Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

“Fully Equal to That of Any Children”: Experimental Creek Education in the Antebellum Era

  • Rowan Faye Steineker (a1)

Abstract

During the 1840s and 1850s, members of the Creek Nation rejected schools as a colonial tool and instead experimented with various forms of education to fit their own local and national needs. Diverse individuals and communities articulated educational visions for their nation in conversation with fellow citizens, national leaders, and U.S. educators. Rather than embrace education to assimilate into the American republic, Creeks turned to schools and English literacy as one strategy to shape their own society and defend it from further Euro-American colonial policies. By the end of the 1850s, they had established a fledgling national school system consisting of both neighborhood and mission schools. These institutions reflected and reinforced changes in race, class, gender, culture, and religion in the antebellum Creek Nation.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      “Fully Equal to That of Any Children”: Experimental Creek Education in the Antebellum Era
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      “Fully Equal to That of Any Children”: Experimental Creek Education in the Antebellum Era
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      “Fully Equal to That of Any Children”: Experimental Creek Education in the Antebellum Era
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

References

Hide All

1 During the colonial period, the Creeks organized their world into a system of autonomous towns with distinct cultural and economic characteristics. Geographic location and clan affiliation divided the towns into Upper Town and Lower Town divisions held together in a flexible coalition. During removal, factionalism divided the Upper and Lower towns, but following removal Creeks increasingly centralized into a nation rather than a confederacy. For a colonial political history of the Creeks, see Hahn, Steven C., The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670–1763 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014); and for a history of removal in the early nineteenth century, see Green, Michael D., The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985).

2 Opothleyohola from Morrison, W. B., “Father Murrow” in My Oklahoma, n.d., file 1, box 1, Opothleyohola Collection, Native American Manuscripts, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma (hereafter WHC). The typescript is undated, but Murrow attended Creek Councils in the late 1840s when Opothleyohola began publicly advocating education after the resettlement in Indian Territory. Also see Mary Jane Warde, George Washington Grayson and the Creek Nation, 1843–1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), 41.

3 In 1825, the Choctaws negotiated a treaty with the federal government in which leaders agreed to establish Choctaw Academy in Blue Springs, Kentucky. Under pressure from the federal government, state legislatures, and white intruders to cede their land, Choctaws wished to produce a generation of educated leaders as a strategy to protect their sovereignty. An alternative to missionary-led education, the school became the first national school for Native Americans in the United States. Although largely funded by the Choctaw Nation, children from other Southern indigenous groups attended. Foreman, Carolyn Thomas, “The Choctaw Academy,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 6, no. 4 (December 1928), 453. Also see Fortney, Jeff, “Robert M. Jones and the Choctaw Nation: Indigenous Nationalism in the American South,” unpublished dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 2014, 77–83.

4 Warde, George Washington Grayson and the Creek Nation, 41.

5 For more on early Cherokee education, see Mihesuah, Devon A., Cultivating the Rosebuds: The Education of Women at the Cherokee Female Seminary, 1851–1909 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997); Parins, James, Literacy and Intellectual Life in the Cherokee Nation, 1820–1906 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013); McLoughlin, William G., Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 350–36. McLoughlin also traces the careers of missionaries Evan and Jones, John B., who served the Cherokees for fifty years, in McLoughlin, William G., Champions of the Cherokees: Evan and John B. Jones (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990). For a discussion of Choctaw schools and missionaries, see Kidwell, Clara Sue, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).

6 I use the term Creek to describe the diverse members of the nineteenth-century Creek Nation, including those with Native, European, and African heritage. Although Muskogee is often used interchangeably with Creek, historically it applied to one of the language groups that had coalesced into the Creek Nation. Yuchis, for example, belonged to the Creek Nation but maintained their own distinct language. In the twenty-first century, Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the official designation.

7 For an outline of this process, see Neuman, Linda K., Indian Play: Indigenous Identities at Bacone College (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 128. In this study, Neuman traces the transformation at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, arguing, “Students used Bacone as a space for the exploration of their own and others’ Indian identities, as they learned from one another.” It is worth noting that, although Bacone's founder, Bacone, Almon C., and the Baptist Mission operated the school with assimilationist goals, the Creek government, which gave Bacone permission and a land grant to move the school into the Creek Nation at Muskogee, had a different understanding of the institution. They viewed it as a supplement to their own education system, which began in the period discussed in this article. See “Samuel Checote to the National Council,” October 27, 1881, slide 36083, roll 43, Creek Nation Records, Oklahoma Historical Society (hereafter cited as OHS); Neuman, Indian Play, 42.

8 Several works examine assimilation policy and the federal boarding schools. For example, see Hoxie, Frederick E., A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001); and Adams, David Wallace, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995). A number of case studies examine Indian identity and agency at specific schools. For example see Lomawaima, K. Tsianina, They Called It Prairie Light The Story of Chilocco Indian School (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994) and Ellis, Clyde, To Change Them Forever: Indian Education at the Rainy Mountain Boarding School, 1893–1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996).

9 In his seminal study on federal boarding school education, historian David Wallace Adams explains that the schools “exempted from this study are those associated with the so-called ‘five civilized tribes,’ a story sufficiently unique as to require a separate investigation.” See Adams, Education for Extinction, x. Only two works, Devon Mihesuah's Cultivating the Rosebuds and Amanda Cobb-Greetham's Listening to Our Grandmothers’ Stories: The Bloomfield Academy for Chickasaw Females, 1852–1949 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), offer case studies of schools operated by Native governments. These foundational studies offer the closest opportunity for comparison in the historiography. In particular, Cobb-Greetham's assertion that “Because they knew that education was crucial to their economic success and ultimately to their survival, Chickasaws urgently desired to continue the education of their children and made appropriations for a tribal academy” reveals the similar processes and motivations by which the Creeks and Chickasaws adapted schools for their own purposes. These works offer histories of female academies in the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations, the various forms of literacy that emerged from these institutions, and the effects of education on social relations. My work attempts to broaden the scope of these case studies to examine the experiences of diverse male and female Indians and Afro-Indians residing within the multicultural society of the Creek Nation.

10 For more on the early common school movement, see Kaestle, Carl, Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780–1860 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983) and Reese, William J., America's Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind” (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2011). For a discussion of race and the common school movement, see Moss, Hilary J., Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

11 Five Tribes, or so-called “Five Civilized Tribes,” is commonly used to refer collectively to the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations.

12 Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic, 62.

13 Benjamin, W. Griffith Jr., Mcintosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988), 1122.

14 Creek-US relations emerged within a framework of settler colonialism. According to historian Hixson, Walter L., settler colonialism is the ideology in which “Euro-American settlers imagined that it was their destiny to take control of colonial space and nothing and nothing would deter them from carrying out that process. Many came to view the very existence of Indians as an impediment to individual and national aspirations.” Hixson, Walter L., American Settler Colonialism: A History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), viii. For a discussion of Native American education and settler colonialism, see Jacobs, Margaret, White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880–1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

15 Viola, Herman J., Thomas L. McKenney: Architect of America's Early Indian Policy, 1816–1830 (Chicago: Sage Books, 1974).

16 Lee Comprere to McKenney, Thomas, May, 20, 1828, Letters Received by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Creek Agency, 1824–1876, slide 703, roll 221, record group 75, National Archives, M234.

17 Parins, Literacy and Intellectual Life, 68, 77–78.

18 Armstrong, William to Medill, William, 20 October 1846, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1846–1847 (hereafter cited as ARCIA), 340.

19 Following removal, Creeks and the other members of the Five Tribes” rebuilt their societies based on the recognition of their national sovereignty promised to them in the removal treaties and upheld by the 1832 Worcester v. Georgia Supreme Court decision. Worcester v. Georgia defined Native nations as “distinct political communities having territorial boundaries, within which their authority is exclusive, and having a right to all the lands within those boundaries, which is not only acknowledged but guaranteed by the United States.” Following this decision, the Five Tribes rejected federal intervention until the 1898 Curtis Act, which legally dissolved them. This decision continues to be the basis for Native legal sovereignty in the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. See Murchison, Kenneth S., ed., Digest of Decisions Relating to Indian Affairs, vol. I (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1901), 524.

20 Armstrong, William to Medill, William, ARCIA, 1846, 342.

21 Loughridge, Robert M., “History of Mission Work Among the Creek Indians from 1832 to 1888 Under the Direction of the Board of Foreign Missions Presbyterian Church in the U.S.,” folder 1, Loughridge, Robert M. Collection, OHS; Angie Debo, The Road to Disappearance: A History of the Creek Indians (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979), 120121; and Lauderdale, Virginia E., “Tullahassee Mission,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 26 no. 3 (Fall 1948), 285–300.

22 Ruble, Thos. B. to Colonel Raiford, Agent of the Creeks, Oct. 8, 1849, ARCIA, 1849, 1124.

23 Loomis, A. W., Scenes in the Indian Country (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1859), 3940.

24 Debo, The Road to Disappearance, 120–21.

25 Several scholars chronicle assimilation policies and student experiences in federal boarding schools during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Adams provides the most extensive synthesis on the topic. Employing a framework of colonialism, he asserts agents of assimilation believed that the “last great Indian war should be waged against the children.” He argues assimilationists sought “the eradication of all traces of tribal identity and culture” and to replace them with the “values of white civilization” through boarding school education. See Adams, Education for Extinction, 335–36.

26 Balentine, A., Superintendent of Kowetah School, to Colonel Raiford, Oct. 3, 1849, ARCIA, 1849, 1126.

27 Loughridge, R. M. to Colonel Raiford, 28 Ausust 1851, roll 16, no. 75, Presbyterian Historical Society (hereafter cited as PHS); See also the Order of Examination Subjects, 1853, folder 9, box 8, series 1, Alice Mary Robertson Collection, Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa (hereafter cited as AMR).

28 Mihesuah, Cultivating the Rosebuds, 21.

29 Loughridge, R. M. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., U.S. agent to the Creek nation, 13 September 1859, ARCIA 1859, 548.

30 Schreiber, Rebecca McNulty argues that the Creek schools differed from previous Hawaiian manual labor schools in the early nineteenth century. She explains, “Whereas Hawaiian missionaries tended to emphasize political, legal, and land tenure reform as the best way to create a producer society, the Robertsons (and Loughridge, to a certain extent) tended to favor a more domestic approach. They envisioned the manual labor boarding school as a true replacement family.” See Schreiber, Rebecca McNulty, “Education for Empire: Manual Labor, Civilization, and the Family in Nineteenth-Century American Missionary Education” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007), 112.

31 Kerber, Linda K., Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 10.

32 Robertson, William Schenk to Walter Lowrie, 12 November 1851, quoted in Schreiber, “Education for Empire,” 112.

33 Loomis, Scenes in the Indian Country, 69.

34 Bass, Althea, The Story of Tullahassee (Oklahoma City: Semco Color Press, 1960), 3549; Cahill, Cathleen details how late nineteenth- and twentieth-century schools under the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs replicated the emphasis on married couples. Instead of modeling the Christian family, however, she argues these couples represent the larger project of “intimate colonialism” because they served “symbolically as federal fathers and mothers to their wards.” See Cahill, Cathleen, Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869–1933 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 83.

35 Grayson, George W., A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy: The Autobiography of Chief G. W. Grayson, ed. Baird, W. David (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 43. For an extensive biography of Grayson, see Warde, Mary Jane, George Washington Grayson and the Creek Nation, 1843–1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999). For details about the history of the Grayson family, see Saunt, Claudio, Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

36 List of Kowetah Students, roll 16, no. 150, PHS.

37 James Ross Ramsay Autobiography, folder 1, box 1, James Ross Ramsay Collection, Seminole Nation Papers, Native American Manuscripts, WHC, 23–24.

38 Ibid, 24.

59 Ibid.

40 Bass, The Story of Tallahassee, 53.

41 Mihesuah, Cultivating the Rosebuds, 34–35.

42 Mcintosh, William (cousin) to Henry Shaw, 1850, folder 10, box 5, series 2, AMR.

43 Grayson, Creek Warrior for the Confederacy, 43–44.

44 Balentine, A., Superintendent of Kowetah School to Colonel Raiford, 3 October 1849, ARCIA, 1849,1126.

45 Loughridge, “History of Mission Work,” folder 1, Robert M. Loughridge Collection, OHS, 30.

46 Eakins, David W. to Colonel Raiford, 25 October 1849, ARCIA, 1849, 1120.

47 Holway, Hope, “Ann Eliza Worcester Robertson as a Linguist,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 37 (Spring 1959), 3 5–44.

48 Loughridge, “History of Mission Work,” 19–20.

49 For example, see Barnett, Charles, Autobiography of a Creek Student, folder 6, box 1, series 2, AMR.

50 Loomis, Scenes in the Indian Country, 70.

51 Robertson, W. S. to Lowrie, Walter, Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions 3 October 1851, no. 85, roll 16, PHS.

52 Loughridge, “History of Mission Work,” 27.

53 Grayson, A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy, 42.

54 Loughridge, R. M. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 13 September, 1859, ARCIA 1859, 548.

55 Robertson, W. S. to Lowrie, Walter, 3 October 1851, no. 85, roll 16, PHS.

56 Lowrie, Walter to Lea, Luke, Esq., 30 September 1850, Letters Received by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, school files, roll 785, slide 339, record group 75, National Archives, M234.

57 Loughridge, “History of Mission Work,” 30.

58 Debo, The Road to Disappearance, 120.

59 Stremlau, Rose, Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 1314.

60 Bass, The Story of Tullahassee, 52.

61 Grayson, A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy, 45.

62 List of Kowetah Students, roll 16, no. 150, PHS.

63 Zellar, Gary, African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 3940.

64 Saunt, Black, White, and Indian, 78.

65 Ramsey, J. Ross to Lowrie, Walter, Nov. 13, 1851, no. 98, roll 16, PHS.

66 Templeton, H. to the Secretary of Indian Affairs, 23 November 1851, Letters Received by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, slide 1444, roll 785, record group 75, National Archives, M234.

67 Creek Chiefs in Council to Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1851, Letters Received by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, slide 50–51, roll 786, record group 75, National Archives, M234.

68 Moss, Schooling Citizens, 13.

69 Aspberry, D. B. to Garrett, Colonel W.H., July 24, 1853, ARCIA, 1853, 390.

70 For example, see Grayson, A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy, 41.

71 See Reports on Creek Schools, ARCIA, 1853, 388–95.

72 Carr, Thomas to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 20 August 1853, ARCIA, 1853, 394–95.

73 Ibid.

74 Ibid.

75 Reports on Creek Schools, ARCIA, 1855, 461–471.

76 Allen, W. H. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 5 September 1855, ARCIA, 469.

77 Lewis, M. J. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 28 August 1855, ARCIA, 468.

78 Loughridge, R. M. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 13 September 1859, ARCIA 1859, 549–50.

79 Foreman, Grant, The Five Civilized Tribes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934), 206–07.

80 Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic, 106.

81 Euro-American educators in the Southwestern territories also aced the language barrier with the Spanish-speaking population. For a community-level analysis, see Blanton, Carlos Kevin, The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas, 1836–1981 (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2004), 2441.

82 Carr, Thomas to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 15 September 1855, ARCIA, 470–71.

83 Treaty with the Creeks, etc. 1856,” Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, ed. Kappler, Charles Joseph, vol. II (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904), 760.

84 Herrod, G. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., Sept. 8, 1858, ARCIA, 1858, 499; Smith, James M. C., 24 September 1858, ARCIA, 1858, 500–01.

85 Duncan, W. A., Superintendent of Public Schools, to the National Council, ARCIA, 1856, 693–94.

86 Garrett, Colonel W. H. to Dean, C. W., Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 24 August 1855, ARCIA, 1855, 458; Herrod, G. to Garrett, Colonel W. H., Sept. 8, 1858, ARCIA, 1858, 499; James, M.C. Smith to Garrett, Colonel W. H., 24 September 1858, ARCIA, 1858, 501.

87 S. Rep. No. 744, at 112 (1839).

88 The Five Tribes excluded noncitizens residing within their territory from their public schools, unless they received permission and paid tuition. After numerous petitions from settlers, Congress commissioned an investigation. The report, “Education of White and Negro Children in The Indian Territory,” indicated an estimated 30,000 white children and 25,000 African-American children “were shut out from the schools supported by the governments of the five nations of Indians who control the territory, as well as from those supported by the United States for the benefit of Indian youth.” The result was “a mass of more than 50,000 children of both races, of school age, for whose education, either industrial or literary, there is no provision whatever.” See Department of the Interior, “Education of White and Negro Children in Indian Territory,” (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898), 12.

89 Warren, Donald provides critique of the focus on institutions within the history of Native American education by arguing they can imply “prior to Euroamerican invasions the Indigenous peoples of the United States lacked enduring practices and teaching and learning.” Natives not only possessed diverse and enduring forms of education prior to European contact but also continued to employ them during the nineteenth century. Creeks did not simply borrow western systems of knowledge and western-style schools. Instead, they adapted English literacy and schools as their own institutions. I maintain that there are important historical lessons to be learned from examining indigenous-controlled social institutions. This essay complements David Wallace Adams's response to the essays in the History of Education Quarterly's thematic issue on the education history of Native Americans. Adams argues that while there is still much work to be done, “don't forget about the schools.” Warren, Donald, “American Indian Histories as Education History,” History of Education Quarterly 54, no. 3 (August 2014), 263; and Adams, David Wallace, “Beyond Horace Mann: Telling Stories about Indian Education,” History of Education Quarterly 54, no. 3 (August 2014), 385.

90 Lomawaima, K. Tsianina and McCarty, Teresa L., “To Remain an Indian”: Lessons in Democracy from a Century of Native American Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 2006), 5

91 Lomawaima and McCarty, Lessons in Democracy, 5.

92 Reese, William J., America's Public Schools, 1. For an examination of the urban North as the nexus of the common school movement, see pages 10–44.

93 Opothleyohola from Morrison's, W. B. “Father Murrow” in My Oklahoma, file 1, box 1, Opothleyohola Collection, Native American Manuscripts, WHC.

She thanks the National Academy of Education/Spencer Institute and the Newberry Consortium for American Indian Studies for the generous support for her research. She also thanks the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions on the essay.

“Fully Equal to That of Any Children”: Experimental Creek Education in the Antebellum Era

  • Rowan Faye Steineker (a1)

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed