The not-so-distant history of Allotment Era injustice
This Stealing Tvlse story is brought to you by One Fire Associates, because telling historical truth is healing for ourselves, our ancestors, and our future generations.
(TULSA, Okla.) Sallie is a private woman. She didn’t want to share her last name, but she does want to share her story.
A Muscogee Creek/ Cherokee Native, Sallie turned 83 in October. She was born in Tulsa in 1939.
While some historians may place the Allotment and Assimilation Era from 1887 to 1934, for those who lived it, like Sallie, the assaults on their culture, their land, and their bodies continued far past that.
“The people that did this, you know, who stole all the land and played all those dreadful games to get control over the Indian land, and the little children who died,” Sallie said. “You know, they were adopted by non-Indians and they died very young and you know, that upsets me greatly.”
Sallie grew up on an allotment “in the countryside” of 15th and Yale, apart from the Indian community as orchestrated by the Dawes Act. Though the allotment process was meant to destroy the tribe’s communal way of life, the familial bond was still strong in their household.
“We lived in one large house,” Sallie said. “Had eighteen people in that house. Had my mom and Dad and Thomas Hickory, my Papa. My grandpa. And my father’s mother was there, also.”
Family members took turns bathing once a week.
Despite the rough living, Sallie loved it. When their house mysteriously burned down, the family moved into a two-story barn on their property. Then that burned down, too.
Sallie doesn't think either one was an accident.
“It kind of frightened me as I looked back because my grandfather was there,” Sallie said. “There are a lot of unexplained deaths in my family on the Creek side. Even a very young woman. She never got to be a woman. She, I think, (was) thirteen. But I always refer to her as Aunt Lucinda, even though she was a child.”
Lucinda, daughter of Thomas Hickory, died from a “sickness” just eight months after a newspaper reported her land allotment held an estimated 20 million in gas. Lucinda’s mother, Jennie Hickory, granddaughter of tribal elder Tuckabache, died soon after.
Thomas Hickory would live longer, helpless but a fighter none-the-less, as he watched his family torn apart and his home and land swindled away.
“At the time the first house burned down, Papa was in the house by himself,” Sallie said. “We had all gone to a horse show or something at some fairgrounds or something. And he was in the house by himself when that house caught fire.”
Sallie was home during the second fire. Thankfully, no one was injured either time.
The federal government claimed American Indians were “incompetent”, and thus unable to manage their own lands and financial affairs. Many were forced to live under white guardians who controlled their money and their property. Such was the case with Sallie’s mother, Louina. After she turned 18, Louina’s assets were held by the Department of Interior in an Individual Indian Money account (IIM).
“Someone else was controlling her money,” Sallie said. “She didn’t have it in her pocket or her bank. But she had to go and ask somebody for her money.”
It wasn’t until a $3.4 billion class-action in 1996 that the federal government acknowledged IIMs abused American Indians for decades through mismanaged accounts. By then nearly 100 million acres and countless dollars had been taken from them.
With no place else to live after their last home burned down, Sallie was sent to an Indian Boarding School for a year and a half.
“I think I was in third grade when I went, which is very frightening to a little person,” Sallie said. “You know, you lose your family and everything all at once. I went to Sequoyah Indian School. And I think where the younger girls stayed was called Home 3. And that scared me. I thought, did they put us in a home? Were we bad?”
Sallie told VNN their “House Mother” was a mean woman who did not like children, recalling a time when she and her friends were beaten for returning to class late.
“We didn’t hear the bell ring,” Sallie said. “It was time to come in. So, when we finally showed up, she was fit to be tied. So she took us in the bathroom and gave us some serious spanking. Can’t remember if it was with a belt or a board. And we were all standing there crying.”
Louina had also been sent to an Indian Boarding School in her youth, following the death of her sister, Lucinda.
“Whatever went on there, we never knew,” Sallie said. “Because we were so little. And I’m sure they didn't want them to know certain things.”
Indian Boarding Schools were established in the 19th century to support the federal government’s violent campaign to take over Native lands and erase Indigenous culture, according to a recent Interior Department report.
Children were severely punished for speaking their native language or clinging to any part of their culture at all. In addition to the psychological abuse of cultural assimilation, the schools were also rife with physical and sexual abuse. Some never made it out alive.
“We never were around Indian people,” Sallie said. “Because she, in the boarding school, that’s one of the things she did mention. They taught her. She went to a Catholic boarding school. And they taught her, when you have children, don’t stay around Indian people. You move into the white society, assimilate. That way your children will have a better life than you had.”
Sallie’s beloved Papa was killed by a drunk driver while she was away at school. And while Hickory’s guardian told the judge he always handled his money and property in his best interest, the truth was he had kicked Hickory off of his property to rent it out to someone else, and never even purchased a tombstone for him when he died.
Eventually Louina was able to buy a new house and transferred Sallie to a Catholic school so they could spend more time together. Sadly, Sallie’s mother passed away from pancreatic cancer not long after.
Sallie says her mother was an important fixture in their community during her lifetime; a problem solver people came to when they needed help.
Her father, a farmer, also helped their neighbors with their crops.
After her mother died, Sallie’s father left for California and she was raised by her two older sisters. Sallie returned to Sequoyah Indian School for her junior and senior year of high school, after they assured her “the school was different now”.
Through the malcontent of her older family members as they drove by the wealthy homes on their family’s stolen land, Sallie began to understand the crimes committed against them.
She would hear about her mother’s court battles.
“They were wanting to sell her land,” Sallie said. “And she testified, ‘I don’t want to sell my land. I want to keep it’. But it ended up, they sold it anyway for whatever reason or another. And then they asked about another piece of land that had been sold. And she had not received any money from that at all.”
Then Sallie had her own court battles to fight.
Eventually she was able to reconnect to the Indian community through her Cherokee side, after moving to a small town within the Cherokee Nation 90 miles east of Tulsa.
“”I never felt like I didn’t fit in,” Sallie said. “But I knew. Inside. I realized what I had missed out on.”
And, despite their hardships, Sallie still believes she is one of the “lucky ones”.
“When I moved back into the community around many Indians, which I did many, many years later, the Indians where I lived, a lot of them didn’t have electricity or water,” Sallie said. “They were working on it, but they still didn't have utilities. And many of them had the dirt floors. And we never had to experience that.”
She is still tangled up in legal battles over her own land to this day.
“It’s a fight we’ve fought for so many years,” Sallie said. “And you get this age, you get tired of fighting.”
“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.
Learn more about this research and donate to Lucinda Hickory Research Institute at https://allotmentera.wordpress.com/
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