Thursday, July 12, 2018

Political Leaders of the Chickasaws, 1830s-1987

The map above is Indian Territory, 1885. (Click on the map for a much larger view). The Chickasaw Nation was located in what is now South-Central Oklahoma.

The following is a chronological list of the Chiefs and Governors of the Chickasaw Nation, followed by a brief discussion, with notes, and set of questions I still have. (The numbers in parentheses indicate pertinent collections in the Western History Collections at OU, according to the printed guide by Kristina Southwell). I welcome your comments and ideas:

Era of the Chiefs

??-1839    George Colbert, Chickasaw Chief
??-1840s   Ishtehotopa, "king" of the Chickasaw
1844-46   Isaac Alberson, Chickasaw Chief
1846-48   James McLaughlin, Chickasaw Chief
1848-50   Edmund Pickens, Chickasaw Chief
1850-56   Daugherty Colbert, Chickasaw Chief


1856-58   Cyrus Harris (635, 698)
1858-60   Daugherty Winchester Colbert (317)
1860-62   Cyrus Harris
1862-64   Daugherty Winchester Colbert
1864-66   Daugherty Winchester Colbert
1866-68   Cyrus Harris
1868-70   Cyrus Harris
1870-71   W. P. Brown
1871-72   Thomas J. Parker (1185)
1872-74   Cyrus Harris
1874-76   Benjamin Franklin Overton (1174)
1876-78   Benjamin Franklin Overton
1878-80   Benjamin Crooks Burney (200)
1880-82   Benjamin Franklin Overton
1881        Hickeyubbee, acting governor
1882-84   Benjamin Franklin Overton
1884-86   Jonas Wolf (1643)
1886-88   William M. Guy (604)
1888-90   William Leander Byrd (213)
1890-92   William Leander Byrd
1892-94   Jonas Wolf
1894        Tecumseh A. McClure, acting governor (959)
1894-96   Palmer Mosely (1054)
1896-98   Robert Maxwell Harris (639)
1898-00   Douglas Henry Johnston (698, 790, 898)
1900-02   Douglas Henry Johnston
1902-04   Palmer Mosely
1904-06   Douglas Henry Johnston
1906        Peter Maytubby (Though elected in 1906, he never took office)
1906-39   Douglas Henry Johnston
1939-63   Floyd Maytubby
1963        E. B. "Hugh" Maytubby
1963-87   Overton James


As Muriel H. Wright explains,
Though Ishtehotopa was the "king" of the Chickasaw until his death in the late eighteen forties, the treaty of Doaksville was signed by the Chickasaw chief, George Colbert, who served as such until his death in 1839. Under provisions of this treaty, Chickasaw district chiefs were elected, but were not always in regular attendance at the annual sessions of the Choctaw General Council.[1]
In 1855, the Chickasaws finally established a greater political separation from their brother tribe, the Choctaws. In the years that followed, early electoral contests among the Chickasaws did not feature political parties as such. However, according to Arrell M. Gibson, in the years that followed the Civil War, "two principle partisan associations" emerged. Eventually, these came to be called the National party, typically supported by "full bloods," and the Progressive party, typically supported by "mixed bloods."[2]

Prior to the 1880s, the two parties agreed that "preserving the Chickasaw way of life and protecting tribal property" were central goals.[3] The main differences between to the two parties revolved around questions of political and legal strategy. But, again according to Gibson, by the mid-1880s, that unity began to dissolve. As he explains,
The full bloods became aroused at the pervasive changes occurring in their nation--rapid economic development dominated by outsiders, growth of the non-Indian community, and appropriation of vast tracts of the tribal domain by mixed bloods and non-citizens to form towns, farms, and ranches. The full bloods reacted by committing their National party to a program of checking railroad expansion, turning back the tide of immigration, purging their government of "white" Indian (the intermarried citizen) influence, and generally preserving the surviving old ways.[4]
Thus, a political scene developed in which the tribal traditionalists of the National party advanced what they called a "pullback program," while members of the Progressive party advanced what looked like inevitable change, the "modernization" of the tribe.[5]

Strong feelings and radical action characterized the political battle that ensued. The tension came to a head in the governor's race of 1886. That year, William L. Byrd, a mixed blood who nonetheless supported the position of the full bloods, was the National party's candidate for governor. His opponent, the Progressive party candidate, was William M. Guy. Voting was so evenly divided, officials found it impossible to declare a winner. This required the legislature to decide the outcome. They were about as divided as their constituents. Guy prevailed by a single vote.

True to the Progressive platform, Governor Guy negotiated a plan that permitted the Santa Fe railway to construct a line through the Chickasaw Nation. To supporters of the National party, this amounted to sacrilege. In an attempt to gain control of the executive branch, in 1888, Byrd ran against Guy a second time. That election turned out to be even more contentious than the race two years before. Once the votes were tallied, officials declared Guy the victor. Dissatisfied, leaders of the National party challenged the count in certain precincts. After investigating the matter, the Chickasaw legislature rejected a significant number of ballots, and named Byrd the winner.

At that juncture, Sam Paul, head of the Chickasaw light horse police and a Guy supporter, marched his men on the capital and ordered the legislature to reconsider. That body retracted its verdict, Byrd and his supporters quietly departed Tishomingo, and Guy ostensibly became the accepted chief executive. But as soon as the light horse evacuated Tishomingo, the National party returned, took control of the government, and installed Byrd as governor.[6] "Reported Assassination of W. M. Guy," a newspaper story published on November 15, 1888, reveals just how serious these events were:
Chickasaw Troubles.--The reported assassination of Governor Guy in the Chickasaw nation is disputed, but the latest information is to the effect that the attempt so aroused his friends that over 300 of them, heavily armed, gathered at Tishomingo Monday to protect him. Bird [sic], with 200 armed men is also in camp near the capital, and unless the United States interfere it was thought a battle would occur Tuesday night. It is said Guy's forces would number 700, the non-citizens having espoused his case against the Byrd party.[7]
This episode set the tone for the remaining years of the Chickasaw Nation prior to Oklahoma statehood in 1907. Mistrust, rancor, and division ruled the last two decades.

A side note: As the list indicates, Peter Maytubby was elected governor in 1906, yet never took office. Muriel Wright explains that this was the case because "Congress, on April 26, 1906, provided for the continuance of the 'present tribal governments'." For this reason, Douglas H. Johnston remained in office.[8]


[1] Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951), 96.

[2] Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 298.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 299.

[7] This article appeared in Indian Chieftain, published from Vinita, I. T., November 15, 1888. A typescript is located in the University of Oklahoma's Western History Collections, William M. Guy Collection, folder 9.

[8] Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma, 95.


What were the circumstances under which Hickeyubbee served as acting governor in 1881?

What were the circumstances under which T. A. McClure served as acting governor in 1894?

Additional Bibliography

"Past Governors"

Meserve, John Bartlett. "Governor William Leander Byrd." Chronicles of Oklahoma 12, no. 4 (December 1934): 432-33.

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