Thompson, Charles Martin (1860–1935)

By: Howard N. Martin

Type: Biography

Published: September 1, 1995

Updated: March 10, 2021

Charles Martin Thompson, whose Indian name was Sun-Kee, principal chief of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians from 1928 to 1935, was born on the reservation in Polk County, Texas, in 1860. Not only did he become a leader in tribal business, church activities, and school development, but he also ranked above all other tribal members in efforts to focus attention on the Alabama-Coushatta cultural heritage. Thompson attended school on the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, where he learned to use the English language very effectively in reading, writing, and speaking. He worked in the timber industry and farmed his allotted area. Also, he was occasionally employed by White farmers in the vicinity of the reservation. In 1904 he married Josie Sylestine, a granddaughter of Colabe Cillistine, who was a prominent subchief of the Alabama Indians during the first half of the nineteenth century. The couple had two daughters and one son. Thompson was skillful in the production of bows and arrows, whistles or flutes, drums, blowguns, and other craft items. He attended many public gatherings in Polk County and other counties in southeastern Texas to sell these products and demonstrate their uses. He was foremost among the Alabama-Coushatta storytellers. In 1912 John R. Swanton of the Bureau of American Ethnology made two brief trips to the reservation, and on both occasions Thompson served as the principal informant as well as translator for Swanton's interviews with other Indians. In December 1932 Frances Densmore of the Bureau of American Ethnology made a survey of Alabama-Coushatta music. For this project Thompson recorded a large group of songs (these are chants; no words are spoken) related to eleven dances.

Thompson was a faithful member of the Presbyterian Mission Church on the reservation and served his church as an elder. Also, he was on the school board for the Alabama-Coushatta common school district. In 1928 he was elected chief of the Alabama-Coushattas. He went to Washington, D.C., that year with a tribal delegation to request federal help in expanding and improving the reservation. As a result, in June 1928 the United States Congress appropriated $40,000 for the Alabama-Coushattas. Of this amount, $29,000 was used for the purchase of 3,071 acres of land adjoining the original grant of land for a reservation. The remainder was spent primarily for horses, cattle, hogs, and livestock feed. In 1929 the state of Texas appropriated $47,000 for the construction of a gymnasium, a hospital, a home for the reservation administrator, and twenty-five cottages for the Alabama-Coushattas. Later, twenty-five additional houses were built. During his seven years as tribal chief, Thompson served effectively as leader of the Alabama-Coushattas and represented the tribe in various business, social, and religious meetings. He continued to serve as chief until his death on September 8, 1935. He was buried in the tribal cemetery on the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation.

Anna K. Fain, The Story of Indian Village (Livingston, Texas, 1948). Vivian Fox, The Winding Trail: The Alabama-Coushatta Indians of Texas (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983). Aline T. Rothe, Kalita's People (Waco: Texian Press, 1963). Harriet Smither, "The Alabama Indians of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 36 (October 1932). U.S. House of Representatives, Alabama Indians in Texas (document 1232, 61st Cong., 3d Sess., 1911). U.S. House of Representatives, Alabama Indians of Texas (document 866, 62d Cong., 2d Sess., 1912).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Chiefs and Other Leaders
  • Visual Arts
  • Arts and Crafts

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

Howard N. Martin, “Thompson, Charles Martin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995
March 10, 2021