Elias Cornelius Boudinot

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Elias Boudinot
Elias Boudinot2.jpg
Member of the C.S. House of Representatives
from the Cherokee's At-large district
In office
February 18, 1862 – May 10, 1865
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1835-08-01)August 1, 1835
Rome, Georgia, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Fort Smith, Arkansas, U.S.
Political party Democratic

Elias Cornelius Boudinot (Cherokee) (August 1, 1835 – September 27, 1890) was an attorney, politician and military officer in the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Chosen as a delegate to the Arkansas secession convention, Boudinot served as a colonel in the Confederate States Army, and was elected as an Arkansas representative in the Confederate Congress.

He was the son of Elias Boudinot, editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper, and Harriet R. Gold Boudinot from Connecticut. His father and three other leaders were assassinated in 1839 as retaliation for having ceded their homeland in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. The Boudinot children were orphaned by their father's murder, as their mother had died in 1836. They were sent for their safety to their mother's family in Connecticut, where they received European-American educations.

Following the Civil War, Boudinot participated in negotiations of the Southern Cherokee with the United States (US) before the tribe was reunited; he was part of the Cherokee delegation to the US. In 1868 he and his uncle Stand Watie opened a tobacco factory, to take advantage of provisions under the nation's new 1866 treaty with the United States. It was confiscated for non-payment of taxes, and their case went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled against them. Boudinot began to lobby for Native Americans to be granted United States citizenship in order to be protected by the Constitution.

He was active in politics and society in Indian Territory and Washington, DC, supporting construction of railroads. He worked for two Arkansas politicians. He advocated termination of Cherokee sovereignty and allotment of land to tribal members, as was passed under the Dawes Act, and worked for the formation of the state of Oklahoma. In his 2011 history of America's transcontinental railroads, the historian Richard White writes of Boudinot: "[He] became a willing tool of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.... If the competition were not so stiff, Boudinot might be ranked among the great scoundrels of the Gilded Age." [1]

Early life and education

Born August 1, 1835 near Rome, Georgia, Boudinot was the son of Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee National leader, and his wife Harriet Ruggles Gold (1805–1836) from a prominent family in Cornwall, Connecticut and of English descent. They had met there when his father was a student at a school for Native Americans. His father served as editor of the Cherokee Phoenix from 1828-1832; it was the first newspaper founded by a Native American nation. He published articles in English and Cherokee, and had type cast for the syllabary developed by Sequoyah. The newspaper was distributed across the United States and internationally.

His parents named the boy after the missionary Elias Cornelius, who had selected his father to attend the Foreign Mission School. Elias was the fifth of six children.[2] The year the boy was born, his father and other leaders had signed the Treaty of New Echota, ceding the remainder of Cherokee lands in the Southeast in exchange for Removal to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Boudinot's mother Harriet died in 1836, several months after her seventh child was stillborn. The family moved to Indian Territory prior to the forced removal of 1838.

In 1839, when Boudinot was four years old, his father and other Treaty Party leaders were assassinated by Cherokee opponents for having given up the tribal lands. His uncle Stand Watie survived an attack the same day. For their safety, Boudinot and his siblings were sent back to Connecticut to their mother's family. The Golds ensured the children received good educations. As a youth, Boudinot studied engineering in Manchester, Vermont.[2]


In 1851 at age eighteen, Boudinot returned West and taught school briefly. In 1853 he settled in Fayetteville, Arkansas near the Cherokee, and renewed contact with his uncle Stand Watie. He studied as a legal apprentice and passed the bar in 1856 in Arkansas.[3]

His first notable victory as a lawyer was defending his uncle Stand Watie against murder charges. Watie had killed James Foreman, one of the attackers of Major Ridge, Watie's uncle, who was killed in 1839 together with his son John Ridge and brother Elias Boudinot. Watie had survived the attack. Boudinot wanted to revive his family's prominence among the Cherokee.[2]

In Arkansas, Boudinot became active as a pro-slavery advocate in the Democratic Party, the majority position of party members. He was elected to the city council of Fayetteville in 1859.[2] That year, together with James Pettigrew, he founded a pro-slavery newspaper, The Arkansan; it favored having railroads constructed into Indian Territory. Some of the American Indians did not want their territory broken up by such intrusions. Boudinot urged the territory to regularize its status with the United States, and later supported measures needed to admit Oklahoma as a state.[3]

The following year he was chosen as the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic State Central Committee and monitored rising tensions in the country. In 1861, he served as secretary of the Secession Convention as the territory determined whether it would leave the Union. In 1863, Boudinot was elected a delegate to the Congress of the Confederate States, representing the majority faction of Cherokee who supported the Confederacy. (A minority supported the Union.)[2]

During the American Civil War, Boudinot fought for the Confederate States Army under his uncle Stand Watie. Commissioned as an officer, Boudinot reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the war, Boudinot was chairman of the Cherokee Deligation (south) to the Southern Treaty Commission which renegotiated treaties with the United States.

Marriage and family

Boudinot did not marry until 1885, when he was 50. He married Clara Minear and they had no children. After their marriage, they moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, living there for the rest of their years.

Postwar years

Following the war, Boudinot and his uncle Stand Watie started a tobacco factory. They intended to take advantage of tax immunities in the 1866 Cherokee treaty with the United States. As the majority of Cherokee had supported the Confederacy, the US required them to make a new peace treaty. One of its requirements was that the Cherokee free their slaves and provide full citizenship to those who chose to stay in Indian Territory. The Cherokee had taken numerous slaves west during Removal.

Disagreeing that the 1866 treaty provided immunity for such operations, US officials seized the factory for nonpayment of taxes. In 1871, the US Supreme Court ruled against Boudinot and Watie. It said that the Congress could abrogate previous treaty guarantees and that the 1866 had not renewed or provided for previous tax immunities.[2]

Boudinot continued to be active in politics and society in Indian Territory after the war. He helped attract railroad construction. Under changing Indian policy by the federal government, he helped open the former Indian Territory to white settlement with passage of the Dawes Act and allotment of communal lands to individual households of tribal members. The federal government declared any remaining land as "surplus" and allowed its sale to non-Native Americans. He founded the city of Vinita, Oklahoma.[2]

He also spent time working in Washington, DC. Among his activities was lobbying for the railroads. A bill was passed by Congressin 1873 to provide financial relief for Boudinot. However, this bill was pocket vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant.[4] Beginning in 1874, he served as private secretary to Congressman Thomas M. Gunter from Arkansas. He also was appointed to some paid committee clerkships. After Gunter left Congress, Boudinot became the secretary to U.S. Senator James David Walker of Arkansas. In 1885, he tried to gain appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Although supported by Arkansas politicians, he was unsuccessful.[5]

He also practiced law in Arkansas with the politician Robert Ward Johnson (18-1879), who had been elected to both houses of Congress before the Civil War. Boudinot was active politically on issues related to the Indian Territory. He frequently spoke on the lecture circuit about Cherokee issues and development in the West, and was considered a prominent orator.[2]

Boudinot contributed to the eventual formation of the state of Oklahoma in the early twentieth century. Many Cherokee and others of the Five Civilized Tribes had tried to gain passage of legislation to found a state to be controlled by Native Americans.[2]

He continued his work as an attorney. He died at the age of 55 of dysentery in Fort Smith on September 27, 1890. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.[5]


  1. Richard White (2011). Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. ISBN 978-0-393-34237-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 James W. Parins (2005). Elias Cornelius Boudinot: A Life on the Cherokee Border. American Indian Lives. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-3752-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 John Reyhner, Review: Elias Cornelius Boudinot: A Life on the Cherokee Border, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 111, No. 1, July 2007, accessed 7 August 2012
  4. Presidential Vetoes, 1789-1988 (PDF). U.S. Senate. p. 46.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thomas Burnell Colbert, "Elias Cornelius Boudinot", Encyclopedia of Arkansas, 2009, accessed 7 August 2012

Further reading

  • Adams, John D. Elias Cornelius Boudinot: In Memoriam, Chicago: Rand McNally, 1890.
  • Colbert, Thomas Burnell. Prophet of Progress: The Life and Times of Elias Cornelius Boudinot, PhD diss., Oklahoma State University, 1982.
  • ———. “Visionary or Rogue: The Life and Legacy of Elias Cornelius Boudinot,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 65 (Fall 1987): 268–281.

External links

Confederate States House of Representatives
New constituency Delegate to the C.S. House of Representatives
from the Cherokee's At-large congressional district

Constituency abolished