Douglas H. Johnston

Last updated

Douglas H. Johnston
Governor of the Chickasaw Nation
In office
Nominated by Theodore Roosevelt
In office
Personal details
Douglas Hancock Cooper Johnston

(1856-10-13)October 13, 1856
Skullyville, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory
DiedJune 28, 1939(1939-06-28) (aged 82)
Oklahoma, U.S.
Relations Te Ata Fisher (niece)

Douglas Hancock Cooper Johnston (October 13, 1856 – June 28, 1939), also known as "Douglas Henry Johnston", was a Chickasaw tribal leader who served as governor of the Chickasaw Nation from 1898 to 1902 and 1904 to 1939. In office, he was notable for ratifying the Atoka Agreement and defending the tribe against claims for more money. Prior to his election as governor, he was the superintendent of the Bloomfield Academy. From 1902 to 1904, he served in the Chickasaw Senate. President Theodore Roosevelt reappointed him as Governor of the Chickasaws after the Dawes Act terminated trial governments in Indian Territory.


Family background

Johnston, the mixed-race son of "Colonel" John Johnston, Sr, and of Mary Ann Cheadle Walker (1818 – c. 1863) was born in Skullyville, Indian Territory, at a time when it was the capital of the Choctaw Nation. In the Chickasaw matrilineal kinship system, children were considered born into their mother's clan and took their status from her. Johnston's name is sometimes given as "Douglas Henry Johnston", [1] but he was named for General Douglas Hancock Cooper. He had two elder brothers, William Worth Johnston and Franklin Pierce Johnston, and one younger, Napoleon Bonapart [ sic ] Johnston. [2]

Early life

Douglas Johnston was educated in the Chickasaw Academy and in the Bloomfield Academy. Before he was nine years old, both his parents had died. He was raised by an older half-brother, Tandy C. Walker, the son of his mother and her first husband, Lewis Walker.

Growing up, Johnston worked as a farmer and stockman.


Superintendent of Bloomfield Academy

In 1882, Johnston was appointed as Superintendent of the Bloomfield Seminary, a missionary boarding school for Chickasaw girls, completing the term of the previous Superintendent, Robert Boyd. It had been modeled on Mt. Holyoke Seminary of Massachusetts. [3] During his tenure, the school prospered. Johnston helped popularize European-American style education among the Chickasaw. [3] [lower-alpha 1]

Governor of Chickasaw Nation

In 1898 the Chickasaw National Party nominated Johnston as its candidate for governor. He won a decisive victory over Hindman H. Burris, serving as governor of the Chickasaw Nation until 1902. His mansion near the present community of Emet, Oklahoma, served as the "Chickasaw White House." Although his political critics claimed that he lived lavishly at tribal expense and indicted him in 1905, he was acquitted of the charge. [5]

In 1897, during Johnston's term, the Chickasaw Nation ratified the Atoka Agreement, to allow allotment of communal lands to individual households of tribal members under the Dawes Act. This was part of the United States plan to extinguish tribal land claims in order to assimilate Native Americans to the majority model and to enable admission of the territory as a state.

Johnston lobbied Washington politicians into passing the Supplemental Agreement of 1902 to modify this treaty, in order to allow the Chickasaw and Choctaw to review tribal citizenship cases that had been accepted by the Dawes Commission. The Citizenship Court rejected nearly four thousand claims that it found false and saved the two nations about $20 million. [5] When it came time to allot tribal lands to individuals, Johnston had to review and sign each claim. Former Oklahoma Governor William H. Murray in his eulogy of Johnston on 29 June 1939, said: [6]

"Every allotment, every town lot, every parcel of land sold or transferred from the Nation from west of Duncan and Chickasha to Arkansas, every foot of land south of the Canadian River bears the name of Douglas H. Johnston as grantor, representing sovereignty of that soil. That, in itself, is a monument."

Johnston was reelected to office in 1904. This was the last election under the traditional Chickasaw Nation government. When the Chickasaw Nation was dissolved in 1906 as a prelude to Oklahoma being admitted as a state, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as governor of his people. He served in that position until his death in 1939. In 1907, the legislature of the newly created state of Oklahoma tried to nullify a provision of the Atoka Agreement that prohibited taxing for 21 years the lands allotted to Native American heads of household. Johnston led the court fight against the state. The US Supreme Court upheld the provision in 1912. [5]

In 1924, the Johnston administration won permission to sue the Federal government in the United States Court of Claims and recover money that it had obtained illegally from tribal resources. [5]

Legacy and honors

The following memorial to Douglas H. Johnston was published in the Chronicles of Oklahoma:

"(He) stood as the accredited representative of his Nation in all matters affecting the well-being of his people. By the exercise of a courage of the highest order, and an immovable firmness in the official conduct of all matters affecting the rights and interests of his Nation and its people, he has won and held the respect and admiration of public officials, both in Oklahoma and in Washington." [9]

Personal life

In 1881, he married Nellie Bynum, a Chickasaw woman of partial European descent, with whom he had two sons. Nellie died of tuberculosis in 1886. A few years later, in 1889 Johnston married Lorena Elizabeth "Betty" Harper, also Chickasaw with some European ancestry. [10] They had a daughter together, Wahneta (sometimes recorded as "Juanita") Elizabeth Johnston.

A few years after Nellie's death, Johnston married Lorena Elizabeth (Betty) Harper, a Chickasaw woman also of mixed ancestry. They had one daughter together. Johnston was an uncle of Chickasaw performer Te Ata Fisher.

Douglas Johnson died on June 28, 1939. He was buried in Tishomingo City Cemetery in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, the historic capital of the Chickasaw Nation. [11]


  1. After fire destroyed the main school building in 1914, the Bloomfield Seminary moved to a new site in Ada, Oklahoma, near Choctaw territory. It was renamed as "Carter Seminary" in 1934, under which name it has operated into the present. [4]

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  1. Williams, Chad; "Johnston, Douglas Henry (1856-1939)", Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture Archived 27 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine . Accessed on 22 April 2007.
  2. Vol18 Archived 22 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine (1940) #1 (March) Cornish, Melvin. "Douglas H. Johnston",] Vol. 18, No. 1 1940.] Accessed 22 April 2007.
  3. 1 2 "Bloomfield Academy." Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  4. "Carter Seminary" [ permanent dead link ]
  5. 1 2 3 4 Williams, Chad. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Johnston, Douglas Henry." Retrieved 4 December 2012. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 September 2008. Retrieved 22 April 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. "Surviving Chickasaw Fall." Accessed 23 September 2015
  7. "Johnston". Oklahoma Encyclopedia Online (PDF). Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 2005. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  8. 1 2 Chickasaw Hall of Fame Archived 6 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  9. National Register of Historic Places - Application Form."White House of the Chickasaws." August 5, 1971. Accessed 19 November 2015.
  10. O’Beirne, Harry F., and E. S. O’Beirne; The Indian Territory, Its Chiefs, Legislators and Leading Men (1892).
  11. "Find-A-Grave: Douglas H. Johnston." Accessed 23 September 2015.