Is Oklahoma a Southern state, a Southwestern state or a Midwestern state? It is fair to say that Oklahoma is a border state. It is a crossroads of the Deep South, the Midlands and Great Appalachia.
The Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles were all transferred to Indian Territory by the federal government during the antebellum era. There is a Eufaula, OK and a Muskogee, OK. There are other cities and towns in Oklahoma that have counterparts in the Deep South. The same people picked up and left. How did Indian Territory end up becoming Oklahoma though?
The State of Sequoyah never joined the United States because the Republican Congress rejected statehood for the heavily Democratic Indian Territory. The Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory had fought for the Confederacy in the War Between States. General Stand Watie of the Cherokee Nation was a wealthy planter who owned nearly 100 slaves and was the last Confederate general to surrender. We poke fun at the Rainbow Confederates due to their obsession with “Black Confederates,” but it is absolutely true that the Confederacy had Indian allies who were Southern in culture. They also fought for slavery and Indian supremacy in the War Between the States.
“A key social institution among the Five Tribes, one that was also crucial in the sectional division of the United States, was the extent of slave holding. Of Indian Territory’s approximately one hundred thousand inhabitants, 14 percent were African American slaves. That aspect of tribal culture, as much as any other, explains the willingness of many Indians to side with the Confederate States of America. The Cherokee Confederate general Stand Watie owned nearly one hundred slaves, making him, in the context of the times, an immensely wealthy man.
Little of the debate over slavery’s expansion affected the tribes in Indian Territory. However, Indian slaveholders were apprehensive about the Republican victory in 1860 and the party’s ultimate designs for “the peculiar institution.” Many Indian Territory residents were upset by Secretary of State William H. Seward’s remarks when he urged the U.S. government to extinguish tribal land titles and open the West to settlement.”
There was nothing unusual about this. Indian tribes had fought on both sides of American wars in virtually every other conflict in American history. The Cherokees had fought on side of Andrew Jackson against the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in the Creek War. The Cherokees had fought on the side of South Carolina against the Creeks in the Yamasee War. The Yamasees had previously fought on the side of North Carolina against the Tuscarora Indians. The Mohawks had saved the Yankees during King Philip’s War by attacking the Wampanoag. The Iroquois and Hurons fought on the side the British and French respectively against each other in one of the most devastating conflicts in Indian history.
Southerners have always had a complex relationship with Indians. We fought the Indians. We enslaved the Indians. We drove them out of large parts of the South. They fought us all along the frontier with the British during both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. By the time the Five Civilized Tribes were deported to Oklahoma though on the Trail of Tears, the Indians had become extremely assimilated into Southern culture. They had mixed blood leaders like William Weatherford aka “Red Eagle.” They drove cattle, drank alcohol and owned slaves. The Cherokees even had a written language.
The Southern influence over the Five Civilized Tribes ran so deep that the proposed state of Sequoyah would have been a Jim Crow state with segregation like the other Southern states. This was rejected though because the Republican Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t agree to it. Similarly, the Indian influence over the Anglo-Protestant South had ran in the other direction. Southerners grew corn as our staple grain and chewed tobacco. No one knows for sure whether the Rebel Yell got its start as a Celtic war cry or an Indian war whoop. I believe it is the latter.
After the War Between the States, the Five Civilized Tribes were blamed for fighting for the Confederacy. Indian Territory had its own version of Reconstruction. The Indians also lost their slaves and much of their land. Indian Territory similarly fell under the control of the Northern railroads like every other Southern state. White settlers poured into the new Oklahoma Territory which was created in what is now western Oklahoma not unlike how Yankees colonized Central and South Florida. Southeastern Oklahoma is known as Little Dixie and is the most culturally Southern part of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907 after the one state solution triumphed due to the opposition of Eastern Republicans to Sequoyah statehood. The discovery of oil in Oklahoma also set off a mania that ensured the Sooner state would not be partitioned.