Posey, Alexander

views updated

Alexander Posey

Alexander Lawrence Posey (1873–1908) became known as a Creek poet and essayist, writing humorous works about the very serious issues surrounding Creek politics and the disbandment of tribal government.

Posey was the owner and editor of the Indian Journal, for which he received national recognition. It was the first Native American-published daily newspaper in the United States. World Literature Today wrote, "Of the many American Indian and non-Indian dialect humorists of turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, the Creek journalist Alexander Posey emerged as one of the brightest lights. His satiric letters, written under the persona of Fus Fixico, drew the attention of regional and national newspapers when Posey published them from 1902 until his death in 1908."

Descended from Influential Wind Clan

Posey was born on August 3, 1873, in the Creek Nation near Eufaula (now known as McIntosh County, Oklahoma) to a Creek/Chickasaw mother and white father, although his father called himself Creek as he was raised in the Creek Nation after he was orphaned. Posey's father, Lewis Henderson Posey, was a member of the Broken Arrow tribal town. Posey's mother's English name was Nancy Phillips; she was the daughter of Pahosa Harjo, a member of one of the most prominent and oldest of the Creek families. She eventually bore a total of 13 children. Posey, from his mother's mother (Thlee-sa-ho-he, also called Eliza), inherited, along with his other brothers and sisters, membership in the Upper Creek town of Tuskegee. Tuskegee was known as a peace town, one that was interested in political and social change. Posey and his siblings then were raised among the more liberal of their Native American kin, something that had a great impact on the development of young Posey's thinking. Posey's mother was also a member of the Wind Clan, the most powerful and influential of the Creek clans. Posey's mother did not speak English, but she was a devout Christian, belonging to the Baptist Church, the most significant and quickest expanding denomination in the Creek Nation at the time. Posey, therefore, was exposed to both Creek and Baptist religious ceremonies as a child. He often pointed to his childhood as being a major influence on his later writings.

Posey learned to speak English when he was 14 at his father's insistence. His father resolved that his children should learn the language well enough to communicate with Americans, and so he would punish them if they spoke their native tongue while they were being instructed in English. His father knew that English, as the prominent language of the United States, was important to learn if his son ever wanted to have dealings with anyone off the reservation, and therefore he emphasized its importance. Both of Posey's parents also stressed the importance of education, and Posey entered his studies at an early age. Posey attended the Creek national school at Eufaula before going on to attend Bacone Indian University in Muskogee.

Discovered Love of Writing

While at the University Posey discovered a love of literature that would shine throughout the rest of his life, and he began writing, taking a job with the Bacone Indian University Instructor, a newsletter that published some of Posey's first poems and articles, as well as some of the older Creek legends that Posey translated into English. Posey reveled in his studies and found a multiplicity of influences to encourage him in his endeavors. Later, when asked, Posey named some of his most prominent influences as the writings of John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rudyard Kipling, and Alfred Tennyson, as well as naturalists like Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs.

His favorite poet, though, was the Scottish writer Robert Burns, who was famous for writing in the Scottish dialect. It was this influence that would be seen in Posey's own dialectical works later on. Literature written in the form of dialect was extremely popular at the beginning of the twentieth century, although Posey himself could not stand writers who wrote in dialects simply because it was popular. The Houghton Mifflin College Division Web Site quoted Posey as having said, "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 raised listening to and reading stories told in a myriad of dialects, and the sounds rang true to his ears. According to the Houghton Mifflin College Division website, "Posey's father liked to tell stories in black dialect … 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." The characters in Posey's poems speak Creek-English, and his dialectical writings represent the richness of the Creek oral culture. Posey wanted to write in English, so that they could be read by a wider audience, including his English-speaking classmates, but he was not impressed with the way Creek writings sounded translated into English. Posey felt that English expressed the more Creek-based rhythms that he was trying to create, so he tried to replicate in his English poetry the rhythms and tempos of the more mellifluous Creek language. He found that by using a Creek dialect, he could combine the two languages and their rhythms in a new, interesting, and satisfying way.

Became Involved in Education and Politics

After graduation, Posey published his first few stories under the pseudonym Chinnubbie Harjo. It was at this same time that Posey was given the opportunity to serve as superintendent of the Creek schools at Eufaula and Wetumuka, as well as superintendent of public instruction. He also became superintendent of the Creek Orphan Asylum at Okmulgee. It was while he was there that he met and married Minnie Harris. They were married on May 9, 1896. The couple eventually had two sons: Yohola and Pachina, although Pachina only survived one year. Posey resigned from the superintendent jobs in 1897. After leaving school Posey had also become actively involved in politics. As he had been raised as a radical thinker, he was interested in helping the Creeks make changes in order to survive in the modern world. He was elected to the Creek National Council at the young age of 22, and he continued on in that capacity until his death. At the same time, Posey worked as a field worker for the Dawes Commission. The Dawes Commission was formed on March 3, 1893 to give Native Americans, who were on tribal land that was being dissolved and sold off to settlers, the opportunity to become citizens of the United States and buy some of the land that they had previously owned by rights. It was a difficult line for Posey to straddle, because if he helped the Commission he would seem like a traitor to his people, but if he did not help, then there would be no Native American voice in the commission to make certain that the Native Americans were treated as fairly as possible. Many misunderstood Posey's purpose for being on the commission.

Posey believed that Native Americans needed to at least partially assimilate with whites if they were going to get along in the world with any success. People called him a progressivist because of this theory. Posey criticized those Native Americans who believed that Native Americans should separate from the white American culture, although he did respect older Native Americans who could remember another, different way of life. He just did not believe it was feasible to live in the past any longer. Because of this line of thinking Posey had been despised among Creeks for his part in the official procedures surrounding the break up of the tribal government and for his efforts in selling part of the Creek lands as real estate ventures. Posey, however, believed he had to work with the outside government because this position allowed him the strongest podium to argue against it. He wrote some of the most well-argued and far-sighted critiques of both the bureaucracy and the voracity outsiders felt to gain land traditionally belonging to Native Americans. It was a difficult time for Posey to live, as the politics involved between the Creek Nation and the United States were exceptionally complicated, but Posey tried to walk a line between his Creek ancestral way of life and his new country, often writing humorous essays to deal with those complexities.

Head of the Indian Journal

In 1902 Posey became the owner and editor of the Indian Journal at Eufaula. Within the confines of the journal Posey was finally able to state his views on the way his world was changing. He dealt with the horribly complex issues of Native American assimilation and the break up of lands that had belonged to Native Americans for centuries in a funny and often touching manner. He was recognized nationally for his work with the paper, which was the first Native American-published daily newspaper in the United States. It was while he was working for the paper that he began publishing his Fus Fixico (Heartless Bird) essays. They took the place of editorials and were written by Posey from the perspective of a full-blooded Creek man writing about his everyday life in the constantly changing Creek world. "Sometimes read as expressions of nostalgia for a vanishing way of life, the Fus Fixico letters are also cogent political commentary aimed at influencing Native American Territory, Oklahoma, and United States politics," according to the Houghton Mifflin College Division Web Site. Posey was named Poet Laureate of the Indian Territory Press Association in 1903 for his work as a poet and newspaperman. Posey owned the paper, which was very successful in many markets, for six years before he died on May 27, 1908. He drowned while crossing the Oktahutche River while it was flooding. He was only thirty-five years old.

Almost one hundred years after his death, Posey's writings are still circulating. The Fus Fixico Letters, edited by Carol Hunter and Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., were published to give the world a taste of the wit and astuteness that marked Posey during his life. According to World Literature Today, "What emerges is a playful, tongue-in-cheek account of Posey's often trenchant criticisms of federal policy, state politics, and the foibles of local Creek leaders as they engaged their new neighbors and supposed protectors." And Atlantic Monthly said of the author, "Posey was an intelligent journalist (he correctly predicted the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War) and his humor retains mirth and bite despite time and changes of literary fashion." Other books published of Posey's works are The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey, and Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey, Creek Indian Bard.


Almanac of Famous People, 8th edition, Gale Group, 2003.

Dictionary of American Biography Base Set, American Council of Learned Societies, 1928–1936.

Notable Native Americans, Gale Research, 1995.


Atlantic Monthly, January 1994.

World Literature Today, Summer 1994.


"Alexander Lawrence Posey, 1873–1908," Native American Authors Project, http://www.ipl.org/div/natam/bin/browse.pl-A86 (January 6, 2006).

"Alexander Lawrence Posey (Creek)," Houghton Mifflin College Division, http://college.hmco.com/english/lauter/heath/43/students/author_pages/late_nineteenth/posey_al.html (January 6, 2006).

Biography Resource Center, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (January 6, 2006).