The Family of Red Bird
also see Redbird Smith Story and REDBIRD SMITH
Redbird Smith, leader of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs. Both, along with some of their followers, were jailed for resisting allotment. In Emmit Starr's "History of the Cherokee Indians" said Smith was the "moving spirit" of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs. Smith's following, about 5,789 according to the roll at that time, fought allotment.
In 1908, the Nighthawk Keetoowah Council held an election, and Smith's position of chairman was officially changed to that of chief. That change inspired Smith's message of belief in his people and the direction and designed purpose for their future.
Since the purpose of the Dawes Commission was first heard on the moccasin telegraph in 1893, Smith had fought against it. And as his resistance diminished, he delivered a speech that remains the foundation of the now and future Cherokee Nation. He also demonstrated one of the characteristics of all great leaders - the ability to take responsibility for his actions.
He said: "After my selection as a Chief, I awakened to the grave and great responsibilities of a leader of men. I looked about and saw that I had led my people down a long and steep mountain side, now it was my duty to turn and led them back upward and save them. The unfortunate thing in the mistakes and errors of leaders or of governments is the penalty the innocent and loyal followers have to pay... I have always believed that the Great Creator had a great design for my people, the Cherokees. I have been taught that from my childhood up and now in my mature manhood I recognize it as a great truth. Our forces have been dissipated by the external forces, perhaps it has been just a training, but we must now get together and render our contribution to mankind."
Allotment became reality. In a few
decades, the land holdings would be reduced
by 80 percent, but inspired by the words of Smith, the designed purpose
the Cherokee was to adapt, yet maintain cultural identity as an anchor
assimilation. A century later, the tribe, culture and language is alive
well, as a result of the Smith's vision and the original enrollees.
I have endeavored in my efforts...for my people to remember that any religion must be an unselfish one. That even thought condemned, falsely accused and misunderstood by both officials and my own people I must press on and do the work of my convictions.
This religion as revealed to me is larger than any man. It is beyond man's understanding. It shall prevail after I am gone. It is growth like the child growth eternal. This religion does not teach me to concern myself of the life that shall be after this, but it does teach me to be concerned with what my everyday life should be.
The fires kept burning are merely emblematic of the greater Fire, the greater Light, the Great Spirit. I realize now as never before it is not only for the Cherokees but for all mankind... Redbird Smith Chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowah 1917
Redbird Smith (Current Chereokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith’s great grandfather) stated in early 1900:
"I have always believed that the Great Creator had a great design for my people, the Cherokees. I have been taught that from my childhood up and now in my mature manhood I recognize it as a great truth. Our forces have been dissipated by the external forces, perhaps it has been just a training, but we must now get together as a race and render our contribution to mankind. We are endowed with intelligence, we are industrious, we are loyal and we are spiritual but we are overlooking the Cherokee mission on earth, for no man nor race is endowed with these qualifications without a designed purpose... Our Mixed-bloods should not be overlooked in this program of a racial awakening. Our pride in our ancestral heritage is our great incentive for handing something worth while to our posterity. It is this pride in ancestry that makes men strong and loyal for their principal in life. It is this same pride that makes men give up their all for their Government."
Redbird Smith, who was the moving spirit of the Nighthawk branch of the Keetoowah organization of Full-blood Cherokees, was born July 19th, 1850, somewhere near the city of Ft. Smith, Ark. His father and mother, together with other Cherokees being enroute to Indian Territory from Georgia.
Pig Redbird Smith, (the name Smith being added by the white people in Georgia because he was a blacksmith by trade), was an old and ardent adherent of the ancient rituals, customs and practices of the “Long House” group of eastern Indians of which the Cherokees were the head band or tribe.
The wife of Pig Redbird Smith and mother of Redbird Smith was Lizzie Hildebrand Smith, a woman who carried the best blood-lines of the Cherokees.
At an early date in the boyhood life of
Redbird Smith, his father dedicated
him to the services and cause of the Cherokee people in accordance with
customs and usages. At the early age of ten years, Redbird received
at the council fires. At this time, the latter part of 1859, Pig
Smith, Budd Gritts and Vann, all being impressed with the virtues of
religious and moral codes of the ancient Keetoowah order, concluded to
REDBIRD SMITH’S FAMILY
On the porch are Redbird Smith, his Councilmen and his 5th son, George.
On the ground are his wife, 2 daughters, 8 sons, their wives and grandchildren.
REDBIRD SMITH’S FAMILY
(1) Chief Redbird Smith. (2) Lucy Smith, his wife. (3) Mrs. Ella McLain, daughter.
(4) John Redbird Smith. (5) Sam Smith. (6) Mrs. Susie Starr, daughter.
(8) Thomas Smith. (9) George Smith. (10) Mose Smith. (11) Kiah Smith.
(12) Stoke Smith.
Budd Gritts, who was a Baptist Minister, was prevailed upon to draft a Constitution and Laws of government for the use of the people in their group, which was compatible with the changing conditions religiously and Politically. The constitution and Laws of Government was formally adopted and the Keetoowahs prospered and lived in peace under it for many years.
During the period from 1859 to 1889, the Keetoowahs flourished and were strongly united. Almost without exception the Keetoowahs went with the North in the Civil War. In all this period the Keetoowahs were either Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, a few Quakers, and a part of them worshipped according to the rituals of the ancient Keetoowah, but all got along harmoniously. Dissentions came only after the white Missionaries objected to and condemned what they termed “the Pagan Form of worship” of the ancient Keetoowahs, and designated as “The work of the Devil.”
Influenced by these white teachers, who were conscientious and sincere in their efforts of Christian work, the members of the different denominations became strictly sectarian in their practice, but there was still no enmity existing.
The Keetoowah Constitution and Laws of Government was amended in 1889, making it rather a political organization in character. From this period the differences between the Christian Keetoowahs and the Ancient Keetoowahs became more marked, and there was lack of harmony even in their policies of political effort.
In 1895 when the question of the allotment of lands to the members of the Five Civilized Tribes was being agitated, the ancient Keetoowahs became very active in opposing the proposed change. In this, however, all the Keetoowah element were united in their opposition to any speedy change. From this time to 1900 the following of Redbird Smith were designated universally as the “Nighthawk Keetoowahs” because of their vigilance in their activities.
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