January 19, 2014

Diversity Before Diversity: Oklahoma's 1907 senators

In Gore Vidal's historical novel Empire, President Theodore Roosevelt exclaims in 1907 about the new state of Oklahoma and its two new Democratic senators:
"They have also, in their infinite Western wisdom, sent us a blind boy for one senator, and an Indian -- an Indian! -- for another."

The blind senator, Thomas Gore, was Vidal's maternal grandfather (but only a distant relation of Al Gore). Senator Gore had gone blind in a couple of childhood accidents. 

My general impression is that the number of blind people is declining. When I was young, blind musicians were prominent (e.g., Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano, and Ronnie Milsap were all famous around 1970), but that seems to be less true these days. The Lt. Governor of New York recently was blind, but he ran into trouble when he moved up to the top job after Gov. Spitzer's resignation. It's hard being blind. 

The other 1907 Oklahoma senator, Robert L. Owen, is identified on the Cherokee rolls as 1/16th Cherokee, although that might have been an exaggeration. 

Still, he appears to have inherited some good hair genes from his Indian ancestor. Wikipedia reports: "He was a tall man of erect bearing, who kept a full head of hair to the end of his life." He looked like the kind of slightly Indian guy whom 1930s Hollywood directors would have been happy to cast as an Indian chief.

He publicly identified as part-Cherokee and was thus employed in various Indian affairs for years in the late 19th century. From 1900 to 1906 he represented the Eastern Cherokee in their famous case over having their lands stolen from them by Andrew Jackson, winning almost $5 million in a 1906 Supreme Court decision.

As Thomas Babington Macaulay pointed out in regards to English attitudes toward Scottish Highlanders, fear and loathing rapidly changed to thinking Scots were glamorous once they were subdued and longer likely to go on the warpath. So, by early 20th Century, being a little bit Indian was cool.

This was very different from the attitudes toward blacks in the U.S. in 1907. Latins who were somewhat black like the Dumas novelists, father and son, were okay as long as there wasn't much talk about it (e.g., some partly black Cubans broke the major league baseball color line playing for the Washington Senators in the late 1930s and early 1940s long before Jackie Robinson, but almost nobody mentioned it, so it wasn't a Thing). A few politicians were a little bit black (various Southern legislatures drawing up Jim Crow laws in the late 19th Century avoided "one drop" definitions to not disqualify some of their members). But it wasn't to be talked about, while Senator Owen or Vice President Charles Curtis being partly Indian was celebrated.

The causal mechanism was the reverse of what we are supposed to believe now. We are always being told that white bigotry against blacks was driven by "hate," but 19th Century whites had hated Indians far more than they had hated blacks. Just about everybody who contact with Indians on the frontier hated them, with only a few exceptions (e.g., Sam Houston), while most whites who came into contact with black slaves liked them. Mark Twain is extremely representative: compare Jim in Huckleberry Finn to Injun Joe in Tom Sawyer.

Both senators were highly successful, Owen serving straight through from 1907 until 1925 (he co-sponsored the Glass-Owen act setting up the Federal Reserve system in 1913), while Gore was in and out of the Senate until 1937.
    

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Typo: "Cherokee roles"

Judging from the picture, Robert L. Owen is quite plausibly 1/16th Cherokee. Unlike that other Cherokee senator, Warren, who is practically certain not 1/32 Cherokee.

ironrailsironweights said...

Based on that photo Owen could easily have been as much as half Cherokee.

Peter

Anonymous said...

Based on that photo Owen could easily have been as much as half Cherokee.

You like his hair, Peter?

Anonymous said...

Via WIKIPEDIA, data on Owen's Cherokee background:"Owen was Cherokee through his mother, though there are conflicting indications of the extent of his Cherokee ancestry. Owen's listing on the Dawes Rolls, dating from around 1900, records him as 1/16th Cherokee by blood.[8] Yet his mother, Narcissa Owen, according to her own account in her memoirs (1907), would herself appear to have been only 1/16th Cherokee, which if correct would imply that her son was 1/32nd Cherokee.[9] Beyond this, the editor of Narcissa's memoirs has raised the possibility that Narcissa might unwittingly have missed out "one generation or possibly two" in her account of her family tree; adjusting for this possibility might further dilute her Cherokee blood.[10] However this may be, Narcissa had grown up largely among the Cherokees, and she was capable of making skillful use of her Cherokee heritage, colorfully describing her father, Thomas Chisholm (a leader of the "Old Settlers" who moved west before the Trail of Tears), as "the last hereditary war chief of the Western Cherokees."[11] "

Like the reference to his mother making "skillful use" of their Cherokee background. Even back then, it seems that Amerind blood, however attenuated, was useful for those seeking to elevate themselves.

Reg C├Žsar said...

For what it's worth, Gore Vidal and Al Gore appear to be sixth cousins thrice removed, through John Gore of Roxbury, Mass. That Gore family, like Obama's Dunhams, headed south rather quickly. Makes you wonder…

And yes, Vidal is in the same generation as the VP's great-grandfather. Some branches breed faster than others. (Vidal's stopped breeding altogether!)

Anonymous said...

Apparently DNA tests of the Eastern Cherokee is producing surprising results. Cherokee are showing more Middle Eastern DNA than Native American DNA leading to speculation that the tribe was originally formed from the crews of shipwrecked Spanish vessels (largely composed of middle easterners) who moved to the southern highlands to escape the lowland tribes and eventually adopted the tribal lifestyle (along with Indian wives). An alternative theory holds that they are similarly disposed escapees from Spanish territories. In other words, there may be a hidden history to the Cherokee. http://www.peopleofonefire.com/did_cherokee_religion_originate_middle_east.html

Whiskey said...

I would say now things are reversed. Most Whites with extensive contact with underclass Blacks would fall towards hatred, while Mestizo guys from Michoacan are mostly liked.

Anonymous said...

Injun Joe was a half-breed as was Blue Duck in Lonesome Dove. Half-breed villains seem to be a common trope in Westerns.

Were half-breeds perceived as worse than full Indians or is this Hollywood's attempt to dampen potential racial animosity.

And if it's the former, it begs the question of whether that is a manifestation of HBD or just a result of them having closer proximity (physically and culturally) to white civilization.

Anonymous said...

New York Governor Spitzer and then his Lt. Governor Paterson were removed by the State Police in a kind of palace coup. Neither were accused of misappropriating state monies. They were replaced by Andrew Cuomo son of a former governor that the bureaucracy really liked.

alexis said...

Apparently DNA tests of the Eastern Cherokee is producing surprising results. Cherokee are showing more Middle Eastern DNA than Native American DNA leading to speculation that the tribe was originally formed from the crews of shipwrecked Spanish vessels (largely composed of middle easterners) who moved to the southern highlands to escape the lowland tribes and eventually adopted the tribal lifestyle (along with Indian wives). An alternative theory holds that they are similarly disposed escapees from Spanish territories. In other words, there may be a hidden history to the Cherokee.

Dovetails nicely with those Melungeon/Brassankle/Lumbee geneology theories.

alexis said...

Apparently DNA tests of the Eastern Cherokee is producing surprising results. Cherokee are showing more Middle Eastern DNA than Native American DNA leading to speculation that the tribe was originally formed from the crews of shipwrecked Spanish vessels (largely composed of middle easterners) who moved to the southern highlands to escape the lowland tribes and eventually adopted the tribal lifestyle (along with Indian wives). An alternative theory holds that they are similarly disposed escapees from Spanish territories. In other words, there may be a hidden history to the Cherokee.

Dovetails nicely with those Melungeon/Brassankle/Lumbee geneology theories.

pat said...

Amerindians IMHO look an awful lot like plain old European whites. The 'Noble Red Man' we have heard so much about isn't very red in modern America. Just as most 'Pale Faces' these days have healthy tans. Young Amerindian men who want to emphasize their tribal connections and not be taken for a hated white have to grow their hair real long. So the race gets defined by their hair cut.

I suspect that Indians looked red mostly because they didn't use sun blocker. At least this seems to have been Hollywood's theory for a long time.

As recently as the late sixties most Hollywood Indians in cowboy movies were white actors with just a darker shade of pancake. Rock Hudson and Jeff Chandler hardly even bothered with makeup. My favorite pseudo-Indian was Rod Steiger in 'Run of the Arrow'. He played a fake Indian so it was like a 'play within a play'.

Woodie Strode was light enough to also play Indians. And of course Iron Eyes Cody was so Indian-like that even real Indians were taken in.

When you factor in the Irving Berlin production number 'I'm an Indian Too' it's hard to find any unsympathetic depictions of an Amerindian for at least a century. Being an Indian as long as I can remember was a positive.

So why do we have to give them all those casinos?

Albertosaurus

carol said...

Just FYI I think there were more blind people in the past because of all the untreated or incurable syphilis among the fathers.

MattG said...

When Sam Houston lived among the Cherokees he learned the language of its chiefs: Gaelic.

Anonymous said...

They both look like white guys to me.

Anonymous said...

Cherokee are showing more Middle Eastern DNA than Native American DNA

Is this claim based on uniparental marker (Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA) or autosomal DNA studies? Having a haplogroup J Y-chromosome is not proof of recent Middle Eastern ancestry. That haplogroup has been in Europe since the Neolithic and is present in Scotland, Ireland and England at low but not insignificant frequencies. Admixture with English and Scots-Irish settlers could have introduced those lineages to the Cherokee. I am extremely skeptical of these claims.

Anonymous said...

Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee

http://dnaconsultants.com/_blog/DNA_Consultants_Blog/post/Anomalous_Mitochondrial_DNA_Lineages_in_the_Cherokee/

Anonymous said...

The USA has many unwritten rules of race. Steve is right. It's OK to have a bit of "Negro blood" as long as it's not mentioned. It doesn't matter if everyone knows about. In the case of Latinos and Arabs, buckets rather than drops of "black blood" are acceptable.

Consider the case of the Confederate, slave-holding elite Gibson family:

http://www.danieljsharfstein.com/the-book/

http://cwmemory.com/2011/03/17/a-black-confederate-general-that-we-can-all-embrace/

Art Deco said...

New York Governor Spitzer and then his Lt. Governor Paterson were removed by the State Police in a kind of palace coup

Rubbish. I was fond of Gov. Patterson, but the vast majority of the state's electorate was not. He elected to leave public life because of his polls. As for Spitzer, it was federal officials who put the bee on him. The state police was notable for a deficit of resistance to his misuse of them. As for Cuomo, his place in the Governor's chair is testament to the power of networking, name recognition, intimidateion, and the dysfunctions of the opposition.

Art Deco said...

Twain was a tedious village atheist. I tend to think he was not representative of Southern opinion. Southern whites may not have hated their chattels, but they hated the idea of allowing them any standing in society and they hated the humiliation the freedmen reminded them of on a mundane basis.

ben tillman said...

Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee

http://dnaconsultants.com/_blog/DNA_Consultants_Blog/post/Anomalous_Mitochondrial_DNA_Lineages_in_the_Cherokee/


That was essentially incomprehensible. The post cited several cases in which Jewish traders and others married Indian women and stated that these intermarriages explained certain haplotypes in the Cherokees. Then it said that there was no reason to think that these haplotypes were introduced into the Cherokee gene pool after 1492.

Say what?