How do we remember people? Do we remember them for their parents? How about their notoriety? The memory of individuals gets complex. Often we humans want to tag a person with just one label and be done with them. We say, “oh, that guy is a bad guy” or “that guy was a good one,” but that generalization overlooks the complexity of human experience. Us historians work to sort through the generalizations to get to an increasingly nuanced perspective of individuals.
We need to recognize people as complex. Their lives are fraught with detail and complexity.
Elias C. Boudinot was one of those complex individuals. He is important for his family history, as his father, Elias Boudinot was murdered for his part in the Treaty of New Echota which solidified the move for the Cherokee people to Oklahoma. He was also the nephew of Stand Watie, the last Confederate general to surrender during the Civil War. He was also a delegate to the Confederate Congress. His mother hailed from New England which made him a “half-blood.” It is for these reasons that he has often been considered either an outsider or dismissed outright.
Yet Boudinot needs to be reconsidered, especially when investigating capitalism in the Indian Territory. Boudinot consistently worked to secure his economic position – to make it as strong as possible. Following the Civil War, in the cash-strapped region of Indian Territory, he established a tobacco plug factory, creating goods that were often readily traded. Understanding tax laws, he knew that the Indian Territory was exempt from federal taxes and built his factory three miles within the tax-free zone while selling his goods into U.S. territory. He worked to secure railroads through his town, Vinita. Boudinot rightly envisioned that railroads would cross the region. If railroads were inevitable, as the treaties of 1866 suggested, he should benefit from them.
Boudinot needs to be reconsidered for his bold actions to secure wealth within the Indian Territory. There were many other wealthy American Indians. Boudinot worked to be one as well.