Chitto Harjo Background ~ Creek

Published on February 17, 2011 by John

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Chittoharjo

Portrait of Chitto Harjo, c. 1900

Chitto Harjo (1846–1911) (also known as Crazy Snake, Wilson Jones, Bill Jones, Bill Snake, and Bill Harjo) was a leader and orator among the traditionalists in the Muscogee Creek Nation in Indian Territory at the turn of the twentieth century. He resisted changes which the US government and local leaders wanted to impose to achieve statehood for what became Oklahoma. These included the extinguishing of tribal government and breaking up communal lands into allotments, with sales of the “surplus”. He was the leader of the “Crazy Snake Rebellion” on March 25, 1909 in Oklahoma. This was called at the time the last “Indian uprising”. The Creek were protesting allotment.

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Early life

Born in the Muscogee Creek Nation in Indian Territory after the tribe was removed from Alabama in the 1830s, Wilson Jones, better known by his Creek name of Chitto Harjo, was a full-blood Mvskoke (Muscogee) (Creek Indian).

He became a traditionalist, belonging to the minority of the tribe who remained loyal to the Union during the American Civil War, and wanted to continue traditional government and land use later in the century.

Career

While a young man, Chitto Harjo was allied with the federalists or Loyalists led by Opothleyahola, who moved the group to Kansas in 1861 with the start of the American Civil War. They remained loyal to the Union when most Creek allied with the Confederacy. He and many of these Creek men were recruited to the Union Army and served with federal forces in the American Civil War. In testimony in 1906, he said that he had believed this service, in a war between the white men and one which did not concern the Indians, would help ensure the maintenance of government promises to his people. The Civil War divided the tribe, as many Creek were allied with the Confederacy.

In the late nineteenth century, the Muscogee Creek and other American Indian tribes in Indian Territory were pressured to change by the US government, in part to make way for a demand for statehood by European-American settlers in parts of the territory. There was national legislation to extinguish tribal government and to establish household allotments of land in place of communal holdings. Congress created the Dawes Commission in 1892 to carry out the allotment of lands, and the Dawes Rolls became a record of tribal members.

From 1900 to 1909, Chitto Harjo, Crazy Snake (in Creek, chitto meant snake and harjo meant one who was brave beyond description, or foolhardy) led Creek resistance to the assimilation changes. The dissident traditionalists became called the Snakes.

By 1901, after the “Green Peach War” and the retirement of Isparhecher, who had been a judge in the Okmulgee District and leader of Loyalists, Chitto Harjo became the leader for those Creek who opposed assimilation and allotment. As the US was trying to extinguish tribal government, Crazy Snake and his followers set up a separate government for a time at the old Hickory Stomp Grounds southeast of Okmulgee|. Crazy Snake and others were arrested and convicted in US court and imprisoned briefly. They were released on parole. During the next five years, the majority of the tribe accepted the changes and were allotted individual plots of land, in preparation for the territory to be admitted to statehood as Oklahoma. Chitto Harjo and other Snakes refused to choose their allotments.

In 1906 members of a Special Senate Investigating Committee visited the Indian Territory to learn more about the issues and why some of the Muscogee Creek people were resisting changes. Harjo, recognized as a leader of the traditionalists, testified at length to the senators. His speech to the US Congress in 1906 is considered an eloquent statement regarding US treatment of Indian peoples. It is often quoted for the phrase, “as long as the grass grows”, used in regard to the promised perpetuity of Indian treaties and agreements.

Source: Wikipedia

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