes and Hunter had received 956. This was the last time that the Choctaws would elect a Principal chief until 1971.

In the meantime, the Snake Council and Chief Jacob B. Jackson were continuing to promote the idea of relocating the Choctaw Nation from the Indian Territory to Mexico. So it was that in early 1906, armed with petitions carrying the names of more than 2,000 Choctaws (mostly full-bloods), Snake Chief Jacob Jackson led a delegation to Washington, D.C. His proposition was simple. Instead of allotting the land of the petitioners, the United States government would buy it and Jackson and his followers would take that money and use it to purchase a new homeland in Mexico. Despite Jackson’s impassioned and logical pleas, the United States government refused and informed Jackson and his followers that they would receive individual allotments as would all Indians residing in the Indian Territory.

In the meantime, Chito Harjo, the leader of the Snake Rebellion come under attack at his home far up in the Creek Nation, and was grievously wounded when a “posse” attacked his home. Since a well-meaning “friend” had enrolled Harjo against his wishes and since he feared to return to his own home, “Crazy Snake” somehow made his way all the way from the Creek Nation to the home of his friend, Charles Babb, about four miles south of Smithville. Possibly because of the bullet fragments still in his leg or because of the long forced trip, Harjo’s wounds failed to heal properly, yet he continued to live for almost two years as a guest of Charles Babb. Early in 1910, Chito Harjo died at the Babb home, without ever again seeing his wife or his children, and was buried in the Babb family cemetery south of Smithville. Several years ago, the Oklahoma Historical Society placed a granite marker on Harjo’s grove, which stands in the front yard of a home not far from Smithville.

After his failure to earn his people a new nation in Mexico, Jacob B. Jackson returned to his home, now a 160 acre allotment near Hochatown, and quietly lived out his remaining years.