Monday, June 10, 2013

Teddy, Todd and Sam

In my book Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing, I write about Todd Downing's Choctaw Indian background, which was very important him, and about the role of his father, Sam, in local Choctaw affairs in the small city of Atoka, Oklahoma, where the Downing family lived for many decades.

Todd Downing
Golden Age Choctaw mystery writer
In a 1926 essay, "A Choctaw's Autobiography," Todd Downing (1902-1974) refers to Sam Downing as someone who "has always been a power among the Choctaws."

Downing also mentions how his father served in the Spanish-American War with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, as an interpreter for the Indian Territory Cavalry. 

I recently came across some material that certainly supports Todd Downing claims about his father being a "power" among the Choctaws.

In 1906 Sam Downing traveled to Washington, D. C., for a meeting with Roosevelt, who now, of course, was serving as President of the United States.

The elder Downing hoped to persuade his former Rough Rider commander to disapprove an "act of the Choctaw legislature that authorized the employment by the principal chief of the Choctaw nation [Greenwood "Green" McCurtain] of the firm of Mansfield, McMurray & Cornish" [it seems it was felt the monetary compensation allowed the firm was too great]. 

Theodore Roosevelt
whether or not he said "Bully!" he did
what Sam Downing requested

Accompanied by two prominent territorial politicians, Downing met with Roosevelt.

This is the how the meeting is retrospectively portrayed in The Daily Ardmoreite (June 27, 1910, 5):

"What can I do for you fellows, Sam?" the president asked of his former comrade.

"Mr. President, we want that McMurray contract disappoved," replied Downing.

"Put your request in writing," said the president, and turning to Secretary Loeb he instructed him to tell the secretary of the interior that the contract would not be approved.

Downing, who was also a member of the Republican territorial executive committee, "got the presidential ear," declares The Daily Ardmoreite on January 28, 1907 in the article "Republicans Want Indian Vote," "and told the president in so many words that that with a little encouragement the Indians of the Indian Territory, although now for the most part Democrats, could be converted to the Republican fold if the administration went about the thing in the right manner."

"Mr. Downing," the article concluded, recalling language Todd Downing used two decades later, "is said to be a power among Indians."

If only Theodore Roosevelt had lived to read Todd Downing detective fiction in the 1930s!

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