Chitto Harjo and the Crazy Snakes (1846-1911)
This full-blood Muscogee Creek devoted his life to carrying out his role as tribal “gatekeeper.” Finally, he gave that life in doing so. He never capitulated to the U.S. government’s assimilation program for the Creeks and other Oklahoma tribes. He refused to accept a land allotment, he helped form a rump Creek government in defiance of the federal takeover of that authority, and he died beyond the reach of the U.S. authorities, from a gunshot wound suffered in a shootout with Oklahoma lawmen.
Famed Oklahoma historian Angie Debo chronicled how Harjo’s conflict ranged across racial lines. It encompassed whites, other Natives, and African American. Harjo died from the aforementioned shootout with white lawmen, he encouraged the beating of fellow Creeks who accepted their allotments, and he roared against the U.S. government allotting land to thousands of black former slaves of the Creeks, :
“I hear the Government is cutting up my land and is giving it away to black people. I want to know if this is so. It can't be so for it is not in the treaty. These black people, who are they? They are negroes who came in here as slaves. They have no right to this land. It never was given to them. It was given to me and my people and we paid for it with our land back in Alabama. The black people have no right to it. Then can it be that the Government is giving it—my land—to the negro? I hear it is and they are selling it. This can't be so. It wouldn't be justice. I am informed and believe it to be true that some citizens of the United States have title to land that was given to my fathers and my people by the Government. If it was given to me, what right has the United States to take it from me without first asking my consent? That I would like to know. There are many things that I don't know and can't understand but I want to understand them if I can.” (Debo, p. 135, from harjo at Tulsa-partially copied below)
Muskogee Creek poet and journalist Alexander Posey lionized Harjo in ringing verse:
“Down with him, chain him, bind him fast, Slam the iron door and turn the key. The one time Creek, perhaps the last To dare declare "You have wronged me". Defiant, stoical, silent, Suffers imprisonment. Such coarse, black hair; such eagle eye; Such stately mien—how arrow-straight; Such will; such courage to defy The powerful makers of his fate. A traitor, outlaw—what you will, He is the noble red man still. Condemn him and his kind to shame, I bow to him, exalt his name.”
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