The Keetoowah Society

and the Civil War

in the Indian Territory


Abstract: This work argues that radical changes within Cherokee society as a result of the civilization program of the federal government created social and political tensions that erupted into Civil War in the mid nineteenth century. At the core of this rupture was the abandonment of traditional Cherokee cultural and religious practices by an elite minority in order to pursue acculturation to Euro-American values including chattel slavery. A resistance movement entitled the Keetoowah Society formed within the Baptist churches and sought to preserve Cherokee traditional values of harmony, inclusiveness, cooperation, and collectivization. As the Baptist churches were historically composed of both Africans and Indians, the Keetoowah Society’s commitment to the abolition of slavery led to a militant response to the Cherokee Nation’s alliance with the Confederacy. As much as the Civil War was a defining moment in the identity of Cherokee Nation, the role of the Keetoowah Society in that struggle to define “what is a Cherokee” is critical to understanding Cherokee history.  







Chapter 1

Matters of the Heart

Early Points of Contact

The "Old ways"

Contact and Conquest in Early America

The Birth of a Nation

The Building of A New World


Chapter 2

The First Awakening

The Beginnings of "Civilization"

Religion and Resistance

A Land of Their Own

Chapter 3

Indian Pioneers

A Peculiar Institution

The Baptist Churches and Slavery in Indian Territory

The Birth of the Keetoowah Society

The Keetoowah Society

The Keetoowah Mission to other Nations

Chapter 4

The End of Secrecy and the Birth of the "Pins"

"A Position of Neutrality "

The Shadow of War

Into the Fire

The Confederate Cherokee

The Civil War Comes to Indian Territory

The Turning Point

The Mourning After

Chapter 5

The "Promised Land"

The Nakedest of the Naked

The Home Front

"So Laudable an Enterprise"


Fraught with Danger, Distress, and Ruin

A New Nation

The Turning Point

Chapter 6

His Terrible Swift Sword

"An Indian shall not spill an Indian's blood"

Thorough Harmony

The Birth of a New Nation

Reconstructing a Nation



Appendix A: Keetoowah Laws

Appendix B: Elizabeth Watts Interview

Appendix C: Benjamin Harrison Interview