Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation explores the American Civil War in Indian Territory, with a particular focus on the experiences of the Five Tribes—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. Throughout the dissertation, I offer three overarching arguments. First, the Civil War in Indian Territory was truly an Indian civil war, shaped by Native American politics and culture. Second, the Civil War constituted a forgotten but immensely destructive moment in Native history, the second great trauma endured by the Five Tribes in the 19th century following westward removal. Third, the Civil War marked the violent crescendo of older Southeastern issues of removal and acculturation; by the end of the Civil War, new Western issues challenged Native American sovereignty, including land loss, railroads, allotment, territorial government, white settlement, and finally statehood.
The six chapters within this dissertation offer new interpretations of Civil War Indian Territory, and the first three chapters illuminate how Native Americans became mired in the American Civil War and came to take opposing sides in that conflict. Chapter 1 exposes the fraudulent nature of Confederate-Native negotiations in 1861, contending that political intimidation, vigilantism, and fraud were necessary to secure alliance between the Confederacy and the Five Tribes. Theses political tactics harkened back to the fraudulence of the removal era, and also indicate the weakness of Confederate nationalism in Indian Territory. Chapter 2 examines Native backlash to Confederate treaties, charting the mass mobilization and political and military resistance of Creek chief Opothleyahola and his followers in the autumn and winter of 1861. Opothleyahola’s Rebellion constitutes a significant pan-Indian and slave rebellion against Confederate authority and sparked the beginning of years of destructive, intra-tribal civil war. Defeated and exiled to Kansas, the experiences and political power of “Loyal Indian” refugees are explored in Chapter 3. Despite their destitute condition, Native American refugees wielded a degree of political influence that ensured the United States military would attempt to liberate Indian Territory in 1862 and likewise be accompanied by Native Americans enlisted in the Indian Home Guard regiments.
The final three chapters document the wartime years between 1862-1865, wherein the Confederate States and United States vied for military control of the region to the detriment of its Native American denizens. Chapter 4 surveys the disastrous 1862 First Indian Expedition, a Federal invasion of Indian Territory that failed due to a difficult environment and poor leadership. Chapter 5 documents the failure of the Confederacy to live up to its treaty obligations, which left Confederate military forces at a decided material disadvantage in the crucial year of 1863. Confederate defeats at First Cabin Creek and Honey Springs permanently shifted the strategic situation in the United States’ favor. Chapter 6 highlights how the war’s final years devolved into an increasingly racialized struggle played out in raids and guerrilla warfare, worsening the refugee crisis and undermining civil society.
The conclusion illuminates how the Civil War undermined Native American sovereignty and left them vulnerable to Federal encroachment and westward expansion in the Reconstruction era.
Cowsert, Zachery, "The Civil War in Indian Territory, 1861-1865" (2020). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 7553.