Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Brian Luskey

Committee Co-Chair

Tyler Boulware

Committee Member

Aaron Sheehan-Dean


This thesis explores the American Civil War in Indian Territory, focusing on how clashing visions of sovereignty within the Five Tribes---Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole---led to the one the most violent and relatively unknown chapters of the Civil War. Particular attention is paid to the first two years of the war, highlighting why the Five Tribes allied with Confederacy, and why those alliances failed over time. Chapter One examines Indian Territory as a borderland, unveiling how various actors within that borderland, including missionaries, Indian agents, white neighbors in Arkansas and Texas, and Indians themselves shaped Native American decision-making and convinced acculturated tribal elites to forge alliances with the Confederacy. These alliances, however, did not represent the sentiments of many traditionalist Indians, and anti-Confederate Creeks, Seminoles, and African-Americans gathered under the leadership of dissident Creek chief Opothleyahola. Cultural divisions within the Five Tribes, and differing visions of sovereignty in the future, threatened to undermine Indian-Confederate alliances. Chapter Two investigates the Confederacy's 1861 winter campaign designed to quell Opothleyahola's resistance to Confederate authority. This campaign targeted enemy soldiers and civilians alike, and following a series of three engagements Opothleyahola's forces were decisively defeated in December. During this campaign, however, schisms with the Confederate Cherokees became apparent. In the weeks that followed, Confederate forces pursued the men, women, and children of Opothelyahola's party as they fled north across the frozen landscape for the relative safety of Kansas. The military campaign waged in 1861, and the untold suffering heaped upon thousands of civilians that winter, exposes how a hard, violent war rapidly emerged within the Confederate borderland, complicating historians' depiction of a war that instead grew hard over time.;Chapter Three documents the return of Federal forces to the borderland via the First Indian Expedition of 1862. Although the expedition was a military failure, the sudden presence of Union forces in the region permanently split the Cherokee tribe into warring factions. The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole tribes spent the next three years fighting their own intra-tribal civil wars. Moreover, the appearance and retreat of Federal forces from Indian Territory created a geopolitical vacuum, which would be filled by guerrilla violence and banditry. The failure of either Confederate or Union forces to permanently secure Indian Territory left Indian homelands ripe for violence and lawlessness. The thesis concludes by evaluating the cost of the conflict. One-third of the Cherokee Nation perished during the war; nearly one-quarter of the Creek population died in the conflict. By war's end, two-thirds of Indian Territory's 1860 population had become refugees. Urged to war by outsiders and riven with their own intra-tribal strife, Native Americans of the Five Tribes suffered immensely during the Civil War, victims of one of the most violent, lethal, and unknown chapters in American history.