“The motive, the object and effect of the McGuire Bill is to convert negros into Indians. I am opposed to this conversion. It is against the laws of nature, against the laws of God, against the laws of the United States and against the sacred obligations between the general government and the Indian Tribes.”Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, 1910
Source: Ponca City Democrat (Ponca City, Oklahoma) 21 Apr 1910, Thu • Page 1
This article is the first of many that will explore several “forgotten” pieces of legislation that pertained to the rights of the Freedmen.
The McGuire Bill was one of the last attempts to reopen the Choctaw and Chickasaw rolls for the benefit of the Freedmen. It built on the work of previous attempts—from Senator Warner in 1908 who introduced a bill that would have reopened the rolls and added approximately 3,000 Freedmen to the blood roll, to Senator Dick of Ohio whose bill in early 1910 would have reportedly admitted approximately 15,000 to 20,000 illegitimate children of afro-indingeous parentage to the blood rolls.
In this piece we will examine what made this bill different from other laws that were proposed for the same benefit. We will also explore the context around its creation, creator, the people who supported and opposed it, and the circumstances leading to its destruction.
It is important to preserve the language that was used to hold accountable those who used racism, bigotry and othering as a means to further their careers. The men discussed in this piece are pillars in early Oklahoma history and must be shown in the light they were happy to represent themselves in. To that effect, there are slurs that are used in this piece when we quote these men.
McGuire’s Bill would direct the Secretary of the Interior to reexamine the records and enroll anyone with Choctaw or Chickasaw blood, residing in the nation before June 26, 1898, on the citizenship rolls. No additional testimony was to be taken or received in any case except in instances where a Freedmen’s examination record did not list the ancestry of both their mother and father. In such cases, the Secretary of the Interior was to take additional testimony to establish if the said enrollee was of Choctaw or Chickasaw descent. This testimony would be admissible as evidence to enroll the Freedmen as a by-blood citizen of the tribe entitled to all the property and benefits afforded to other citizens of the Choctaw or Chickasaw tribe.
Additionally, this bill would resolve cases where Blood Choctaws and Chickasaws were left off the roll due to being imprisoned, hospitalized or otherwise unable to assert their rights before the Dawes Commission. It also allowed for any Choctaws and Chickasaws disqualified from the blood rolls due to clerical errors or racist policies like the “One Drop Rule” to have their citizenship reexamined.
Source: United States. Congress. House. Committee on Indian Affairs. (1910). Choctaw and Chickasaw rolls: Hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-first Congress, second session, on H.R. 19279, H.R. 19552 and H.R. 22830 [March 18-May 13, 1910]. Washington: Govt. Print. Off..
At this point, there is a distinction that needs to be drawn.
There is a difference between what we would usually associate as Freedmen and those of afro-indigenous descent.
When we speak about Freedmen, we are referring to anyone or their descendants who were formerly enslaved by one of the Five Tribes. However, afro-indigenous descent refers to anyone or their descendants who were formerly enslaved by one of the Five Tribes and who also possess mixed heritage.
This distinction is important because the Atoka Agreement, passed in 1897, merged both groups together. It also said that anyone who was not actively enslaved before 1866 by the Choctaw or Chickasaw tribes were not citizens.
Prior to the Atoka Agreement, there was no reason to establish a formal system to differentiate those who had blood ties to the tribe from those who did not. This isn’t to say that race was not an important, compounding issue that the Freedmen faced, but rather the need for a legal definition to be instituted did not yet exist to the level that the Atoka Agreement would demand. This was because the Treaty of 1866 established all Freedmen as members of the tribe, including those with mixed heritage. However, when the Atoka Agreement passed it became clear that the Nations were not interested in including those with mixed afro-indigenous heritage on the blood rolls, but did include those who were euro-indigenous. Nor were they interested in making exceptions for those who had lived their entire lives as Choctaws or Chickasaws.
There was a vested financial and social incentive to collapse these two different groups into a single category. Each member placed on the blood rolls was entitled to 320 acres whereas Freedmen only received 40. The Atoka Agreement also cut funding for Freedmen schools and other tribal (but often segregated) services that prior to 1897 the Freedmen were allowed to use.
Preventing those with mixed afro-indigenous heritage from the blood rolls also allowed the Five Tribes to distance themselves from the appearance of being “black tribes.” It helped to legitimize them in the eyes of the mostly white, almost entirely anti-black United States government.
It is important that we critically question this language. After all, it was created by the very politicians who had vested interest in conflating the two separate groups. As custodians of the historical record, we have a responsibility to question the continued use of language and concepts implemented by fallible humans with their own internal biases.
There are thousands of credible reported cases of mixed ancestry. This is only the reported cases, there are potentially hundreds of additional cases of questionable blood claims that were never pursued by the descendants.
There also exists a question of unknown heritage inherent to Freedmen claims. There is little reason to believe that a majority of Freedmen are not to some degree ethnically ambiguous due to generations of chattel enslavement. The murkiness of missing records in regard to enslaved persons living in the Territory makes drawing a clean distinction between the two groups difficult.
Additionally, there is the question of the importance of one’s experience. Many Freedmen, regardless of blood quantum, had lived for decades as Choctaws or Chickasaws, and many did not consider themselves to be anything other than tribal members. They were active parts of the Choctaw and Chickasaw communities, some were politicians—they voted in tribal elections, were fluent in the language, and practiced the dominant culture of their former enslavers.
This distinction (and the resulting murkiness) build the backbone of the argument of the McGuire Bill.
Most notably, unlike other bills or court cases at the time, there was nothing demanding that the claims evaluated by the McGuire Bill needed a “credible” basis. The law placed the Freedmen on equal standing with those who had been admitted to the blood rolls in regard to the use of testimony. If any testimony was accepted to bolster a blood claim, even if it was false, the McGuire Bill seems to beg the question: why was that logic not applied equally to those on the Freedmen rolls?
If the children of Choctaw fathers and white women were Choctaw, why were not the children of Choctaw fathers and black women?
There is an inherent anti-black racism to the question of what constitutes a “credible” claim. In the Joe and Dillard Perry files that burden of proof was whatever could be easily used to dispute the claims–whether the native parent died before they could enroll in the Dawes Commission or some other arbitrary reason. The burden of proof for H.R. 19553 (a Freedmen bill that was being discussed by the Committee for Indian Affairs at the same time as the McGuire Bill) required those seeking to prove their blood claims to establish “competent testimony” that parentage was “legal and legitimate, either by lawful wedlock or an open and notorious public acknowledgement by both father and mother.” These guidelines were very restrictive and placed undue hardship on those seeking to assert their rights as interracial relationships between Black and Native Americans were illegal.
Often the burden of proof that Freedmen were expected to provide was above and beyond what was ever expected of everyone else. Those seeking to be placed on the blood rolls, even if they were white, did not face nearly as much skepticism.
History is rife with proven cases of white folks managing to bribe and lie their way into the blood rolls. However, the tribes were much more worried about the possibility of an illegitimate child of a black woman being given their rights than the epidemic of false claims made by whites.
Who Was Senator McGuire?
When evaluating this case, it is important to assess who wrote it.
The architect of this bill was Bird S. McGuire, an Oklahoma senator, sometimes known as the “sage of Pawnee.”
Source: Virginia Sutton Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division; 1828 Government – U. S. – Senators & Representatives – Bird McGuire, member of House of Representatives. Photo by Harris & Ewing, Washington, D. C.
Before writing his bill, McGuire was respected across the aisle as a man of integrity. Despite the democrats’ intense hatred towards his progressive politics, he did not face many personal attacks as his work record was impeccable. By the time McGuire wrote his infamous “negro” bill, he was the dean of the Oklahoma delegation, the chairman of the Expenitures of the Interior Department, and the third rank on the Indian Affiars Commitee.
His track record is bolstered by a liberal voting record and he was involved with drafting and passing many progessive acts during his tenure. He had his fingers in parts of the Employers Liability Act that included safety regulations and employee protections for steamboats and Indian Territory railroads. McGuire worked on some of the “Pure Food” laws passed in the early 1900s that would become the basis for future FDA regulations.
He was well known for his work for veterans, the poor and the Osage people.
During his time in Washington, McGuire received a reputation as one of the hardest workers on the behalf of veterans and widows. He assisted in the passage of four general pension increases, most of them on the behalf of disabled servicemen.
He was responsible for the $5,000,000 appropriation that Congress made for the permanent school fund for Oklahoma school children. Additionally, he was instrumental in removing the restrictions that prevented the state of Oklahoma from collecting taxes from the Native American land allotments. He spent years improving the rural road systems and establishing rural mail routes that allowed the poor a more tangible connection to the outside world.
McGuire also was instrumental in the Osage Legislation, which secured the Osage people their land and allowed them to retain the mineral rights. This law also helped to bolster social protections that were previously not enjoyed by Osage citizens. He made sure the tax revenue gathered from the Osage bill went to supporting the local government and schools in the area. He also worked on bills that provided for the organization of cities and towns for the Osage.
Mcguire’s record shows him to be a man of progressive politics beyond what was common in the age of the dixiecrat and reminds us that racism was not a simple “how it was” in this era. Anti-black racism was a calculated act perpetrated by those who should have known better. There was no evolutionary difference between those who robbed the Freedmen of their rights and this attorney from Pawnee.
In February of 1910, McGuire discussed why he was so passionate about crafting this Freedmen bill.
Representative Bird S. McGuire is at loggerheads with the Oklahoma congressional delegation. Mr. McGuire wants the tribal rolls in eastern Oklahoma re-opened while the rest of the delegation does not, at least the democrats do not and Messrs. Creager and Morgan regard the proposition as loaded. Both are playing with the soft pedal on, as the negro question is involved.
“I want those rolls re-opened as a matter of justice,” said Mr. McGuire today in discussing his bill on the subject. “There are ten to fifteen thousand claimants in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations who claim they have been discriminated against.” Says he, and in this connection calls attention to a list of names sent to congress by Secretary Ballinger, which the interior department says should by right have been placed on the rolls. There are nearly eight hundred names in the Ballinger list.
If the department makes acknowledgement to 800. How many more are really entirely to share in the disposition of the property, argues the sage from Pawnee.
Mr. McGuire is making a single handed fight and declares that if necessary he will carry the matter to the floor of the house and there put his colleagues on record for or against the proposition.
There are some who are charging Mr. McGuire with having a political motive in the fight, but he denies this stating that he wants everybody to have a square deal in the matter and that right and justice prevail in the end.Source: The Enid Daily Eagle (Enid, Oklahoma) 28 Feb 1910, Mon • Page 1
In his own words, McGuire wanted to reopen the rolls to appease his sense of justice and had previously come across a list of names sent by Secretary Ballinger. I suspect these names may have been in some way related to Equity 7071, which was in the process of being put together by Secretary Balling’s relative, Webster Ballinger.
The Grandfather Clause
Beyond McGuire’s sense of right and wrong, there may have been another reason that the Sage of Pawnee decided to push for this bill.
During my research, I came across an article that stood out.
Source: The Washington Press (Washington, Oklahoma) 18 Mar 1910, Fri • Page 5
It claimed that McGuire introduced this bill to “line up the negro vote” but the right to black suffrage was not criminalized yet. What could this possibly mean? And then it hit me—what other legislation was introduced in 1910 that would severely limit black voting rights?
The 1910 Oklahoma Grandfather Clause.
The 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote in 1870. The Grandfather Clause limited that by requiring potential voters to pass a literacy test unless their lineal ancestors were voters before January 1, 1866. Whites and Native Americans were able to vote despite any literacy issues while Blacks were not due to their grandparents having been enslaved before 1866.
What if you could prove that one of your grandparents was not a slave? What if they were the enslaver?
This is an unspoken layer to the McGuire Bill, the ability it would provide to potentially thousands of black voters to bypass the proposed language of the Grandfather clause. Many of those in positions of power were of combined Native and European descent and did not want to risk losing their own rights. Instead of writing traditional segregation laws that grouped Native Americans together with other “colored” groups, they wrote laws specifically targeting black citizens. This allowed them to ally themselves with Whites and protected them from becoming the “othered” group. This served a dual purpose as it not only removed the unwanted black population from the Tribes, but it also blocked the black population utilizing land and infrastructure that would soon be taken by Confederate sympathizers moving West.
We see the same thing happen with Oklahoma’s interracial marriage laws–Native Americans were allowed to marry Whites, but those of African descent were not allowed to marry outside of their perceived race. This was a state-wide adoption of several tribal anti-miscegenation laws, which in some places were punishable by death.
What happens to this language if suddenly those same Freedmen are recognized as tribal members for their mixed heritage and enrolled on the blood rolls? Well, it means that this exclusionary language is suddenly not exclusionary enough.
Common conceptions of history will tell you that these laws were written by and for Whites. However, there were dozens of Native Americans in the same Senate that passed these laws and neither they nor their families lost the right to vote.
Source: The Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie, Oklahoma) 25 Jan 1910, Tue • Page 4
We can see in the above article that even as early as January of 1910 Oklahoma was already planning on introducing the grandfather clause, which was already popular and implemented in other southern states.
I am not necessarily implying that McGuire crafted this law to combat the Grandfather Clause, but that may have been a byproduct had the bill been allowed to pass.
It’s worth noting that McGuire was an open proponent of suffrage. The last thing he ever did in office was vote for women’s suffrage. His opponents loved to use his views on voting rights against him. They wrote long editorials about how they were a better choice than McGuire because they would block black and women’s suffrage with the implication that McGuire would support such endeavors.
Of course, we cannot know McGuire’s heart on these matters. The Senator disappeared after leaving office, having sensed the changing political tide and, presumably, grown tired of the constant accusations, attacks and death threats against his person.
If McGuire did have such desires, that does not mean it was purely altruistic. He was well supported by the black population before, during and after he introduced this bill. It could be that he wanted to secure this huge, mostly republican leaning group of voters.
Legitimate Claims: What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?
In my research for Freedmen bills, I have discovered a truism inherent to all these proposed pieces of legislation—the admission that many of these claims were legitimate but deemed invalid because the claimants were black.
Particularly, discussions around the McGuire Bill largely centered around the conception of what would constitute an “acceptable” marriage between a Freedmen and Native American. This was because McGuire’s Bill did not require that children born from these unions be able to produce evidence of a lawful marriage, so opponents wanted to invalidate the basis for the bill using the fact that these relationships were illegal under tribal law.
“There are over 10,000 Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen better known as negros, claiming the right to enrollment as Indians by blood. All of them claim various degrees of Indian blood and that cohabitation constitutes a common law marriage. Their lawyers argue that the children begotten from marriages between Indians and whites have enrolled as Indians and that the same rule should have applied to “marriages” between negros and Indians. The Indian tribes themselves are very much opposed to a recognition of these people on the ground that the tribal laws were strict on the subject of miscegenation among the Indian and negro and in the Choctaw nation punishable by death.”Source: The Enid Daily Eagle (Enid, Oklahoma) 28 Feb 1910, Mon • Page 1
A common motif we see when discussing these issues is the idea that passing these bills would cause “negro women to swear away their virtue” to have their children placed on the rolls.
Source: The Enid Daily Eagle (Enid, Oklahoma) 28 Feb 1910, Mon • Page 1
In my search for a separate bill proposed prior to McGuire, I found an article perfectly summarizing this idea. It’s worth noting that the “Dick Bill” referenced below was created by a peer of McGuire and likely was the basis for what McGuire would write. A full article on the “Dick Bill” will be published by our organization in the future.
Source: The Talihina American (Talihina, Oklahoma) 03 Feb 1910, Thu • Page 6
It is easy to see that it was not a matter of ignorance that there were children with Choctaw and Chickasaw blood on the Freedmen rolls. They already knew, yet these tribal members were on the Freedmen rolls purposefully due to the color of their skin.
Regulations like the “One-Drop Rule” identified all who had been enslaved or were a matrilineal descendant of an enslaved person as simply “black”, “negro” or “colored.” Under this system, those of mixed or fair complexions with no documentation of their paternity were rendered invisible to the record. The “One-Drop Rule” contained language that allowed any person with a single drop of African blood to be classified as a Freedmen. The result of this distinction meant that the person, regardless of heritage, was not a recognized tribal member and was not entitled to any rights or privileges.
It was the presence of native blood that allowed someone access to the rolls, but it was the presence of black blood that disallowed that same access.
Though initially, the bill received some positive coverage thanks to the language that would bring in the blood tribal members unable to assert their rights, the press quickly turned vicious. After members of the Oklahoma delegation got their hands on the bill and realized that it would allow Freedmen of “questionable heritage” to file additional evidence to support blood claims, they decided to make sure it did not pass.
This brings us to the men that made it their sole mission to destroy this bill, and to a lesser degree McGuire himself.
Senator Charles D. Carter
“The die is cast and we are satisfied with the issue. It is a plain attempt to despoil the Indian and cast a stigma upon his citizenship. It proposes to plunder the Indians for the benefit of the coon, and in that contest I wish to be recorded on the side of the Indian.”Senator Carter regarding the McGuire Bill, 1910
Senator Charles D. Carter was the most powerful member of this coalition. Even before becoming the first US representative for Oklahoma’s Fourth District, Charles had served the Chickasaw Nation in various capacities. He was the auditor of public accounts from 1892-1894, a Council member in 1895, and superintendent of schools in 1897.
Carter owed much of his prestige and mobility to his pedigree.
Through his Cherokee mother, Jennie Riley, Charles and his descendants were able to tie their family tree back to Chief Doublehead, one of the most fearsome and well known warriors of the Cherokee-American wars.
His father, Benjamin Carter, was a high ranking confederate captain and the first district judge of Chickasaw Nation when they combined the four counties into a single circuit court in 1883. His father, according to his obituary, was “honored with every office in their [the Chickasaw Nation] gift excepting that of Governor” which he was actively being considered for when he passed. Benjamin was also involved with a nation-wide effort in 1892 to erect statues of Jefferson Davis in every state and territory in the United States.
Carter county in Oklahoma was named for Senator Charles Carter.
Senator Thomas Pryor Gore
“The Indians have been subjected to repeated injuries and the multiplied insults, but no insult and no injury is equal to this in bare faced and unblushing atrocity. The bill will never pass the Senate. The negroes must remain negroes. They can not be transformed into Indians. They have already gotten more at the expense of the Indians than they were entitled to, and shall get no more. The red man shall be protected against this deliberate and wanton outrage. I am with Congressman Carter heart and Soul in this contest, and shall go with him to the last ditch.”Senator Gore regarding the McGuire Bill, 1910
Infamously known as Oklahoma’s blind senator, Thomas Gore is an inducted Oklahoma Hall of Fame member for his political career.
It is often claimed by revisionists that he was a member of the “progressive wing” of the democratic party, but they can point to not a single scrap of progressive legislation he supported or voted for. Despite multiple accusations of bribery and corruption, the Senator continued to hold political office from 1907-1921 and 1931-1937. During that time, he also received an attempted rape allegation.
In 1914, a woman accused Gore of taking advantage of her in a hotel room. Prosecutors refused to press charges against the multi-year senator and the accuser had to bring it to civil court.
During the civil trial, she had four witnesses who testified that they forced their way into the room after hearing her scream and that the senator attempted to make her tell the men that she was alright. Another witness testified that they saw Gore coming on to the victim prior to the assault by touching her inappropriately and asking if she was pretty. It was also reported that the victim received injuries to her hand and that her glasses were broken.
Gore was defended by Moman Pruiett, who said the accuser was framing Senator Gore because he refused to appoint the accuser’s husband to a position in the IRS. However, others claim that this “frame-up” was because of his work exposing corruption in Indian Territory. Despite there being no conclusive evidence that the accuser colluded with up to five witnesses to frame Senator Gore, he was found not-guilty by an all-male jury and the case was dismissed.
In addition to being inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, he has a city named for him and there was a short lived TV show from 1959-1960 about his life. William Shatner portrayed the senator.
Source: The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) 13 Dec 1959, Sun • Page 90
Senator Robert Latham Owen
“Certainly Senator Gore and myself and Mr. Scott Ferris and Mr Charley Creager are strongly opposed to the McGuire Bill, and I believe Mr. Morgan is too. McGuire, who is fathering this bill is, I believe, the only member of the Oklahoma delegation who takes any stock in this proposal. Certainly no such bill can get through congress. I confess I have been amazed and disappointed in Mr. McGuire’s action in this matter. I cannot believe that it will serve even a political purpose beneficial to him in his own district where he has many Indians who will not approve doing wrong to Indian people.”Senator Owen regarding the McGuire Bill, 1910
Senator Robert Owen was another senator inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Owen was partially Cherokee through his mother. He taught briefly at a Cherokee Orphanage and was the supervisor of the Cherokee National School System.
Owen won the first major Indian claims cases before federal courts in Washington D.C. in which millions of dollars were awarded to the Choctaws, Chickasaws and Cherokees. He was an agent for the Five Civilized Tribes from 1885-1889. He also ran for president in 1920 and is considered to be one of the most prominent early Oklahoma politicians ever.
Senator Scott Ferris
“What; they deny the import of the their own bill. Why a more brazen and baseless misrepresentation never came from the pen of pettifogging grafters. Your statement of the Language of the bill is correct and convincing. You might have gone further and added that the text of this McGuire Bill contains less than nine short lines which do not deal directly with the transfer of Choctaw and Chickasaw negroes to the blooded tribal rolls. Furthermore, every argument submitted by Mr. Ballinger before committees of congress has been in defense of his negro claimants, and almost every question propounded by Mr. McGuire has been such an interrogatory as would assist in having these negroes transferred to the blooded tribal rolls. The title of the bill should be changed and entitled: ‘A bill Indianizing negroes.’ Congressman Charley Carter is simply taking the lead in this fight because almost the entire deal is in his district. The majority of the boys are with Charley and we will win out in this contest.”Senator Ferris regarding the McGuire Bill, 1910
Source: Scott Ferris (right) as chair of the Highway Commission (2012.201.B1042.0492, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS)
Senator Ferris is not a notable senator like those mentioned above, but he was invaluable in destroying the McGuire Bill.
He was Oklahoma’s first representative for the Fifth District and would consistently serve as a congressman from 1907-1921. He later chaired the Committee on Public Lands from 1913-1919. He also sat on the Indian Affairs, Territories and the Expenditures committees within the Department of Labor. In 1912 and 1916, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions.
Unfortunately, most of his notable achievements have been lost to history and are now just scattered mentions in old newspaper clippings.
Why Does it Matter?
It matters because these are the four men who squashed the last viable legislative attempt to have those of mixed afro-indigenous heritage moved to the blood rolls. The four of them worked together to block the McGuire Bill from being passed, which would have likely protected thousands from voting disenfranchisement and would have allowed those of mixed ancestry to enjoy the rights and privileges they were originally guaranteed in 1866.
It was not enough for them to destroy the bill–they wanted to oppress the Freedmen, steal their voting rights and ruin the careers of their allies. Senator Carter, Owen and Gore have towns and counties named after them while McGuire faced accusations that irreversibly tainted his career.
It is important to call attention to the men whose legacies are still reaping the posthumous benefits of the politics of the Dixiecrat. Two of these men are in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, three of them have locations named after them, one had a TV show made about his life, many of them are remembered fondly as progressive figures by various historical societies.
This is not to say that all mention of these men must be wiped from history, but rather we must also record the bad alongside the good. It does a disservice to enter these men into the annals of history uncritically.
The Beginning of the End
Barely a week after announcing the bill, newspapers across Oklahoma were alight with accusations, speculation and op-eds tearing into McGuire and his bill.
A big point of speculation was the number of Freedmen who may be enrolled. Newspapers reported the number anywhere from 10,000-15,000. This number is a huge inflation propelled by misinformation and fear-mongering of the actual scope of the bill.
The language of the bill provided the ability for Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen who had been placed on the Freedmen rolls without the proper due diligence of recording the heritage of both their parents to file additional testimony. This does not mean that each case with additional testimony would be accepted into the Blood Rolls. What is more likely is that this bill, had it passed, would have moved a few thousand Freedmen to the rolls, but likely nowhere near the estimated numbers proposed by the papers. The papers also reported that there was nearly 5,000,000 acres of Indian land at risk if this bill passed, but it’s likely only a few thousand acres would have been allotted to those with strong claims.
Source: The Searchlight (Cushing, Oklahoma) 27 Apr 1910, Wed • Page 5
Speculation ran rampant through February until an official hearing was announced in early March. The bill was brought before the Committee of Indian Affairs, of which Bird McGuire was a member, to receive a favorable/unfavorable report. If the bill received a favorable report it would be brought before the House of Representatives to be voted upon.
On March 2, E.P. Hill, a member of Choctaw Nation’s legal counsel, alongside Ormsby McHarg, spoke in opposition at the hearing. He claimed that there were only twenty Choctaws in the entire nation who had a just grievance against the Dawes process, referring to those who were left off the rolls due to clerical errors.
The hearing continued for two additional days until an unexpected man walked into the committee room to speak on behalf of the bill–Webster Ballinger, the lawyer of Equity 7071. According to reports, he was representing the plight of thousands of Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek Freedmen. As part of Webster Ballinger’s testimony, he submitted photographs that he claimed were citizens who either had been denied enrollment altogether or were now on the Freedmen rolls.
Webster Ballinger’s testimony took place periodically over several days in which he had explosive confrontations with committee members, making “certain charges which did not sit well with members of the committee.” During his testimony, he accused a famous McAlester law firm involved with the Dawes Commision of drawing up fraudulent contracts with the two tribes and accused them of being incorrectly paid a $750,000 fee from Chickasaw Nation. He also accused two members of the citizenship court of committing fraud.
(It is worth noting that Webster Ballinger was correct in these accusations. Continued research into Melvin Cornish, a man involved with Equity 7071, exposed the inconsistencies regarding the $750,000 deal. Cornish and several others were indicted by a grand jury for fraud related to the Dawes Commision and other crimes in 1905. Additionally, Melvin’s business partner McMurray would later be outed for stealing millions of dollars with his fraudulent contract scheme.)
He also, at one point during his nine day testimony, got into an argument with Senator Charles Carter in which Webster Ballinger stated that he represented relatives of Mr. Carter (implied to be black) who had been denied their enrollment. Carter denied it and said that any such cases were so far removed that he did not recognize their relationship. It is likely that some of Carter’s slave-holding relatives were still alive as emancipation took place only 44 years before this hearing.
Source: The M’Alester News-Capital (McAlester, Oklahoma) 11 Mar 1910, Fri • Page 5
On March 11, the last day of Webster Ballinger’s testimony, over 70 Chickasaw Indians filed a petition with Congress against the McGuire Bill. It was also around this time that the physical protests began, dozens of Chickasaws stood outside the Committee room to show their solidarity against the bill.
At this point, dozens of death threats began to pour into Congressman McGuire’s office. Nearly overnight, the pressure had risen to a fever pitch and McGuire had become one of the most hated men in Oklahoma as it became clear that McGuire’s proposed bill had already gone further than any other Freedmen bill before.
“Most of the threatening communications speak out boldly. There are little or no veiled threats. Thus in a letter bearing Ardmore as its post office address, Mr McGuire is informed that if his bill becomes a law that he will be murdered upon sight if he ever enters either the Choctaw or Chickasaw Nations.”Source: The Shawnee Daily Herald (Shawnee, Oklahoma) 13 Mar 1910, Sun • Page 7
The Republicans around McGuire who were otherwise silent and neutral on the proposition started to fight amongst themselves. They laid the destruction of the Republican party at his feet, accusing McGuire of driving thousands of Native Americans into the Democratic party.
On March 14, Ormsby McHarg and E.P. Hall went to Oklahoma to gather evidence to use against Webster’s arguments. It’s unclear what evidence they planned on gathering or if they ever found anything at all, if they did then they did not submit it to the committee.
Webster Ballinger was not the only person to speak in favor of the bill. In early March, J. C. Cantwell, an attorney from St. Louis who represented numerous Freedmen, and Milton Turner, another attorney from St. Louis, both supported the bill. Milton Turner reportedly went as far as to call the White House to speak to President Taft directly regarding the bill. It is also notable that Dr. E.N. Wright, one of the highest salaried tribal officials in Washington, refused to speak on the bill and chose to not attend the hearings.
Additionally, McGuire had the support of a judge in Texas. Upon Judge Stephen’s questioning of the process, Ormsby McHarg said that he supported the Supreme Court hearing a “test case” which his co-counsel quickly denounced.
“Somewhat of a sensation was caused in the House Committee on Indian Affairs Saturday, when Ormsby McHarg, the $12,000 a year attorney for Choctaw Nation, in response to questions put to him by judge John Stephens of Texas, declared that an appeal should be allowed from the decisions of the Choctaw and Chickasaw citizenship court. He was in favor of having either Circuit of the Supreme Court pass upon a test case. E. P. Hill, associate counsel for the Choctaws, promptly dissented from McHarg’s position. Mr. McHarg’s statement came as a surprise, as Choctaw Nation heretofore always has opposed any review of the cases above mentioned.
Such friends of the McGuire Bill as Judge Stephens now declare their position is strengthened by McHarg’s declaration, and are now predicting a favorable report of the McGuire Bill. While these views are not shared generally the situation is admittedly delicate and no great surprise would follow if the measure received the endorsement of Mr. Burke’s committee.”Source: The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) 10 Apr 1910, Sun • Page 23
Another article written in the Muskogee Times-Democrat published at the same time referred to the “test case” as the Riddle Case.
“Ormsby McHarg, of New York City, eastern legal representative of the Choctaw Nation, at an annual salary of $12,000 appeared before the committee last week and admitted that he would be willing to have the Riddle Case (a test case in the citizenship court) submitted to the United States Supreme Court, which would mean throwing the rolls wide open and undoing the years of work of the Dawes Commission.Source: Muskogee Times-Democrat (Muskogee, Oklahoma) 15 Apr 1910, Fri • Page 9
This is referencing the J. T. Riddle, et.al. v. The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations case which happened in 1903. Information regarding this case is currently sparse, but I’ve included links in the additional reading that contain sources explaining the case.
However, none of this would be enough. The entire power of the congressional Democrat party had united to oppose the bill.
Source: The Chickasha Daily Express (Chickasha, Oklahoma) 15 Mar 1910, Tue • Page 2
By the end of March, it was not uncommon to see papers decrying McGuire for his foolishness. An article entitled “Clipping Bird’s Wings” published in the Wagoner Weekly Saying on March 31, 1910 stated the following:
“If the ‘pi’ of metaphors may be excused, Bird McGuire is seeking to feather his own political nest by grand-standing at the expense of his party in East Oklahoma. If Bird can make himself persona grata with the colored contingent by giving them five million acres of somebody else’s land the transaction will be a cheap one—for Bird. But the deal is not relished by Bird’s copartisans on this side. The Sapulpa Light calls him down in manner and form as follows, towit:
‘Bird McGuire lost his head when he introduced that bill re-opening the Choctaw and Chickasaw rolls to some fourteen thousand negroes in order to let them have 320 acres of the Indian lands. Protests from all over Oklahoma are pouring in upon the Pawnee statesman and it is said that in case the bill becomes a law a monster petition will be forwarded to the president requesting him to veto the measure.
McGuire is evidently acting upon the assumption that Oklahoma is not a State, but an organized territory, as it used to be when any old sort of legislation could be railroaded through without opposition.
If it becomes a law the McGuire Bill will mean practical confiscation of nearly 5,000,000 acres of Indian land, the titles to which have already been settled after years of amateur legislation. There is one thing that McGuire and every other Oklahoman in public life should realize and that is this: the Indian question is a dangerous issue to play with. As far as possible that issue should be kept out of politics. This new State cannot and will not have its right eastern half thrown into a state of chaos for the sake of any political grandstand player, it matters not what his services to the country may have been in former years.’”Source: Wagoner Weekly Sayings (Wagoner, Oklahoma) 31 Mar 1910, Thu • Page 6
On April 12, George Dick Rodgers, the former chief law clerk of the Dawes Commission, appeared before the committee to speak on the behalf of the Chickasaw Nation. He argued against the McGuire Bill and with his testimony the possibility of a favorable report quickly started to disappear. Governor D. H. Johnston, Chief of the Chickasaw Nation, also spoke against the bill.
On April 15, W. A. Howell, an assistant attorney general within the Interior Department, attempted to recover a possible favorable report by appearing before the Committee in executive session and pleaded for the rolls to be reopened.
“In fact Howell made a better presentation in favor of the McGuire Bill than did Webster Ballinger, the Washington attorney, who is back of the movement to enroll the 14,000 negroes as Indians,” declared a member of the committee today.”Source: Muskogee Times-Democrat (Muskogee, Oklahoma) 15 Apr 1910, Fri • Page 9
As it became clear that the bill would not receive a favorable report, McGuire’s two closest allies, Creager and Morgan, had officially buckled under the backlash. They abandoned their tentative support for the bill, leaving McGuire as the only member of the Oklahoma delegation and one of the bill’s only non-black supporters left.
The Pryor Creek Clipper had this to say on the matter.
“It is with satisfaction that we read that McGuire is alone in favoring the bill. Creager and Morgan have deserted him. And it is true, even good republicans balk when they are asked to accept the negro on an equality.”Source: The Pryor Creek Clipper (Pryor, Oklahoma) 28 Apr 1910, Thu • Page 2
In mid-April, McGuire traveled back to Oklahoma in an attempt to recover his reputation. However, it did not stop him from holding strong with his ideas. His political reputation was in tatters, but he did not stand down from supporting his bill. Newspapers at the time reported the spread of something they coined as the “McGuire Virus” implying that there was a temporary boost in progressive, Republican ideas in Oklahoma spurred on by McGuire.
Source: The Osage Journal (Pawhuska, Oklahoma) 28 Apr 1910, Thu • Page 8
The Death of a Bill
On April 20, President Taft, who had before to this point supported the bill, wrote a letter to Horace Adams, the Washington representative of Delaware Indians.
In the letter he stated he was opposed to the reopening of the citizen rolls, which was fundamentally opposed to other quotes he had given prior.
He stated: “I am opposed to the reopening of Indian citizenship rolls, it seems to me it would be like opening a Pandora box, exceptional cases that put great equity must be considered by a special legislation. In conclusion I can only say that no one is more anxious than I am to close out the Indian disputes and put the Indian of the basis of other citizens in so far as it is possible to do without exposing those who are uneducated and unable to look after their own interests and the fraudulent manipulations of unprincipled persons.”
Source: The Wapanucka Press (Wapanucka, Oklahoma) 28 Apr 1910, Thu • Page 1
This was the death of the McGuire Bill and it became clear to everyone that there would be no reopening of the rolls.
Source: Muskogee Times-Democrat (Muskogee, Oklahoma) 23 Apr 1910, Sat • Page 1
And with this news, the political atmosphere changed. The Dixiecrats could smell blood in the water and started to build a case against McGuire in retribution for his attempts.
The Muskogee Times reported:
“Rumors are flying thick and fast about the cloak rooms of the capital that something is bound to happen, and that very soon; and that when the smoke of battle has cleared away there will be some reputations known into smithereens. No one is willing to state just what the exact nature of the anticipated scandal is, but it is hinted that there will be fire-works a plenty, indeed if there be not investigations which may be productive of some rather startling graft sensations.”Source: Muskogee Times-Democrat (Muskogee, Oklahoma) 15 Apr 1910, Fri • Page 9
It’s worth noting that dozens of papers published this following article over and over again for the period the McGuire Bill was being considered.
Source: The Vinita Daily Chieftain (Vinita, Oklahoma) 25 Apr 1910, Mon • Page 2
Whatever was coming for McGuire was explosive and the Democrats were all too happy to see if they could destroy him with their accusations.
In late May the field of battle changed with a single leaked piece of information: the McMurray Contracts.
Source: The Blackwell Sun (Blackwell, Oklahoma) 26 May 1910, Thu • Page 1
The McMurray Contracts refer to the fraudulent crime spree perpetrated by J. F. McMurray in which he charged Choctaw citizens $3,000,000 to sell their mineral and timber rights.
The general gist of the scheme was to take the advantage of the Choctaw Nation which needed funds and had been promised that the federal government would sell their excess land containing coal, asphalt and timber. The sale of this land would contain 450,000 acres to be sold to a New York Syndicate for $33,000,000.
McMurray devised a scheme where he would pay collectors a dollar each for every signature of Choctaws who wanted him to represent them in acquiring an immediate sale of the excess land. He collected 10,000 signatures before requesting permission from congress to receive his $3,000,000 fee on completion of the land contract deal.
President Roosevelt had rejected McMurray’s earlier request in 1907 to handle the sale since it remained the government’s responsibility to sell the property. Not accepting the refusal, McMurray attempted to bribe Senator Gore for $50,000, but he refused and started to accuse other congressmen of being part of the scheme.
The people who were accused just happened to be members of Congress that Gore had brawled with on multiple occasions, including Bird McGuire. Senator McGuire denied his involvement and several of their peers testified that despite McGuire’s Freedmen Bill they did not think he would do such a thing.
In an article entitled “Affinity Exists Between McMurray Contracts and McGuire’s Measure” published by The Daily Ardmoreite on July 17, McGuire was accused of “wasting six weeks of valuable time” on his Freedmen Bill.
Senator Owen took the chance in the same article to accuse him of using the McGuire Bill to halt an action that would officially close all tribal business.
“The obstruction has been the extreme inertia of the government bureau comfortably domiciled in Oklahoma and the action of Mr. B.S. McGuire who appears to have lobbied Charles Carter out of the Indian Committee and then used his position as a member of that committee representing Oklahoma to engage the committee for six weeks in a question of re-opening the Choctaw and Chickasaw rolls instead of passing the bill agreed to by the Oklahoma delegation for the closing of the tribal business.
This policy meant opposition to the distribution of the Choctaw and Chickasaw property until the rolls were settled according to his wishes. With a leading republican member of the Oklahoma congressional delegation opposing; with Carter put off the Indian Committee, no bill was reported that could pass.
It is true that Mr. McGuire put a short amendment on the Indian omnibus bill to dispose of the surface of the segregated coal and asphalt lands in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, but it is also true that on such a bill this amendment was worthless, because his associates on the Indian Committee were not willing to keep this item on the bill and for the plain reason that on the omnibus bill such an amendment would have prevented any action on the bill over the resolution of the Choctaws and Chickasaws who were present protesting.”Source: The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, Oklahoma) 17 Jul 1910, Sun • Page 2
Notably, McGuire’s Bill contained an amendment that directly contradicted this claim. However, Senator Owen claimed that McGuire had added this amendment as a smoke screen to avoid responsibility as his bill would never pass. This accusation doesn’t really make sense—there’s no evidence that McGuire ever made his bill with the express purpose of it failing or of him working with McMurray.
Source: The Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia) 25 June 1910, Sat • Page 1
After McGuire’s denial, a lengthy inquiry was launched into the accusations leveled against him and the rest of Senator Gore’s political enemies.
During that time Green McCurtain, former Chief of the Choctaw Nation, and E.P. Hall filed a brief against the failed McGuire Bill. They were very opposed to the idea of enrolling anyone of black ancestry as members as the tribe regardless of the legitimacy of their claims, and citing the failed racial science of “Partus Sequiture Ventrium” to justify their viewpoint.
“Partus Sequitur Ventrem” was a legal doctrine originally created in colonial Virginia in 1662 which said that all children inherited the legal status of their mother. This is notable that the Choctaws would openly admit to utilizing this doctrine. Usually, Choctaws would cite the idea that their culture was inline with matriarchal lines of inheritance–this was the case pre-1830, but after relocation this was no longer the case. Notably, this was only used for the Freedmen–the children of white mothers and Native American men were still allowed to enjoy all the benefits of tribal enrollment.
Interestingly, “Partus Sepuiture Ventrium” is what was used to justify trying Alberty in the United States Supreme Court despite it being very clear that he had blood ties to the Cherokee Nation. I’ve included links in the additional reading at the bottom for more information on Alberty v. United States.
Source: The Blackwell Sun (Blackwell, Oklahoma) 26 May 1910, Thu • Page 1
By the end of May, it was clear that the bill lay bleeding and beaten on the ground before ever making it to the House floor for a vote. According to contemporary reports, 17 of the 19 committee members opposed the favorable report of the bill.
It became clear the direction the wind was taking. At the same time McGuire was still receiving death threats, Democratic members of the Oklahoma delegation were receiving letters of congratulations for defeating the bill. And while Senator Gore became an icon of respectability and integrity, McGuire was left looking at the decimated remains of his career.
The hearing officially closed and voting commenced for the bill on June 2. It failed to receive a favorable report and was replaced with a substitute proposal. The Committee took out the Freedmen portions and passed a version that would allow for “meritorious” cases such as the +20 Choctaw and Chickasaw men denied their rights due to being imprisoned.
No Freedmen cases would be reevaluated and no testimony would be accepted.
The McGuire Bill was dead.
Almost three months after Gore made his accusations, McGuire was completely exonerated of all wrongdoing and it was found that the allegations against him were completely unfounded.
Source: The Bucyrus Evening Telegraph (Bucyrus, Ohio) 27 Aug 1910, Sat • Page 4
In the aftermath of the failure of the McGuire Bill, the Sage of Pawnee was blamed for single-handedly ruining the future of the Oklahoma Republican Party. His attempts at reopening the rolls had lost the party an immeasurable amount of support from both whites and Native Americans.
This was, as far as I can tell, the last congressional attempt to procure some semblance of equal rights for those of afro-indigenous mixed heritage.
The legacy of McGuire’s attempt quickly and quietly died alongside the bill, only existing in the remnants of the criticism that the congressman would continue to face until he left office in 1915.
In 1912, he was accused of stealing an election using black votes that were disqualified under the Grandfather Clause.
Source: Indian Citizen (Atoka, Oklahoma) 26 Dec 1912, Thu • Page 6
In 1915, McGuire retired from public life and moved to Tulsa where he resumed practicing law. With his departure from politics, the memory of his bills and achievements slowly disappeared from history while Senators Carter, Gore, Owen and Ferris stayed in congress, gaining more and more notoriety and power.
It is notable to me that we have Carter county and Gore, Oklahoma–but there is no mention of McGuire or his progressive record in OHS or in his beloved Pawnee, of which he was once known as a Sage.
In the early 1900s there were thousands of Freedmen with claims supported by evidence of their Native American blood, today that number is in the tens of thousands.
The destruction of the McGuire Bill was a concentrated act of anti-black racism where it was not enough to dismantle the bill. They also wanted to ruin the careers of not just those in the community who were outspoken but those outside of the community who were receptive.
The “McGuire Virus” was a dog whistle for empathy that strayed too close to helping the “wrong people.” It was not enough to strip former slaves and their descendants of their rights–they wanted to isolate, invalidate and gaslight them. All forms of allyship were quickly and firmly punished with political and financial repercussions.
This is all compounded by the fact that during the Dawes Commission the Choctaws and Chickasaws practiced a form of racial discrimination where children would inherit the legal status of their mothers. Again, this did not extend to the children of intermarried white women, whose children got to enjoy all the benefits of the tribe. This racial theory was almost exclusively for the use of purging the rolls of all possible blacks and would fundamentally affect the rights of Freedmen tribal members forever.
With the passage of the Oklahoma State Constitution, the line between “Freedmen” and “state blacks” (which were black citizens from outside the Territory) essentially vanished as internal definitions of identity within these communities were systematically erased. Essentially, in the same way the Atoka Agreement altered the demographics of the Freedmen from two separate groups into a single category, the Constitution merged the “Freedmen” and “state blacks” living in Oklahoma into a single “colored” race.
The constitution stipulated that laws pertaining to this “colored” group were only to be applied to those of African descent. It specified that the “term ‘white race’ shall include all other persons.” This effectively created a type of segregation that would apply equally to black migrants and black tribal members, including those of mixed afro-indigenous heritage, while excluding Native Americans.
This is why we should not just question the language that we use when referring to groups such as the Freedmen, but we should also question the historical context in which these people lived and were disenfranchised.
The story of the McGuire Bill is nothing without the contextual relationship of things like Equity 7071, the state constitution, the Atoka Act and other items that directly influenced the reasons it was destroyed. There was a vested interest in preventing those of mixed-black ancestry from having access to the rolls, which would have potentially protected them from voting restrictions and Jim Crow laws.
The McGuire Bill is a microcosm that brings the wrongness and racism inherent to the blood quantum into clear focus. Had the bill passed, history may have looked very different for those this bill was crafted to protect.
Additional Reading List
Read more about the Freedmen
Read more about Jim Crow and Anti-Miscegenation laws within Oklahoma
Read more about Equity 7071 and Webster Ballinger
Read more about the 1910 Grandfather Clause and black suffrage in Oklahoma
Read more about the Riddle Case