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The derogatory term "Pin Indians" was applied by Treaty Party Cherokees to hostile, pro-Union Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole during the Civil War. The Pins were identified by cross pins worn on their coat lapels or calico shirts. They were disproportionately full bloods, wore turbans, adhered to the long-house culture, and were politically opposed to the frock-coated mixed-bloods who adhered to Southern white cultural norms and belonged to the Knights of the Golden Circle.

The "Pins" sprang from a secret society that had formed in the 1850s. The Keetoowah Society comprised fifteen hundred to two thousand members and was closely associated with Baptist missionaries and antislavery proclivities. The organization was loosely tied to Christianity and to elements within the Masonic Order, but its members sought to revitalize ancient religious and moral codes and to promote values of harmony, inclusion, cooperation, and collectivization. Among other things, they resisted assimilation to Southern white cultural practices such as slavery.

In late 1860 or early 1861 the society became a nucleus for the pro-Union Loyal League. The Pins were a militant offshoot of the Keetoowah Society and advocated the "Red Path" and blood revenge. Under duress, many Pins initially joined the Confederate military but later deserted. A prominent example was John Drew's First Cherokee Mounted Rifles, whose several hundred members switched sides in 1862.

The Civil War became a brutal internecine conflict for the Cherokee, pitting the Stand Watie pro-Confederate faction against the Pins in innumerable skirmishes and personal vendettas. Despite this bitterness Pins issued a circular in 1863 inviting Confederate Cherokee to return in allegiance to the old treaties. Few did and animosities intensified. The Pins also held a council at Cowskin Prairie in February 1863, elected Thomas Pegg as acting chief, and passed resolutions that revoked the Confederate alliance, reasserted tribal allegiance to the United States, deposed disloyal Cherokee, and emancipated slaves.

At the Camp Napoleon Council in May 1865 Confederate Indians invited Pins to join a pan-Indian confederation to negotiate a restoration of relations with the United States, but the Pins refused. After the war the Pins and southern faction remained divided. Each sent separate delegations to treat with the federal government, whose officials often proved amenable to the interests of the latter.

Tom Franzmann

See Also


Learn More

J. W. Duncan, "The Keetoowah Society," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 4 (September 1926).

Wilfred Knight, Red Fox: Stand Watie and the Confederate Indian Nations During the Civil War Years in Indian Territory (Glendale, Calif.: A. H. Clark Co., 1988).

Howard Q. Tyner, "The Keetoowah Society in Cherokee History" (M.A. thesis, University of Tulsa, 1949).

Morris L. Wardell, A Political History of the Cherokee Nation, 1838–1907 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Tom Franzmann, “Pin Indians,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=PI008.

Published January 15, 2010

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