While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »

CALLAHAN, SOPHIA ALICE

Nancy Baker Jones and Jacob Hanley
Sophia Alice Callahan (1868–1894).
Sophia Alice Callahan, born in Hopkins County, Texas, was part Muscogee. She is credited with being the first Native American woman to write a novel. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

CALLAHAN, SOPHIA ALICE (1868–1894). Sophia Alice Callahan, known as Alice, is credited by scholars with being the first Native American woman to write a novel. She was born in Bright Star (now Sulphur Springs), Texas, on January 1, 1868, to Samuel Benton Callahan and Sarah Elizabeth (Thornberg) Callahan. As a small child, Alice’s father and paternal grandmother survived the federal removal of Muscogee people, part of the Creek nation, from Alabama to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) in the 1830s. Samuel’s father, who was Irish, died from exposure on the trek. Through cattle ranching in Okmulgee, Indian Territory, Samuel Callahan accumulated a notable amount of wealth, including slaves. During the Civil War he served in the Confederate States Army and became captain of Company K of the First Creek Confederate Regiment, then represented the Creek and Seminole nations in the Second Confederate Congress. His wealth provided him considerable political and social influence in the Muscogee community, where he became a justice of the Muscogee Nation Supreme Court. Alice’s mother, Sarah Callahan, was the daughter of a Methodist minister in Mississippi and later joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. A few years before Alice was born, her mother fled Oklahoma with her children and an enslaved woman named Clara during the Civil War when a mob burned their home and killed their cattle. They relocated to Sulphur Springs, Texas, where Alice’s paternal grandmother and paternal step-grandfather lived, and Alice’s father joined them after the war.

Alice Callahan had Muscogee heritage from her father’s lineage; he was declared one-eighth Muscogee, and she was deemed one-sixteenth by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She had four brothers and four sisters. The family lived in Sulphur Springs until 1885 when they returned to Okmulgee, where Samuel Callahan had rebuilt his cattle operations. He had apparently traveled between the ranch and Sulphur Springs for nearly twenty years. Alice attended Wesleyan Female Institute in Staunton, Virginia, for ten months in 1877 and 1878, and studied history, languages, the arts, science, mathematics, and religion. She was active in the Muskogee WCTU and wrote for the local newspaper, Our Brother in Red. In 1891, the year her mother died, she began teaching at Harrell Institute and her book, Wynema, a Child of the Forest, was published out of Chicago by H. J. Smith, who produced a variety of titles about politics, social reform, and women’s health. Wynema details Creek Indian culture through the eyes of a young Creek woman and her Anglo, southern, female teacher while also commenting extensively on contemporary issues such as women’s rights and events such as the extermination of hundreds of Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, by the U. S. Seventh Cavalry. Alice Callahan earned no money from the book and in 1892 became a teacher at Wealaka Mission School in Muskogee. She and two other young women attended the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in the summer of 1893. After her return she taught at Harrell Institute again. She developed pleurisy on December 26, 1893, and died less than two weeks later, on January 7, 1894. Our Brother in Red published a long tribute to her, calling her “Sister Alice,” complimenting her “literary turn of mind” and her excellent teaching skills. She was buried in Greenhill Cemetery in Muskogee, Muskogee County, Oklahoma. Wynema remained virtually unknown until 1955 when Oklahoma historian Carolyn Thomas Foreman located it at the Library of Congress and wrote about it in the journal Chronicles of Oklahoma. Scholars interested in indigenous cultures became increasingly aware of it, and in the 1990s they declared it the first novel by an American Indian woman. In 1997 it was republished with a scholarly introduction by A. Lavonne Brown Ruoff. Since that time, the book and Sophia Alice Callahan have become the subjects of numerous papers, articles, and dissertations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alice Callahan, Wynema, a Child of the Forest (Chicago: H.J. Smith and Company, 1891. Reprinted Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997). Confederate Veteran, December 1911. El Paso Times, March 5, 1911. “The Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory,” Oklahoma Historical Society (www. Okhistory.org), accessed February 2, 2014. Carolyn Thomas Foreman, “S. Alice Callahan: Author of Wynema, a Child of the Forest,” Chronicles of Oklahoma History 33 (Autumn 1955). Liyun Lin, Nesebu Boru, and Ganesh Babulal, “Sophia Alice Callahan,” Voices from the Gaps (https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/166110/Callahan,%20Sophia%20Alice.pdf), accessed January 17, 2020. Muscogee Phoenix, October 15, 1891. Muscogee Times-Democrat, February 17, 1911. A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff, “Justice for Indians and Women: The Protest Fiction of Alice Callahan and Pauline Johnson,” World Literature Today (Spring 1992). Our Brother in Red (Muskogee, Oklahoma), August 1, 1891; October 15, 1891. Annette Van Dyke, “An Introduction to Wynema, a Child of the Forest, by Sophia Alice Callahan,” Studies in American Indian Literature Series 2, Volume 4 (Summer/Fall 1992). Linda Wilson, “Callahan, Sophia Alice,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Historical Society (https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CA014), accessed January 19, 2020.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Nancy Baker Jones and Jacob Hanley, "CALLAHAN, SOPHIA ALICE ," accessed July 07, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcl69.

Uploaded on January 23, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...