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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Alexander Lawrence Posey (Creek)
(1873-1908)


Alexander Posey's life was cut short on May 27, 1908. At the age of thirty-five, the Creek writer drowned while crossing the flooded Oktahutche River. It was barely a year since Indian Territory and the tribal governments within it had been dissolved. Born in the Creek Nation, Posey died in the brand-new state of Oklahoma. The end of tribal governments and the advent of statehood were long, bitterly contested transitions. As a poet, politician, and political satirist, Posey had a strong and complicated voice in the deliberations.

Often called a "progressivist" because he believed that native peoples needed at least partially to assimilate to white culture in order to survive, Posey criticized "traditionalists," calling them "pull back" Indians who couldn't possibly survive in the imminent future. Nevertheless, he respected older Creeks who remembered another way of life. Posey has been somewhat reviled among Creeks for his participation in the bureaucracy surrounding the dissolution of tribal government and for his subsequent activities as a real estate speculator in formerly tribal land. But he is recognized as having penned some of the most cogent and long-sighted critiques of both that bureaucracy and the greed for Indian land. Posey lived during a complicated period of change for the Creek Nation, and his motivations were never simple. They are still difficult to decipher, perhaps because they are so often couched in humor.

Posey's mother was half Creek and half Chickasaw. Because she was from the tribal town of Tuskegee and Creek clan membership follows matrilineal lines, Posey himself was a Wind Clan member of Tuskegee. Although Posey's father was born to white parents, he called himself Creek. He was raised in the Creek Nation from the time he was orphaned, he spoke Creek fluently, and he was a member of the Broken Arrow tribal town. Young Alexander spoke only Creek; when he was fourteen, his father insisted that he speak English and punished him if he spoke in his native language. From that time, Posey received a formal education, including three years at Bacone Indian University in Muskogee. His mixed-blood status, his estrangement from the Creek language, and his education fostered his ambivalence toward Creek traditionalism; this ambivalence separated him from his own culture but gave him a powerful critical voice within it.

Posey began writing while a student at Bacone. Influenced by the conventional English forms he studied in school, Posey's poetry pays homage to Whittier, Longfellow, Kipling, and Tennyson. Naturalists who wrote in English, like Thoreau and John Burroughs, also influenced the aspiring Creek poet. A lover of nature, Posey was passionately attached to the Tulledega Hills, where he spent his childhood. Not satisfied with the English language's abilities to translate Creek experience, Posey tried to replicate in his English poetry the rhythms and cadences of the musical Creek language. His poetry achieved moderate success, regularly appearing in Indian Territory publications. In 1900 and 1901, a few poems appeared in publications in the East and Midwest.

Soon after leaving school, Posey became involved in Creek politics. His leadership skills, intelligence, and personal charm proved highly useful to the struggling Creek Nation. Elected to the Creek National Council at age twenty-two, he would continue his political involvement until his death. By the turn of the century his interest in poetry had waned, and in 1902 he started a career as a journalist, setting the stage for his most effective writing. As owner and editor of the Eufaula (Okla.) Indian Journal, Posey achieved national prominence in the United States for establishing the first Indian-published daily newspaper. More important, he was recognized for comic letters written by his fictional persona, Fus Fixico (Heartless Bird), which he printed in the Indian Journal as substitutes for editorials. A full-blooded Creek, Fus Fixico wrote to the paper about his everyday life or sent in transcriptions of speeches that he had heard the Creek medicine man Hotgun deliver to an audience of other old men—Kono Harjo, Tookpafka Micco, and Wolf Warrior. The monologues are in dialect and achieve a wickedly satirical perspective on Creek culture and politics.

Sometimes read as expressions of nostalgia for a vanishing way of life, the Fus Fixico letters are also cogent political commentary aimed at influencing Indian Territory, Oklahoma, and United States politics. Across the years when Posey wrote and published the Fus Fixico letters, politics in Indian Territory was a veritable Gordian knot. The Curtis Act of 1898, which decreed that Indian land held in common by tribal governments be broken up and alloted in small portions to individual tribal members, was being implemented, and debates about statehood were raging. Not only were native peoples ambivalent about statehood, but there was a very real possibility that Oklahoma would be admitted as two states—one white, one Indian. Posey was a strong advocate of the two-state proposal and was secretary at the 1905 convention to organize Sequoyah, the proposed Indian state. The Fus Fixico letters, written from 1902 to 1908, satirized every aspect of the debate. Posey was frequently approached by U.S. newspaper syndicates that wanted to publish his Fus Fixico letters nationally. He refused permission. His political satires were intended for Indian Territory readers, and he knew that their dialect and humor would suffer in translation for a national audience that knew little of the intricacies of Indian Territory politics.

Dialect literature was hugely popular at the turn of the twentieth century. Posey's father liked to tell stories in black dialect, and Alexander Posey's favorite poet was Robert Burns, famous for his Scottish dialect poems. Posey read the dialect literatures of poet James Whitcomb Riley and Paul Laurence Dunbar and dialect humorists such as Josh Billings and Max Adler. But he was doing far more than simply catering to U.S. national taste. He switched from poetry to dialect writing as he became more politically active, and his dialect writings represent Creek life more effectively than does his poetry. Though his characters speak Creek English, the dialect writings are representations of Creek oral culture. Posey had no patience for writers who wrote dialect simply because it was fashionable: "Those cigar store Indian dialect stories...will fool no one who has lived 'six months in the precinct.' Like the wooden aborigine, they are the product of a white man's factory, and bear no resemblance to the real article."

Posey was mourned throughout the Indian Territory after his premature death. He remains a complicated figure in Creek culture, remembered with mingled respect and suspicion. Two years after his death, his wife collected and published much of his poetry, but his Fus Fixico letters remained uncollected until the 1990s.

Bethany Ridgway Schneider
Oberlin College


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
Ode to Sequoyah (1899)
Fus Fixicoís Letter Number 44 (1904)
Hotgun on the Death of Yadeka Harjo (1908)

Other Works



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Links

Native American Authors Project
(http://www.ipl.org/cgi/ref/native/browse.pl/A86)
Short biography with links to other Creek authors and works.


Secondary Sources

Leona G. Barnett, "Este Cate Emunev; Red Man Always," Chronicle of Oklahoma, 46 (Spring 1968):20-40

Linda Hogan, "The Nineteenth Century Native American Poets," Wassaja/The Indian Historian, 13 (November 1980):24-29

Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., and James W. Parins, "Short Fiction Writers of the Indian Territory," American Studies 23 (Spring 1982):23-38

Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., Alex Posey: Creek Poet, Journalist, and Humorist, 1992

Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., "Evolution of Alex Posey's Fus Fixico Persona," Studies in American Indian Literatures 4 (Summer/Fall 1992):136-144

Sam G. Riley, "Alex Posey: Creek Indian Editor/Humorist/Poet," American Journalism 1 (Winter 1984):67-76

Craig S. Womack, Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999




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