DEBO, ANGIE (1890-1988)
Angie Debo was an historian and advocate for human rights who spent all of her life in the Great Plains. She wrote nine books about Native Americans and the development of Oklahoma, edited four other volumes, and was the author of numerous scholarly articles. Several of her books have been used as textbooks in college courses. In addition to writing, she lobbied for civil liberties and for the rights of Native Americans.
Angie Debo was born January 30, 1890, on a farm near Beattie, Kansas. Nine years later her father used a covered wagon to move his family to a new farm near Marshall, Oklahoma. Debo attended rural one-room schools and at age twelve completed the instruction they offered. When she was sixteen and could obtain a teacher's certificate, Debo began teaching in rural schools near Marshall. Finally, the town acquired a four-year high school. Debo graduated from it in 1913 and from the University of Oklahoma in 1918. She then taught in Enid, Oklahoma, until 1923, when she attended the University of Chicago and received a master's degree in 1924. For nine years, from 1924 to 1933, she taught preparatory classes in the history department of West Texas State Teachers College while completing her doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. Debo's doctoral dissertation received wide acclaim upon its publication in 1934 under the title The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. When she was unable to find a college teaching position, she decided to move back to her parents' home in Marshall and devote all her time to researching and writing.
Debo's next book, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes, became available in 1940. This pioneering work describes the tribes and their relations with the federal government and the courts of Oklahoma. It took almost four years for her to find a willing publisher, largely because she was exposing graft and corruption, topics that heretofore had not been addressed in scholarly works. This and another of her books, The Road to Disappearance: A History of the Creek Indians (1941), were used by the U.S. Supreme Court in deciding a 1976 case, Harjo v. Kleppe. Other books by Debo include The Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma: Report on Social and Economic Conditions (1951); Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place (1976); Oklahoma: Foot-loose and Fancy-free (1949); Tulsa: From Creek Town to Oil Capital (1943); Prairie City: The Making of an American Community (1944); and the seminal A History of the Indians of the United States (1970).
Debo's study of Native Americans and their relationships with the federal government took her into new areas of research in the 1930s. She said that her only goal was to conduct the research to reveal the truth and to publish it. To achieve this goal she pioneered in writing from the Indian point of view. Her books have been widely recognized as resources for determining Native American property rights. Through her lobbying efforts she contributed to the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and helped Arizona Indians establish land and water rights. Over the years Debo received numerous awards for her research, her writing, and her involvement in efforts on behalf of civil liberties. Shortly before her death in Marshall, Oklahoma, on February 21, 1988, she became the fourth person, and the first woman, to receive the prestigious Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association.
Heather M. Lloyd Oklahoma State University
Angie Debo Papers, Collection 88-013, Oklahoma State University Library, Stillwater.
Leckie, Shirley A. Angie Debo: Pioneering Historian. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Sandlin, Martha, producer. Indians, Outlaws and Angie Debo. Alexandria VA: PBS Video, 1988.