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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Cherokee author, educator, and American Indian activist Ruth Margaret Muskrat was born on October 3, 1897, in the Delaware District of the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. She was one of six children born to Ida Kelly of Irish descent, and James Ezekiel Muskrat, a Cherokee and a farmer.

In 1911, after attending local rural schools, fourteen-year-old Ruth Muskrat entered the University Preparatory School at Tonkawa (now Northern Oklahoma College). She studied literature and became associate editor of the student publication, the Crimson Rambler, which published two of her poems and an essay, “Oklahoma as a Background for Literature.” Graduating in 1916, she briefly attended Henry Kendall College in Tulsa and Northeastern Normal (now Northeastern State University) in Tahlequah. She then taught in rural schools for two years before entering the University of Oklahoma in 1919, majoring in English and completing three semesters. Two years later, through the Young Women’s Christian Association’s program for young American Indian women, she worked at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Her accomplishments garnered her a scholarship to attend the University of Kansas, where she completed three semesters in the school of journalism.

In 1922 Muskrat attended the World’s Student Christian Federation conference held in Beijing, China, as the first American Indian student delegate. She received international attention, and her six-month trip to China included a visit to Hong Kong and stops in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. Her exposure to various cultures may have influenced her to work for racial equality.

In 1923 she attended an American Indian leadership meeting known as the “Committee of One Hundred.” There she presented her views for better educational institutions for American Indians. Before giving a speech entitledIndian Leadership, Past and Present,” she presented Pres. Calvin Coolidge a copy of Gustavus Elmer Emanuel Linquist’s The Red Man in the United States. The book had a beaded cover crafted by American Indian women living in Oklahoma.

In 1923 she received a full scholarship as a junior in Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts. While attending, she continued to write poetry influenced by her father’s storytelling. Titles include “Songs of the Spavinaw,” “Sonnets from the Cherokee,” “The Hunter’s Wooing,” “If You Knew,” and “Trail of Tears.” The Mount Holyoke Monthly published three of her poems and two short stories. One story, entitled “The Serpent,” appeared in a 1925 issue. Her poetry appeared in the University of Oklahoma Magazine in 1922. She also wrote Indians Are People Too (1944) and The Church in Indian Life (1945). She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1925.

After college she continued her career. In 1925 she served briefly as dean at Northeastern State Teachers College at Tahlequah, and in September she accepted a teaching position at Haskell Indian Boarding School in Lawrence, Kansas, where she continued to teach and work as the registrar until 1930. In 1928 Ruth Muskrat married John Franklin Bronson, a mechanical engineer. They adopted a two-year-old American Indian girl.

In 1930 the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed Bronson as the agency’s first guidance and placement officer. For the next fourteen years she helped American Indians gain employment after their college graduation. She also distributed federal funds for school loans and scholarships.

In 1945 Bronson was appointed executive secretary of the new National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). After ten years she was elected NCAI treasurer, a position she held until 1957. During her tenure she monitored legislative issues, spoke before tribal meetings, and advocated for water rights and quality medical care for American Indians. She also edited its newsletter, the Washington Bulletin. In 1949 she became one of three trustees of the NCAI’s nonprofit educational affiliate known as ARROW (Americans for the Restitution and Righting of Old Wrongs). She also chaired the organization’s scholarship fund.

The Bronsons moved to Arizona in 1957. There she worked as a health education specialist at the San Carlos Apache Reservation. She also chaired a national community development organization under the umbrella of Save the Children Foundation.

Ruth Muskrat Bronson’s work brought her numerous national awards. In 1962 the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare gave its the Oveta Culp Hobby Award and the Superior Service Award.  In 1978 she was a recipient of the National Indian Child Conference’s merit award. She died on June 12, 1982, in Tucson, Arizona, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Waterbury, Connecticut.

Linda D. Wilson

Learn More

“Ruth Muskrat Bronson,” in Carole Barret and Harvey Markowitz, eds., American Indian Biographies, rev. ed. (Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press Inc., 2005).

“Ruth Muskrat Bronson,” in Karen Gayton Swisher and AnCita Benally, eds. Native North American Firsts (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, Inc., 1998).

Ruth Muskrat Bronson, “‘Shall We Repeat Indian History in Alaska?’” in Wayne Moquin with Charles Van Doren, eds. Great Documents in American Indian History (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973).

Kirby Brown, “Cherokee Trans/National Stateswomanship in the Nonfiction Writing of Ruth Muskrat Bronson,” in Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Cherokee Writing, 1907–1970 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018).

Alexander Cavanaugh, “Remembering Cherokee Justice in Ruth Muskrat Bronson’s ‘The Serpent,’” American Indian Quarterly 44 (Winter 2020).

Gretchen G. Harvey, Cherokee and American: Ruth Muskrat Bronson, 1897–1982 (Ph.D. diss., Arizona State University, 1996).

Gretchen G. Harvey, “Ruth Muskrat Bronson,” in Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa, eds. (New York: Routledge, 2001).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Bronson, Ruth Margaret Muskrat,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=BR035.

Published March 30, 2023

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