Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Schools among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: The Civil War and Its Aftermath (1)

At the outbreak of war in the spring of 1861, the federal government abandoned Indian Territory. The fate of Fort Washita just north of the Red River provides a good example. On May 1, four U.S. Army companies posted at the fort fled north with hundreds of Texas Confederates in close pursuit. The remainder of the federal troops in Indian Territory joined them and the entire group made its way to Kansas. Not only did the Confederate Army commandeer Fort Washita, it was never again occupied by the United States.[1]

In addition, many upper-class Chickasaws owned slaves. Given their sympathies, and with Arkansas and Texas as neighbors, it was only natural for the leaders of the Chickasaw Nation to renounce their allegiance to the Union and side with the Confederacy. This meant, of course, that the Chickasaws forfeited their status under the government of the United States.

Meanwhile, the war halted the growth and destroyed the development of the previous years. From 1861 to 1865, schools and churches in the Chickasaw Nation were closed. Many homes were lost and destroyed.[2]

By the end of the war, Christian missionaries had long since left Indian Territory. During the years of conflict, schools and academies ceased operation and school buildings served the Confederate cause as barracks and hospitals.[3] What remained of those buildings now served as the physical foundation for the post-war educational system. The first priority was to rehabilitate those facilities. By 1867, federal appropriations of money to the Chickasaw Nation resumed. These funds provided for the new beginnings of the school system.

G. D. James served as the first Chickasaw Superintendent of Public Instruction. In  1869, James reported to George T. Olmstead, U.S. Indian agent stationed at Boggy Depot, that eleven neighborhood schools were operating, with a total of eleven instructors and four assistants. Two thirds of these educators were white and were, in James's opinion, of low caliber. But he expected the quality of instruction would only increase over time.[4]


[1] W. B. Morrison, "Fort Washita," Chronicles of Oklahoma 5, no. 2 (June 1927): 257. See also Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 416. According to a pamphlet titled "Fort Washita: Walking Tour Guide," U.S. forces fled on April 16, contrary to the date of May 1, reported by Morrison.

[2] Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws," 416.

[3] Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 271.

[4] Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws," 418-19.

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