1857: First Lady A-Ho-Yo-Te-Ma, Wife of Governor Alfred Wade
As I sit down to write about these elusive women, our First Ladies, my first thought is, “what an ambitious topic!” I might as well try to capture a will-o-wisp or the last warm ray of sun on a cold autumn day. Photos of these women are as rare as hens’ teeth!
First we have the fact that in the 1800s, men wrote the history books, and rarely, very rarely, do men write about women.
Then Choctaw women tend to be a modest bunch, with their hearts and minds focused on the homestead and their family. Their roles are so mundane and everyday, that their contributions are hardly noticed. Yet what they accomplished was so vital to our future. They kept their husbands and children fed and clothed and healthy. They passed down cherished customs and oral traditions. Their children became our beloved ancestors, taking their turn in passing down to us the stories and tales that make us proud to say “Chahta Sia”…”I am Choctaw.”
So I hope you look forward to bringing these brave women out of the shadows and into our hearts.
I’m starting with the year 1857, when Alfred Wade becomes the first “governor” of a newly unified Choctaw Nation under a highly controversial Skullyville Constitution. The new constitution abolished the positions of three district chiefs governing three separate districts. The new chief’s position would even use a different honorific, “Governor” instead of Chief.
Uproar ensued in the Choctaw Nation, and civil war threatened, with many arguing that the new constitution was too much like the white man’s government. The changes caused so much discontent and unrest for the Choctaws, that Governor Wade resigned less than six months into his term, citing poor health. In fact, he resigned in favor of Tandy Walker, who was President of the Choctaw Senate and also the Chairman of the Skullyville Convention which drafted the 1857 Skullyville Constitution.
Alfred Wade remained in public service. He ably served as a member of the delegation to Washington, D.C. that negotiated the Treaty of 1866. The delegation, which included Basil LeFlore, Allen Wright, James Riley, and John Page, faced a hostile and punitive Congress after the Choctaw Nation chose to side with the Confederacy rather than remain neutral. The treaty these men skillfully negotiated was invaluable in re-establishing the rights of a free and sovereign Choctaw Nation after the Civil War.
Under the Treaty of 1866 the occupied tribal lands remained intact as well as the autonomy of the tribal government. The United State agreed to restore funds held in trust and to resume the payment of the tribe’s regular annuities. In return, the Choctaws and Chickasaws surrendered the Leased District for a payment of $300,000. But sadly, government encroachment began with the granting of right-of-way rights for two railroads through the Indian Territory. At least the Choctaw Nation would have 40 more years of autonomy.
Chief Wade’s first lady was a woman known simply as A-Ho-Yo-Te-Ma, meaning “to give forth.” Her name is lovingly recorded on the Dawes Census Cards for her oldest surviving daughter Levina Wade Anderson, wife of Davis Anderson. Her adopted English name was Nancy Dukes.
Alfred and Nancy married about 1836; just four years after Alfred Wade’s father brought his band of Choctaws over the relentless and unforgiving Trail of Tears. Alfred was 21 at the start of the journey. If Nancy was among Captain John Wade’s band of Choctaws in 1831, she would have been 18 years old.
Following the signing of the Dancing Rabbit Creek treaty in 1830, each of the three districts sent a delegation to Oklahoma to look for suitable location. The northwestern and southern districts agreed to settle in southern Oklahoma, the northwestern district taking the east side of the Kiamichi River; the southern district on the west side of the Kiamichi River. The northeastern district settled on the Arkansas River and the South Canadian River, the Kiamichi Mountains separating the two general areas.
The first wave of Choctaws in the fall of 1831 faced the worst journey of all the Choctaws, when frigid weather, cholera, and incompetent planning by the U.S. government conspired to make the journey a bitter, almost insurmountable test of survival.
Weather and lack of transportation kept the Choctaws stranded at Arkansas Post for 17 days in freezing, wet weather until Dec 13, 1831. Finally the Choctaws received help and reached Little Rock on Dec 22, 1831. The town permitted the Indians to camp on the edge of town; the name of the camp was Camp Hope. There was no turning back for the Choctaws.
The Choctaws now faced the most grueling section of the trip – the 130 miles to Washington, Ark. and then the last 100 miles to Mountain Fork crossing (at the future site of Eagletown), where the huge cypress tree stood sentinel over the route. After resting for six days, the Choctaws continued their travel on Dec 29, 1831, following an old trade route to Fulton, Arkansas, turning west when they reached Washington, Arkansas. At that time the Red River, a natural river route between the Mississippi River and southern Oklahoma, was not navigable for 150 miles in northwest Louisiana, because of the presence of “the great raft”, a nearly solid mass of logs and uprooted trees. Alfred’s father, Captain John Wade is said to have made two trips over the Trail of Tears, finally coming to the end of his days at Eagletown sometime in the 1840s. He and his five sons helped to settle the town of Eagletown. Alfred Wade, with several of his brothers, found good farming lands at the edge of the Kiamichi Mountains. Their settlement was called Wadesville, near the present location of Talihina, Oklahoma. In 1850, the first county of Apukshunnubbee took the name of Wade in his honor.
Although the lands were full of promise, the countryside was undeveloped, a “rude wilderness destitute of all that makes a true civilization,” as Chief Wade would say near the end of his life. Many years of back-breaking work were needed to make the settlement comfortable and safe. Every day was a struggle for the mere basics of life such as good, nourishing food and a healthy environment.
Schooling was non-existent in the new country. A graduate of the famed Choctaw Academy in Blue Springs, Kentucky, Alfred Wade wanted the same for his children. Little did he know that the manual he laboriously copied from his arithmetic text at that academy, carefully carried over the Trail of Tears, would be so useful to his children, and, in time, become a family heirloom.
I searched in vain for surviving photos of early day Wadesville but could not find any still in existence. But the oldest house remaining in Oklahoma today, and built in the early 1830s in the Choctaw Nation, can give us insight into the simple dwellings of that era. It is the home and chief’s house for Chief Thomas LeFlore (shown above left), built by the U.S. government in his district, as required under treaty with the Choctaws.
Contrast this simple log cabin to Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage” (shown above right), built in the same time period in Tennessee, and we can understand why Chief Wade called the new Choctaw lands ” a rude wilderness.”
It is remarkable that Alfred and Nancy were able to raise three children to adulthood in these primitive conditions. In addition to Levina, born 1837, Nancy raised a son, Cyrus, born 1853, and another daughter, Angeline, born 1849, who became the wife of Gilbert Wesley Dukes, another Choctaw Chief. We will discuss her family in a future blog that deals with Chief Dukes.
Nancy died in July 1860 at age 47, and is buried at the Wadesville Cemetery in LeFlore County. See her memorial page. Her 12-year-old son, Ely, is buried nearby.
Chief Wade married a second time; we know her only as L.T. Wade. Some people say that L.T. was the mother of his children, but she is too young to have given birth to Levina, being born in 1826, only eleven years before Levina’s birth.
Chief Wade passed away in 1878 at his family home eight miles southeast of Talihina. The inscription on his tombstone honors this family’s arduous endeavors and great accomplishments in laying the building blocks for a free and sovereign Choctaw Nation.
***Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***
Kindly forgive any errors with names and dates. I generally do not mention children who died in infancy. Let me know if you have alternate information.
Sources for this article include the following:
Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (Norman, 1934).
Vertical Files (Alfred Wade), Oklahoma Historical Society, Research Division.
Biographical sketch of Alfred Wade, by his grandson, Ivan Wade, a speech delivered June 3, 1938, at the dedication of the Choctaw Council House, Tuskahoma, Okla.