Gov. Cyrus Harris, Chickasaw Nation

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Cyrus Harris

Birthplace: Ponotoc, Mississippi, United States
Death: January 06, 1888 (70)
Mill Creek, Oklahoma, United States
Place of Burial: Mill Creek, Oklahoma, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of James Harris ? and Elizabeth Harris
Husband of Kizzia Kemp; Tenesey "Nancy" Harris and Hettie Harris
Father of Malissa Anne White

Occupation: 5 time elected govenor of Chickasaw Nation
Managed by: Gary Neal Crittenden
Last Updated:

About Gov. Cyrus Harris, Chickasaw Nation

Cyrus Harris' ancestors immigrated to America after the collapse of the Jacobite Uprising in Scotland brought about by the followers of James the Prentender in 1715 and the subsequent reprisals of the English visted upon the highlanders in the years that followed. Is is beleived that Logan Colbert, great-great-grandfather to Cyrus Harris, sailed to this country in 1735. After landing at Savannah, Georgia the adventurous young man ventured into the west and settled among the Chickasaw who then ranged along the eastern banks of the Mississippi from the mouth of the Ohio to the vast streches of the lower river. Colbert married into the tribe and developed a name for himself during the wars against the French.

Logan Colbert's son, William Colbert, served in the 3rd Regiment of the U.S. Infrantry during the War of 1812. He served as commissioner and represented the Chickasaw's at numerous treaty signing. Williams daughter Molly Colbert Oxbury-Gunn was a colorful figure who lived on a comfortable estate three miles south of Ponotoc,Mississipps, where daughter Elizabeth (Betty) was born. All of Molly's children were born at the beautiful and intresting home that stood upon an ancient mound, the highest point in that part of the state. Cyrus Harris was born here on August 22, 1817.

The identity of the father of Cyrus Harris is somewhat confusing. He is reputed to have been a white man by the name of Harrison. The name was shortened to Harris. Elizabeth's marriage to him was of brief duration, as she soon left him and returned to the home of her mother.

Cyrus was sent to Monroe Presbyterian Mission in 1827 to receive his education. The following year, he was entered at a small indian school in Giles County, Tennessee under the tuteladge of Rev. William R. McKnight. He returned home in 1830. By 1835, the Chickasa were preparing to remove to Indian Territory in the west. A goverment land office had been established at Ponoto, MS and through interpreters, the individual land holding of Indian people were being identified and bought by land spectulators. Young Harris went to Ponotoc to seek employment as an interpreter as he spoke both English and Chickasaw fluently. Cyrus Harris and his mother Elizabeth left their home on November 1, 1937 to join a party of emigrant Chickasaws in Memphis who were led by removal agent A.M.M. Upshaw on their way to Indian Territory.

After reaching the new Chickasaw domain, Harris moved his place of residence several times. He eventually settled in Mill Creek and built a home. It is here sometime later, that his mother Elizabeth died. His initial years in the West were quite as he pursued farming and engaged himself in the cattle business.

He married a total of three times. His first wife was Kizzia Lemp sister of Joel Kemp. Upon the death of Tenesey, his second wife, he married Hetie Frazier a widow of Chickasaw King Ishtehotopah.

At some point in his young adulthood, Harris developed an intrest in political life. He served on several delegations to Washington-the most notable being the trip taken in 1856 to adopt a new constitution after the seperation of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, In August of that year, he became the first elected govenor of the Chickaaw Nation. The young govenor organized the new administration, served through a two-year term and was succeeded by Daugherty(Winchester) Colbert in 1858. He was reelected in the fall of 1860 during the opening days of the Civil War. Govenor Harrris approved resolutions of secession from the Union on May 25, 1861 as popular opinion among the Chickasaw people to side with the Confederacy soared.

Daughtery Colbert defeated him again in 1862. In the fall election of 1866 Cyrus was reelected as govenor again and later succeeded himself in 1868. His executive ability was once more recognized when he was electd in 1872. Cyrus Harris was elected a total of five times--a record as yet unequaled.

Throughout his public life, Harris expressed concern about the inflitration of on non-indian people on Chickasaw lands, the railroads lines that aided that infiltration, and the policies of the federal goverment advocating for allotment of Chickasaw lands held in common--thereby leading to the destructuction of the Chickasaw goverment.

In the fall of 1878, after a contentious campaign, Harris was elected govenor once again. He took the oath of office on September 23rd. The following day, the lower house of the legislature, acting under the inspriation of former Govenor Overton, reversed the former action, and declared the election won by B.C. Burney with a majority of five votes. Threats of armed violence erupted from both Burney and Harris supporters. To avoid bloodshed, it is said that Govenor Harris withdrew his name from the contest. He retired to his home in Mill Creek and announced the conclusion of his public career. Later he emerged from his retirement to give support William M. Guy, his nephew, who ran for govenor and won in 1886. Cyrus Harrid died January 6, 1888, at his home a Mill Creek. He is buried at Drake Cemetary, approximately eight miles southwest of Mill Creek.

edited froom an article by John B. Meserve: "Govenor Cyrus Harris" chronicles of Oklahoma Volume XV, December 1937, Number 4, 373-3


Cyrus Harris was born August 22, 1817, to Elizabeth Oxberry and James Harris near Pontotoc, Mississippi, on the estate of his grandmother Molly Colbert Gunn. His grandfather was General William Colbert, a renowned leader of the Chickasaws. In 1827, he was sent to Monroe Mission School and later an Indian school in Giles County, Tennessee. In 1830, he returned to Mississippi to live with his grandmother, mother and later his uncle Martin Colbert.

Mr. Harris was fluent in both Chickasaw and English and became an interpreter at the numerous councils held to arrange details of the Chickasaw’s removal to the West. After moving to Indian Territory in 1837, he eventually settled on the Blue River in present-day Johnston County, Oklahoma, and opened a successful mercantile business.

After becoming interested in political affairs, Mr. Harris accompanied Edmund Pickens as a delegate to Washington in 1850 and was again dispatched in 1854. Mr. Harris was the first elected governor of the Chickasaw Nation after the Chickasaw people formally adopted their own constitution in 1856.

Mr. Harris’ executive abilities were recognized by his people and he was subsequently elected governor for five different two-year terms. He served from 1856-58, 1860-62, 1866-68, 1868-70 and 1872-74.

During his time as governor, Mr. Harris approved resolutions of Chickasaw secession from the Union on May 25, 1861. He continued to express the concerns over the infiltration of non-Indian people on Chickasaw lands, the railroad and policies of the federal government advocating for allotment of Chickasaw lands held in common.

He was a strong advocate for education and signed numerous legislation leading to the establishment and maintenance of boarding schools on tribal land.

Cyrus Harris died January 6, 1888, at the age of 70 in Mill Creek, Indian Territory.

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Gov. Cyrus Harris, Chickasaw Nation's Timeline

August 22, 1817
Ponotoc, Mississippi, United States
July 22, 1857
Atoka County, Oklahoma, United States
January 6, 1888
Age 70
Mill Creek, Oklahoma, United States
Mill Creek, Oklahoma, United States