THE STORY OF E. E. WHITE
There were many men and women who played important roles in the development of the area including the old and new towns of Sulphur and the formation of the federal reservation that became Platt National Park.
We have mentioned some of these previously, Joseph Swords, Una Roberts, Willis Townsley, J. M. Bayless, C. J. & J. M. Webster, C. G. Frost, and the Leeper Brothers among many others.
One name that has been seldom mentioned but deserves much more attention is that of E. E. White. Here is his story.
Eugene Elliot White was born to Joseph and Phoebe (Whiteside) White in 1854. He was born on a farm near Prescott, Nevada County, Arkansas. White's education was interrupted by the Civil War but he must have continued his education at home or elsewhere. Shortly after the war, he entered the law office of a Mr. Hamby of Prescott to study law.
In 1875 at the age of twenty-one years, he was admitted to the Arkansas Bar and became partners with Mr. Hamby. Later he became a member of the Texas Bar Association and was sometime thereafter admitted to practice law in the United States Courts in Indian Territory.
White served as Nevada County judge for one term and as a state legislator for two terms. A fellow townsman named Thomas C. McRae was an attorney in Prescott and became friends with White. McRae was a graduate of Washington and Lee University law school and active in politics. In 1884 McRae was elected to Congress. It was the friendship between the two men that caused McRae to name White as a Special Indian Agent in the Interior Department.
White traveled to Washington to receive his formal training as an Indian agent at the Department of Indian Affairs. White was a little doubtful that he could perform his demanding duties as he would be directly under the authority of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and would be sent as a troubleshooter to every Park of the United States.
White's first assignment was at the agency in North Carolina for the Eastern Band of Cherokees. After only a few months, he was sent to Utah to diffuse an explosive situation in which many whites had been killed by several bands of Utah Indians. After successfully negotiating this situation for several months he was re-assigned to Muskogee and Indian Territory. He served most of his career as a special agent in the Indian Territory, Kansas and southern plains.
In 1896, White was promoted to Chief of the Division of Indian Affairs in Washington. Now a widower, on February 15, 1900, he submitted his resignation to Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock and moved his son and three daughters to Sulphur Springs in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. Here, he planned to resume his private law practice and raise his children.
When White arrived in Sulphur Springs he opened his law office and became active in politics and civic improvements.
White arrived in Sulphur Springs just as things were beginning to churn about a federal reservation that would preserve the springs and creeks of the area.
Joseph Swords and Eugene White certainly had their battle of words over how things should be done in getting the new reservation established. They exchanged many heated letters with the Secretary of the Interior and Senator Platt belittling the other's efforts.
But, at least they did share the common goal of getting a reservation established and did seemingly endure the presence of the other long enough to accomplish this task. Evidently, from reading these letters, the ill will between the various factions of Sulphur started long before the creation of the Park.
Col. R. A. Sneed of Pauls Valley was a principle in the Froman White Sulphur Springs Co., which had been incorporated on January 20, 1896. This company had a survey and plat of the town known as the "King Survey" done and it was done in a most haphazard way.
Sneed and the Company laid claim to every improved lot in their platted town. Unfortunately for them the only way a town could now be platted was in accordance with the Curtis Act of 1898. The Secretary of the Interior dismissed all claims by Sneed and the Company and sent them packing. Sneed retreated to Pauls Valley, but amazingly enough, managed to become the Superintendent of Platt National Park a few years later.
The Act of May 31, 1900 authorized the Secretary to proceed with the official platting of towns, with a population of 200 or more, and prepare official maps and plats. On May 31, 1900, H. V. Hinkley was appointed supervising engineer of the ten to twelve field parties who were laying out the boundaries of the town of Sulphur. (Hinckley would later, 1908, be the engineer who designed the Lincoln Bridge.)
On February 4, 1901, G. W. Robberson, a Sulphur Springs resident, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior in the first known correspondence about a proposed reservation to protect the local springs.
This is the point where Eugene White enters the picture. On March 26, 1901, White, acting as attorney for a group of Sulphur citizens, writes to Indian Inspector George Wright in Muskogee. White reminded the Inspector of the letter and asks what action has been taken in the matter, if any.
Things begin to snowball in the summer of 1901. The Dennis Flynn Republican Club, in which White was affiliated, got involved with the idea of a reservation. On June 4, 1901 the Club writes to Inspector Wright about getting Senator Platt, who was on the Committee for Territories, involved with the process in the Congress and served as advocate for such a reservation.
On June 11, 1901, Senator Platt wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior stating that the idea of a reservation is "a good plan". In a later letter Platt suggested that the U. S. Geological Service be sent to the area to see if there is actually anything of value that should be preserved.
Inspector Wright responds that the land survey is not a good one for the reservation that is wanted and indicated that a new survey team will be back in Sulphur after the first of July.
On July 30, Eugene White wrote a letter to the Secretary stating that the proposed size of the reservation is too small and will not protect the springs and streams, as they should.
By this point, the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Inspector Wright and even Platt himself don't really seem to know what to do or how to get the reservation started and are apparently, by their letters, getting quite annoyed by the whole question.
Inspector Wright sent a letter to Eugene White stating that the government had no intention of re-platting Sulphur until the question of reserving several hundred acres from allotment be addressed to the leaders of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. Wright suggested that White took up the matter with the two tribes himself.
White responded, on October 17, to the Inspector's letter by stating that J. F. Swords and Mayor D. J. Kendall went to Tishomingo to visit tribal authorities and accomplished nothing. He then noted that later he and six others from Sulphur went to Tishomingo and that all Chickasaw authorities were dead set against the proposed reservation measuring "six miles by six miles" but would give it due consideration.
On October 31, White wrote Inspector Wright that he personally had just visited with Governor Douglas Johnston and had addressed both houses of the Chickasaw Legislature on the matter. The general feeling among them was that the Chickasaw Commissioners to the Dawes Commission had full authority to deal with this problem as they saw fit. White also noted that now there seemed to be no objection to a reservation as long as it was of reasonable size.
In a letter to Inspector Wright dated November 29, 1901, White informs that he had visited with the Commissioners of the Chickasaw tribe to the Dawes Commission in South McAlester. In a conference with Tams Bixby, acting chairman of the Dawes Commission, Bixby suggested that if White wanted the reservation, he should write the draft of the provisions himself and submit it to the Commission.
One of the sticking points voiced by many of the Commissioners of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations was that of the issue of citizenship of freedmen and other issues of national importance and that the issue of a reservation might cause the whole agreement to fail passage in Congress. This Supplemental Agreement to the Atoka Agreement of 1898 appeared to be on shaky ground at this point and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Commissioners did not want to "rock the boat" so as to get the Secretary of the Interior or the Congress upset with the overall provisions of the Supplemental Agreement.
All Commissioners did seem to favor a reasonably sized reservation. White remained in South McAlester for several days if needed to answer any questions that any Commissioner might have regarding the proposed reservation.
Eugene White, being the cautious attorney at this point wrote two provisions for the reservation. The first draft was that a new townsite be platted of sufficient size so that a reserve could be carved out of the middle of such a townsite. The second provision included the first draft plus the provisions for the payment to property owners for their improvements in the new reservation. Again, White remained in Muskogee for several days so as to answer any questions that the Dawes Commission might have of him.
Again, Joseph Swords and Mayor Kendall were sent to Tishomingo to visit with Governor Johnston to state the wishes of the citizens of Sulphur, both Indian and white, that a reservation be created to preserve the springs and creeks.
After all this negotiating and rankling over the provisions for the formation of the proposed reservation, White receives a letter on December 14, stating that the Dawes Commission had lost his drafts for the reservation. White reproduced the provisions for the reserve from memory and this time sent the Commission a carbon copy.
By March of 1902, the Geological Survey team has made its investigation of the area and Inspector Wright sends a letter to the Secretary declaring that a reservation should be created.
By this time E. E. White has been elected Mayor of Sulphur and wrote to the Secretary that it is imperative that the Supplemental Agreement be passed before a new survey of the town be made, the location of the reservation boundaries marked and the new town limits platted. Without the passage of the provisions for the new reservation by the Indian Commissioners and the Congress, there would be no reason to re-survey the town.
On March 31, 1902, Senator Platt introduced Senate Bill 4848. On July 1, 1902, Congress approved the Supplemental Agreement to the Atoka Agreement of 1898 and a reservation was created. It was not the six-by-six square miles the Secretary of the Interior wanted but it was of adequate size to provide immediate relief from further development and contamination. The tiny reservation measured only 629.33 acres, less than one square mile.
Eugene E. White served two terms as Mayor of Sulphur and was a city official at the time of his death on August 29, 1908. He was about fifty-four years of age at the time of his death.
© by Dennis Muncrief - 2006