Original Keetoowah Society

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The Original Keetoowah Society is a Cherokee religious organization dedicated to preserving the culture and teachings of the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society (Cherokee:ᎩᏚᏩ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ) in Oklahoma. Allogan Slagle, an historian of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, argues that the Original Keetoowah Society is the surviving core of the Cherokee religious movement originally led by Redbird Smith in the nineteenth century, whose aim was to preserve the culture and teachings of the Keetoowah in Oklahoma after the Indian removal of the tribes from the American Southeast. Slagle's argument that the group now known as The Original Keetoowah Society evolved from the early 20th century group known as the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society (or the Nighthawk Keetoowahs) appears in a lengthy treatise, Burning Phoenix (1993).

Slagle summary of early events[edit]

In the introduction to his 1993 work, Burning Phoenix: A Study of the Federal Acknowledgment, Reorganization and Survival of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, Allogan Slagle writes that, "In November 1899, the [original] Keetoowah Society convened in Tahlequah to pass resolutions critical of the Cherokee Council and the Dawes Commission particularly with regard to plans to dispose of Cherokee land and to create a roll without the consent of the Cherokee Nation."[1] Slagle further writes,

They challenged amendments to the Constitution, and resolved to enroll only under protest. The Keetoowah in convention at Big Tucker Springs on 6 September 1901 decided to enroll with the Dawes Commission led to a final schism between Keetoowah factions. Redbird Smith left the meeting with eleven of his traditionalist supporters to resist enrollment actively, forming the Nighthawk Keetoowah.

Several hundred Keetoowah Indians, including several groups that started out as members of the Keetoowah Society and left with the Nighthawks in 1901, coalesced to form a number of secretive, traditionalist, exclusive factions. Most of these groups started near Gore, Vian, or Proctor, and adjoining areas. These groups were nascent within the Keetoowah Society as early as 1893, and derived from Goingsnake fire or various of the Four Mothers Nation fires. Like the Nighthawks, these groups generally refused until 1910 or later to accept the work of the Dawes Commission.

While they fully intended to maintain tribal government and functions regardless of the fate of the Cherokee Nation, the Keetoowah as a body officially acquiesced under protest to the effect of all the legislative provisions that would dissolve Cherokee Nation's government and allot Cherokee lands. They learned that they could not prevent the 1893 Act, the Dawes Commission enrollment, U. S. citizenship, the Curtis Act and the abolition of tribal courts, the Agreement with the Cherokee Nation of April 1, 1900, the 1906 Act and the virtual political dissolution of the corrupt Cherokee government as of 4 March 1906, presidential approval for all tribal ordinances affecting tribal or individual lands after allotment, and the allotment in severalty [the condition of being separate] of Cherokee lands.[1]

Slagle references two court cases, Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kansas R. R. (1890) and Cherokee Nation v. Journeycake (1890).[2][3]

Slagle argued that "John Smith, the most influential Nighthawk leader among Redbird Smith's sons, had lost virtually all credibility among Keetoowahs by the 1930s" for having supported Chester Polk Cornelius, an Oneida who had "engaged them in speculative schemes", leading to splintering of the religious group into multiple factions. This resulted in two different and opposing ceremonial grounds (both run by members of Redbird Smith's own family - at Redbird's and Stokes Smith's grounds), as wall as the Goingsnake "Seven Clans"fire, the Medicine Springs Fire or Medicine Society, and the Four Mothers Nation.[1]

Keetoowah Society divergence[edit]

Other political factions arose among the Keetoowah. During the 1930s, the majority of Keetoowah factions supported the idea of reorganizing all the Keetoowah Cherokees in all the old clan districts as a united Band under the proposed 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The Cherokees by Blood, representing all Cherokee descendants rather than Keetoowah alone, failed in 1932 to obtain standing as a party to the Cherokee claims litigation.[1]

Origin of name[edit]

James Mooney, in an extract of a report for the Bureau of American Ethnology, notes some background on the names by which the Cherokee peoples knew themselves, and were known by others, which included "Ani'-Kitu'hwagi", meaning "people of Kitu'hwa [Keetoowa]":

The proper name by which the Cherokee call themselves is... Ani'-Yun'wiya' in the third person, signifying "real people," or "principal people"... The word properly denotes "Indians," as distinguished from people of other races, but in usage it is restricted to mean members of the Cherokee tribe, those of other tribes being designated as Creek, Catawba, etc., as the case maybe. On ceremonial occasions they frequently speak of themselves as Ani'-Kitu'hwagi, or "people of Kitu'hwa," an ancient settlement on Tuckasegee river and apparently the original nucleus of the tribe.[4]

Court clerk and reporter John Springston, a Keetoowah Society member from the Saline District before Oklahoma statehood, writing in 1928, also alludes to the use of the Keetooway name prior the Indian removal from the southeast, saying "Back in Georgia from whence the Cherokees originally migrated to the Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, the old Keetoowah group... was dying out as early as 1835."[5][full citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d Slagle, Allogan (1993). "A Brief UKB Chronology [§1890s to 1901, Preparations for Statehood; The Cherokee Agreement, and the Dissolution of Indian Territory and Cherokee Nation, and Allotment; §1906-1934, The Growth of the Keetooway Governmental Organization Prior to IRA (The Indian Reorganization Act)]". Burning Phoenix: A Study of the Federal Acknowledgment, Reorganization and Survival of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and of Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma's Efforts to Terminate the Band (PDF). Tahlequah, Oklahoma.: Allogan Slagle and the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. p. 1 and preceding. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  2. ^ Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kansas R. R. 135 U. S. 641 (1890).[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Cherokee Nation v. Journeycake, 155 U. S. 196 (1894).[full citation needed]
  4. ^ Mooney, James (1902). "Historical Sketch of the Cherokee". Myths of the Cherokees: Extract from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (PDF) (Report). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. pp. 14–157, esp. 15. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  5. ^ Springston, John L. (December 28, 1928). Tulsa Tribune (print edn.)|format= requires |url= (help). Tulsa, OK. Missing or empty |title= (help)[page needed]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Oversight Hearing : Serial No. 103-65" (PDF). Justice.gov. Retrieved 2017-03-09.[non-primary source needed] Book length (292 page) record of testimony given at 1994 oversight meeting that brought together Oklahoma tribal leaders with Oklahoma legislators, and Bill Richardson and representatives of the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (If used, page numbers must be given to point where information is drawn.)
  • Fitzgerald, David (photogr.); Conley, Robert J. (text) (2002). Cherokee (photographic collection, annotated). Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Center Publishing. ISBN 1558686037. Retrieved March 9, 2017. Text from renowned Native American writer R.J. Conley, accompanying D. Fitzgerald's photographic work.

External links[edit]