Union Notables

Allen Wright    Class of 1852

A portrait of Choctaw Chief Allen Wright was unveiled in the Senate Monday. Pictured L-R: Senate Preservation Fund, former Sen. Charles Ford, sponsor Jacque Wright, artist Mike Larsen, and Chief Wright's great-great grandson Allen Wright.

Among the prominent nineteenth-century Union graduates, there are some whose names are still familiar today, such as Chester Arthur and William Seward. There are those, however, whose names and deeds are less well known, but whose lives and achievements were nevertheless important to their communities and to the nation. Allen Wright is just such an alum. His name is unfamiliar, except in Oklahoma, where he lived most of his life and whose name he coined. As a prominent member of the Choctaw Nation in the last half of the 1800s, Wright’s career and activities deserve wider recognition.

Allen Wright was born in Mississippi in 1826. At birth, he was named Kiliahote (translation from Choctaw: “Come, let’s make a light.”) After the death of his mother in 1832, he and his father and the rest of the family left Mississippi and settled in what was then known as Indian Territory. Today it is McCurtain County, Oklahoma, located in the southeastern corner of the state. The family’s departure from Mississippi was undoubtedly part of the large-scale Indian removal mandated by President Andrew Jackson’s signing of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This act authorized the removal of all Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to territories to the west of the river.

After his father’s death in 1839, Wright was sent to live with an uncle. He had previously attended a Choctaw mission school, where he was assigned English names, including the surname of Alfred Wright, a distinguished missionary working among the Choctaws. Allen Wright resumed his schooling in 1840, first at a mission school for four years and then at Spencer Academy. In 1848 the Choctaw Tribal Council selected Wright and four other Choctaw young men to attend colleges in the eastern United States. Initially enrolled at Delaware College, Wright transferred to Union College in 1850 and graduated in 1852. He obtained a Master’s degree in 1855 from Union Theological Seminary. Unfortunately, we have very little information about Wright’s time at Union. We do know that he took the usual courses in the Classical curriculum, which probably served him well when he translated parts of the Bible from Hebrew to Choctaw later in his life. He also enrolled in Eliphalet Nott’s senior course, called Kames. Nott himself obviously had an impact on the young man, as Wright named one of his sons Eliphalet Nott Wright, a member of the Union Class of 1882.

Newly ordained as a Presbyterian minister, Allen Wright returned to Choctaw territory to teach at Armstrong Academy and to preach in the surrounding area. In 1857 he married Harriet Mitchell, with whom he had eight children. Meanwhile, Wright’s interests extended to farming and ranching, as well as tribal politics.

Wright’s public career began in 1856 when he became a member of the Choctaw Council. The Choctaw tribal government was disorganized at this time so a new constitution was proposed in 1857. However, some felt it concentrated too much power in a single chief. Wright was one of those opposed to this constitution and worked to form a new constitution, which was adopted by the Choctaw in 1860.

At both the beginning and the conclusion of the American Civil War, the Choctaw Nation authorized Allen Wright to sign treaties with the opposing governments – one to ally the nation with the Confederacy and the other to secure peace with the U.S. The latter involved Federal recognition of a multi-tribal council in Indian Territory, which Wright suggested be named “Oklahoma” Territory, from the Choctaw words “okla” (people) and “huma” (red). In 1866 and 1868, Allen Wright was elected Principal Chief of the Choctaws. Numerous intrigues and accusations surrounded his four years in office. Wright, however, seemed to have risen above them and been concerned primarily with the welfare and the “greatest good” of the Choctaw Nation.

Allen Wright’s accomplishments are numerous: scholar, clergyman, soldier, and politician. He was not concerned with personal gain but, rather, with the well being of those around him – his family and the Choctaw Nation. Two of Wright’s sons, Eliphalet Nott Wright and Frank Hall Wright, attended Union College; the latter graduated in 1882. Allen Wright died in 1885 and was buried at his home in Boggy Depot, Oklahoma.