Black Beaver

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Black Beaver
Black Beaver Lenape Chief.jpg
Delaware leader
Personal details
Belleville, Illinois
Anadarko, Oklahoma
Resting placeFort Sill, Oklahoma
Spouse(s)Three or four wives
ChildrenFour daughters
Known forEstablishing the California and Chisholm trails; rancher and wealthiest Lenape in America

Black Beaver or Suck-tum-mah-kway (1806–1880, Delaware) was a Native American trapper for the American Fur Company, a scout and guide, and interpreter who was fluent in English, and several European and Native American languages. After working as a scout, he settled among his people in the village of Beaverstown in Indian Territory, where they had been removed. [1] He is credited with establishing the California and Chisholm trails.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, he guided hundreds of Union troops and their long wagon train from Fort Arbuckle to Kansas to escape much larger Confederate forces; they had to travel more than 500 miles through Indian Territory to reach safety. None of the party or their animals or wagons was lost. Confederates destroyed his ranch, but Black Beaver eventually resettled in Indian Territory after the war, becoming a wealthy rancher in present-day Anadarko, Oklahoma.[1] His former ranch site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trapper and guide[edit]

He was born in 1806 in present-day Belleville, western Illinois, to the east of St. Louis and across the Mississippi River. Many Lenape had migrated here after the American Revolutionary War from their traditional territory along the Delaware River and coast in the mid-Atlantic states. Black Beaver began trapping and trading beaver pelts as a teenager for the American Fur Company of John Jacob Astor.[2]

Interpreter and scout[edit]

Known to his own people as Suck-tum-mah-kway, the young man became fluent in English, French, and Spanish, in addition to his native Lenape and about eight other American Indian languages; he used sign language to communicate with tribes whose language he did not know. His skills were invaluable to the many white settlers and military expeditions that were traveling west. He served the Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition of 1834 and, during the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), led a unit of Indian volunteers as a captain in the U.S. Army.

When Captain Randolph B. Marcy escorted the first 500 emigrants from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Santa Fe during the gold rush days of 1849, he engaged Black Beaver as his guide. On the way back, Black Beaver, anxious to return home, took a shortcut across the prairie that reduced the two-month trip to two weeks. Thousands of emigrants followed this route to the west; it became known as the California Trail.[2]

After that he settled near Fort Arbuckle, in south-central Indian Territory, becoming chief of a Lenape village called Beaverstown.[1] During 1849, 1852 and 1854, Black Beaver guided Randolph B. Marcy's exploration expeditions throughout Texas.[3]

In his 1859 guide book The Prairie Traveler, Marcy wrote that Black Beaver

had visited nearly every point of interest within the limits of our unsettled territory. He had set his traps and spread his blanket upon the head waters of the Missouri and Columbia; and his wanderings had led him south to the Colorado and Gila, and thence to the shores of the Pacific in Southern California. His life had been that of a veritable cosmopolite, filled with scenes of intense and startling interest, bold and reckless adventure. He was with me two seasons in the capacity of guide, and I always found him perfectly reliable, brave, and competent. His reputation as a resolute, determined, and fearless warrior did not admit of question, yet I have never seen a man who wore his laurels with less vanity. The truth is my friend Beaver was one of those few heroes who never sounded his own trumpet; yet no one that knows him ever presumed to question his courage.[4]

By 1860 Black Beaver was the wealthiest and most well-known Lenape in America. He had settled in present-day Caddo County, Oklahoma and lived at Anadarko, where the Lenape had been removed from east of the Mississippi.

In May 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, General William H. Emory, stationed at Fort Arbuckle, learned that 6,000 Confederate troops were advancing toward his forces from Texas and Arkansas. He gathered the soldiers from forts Washita, Cobb and Arbuckle near Minco, but to escape to Kansas across the open prairie he needed a guide.[2] Other Indian guides turned him down for fear of reprisal by the Confederates. In addition, several tribes had allied with the Confederates, who promised them an Indian state if they won the war.

Emory guaranteed Black Beaver that the federal government would reimburse him for any losses, so he agreed to help. He scouted the approaching Confederate troops and provided information for Emory to capture their advance guard, who were the first prisoners captured during the Civil War. Black Beaver guided over 800 Union soldiers, their prisoners, and 200 teamsters managing 80 wagons and 600 horses and mules in a mile-long train across 500 miles of open prairie to safety at Fort Leavenworth in eastern Kansas; he did not lose a single man, horse or wagon.[2] He also freed multiple slaves from each of the 5 civilized tribes.[5]

The Confederate Army along with the angry tribes destroyed Black Beaver’s ranch and placed a bounty on his head. He stayed in Kansas for the rest of the war. His losses were never fully compensated by the United States government.


After the war, Black Beaver and his friend Jesse Chisholm returned and converted part of the Native American path used by the Union Army into what became the Chisholm Trail. They collected and herded thousands of stray Texas longhorn cattle by the Trail to railheads in Kansas, from where the cattle were shipped East, where beef sold for ten times the price in the West.

Black Beaver resettled at Anadarko, where he built the first brick home in the area. He had 300 acres of fenced and cultivated land as well as cattle, hogs and horses.[2][6]

Death and legacy[edit]

Black Beaver died at his home on May 8, 1880,[1] and was buried on his ranch. In 1976 his grave was moved to Fort Sill. His former ranch site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, he was the first inductee in the American Indian Hall of Fame in Anadarko, Oklahoma, which is located on part of his former ranch lands.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d May, Jon D. "Black Beaver (1806—1880)." Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. (retrieved 19 July 2011)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Jenny, Walter, Jr. "Black Beaver’s Oklahoma legacy should not be forgotten", The Edmond Sun. 2 July 2007 (retrieved 19 July 2011)
  3. ^ Carol A. Lipscomb, "Delaware Indians," Handbook of Texas Online [1], accessed July 8, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  4. ^ "Black Beaver", in Randolph B. Marcy: The Prairie Traveler. (retrieved 19 July 2011)
  5. ^ Books in the Delaware archive
  6. ^ Note: Jenny says they collected 3 million stray cattle, but since a contemporary account in the Handbook of Texas Online reports a total of 5 million cattle were shipped over the trail during its entire use, the Jenny account appears to be based on an incorrect source. Donald E. Worcester: "Chisholm Trail" from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved December 23, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carolyn Thomas Foreman, "Black Beaver," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 24 (August 1946).
  • Grant Foreman, Advancing the Frontier, 1830–1860 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1933).
  • Grant Foreman, Marcy and the Gold Seekers: The Journal of Captain R. B. Marcy, with an Account of the Gold Rush Over the Southern Route (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939).
  • Laurence M. Hauptman, Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).

External links[edit]