1934 - 2023
Gene Underwood was born April 5, 1934, near Tishomingo, Oklahoma, to parents Joe and Mary Underwood. After graduating from Russett High School, he went on to attend Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas.
While living in California in the 1960s, Underwood helped form an all-Indian softball league in the Bay area. Upon his return to Oklahoma, he helped put together the Washita Rebels, an all-Indian softball team. Underwood then talked to other First American players and coaches and helped create one of the first Indian softball tournaments in the area.
Following the ratification of the Constitution of the Chickasaw Nation in 1983, he served three terms as a Chickasaw Tribal Legislator (1983-1992). After his term ended, he was appointed to the Chickasaw Nation Wildlife Commission by Governor Anoatubby. Throughout that time, Underwood was also employed by the Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur, Oklahoma. After 23 years, he retired from that position in 1997.
Family, church and being Chickasaw were most important throughout his life. Keeping the Chickasaw culture alive was also very important to him, so when his son Dennis and brothers Ted and Chet began building an authentic replica of an early 18th century dugout canoe, Underwood joined the family project. The men traveled to the Chickasaw Homeland in Mississippi to research the project. Together, they burned and carved out the canoe, which has since become a real working model of the original.
Underwood and his brothers were the subject of one of the Elders portraits painted by renowned Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen. They were also selected for a portrait by world-famous photographer David Fitzgerald for the book “Chickasaw: Unconquered and Unconquerable.”
Underwood’s contributions to the Chickasaw Nation helped preserve and uncover its valuable and rich heritage.