Four Mothers Society

Last updated

The Four Mothers Society or Four Mothers Nation is a religious, political, and traditionalist organization of Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw people, as well as the Natchez people enrolled in these tribes, in Oklahoma. It was formed as an opposition movement to the allotment policies of the Dawes Commission and various US Congressional acts in the 1890s. The society is religious in nature and opposed allotment because dividing tribal lands broke up tribal communities and resulted in "surplus" lands being seized and made available to non-Natives.

The Cherokee are one of the indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands of the United States. Prior to the 18th century, they were concentrated in what is now southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, and the tips of western South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.

Choctaw Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States

The Choctaw are a Native American people originally occupying what is now the Southeastern United States. Their Choctaw language belongs to the Muskogean language family group. Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the east of the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell people built Nanih Waiya, a great earthwork mound located in what is central present-day Mississippi. It is still considered sacred by the Choctaw. The early Spanish explorers of the mid-16th century in the Southeast encountered Mississippian-culture villages and chiefs. The anthropologist John R. Swanton suggested that the Choctaw derived their name from an early leader. Henry Halbert, a historian, suggests that their name is derived from the Choctaw phrase Hacha hatak.

Chickasaw indigenous people of Southeastern Woodlands of the US

The Chickasaw are an indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands. Their traditional territory was in the Southeastern United States of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. They are of the Muskogean language family and are federally recognized as the Chickasaw Nation.


There were over 24,000 members at the organization's peak. [1]


Portrait of Chitto Harjo, c. 1900 Chittoharjo.jpg
Portrait of Chitto Harjo, c. 1900

The Four Mothers Society, though it may have existing unrecognized for much of the 19th century, [2] was formally founded as a dues-collecting organization about 1895 in Sulphur Springs, and continued in this legal incarnation until 1915, and likely much later. The naming is significant as Cherokee mothers are believed to be descended from Selu, the Corn Mother; [3] it may also refer to the four directions. [2]

Sulphur Springs was a Choctaw Indian community formerly existing in the Choctaw Nation of Indian Territory. It was located 3/4 mile south-southeast of the highway intersection of OK 3 and OK 93 in present-day Rattan, in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma.

With the passage of the Curtis Act in 1898 and Dawes Act, allotment became US policy and the various tribal governments were forced to allot land. The fact that the existing governments broke up the land was considered an outrage by many of members of the Four Mothers Societies. Chitto Harjo set up a new Creek government in Henryetta, which was acknowledged as the legitimate government by many of the Creeks. In 1900 a meeting was held at Hickory ceremonial grounds in which Pleasant Porter and his government was declared to have violated the 1867 Creek Constitution. They declared Porter's government invalid and declared Harjo to be the new principal chief.

Dawes Act US legislative act regulating Native American tribal lands

The Dawes Act of 1887, authorized the President of the United States to survey Native American tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Native Americans. Those who accepted allotments and lived separately from the tribe would be granted United States citizenship. The Dawes Act was amended in 1891, in 1898 by the Curtis Act, and again in 1906 by the Burke Act.

Chitto Harjo Muscogee Creek traditionalist and leader, member of the Four Mothers Society in Indian Territory

Chitto Harjo was a leader and orator among the traditionalists in the Muscogee Creek Nation in Indian Territory at the turn of the 20th century. He resisted changes which the US government and local leaders wanted to impose to achieve statehood for what became Oklahoma. These included extinguishing tribal governments and civic institutions and breaking up communal lands into allotments to individual households, with United States sales of the "surplus" to European-American and other settlers. He was the leader of the Crazy Snake Rebellion on March 25, 1909 in Oklahoma. At the time this was called the last "Indian uprising".

Henryetta, Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, United States

Henryetta is a city in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 5,510 at the 2010 census, down 9.6 percent from 6,096 at the 2000 census.

Redbird Smith also became involved in the Four Mothers Society. [3]

Redbird Smith Cherokee traditionalist and political activist, Chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs

Redbird Smith (1850–1918) was a Cherokee traditionalist and political activist. He helped found the Nighthawk Keetoowah Society, who revitalized traditional spirituality among Cherokees from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century.

In 1906, the group submitted a petition of one hundred eighty-six signatures to Congress, so that a delegation could be sent to Washington, D.C. to discuss treaty violations and their concerns over official tribal leadership. [1] Harjo spoke before the Senate, supported by the Four Mothers Nation. [4]

The Four Mothers Society was associated with the movement for a State of Sequoyah. [2]

Besides openly opposing allotment, the Four Mothers Societies maintain ceremonial groups for stomp dances, stickball games, feasts, meetings, and ceremonies. In the late 1980s there was at least one dance ground left among the Chickasaw and another among the Cherokee. [5] Today there are several Four Mothers Society grounds throughout eastern Oklahoma.

As of 2015, there are still several Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds active, and one remaining active among the Cherokee. [6]

The novels of LeAnne Howe speak of the Four Mothers Society in the context of traditional matriarchal culture, [7] and particularly deals with it in Miko Kings. [8]

See also


  1. 1 2 Zissu, Erik March (2001-01-01). Blood Matters: The Five Civilized Tribes and the Search for Unity in the Twentieth Century. Psychology Press. pp. 28 – 29. ISBN   9780415930864.
  2. 1 2 3 Johansen, Bruce Elliott (1998-01-01). The Encyclopedia of Native American Legal Tradition. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 98 – 101. ISBN   9780313301674.
  3. 1 2 Johnston, Carolyn (2003-10-06). Cherokee Women In Crisis: Trail of Tears, Civil War, and Allotment, 1838-1907. University of Alabama Press. p. 133. ISBN   9780817350567.
  4. Chang, David A. (2010-01-01). The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 102. ISBN   9780807833650.
  5. Thomas E. Malis. The Cherokee people: the story of the Cherokees from earliest origins to contemporary times. Council Oak Books, 1992. p. 308
  6. "Echota Ceremonial Ground has long history in area". Cherokee Phoenix. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  7. Anderson, Eric G.; Hagood, Taylor; Turner, Daniel Cross (2015-10-19). Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture. LSU Press. p. 188. ISBN   9780807161081.
  8. Cox, James H.; Justice, Daniel Heath (2014-07-31). The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 404. ISBN   9780199914043.

Related Research Articles

Five Civilized Tribes Native American grouping

The term "Five Civilized Tribes" derives from the colonial and early federal period in the history of the United States. It refers to five Native American nations—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. These are the first five tribes that Anglo-European settlers generally considered to be "civilized". Examples of colonial attributes adopted by these five tribes include Christianity, centralized governments, literacy, market participation, written constitutions, intermarriage with white Americans, and plantation slavery practices. The Five Civilized Tribes tended to maintain stable political relations with the Europeans.

The Dawes Rolls were created by the United States Dawes Commission. The Commission, authorized by United States Congress in 1893, forced the Five Civilized Tribes to agree to a land allotment plan and dissolution of the reservation system.

Dawes Commission 1893 US federal commission and envoy to Native American tribal leadership

The American Dawes Commission, named for its first chairman Henry L. Dawes, was authorized under a rider to an Indian Office appropriation bill, March 3, 1893. Its purpose was to convince the Five Civilized Tribes to agree to cede tribal title of Indian lands, and adopt the policy of dividing tribal lands into individual allotments that was enacted for other tribes as the Dawes Act of 1887. In November 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed Dawes as chairman, and Meridith H. Kidd and Archibald S. McKennon as members.

Pleasant Porter American businessman

Pleasant Porter, was a respected American Indian statesman and the Principal Chief of the Creek Nation from 1899 until his death. He served with the Confederacy in the 1st Creek Mounted Volunteers, as Superintendent of Schools in the Creek Nation (1870), as commander of the Creek Light Horsemen (1883), and was many times the Creek delegate to the United States Congress. He was also President of the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention in 1905 during the attempt by Native American tribes to acquire statehood for the Indian Territory. Instead, their territory was made part of the state of Oklahoma.

State of Sequoyah attempt in the early 20th century by Native Americans to form their own state

The State of Sequoyah was a proposed state to be established from the Indian Territory in the eastern part of present-day Oklahoma. In 1905, with the end of tribal governments looming, Native Americans of the Five Civilized Tribes—the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole—in Indian Territory proposed to create a state as a means to retain control of their lands. Their intention was to have a state under Native American constitution and governance. The proposed state was to be named in honor of Sequoyah, the Cherokee who created a writing system in 1825 for the Cherokee language.

Yuchi ethnic group

The Yuchi people, spelled Euchee and Uchee, are people of a Native American tribe who historically lived in the eastern Tennessee River valley in Tennessee in the 16th century. The Yuchi built monumental earthworks. In the late 17th century, they moved south to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Some also migrated to the panhandle of Florida. After suffering many fatalities from epidemic disease and warfare in the 18th century, several surviving Yuchi were removed to Indian Territory in the 1830s, together with their allies the Muscogee Creek.

Stomp dance

The Stomp Dance is performed by various Eastern Woodland tribes and Native American communities, including the Muscogee, Yuchi, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Delaware, Miami, Caddo, Tuscarora, Ottawa, Quapaw, Peoria, Shawnee, Seminole, Natchez, and Seneca-Cayuga tribes. Stomp Dance communities are active in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.

Keetoowah Nighthawk Society

The Keetoowah Nighthawk Society was a Cherokee Native American organisation formed ca. 1900 that pledged itself and its followers to return to the traditional "old ways" of Indian life, led by Redbird Smith, a Cherokee National Council and original Keetoowah Society member, and forming in the Indian Territories of present-day Oklahoma. The Nighthawks arose in response to weakening resolve on the part of Cherokee leaders—including the original Keetoowah Society, a political organization created by Cherokee Native American full bloods, in or about 1859—to continue their resistance on behalf of the Cherokee after the Dawes Commission began forcing the transfer of Oklahoma tribal lands in the Indian Territory to individual ownership in the 1890s. Soon after forming, the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society grew to as many as 5,500, but they could not forestall the progress of the Dawes Commission, which came to an allotment agreement with Cherokee leaders in 1900; after doing so, the Commission enrolled the generally non-compliant Nighthawks in the tribe without obtaining their consents, registering them for allotments, and, in 1902, arrested Redbird Smith and compelled the same of him.

The Original Keetoowah Society is a Cherokee religious organization dedicated to preserving the culture and teachings of the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society 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 appears in a lengthy treatise, Burning Phoenix (1993).

Curtis Act of 1898 1898 amendment to the Dawes Act

The Curtis Act of 1898 was an amendment to the United States Dawes Act; it resulted in the break-up of tribal governments and communal lands in Indian Territory of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory: the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, and Seminole. These tribes had been previously exempt from the 1887 General Allotment Act because of the terms of their treaties. In total, the tribes immediately lost control of about 90 million acres of their communal lands; they lost more in subsequent years.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The nation descends from the historic Creek Confederacy, a large group of indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands. Official languages include Muscogee, Yuchi, Natchez, Alabama, and Koasati, with Muscogee retaining the largest number of speakers. They commonly refer to themselves as Este Mvskokvlke. Historically, they were often referred to as one of the Five Civilized Tribes of the American Southeast.

Alexander Posey Muscogee Creek poet, journalist, humorist, and politician from Indian Territory

Alexander Lawrence Posey was an American poet, humorist, journalist, and politician in the Creek Nation. He founded the Eufaula Indian Journal in 1901, the first Native American daily newspaper. For several years he published editorial letters known as the Fus Fixico Letters, written by a fictional figure who commented pointedly about Muscogee Nation, Indian Territory, and United States politics during the period of the dissolution of tribal governments and communal lands. He served as secretary to the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention and drafted much of the constitution for its proposed Native American state, but Congress rejected the proposal. Posey died young, drowned while trying to cross the flooding North Canadian River in Oklahoma.

The Alabama–Quassarte Tribal Town is both a federally recognized Native American tribe and a traditional township of Muskogean-speaking Alabama and Coushatta peoples. Their traditional languages include Alabama, Koasati, and Mvskoke. As of 2014, the tribe includes 369 enrolled members, all of which live within the state of Oklahoma.

Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. It is the largest of the three federally recognized Seminole governments, which include the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Its members are descendants of the 3,000 Seminoles who were forcibly removed from Florida to Indian Territory, along with 800 Black Seminoles, after the Second Seminole War. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is headquartered in Wewoka within Seminole County, Oklahoma. Of 18,800 enrolled tribal members, 13,533 live within the state of Oklahoma. The tribe began to revive its government in 1936 under the Indian Reorganization Act. While its reservation was originally larger, today the tribal jurisdictional area covers Seminole County, Oklahoma, within which it has a variety of properties.

The Sequoyah Constitutional Convention was an American Indian-led attempt to secure statehood for Indian Territory as an Indian-controlled jurisdiction, separate from the Oklahoma Territory. The proposed state was to be called the State of Sequoyah.

Crazy Snake Rebellion

The Crazy Snake Rebellion, also known as the Smoked Meat Rebellion or Crazy Snake's War, was an incident in 1909 that at times was viewed as a war between the Creek people and American settlers. It should not be confused with an earlier, bloodless, conflict in 1901 involving much of the same people. The conflict consisted of only two minor skirmishes, and the first was actually a struggle between a group of marginalized African Americans and a posse formed to punish the alleged robbery of a piece of smoked meat.

Oklahoma Organic Act

An Organic Act is a generic name for a statute used by the United States Congress to describe a territory, in anticipation of being admitted to the Union as a state. Because of Oklahoma's unique history,, an explanation of the Oklahoma Organic Act needs a historic perspective. In general, the Oklahoma Organic Act may be viewed as one of a series of legislative acts, from the time of Reconstruction, enacted by Congress in preparation for the creation of a unified State of Oklahoma. The Organic Act created Oklahoma Territory, and Indian Territory that were Organized incorporated territories of the United States out of the old "unorganized" Indian Territory. The Oklahoma Organic Act was one of several acts whose intent was the assimilation of the tribes in Oklahoma and Indian Territories through the elimination of tribal reservations and the elimination of the tribes' communal ownership of property.

On the eve of the American Civil War in 1861, a significant number of Indigenous peoples of the Americas had been relocated from the Southeastern United States to Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi. The inhabitants of the eastern part of the Indian Territory, the Five Civilized Tribes, were suzerain nations with established tribal governments, well established cultures, and legal systems that allowed for slavery. Before European Contact these tribes were generally matriarchial societies, with agriculture being the primary economic pursuit. The bulk of the tribes lived in towns with planned streets, residential and public areas. The people were ruled by complex hereditary chiefdoms of varying size and complexity with high levels of military organization.

Hickory Ground human settlement in United States of America

Hickory Ground, also known as Otciapofa is an historic Upper Muscogee Creek tribal town and an archaeological site in Elmore County, Alabama near Wetumpka. It is known as Oce Vpofa in the Muscogee language; the name derives from oche-ub,"hickory" and po-fau, "among". It is best known for serving as the last capital of the National Council of the Creek Nation, prior to the tribe being moved to the Indian Territory in the 1830s. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 10, 1980.

Carpenter v. Murphy is a pending case before the Supreme Court of the United States and raises the question of whether Congress disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation. Although this question is specific to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Court’s decision is likely to also apply to reservations of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole Nations because all five nations have similar histories within the state of Oklahoma.