Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tammany Day: The First True American Holiday and Its Connection to Democracy and Enid, OK

May Fete, Enid, Oklahoma, May 2017
This past Sunday, May 7, 2017, several hundred people gathered at Government Springs Park in Enid, Oklahoma for the 102nd annual May Fete tradition. People around the world have celebrated May Day with May Pole dance rituals and other rites since the time of the ancient Romans. These May Day festivities celebrate the new life which dawns every spring. However, there is a very special connection to the May Fete rituals in Enid, Oklahoma and the history of America.

In A.D. 1677  King Charles II awarded land in colonial America to William Penn
 Chief Tammany (c/ 1625-1701)
(A.D. 1644 - 1718). Penn arrived in the New World in 1682 only to discover that the land of many trees King Charles had deeded to him  - land known as  "Penn's sylvania" which means "Penn's woodlands" -  was already occupied by Indians. The Lene Lenape Indians, called the Delawares because they lived around the Delaware River, were the oldest of all the tribes in colonial America. They were called "The Father Tribe," and their leader, Chief Tammany (c. 1625-1701), was respected by all the other Indian tribes. The Delawares not only were the original inhabits of Pennsylvania, they also lived on Manhattan Island and other areas of the northeast.

Penn Statue on top of Philadelphia's City Hall
Rather than going to war with Tammany and the Delawares to  to claim his land (as other Englishmen were fond of doing), William Penn put into practice his Christian principles and signed the very first treaty between Europeans and Native Americans. Called The Great Treaty, Penn agreed to purchase his land of Penn-sylvania from the Delaware Indians and promised that the Indians could live among his family and friends in Pennsylvania in peace and harmony. Penn reasoned that all men were created equal, and the principles of liberty, justice and peace are inalienable rights for humankind, regardless of heritage. Where William Penn and Chief Tammany signed the Great Treat, the city of Philadelphia (e.g. "the city of brotherly love") was founded. On top of the iconic city hall building of Philadelphia is a statue of William Penn, with the Great Treaty in his left hand, and his right hand pointing to Treaty Park where the treaty was signed in 1682. When you walk into the nation's Capitol Rotunda and look up to see the paintings representing the most important events in American history, the signing of the Great Treaty as portrayed by Greek painter Constantino Brumidi is one of the first events depicted. News of Europeans living in "brotherly love" with one another, rather than fighting and killing one another, became the major news event of the early 1680's.

Benjamin West's Famous Painting of the Great Treaty
Tammany's Portrait on a Washington Redskin Helmet
Colonial America erupted in joy in 1682 at the singing of the Great Treaty. Tammany signed the treaty with an X because he couldn't write his name, but he became the first iconic American hero and America's Patron Saint.  Because colonial America was attempting to establish its own identity separate from England, May Day (May 1) in America was changed to Tammany Day in celebration of the principled behavior of this "red skin" named Tammany.  Tammany Societies sprang up in all the major cities of the New World. Tammany Societies were political clubs built on the principles of equality, justice and liberty for all. Tammany Day was a time of celebration and tribute to Tammany. People would attend Tammany Society meetings dressed like the famous American Indian in honor of Chief Tammany. In Boston, after a Tammany Society meeting, colonialists went to Boston Harbor "dressed as Indians" and dumped tea into the harbor because of their opposition to "taxation without representation" and the violation of the democratic principles of equality and justice. George Washington records in his diary on May 1, 1777, while encamped at Valley Forge, that his men were celebrating Tammany Day with great enthusiasm. They were fighting England over principles Tammany represented. In New York City, Tammany Hall became the headquarters of what became the Democratic Party in the United States. As recently as 1937, our nation's capital (Washington D.C.)  honored Tammany by naming their new football team the Washington Redkskins and placed Tammany's face on their football helmets.

Black Beaver (1806-1880)
After the Delawares assisted the colonials in defeating the English during America's Revolutionary War, the descendants of Tammany (the Delawares) were forced to move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the United States government. The Delaware Nation eventually established their headquarters in Anadarko, Oklahoma.  When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the best U.S. army officers, cavalry, and artillerymen were stationed in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to protect the five civilized Indian tribes in eastern Indian Territory from the Plainsmen tribes (Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, and Cheyenne) who roamed the plains in the west. President Lincoln sent an undercover messenger to Oklahoma in the War's first secret mission with orders for the army to evacuate Indian Territory and return to Washington Capital to protect the government from what Lincoln then called "this insurrection." The U.S. Army stationed at Fort Arbuckle turned to Black Beaver 1806-1880),  who lived nearby and was the leader of the Delawares and the direct descendant of Tammany (his great-great-grandson), and asked him to guide the troops north through the Cherokee Outlet to Fort Leavenworth (Kansas). This route was unfamiliar to the U.S. troops. Black Beaver agreed. So in early May of 1861, Black Beaver guided 1,000 U.S. troops, including many future U.S. generals north through Indian Territory. Black Beaver
Black Beaver's Trail through the Cherokee Outlet north
blazed as they went, and he stopped everywhere there were natural springs in order for the horses to drink and the men to refill their canteens. On May 14, 1861, Black Beaver and the U.S. Army camped at Healing Springs in Enid (what is now called Government Springs). The troops eventually made it safely to Fort Leavenworth and in the subsequent years helped President Lincoln and the Union win the Civil War through their military leadership.

The Confederates moved into Indian Territory from Texas and discovered that Black Beaver had guided the U.S. troops north to Fort Leavenworth. They were furious with Black Beaver, so they destroyed his house, burned his crops, kidnapped his family, and put a bounty on his. Word came to Black Beaver of what the Confederates had done even before the troops reached Fort Leavenworth. He was forced to stay with Wichita Indians in southern Kansas (current day Wichita, Kansas) until the war ended (1865). After hostilities ceased, Black Beaver's good friend, Jesse Chisholm, who had stayed with Black Beaver for the duration of the war, asked Black Beaver, "What's the best route to get to my trading post on the Canadian River?" Black Beaver responded, "Follow the trail I blazed four years ago with the Union troops." Chisholm did, and soon that trail became known as "Chisholm's Trail."  But don't tell that to the Delawares. The trail from the South Canadian River  north to Kansas was blazed by Black Beaver and to this day, it is known by the Delawares as "Black Beaver's trail."

After the Civil War, Black Beaver returned to Oklahoma and rebuilt his farm. He eventually became a Baptist preacher. Of all the American heroes in our country, Black Beaver is probably the least known - except by our military historians. In anticipation of our 1776 bi-centennial celebration, the United States government commissioned the exhumation of Black Beaver's body at a private cemetery, and with full military honors, reburied him at the United States Army's Fort Sill where you can see his grave today.

Before Black Beaver died, he was asked by a reporter "Do you have any regrets for guiding the troops north?" He responded, "Just one. I was charged with keeping the original Great Treaty signed by my grandfather Tammany and William Penn in 1682. I kept it above my mantel in my home, and when the Confederates burned my house, the Great Treaty burned with it." So, the Great Treaty signed by Penn and Tammany, the act which began the city of brotherly love (Philadelphia), burned in a little farmhouse in southwestern Oklahoma.

Tammany's great-grandson (4x) is the current Chief (they now call them President) of the Delaware
Delaware President Kerry Holton (left), his mom, and me
Nation. His name is Kerry Holton, and he's a friend of mine. I find it ironic that Kerry Holton was born at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Enid, a hospital which sits just to the north of Healing Springs (Government Springs) park. This park of natural springs is the very place where Black Beaver camped with the Union troops in 1861. I also find it fascinating that when citizens of Enid surround the park for the May Fete celebration every May, they are indirectly honoring Chief Tammany, the man for whom America's forefathers renamed May Day as Tammany Day.

So, particularly to all my Enid friends, next time you walk across a bridge at Government Springs, or your kids or grandchildren participate in May Fete at Government Springs, or you drive by Government Springs on Highway 412, remember this:

1. May Fete celebrations have their roots in the traditional May Day holiday.
2. Chief Tammany of the Delawares signed the Great Treaty with William Penn in 1682.
3. The Founding Fathers changed May Day on May 1 to Tammany Day in honor of Tammany.
4. Tammany Societies formed in every major city, the forerunners of our political parties which were built on the principles of justice and equality for all men.
4. Tammany's great-great grandson, Black Beaver, took part in the Civil War's first secret mission, most of which played out during the first month of the Civil war and included Healing Springs.
5. Black Beaver and 1,000 Union troops - including seven future army generals - camped at Healing Springs (now Government Spring in Enid) on May 14, 1861.
6. The original Great Treaty, cared for by the direct descendants of Tammany, burned in Oklahoma in May 1861 when the Confederates burned Black Beaver's house in retaliation for leading the Union troops
7. Black Beaver's great-great grandson Kerry Holton was born at St. Mary's Hospital in Enid (located next to Government Springs) in 1961.
8. Kerry Holton is now the President of the Delaware Nation.
9. When people from Enid High School celebrate May Fete at Government Springs park every May, there is a very close connection to the beginnings of our great nation and the principles of democracy.
10. If you are ever near Government Springs in the future, pause and reflect on the privileges you enjoy as an American and a citizen of the great state of Oklahoma.


Paul Burleson said...


I majored in history at Oklahoma Baptist University and have been a history student ever since. I've studied and read many, if not most, of the books that are the major historical publications including my present reading material entitled, "How The West Won" [note, NOT "How the West WAS won"] by Dr. Rodney Stark, which is, by the way, MUST reading for anyone with any desire to grasp the significance of the major religions of history, including Islam, so I'm NOT a history novice.

I said all that in order to say this! You UNDOUBTEDLY have a gift of making history come alive with your narrative way of recounting it. The understanding of the past is so significant to adequately facing the present and the future, it's beyond me how it can be such a LOST discipline in our present day University system. But were your gift to be put to work in book form on ANY SUBJECT, it would be, itself, a gift that would keep on giving.

I'm NOT saying this because of the pride I have of you as a son, though there is a small degree of that to be sure. but because I'm a connoisseur OF SORTS on history books and authors. So, THANKS for another piece of work that is a delight to read.


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