Today was a Monday. That’s it, a Monday.
It started out great with my second-best friend at IHOP. I was able to say no to the pumpkin spice pancakes with cinnamon roll filling and cream cheese frosting. We gabbed for more than an hour and I was ready to roll. Without the cinnamon roll.
Because we were in southern Oklahoma, I was operating with a different set of five tribes and a different Trail of Tears. The big one, or as the lady at the museum told us, the “real” one. The Cherokee.
I believe there were plenty of tears along the trails to go around, but the Cherokee trail is likely the most well known. Forcefully displaced from vast areas of North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, about 2,000 Cherokee people were moved west 40 years before the Ponca came south.
The Cherokee were joined by the Choctaw, Muskogee (Creek), Chickasaw and Seminole, including mixed-race and black freedmen and slaves who lived among them. By 1837, 46,000 Indians from the southeastern United States had been removed from their homelands, opening 25 million acres for predominantly white settlement.
Now known as the Five Civilized Tribes, they were the first to adopt white man’s ways, including clothing, Christianity, centralized government, literacy, free markets, written constitutions, plantation slavery and marriage to white Americans. Finally, they were able to maintain stable political relations with the Europeans, beginning with George Washington and encouraged by Thomas Jefferson.
“The term Five Civilized Tribes has been criticized for its ethnocentric definition of civilization,” and I can see way. But, if we can look beyond the terms imposed on the tribes and look instead at the progress they’ve made over the years, it’s easy to see beyond the beadwork, moccasins and casinos.
These five tribes, like many others, are true artists. It was not the first time I wished I could afford to buy a piece of tribal art. Beyond its obvious beauty and its sacred value, the art will likely appreciate in value quickly.
Jerome Tiger was a full-blood Muskogee Creek-Seminole with no formal training. Tiger was compared to Rembrandt and Francisco Goya because of his ability to draw an object or person after a short glance. He worked in oil, watercolor, tempera, casein, pencil, and pen and ink.
Only one month before his accidental death at age 26, he completed what I would regard as his best work. It is called “stickball” and shows an athlete leaping into the air on one leg, sinew and muscle stretching to show athletic prowess and strength.
Someone asked Tiger how he could sculpt the body so accurately without formal training. To paraphrase, he said simply, “I have bones and muscles, too.” Click here to view this sculpture, which is not available for purchase.
A high school drop out, Tiger joined the Navy, worked as a laborer and a prize fighter before selling his first painting. His brother and his daughter are also successful artists.
Following my chance to get acquainted with the Five Civilized Tribes (?), I set out to return to Nebraska, as Standing Bear did more than 100 years ago. I did have a couple state patrol officers, a county sheriff’s deputy and two city cops make eye contact as the orange Honda flew by, but I was not stalked by soldiers while walking through snow and ice, as the Ponca were.
In 1879, Standing Bear and his 29 clan members were arrested near Omaha while trying to return to his ancestral homeland to bury his son. He was locked up at Fort Omaha and put on trial at the federal courtroom in Omaha. I hope to visit one or two of those locations tomorrow, along with Walthill, Nebr., the home of the Susan La Flesche Picotte Center.
Picotte was the first Native American woman to graduate from medical school. She campaigned for public health and for the formal, legal allotment of land to individual members of the Omaha tribe.
Her older sister, Susette La Flesche Tibbles was a journalist and acted as the interpreter for Standing Bear during his famous trial. She married the Omaha World-Herald editor Thomas Tibbles who helped Standing Bear gain legal representation and the two accompanied the chief on speaking tours of the eastern United States, then England and Scotland in 1887.
For the past year, I have had difficulty separating Susan and Susettte La Flesche in my research. Chief Iron Eyes (Joseph La Flesche) didn’t have a lot of imagination for the girl’s names. Both women were extremely accomplished individuals and, as women, their achievements were especially well-regarded.
Iron Eyes was the last Omaha chief and his half-brother White Swan was a Ponca chief. All four La Flesche girls attended boarding school; a third sister, Rosalie La Flesche Player became a financial manager and their fourth sister, Marguerite La Flesche Picotte was a teacher. Their half-brother Francis La Flesche was an ethnologist for the Smithsonian Institute.
More La Flesche stories tomorrow, I hope, if I make it through the night. Many of my Facebook friends are worried I’ll be carried away by transients or bed bugs, as I’m staying in a a “King of the Road” type hotel tonight. No room at the Holiday Inn.