Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The History of Female Native American Education and Northeastern Oklahoma State University

Seminary Hall, Northeastern Oklahoma State University
'The Trail of Tears' (1838-1839) culminated in the relocation of over 20,000 Cherokee Indians from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina to Northeastern Oklahoma. Estimates are that 4,000 Cherokee men, women and children died during The Trail of Tears.

Upon settling in Oklahoma at an area called Park Hill, just outside of the present day city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the Cherokee Indians began to rebuild their nation.

Within a decade of arriving in Oklahoma, around the same time the Southern Baptist Convention was being formed, the Cherokee people - with the help of missionary Samuel Worcester who came with the Cherokees to Oklahoma - began to establish a system of education for the Cherokee men - and women.

In 1851 the Cherokees at Park Hill began a seminary for women, with rigorous curriculum, patterned after that of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts. The seminary offered no instruction in Cherokee language or culture, but was open only to full- and mixed-blood Cherokee girls. The school was in operation until 1909 and approximately 3,000 girls attended.

These women and their educational experiences greatly influenced the Cherokee Nation and the lives of their descendants. Students at the Cherokee Female Seminary took courses in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, political economy, literary criticism, theology, philosophy and other advanced academic courses. Pupils staged dramatic productions, held music recitals and published their own newsletter. The seminary building was eventually destroyed by fire, but three original columns from the building mark the entrance into the modern Cherokee Heritage Center.

The first woman to receive her Ph.D. in the United States of America, Miss Sarah Worcester, was a descendent of the founder of the Cherokee Female Seminary. Wilma Mankiller, the female Chief of the Cherokee Nation in the 1980's said this about the Cherokee Female Seminary . . .
"The Cherokee Female Seminary was among the first educational systems built west of the Mississippi - Indian or non-Indian. In fact, for a period of time during the mid-nineteenth century, the Cherokee population was more literate than the neighboring non-Indian population”
Cherokee Female Seminary, Tahlequah, Oklahoma
The Cherokees were so successful in educating Cherokee women through the Cherokee Female Seminary that some of the more traditional Cherokee men began to complain that the women were no longer suited for domestic chores.

Eventually, the traditionalists were overruled and the Cherokee Female Seminary was folded into the Cherokee Men's Seminary which had been established in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and the combined schools became what we know today as Northeastern State University, one of oldest institutions of higher learning west of the Mississippi, and still the university with the highest concentration of Indian students in the United States.

Davy Crockett was severely persecuted for standing up for the Cherokee people before Congress in the 1830's at Washington, D.C. Crockett's own political career was destroyed because he supported the Cherokees when everyone else wanted them out of sight and out of mind. Davy Crockett left Washington D. C. and eventually made his way west to Texas where he became a frontier hero and died at the Alamo.

But before Crockett left the nation's capital he made a statement regarding his strong stand for the oppressed Cherokee Indians:
"I would sooner be honestly damned than hypocritically immortalized."
I have long fought for the equality of women in Christian education, churches, and leadership in general. I not only believe leadership is based on gifting and not gender, My feelings are well summarized by Davy Crockett.

I'm proud to be an Oklahoman and an advocate for women in leadership.


Rex Ray said...



“Andrew Jackson's support for removal of Native Americans began at least a decade before his presidency. Indian removal was Jackson's top legislative priority upon taking office.

Andrew Jackson did not listen to the Supreme Court mandate barring Georgia from intruding on Cherokee lands. He feared that enforcement would lead to open warfare between federal troops and the Georgia militia, which would compound the ongoing crisis in South Carolina and lead to a broader civil war. Instead, he vigorously negotiated a land exchange treaty with the Cherokee.

Political opponents Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, who supported the Worcester decision, were outraged by Jackson's refusal to uphold Cherokee claims against the state of Georgia.

Jackson chose to continue with Indian removal, and negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, on December 29, 1835, which granted Cherokee two years to move to Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma). Only a fraction of the Cherokees left voluntarily. The U.S. government, with assistance from state militias, forced most of the remaining Cherokees west in 1838.”

Rex Ray said...

Hope you forgive me for getting off topic, but our cousin, Claude Hicks, will be buried next Monday at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery for Veterans. He may be talking of old times with my brother. :)

In 1954, my twin brother, Hez, and I were 22 and our cousin, Claude Hicks, was 27. We decided to visit our parents who taught school to Eskimos at Quinhagak, Alaska which was a mile from the Bering Sea.
Eskimos told us bears lived on a nearby mountain. We got the fever to shoot a bear. Dad, Dave Ray, borrowed three rifles. He was 57 and tough as a boot. He didn’t take a gun but went for fellowship. Our directions were to go a mile to the Bering Sea, turn left two miles, and go five miles up a river made by melted snow to a mountain. We weren’t told the river was hidden by entering the Sea at a sharp angle.
We went in a heavy iron river-boat with a ten-horse motor. We added an 8-inch board to the low sides, and hoped that would keep ocean waves out. Constant bailing was required because there was a gap between the steel and the wood. The main problem was, we were so heavy the boat went through waves instead of over them.
We were going so slow, Hez and Claude decided they’d walk on the beach and we’d get there faster. We let them out in shallow water, but Claude got stuck in mud. He got angry because Hez was laughing at him. They were glad to get back in the boat.
We got wet and cold with water splashing on us since it was about 40 degrees. Finally, Claude said we were in the ‘mouth’ of the river because the water on his face wasn’t salty. We went a little past the river (made from melted snow) before putting the boat on the beach.
Claude had matches and started a fire to dry-out and get warm for over an hour. My partners got in the boat. Since I was the only one with hip boots, I pushed off to reach water deep enough to run the motor. I pushed and pushed but gave up after fifty yards because the tide went out. In a little while, as far as our eyes could see, there was nothing but mud except for the water spreading out two inches deep from the river.
The mud was knee-deep as we went to the beach and ate supper. They had their bed-rolls. Mine was in the boat where I would sleep.
We had six hours for the tide to come back. I worried the heavy boat might stick in the mud and not float. I stayed awake so long, I was asleep when it came in. When Claude’s shooting failed to wake me, Dad told him to shoot closer.

Rex Ray said...

We loaded the boat and started up-river. The current was so strong, I looked at the bank to see if we were moving. We helped the motor out with some paddles. After seeing fish in the clear water, we agreed with Claude to catch some with his fishing pole. We caught enough for supper and spent our second night on the river.
We’d never seen the mountain because of clouds. There were two rivers that joined. After six hours, we knew we’d chosen wrong when water got too sallow to run the motor. The clouds lifted and the mountain looked near because it was huge. We decided to walk. We knew when we returned, it would be hard to find the boat so we made a tall pole by tying paddles together and Claude tied his red bandana on top. We tied the pole so it could be seen in some bushes.
Tundra is hard to walk on. You have to lift your feet two feet to get over it and then sink in mud. We divided our stuff to be carried. After an hour of walking, Dad said, “I don’t know why you guys are complaining; I have the heaviest load.”
I said, “I’ll trade with you.” (He had a back pack and I had a duffel bag that required walking in a leaning position.) I don’t know how he did it, but he threw the duffel bag in the air saying, “Light as a feather!”
After six hours we’d gone about three miles. We stopped at 10:00 P.M. There was still light enough to see. Half an hour later, Dad staggered in and threw the duffel bag down saying, “What’s in this?”
We ate and went to sleep, but some strange noise woke us up. Dad asked if the rifles were loaded. Next morning, the mountain didn’t look any closer. We ate the last of our food, and started back to the boat. We didn’t even discuss our unanimous decision.
Claude ran out of energy. He’d lay down until we were almost out of sight. When he started walking, we’d lay down and rest until he reached us. Then we’d start walking. At each ‘meeting’, Claude used his binoculars to look for the red flag.
As the day went on, our stops got more frequent, and the distance covered got shorter. (The bears may have been laughing at us.) At last, Claude yelled, “I SEE THE FLAG!” We became delirious happy; knowing our ordeal was over.
Going with the current, got us to the ocean really fast, but there was only mud. We pulled the boat up the bank, and left everything in it.
Compare to tundra, the beach felt like an escalator to Quinhagak. The next morning, I retrieved the boat. Without their weight, the boat went OVER the waves.

Gerry Milligan said...

Wade, Thank you for this blog about my Alma Mater. Northeastern State University has always been a pain in the gluteus maximus of both Okla. U. and CSC (now Univ of Central Okla) For years those two schools argued as to which of them was the first institution of higher learning in the state of Oklahoma. Imagine their chagrin when they were informed that Northeastern State College was established in 1846. Imagine my chagrin when federal pressure caused the mascot to be changed or lose federal funding (And the same federal pressure occurred at Oklahoma City University). Anyway, I received excellent preparation for life from Northeastern. It served us well for our life as IMB missionaries.

Anonymous said...


My 3rd great grandfather John Thompson Adair, a Cherokee and former supreme court Justice of the Cherokee Nation was the superintendent of the Female Seminary when it burned down and again when it was rebuilt. He died in his office in the old building at NSU in 1891. My family all came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. My 4th great grandfather, James Bigby a Cherokee being removed himself served as a translator because he could speak English. After their arrival near Stilwell, he was employed by the government to serve in two more detachments as a translator. His wife was one of the first Cherokees to come to Christ at the Candy Creek Mission in Tennesse prior to the removal. Her name was Cathrine Foreman Bigby and her husband James translated the gospel for the missionary when she came to know Christ because she could not speak English. He later came to Christ. I am proud to be a Follower of Christ, a 7th generation Oklahoman, a Cherokee, and also a grandchild of Nanyehi, the beloved woman.
Scott Hill

Isaac said...

Thanks for this story Wade. Wondering about how you respond to the argument that early educational systems for Native Americans were designed to force assimilation to European culture over native culture?

Wade Burleson said...


I had no idea! Thanks for sharing. And, I trust you and your family are doing well!

Rex Ray said...


Yesterday, I felt like the recipient of the Good Samaritan as one of my grandsons, David Ray, 26 years old, came by bringing eggs and bread. (His father has a lot of chickens and had made the best tasting ‘brown’ bread I’ve ever eaten.)

He also wrapped my ankle with a Unna boot that’s used to improve blood flow and decrease pain. (I had called the VA ‘foot doctor’, but he wasn’t available.)

David works in the medical field. Recently, a guy ran a stop sign and totaled his car. He still has problems with a shoulder. He holds the record of going down the slide 88 times. (Did 30 in one day.)

Rex Ray said...


Yesterday, we called a guy from Bonham to fix our air-condition. Judy was telling him how to get here, but he interrupted; “Do you live where the slide is?”

A 50-foot archway states: “Two Flags over Texas”. (It beats Six Flags in that it’s free.) Besides the slide that 690 people have used, there’s a 14-foot merry-go-round, a 30-foot see-saw, and ‘yo-yo swing’ that jerks you up and down as a result of being twisted up. Some like it best of all.

There’s been people from lots of places, but no one from Oklahoma. Someday, how about a visit?

Wade Burleson said...

Before anyone asks "Why is my comment deleted?" I would ask you read my comment (the last comment) on the previous blog. Until we are convinced you had nothing to do with the reasons two police reports were filed, your comments will continue to be deleted. You may send to me an email at wwburleson@gmail.com and explain how you are not involved, and I will take that under consideration in allowing your comments to stand. I'm a softhearted guy who roots for the underdog, but bullies beware.

Christiane said...

Hello out there, REX RAY

great stories as always and thanks for sharing them with us. Hope all is as well as can be expected with your health and that the 'virus' is staying away from your community but take precautions anyway and listen to your doctors and TO JUDY.

WADE, those comments that were being made yesterday were so malevolent, I was thinking that the person might be mentally unstable and even dangerous, as the comments were turning personal. I hope you know that among those who respect you will be your congregation(s) and also the town, and all those people whom you have helped these many years, including myself, for which I am grateful. We would not let your good name be destroyed by innuendo and threats and malevolence, no. That person was at best unwell. At worst, I fear to think of it, but call on people now to find out the truth of what was going on there and to take steps to see that you and your congregation and family are protected from this entity, and that MAYBE, if possible, if the person is sick, that they might get some help with their mental illness. I will pray towards that end. May God have mercy on all of us in these times of stress and worries, and may we find shelter in the Peace of Christ, where we are kept safe from evil's last worst reaches. Know that you are prayed for, and your family and all who are dear to you. You did not deserve what happened, no. No way.

God Bless!

Wade Burleson said...



I have a soft heart. But ask any sexual predator now in prison because of my efforts, if you ever try to bully and intimidate, you better be prepared for a punch in the nose. An ethical and moral line was crossed, potentially criminal.

Bizarre is the only word I can grasp.

Christiane said...

Hello WADE,

'bizarre' is a good word, but I keep thinking 'deranged' as I have a friend in Sweden who blogs and had a stalker who actually showed up at her property repeatedly, once in her absence destroying some of her art work;
so I am afraid of the more extreme acting out of people who suffer from psychoses or emotionally illness,
and this individual who threatened and then ACTED by calling the police to you sounds very similar in the kind of behaviors my Swedish friend saw happening to her . . . so I worry, and I can report that the authorities helped her, the man was taken into custody, found to be mentally ill and placed in a hospital for help. He was indeed suffering from a 'seasonal' psychosis,
but he certainly not only frightened my friend but also acted out to hurt her by destroying her art, from which she makes a living.

This person who attempted to intimidate, threaten, and then act out against you seems to me to be of the same extreme type: unable to just communicate on line malevolently but also taking the abuse one step further and 'crossing a line' for sure, with your congregationers and involving the police;
so I suspect that this person NEEDS to be found and examined for everyone's safely including his own, as the behavior was 'bizarre' to the point of beyond what is within usually seen, even from the worst of the blogging bullies.

Please ask the authorities to check on this person, Wade. Please.
I am seeing this through what happened to my Swedish friend, so I am worried, you bet.

Wade Burleson said...


The police are only involved because a few of our church members were concerned with how this individual (from overseas) obtained their private email addresses. At this point, I'm giving him the benefit of a doubt. However, if he ever pulls a stunt like that again, I will be connecting our local law enforcement with his nation's law enforcement. I've faced down my share of bullies over the last 20 years. I know how they roll. What this man didn't know is that we had two of our church members recently swindled out of hundreds of dollars by a man from overseas who impersonated me. People around here, including police, our board, and our tech security team do not take kindly to foreigners emailing locals with specific requests. I don't anticipate he will make the same mistake again.