Alice Brown Davis, Seminole’s first female chief became legendary

Time Before Now, September, 1852Millard Fillmore, the 13th president of the United State and the last Whig to fill the office, succeeded to the top spot following the death of Zachary Taylor.   Amid rumors Taylor had been poisoned, doctors at the time diagnosed it as cholera. Devout abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, published the 19th century’s best selling novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”  in March and the New York Lantern debuted a cartoon depiction of “Uncle Sam” by illustrator Frank Bellow.  (Right)

September 10, 1852

On this day, Alice Brown Davis, the first female principal chief of Oklahoma’s Seminole Nation, was born.  Controversial to start, she became one of her tribe’s most admired leaders. 

Her 23-year tenure began in 1922.  Appointed by President Warren G. Harding, rather than being elected, raised doubts early on, despite a respected Tiger Clan lineage.  The daughter of a Scottish surgeon, Dr. John Frappe Brown and a Seminole mother, Lucy Redbeard, the couple met when Brown served as a military physician during the Seminole Removal from Florida.

In addition, Davis’s older brother, The Rev. John Frippo Brown, (right) had twice been elected to head the Seminole Nation, first from 1885 to 1901 and again in 1905, serving until tribal government was abolished in 1906. 

Davis was born in Park Hill, Indian Territory, near Fort Gibson and like all her six siblings was well-educated.   She attended Ramsey Mission School, becoming multilingual there.  At age 15 she assisted her father during a cholera epidemic in 1867, which eventually claimed the lives of both her parents.   

Early depiction of Fort Gibson

Following their deaths, Davis lived in Wewoka, Oklahoma, with her brother, John.  Ten years her senior, John was already an established leader.  A former Confederate officer, he was a signatory to the 1866 Reconstruction Treaty, representing the Southern-allied Seminoles.

Their history was complex and tumultuous, fractured by removals, first from Georgia and then from Florida.  In addition, divisions between the majority Native, Confederate-leaning and minority Black Seminoles, most supporting the Union, caused internal strife following the Civil War.  

Davis became increasingly involved in tribal affairs in 1885, serving as translator for her brother, Chief John, and interpreter during the Nation’s numerous legal battles. (Right, Davis circa 1880s)

 In 1887 Congress created the Dawes Act which abolished communal tribal land holdings for most Plains tribes, replacing them with allotments to individual household.  The move freed up thousands of acres for sale to non-Native settlers. As part of the Five Civilized Tribe, including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Cherokee, however,  the Seminole had been spared.  The Curtis Act,  11 years  later changed all that.

In preparation for Oklahoma statehood. the act dissolved tribal governments, turning over all official functions to the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.  In addition the tribes lost an estimated 90 million acres of communal lands.  Also included was a mandate for public schools, eliminating the tribal education system.  Davis, believing the tribes should have the right to educate their own children, fought to retain control, serving as translator and interpreter for numerous court cases that followed.

In an effort to strike a deal for a new homeland, she and a delegation traveled to Mexico in 1903 but they were forced to return to Oklahoma empty-handed at the start of the Mexican Revolution.  Her increasing leadership of the Seminole people, however, spurred President Warren G. Harding, (right) to appoint to the 70-year-old Davis as their Principal Chief.  On the heels of a disastrous massacre of Tulsa’s Black community and facing an avalanche of scandals, Harding hoped to calm the waters among Oklahoma’s diverse populations.  

The appointment was at first viewed with suspicion, but during her 13-year tenure, she became one of the most admired and respected figures in the Seminole Nation.  Serving until her death in 1935, she is buried in Wewoka.  She was inducted into  the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1930 and into Anadarko, Oklahoma’s Native American National Hall of Fame in 1961.  A bronze sculpture (right) by noted Oklahoma artist, Willard Stone. is included in the museum’s Walk of Fame.

The Seminole Nation Museum, 524 S. Wewoka Avenue, Wewoka, Oklahoma, (below) is home to exhibits on Seminole origins from the Florida Everglades to Oklahoma’s Indian Territory.  The museum’s 2,400 square feet explains the Nation’s struggle for cultural identity and a century-long search for a homeland.  Called a “hidden treasure” by a number of visitors, admission is free.  Parking is also free and all museum areas and facilities are handicap accessible. 

Open 10 to 5, Monday through Saturday or by appointment, special tours and programs are also available.  The museum is closed on federal holidays.  For more information, go to,  e-mail, call (405) 257-5580 or write Seminole Nation Museum, 524 S. Wewoka Ave., Wewoka, OK 74884.

Located in Anadarko, Oklahoma, the outdoor National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians, 901 E. Central Boulevard, features a sculpture garden of Native American leaders from the Powatan, Pocahontas, to Will Rogers, Cherokee. The sculpture garden is free and open to the public at all times. For more information, go to, call (405) 247-5555 or write 901 E. Central Blvd., Anadarko, OK 73005. 

Just four minutes away at 801 East Central Boulevard, is the Department of Interior’s Southern Plains Indian Museum, (above) which includes exhibits on the history and culture of eight major plains tribes. Admission is free and regular hours are 10 to 4:30, Tuesday through Friday.  For more information go to, call (405) 247-6221, fax (405) 247-7593 or write Southern Plains Indian Museum PO Box 749, Anadarko, Oklahoma 73005.

Before planning a visit, get the latest Covid-19 update by clicking              on the websites above or calling the museums.

 © Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.