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Thousand-Word Photograph: Texans Squatting in Indian Territory

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

The Chickasaws witnessed a land and genealogical invasion.

Row of men on horseback posing for a photograph.
A group of ranchers on horses at Honey Creek features at least two squatters.

Texans invading and squatting in Indian Territory: the Chickasaw Nation in the early 20th century.

This group photo of ranchers from 1893 at Honey Creek, near Turner Falls, Murray County, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, as they were driving yearlings from Texas to their ranches, has a lot more history than it appears. Its caption, offered by the photograph's repository, the University of Texas - Arlington, simply identified two of the men in the photo: F.D. Hendrix, "to the rear of the chuck wagon," and Alva Roff "to the left."

Just those two names can stir up a hornet's nest Oklahoma's history.

Hendrix was a white squatter from Texas who illegally fenced off communal Chickasaw land to create the "Hook Nine Ranch" in the Arbuckle mountains; he never applied for, nor paid the permit fees, for the use of the land. When the Dawes Act sectioned land for the Chickasaws, Hendrix left "his" ranch.

Unlike Hendrix, Roff had a bit more solid footing on Chickasaw land, but only barely.

Dawes Chickasaw Roll sheet for Alva Roff.
Alva Roff is listed as "adopted" on the Chickasaw Nation Roll in 1897. The entire card was rejected, "denied citizenship by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Citizenship Court" in 1907.

According to a short entry in the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma, Alva Roff, a white Texan originally from Missouri, married a Chickasaw woman, which enabled him to build the 700 Ranch and JR Ranch in Carter County as a Chickasaw citizen. However, this is not true. Roff was indeed a Texan originally from Missouri, but neither of his wives were Chickasaw. He married his first wife, Matilda Bourland (daughter of the "Great Hanger" of Cooke County, James Bourland) in 1867, and then married Henrietta Davenport in 1869. Roff, Bourland, and Davenport were all categorized as "white" on census records, and a deep dive into the women's families does not reveal any links to the Chickasaw nation.

In 1897, the US Court of Indian Territory in Ardmore (today's Carter County, Oklahoma) granted Chickasaw citizenship to almost all people inhabiting territory land. By 1907, these carte-blanche citizenship grants were rescinded after the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations filed suit against Texas squatters. On his initial enrollment card, Roff was listed as having been "adopted," although his father, Charles Roff, was originally from Virginia and his mother from Missouri. The people listed on the card, including Roff's children and then-wife, were categorically de-enrolled.

But who would have adopted Alva Roff for him to claim citizenship?

Dawes Choctaw roll sheet for David Ann Walls Roff.
The link to the Texas Roffs and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation was a little-known woman named David Anna Walls Roff, who married Alva Roff's brother Joseph in 1871.

The citizenship claim stems from Alva's brother, Joseph Roff. From previous research, I know that many whites claimed Chickasaw and/or Choctaw citizenship by "intermarriage." In 1871, Alva's brother Joseph married Annie Walls, "daughter of Dave Walls, a quarter-blood Choctaw... who was killed in a gun battle at Preston, Texas" (Indian and Pioneer Papers, 1937). Joseph explained that a priest married the couple in Gainesville (Cooke County, Texas), but "there was no place in the Indian Territory to buy a marriage license at this time" (Indian Pioneer Papers, 1938). In 1898, Joseph filed for a posthumous marriage certificate.

Annie Walls Roff died in 1883 - she is recorded on the Choctaw Rolls as "David Anna Walls." She had several children, but only two reached adulthood and were placed on the Choctaw rolls: Andrew, and William, born in 1874. Both young men were recorded as "Choctaws by Blood" in 1896. The subsequent Roff family line were all whites, although attempts were made to claim Choctaw and/or Chickasaw citizenship.

Choctaw roll for citizens of blood with David Anna Walls children.
Annie Walls's children Andrew and William were recorded on the blood roll for the Choctaw Nation (her grand child and Andrew's daughter, Chloe, was cancelled due to her death).

Dawes Choctaw Roll rejecting Roff's children by subesequent wives.
In 1907, Joseph Roff's children with his second and third wives were rejected as citizens of the Choctaw Nation.

This convoluted family saga is a microcosm of Oklahoma history. The research exposes the violence ensured by the southeastern nations whom the U.S. removed to Indian Territory; the land-hungry Texans who disregarded the nation's laws; the same Texans who then claimed citizenship, and the resulting lands, in the nations through intermarriage; the Native American women who married the white men, whom were often derogatorily referred to as "squaw men" and the fact that their marriages were not necessarily deemed legal by their tribes nor the federal government in the territory; the practice of assigning blood quantum to descendants of native people in a racist effort to legitimize, or de-legitimize, their ancestral claims; the Dawes Commission's insistence on creating blood quantum; the draw that blood quantum carried for whites who coveted the land; and the fact that blood quantum, which lessened with each subsequent generation intermarrying with whites, has developed an Oklahoma Creole culture and legal morass.


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