General's Role Brings Indian Bloodshed, Land Loss

By Doyle, John F. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 7, 1998 | Go to article overview

General's Role Brings Indian Bloodshed, Land Loss


Doyle, John F., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


On Indiana Avenue NW, some 60 feet from the northeast corner of the D.C. Municipal Center, is Washington's only memorial to a Confederate general - Albert Pike. The dedication mentions Pike's service as a soldier only in passing, for the statue memorializes his service to Freemasonry.

In a historical sense, neither the military nor Masonic facets of Pike's career are as significant as the crucial role he played in persuading the American Indians of the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma to join the Confederacy.

Pike was born in Boston in 1809. Forced by a lack of funds to leave Harvard, he headed for the Arkansas frontier and became noted as an Indian claims lawyer, winning large awards for the Creeks and Choctaws. He also was known throughout the South as a newspaperman, scholar and poet and as the grand master of Scottish Rite Masonry.

He also had been a captain of volunteers in the Mexican War and an early adventurer in the Texas panhandle. He was a self-taught linguist familiar with Greek, Latin and Hebrew and fluent in the Indian dialects. He also had the reputation, valuable to newspapermen and lawyers in that era, as a cool-headed duelist.

For such reasons, Jefferson Davis appointed Pike his commissioner for Indian affairs and instructed him to convert the Five Civilized Tribes - Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole - to the Southern cause. The Choctaw and Chickasaw, being slaveholders, were already well-disposed to Pike. The Cherokees and Creeks were another story. Both were divided into hostile factions. The division generally was along bloodlines: Those of full blood constituted a majority who owned no slaves and were neutral in the national dispute; a minority faction of mixed blood owned slaves and were pro-Southern.

Coincidentally, those were the same families, or their descendants, who had split in the dispute over their removal from the southeastern United States some 23 years before. The same minority faction had then, at the urging of President Andrew Jackson, signed the treaty exchanging their homelands for the present area as though they spoke for the entire tribe. The removal, called now the "Trail of Tears," had taken place, but the majority had retaliated by assassinating many Treaty Party leaders. The murderous feud that followed had only recently ended in a fragile truce.

Chief John Ross, though more Scotsman by blood than Cherokee and himself a slave owner, headed the full-blooded members of that tribe. Stand Watie, a former Treaty Party leader whose brother had been killed in the feud, led the pro-Southern party. Among the Creeks, the McIntosh family led the "Lower Creeks," who favored the Confederacy, and Opothleyoholo, who was alleged to have murdered the old Treaty Party leader William McIntosh, headed the pro-Union "Upper Creeks."

Indian Territory was bounded on three sides by secessionist Texas and Arkansas, and U.S. Army detachments had been withdrawn from frontier forts. Federal officials responsible for paying annuities to the tribes became fearful that shipments of specie would be intercepted, and they suspended the payments.

More important, the new treaties offered by Pike were far more generous than the existing accords with the United States. Pike now played the same card that Jackson had used so successfully in the Removal Conference. He began to negotiate with the favorable minority factions. Ross, believing that the Watie faction might end up in practical control of Cherokee affairs, signed with the Confederacy. The Upper Creeks still refused to sign, and Pike concluded this treaty with the McIntosh faction.

At least formally, the Indian Territory had joined the Confederacy.

Pike raised seven regiments: one Cherokee regiment under Watie and a second under Ross protege John Drew; a Creek regiment under Daniel McIntosh and a Creek/Seminole regiment under Chilly McIntosh; and finally, three Choctaw/Chickasaw regiments under their former federal Indian agent, Douglas Cooper. …

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