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Wed, 08.19.1812

Harry Island, Interpreter born

Harry Island (gravestone)

*The birth of Harry Island is celebrated on this date c 1812.  He was a Black Creek Native American interpreter.  From Muskogee, OK, little is known about his childhood; later in life he was the husband of Maggie Cow Tom.

He served as one of the official U.S. Interpreters with the Muskogee Creek Nation. He was present during many official hearings during the 1860s and 70s in the years following the Civil War.  The "official" perspective given by historians about Harry Island is that the is believed to have "tricked" the Creeks, by including benefits for Freedmen in all negotiations.

Yet, Harry Island was himself a citizen of the nation, having lived, practiced the customs and spoken the language of the land of his birth during his entire life.  It would seem most improbable that he would have excluded his own people, who were a part of the same nation, from benefits accorded to his nation. It is interesting now that 20th and 21st century scholars would have expected him to have ostracized several hundred African Creek Citizens, or for any to have expected him to do so. 

The late Angie Debo, Oklahoma historian wrote about Harry Island in The Road to Disappearance the book about the Creek Nation, and she described Harry Island as a "shrewd Creek Negro who served as interpreter and apparently looked after the interest of his race." (1) Island was utilized often by the nation, because of his fluency in both English and Muskogee. He had other African contemporaries who were also interpreters, Silas Jefferson, Robert Johnson, and John Meyers. During the hearings for the Loyal Creek Claims, Island served as government interpreter for Louisa Tiger and others, who were refugees from the American Civil War, from the Muskogee Nation. (2)  Ketch Barnett and Cow Tom joined Island as part of the official delegation of African Creeks making claims. 

Island is said to have been among the strongest voices to ensure that the Freedmen were included among the Loyal Creeks. The reason is that the nation initially wanted to exclude their Black citizens from receiving benefits extended to the nation.  This attitude was to come into fruition later in violation of the Treaty of 1866, where nations would become successful in exclusion once again.   In March of 1867, payments began to the Creek citizens who remained Loyal to the Union during the War.  Dunn, and Indian agent prepared a roll of the Black Creeks, entitled to receive payments. Sam Checote tried to exclude the Africans, and Island went to Washington to protest accompanied by Cow Tom and Ketch Barnett.  

Harry Island died August 15, 1872, aged 60. He is remembered for his skills as a negotiator and with reverence by the Freedmen and their descendants. During his lifetime, he was able to secure the placement of the African Creeks in the nation. The inscription on his granite stone slab reads: The cemetery where he rests is now abandoned with no access outside Muskogee.

To Become an Interpreter

Reference:

Debo, Angie, The Road to Disappearance, Norman, Univ. of Oklahoma Press

National Archives RG 75, Claims of the Loyal Creeks

Indian Pioneer Papers Volume 111 Cemeteries. Microfiche # 6046979

African.Native American.com

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