Thursday, April 9, 2009

Civil War and religion in Indian Country

This book gives is a real slice of Oklahoma rural culture and is worth promoting. The Seminole Baptist Churches of Oklahoma is one volume in the The Civilization of the American Indian Series. The book is a result of four years of fieldwork and brings to light an obscure and (sadly) disappearing facet of Oklahoma: that of native churches and their role in maintaining a traditional community. This is a fascinating book. Author Jack Schultz covers everything from traditional architecture, preservation of language, and theology.

Several passages relate to Seminole history during the Civil War era:

With the onset of the Civil War, federal troops that had been stationed in forts around Seminole territory were removed to protect the eastern states. Confederate forces soon took control of several of the abandoned forts. Whereas the federal government had virtually abandoned Indian Territory, the Confederates were willing to embrace the Indians. In 1861, a Confederate delegation negotiated a treaty wuth the Seminoles, promising better treatment than they had received thus far from the federal overnment. The principle cheif, John Jumper, and twelve band mekkos [traditional chiefs] endorsed it. A faction of the tribe, led by Billy Bowlegs and John Chupko, refused to sign, however. They and their followers and almost all of the Seminole freedmen left Seminole territory and went north to Kansas, enduring great harsdship along the way. Once in Kansas, these Seminoles enlisted in the Union Army. Jumper organized a Seminole battalion for the Confederate army.

All Seminoles endured the extreme difficulties of the the war: homes and property were destroyed; many Seminoles became refugees; sickness and starvation were widespread; casualties and destruction were great. Unfortunately, difficulties did not end with the war. Seminoles who had remained loyal to the federal government expected some reward for their pro-Union efforts but were assigned the same fate as those who had sided with the Confederates (with the exception of $50,000 divided among the loyalists for losses sustained during the war). The northern and southern Seminoles did not immediately reconcile their differences. for a time the tribe supported two principal chiefs: John Jumper for the Southern Seminoles and John Chupko for the northern Seminoles.
In 1866, the Seminoles signed a new treaty with the federal government... After 1866, the Seminoles and freedmen shared their government, their schools, and their land.

... In the years following the war, denominational boundaries continued to reflect the north-south cleavage. Presbyterian missions appealed to the norther Seminoles, and the Baptists attracted those Seminoles who had supported the Confederacy.

... Whereas the Presbyterians relied on specially trained outside missionaries, the Baptists relied on the more effective strategy of using native preachers. This was particularly true after the Civil War.

(Jack M. Schulz, The Seminole Baptist Churches of Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1999. p37-38; 48,49.)

It is interesting how the WBTS provided the foundation for future denominational differences. I spent some time in Oklahoma Indian Country, both socially and professionally. I don't remember ever meeting any Seminoles that were Presbyterian. Most folks living within Native culture that I met were Baptist. I've been told that among the older generation, there are lots of old fellows who are called "medicine man" on Saturday, and then preach at church on Sunday. I love that. Unfortunately, this unique culture is quickly disappearing. Here is a related article at Southern Spaces.

I understand the detachment needed for an enthnographic work; but still, it is peculiar to see how neighbors just down the road- from my perspective- and their families, are studied like exotic specimens.

Speaking of Baptists, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma just recently elected its first American Indian president, the Reverend Emerson Falls (at right).

1 comment:

brandon Samuels said...


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