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Redbird Smith (1850–1918) was a Cherokee traditionalist and political activist. He helped found the Nighthawk Keetoowah Society, who revitalized traditional spirituality among Cherokees from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century.

Redbird Smith
Chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs; Tribal councilor from the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation, 1887, 1889 leader
Succeeded byLevi Gritts
Personal details
BornJuly 19, 1850
Near Fort Smith, Arkansas
DiedNovember 8, 1918
Resting placeRedbird Smith Cemetery, Sequoyah County, Oklahoma
Spouse(s)Lucy Fields Smith
RelationsGreat-grandson, Chad "Corntassel" Smith
ChildrenSam Smith; eight sons, two daughters
ParentsPig Redbird Smith, Lizzie Hildebrand Smith
Known forCherokee traditionalist and political activist, who helped found the Nighthawk Keetoowah Society and revitalized traditional spirituality; opposed the Dawes Allotment Act

Early lifeEdit

Redbird Smith was born on July 19, 1850 near the current city of Fort Smith, Arkansas. His father was Pig Redbird Smith, some saying his surname "Smith" was given to him by European-Americans since he worked as a blacksmith; however, other presumably related Smiths lived in Cherokee Nation at the time including some notable chiefs who were possibly siblings or cousins. Redbird Smith's mother was Lizzie Hildebrand Smith. His parents were removed from Georgia to Indian Territory. Both his parents were ardent traditionalists, and at the age of ten, Redbird Smith's "father dedicated him to the services and cause of the Cherokee people in accordance with ancient customs and usages."[1]

Political activismEdit

The late 19th century the Dawes Commission sought to break up collective tribal land holdings into individual allotments and open up the "surplus" tribal lands to settlement by non-natives. Redbird Smith led a political resistance movement to the Dawes Allotment Act and sought to return to traditional Cherokee religion and values.[2]

In 1887 and 1889, Redbird Smith served as a tribal councilor from the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation.[3]

Redbird Smith stated in the early 1900s:

Redbird Smith repatriated wampum belts belonging to his tribe.[2] In 1910 he was selected as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.[5] Previously he had served as their chairman.[6] Also in 1910, Smith and fellow Nighthawks traveled to Mexico with an 1820 document supporting Cherokee lands claims but the Mexican government did not support their claims. In 1914, he petitioned President Woodrow Wilson to create a Keetoowah reservation but this was seen as a backward step in the US federal government's assimilation policy. In 1921, a hundred Cherokees from 35 families moved together to the southeastern corner of Cherokee County, Oklahoma, to create a traditional community — "the brainchild of Redbird Smith."[7]


Redbird Smith married Lucy Fields Smith, born in Braggs, Indian Territory in 1852. She was the daughter Richard Fields and Eliza Brewer Fields. Together the Smiths had ten children who survived into adulthood, including eight sons and two daughters.[8]

Redbird Smith is the great-grandfather of former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chad Smith.[9]

Death and legacyEdit

After falling ill for 48 hours, Redbird Smith died on November 8, 1918.[6] He is buried in the Redbird Smith Cemetery in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.[10]

He served as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs until his death and was succeeded by Levi Gritts.[11] His son Sam Smith became chief of the Nighthawk Keetowahs on April 7, 1919.[8]

The Redbirth Smith ground is an active ceremonial ground in Redbird Smith, Oklahoma, Sequoyah county, near Vian, where Smith's July 19 birthday is celebrated annually.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Starr 479
  2. ^ a b Conley 197
  3. ^ Starr 279
  4. ^ Starr 481
  5. ^ Conley 202
  6. ^ a b Starr 480
  7. ^ Conley 203
  8. ^ a b Starr 483
  9. ^ Conley 226
  10. ^ "Sequoyah County." Rootsweb. (retrieved 24 Aug 2010)
  11. ^ Starr 482


  • Conley, Robert. "The Dawes Commission and Redbird Smith." The Cherokee Nation: A History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005: 193-199. ISBN 978-0-8263-3235-6.
  • Starr, Emmet. History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folklore. Oklahoma City: The Warden Company, 1921.

External linksEdit