Thomas Segar, Big Man among Indians

Thomas Segar, Big Man among Indians

The subject of this sketch was born and raised in Ohio. After he had married he came west as others have done before him and since, to find wider fields of action. As I have been reliably informed, he was a young man of considerable wealth. About the year 1876 he stopped at Fort Reno, and accepted a position as principal of a government school at Darlington. Darlington was located on the north side of the North Canadian opposite Fort Reno, and was the agency for the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. He adapted himself quickly to the ways of the Indians, and was soon wrapped in their unbounded confidence.

John Segar

His school was filled with Cheyenne and Arapahoe children, and he soon gained their confidence, and,  through them, the confidence of the older ones. He did this by being kind, patient and truthful. If you want an Indian to think well of you must always tell him the truth, for if he catches you in a false-hood you can never be a great man in that Indian’s eye, no matter how much money you may have or how big a position you may have with the government. He will always after, wards regard you as a very common man Segar understood this, and never made a promise unless he could fulfill it.

Soon he became a big man among the Indians. He worked always for their good and for the good of the government. The Indians believed that he would always tell them the truth, and to this day they have never had their confidence shaken. He got along very well with the Arapahoe children until about the year 1878, when a bunch of Cheyennes were brought in off the plains. The soldiers were to take about thirty of the worst ones of the warriors to Florida and had them at the government blacksmith shop riveting handcuffs on them. Suddenly one young warrior broke and ran. The soldiers, wanting to stop him, and yet not wishing to hurt him began shooting over his head. The balls went into the camp of the other Cheyennes, who were to be left at home, and they, thinking that the soldiers were making an assault on them, became terrified and a panic followed.

They broke for a sand hill where they had already hidden their guns and ammunition. This hill had a lake on two sides, so they had but two sides to guard. They scraped holes-in the sand with their fingers, and were completely protected when hidden in them. The soldiers first tried to persuade them to come down, but they refused. Then they tried to force them, and this likewise proved a failure. The main part of the army had to stay in the fort to control the main body of the Cheyennes, who were on the south side of the river. There were two companies that were given the entire task of subduing the insurgents. One of the companies was composed of white soldiers the other of Negroes.

They played on the Indians with artillery and Gatling guns for a time, and then gave orders to charge. Up the hill went the white company, but the colored soldiers stood in their tracks, with the exception of one man. The lieutenant of the company was an Irishman. When he had gone half way up the hill he looked around and discovered that there was but one man following him, and that the rest of the company were standing at the foot of the hill. “D___ you,” said the lieutenant, “don’t you know better than to come up here all alone?”

The white company was repulsed with heavy loss, so the soldiers decided to wait until the next day, when reinforcements would arrive. So they guarded the two sides of the hill, believing that the lake was sufficient to hold the Indians on the other two sides. That night excitement ran high. All kinds of rumors were afloat. It was said that the great band of Cheyennes were about to break away from around the fort and massacre the agency people who were apparently unprotected.

Segar sent for the chief of the Arapahoes, Left Hand, and laid before him the condition of affairs. After studying the matter, Left Hand assured him that as long as he kept the Arapahoe children inside the school there would be no danger. “The Cheyennes will not make war on the Arapahoes,” said Left Hand.

With this assurance Segar fastened the doors securely and awaited results. When morning had come it was learned that the Cheyennes on the hill had waded the lake, had secured ponies, had gone back after all their people, and, taking them with them, had made good their escape. Some of the escaping Indians rode the ponies, carrying the babies and smaller children, while the women and larger girls, hanging to the mane and tail of the ponies, had managed to keep up with the riders, and all had got away to the plains together.

Just as Segar had secured the confidence of the Arapahoe children, so he did that of the Cheyennes as they were placed in school, and he never betrayed this confidence. It became necessary about this time for the government to establish a mail route from Fort Reno to Fort Elustee, a hundred and fifty miles west. The contract was first let to a white man at Fort Elustee, but though he made several attempts he never did get the mail through on time, as there was no road, and the South Canadian and Washita rivers both had to be crossed. He lost his way so often in the brakes of the South Canadian, winding about helplessly, that he became disgusted and quit.

It was then decided that no white man could carry that mail, and it was apparently hopeless to attempt to persuade the Indians to take the contract. The authorities, however, learning of the confidence that the Indians had in Segar, went to him and proposed to give him the contract, and that he should release as many Indians as were necessary to carry the mail. Segar went to the Indians who were being held as prisoners of war, and asked them if, in case he should get them released, they would carry the mail.

“We will’ they answered, “if you will protect us.”

“I will protect you,” said Segar, “and so will the government protect you as long as you carry the mail right.”

So the contract was made. Each Indian was to carry the mail 25 miles, and was to be paid $25 per month. Camps were established about 25 miles apart. An Indian would carry the mail west one day to the next camp, where he would meet the mail coming east and carry it back the next. In this way the mail route was established, and the mail went through on time. The Indians drew their rations, and received their wages as mail carriers in addition.

In 1880 it became necessary to divide the Indians into districts and scatter them out over the country. Washita, Roger Mills and Custer counties were segregated as the western colony, which was named Segar colony, with head-quarters on Cache creek, where the government established large schools and the other necessary buildings for the agency. A large farm was put into cultivation, to teach the young Indians how to farm. A small town has since grown lip there, called Colony, Oklahoma, which is one of the most beautiful places in the new state.

Segar set about to teach the Indians how-to work. The first crop of wheat he raised he threshed under the feet of his horses. For the next crop the government bought a little tread mill as a thresher. One Indian carried the wheat to the machine, while he himself cut the bands and fed the wheat to the machine. One Indian measured up the wheat and helped his wife stack the straw. This was the first farming ever done in Washita County. About nine years of this sort of life was put in- by Segar out in the wilds, alone among the Indians, contending with outlaws and renegades from all parts of the country, attending to the government’s affairs and looking after the best interests of the Indians.

Finally, on April 22, 1889, the Cheyenne country was allotted and Segar had white neighbors. He has continued ever since in the service of the government, always taking the hardest task for himself. His last position is that of farm agent, which is enough work for two men his duty being to lease the Indians’ lands and to see that the lessees comply with all the terms of their contracts. He must also see to it that every able-bodied Indian farms some land, and must prevent the Indians from giving away the wood on their land. In other words, he has to be a father to the whole tribe, and look after their general interests.

To illustrate this more forcibly, I will mention a single case that I happened to witness. I was working for a cattleman at one time in this same country on the Washita River. He wanted to lease all the land in the country for pasture at his own price, and when he could not do so he tore his clothes and pulled his hair, saying that Segar was an old fool; that he could be a rich man if he wanted to, but instead of that he was a poor man and always would be. One day a bunch of my employer’s cattle broke out and went into an Indian’s corn field, but before they had done much damage some boys happened along and drove them back into the pasture. The Indian found out about it, told me, and I went and fixed the fence. Then, examining the corn, I found that it had not been damaged any. The Indian, however, wanted damages. This my employer refused to pay. The Indian then got some more Indians to go with him to the agent’s, fifteen miles away, who detailed Segar to examine the corn. Segar found only ten stalks that had been damaged, and he fixed the damages at two and a half cents. A few days after this the Indian came around, wanting to be friends again.

This is only one case in a thousand. No doubt it is true that Segar could have been a rich man, yet he was worth $10 when he began his great work to every $1 now. If the government would only pay him ten’ cents every time he had fed an Indian he would have all the money he needed. I have been informed that he is getting out a book himself, telling about his thirty years’ experiences. Those interested in this sort of book will probably find no better history than will be contained in his volume, when it is published. His present address is, John Segar, Colony, Oklahoma.

Source: Puckett, J. L. and Ellen. History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and Homeseeker’s guide. Vinita, Oklahoma, Chieftain Publishing Company, 1906.

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