One hundred and twelve years since statehood and 92 years of Hall of Fame inductions, it was announced this week that later this year Reverend Allen Wright will be receiving the highest award presented by the state that he named —Oklahoma.
Allen Wright was born in Attala County, Mississippi, in November 1826. A member of the Choctaw Nation, his birth name was Kilihote. His mother, a full-blood Choctaw, died in June 1832. His father and surviving members of the family left Mississippi in October 1833 and arrived in what is now McCurtain County, Oklahoma, in March 1834. After his father died in 1839, he went to live with Reverend Cyrus Kingsbury near Doaksville, and went to a mission school at Pine Ridge. After four years, he entered Spencer Academy, the main Choctaw tribal school, where he studied from 1844 to 1848. He was given the name Allen Wright. The surname honored Reverend Alfred Wright, a noted Presbyterian missionary to the Choctaws.
After four years at Spencer, he was one of four students chosen by the Choctaw Council to attend college in an eastern state of the United States. Wright attended Delaware College in Newark, Delaware, from 1848 to 1850, when the school closed. He then enrolled at Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in July 1852 and joined a fraternity. In September 1852, he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he received a Master of Arts degree in theology in May 1855. He was the first Native American student from Indian Territory to earn this degree. After graduation from the seminary, he was ordained as a minister by the Presbyterian Church. He returned to the Choctaw Nation and became the principal instructor at Armstrong Academy during the 1855–1856 school term.
He married Harriet Newell Mitchell of Ohio on February 11, 1857. The Presbyterian Board of Missions had sent her to the Choctaw Nation in 1855, where they met and married. They had eight children together. One son was Eliphalet Nott Wright, who became a medical doctor and also served as president of the Choctaw Oil Company. Muriel Hazel Wright, noted Oklahoma author and historian, was a granddaughter.
Allen Wright became a member of the Choctaw Council in 1856, was elected treasurer of the Choctaw Nation in 1859, and under a new constitution he became a member of the Choctaw Council in 1861. During the Civil War the Choctaws joined forces with the Confederate Army. Because of their allegiance with the South they renounced all previous treaties with the United States. At the close of the war the tribe was in poverty and it was Allen Wright’s job as principal chief, to negotiate a new treaty with the United States and try to reorganize a badly-split tribe. He was elected chief of the Choctaw Nation in 1866 and served until 1870. Some of his accomplishments included translating the laws of the Chickasaw Nation from English into the tribe’s native language, compiling a Choctaw dictionary for use in tribal schools, translating the book of Psalms from Hebrew into Choctaw, serving as editor of the Indian Champion, and becoming a charter member of the first Masonic Lodge in Oklahoma.
The name Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw phrase okla humma, literally meaning red people. Choctaw Chief Allen Wright suggested the name in 1866 during treaty negotiations with the federal government regarding the use of Indian Territory, in which he envisioned an all-Indian state controlled by the United States Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Equivalent to the English word Indian, okla humma was a phrase in the Choctaw language used to describe Native American people as a whole. Oklahoma later became the de facto name for Oklahoma Territory, and it was officially approved in 1890, two years after the area was opened to white settlers
Chief Wright passed away Dec. 2, 1885 and is buried at Boggy Depot in Atoka County. A number of Wright’s descendants have made McAlester their home over the years. In November, great-grandson Allen Wright will receive the Oklahoma Hall of Fame recognition on behalf of his grandfather.