Robert L. Owen
Robert L. Owen
“A native of the oldest State in the Union, [Robert Owen] became an architect of one of the youngest States in the Union…he had the wisdom to go west…with his own hand and head and heart…he helped to blazon the forty-sixth star in the field of blue.”
Robert Latham Owen was born in Virginia and graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1877. He taught school briefly near Tahlequah at a Cherokee Orphanage and was supervisor of the Cherokee National School System. Senator Owen passed the bar to become a lawyer in 1880. He practiced at Muskogee and organized and became president of First National Bank for the next ten years. He served as Democratic National Committeeman from 1892 to 1896 and historian Roy P. Stewart notes that Owen was the first Oklahoma citizen nominated for U.S. president at a national political convention. As an outstanding lawyer, he won the first major Indian claims cases before federal courts in Washington, D.C. in which millions of dollars were awarded to the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. Owen was an agent for the Five Civilized Tribes from 1885 to 1889 and made impassioned speeches on behalf of Oklahoma statehood. He served as a senator from 1907 until his voluntary retirement from the post in 1924.
Robert Owen joined Thomas P. Gore in becoming the first senators to be elected after statehood in Oklahoma. The agreement was that a senator would come from Indian Territory and another would come from Oklahoma Territory. Owen and Gore were both from Indian Territory and so split the Senate term between them. Interestingly, both were also completely blind at the end of their careers.
Owen came to Tahlequah in Oklahoma Territory as a teacher around 1880. Owen’s mother, a Cherokee native, was from Webber Falls in Indian Territory.