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Missionaries and Indians Battle Liquor (Part 3)

Grant Foreman (1869-1953), one of Oklahoma’s greatest early historians, wrote this classic essay for the Chronicles of Oklahoma historical magazine. We have parceled his penetrating work into three convenient parts. This is the third.

Interest in the temperance movement was not sporadic. The meetings were kept up year after year until the country was devastated by the Civil War. “That last meeting before the Civil War (which) put a stop to all such things was on July 4, 1860, after the death of its founder," said his daughter, Mrs. Hannah Hitchcock.

She continued:

“On that day 125 children marched in line around the public square at Tahlequah. Every child carried a little banner with a printed device; the girls' banners white, the boys’ pink, besides the twenty-foot streamer at the head of the line with ‘Cold Water Army’ in large letters painted on it and many other banners of different devices and mottoes. The years had passed until I was no longer a child; two of my children marched in that company, and a third one, too small to keep up, was carried by her father alongside.”

Then came that dark hiatus, that war in which the Indians had no concern and tried to remain neutral; when they were forced to take sides and flee to the north and south, leaving their homes and flocks to be looted and burned by the bushwhacker. Then after the years when with faltering efforts they attempted to reconstruct their homes and governments, temperance again became a vital subject with the Indians.

The introduction of railroads and the influx of white people and the building of towns in the Indian country brought fresh inroads of whisky to demoralize the Indians and perplex their lawmakers. For a time Federal courts in the adjoining states exercised jurisdiction over the Indian Territory and attempted to stem the illicit tide of liquor. The government took from the Five Civilized Tribes the western half of their domain for the settlement of prairie Indians and later opened this area to white settlement and made of it Oklahoma Territory. The Indian Territory then remained an Indian country into which the law forbade the introduction of liquor, legal in all the adjoining territory and states. The Indians published their laws against the introduction and vending of whisky and endeavored consistently if unsuccessfully to enforce them.

Federal courts were then set up in the Indian Territory and the fight against the introduction of liquor continued. An army of United States marshals boarded passenger trains entering the Territory from Kansas, Arkansas and Texas, prodded under the seats of the passengers for suspicious packages; suit cases were lifted and shaken for the clink of glass or the gurgle of whisky in the bottle. Suspicious trunks garnered from baggage room and express office were brought to court houses and opened; and where thousands of bottles were smashed the earth and the sides of brick buildings for years were bathed in illicit liquor.

“Drug stores” sprang up over the land where liquors were retailed. The United States courts appointed scores of commissioners who held inferior courts in which thousands of liquor cases were heard. When they made it too hard to bring whisky into the country “Chill Tonics,” “Peruna,” “Bitters,” “lemon extract,” and other substitutes had an extensive vogue.

The inroads of whites and the resulting problems of government resulted in a movement to induce the Indians to relinquish communal holdings of their tribal domain, and agree to the allotment of their lands in severalty. When that was accomplished the next step was to make a state out of this Indian country, which had been in contemplation for many years, much against the wishes of the Indians and in violation of the promises incorporated in their treaties. Congress provided for this in an act that permitted the admission to the Union of a new state to be formed of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory combined, with a number of conditions, including a provision that the constitution should prohibit for twenty-one years the introduction of liquor into the new state.

In compliance therewith the constitution upon which the State of Oklahoma was admitted in 1907 contains an article prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors for twenty-one years and thereafter until the people of the State shall amend the constitution. Besides this protection, stringent federal laws still forbade the introduction and sale of such liquors in the eastern half of the State of Oklahoma that was formerly the Indian Territory. This area remained until today (1934) practically all that is left of that vast western "Indian Country" created and impressed in 1834 with prohibitory laws relating to liquor.

Repercussions of the recent repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment are evidenced by the measure lately enacted by Congress and signed by President Roosevelt repealing the federal laws on the subject as they apply specially to Oklahoma. And now after a century of federal prohibition a petition is being circulated in the state to secure the necessary signatures for initiating a vote to repeal the prohibition section of the Oklahoma constitution, with a good prospect for its success.

When this measure shall have been effected the eastern half of Oklahoma will lose the last of the legal and political distinctions that for a century have set the region apart from the remainder of the country. And for the first time in one hundred years and thenceforth such protection against the liquor traffic as 150,000 Indians may enjoy, will rest entirely on local sentiment of more than two million white fellow citizens of the state and general laws enacted by Congress.


The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book

Oklahomans Vol 2 :


which can be purchased HERE.

View the inspiring preview video HERE.


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