Echos Of Futures Past, Part II: Tyson Branyon

Tyson Branyon, a Choctaw tribal member, retired Assistant District Attorney and Board Member of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, has ridden in every edition of the race.

Almost all the tribes in Oklahoma came from someplace else. My tribe, the Choctaw were originally centered along the Pearl River Valley in Mississippi, extending into Alabama and south Tennessee. Of the Five Civilized Tribes, four of them are Muskogean speakers: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. The Cherokee are the odd man out, they speak the Iroquois language and are from up north. But, we all ended up on the Trail of Tears coming here to Eastern Oklahoma between 1830 and 1834. The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830 by the first Democrat President, Andrew Jackson, a year after his inauguration

So after the Civil War, a guy named David Payne and some others, pushed to have this land opened up for settlement. One of the things you don’t read in the history books very often, because the winner writes the books, one of their things was they didn’t want “darkies” getting this land. One plan had been  to have all these freed slaves from the South come out here and become homesteaders. Payne was afraid if his group and others didn’t get the land, then either the Indians or the “darkies” would get it. You also had a lot of Civil War Yankee veterans that were from the East Coast. They had fought in the war and they wanted land, too. Many of those Yankee vets were poor or recent immigrants, themselves.

Originally the Cheyenne, Comanche and other “Plains Indians” roamed this land. There were millions of buffalo then that supported these High Plains horse cultures. These tribes travelled widely and were sparsely populated. When the Comanche were shot, killed, captured and re-settled at Ft. Sill all this land was empty. The buffalo had already been killed anyways, so these tribes were screwed. When the Creeks and Seminoles moved here in the 1830’s they were ceded the lands eventually used in the Land Run. After the Civil War, the Feds forced another treaty on them because they had backed the Confederacy. Those treaties created an area that was controlled by no tribe. The Feds called this area the so-called “Unassigned Lands.” There weren’t any tribes here any more.

But the Boomers, Payne and his ilk, they were bad. There’s a lot of things about them I don’t like. In one way, I wake up every day in Payne County. That’d be like being a Jew and waking up every day in Hitler County, Austria. Payne’s a dumb ass and a racist and a lot of things I don’t like. Like Andrew Jackson. My Grandmother, an original Choctaw speaker, became the head of the Democratic Party in Cleveland County. She was the first woman to head the Democratic Party in that county. When they elected her, she said, “I’ll work hard, I’ll do everything you need me to do but, I’m not going to the Jackson Dinner.” The Democrats always have this dinner in his honor but that was a step too far for her. I’ve spent half my life hating Andrew Jackson. He’s still a sorry son of a bitch in many ways. But he’s a historical character, he’s a part of life. When two cultures collide that are so different, stuff is going to happen. You can spend your life hating on this stuff, and it’s stupid. 

About the race name. I rode in the first one. I rode it on a street bike and didn’t even make the halfway point. When Bobby did that first race, I don’t think it had a name, really. He just said, “A bunch of my guys are gonna ride 100 miles.” When it dawned on me that Land Run 100 was going to be the name of this thing I just thought that was perfect because we are in Stillwater, it starts with a cannon and the excitement of everybody rolling out together from the center of town. In the real Land Run you see pictures of homesteaders riding on Penny Farthings. How far they made it, I don’t know. But I said, “That is the perfect name for this. It’s in the place, it identifies it, it’s a geographic and historic thing.” I thought it was great. I still think it is.

It was a perfect accident for Bobby. He was on the crest of gravel riding. He came up with a name that identified his race by place, it created excitement, you wanted to be part of it. As an intellectual and Choctaw, I know personally about the Indians and how screwed we were. But we were already screwed. I’ve got other issues besides the name of a bicycle race. When they said they were gonna change it, I said, “Oh my God, Bobby. Why?” I’m pretty conservative. I’m fine with the name American Indian, for example. Columbus didn’t know where he was going, he didn’t know where he’d been, misnamed things when he was there. But somehow, over 300 some years, the name stuck. American Indian has become an honorable name. I’m fine with it. My friends, we call each other Indians. We eat Indian tacos, we eat Indian food. We don’t talk about “Native Americans”. 15 or 20 years ago this “Native American” thing started coming down on us from academia, because that’s where it came from. This elitist thing, “Oh, we’re not going to call them “American Indians, anymore” I didn’t ask to have it changed. If you asked me I’d say I’m Choctaw. 

My grandmother pulled for every Indian mascotted team there was. She’d say, “They can change that but, then it’s out of sight out of mind.” She pulled for the Chiefs, she pulled for the Seminole. Oklahoma City University used to be “The Chiefs”. They honored that name. It wasn’t an ugly name. They changed it to something else, I don’t even know what they are now. I totally agree with her. Even if it’s kind of a caricature of the culture, at least it reminds people of the culture. They’re trying to homogenize it all now. I find the name “Native American” vague, ambiguous and just stupid. Additionally, it’s unnecessarily divisive. That’s how I feel about the name “Land Run.” I know about the Land Run. I know about the Indians, all that stuff. When Bobby said he was going to change it, I said to him, “Don’t do it.” Bobby said, “Some people really don’t like this.” I told him to ignore them. You’ll never make everybody happy, just leave it alone.

The things I read on Facebook after Bobby changed it! All these cycling fans were just saying, “Oh that’s great, that’s great. I didn’t know about that history. Oh, great, great, great. Perfect. Thank you, Bobby, for changing it.” I guess there were some people that were bothered by it, legitimately, but the Facebook posts drove me crazy. There are other things that bother me a lot about the relationship between the US government and the Indians. The BLM had squandered hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Indian Trust Fund and we settled for about $0.20 on the dollar. That bothers me. The Osage Murders bother me. There are a lot of things that bother me.

Right now there is a big case before the Supreme Court called “Sharp v. Murphy”. That bothers me. There is a saying, “Bad cases make bad laws.” That is a bad case. The ramifications are massive from that Murphy case. The opportunity for mischief by the Feds is huge. The tribes stand a real possibility of either getting what you wish for, and that being really bad if they jam it down our throats, or having our tribal jurisdiction jerked out from under us. It’s a mess.

Those kinds of things are much more important to me than the name of a bicycle race. The other thing I really resent is a lot of this crap gets pushed down without us asking. It’s so elitist. The fake outrage from people who had no idea until Bobby even told them there was an issue? It’s what I call virtue signaling. People don’t even know anything about it, the Indian situation and the Land Run. Once they hear about it they go, “Oh yeah, that’s really bad. Yeah, right, change that.” They think they raise their own virtue by saying, “Change the name.” It’s virtue signaling. You raise your virtue stake in your own eyes and you didn’t change it in mine. You aren’t doing anything to make the daily life of the Indians any better. You’re just saying something on Facebook and that’s the end of it. A lot of Indian issues bother me, but the name Land Run sure isn’t one of them.