A Creek man’s fight for freedom plagued by “accidents” and suspicious deaths
(TULSA, Okla.) A dead child. A dead wife. Homelessness. A crushed leg. House fires. An untimely end.
Such was the life of Thomas Hickory, born in 1877.
Hickory married Jennie Coney on the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation before the Creek lands were allotted. She was the granddaughter of Tuckabache, a widely respected local leader of the Creek community.
Tuckabache was the steadfast pillar of the tight-knit Coney-Hickory family. Orchestrated tragedy would plague his descendants and their loved ones for decades following his death.
Hickory loved his family, and his family loved him.
“I’m not one to cry easily but that brought tears to my eyes when I thought of him and what they’d done to him,” Hickory’s granddaughter Sallie said.
While many consider the Allotment Era and its associated crimes to be distant history, for allottee descendants like Sallie it is their lifetime.
Sallie was born in 1939. Her Papa lived with her and her family off and on after he was kicked out of his homestead to make room for the mansions of Tulsa’s most wealthy.
Jennie Hickory had been allotted land at 31st and Lewis in Tulsa, so that is where they made their home. Muscogee culture is matriarchal, following the tradition of maternal clans. As was the case with many Native American tribes, Muscogee men respected women as the source of life and strength in the community.
The Hickory’s took to farming the land for a living. They built a house, a barn, and a stable. Thomas and Jennie had four children, three girls and a boy.
When Thomas Hickory was 37 or 38, his firstborn child, Lucinda died. Her family has always said her death was suspicious, believing she was likely poisoned. She had both a coal mine and a natural gas field on her allotment, mined outside of her family’s control.
Thomas and Jennie were forced into court just over one week after she died. Both of them spoke only Creek, depending on interpreters to assist them through the court proceedings, held in English.
As Thomas Hickory mourned the death of his oldest daughter, lawyers accused him of being a drunk. Accusations Hickory repeatedly denied.
He told the court he had no idea how much money the mines on Lucinda’s land brought in, because her guardian would never tell him.
Both parents were harassed to perform math problems in their heads.
The lowest of the lowball offers for Lucinda’s land were refused by Thomas and Jennie Hickory, but the court’s reported Lucinda’s property was eventually sold for a pittance of its true worth to a woman named Ethel Davis.
Davis had a signed deed for Lucinda’s land the day the child died. She had also pressured Jennie Hickory to sell the land she had inherited from her grandfather Tuckabache to her.
Despite attempts to assimilate Jennie and Thomas Hickory, both fought fiercely to remain as separate from white society as they could.
When a man named George McDaniel petitioned to be their guardian after Lucinda’s death, the couple refused. A judge sided with the couple and declared them competent, a newsworthy item in the Tulsa Daily Democrat back in 1913.
Their remaining children were sent to Indian boarding schools.
“Right here on this property somewhere is where he built his family’s home,” Hickory's great granddaughter Tatianna Duncan said, standing outside one of the mansions in South Lewis Park. “And their farm. They had land in cultivation. I believe his daughter was murdered. Two years later his wife is dead.”
Jennie Hickory was just 41 years old. Her cause of death remains unknown.
It was a short life compared to Tuckabache, who was recorded as living to be more than 100 years old. But a long life compared to her brother, Tom, who died at just 20 years old from a fever of unknown cause, eight months after he married his young white wife.
Thomas Hickory was declared incompetent by the courts and assigned a guardian in 1917.
Hickory later testified strangers ran him and his family off of their land when he tried to go home.
Some witnessed the wrongdoing committed against him and his family and tried to intervene.
Attorney John Wakely sent a letter to Indian Affairs and the Creek National Attorney on behalf of the Hickory family in 1920. In it, Wakely pleaded for an investigation into the deceased Tuckabache kin and their survivors, stating:
“Jennie Hickory, the wife and mother of the Hickory family is dead; the husband and the three children (all minors) are out of their home, and the family is scattered.”
Another complaint sent to the Department of the Interior that same year stated:
“the three children who survived their mother, together with this complainant, are wrongfully and unlawfully kept out of their said home, the house on said premises having been built by this complainant, and this complainant has no home now, and is living on charity, and his said children are kept by friends, who have charge of whatever funds the children have.”
Wakely said the children’s guardian sold the surplus allotment of Jennie Hickory against his protest. His protest was sustained. But the decision was appealed in District Court and the sale was eventually allowed. Wakely then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court where his appeal was again sustained and the sale reversed, only for the sale to be retried and confirmed in District Court again.
In 1926, one of Hickory’s legs was severely mutilated, at the same time his children were in court fighting for the return of his wife’s land to their family.
“They say he had fell asleep on the railroad track and the train ran over his leg,” Sallie said.
Duncan doesn’t buy it. Trains are known to completely sever body parts when run over, not break them in three places like Hickory’s was.
“I can’t help but wonder was that intentional?” Duncan said.
Hickory’s guardian Henry F. Cooper began leasing his land for oil and gas mining in 1944.
After being forced off the land he had shared with his wife, Hickory moved onto his allotment where his daughter Louina, second oldest after Lucinda, and her husband had built a house and a barn and a family of their own. Then their house burned down.
“The whole family got rodeo tickets,” Duncan said. “Tickets that they couldn’t afford. Just showed up at the house. So that they were all at the rodeo. And my great grandfather Tom Hickory was by himself when the house caught fire.”
Hickory was rescued by a group of neighbors.
“That’s very suspicious,” Sallie said. “Because we lived in that home a long time. For that to occur, you know, while we were gone.”
The family moved into a two-story barn on their property and outfitted it into their new home. Then that burned down, too.
In 1947, a judge ordered Cooper to provide Hickory with funds for room and board at the cost of $30 per month.
A year later, Hickory was dead, the victim of another accident. This time, a drunk driver. He was 71 years old.
“Stealing Tvlse” is a collaborative effort between VNN Oklahoma and the Lucinda Hickory Research Institute to spotlight crimes committed against Muscogee citizens during the Allotment era and how those crimes still impact Muscogee citizens today.
To learn more about the Lucinda Hickory Research institute and donate to their efforts, click here.
This story has no comments yet