By Krystan Moser
In 1935, the city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, was chosen as the site of a new 75-bed Indian hospital. The W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital opened on August 1, 1938, and was named after William Wirt Hastings, a prominent Cherokee politician, lawyer and businessman.
William Wirt “W.W.” Hastings was born in Arkansas on Dec. 31, 1866. After moving with his family to the Delaware District, Hastings graduated from the Cherokee National Male Seminary in 1884 and from Vanderbilt University in 1889.
After graduation, Hastings taught for a year at the Cherokee Orphan Asylum and was elected as a member of the Cherokee Board of Education in 1890. Hastings established himself as a lawyer and formed a law partnership with Elias C. Boudinot and William P. Thompson. In 1891, he was elected attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, a position he held for four years. In 1892, he presided over the first Democratic Convention in the Indian Territory. During this time, he also served as a delegate for the Cherokee Nation in Washington, D.C., and while there assisted in the Indian appropriation bill of March 3, 1893, negotiating the sale of the Cherokee Outlet in what is now north-central Oklahoma. In 1896, Hastings again served as a Washington delegate as well as an attorney representing Cherokee tribal interests before the Dawes Commission. Hastings remained a key representative of the Cherokee Nation during their negotiations with the Dawes Commission up to 1907. In 1906, Hastings was again employed as a national attorney for the Cherokee Nation, and the president of the United States approved this appointment.
In 1912, Hastings served as a delegate to the state Democratic Convention and then the National Democratic Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. From 1915-1921, Hastings served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives under the Democratic Party for the 64th, 65th and 66th Congresses. During the 65th Congress, he served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Interior. Although he lost his bid for re-election in 1920, Hastings was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 68th, 69th, 70th, 71st, 72nd and 73rd Congresses. In 1934, he resumed the practice of law in Tahlequah, as he would not be eligible for re-election to Congress in 1935. Hastings served nine terms in Congress, during which he introduced legislation to help establish an Indian hospital in Tahlequah, which was named W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in his honor. Hastings also served as a member of the U.S. House Indian Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee, as well as serving as the president of the First National Bank of Tahlequah.
Following the passage of the Curtis Act in 1898, tribal governments were shut down effective 1906. This did not necessarily mean that all tribal affairs were in order, and sometimes a tribal leader’s signature was needed so the president of the United States would appoint a “chief” for the occasion. In January 1936, Hastings was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as “chief for a day” in order to sign a deed for the U.S. government. He died on April 8, 1938, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and is interred at the Tahlequah City Cemetery in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.