Douglas Hancock Cooper was born on 1 November 1815 in Amite County, Mississippi Territory, the son of a Baptist minister and physician. He attended the University of Virginia in 1832–34 but returned to Mississippi without graduating. Cooper married Martha Collins of Natchez and the couple raised seven children on their plantation. He was elected to the state legislature in 1844 and volunteered for service during the Mexican War, where he was commissioned a captain in the 1st Mississippi Rifles, commanded by Jefferson Davis. In 1853 Cooper used his ties to Davis, who had become the US secretary of war, to receive an appointment as US agent to the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory.
This appointment profoundly shaped Cooper’s life. He remained in Indian Territory for the remainder of the antebellum period, and when secession came, the proslavery Cooper sought to gain an alliance with the Five Civilized Tribes on behalf of the Confederacy. He was not entirely successful. Although perhaps thirty-five hundred Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians fought for the Confederacy, other members of the same tribes remained loyal to the United States. Cooper’s recruiting success gained him a commission as colonel of the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, the only commander of a Confederate Indian unit who was not a Native American. Cooper led his command in several actions in Indian Territory; at Pea Ridge, Arkansas; and at Newtonia, Missouri. He was promoted to brigadier general in May 1863.
Although Cooper fought in a series of small engagements the following summer, he focused primarily on winning the post of commander of the Indian Territory with authority over all the Native American combatants. Cooper had both powerful friends and adversaries, and the latter apparently cited Cooper’s fondness for alcohol when they labored to thwart his ambitions. Cooper feuded with Gens. Albert Pike (whom Cooper arrested on grounds of “treason or insanity”), William Steele, and Samuel Maxey. Even after Richmond authorities finally appointed Cooper to head Indian Territory in July 1864, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who had grave doubts about Cooper’s abilities, delayed making the change until 21 February 1865.
When the war ended, no Confederate authority notified Cooper, and there is no record of his having been paroled. Cooper remained in Indian Territory, where he helped the Choctaw and Chickasaw sue the federal government for failed promises dating back to the Indian Removals of the 1830s. Cooper died at Old Fort Washita in Oklahoma on 29 April 1879 and is buried in an unmarked grave in the fort cemetery.
- Anne Bailey, in The Confederate General, ed. William C. Davis, vol. 2 (1991)
- John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (2001)
- Charles E. Hooker, Confederate Military History: Mississippi, ed. Clement A. Evans (1899)