Angie Debo

Biography

Angie Debo was born on January 30, 1890, less than one year after the Indian lands in Oklahoma Territory were opened for settlement. The Debo family did not participate in the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, but arrived ten years later when Debo was nine. She traveled to Marshall, Oklahoma Territory, in a covered wagon with her mother and younger brother, while her father rode ahead with the farm machinery. Debo wrote in her diary that she was hoping to see Indians as she reached Oklahoma, but instead only saw white settlers.

Debo attended a rural grade school and was taught very little Indian history. Since there was no high school in Marshall until 1910, Debo obtained her teacher's certificate at age sixteen and taught in rural schools near the family farm. She describes this time as miserable, because she wanted to accomplish something with her life. She finally graduated from high school at the age of twenty-three, one of nine members of Marshall's first graduating class.

Debo graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1918. She taught history for four years in the Enid High School, then enrolled in the University of Chicago to work on a master's degree. Because women were not allowed to enter the history field at this time, Debo studied International Relations. In 1924, Debo not only received her master's degree, but also published her thesis, "The Historical Background of the American Policy of Isolation," co-authored with J. Fred Rippy, in the Smith College Studies in History.

From 1924 to 1933, Debo was on the faculty of the history department in West Texas State Teachers College and served as curator of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. During this time, she worked on her doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. In 1933 Debo received her Ph.D. and by the next year her dissertation was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in a book, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. The book was awarded the John H. Dunning Prize by the American Historical Association, which encouraged her to pursue research and freelance writing. She returned to Marshall and signed a book contract with the University of Oklahoma Press to pursue a new field of study, the history of the American Indian. Debo felt that a full history of America could not be given without information about American Indians.

In 1936 Debo wrote And Still the Waters Run, a book about the theft from Indians of their lands in Indian Territory. Because the manuscript gave an unappealing view of the history of Oklahoma, at least unappealing to state government officials, and named prominent citizens and government leaders in the theft, the University of Oklahoma Press backed out of its contract and refused to publish the book. Around this time, Debo accepted a job with the Federal Writers Project to edit their guide on Oklahoma. She was assigned and wrote the chapter on the state's history. Shke wrote it, but much to her horror, a different chapter was substituted for hers by an unknown author. It was published under Debo's name and contained errors in favor of the settlers.

And Still the Waters Run was eventually published by Princeton University Press in 1940, when Debo was fifty. Unable to obtain university employment, Debo taught in rural Oklahoma schools, and during World War II she served as pastor at her local Methodist church. Later she was hired full-time as Maps Librarian at Oklahoma State University. All her spare time was spent writing. She wrote a total of nine books and edited others. She also published many articles in different journals, including Harper's Magazine, and contributed chapters and forewords to books. Her last book, Geronimo, was finished when she was 85 years old.

Debo was a leading scholar of Indian history, and her work has been cited as evidence in federal court cases involving tribal land rights. However, the state of Oklahoma did not recognize Debo's lifelong achievements until the 1980s when she was in her 90s. Her portrait was hung in the state capital next to humorist Will Rogers, Indian athlete Jim Thorpe, and many of the state's leaders she had exposed in her books. In 1993 Debo was inaugurated to the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame. She stated that she had one quality that got her through her long life and that quality was drive. Debo died in 1988.

 

Works Cited

The American Experience: Indians, Outlaws and Angie Debo. Videotape. Directed by Martha Sandin. Narrated by Rhonda Coullett. Introduction by David McCullough. The Institute for Research in History and WGBH Educational Foundation, 1988. 60 min.

Blackburn, Bob L. "Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame - Angie Debo," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 72, no. 4 (Winter 1994-95): 456-59.

McIntosh, Kenneth. "Geronimo's Friend: Angie Debo and the New History," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 66, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 164-77.

Leckie, Shirley A. Angie Debo: Pioneering Historian. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

 

Works by Angie Debo

Dissertation

"History of the Choctaw Nation from the End of the Civil War to the Close of the Tribal Period." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 1933.

Books

(With J. Fred Rippy) The Historical Background of the American Policy of Isolation. Northhampton, Mass.: Smith College Studies in History, 1924.

The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934, 2nd edition, 1961.

And Still the Waters Run. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940; reprint, Gordian Press, 1966; reprint, Princeton University Press, 1972; reprint, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

The Road to Disappearance: A History of the Creek Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941; reprint 1979.

Tulsa: From Creek Town to Oil Capital. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943.

Prairie City: The Story of an American Community. New York: Knopf, 1944; reprint, Norman: University Press of Oklahoma, 1998.

Oklahoma: Foot-Loose and Fancy-Free. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949; reprint 1987.

The Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma: A Report on Social and Economic Conditions. Philadelphia: Indian Rights Association, 1951.

A History of the Indians of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.


Edited Books

Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State, edited by Angie Debo and John M. Oskison, compiled by Writers' Program, Work Projects Administration, State of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, 1941, 2nd edition, 1945, reprint, 1947; reprint, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986.

The Cowman's Southwest: Being the Reminiscences of Oliver Nelson, Freighter, Camp Cook, Cowboy, Frontiersman in Kansas, Indian Territory, Texas, and Oklahoma, 1878-1893, by Oliver Nelson. Edited by Angie Debo. The Western Frontiersman Series, 4. Glendale, Calif.: A.H. Clark Co., 1953; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Indians, by Horatio B. Cushman. Edited with a foreword by Angie Debo. Redlands Press, 1962, reprint, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

With Five Reservations, by Dell O'Hara, edited by Angie Debo and Harold H. Leake. Creekside Publications, 1986.


Chapters in Monographs

"Apaches as Southeastern Indians." In Indians of the Lower South: Past and Present, edited by John K. Mahon. Gulf Coast History and Humanities Conference, 1975.

"Edward Everett Dale: The Teacher." In Frontier Historian: The Life and Work of Edward Everett Dale, edited by Arrell M. Gibson. University of Oklahoma Press, 1975.

"Major Indian Record Collections in Oklahoma." In Indian-White Relations: A Persistent Paradox, edited by Jane F. Smith and Robert M. Kvasnicka. Howard University Press, 1976.

 

Critical Annotated Bibliography about Angie Debo's Work

Books
  • Leckie, Shirley A. Angie Debo: Pioneering Historian. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

    This book offers a comprehensive biography of Angie Debo's. The introduction provides a brief overview. The following chapters explore her life in detail, starting with her family's move to Oklahoma and finishing with an epilogue describing what has become of Debo's estate following her death. Pictures of Debo are included as well. The book contains an index for quick reference and a bibliographic essay with information on finding articles on Debo and the topics that concerned her.
Selected articles in journals or books
  • Blackburn, Bob L. "Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame — Angie Debo." The Chronicles of Oklahoma 72, no. 4 (Winter 1994-95): 456-59.

    This short essay documents Debo's induction to the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame in 1993. It contains a few paragraphs of biographical information about Debo and an excellent bibliography. It lists the books she authored and edited, as well as chapters in monographs, articles she wrote or edited, and other contributions.
  • Loughlin, Patricia. "The Battle of the Historians of Round Mountain an Examination of Muriel Wright and Angie Debo." Heritage of the Great Plains 31, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 1998): 4-18.

    This article describes the controversy over the site of the first battle of the Civil War in Indian Territory. Wright argues for the "Keystone site" near Tulsa, and Debo for the "Round Mountain" site in Yale, near Stillwater. This selection contains some biographical information about Debo. It also details Wright's disagreements with Debo's book, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. Debo responded to some of Wright's comments in an interview, which is partially described in this piece. From reading this essay, one senses some of the struggles Debo had to overcome to become a historian.
  • Lowitt, Richard. "Dear Miss Debo': The Correspondence of E. E. Dale and Angie Debo." The Chronicles of Oklahoma 77.4 (Winter 1999-2000): 372-405.

    Lowitt chronicles the relationship between E. E. Dale, noted Oklahoma historian, and Angie Debo by analyzing their correspondence. This article gives information about Debo's academic career as she earned her Ph.D. and wrote her dissertation. It also contains information about Debo's life following her dissertation up to the early 1950s, including publication of Prairie City and And Still the Waters Run. This essay offers insight into some of Debo's concerns as she researched and wrote controversial works.
  • McIntosh, Kenneth. "Geronimo's Friend: Angie Debo and the New History." The Chronicles of Oklahoma 66, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 164-77.

    This article gives readers insight into how Debo got her start in becoming a historian. McIntosh explains how Debo chose to begin writing on American Indians, and how the trends of the time period and Debo's own experiences influenced her writing. This article is also a good source of information on Debo's methodology.
  • Schrems, Suzanne H., and Wolff, Cynthia J. "Politics and Libel: Angie Debo and the Publication of And Still the Waters Run." The Western Historical Quarterly 22, no. 2 (May 1991): 184-203.

    This article gives some brief biographical information about Debo as well as material on her methodology she used when writing And Still the Waters Run. The focus of the essay is Debo's struggle to publish the book and bring the controversial information contained there to the public. This is a very detailed and interesting article.
  • Contemporary Authors New Revision Series. Vol. 40. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993. 112-13.

    This piece contains succinct information on Debo including a short biography, a listing of awards and honors, a bibliography of Debo's writings, and a short section containing Debo's own views of her life and writing.
Videotape
  • The American Experience: Indians, Outlaws and Angie Debo. Directed by Martha Sandin. Narrated by Rhonda Coullett. Introduction by David McCullough. The Institute for Research in History and WGBH Educational Foundation, 1988. 60 min. Available through Shop PBS for Teachers [http://teacher.shop.pbs.org]

    In this video Debo, in her late 90s, reflects on her life. The video gives information about Debo's childhood, her education, her discovery that the five civilized Indian tribes of Oklahoma were the victims of a complex swindle, her struggle to publish And Still the Waters Run, and the resulting ostracization from politicians and colleagues. It explains the professional relationship between Debo and E. E. Dale and also shows Debo participating in the Prairie Days celebration in Marshall, Oklahoma. Overall, this video is an excellent way to learn about Debo's life in her own words. A teacher's guide is available.