Cherokee author tells the story of an Oklahoma advocate for indigenous peoples | Literature


TULSA – “A Life on Fire, Oklahoma’s Kate Barnard” by author Connie Cronley is a biography of Kate Barnard (1875-1930) who is little known today but was active and influential in Oklahoma in the early 20th century. century.

Barnard was a political reformer and the first woman appointed to a statewide post in Oklahoma. She advocated for the poor, the workers, the children, the imprisoned and the mentally ill. She has also advocated for indigenous people, compulsory education, prison reform, mental health and the regulation of child labor.

“If you look at what she fought for – children, education, mental health care, prison reform and Native Americans – these are the same things the state is grappling with right now. Have we made any progress? Yes, but not enough. What happened to us? The state had such a promise when it joined the Union. We continue to back down, ”Cronley said.

Cronley, who grew up in Nowata, lives in Tulsa and has written most of his life.

“Ever since I was a little girl all I wanted to be was a writer. The most wonderful discovery of my life was learning to read, ”she said. “Always, while I had full-time jobs, I wrote as part of my job, but I was always freelance too, so I still wrote articles and books part-time. “

“A Life on Fire” is Cronley’s fifth book and his first biography. She said telling Barnard’s story was something she had been working on for almost 50 years. She was encouraged to write about Barnard by author and historian Angie Debo, who, like Barnard, spoke out against the corruption and criminal activity of the Five Tribes during the time their lands were allotted by the federal government. Debo’s book, “And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes” is considered a major influence for those writing on Aboriginal history.

Debo spoke at the University of Tulsa when Cronley was 32 and working at the university. She helped promote Debo’s visit.

“I didn’t know much about her or the history of Oklahoma,” Cronley said. “I was just glued to my seat by her authority and the power of the facts she was telling us. She spoke with such authenticity and truth that I wrote her a fan letter. We started to correspond. 80 years old, so there was an age difference of 50. We became good friends.

Cronley said Debo sometimes spoke of hearing Barnard speak and the impact it had on her. “She said, ‘I would like you to write her biography.’ And I said, “OK, I will.”

As she began to research Barnard’s life, Cronley traveled to Oklahoma, visited Texas and Washington, DC, and benefited from the help of researchers and genealogists.

“I was very lucky to have started my research then because there were still people alive who knew Kate or knew her,” she said.

Cronley said Barnard lived in Kansas as a young woman. Her mother died when she was young and her father still worked on the road.

“I think it fostered a natural affinity that she had in nurturing anything that was small, hurt, lonely or cold,” Cronley said. “Her job was to investigate all the charities in the state, and she paid special attention to heating and stoves in those places and ordering extra mattresses or extra clothes for the children. She paid special attention to the food to make sure it tasted good and solid.

She said Barnard was popular and influential and had more voice than any man at the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention of 1907.

“So the question is if she was so important and powerful, how come we don’t know more about her?” The answer, I believe, is that she never lost a political campaign, but she lost this great fight that she waged to defend the rights of Native Americans because their estates were looted and stolen, ”Cronley said. . “Her office only gave her authority over orphans and Indian minors, so she did not take on the more prominent role of adult Native Americans, but it was the cause that ruined her career and her life. The grafters closed and it was like a tsunami that closed. ”

State leaders agreed with Barnard in standing up for the needy, Cronley said, but when she tried to get between them and the money, the Legislature cut funding for her charitable and correctional service.

“I read how helpless Native Americans were back then, especially the thoroughbreds,” Cronley said. “The keepers that were appointed were so rapacious and greedy, and I thought about how lucky they were to have a champion in this tiny little woman who fought for them. Knowing the history of the kidnapping and the great efforts to rebuild communities in Indian territory has made the story of the corrupt conspiracy to steal the allotment domains doubly sad.

Cronley said being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation motivated her to share Barnard’s story and his advocacy for Indigenous peoples. “I think Oklahomans should know more about Kate Barnard and what she did, and especially I think young women should know how brave she was. She is a great role model because she was not afraid. You’re welcome and got into a fight. She used to say, ‘I’m Irish and I like a good shindy (fight).’ ”

“A Life on Fire, Oklahoma’s Kate Barnard” can be purchased at most major local bookstores and on


Comments are closed.