Clark David Gardner

Clark David Gardner 1975 - 1978

Chief Gardner was Born April 22, 1940, at Boswell, Oklahoma. His parents were Reverend Critten A. Gardner and Ida Mae Jones. He attended school at Boswell until he was 13 and then moved to Sulphur to finish his undergraduate work. After graduating from Sulphur High School he entered East Central State University at Ada. He earned his bachelor's degree there and his master's degree from Southwestern State University. He also did graduate work at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma. Gardner served a hitch in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1963. He also taught at the University of Oklahoma and at Southwestern State for a time. David Gardner married Carol Jean Parker on August 27, 1958.

Gardner, a distant relative of Chief Harry J. W. Belvin, spearheaded an opposition force against Belvin's administration. He advocated that the Choctaws should have a two-party government. His first attempt to become chief was thwarted because he was only 31 instead of the 35-year age limit required by the Choctaws for potential candidates. His efforts were not in vain. At age 35 David Gardner o­nce more ran for chief and was elected to the Choctaw Nation. He took office on August 1975. The 1975 Annual Choctaw Labor Day Festival at the Choctaw Capitol in Tushka Homma was highlighted by a ceremonial swearing-in of newly elected Chief Clark David Gardner, 35, of Muskogee. The oath of office was administered to the new Chief by District Judge Sam Sullivan of Durant. This was, however, o­nly a ceremony because the official oath of office was administered Tuesday evening, August 26, 1975, at Southeastern State University in Durant by U. S. Senator Henry Bellmon. The oath of office was originally scheduled to be given during the Labor Day activities, but a hurry-up ceremony was arranged when it was discovered the term of Harry J. W. Belvin, Principal Chief of the Choctaws since 1948, had expired. And too, it is reported a Bureau of Indian Affairs ruling requires that no tribe can be without a Principal Chief over a specified length of time. If a new chief is not sworn in within that time, the BIA and the outgoing chief can appoint a new chief, even if an election has been held.

In an interview, Gardner said that he was going to "take it slow and easy". In making changes during his administration, Gardner stressed the fact that there would definitely be a new tribal constitution for the Choctaws drawn up by the people. "We feel there is a great future for the Choctaw Nation." 

Calvin Beams and Gardner drew the most votes out of eight candidates who entered the primary election on August 9th. The candidates with the five highest votes were Gardner 1412; Beams, 864; Tom Coleman, 725; Dub Victor, 463; Robert Anderson, 348. The runoff votes for Gardner were 2,049 to 1,329 for Beams.

He was one of the organizers of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Alliance. His support of this union was based on the fact that the two tribes had similar problems and goals. He contended they should work together to bring about positive changes for both tribes. Believing the Choctaw language was dying out, Gardner gained permission to reprint a Choctaw dictionary by Cyrus Byington, an early day missionary. Sold in paperback form to the Choctaws, this publication rekindled interest in the Choctaw language and culture. Clark David Gardner, a Presbyterian, passed away in Durant, Oklahoma, on January 13, 1978, while still Chief. Private graveside services were held January 14, at Sulphur where he is buried.