Oklahoma, Land of Red People

I just came across an explanation of the origin of the name “Oklahoma:”

Oklahoma is a word that was made up by the Native American missionary Allen Wright. He combined two Choctaw words, “ukla” meaning person and “humá” meaning red to form the word that first appears in a 1866 Choctaw treaty. Oklahoma means “red person.”

Doing a little research, I then learned that Allen Wright was 7/8 Choctaw, originally from Mississippi, and was a Presbyterian minister who had been educated at Union Theological Seminary. After fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, he was made principal chief in 1866 while away in Washington, where as one of the five delegates of the Choctaw Nation, he was negotiating a treaty to restore amicable relations with the United States.

During those negotiations, he referred to the Indian country as Oklahoma, meaning Territory of Red People. Oklahoma Territory wasn’t established by the treaty but the name stuck. Later, there would be an Oklahoma Territory and, later yet, the State of Oklahoma.

I also learned that decades earlier a nephew of the great Choctaw chief Pushmataha was named Oklahoma, but that was a happy coincidence. What we know as Oklahoma was not named after that man but was named by Rev. Allen Wright to mean land of red people. This is another example of Indians referring to themselves as red men long ago.

I verified the accuracy of this with Smithsonian Linguist Emeritus Ives Goddard and Bill Welge, Director of the Archives Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. More information about this topic can be found in History and Civics of Oklahoma by L. J. Abbott, LL.B., M. A. and in “Chief Allen Wright” by John Bartlett Meserve in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 19, No. 4, December 1941. Both documents are available on-line. They can be found at

http://books.google.com/books?id=pg8WP78lkmoC&pg=PA88&lpg=PA88&dq=history+and+civics+of+

oklahoma+abbott&source=bl&ots=AY1OzEoSWg&sig=YUso_pD9MV7TyDCZ08vYdFXnpdg&hl=en&ei=

3mRDSuvRM4SONvK86Z8B&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1 and

http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v019/v019p314.html

Chief Allen Wright

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2 Responses to “Oklahoma, Land of Red People”

  1. Melissa Says:

    He’s my grandfather’s fourth great grandfather so I guess my fifth?

  2. Darlene Kunis Says:

    My ancestor (William Tandy Stephens) was appointed to work for him as court clerk in 1858 at the Skullyville Court house in Spiro, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory.

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