Chronicles of Oklahoma
Vol 11, No 3
Pgs 899 - 911
The Plea Of Crazy Snake (Chitto Harjo)
By John Bartlett Meserve
“Down with him, chain him, bind him fast,
Slam the iron door and turn the key.
The one time Creek, perhaps the last
To dare declare "You have wronged me".
Defiant, stoical, silent,
Such coarse, black hair; such eagle eye;
Such stately mien—how arrow-straight;
Such will; such courage to defy
The powerful makers of his fate.
A traitor, outlaw—what you will,
He is the noble red man still.
Condemn him and his kind to shame,
I bow to him, exalt his name.”
The detention of Chitto Harjo (Crazy Snake) in the Federal jail at Muskogee in 1901 by the United States authorities, inspired these lines of tribute penned at the time by Alexander Posey, the famous dream poet of the Creeks. Chitto Harjo, most familiarly known as Crazy Snake and also known among the whites as Wilson Jones, was a full blood Creek Indian of the old, decadent type. After the collapse of the Green Peach War and the retirement of Isparhecher from public affairs, Harjo became the acknowledged leader of the discordant full blood Creeks who were opposing the allotment of tribal lands and the extinction of the tribal government. The dissatisfied Indians who rallied to Harjo's leadership were a mere handful compared with the entire tribal membership but were none the less determined to recapture and resume the primitive status and practices of a none too heroic past. The feeling was general among these malcontents that they had been wronged by the Government and there was a blend of much truth in their indictment that both spirit and law of past treaties had been wantonly violated and their cherished hereditary rights and immunities destroyed. In truth, and in fact, the United States treated the Indians like unwanted step-children throughout its early course of dealing with them.
The efforts which Harjo undertook in 1901 to establish a separate political status for his unyielding full blood followers at the old Hickory Stomp Grounds southeast of Okmulgee, were ill advised and farcical although undertaken with the utmost sincerity and good faith. The debacle was a tragic failure, Harjo and some of his militant associates were taken into custody by the military arm of the Government and indicted, tried and convicted in the Federal court, but were subsequently reprimanded and paroled by the court. Harjo was not wanting in the "courage to defy the powerful makers of his fate" but it had been a futile gesture.
During the succeeding five years, the allotment of the Creek tribal lands was accomplished and the tribal government completely extinguished, to all of which the sullen "Snake" Indians continued to be disinterested observers. They declined to make selections of their distributive shares of the tribal domain and arbitrary selections were made for each of them.
Late in the fall of 1906, a Special Senate Investigating Committee came to the old Indian Territory to investigate and report upon general conditions. Secretary of the Interior Garfield accompanied the committee which was composed of Senators Teller of Colorado, Clarke of Montana, Brandagee of Connecticut and Long of Kansas. Public hearings were held at the principal points in the Territory and on November 23rd, the committee opened a hearing in Tulsa. The meeting was held in the old Elk's lodge hall in the Seaman Building on West Third Street and when the session opened at ten o'clock the hall was packed to its capacity.
Chitto Harjo accompanied by perhaps a dozen of his associates occupied conspicuous front seats and the old warrior's presence being noted by the committee, he was accorded an opportunity to address the solons. Rising solemnly and with much deference, the "Snake" chief with the late David M. Hodge at his side as interpreter, advanced to the committee and with marked eloquence which held the committee and the spectators spellbound, delivered what might be said to be the last protest of an expiring race. The scene was dramatic and one which will ever linger in the annals of Tulsa. Harjo spoke calmly, used no gestures and with no hesitation for language to express himself.
"I will begin with a recital of the relations of the Creeks with the Government of the United States from 1861 and I will explain it so you will understand it. I look to that time—to the treaties of the Creek Nation with the United States—and I abide by the provisions of the treaty made by the Creek Nation with the Government in 1861. I would like to enquire what had become of the relations between the Indians and the white people from 1492 down to 1861?
"My ancestors and my people were the inhabitants of this great country from 1492. I mean by that from the time the white man first came to this country until now. It was my home and the home of my people from time immemorial and is today, I think, the home of my people. Away back in that time—in 1492—there was man by the name of Columbus came from across the great ocean and he discovered this country for the white man—this country which was at that time the home of my people. What did he find when he first arrived here? Did he find a white man standing on this continent then or did he find a black man standing here? Did he find either a black man or a white man standing on this continent? I stood here first and Columbus first discovered me.
“I want to know what did he say to the red man at that time? He was on one of the great four roads that led to light. At that time Columbus received the information that was given to him by my people. My ancestor informed him that he was ready to accept this light he proposed to give him and walk these four roads of light and have his children under his direction. He told him it was all right. He told him, 'The land is all yours; the law is all yours'. He said it is all right. He told him, 'I will always take care of you. If your people meet with any troubles, I will take these troubles away. I will stand before you and behind you and on each side of you and your people, and if any people come into your country I will take them away and you shall live in peace under me. My arms,' he said, 'are very long'. He told him to come within his protecting arms and he said, 'If anything comes against you for your ruin I will stand by you and preserve you and defend you and protect you.'
"'There is a law,' he said at that time, 'that is above every other law and that is away up yonder—high up—for,' said he, 'if any other town or nation or any other tribe come against you I will see through that law that you are protected. It does not make any difference to you,' he said, 'if as many as twelve other nations come against you or twelve other tribes come against you it will not make any difference for I will combine with you and protect you and overthrow them all. I will protect you in all things and take care of everything about your existence so you will live in this land that is yours and your fathers' without fear.’ That is what he said and we agreed upon those terms. He told me that as long as the sun shone and the sky is up yonder these agreements shall be kept. This was the first agreement that we had with the white man. He said as long as the sun rises it shall last; as long as the waters run it shall last; as long as the grass grows it shall last. That was what it was to be and we agreed upon those terms. That was what the agreement was and we signed our names to that agreement and to those terms. He said, 'Just as long as you see light here; just as long as you see this light glimmering over us, shall these agreements be kept and not until all these things shall cease and pass away shall our agreement pass away.’ That is what he said and we believed it. I think there is nothing that has been done by the people should abrogate them. We have kept every term of that agreement. The grass is growing, the waters run, the sun shines, the light is with us and the agreement is with us yet for the God that is above us all witnessed that agreement. He said to me that whoever did anything against me was doing it against him and against the agreement and he said if anyone attempted to do anything against me, to notify him for whatever was done against me was against him and therefore against the agreement. He said that he would send good men amongst us to teach us about his God and to treat them good for they were his representatives and to listen to them and if anyone attempted to molest us to, tell them (the missionaries) and they would tell him. He told me that he would protect me in all ways; that he would take care of my people and look after them; that he would succor them if they needed succor and be their support at all times and I told him it was all right and he wrote the agreement that way.
"Now, coming down to 1832 and referring to the agreements between the Creek people and the Government of the United States; what has occurred since 1832 until today? It seems that some people forget what has occurred. After all, we are all one blood; we have the one God and we live in the same land. I had always lived back yonder in what is now the State of Alabama. We had our homes back there; my people had their homes back there. We had our troubles back there and we had no one to defend us. At that time when I had these troubles, it was to take my country away from me. I had no other troubles. The troubles were always about taking my country from me. I could live in peace with all else, but they wanted my country and I was in trouble defending it. It was no use. They were bound to take my country away from me. It may have been that my country had to, be taken away from me, but it was not justice. I have always been asking for justice. I have never asked for anything else but justice. I never had justice. First, it was this and then it was something else that was taken away from me and my people, so we couldn't stay there any more. It was not because a man had to stand on the outside of what was right that brought the troubles. What was to be done was all set out yonder in the light and all men knew what the law and the agreement was. It was a treaty—a solemn treaty—but what difference did that make? I want to say this to you today, because I don't want these ancient agreements between the Indian and the white man violated and I went as far as Washington and had them sustained and made treaties about it. We made terms of peace, for it had been war, but we made new terms of peace and made new treaties. Then it was the overtures of the Government to my people to leave their land, the home of their fathers, the land that they loved. He said, 'it will be better for you to do as I want, for these old treaties cannot be kept any longer.’ He said, 'you look away off to the West, away over backward and there you will see a great river called the Mississippi River and away over beyond that is another river called the Arkansas River.’ And he said, 'you go way out there and you will find a land that is fair to look upon and is fertile, and you go there with your people and I will give that country to you and your people forever.’ He said, 'Go way out there beyond these two rivers; away out the direction of the setting sun and select your land—what you want of it—and I will locate you and your people there and I will give you that land forever and I will protect you and your children in it forever.’ That was the agreement and the treaty and I and my people came out here and settled on this land and I carried out these agreements and treaties in all points and violated none. I came over and located here.
"What took place in 1861? I had made my home here with my people and I was living well out here with my people. We were all prospering. We had a great deal of property here, all over this country. We had come here and taken possession of it under our treaty. We had laws that were living laws and I was living here under then laws. You are my fathers and I tell you that in 1861, I was living here in peace and plenty with my people and we were happy; and then my white fathers rose in arms against each other to, fight each other. They did fight each other. At that day Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States and our Great Father. He was in Washington and I was away off down here. My white brothers divided into factions and went to war. When the white people raised in arms and tried to destroy one another, it was not for the purpose of destroying my people at all. It was not for the purpose of destroying treaties with the Indians. They did not think of that and the Indian was not the cause of that Great War at all. The cause of that war was because there was a people that were black in skin and color who had always been in slavery. In my old home in Alabama and all through the south part of the Nation and out in this country, these black people were held in slavery and up in the North there were no slaves. The people of that part of the United States determined to set. The black man free and the people in the South determined that they should not and they went to war about it. In that war the Indians had not any part. It was not their war at all. The purpose of the war was to set these black people at liberty and I had nothing to, do with it. He told me to come out here and have my laws back, and I came out here with my people and had my own laws and was living under them. On account of some of your own sons—the ancient brothers of mine—they came over here and caused me to enroll along with my people on your side. I left my home and my country and everything I had in the world and went rolling on toward the Federal Army. I left my laws and my government; I left my people and my country and my home; I left everything and went with the Federal Army for my father in Washington. I left them in order to stand by my treaties. I left everything and I arrived in Kansas—I mean it was at Leavenworth where I arrived. It was a town away up in Kansas on the Missouri River. I arrived at Fort Leavenworth to do what I could for my father's country and stand by my treaties. There at Fort Leavenworth was the orator of the Federal Army and I went and fell before the orator of the Federal Army. It was terrible hard times with me then. In that day I was under the Sons of my father in Washington. I was with the Federal soldiers.
"I am speaking now of this orator in the Federal Army. I went and fell before him and I and my people joined the Federal Army because we wanted to, keep our treaties with the father in Washington. Things should not have been that way but that is the way they were. The father at Washington was not able to keep his treaty with me and I had to leave my country, as I have stated, and go into the Federal Army. I went in as a Union soldier. When I took the oath, I raised my hand and called God to witness that I was ready to die in the cause that was right and to help my father defend his treaties. All this time the fire was going on and the war and the battles were going on, and today I have conquered all and regained these treaties that I have with the Government. I believe that everything wholly and fully came back to me on account of the position I took in that war. I think that. I thought then and I think today that is the way to do—to stand up and be a man that keeps his word all the time and under all circumstances. That is what I did and I know that in doing so I regained again all my old treaties for the father at Washington conquered in that war and he promised me that if I was faithful to, my treaties, I should have them all back again. I was faithful to my treaties and I got them all back again and today I am living under them and with them. I never agreed to the exchanging of lands and I never agreed to the allotting of my lands. I knew it would never do for my people and I never could say a b c so far as that is concerned. I never knew anything about English. I can't speak the tongue. I can't read it. I can't write it. I and my people, great masses of them, are unenlightened and uneducated. I am notifying you of these things because your Government officials have told me and my people that they would take care of my relations with the Government and I think they ought to be taking care of them as they promised. He said that if anyone trespassed on my rights or questioned them to let him know and he would take care of them and protect them. I always thought that this would be done. I believe yet it will be done. I don't know what the trouble is now. I don't know anything about it. I think my lands are all cut up. I have never asked that be done but I understand it has been done. I don't know why it was done. My treaty said that it never would be done unless I wanted it done. That anything I did not want to be done contrary to that treaty would not be done. I never made these requests. I went through death for this cause and I now hold the release this Government gave me. I served the father faithfully and as a reward, I regained my country back again and I and my children will remain on it and live upon it as we did in the old time. I believe it. I know it is right. I know it is justice.
"I hear the Government is cutting up my land and is giving it away to black people. I want to know if this is so. It can't be so for it is not in the treaty. These black people, who are they? They are Negroes who came in here as slaves. They have no right to this land. It never was given to them. It was given to me and my people and we paid for it with our land back in Alabama. The black people have no right to it. Then can it be that the Government is giving it—my land—to the Negro? I hear it is and they are selling it. This can't be so. It wouldn't be justice. I am informed and believe it to be true that some citizens of the United States have title to land that was given to my fathers and my people by the Government. If it was given to me, what right has the United States to take it from me without first asking my consent? That I would like to know. There are many things that I don't know and can't understand but I want to understand them if I can. I believe the officers of the United States ought to take care of the rights of me and my people first and then afterwards look out for their own interests. I have reason to believe and I do believe that they are more concerned in their own welfare than the welfare of rights of the Indian—lots of them are. I believe some of them are honest men, but not many. A plan ought fiat to dispossess himself of all thought or wish to do me or my country wrong. He should never think of doing wrong to this country or to the rights of my people. After he has done that, then maybe he can do something for himself in that regard; but first he must protect the Indians and their rights in this country. He is the servant of the Government and he is sent here to, do that and he should not be permitted to do anything else.
"All that I am begging of you, Honorable Senators, is that these ancient agreements and treaties wherein you promised to take care of me and my people, be fulfilled and that you will remove all the difficulties that have been raised in reference to my people and their country and I ask you to see that these promises are faithfully kept. I understand you are the representatives of the Government sent here to look into these things and I hope you will relieve us. That is all I desire to say.’"
In response to, an interrogatory by the Chairman of the Committee, the old Indian responded, "Oh, yes, I am a farmer. I have a farm and a home there on it. I used to have horses and hogs and cattle but I have precious few left now. The white people have run all through me and over me and around me and committed all kinds of depredations and what I have left is precious few. I am here and stand before you today, my fathers, as a man of misery. I am here appealing to you to have the laws carried out."
Senator Teller of the Committee enquired of Mr. Hodge, the interpreter, "Do you believe that the old man is honest in his statements?” Mr. Hodge very readily and with emphasis answered, "Yes sir, he is as honest and straight forward and sincere in his statements as a living man can be."
After concluding his address, Harjo bowed low to the committee and retired from the hall with his followers.
A year later, Statehood came with its complement of new, untried State, District and County officials and the Indian had a new set of masters. Early in the summer of 1908, whisperings of another full blood Indian uprising began to drift in from the old Hickory neighborhood which seemed to indicate that the personal prowess of the new officials was going to be put to a test. Rumor had it that old Chitto Harjo had resumed the war path although the old Indian knew nothing about it until he learned that the State Militia was seeking for him. The worst that could be said of Harjo was that he had talked too much but he committed no overt act against the State in 1908. The old man disappeared rather than face a prejudiced public opinion in the new courts of the State. Timid settlers whose fears were aroused by the reports, appealed to the new sheriff of McIntosh County, to investigate and restore the majesty of the law, but the sheriff was too frightened even to investigate and called upon the new Governor for military aid in quelling the insurrection, which was purely an imaginary one. The State Militia boldly marched into McIntosh County and martial law was declared in the Hickory country and the search for old Crazy Snake began. They never did find the old, decrepit Indian but they did find a few peaceful full blood Creek Indians living quietly in their log cabins with no thought or purpose of fomenting any trouble. There was no Indian uprising nor insurrection by the Snake Indians in 1908 and no occasion for the spectacular display of the military arm of the State at that time. It does seem, however, that discovery was made that a pack of dogs unwarrantedly had chased a rabbit into the smoke house of a white settler and in digging the rabbit out, the dogs had caused the smoke house to collapse and the affair was laid to the door of Crazy Snake and his folks. From this incident the Smoked Meat Rebellion took its place in the early history of the State of Oklahoma and the State Militia marched down the hill again.
Little remains to be said of Chitto Harjo, the innocent cause of this state-wide panic. In Indian fashion, he just faded away, not as a fugitive from justice but because he was becoming too circumscribed by the white man and his individualistic practices. The old Indian just wouldn't civilize and so report has it that he died down in the Choctaw County about 1913—"a red man still".
Death Of Crazy Snake
NOTE:—After the escape of Crazy Snake from the officers, nothing was heard of him for three or four years and the report went out that he and some of his trusted followers had gone to Mexico, but it later developed that he had hidden himself away at the home of Daniel Bob, a full blood Choctaw, living in the Kiamichi Mountains. Fred Barde that well known and thoroughly reliable correspondent of the Kansas City Star, made some personal investigation about 1913 for the purpose of finding out what had become of the belligerent leader of the Creek full bloods, Chitto Harjo, and it was largely through his efforts that the facts concerning his death were established.
In order to keep history straight concerning the death of Crazy Snake, I will give some excerpts from the Barde story:
"The mystery of the disappearance of Chitto Harjo, or Crazy Snake, the noted leader of the Creek fullblood Indians known as Snakes, had been revealed. Chitto Harjo is dead. This fact only recently became known. For several years agents of the United States government sought patiently for news of Chitto Harjo. His friends and kinsmen shook their heads or stared blankly in fullblood fashion at their inquisitors. The full bloods keep their secrets from white men.
"Chitto Harjo died at the home of his old Choctaw friend, Daniel Bob, hidden away in the Kiamichi Mountains, seven miles from the little town of Smithville, where there has been a Choctaw settlement since 1829. His grave is in Daniel Bob's yard, where it was located by an agent of the United States Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes, several weeks ago.
"Daniel Bob gave this account of Chitto Harjo's last days through an interpreter, Jerry Samuel:
"Daniel received word shortly after the fight at Chitto Harjo's home to go to a point north of McAlester, where he found Chitto with a bad wound in his hip. Charles Coker, Chitto's full-blood lieutenant, had been shot through the chest during the fight. Coker, while escaping, is said to have killed the two deputy sheriffs. Both Chitto and Coker said that the officers fired without warning, the moment that Chitto and Coker appeared at the door.
"The journey to Daniel Bob's home was along a secluded route. Chitto was unable to ride his horse without great pain, so they rode half a day and rested half a day. The party passed through old South McAlester, thence north of Wilburton, and through the Winding Stair Mountains by the old road leading from Wilburton to the Kiamichi river, through the Kiamichi Mountains a narrow trail was followed to the head waters of Eagle Fork, and thence round the edge of Bobtukle Mountain by a seldom used deer trail to the home of Daniel Bob. The party was composed of Chitto, Coker, Daniel Bob, and Anderson Harris, of Lukfata.
"Spring has passed four times since Chitto Harjo was laid to rest in his grave-house at the home of Daniel Bob. He died in a foreign land—the Choctaw country, for such a fullblood would consider any spot outside the boundaries of his tribal lands. His abandoned home in the Creek Nation, valued at several thousand dollars, forced the Federal government to persevere in its search for Chitto, and only the most assiduous inquiry led to his location.
"Daniel Bob, in Indian fashion, dictated a letter to the writer that for simplicity and directness belongs to Homeric times. It reads:
"There was a man by the name of Chitto Harjo were came over here at my place.
"He were stay here while, and he got down in April 5, 1911, and the last few days of his life were spent in bed. One morning in April 11, 1911, at 10 o'clock, his life passed from away.
"In this April 5, he get down that with indeed distress, as the gunshot wound in his hip, and had died.
"Than we laid him good in my house yard. That where he lie in grave.
"This is all about Chitto Harjo death at my place".
A pathetic story, and true to the ways of the full-bloods of which Chitto was so typically representative. It is reminiscent of a poem by the late Alexander Posey, the Creek poet, "Hotgun on the death of Yadeka Harjo":
"Well so, "Hotgun he say,
"My ol'-time frien', Yadeka Harjo, he
Was died the other day,
An' they was no ol'-timer left but me.
"Hotulk Emathla he
was go to be good Injin long time 'go,
An' Woxie Harjoche
Been dead ten years or twenty, maybe so.
All had to die at las';
I live long time, but now my days was few;
'Fore long poke-weeds an' grass
be growin' all aroun' my grave-house, too."
"Wolf Warrior he listen close,
An' Kono Harjo pay close 'tention, too:
Tookpafka Micco he almos'
Let his pipe go out a time or two."
—D. W. P.