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Russett, Oklahoma

Chickasaw Nation History


The town of Russett was founded in the late days of Indian Territory in what was then the Chickasaw Nation.  The following historical information is from Chickasaw Nation Documents, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.


During the 1880s, as more and more white settlers pushed into Oklahoma Territory, a drive began to join the lands belonging to the Five Civilized Tribes with the Oklahoma territory and form a new state. In 1887 a major shift in the federal governments Indian policy aided this drive. The Dawes Act legislated the allotment of communal tribal lands into individually owned plots. By 1895, surveys of tribal lands for allotment began. The federal government established the Dawes Commission to designate persons eligible for rights to land. Fearing the loss of tribal land to mixed blood Chickasaws and freemen, the Chickasaw government appointed the Chickasaw Citizenship Commission to evaluate citizenship claims along with the Dawes Commission staff.


In 1898, the Curtis Act dealt a serious blow to the Chickasaw Nation's autonomy. The act was the culmination of several laws designed to strip the tribal government's autonomy. The act required that all acts passed by the tribal legislatures after 1898 had to be approved by the President of the United States. In that same year the Chickasaw Nation signed an agreement with the U.S. government to allot all tribal lands in severalty. Part of the agreement stipulated that the Chickasaw Nation's government would be resolved after 1906. The following year, the lands of the Five Civilized tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation, were fused with Oklahoma Territory and admitted as the forty-sixth state.


This collection contains two documents. Both are from the period after the Atoka agreement, which required all Chickasaw Nation legislation be approved by the President of the United States. The first document is a bill passed by the Chickasaw in 1898 to create the Chickasaw Citizenship Commission. On the back of the document, President William McKinley disapproved the bill. The second document is an act passed by the Chickasaw Nation legislature to have the Federal government deposit sixty-thousand dollars into the Nation's treasury. The figure comes from a 1794 treaty between the Chickasaw and the U.S. government in which the federal government agreed to pay the tribe three thousand dollars. The 1902 figure includes capitalization of the original sum. The document is signed "disapproved" by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Amber Underwood who does genealogy for the Chickasaw Nation and is a granddaughter of Joe Underwood a full-blood Chickasaw and a long time resident of Russett has the following to add about the early days of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory.  We had asked her when the Underwoods first settled in Russett.


"I will try to find out when the family first shows to be living at Russett. It sounds to me like they were in the area later on after Removal, which was in the 1830ís and 40ís for the Chickasaws. Of course, the Chickasaws didnít move right into the area they were supposed to be in because the ďwild IndiansĒ (Osage and Comanche mostly) were still trying to keep them out. Thatís why Ft. Washita was built. They didnít get their own government going again until the 1850ís. They had to buy their part of the Nation from the Choctaws at that time in order to be able to make their own laws.


I think my great great grandfather must have been born in the 1850ís. He was married in the 1870ís and hanged in 1890. I donít know anything about his parents, his wife, or her family either. I would think that they were probably in Choctaw Nation when you get back to the 1850ís. The other side of my family was listed as Chickasaw residing in Choctaw Nation in the 1850ís, so they were probably there, too. They came to Boggy Depot at some point and lived in Stonewall later. They kind of kept going west.


My dad (Chestine Underwood) said that at the time he went to school (a hundred years later), there were no other Indian families at Russett. Most of them lived in Tishomingo, Mill Creek and other small communities around there. He did say that when he graduated from Russett, he wanted to go to college and his parents told him he couldnít go because he was Indian. He went to Haskell, though, and graduated from college at East Central and he was the first one to do that in his family.


I never knew that Andrew (Chestine's older brother, see obituaries) was a good artist, but that doesnít surprise me at all, since almost everyone in that family has a real talent for drawing. Ted was an artist for a while and he still likes to draw and carve. My dad doesnít draw so much as carve little animals for fun. My sister and I do fine line pencil drawings. I graduated from East Central with a degree in art and English. My cousin, Joanna Underwood (Geneís daughter), does Chickasaw pottery and wins art shows all the time. You may have heard of her. She won the Red Earth art show one time and always places wherever she goes. My cousins all drew and painted. I donít know why none of them is famous but they never did it for money, I guess. They never see it as anything more than a hobby.


You ask about the schools before statehood. As far as I know, the Chickasaw Nation operated boarding schools, national schools, neighborhood schools and subscription schools, but the main problem was getting teachers to stay and teach for little or no pay. The boarding schools where most of the Indian children were sent. There were laws, you know, that said whites couldnít attend Indian schools and vice versa, but apparently, that didnít matter to everyone. I have seen school group photos where they were mixed together. Also, a lot of Indian people were of mixed blood and didnít always look Indian. There were so many people on the Dawes Roll who were only 1/16 or 1/32. Lots of people who are half donít look Indian. My sister doesnít. Her kids are ľ and blond and blue eyed. You never know from a picture who was mixed.


There were quite a few boarding schoolsóBloomfield (Carter Seminary), Wheelock Academy, Chilocco, Jones, Burney Institute, orphanages, one or two at Tishomingo I canít think of right offhand, etc. We have microfilms of school records from before statehood. I donít remember anything about Russett. I donít have lists of students, though. Most of the records are copies of checks and who was getting paid for something or lists of people who boarded kids. These are useful, but they arenít indexed and you have to go through them page by page trying to decipher handwriting. Some of it is not readable because it is too dark or too light.


The lady who was allotted land where Russett once stood was Katie OíBrien, born 1853, and she was only 1/16 Chickasaw. She was listed on the Dawes Roll. Her father was white and her husband was white, thatís the only thing I know about her. It was her mother who was ľ Chickasaw--Isabella Sturdivant and she was from old Pickens County. I donít know what her maiden name was.


I suppose one of Katieís great grandparents was a full blood, but that is a guess. Katie lived at Mead in the old Panola County when she enrolled in 1898. Her husband was Joe Frank OíBrien and she was listed with her stepson, Calvin P. Orndorff who was the son of Ed Orndorff who was white, also. She may not have had much interest in being ďChickasawĒ, by that I mean being involved with tribal traditions, culture, government, etc. She may have collected annuities, but I donít see any Sturdivants on the annuity rolls. I would say she and her husband enrolled for the land, but that is just a guess. It could have been different, but so many white people married to get land.


Whites or any other non-citizens were really not supposed to be living within the Chickasaw Nation without permits. They didnít have any rights at all to land before the U.S. government forced allotments so they could legally buy it from Indians, which is the only reason allotment was done. But there were no fences, gates or guards keeping people out. The courts were swamped with crimes and no way to collect permits. By 1900, the population was over 70% white. Many full blood Indians tended to live back in inaccessible places and keep to themselves. Many Chickasaws didnít even speak English in 1900. The kids who attended boarding schools were the most likely to speak English and know how to read or write and not everyone had the money or means to attend.  


My grandfather was born in 1903 and he remembered having to learn to speak English when he was almost grown. Schools were formed soon after the Removal, but the Civil War destroyed efforts at education for quite a while."



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Last modified: 05/27/07