The state of Oklahoma is almost 70,000 square miles and has a population of around four million. It was admitted to the Union on Nov. 16, 1907, and the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher lays claim to the title of state bird. You may be asking yourself, “Now, what does Oklahoma have to do with Union’s history?” That would be an excellent question and my answer to you would be Allen Wright.
Born in November of 1826 in Mississippi in the Choctaw tribe, Allen Wright’s birth name was Kiliahote. His parents spoke no English and Wright barely knew his mother due to her passing in June of 1832. Allen Wright, up until 1834, had no formal education and was a student of the woods.
However, seeing the way of the future, Wright’s father enrolled him in a Choctaw missionary school in the year of 1834, with his class being taught by Miss Clough. Miss Clough, like most missionary school teachers, gave young Kiliahote his English name Allen Wright. Wright’s name was derived from the head of the missionary schools in the Choctaw nation, Reverend Alfred Wright.
The life of Allen Wright would quickly be flipped in 1839. In 1839, the death of Wright’s father reulted in him being forced to live with his uncle and attend Pine Ridge School.
During his four years there, he learned English and did fairly well under the watchful eye of Reverend Cyrus Kingsbury. In 1844, Wright entered Spencer Academy and was one of four Native Americans chosen to attend college in the east.
Wright did not initially attend Union College. He studied at Delaware College until its closing in 1850 and soon after was a student without a school. Luckily for Allen Wright, Nott welcomed Native Americans with open arms to Union in the same year. During the next two years of his life, Wright earned a B.A. degree and became a member of the Delta Phi fraternity. From 1852 to 1855, Wright attended the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he would get his Master of the Arts, becoming the first Native American to receive this degree.
What is so interesting about Allen Wright is the fact he went into the Presbyterian ministry. Prior to his years in secondary education, Wright showed no signs of interests in Christianity. Much of Allen Wright’s religious views were greatly molded under Eliphalet Nott while at Union.
Allen Wright held many high positions in the Choctaw nation following his completion of the ministry. He was the first elected treasurer of the nation, served on the Choctaw lower house and played a crucial role in aligning the Choctaw’s with the Confederate forces during the Civil War. His signing of the treaty with CSA General Albert Pike on June 12, 1861, made the Choctaw nation allies with the newly secceeded states.
Wright enlisted in Captain Wilkin’s Choctaw infantry as a private in 1862 and was shortly transferred to Company F of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles in early 1863. During the war he would be reappointed as treasurer of the Choctaw nation and play a critical role in the years after the war.
Allen Wright was one the negotiators for the Choctaw nation with the United States following the Civil War’s conclusion. The treaty set aside all hard feelings of the war and allowed the Choctaw nation to once again have relations with the entire Union in 1866.
In the same year, the Choctaw nation and neighboring tribes were working together to form a Native American country. Their efforts were in hopes of protecting their land from American settlers embracing their “manifest destiny.” The one thing all the treaties of the tribe lacked was a name for the proposed country.
On April 28, 1866, a Choctaw-Chickasaw treaty was signed and they agreed the name would be Oklahoma. Allen Wright was given credit for the name. He said he selected the name based upon the fact that in his language “okla,” meant people, and “homma,” meant red. Thus, the Territory of Oklahoma would mean the “territory of red people.”
His actions would allow him to be named the Chief of the Choctaw nation. The tribes’ efforts to form a Native American nation never fully formed and the tribes were quickly pushed back by aggressive settlers. Yet, 22 years after Allen Wright’s death in 1885, the name Oklahoma was used to name the newly formed state.