How Old a Word is OKLAHOMA?

Of course, if you break the state name Oklahoma into its two parts – Okla, meaning “People”; and Homma, meaning “Red” – then those two Choctaw words are centuries old, as old as the Choctaw race itself. But sometime in the 1800s, a new word OKLAHOMA was coined. Its invention is attributed to a Choctaw man named Allen Wright, a minister and Chief of the Choctaw Nation from Oct 1866 to Oct 1870. See article on Choctaw Place Names in School of Choctaw Language.

Next Friday the state of Oklahoma has an anniversary. On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was admitted to the United States , a short 111 years ago. Before that historic occasion, the Oklahoma Territory was formed out of its western lands on May 2, 1890. And one year before the Territory was formed, Oklahoma City came in existence on April 22, 1889, as part of the famous land run of 1889.

However, if you remember your Choctaw history, Chief Allen Wright passed away on December 2, 1885. Therefore, the word OKLAHOMA was created before 1885. If your answer is “1866” as the year the word was created, then you would be correct. The Choctaw-Chickasaw Treaty of 1866 proposed the formation of  a new territorial government, made up of a council of elected delegates from the Indian nations/tribes within the Indian Territory – to be called the Oklahoma Territory.

Excerpt from Treaty of 1866

ARTICLE 8: The Choctaws and Chickasaws also agree that a council, consisting of delegates elected by each nation or tribe lawfully resident within the Indian Territory, may be annually convened in said Territory, to be organized as follows:

  1. After the ratification of this treaty, and as soon as may be deemed practicable by the Secretary of the Interior, and prior to the first session of said assembly, a census of each tribe, lawfully resident in said territory, shall be taken, under the direction of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, by competent persons, to be appointed by him, whose compensation shall be fixed by the Secretary of the Interior and paid by the United States.
  2. The council shall consist of one member from each tribe or nation whose population shall exceed five hundred, and an additional member for each one thousand Indians, native or adopted, or each fraction of a thousand greater than five hundred being members of any tribe lawfully resident in said Territory, and shall be selected by the tribes or nations respectively who may assent to the establishment of said general assembly and if none should be thus formally selected by any nation or tribe, it shall be represented in said general assembly by the chief or chiefs and head-men of said tribes, to be taken in the order of their rank as recognized in tribal usage in the number.
  3. [In summary: The Commissioner shall publish the list of elected delegates to make up the council or “general assembly” and shall announce the date/time of the first session, not to exceed 30 days in length.]
  4. The general assembly shall have power to legislate upon all subjects and matters pertaining to the relations of the Indian tribes and nations resident in the said Territory…
  5. Said council shall be presided over by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs…
  6. The Secretary of the Interior shall appoint a Secretary of said council, whose duty it shall be to keep an accurate record of all the proceedings…
  7. The members of the said council shall be paid by the United States four dollars per diem while in actual attendance thereon, and four dollars mileage for every twenty miles going and returning there from by the most direct route…
  8. The Choctaws and Chickasaws also agree that a court or courts may be established in said Territory…
  9. Whenever Congress shall authorize the appointment of a Delegate from said Territory, it shall be the province of said council to elect one from among the nations represented in said council.
  10. And it is further agreed that the Superintendent of Indian Affairs shall be the Executive of the said Territory, with the title of “Governor of the Territory of OKLAHOMA,” … that the duty of the said governor, in addition to those already imposed on the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, shall be such as properly belong to an executive officer charged with the execution of the laws…

The ratification of the Treaty of 1866 brought immense relief to the Choctaw Nation. It helped to alleviate the strained relations between the U.S. government and the Choctaws. Most important to the Choctaws was the treaty provision that payments under former treaties were to be renewed – payments had been suspended after the Choctaws threw their support behind the Confederacy in the Civil War . In addition, educational funds of the Indians under former treaties were to remain invested.

The five Choctaw delegates – ex-Chief Alfred Wade, Rev. Allen Wright, Atty. Campbell LeFlore, James Riley, and John Page – assumed the status of heroes for overcoming the punitive mindsets of Congress toward the two traitorous nations, at least in Congress’s opinion. An air of festivity seemed to color the news regarding the treaty.  A local Washington, D.C. newspaper celebrated the event with the following news story on August 1, 1866:

An Interesting Incident

Delegations from the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations of Indians, composed of gentlemen of education and intelligence have for some months past been in this city attending to important business for their people, which involved an earnest and protracted controversy with the officers of the Government in charge of Indian affairs, accompanied, however, with mutual respect and good feeling.

Though disappointed in some important particulars, the members of the two delegations seem to have been deeply impressed with the kind and considerate manner in which they were listened to and treated, particularly by Judge Cooley, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Having nearly finished their business, and being about to depart for their distant homes, west of Arkansas, they waited on that gentleman a few evenings since, at his private resident, and presented him with a beautiful gold-headed cane, with a suitable inscription, which they had specially procured for the purpose, a testimonial of their respect and friendship for him personally, and as an evidence of their appreciation of his courtesy and kindness to them.

A friend has procured for us a copy of the addresses on the occasion; that from the Indians having been made by Col. Peter P. Pitchlynn, Principal Chief and Governor of the Choctaw Nation, who is well and favorably known to many of our citizens. What aided in giving interest to the occasion was the presence of the governors of both nations; Winchester Colbert, governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and a gentleman of intelligence and deserved influence with his people, heading their delegation.

Address of Col. Pitchlynn

Judge Cooley, the Choctaw and Chickasaw delegation, having substantially completed their business with the Government, cannot think of leaving for their distant homes without some expression of the obligations they feel towards you and the courtesy and personal kindness you have shown them during all the long and protracted negotiations which have terminated in the consummation of the important TREATY with us, that has recently been ratified, a treaty of more importance, probably, in its ends and aims, than any before made with an Indian tribe. In our intercourse with you we have been deeply impressed with the feelings of humanity and kindness towards our race with which you appear to be animated, and we sincerely hope that you will be greatly successful, during your administration of Indian Affairs, in carrying out your views and policy for the amelioration of the condition of the Indian tribes, They greatly need a true friend in your position, and we believe you to be such.

As an evidence of our personal respect and regard, and as a slight testimonial of our obligations to you for your personal kindness, we beg your acceptance of this cane, with the description: “From the Choctaw and Chickasaw Delegates, to their friend, D. N. Cooley, July 1866.”

Reply of Judge Cooley

Gentlemen: I can scarcely say which is greater, my surprise or pleasure for this call. That you feel kindly toward me for my efforts to restore the friendly relations which has so long existed between the United States and the Choctaws and Chickasaws, but which unhappily were for a time suspended, is indeed to me a very pleasant thought. If I had merited your kind expressions by my treatment of you and the other nations that have been represented here the past winter and spring, my ambition when I entered upon the important trust committed to me by the President about a year since is satisfied. [U.S. President in August 1866 was Andrew Johnson.]

Gentlemen, the position which I occupy by the kindness of the President, who is your true friend and protector, is no —. It is one of great importance to you and the three hundred and fifty thousand of your brethren now in relations of amity with the United States, and, to some extent, under my supervision. From my boyhood I have heard of the encroachments of the white race upon you domain, of the abuses of those in and out of the service which you have been compelled to suffer, and I have all my life had a desire to be place where I could in some way or manner aid in doing justice to you and your race. I now, for a time, have that opportunity, and hope my labors will result as satisfactorily to all and to the Government at you are pleased to say they have been to you.

I must congratulate you on the successful termination of our labors in making the treaty just ratified by the Senate. For many of its wise provisions and for its liberal spirit you are indebted to the Hon. Secretary of the Interior, who, for many years in the Senate of the United States, has been your warm friend and defender against the schemes of those who would despoil you of your country and your national rights. Your friend, Mr. Latrobe, by his conciliatory and statesmanlike views, rising about the attorney and seeking, as he did, your true good, aided much to consummate what, in the language of a U. S. Senator, is “the best Indian treaty ever submitted to the Senate for its ratification.”

You have laid the foundations for a State, broad and sure, if only its liberal provisions for schools, survey and allotments of lands, and internal improvements are carried out, as I believe you will carry them out, in the spirit of the treaty.

You have a beautiful country; it is the heart of the continent, with a climate unsurpassed; with abundance of water, timber, prairie, oils and salts. Your future, gentlemen, under the treaty, is in you own control. Your civilization is such that there is now no obstacle to your advancement to the enjoyment of every material blessing. That you may succeed – that your nation may be the bright evangel to lead the other Indian nations and tribes to civilization and the cultivation of the arts of peace – is my sincere wish.

Gentlemen, I accept this beautiful testimonial with reluctance and yet with pleasure – with reluctance, because it would seem more fitting that I should be the donor and you the recipients, for you are in no manner indebted to me or my race in material things; and with pleasure, because it will in future remind me of my pleasant acquaintance with you, now so extended and commence in your own country, and of my connection with the numerous councils which we have had, resulting in a treaty which is to make you the nucleus of an Indian State – OKLAHOMA, “the home of the red people” – and thus bring you into more intimate relationship with the United States.

I accept it, and thank you again for the kind feeling towards me which prompted it. I wish you each a pleasant journey home, and peace, prosperity, and happiness to yourselves and families.


In a year-end report, the Office of Indian Affairs  listed the Treaty of 1866 as the most significant accomplishment of the year:


The Office of Indian Affairs is connected with the Department of the Interior, and the task of the Commissioner will not be regarded an easy one, if it is taken into consideration that about 300,00 Indians whose management he has to direct “are scattered over a continent, and divided into more than 300 tribes, in charge of 14 superintendents and some 70 agents, whose frequent reports and quarterly accounts are to be examined and adjusted, that no general rules can be adopted for the guidance of those officers, for the reason that the people under their charge are so different in habits, customs, manners, and organization, varying from the civilized and educated Cherokee and Choctaw to the miserable lizard-eaters of Arizona, and that this office is called upon to protect the Indian, whether under treaty stipulations or roaming at will over his wild hunting grounds, from abuse by unscrupulous whites, while at the same time it must concede every reasonable privilege to the spirit of enterprise and adventure which is pouring its hardy populations into the Western country.

The first and chief place among the events of the year referred to in the report is occupied by the Indian treaties which were ratified in 1866, and went into effect.

Among the most important of these treaties were those concluded with the Choctaws and Chickasaws, which when its various provisions are brought into full operation, will establish the confederated tribes upon a basis of enduring prosperity. It contains provisions for the abolition of slavery and the establishment of a Territorial Government, with the Superintendent as Governor, the Territory being named “Oklahoma” and a clause added, looking to the establishment of an Upper House to consist of one member from each [tribe].

–as reported in the New York Tribune, Thurs, Dec 6, 1866, page 2

Angie Debo, in The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, calls the Treaty of 1866 “surprisingly favorable”, considering the temper of the U.S. government and the lack of leverage held by the tribes. However, in some respects the Treaty of 1866 could be viewed as a yet another “money trap” to which Choctaws agreed. The price extracted by Congress for the renewal of treaty payments must have been the Choctaw’s consent to the establishment of a territorial government, with the final authority to be given to a man appointed by the U.S. Senate.

The idea of a Territorial government might have been tolerated by the Choctaws, but Congress grew impatient when no significant progress toward that goal was made by the Indians. It is no surprise that white politicians who never traveled or lived in the Indian Territory would misconstrue the intent behind Article 8 of the Treaty of 1866. The first attempt in 1870 to draft a bill enforcing the treaty terms did not even make it out of committee, but its provisions on land allotments fully alarmed the good senses of the Choctaw people. It was the first of many vociferous and heated arguments between Congress and their Indian brothers.

News article from the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, January 31, 1870:

“The Territorial and Indian Committee of the House are each considering bills to organize a system of civil government in what is now called the Indian Territory. Mr. Cullom’s bill calls it Lincoln, while Mr. Van Horn’s names it Oklahoma Territory. The chief feature of each bill is that it gives suffrage (right to vote) to the Indians. .. One section of each bill provides that every male over the age of twenty-one years belonging to any tribe shall have the right to vote and hold office, and there shall be no abridgment in this right because of race or color.  That the idea of making citizens of the most advanced Indians will encounter no hostility from the President [Ulysses Grant] is evident enough from language he used the other day to a delegation of Creeks and Choctaws, when he said he had long thought the two nations which they represented and all those civilized nations in the Indian country should become citizens, and be entitled to all the rights of citizens.”

News article from the New York Daily Tribune, June 2, 1870: 

What Is Meant By Organizing “Oklahoma

[Following news of the various treaty violations committed by four competing railroads companies seeking to begin construction within the Cherokee Nation.]

“The delegates of the Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw nations have been very much exercised by the aggressive character of the railroad schemes. They regard them, however, with less apprehension than what they consider a cognate project – the attempt to organize the “Territory of Oklahoma.”

They state, in an elaborate and urgent memorial to the Senate, that the treaties with those nations did not contemplate such action, but indeed, the reverse. The result of such a measure would be to destroy the peace and prosperity they now enjoy. Their internal system of government would be broken up, and before a new one could by systematized, the land would be filled with squatters, who would embroil the Indians in serious disturbances. The worst of all consequences would follow the introduction of liquor, which is now excluded, and they think that all the other immoralities which have ensued in the intercourse of whites with Indian tribes, are to be apprehended.

They declare that the measure is in the interest of speculators who principally covet the possession of the land. They fear that our Government would cede the land to railroads. They point out their present good progress in civilization and industry and urge that a bill which would deprive them of not only their virtual ownership of millions of acres of land, but of every right they hold dear, should not go into effect.

They describe themselves as “men in despair”, encompassed on every hand by the cunning and the crafty; they would be doing injustice to themselves and those they represent, if they did not tell the tale of their wrongs in plain language.”

It would be easy to be critical of the choices made by the Choctaw delegates in 1866. How could they consent to provisions for a territorial government, and even worse, land allotments that would change the face of their Nation? But we can not stand in their shoes and know the troubling issues they faced. All we can know is that they were devoted to their Nation and chose the best path for all concerned.


***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***


Featured photo:  the Choctaw Delegation of 1866: Standing L-R: Rev. Allen Wright, Campbell LeFlore, Rev. John Page; Sitting L-R: James Riley, former Chief Alfred Wade.

See Choctaw Nation website for full text of the Treaty of 1866.

Discussion of the Treaty of 1866: Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, (Norman, Okla., 1961), pages 89-90.

Story on gift to Judge Dennis N. Cooley by the Choctaw delegation appeared in Daily National Intelligencer, Weds, Aug 01, 1866, Wash., D.C., page 2.


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