Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas, 1941


Jim, 2010

          My mother Wenonah, or Jim as most people knew her, was fiercely independent. After my father's death 10 years ago, she continued to live alone in the house they had built 40 years before.  Until a month before her death this year at the age of 96, she cooked her own meals, drove her own car, paid her own bills, and exercised vigorously for 30 minutes every day. Jim washed her dishes by hand. Her dishwasher died of old age without ever being used. She used a washing machine to wash her clothes, but refused to have a drier, saying she liked the crisp feel of clothes dried outside on a line. Sometimes the weather was a little crisp too when she hung out her clothes, but she liked it that way.

          I called Jim every two or three days after my father died, but living 600 miles away my visits were infrequent. During Jim's last years, all of her contemporaries were gone. There were a few friends and family members who called, but her main contacts were her next door neighbor, her yard man, and her hair dresser. She spent our last few visits together showing me keep sakes. The house was full of them. In fact there was hardly anything that didn't have a story.

          One day Jim opened a dresser drawer and pulled out a little box. I recognized the box. It contained a tiny manger scene that she had set up every Christmas as long as I could remember, but I had never heard its story.


                                         Jim and Don, 1941

          My parents were married in 1941, and their first Christmas together came just two weeks after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Everett, my father's younger brother, was on the Battleship Oklahoma which was sunk during the attack, so the family assumed that he had been killed. Christmas was the last thing on their minds.

                                                         Everett, 1941

          Jim said that she and Don, my father, lived in an apartment just about a block from her sister Kaliteyo. Kaliteyo's daughter, Lahoma was in the sixth grade that year, and every day after school Lahoma would come by to visit Jim. She was always cheerful and Jim looked forward to seeing her, in spite of the cloud that hung over their lives.

                                                 Lahoma and Kaliteyo

          One Saturday Lahoma came by to visit and brought with her a large paper bag. Don was off work so both he and Jim were at home. Lahoma announced that they needed some Christmas decorations, and then proceeded to take little ornaments out of her bag and put them around the room. Lahoma and her mother were struggling to make ends meet, and it was a sacrifice for her to spend her meager allowance on decorations for them. Jim and Don promised to try to be happy for Christmas.

                                               Manger Scene, 1941

          Jim said that the next day she decided to celebrate Christmas. She went to Greens, a variety store similar to T, G and Y, and bought a manger scene for 50₵. So thanks to Lahoma they managed to have a little joy on their first Christmas together.

          It was January before they got the news that Everett had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. My father got a job at Boeing aircraft and didn't have to go to war, but two of his brothers served in the Pacific.

          As I looked at the little manger scene again after all these years, I noticed printed on the box: "Made in Japan."

                       Lahoma, Jim, and Don at Oklahoma State Fair, 1941

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reverend Jason McClure

                                            Reverend Jason McClure

          Well, I am home again, invigorated by visiting with my grandchildren. We had a great time, and they even tolerated my not so tall tales about their ancestors. My son in law has applied for a job working for the Chickasaw tribal government too, so that is exciting. During my down time I took a break from Chickasaw History to read Mark Twain's autobiography. Now there was a story teller.

          I've decided to begin my stories again by telling about my great great grandmother's first husband, the Reverend Jason McClure. Reverend McClure was a Scottish missionary who joined the Chickasaws sometime near the turn of the 18th century. My great great grandmother, Ela-Teecha (also spelled Ah-la-tack and Allatateche) Brown of the Imo-suck-cha clan of Chickasaws, married McClure sometime during the early 1800's. They lived together in the Chickasaw homeland in Mississippi until 1837 or 1838 when they moved to Indian Territory with the rest of the Chickasaws on the Trail of Tears. Ela-Teecha, later called Ellen by the family, bore two children by McClure: Tecumseh in 1830 and Catherine in 1831. They say that Ellen spoke English with a Scottish brogue because she learned the language from McClure.  

          Rev. McClure died from rabies, or hydrophobia as it was called back then, after being bitten by a mad dog. My mother was told that McClure had become a veterinarian, so he must have been consulted about a sick dog - the Chickasaws loved their dogs and their horses. I saw a case of rabies once when I was in training. It's a terrible way to die. There's no cure if you don't get the vaccine right away, and there was no vaccine in those days. The infection causes a painful spasm of the salivary glands which is set off by seeing water, hence the nickname, hydrophobia. The victim soon becomes agitated and delirious which is why affected dogs are called "mad." Eventually rabies leads to convulsions, paralysis and death.

          According to family lore, my great great grandfather Smith Paul was working for McClure at the time of the Removal, and he may have been living with the family for some time. He and McClure were both Scottish, and it's easy to imagine Smith taking up with the McClures when he came to live with the Chickasaws 17 years before. After McClure's death, Smith Paul and Ela-Teecha were married. She was 13 years his senior, but it was common then for a widow to marry one of her husband's family, and Smith Paul was probably the closest thing to family that McClure had.

          I know a little about Tecumseh and Catherine, Ellen and Jason's older children, and their families. Tecumseh was a leader of the Chickasaw "Pullback" political party, who opposed the Progressives, led by his brother, my great grandfather, Sam Paul. In spite of this they were still friends, and their children were close also. Catherine married a white man named Waite and sent her children east to be educated. One of her sons, Fred, went to New Mexico to go into the ranching business, and ended up allied with Billy the Kid in the Lincoln County Range War.  

          My mother knew some of her McClure and Waite cousins, but I had no information about Reverend McClure himself until I stumbled on his name in a book called A Traveler in Indian Territory, a transcription by Grant Foreman of the Journal of Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock, written in 1842 during a trip through Indian Territory. Hitchcock had been sent by the federal government to investigate claims by the Five Civilized Tribes that their funds were mismanaged by contractors hired to move them west.

          I was delighted to discover that Hitchcock had stayed with the McClures for several days in their house at Boggy Depot. Boggy Depot was on the Clear Boggy River just a few miles north of the Red River. It was a supply depot and much of the Chickasaw Tribe lived nearby until Fort Washita was built further west to protect them from raids by the Comanches, Wichitas and other plains tribes. Hitchcock was curious about Indian customs, and he and McClure discussed everything from the Chickasaw pashofa ceremony to McClure's fondness for bear meat.

          Unfortunately Major Hitchcock didn't record anything about McClure's family, but from the timing of his visit you can conclude that McClure was still alive in 1842, five years after the removal. He must have died shortly after Hitchcock's visit, to allow for a period of grieving - the Chickasaws traditionally observed a grieving period of several months to a year- and for Ela-Teecha to marry my great great grandfather, Smith Paul, and to have their first child together, my great grandfather, Sam Paul, by May of 1845.

To be continued:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas

          Just a note to let you know I'll be out of town for a few days, visiting my grandkids. Hopefully they'll indulge me by letting me tell them some stories about their ancestors, or silly Christmas jokes like:

          Why is Prancer always wet? Because he's a rain-deer.

          Anyway, it should be fun. Actually I'll be coming back this weekend, so I should be able to turn out another story before Christmas. Right now it's between tales of Chickasaw and cowboy trackers, and the first reference I've found to my family after the Removal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chickasaw Removal, Part II

          Ironically, the people who drove the Chickasaws out of their homeland paid tribute to them as they were leaving. Here's an excerpt from an article published in a newspaper in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1837.

          In taking leave of our red brethren and neighbors we render them no more than a just tribute to their merit, when we say that they have always stood deservedly high as a nation of Indians. They have been, both in profession and practice, the friends of white men. In war they have always been found enlisted in the cause of Government, and not infrequently their blood has been spilt in support of the cause of civilized man.

          The Chickasaws had been good neighbors. Not only had they fought on the side of the United States, even against other Indian tribes; they had for years provided food, lodging and supplies to those travelling through their domain on the Natchez trace, the most heavily traveled road in the south, but these words of praise must have sounded hollow to the Chickasaws in the fall of 1837, as they prepared to make their grueling journey west.

          By this time white settlers and whiskey peddlers were wreaking havoc among the Chickasaws. Shortly after the Chickasaws signed the treaty of Doaksville, buying for themselves a portion of the Choctaw domain in the west, the Chickasaw chiefs wrote a letter to the new President, Martin Van Buren, requesting that he provide for their people "a speedy removal to their new home, and thereby prevent the many evils which they now suffer." 

          Colonel A. M. M. Upshaw was appointed superintendant for the removal. He quickly enrolled the citizens in each of the four Chickasaw districts, named Tishomingo, McGilbery, Alberson, and Sealy, for their chiefs. Supply depots were identified along the planned route and rations were purchased. The plan was for the Chickasaw emigrants to travel in their wagons along a land route, first across the Arkansas swamp to Little Rock, and then south to Ft. Towson in the Choctaw domain.

          Much of the Chickasaw land was bought up quickly at a minimum rate of $1.25 per acre by companies formed for land speculation, and those deemed competent by the commission became rich instantly. Most of the Chickasaws though, unaccustomed to wealth and despondent over being forced to leave their native land, were easy marks for swindlers who took their money for liquor and cheap goods.

          Even those who were prudent with their money tended to buy more than was practical for them to carry. Col. Upshaw reported:

          They bought a great many valuable articles for themselves to take west, believing that their wants could not be supplied after getting to their homes. … Every merchant was pressing off on them every article he could. In fact, sir, I saw two women purchase seven hundred dollars worth of goods in the course of two hours. … Some had three or four waggons. … Besides the waggons that they brought loaded, they brought about seven thousand ponies and horses, all packed as long as an Indian can pack them, and they can pack more on a horse than other people I ever saw.

          When Upshaw protested to the Chickasaw leaders about the quantity of baggage they were taking he received the following reply:

          We are moved out of our own money. This is our property. We want it. It is valuable to us. Were we to attempt to sell it, we could not for a hundred dollars worth get five dollars. Will you make us burn or throw our property in the River? We are the friends of the Whites; we have ever been and wish ever to be. In our treaty with our Great Father, it does not say that we shall not carry our baggage with us.

          Col. Upshaw apologized to his superiors in Washington:

          Under these circumstances what could I say? I tell you what I did say. 'Put your baggage in the boat.' If I was wrong, it was in not obeying the Regulation. Feelings of kindness and justice compelled me to take the course I did.

          Colonel Upshaw was one of the few men in charge of the Indian removal who were moved by "feelings of kindness and justice."

          The first group of emigrants, about 500, departed in late June. Like the other tribes, the Chickasaws suffered on their journey through the swamps. Heavy rains caused the roads to be almost impassible, and soon the group's progress was slowed to a crawl. They were also afflicted with fevers and dysentery. When the exhausted travelers reached Little Rock, their conductor, John Millard, informed them that the plan had been changed. They would be traveling first to Ft. Coffee by steamer, and then on to Ft. Towson, their final destination, by land.  

          The reason for this change of plan was an accommodation to government inefficiency. In meetings prior to their removal the Chickasaw leaders had requested that their rations be purchased along the way by their conductors as needed, but removal contracts were lucrative and so the awards were determined by political influence. Therefore rations for the entire removal were purchased in Cincinnati and New Orleans, and far in excess of what was needed. Then they were shipped to Fort Coffee in Indian Territory and allowed to sit out and spoil.

          In spite of the fact that the meat was rotten and the corn moldy, the army still intended to feed it to the Chickasaws, but by the time the first removal party reached Little Rock, Arkansas, the water level in the Arkansas River was too low to move the rations to the Indians, so the army decided to move the Indians to the rations. Ironically, Choctaw and Creek farms in Indian Territory were by 1837 producing enough food for the Chickasaw removal.

          The Chickasaws balked at the plan. They didn't know about the ration fiasco, but they had been told that the direct route to Ft. Towson was the best, and they could hunt along the way to supplement their rations, so they refused to change their plans. Millard did convince the Chickasaw leaders to allow the sick and elderly to go by steamer to Ft. Coffee, while the rest of the group followed the road south to Ft. Towson.

          The rations at Ft. Coffee were not very good medicine for the sick and elderly. Col. Upshaw reported later:

The rations … issued at Ft. Coffee consisted of damaged pork, damaged flour, and damaged corn, with salt … not regularly issued. The provision was so bad that, on distributing it to the party, many would not receive it. The corn appeared to have been shelled in its green state, and had been mildewed. A part of the corn was weevil eaten. Some of the corn was so much injured that horses would not eat it. … The pork was so bad that Dr Walker told me that, if the emigrants continued to use it, it would kill them all off. It gave those who eat it diarrhoea, and it was always my opinion that many of our poor people died in consequence of it.

          As it turned out, taking the land route proved to be as bad as having to pick through spoiled rations. The land party was plagued by sickness and as many as 4 - 5 people were buried each day. Also thieves had learned to follow the Indian emigrants. Each morning the Chickasaws would find some of their horses missing in spite of their efforts to guard them. Also the Indians were hunting along the way to supplement the poor quality of rations they were receiving. Their conductor, Millard, attributed these delays to the Indian personality. He said that the Chickasaws were "refractory and ungovernable," and that they "seem to take great satisfaction in disregarding all directions and orders they receive from us." He drafted a letter requesting troops from Ft. Towson, and threatened the Chickasaws that they "would be compelled to march at the point of a bayonet," if they continued to delay.

          The Chickasaws saw the futility of resisting, so they sped up their pace. After about a month they arrived at Ft. Towson where they were supplied with decent rations by the Choctaws.

          After this first group of immigrants had been taken to Indian Territory, superintendent Upshaw was assembling the rest, about 4000, to board steamers at Memphis. Learning of Millard's conflicts with the first group of emigrants, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs instructed Upshaw that he was to transport the remaining Chickasaws by steamboat, directly to Ft. Coffee, where the spoiled rations were stored. Also he was to inform them that if they refused to cooperate, he was authorized to call for troops or to withhold rations.

          It was in August that year that the steamboat Monmouth sank with 600 Creek Indians on board. When the Chickasaws arrived at Memphis in October, they learned of the tragedy, and many refused to board the boats, electing the land route instead. Upshaw, following his instructions, threatened the group, which numbered about 1000, with military force or starvation. The leader of the land party, Chief Konope, replied to Upshaw that he didn't have the right to give orders to the Chickasaws since they were paying their own way, and Upshaw, being the gentleman that he was, assigned the group a conductor, a physician and a distribution officer as they were entitled.

          The party travelling by land had the same difficulties going through the Arkansas swamps as did the previous group. The roads were either impassable or nonexistent. The wagons bogged down. The Chickasaws suffered from exposure to the winter cold, and they were stricken with illness.

          There is no detailed account of the main Chickasaw migration, but there is one moving description written by a traveler who observed them as they passed:

          Much money could not compensate for the loss that I have seen … With all there is mixed sympathy for the exiles - for they go unwillingly - whether it be for their good or not - moreover the agents and officers all concurred in speaking of the integrity of the men and the good behavior of the women …I do not think that I have ever been a witness as so remarkable a scene as was formed by this immense column of moving Indians….. They were all most comfortably clad - the men in complete Indian dress with showy shawls tied in turban fashion round their heads - dashing about on their horses, like Arabs, many of them presenting the finest countenances and figures that I ever saw. The women also very decently clothed like white women, in calico gowns - but much tidier and better put on than common white people - and how beautifully they managed their horses, how proud and calm and erect, they sat in full gallop.

          Particularly painful for the Chickasaws was the loss of many of their horses. In one place 60 or 70 horses became mired in the swamp and had to be abandoned. The Chickasaws had been breeding horses for a century, and the Chickasaw horse was valued by both Indians and whites for its intelligence and stamina. Upshaw tried to warn the Chickasaws about taking so many horses. He wrote: "a great many Chickasaws have fine wagons and teams and 4 or 5000 horses. I have used all the influence that I had to get them to sell their horses, but they would about as soon part with their lives as part with a horse."

          About 1000 Chickasaws moved west without assistance from the government. Col. Upshaw came across a group of about 450 Chickasaws at Helena, Arkansas late in 1837, and offered them his help. They refused, saying that they planned to spend the winter hunting and they didn't want any white men with them.

          Some parties were led by wealthy tribal members who made a business of removal as had the Choctaws during their removal in order to claim the commutation payment of $30 per emigrant. 

          About 800 Creek Indians came west with the Chickasaws. They were among those given refuge by the Chickasaws when federal troops had driven the Creeks from their land in 1836.

          During the winter of 1837, after the main body of emigrants had departed, several groups of Chickasaws arrived at Memphis to be enrolled and taken west. Among these was a group of 170 under Chief Kin-hi-cha. These Indians contracted smallpox during their journey through Arkansas, and when they arrived at Fort Towson the disease spread among the Choctaws as well. Before the epidemic ran its course, it had claimed the lives of 500 Chickasaws and Choctaws, including the Choctaw chief, Mushulatubbe.

          This epidemic of smallpox could have been prevented. Vaccination was available at that time. It was just another example of the tragic disregard for the Indians' welfare that characterized the removal.  

          In the summer of 1838 news of the smallpox epidemic reached the Chickasaws still remaining in Mississippi and Alabama, and many refused to emigrate. Finally in the fall, Col. Upshaw was able to convince some to travel. One of these groups was led by the old Chickasaw king, Ish-ta-ho-to-pa. Although his group didn't contract smallpox, they suffered much sickness along the way. At one point 70 people were too sick to rise from their cots, and the party had to camp for two weeks to tend to the sick. The king's wife was among those who died on the journey.  

          For those immigrants surviving the trip west, the first year was difficult. The delivery of rations by government contractors was unreliable. At one point the Chickasaws were without corn for one month. One of the removal conductors, William Guy, wrote to Col. Upshaw in May of 1838:

          I am here starving with the Chickasaws by gross mismanagement on the part of the contractors, and when our situation will be bettered it is hard for me to tell, for it is one failure after another without end.

          One witness reported that he had seen Indian women picking up kernels of corn from where the army's horses had been fed.  

          In September when the time for promised government rations was due to expire, many of the Chickasaws had been unable to establish farms. Many were too late to plant crops, or just too weak after the grueling journey, and besides that there had been a drought. Tribal leaders petitioned Congress for help:

          Many of our people have died and the general drought throughout the Indian country has been particularly felt through ours; for these reasons together with the fact that many of our people arrived too late to make a crop, makes it out duty to apply for further subsistence.

          Congress approved a seven month extension of rations. Of course, the Chickasaws shouldn't have had to beg. The government was using their money to pay for everything anyway.

          In 1839, Colonel Upshaw discharged his staff and declared the Chickasaw Removal complete, even though there were still many Chickasaws remaining in the east.  Small groups continued to migrate west as late as 1850.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chickasaw Removal, Part I


          When my mother told me about the Chickasaw "Trail of Tears" she said: "The Chickasaws had leaders who could understand the treaties, so the government couldn't cheat us. Also the Chickasaws were wealthy. We moved ourselves." I still think that's a pretty good summary of the Chickasaw Removal.

          Like the other Five Civilized Tribes, the Chickasaws adapted to the ways of the white man. At the time of the Removal the Chickasaws had written laws; most had given up hunting to become farmers; many were educated and spoke English, and like the other tribes, the Chickasaws had mixed blood citizens who had become prosperous and influential.

          In spite of these changes, the Chickasaws, like the other Five Civilized Tribes, were labeled as "savages" by the state and federal governments. Their rights and previous treaties with the U S government were disregarded, and they were pushed out of their ancient homeland, without planning or consideration for their safety or well being.  

          Although the Indian tribes had been pushed aside by white settlers since the 'discovery' of America by the Europeans, the official policy of removal actually started in 1802, when the federal government made an agreement with Georgia to extinguish the Indian title to lands within the state. Of course, no one consulted the Indians about the "Georgia Compact," as it was called.

          It was during the administration of President James Monroe that Georgia ramped up it's demand for the federal government to deliver on its promise. Monroe had decided, again without asking the Indians, that they would be better off living far away from white settlers. He felt that removal would not only "shield them from impending ruin, but promote their welfare and happiness," because they had not progressed enough to deal with civilization. Monroe thought that forceful removal would be "revolting to humanity, and utterly unjustifiable." Instead, he proposed a more gentle strategy.  

          President Monroe's advisors suggested that he approach the Chickasaws first. They had signed away land in 1806, 1816, and 1818, and their chiefs appeared to be susceptible to bribes, but in 1824, when Secretary of War, John Calhoun, approached Levi Colbert, the Chickasaw Principal Chief, about ceding the rest of the Chickasaw land to the U S and moving west, he was given a flat refusal. What the government 'experts' didn't understand was that the land previously ceded by the Chickasaws was hunting land which was depleted of game and therefore useless. What remained was their homeland, and they had no intention of parting with it.

          Two years later, in 1826, President Monroe sent commissioners to the Chickasaw Council to argue, or rather threaten that if the Chickasaws remained where they were the laws of the United States would be extended to them. Again, speaking for the Council, Chief Levi Colbert repeated his refusal:

        We have no lands to exchange for any other. We wish our father to extend his protection to us here as he proposes to do west of the Mississippi as we apprehend we would in a few years experience the same difficulties in any other part of the country that might be suitable to us west of the Mississippi. Our father the president wishes that we should come under the laws of the United States. We are a people that are not enlightened and we cannot consent to be under your government. If we should consent we should be likened unto young corn growing and met with a drought that would kill it.

          What Colbert said was prophetic. It was only a few years before the Chickasaws would face the same problems in the west.

          Meanwhile the Chickasaws had been dealing with the same problems as the other tribes. White intruders stole the Chickasaws' timber and their livestock. They planted crops on Indian land, and they sold whiskey. As early as 1810 federal troops were sent to evict white squatters after the Chickasaws had threatened to drive them out themselves. In 1828 a Chickasaw man was beaten by white thieves attempting to steal his livestock, and federal troops were sent again.

          The Chickasaws could see the handwriting on the wall. In 1828 they sent an exploring party west to look at the land the government was offering them. While in Indian Territory, they met the Choctaw delegation, there on a similar mission, and the two parties went on a hunt together. Unlike the Choctaws, the Chickasaws weren't impressed. They told the commissioners they hadn't seen any land in the west to compare with their homeland.  

          Andrew Jackson had been elected President in 1828. In 1829 Mississippi extended its laws to the Indians, and outlawed their tribal government. The Chickasaws, like the Choctaws and Cherokees, appealed to President Jackson.  He responded in his usual patronizing manner:

          To these laws, where you are, you must submit; - there is no preventive, no other alternative. Your great father cannot, nor can congress, prevent it. … Do you believe that you can live under these laws? That you can surrender all your ancient habits, and the forms by which you have been so long controlled: … Where you are, it is not possible you can live contented and happy.  

          In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress, and in August of the same year Jackson invited the Chickasaws and Choctaws to Franklin, Tennessee, to discuss removal. This was the meeting the Choctaws missed because of the conflict between their chiefs Leflore and Mushulatubby. (see post of 11/3/10) The Chickasaws negotiated with the President and signed a treaty. The Mississippians were ecstatic. They threw a party for Jackson in Natchez and toasted his success:

          He found one half of our territory occupied by a few wandering Indians. He will leave it in the cultivation of thousands of grateful freemen.

          But the Mississippians were premature in their celebration. The Chickasaws were careful by nature. It probably came from being a small tribe which had always been surrounded by enemies. They again sent a party west to explore. This time they extended their search into Mexico, in the present state of Texas. When the exploring party returned, Chief Colbert wrote a letter requesting that the President attempt to purchase land for the tribe in Mexico along the Sabine River, adding that "we see no other country which we think would suit us so well." Jackson ignored the request. The treaty had been contingent on the Chickasaws finding "a country suitable to their wants," so the Franklin Treaty was nullified.

          Many incidents occurred that proved to the Chickasaws that the federal government would no longer protect their sovereignty. Probably the most insulting was when the highest ranking of the Chickasaw chiefs, Tishomingo, was arrested and thrown in a Mississippi jail for confiscating the goods of two traders who illegally opened a store in the Chickasaw domain. Tishomingo was fined $500.

          Finally, the Monroe County circuit court, which claimed jurisdiction over the Chickasaws, ruled that the congressional acts governing trade and intercourse with Indian tribes became obsolete when Mississippi extended their laws over the Chickasaw tribe. The Cherokees had already failed in their two appeals to the Supreme Court when the Chickasaws decided to negotiate again.
          In October, 1832, the Chickasaw Council met with U S commissioners at Pontotoc Creek, in Mississippi, and negotiated their final treaty. This treaty was carefully crafted by the Chickasaws, and several amendments were made later. The agreement was different from that of any of the other tribes. It was a monument to the Chickasaws' careful planning and forethought.

          The Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, much like the other removal treaties, provided for the survey and sale of the Chickasaw lands in Mississippi, but unlike the other treaties, the Chickasaws insisted that the money from the sale of the lands be put into a tribal fund. This fund was to be used to purchase land for a new home in Indian Territory, and to pay the expenses of the Removal. The remainder was to be placed into a trust fund, with the interest to be used to provide an annuity for tribal members. The Chickasaws also insisted that the temporary allotments made to Chickasaw citizens pending removal be made in "fee simple." In other words, each individual held title to their property. Finally, in order to protect uneducated tribal members from being swindled out of their property, the Chickasaws set up a tribal commission to oversee the disposal of individual property and improvements belonging to uneducated tribal members, or "incompetents," thus preventing the impoverishment of full bloods that occurred in every other tribe.

          Next, the Chickasaws had to deal with their brothers the Choctaws. There were several problems. First, the Choctaws didn't want to sell any of their land. Second, they wanted the Chickasaws to join them instead of remaining a separate tribe. This was unacceptable to the Chickasaws. They didn't intend to escape the oppression of the state of Georgia only to become an insignificant minority in the much larger Choctaw tribe. Also the Chickasaws were afraid that the much poorer Choctaws would try to take control of the Chickasaw funds.

          The two tribes met in 1835 and again in 1836. They reached a compromise in the Treaty of Doaksville signed January, 1837. The Choctaws agreed to sell about 1/3 of their land to the Chickasaws for $530,000. The Chickasaws would become full citizens of the Choctaw tribe but they would retain control of their own funds. 

          With this agreement the Chickasaws completed their negotiations to move west. Their citizens were now in a better situation those of any other tribe. This they had achieved without the internal conflict that had torn the other tribes apart. They had also dealt successfully with the U S government. There would be no military roundup, no stockades, no Chickasaws marching barefoot in freezing weather through the Arkansas swamps, and the Chickasaws would emerge from their removal the richest of the Five Civilized Tribes.


          Firstly the Chickasaws were unified. Unlike the Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek tribes, the Chickasaws had no mavericks who signed treaties on their own. The Chickasaw mixed blood leaders worked through the traditional Chickasaw council. The opinions of the full bloods were respected, and they concurred with the decisions.

          Secondly the Chickasaws were realistic. When their options were exhausted they proceeded to removal. There was no passive or active resistance like there was among the Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek tribes, so the Chickasaws avoided the violence and humiliation suffered by those tribes.

          I think that the Chickasaw Removal is one of the most remarkable episodes in Chickasaw history, another example of the Chickasaws' ability to work together to overcome adversity.

          The Chickasaws' struggle wasn't over after the treaties were signed however. They still had to make the long journey west, and they would suffer much as the other tribes did on their own "Trail of Tears." There's a lot more to tell.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


          Firstly I want to apologize for spending so much time on these stories about the Removal of the Five Civilized Tribes. It hasn't been easy for me either. The stories are so heartrending it's depressing to spend the time it takes to do the research about them, but each tribe's removal was different, and I wanted to give you a feel for the magnitude of the tragedy. Before I finish with the story of the Chickasaw Removal there are a few things I want to make clear to anyone who has had the interest to read these stories up to this point.

1. I'm not an impartial observer. I have feelings about these events. I've heard about the Removal all my life, and those feelings have grown stronger the more I've read about the subject.

2. I'm not a historian. While I have been careful to follow my sources in reporting the stories, I'm sure that a professional historian could take issue with some of the details. Also when I've been aware of alternate versions of the same event I've just picked the one that seems to me to best fit the situation.

3. There are a lot more details to these stories than I've been able to tell, just like there is more to the Removal than the story of the Chickasaws. That's why I tried to tell about each of the Five Civilized Tribes, but even that is not enough. There is so much more to each story that it's overwhelming, not just in the number of facts, but in the mass of suffering: the outrage, the cruelty, the hardship, the waste of life, the destruction. And even with the mass of information we have, there are virtually no accounts written by the Indians themselves. What it was actually like for the 60,000 or so Indians who made the 400 - 800 mile journey, we can never imagine.

4. In the accounts you read about the Removal, some individuals get to cast in a negative light, for instance William McIntosh of the Creeks, Greenwood Leflore of the Choctaws, and the "treaty party" of the Cherokees. I want to apologize for going along with those characterizations. I truly believe that these men tried to do right by their people. On the other hand I have no apologies for my characterization of Andrew Jackson. In my opinion he was one of the most prejudiced, and ruthless men in history.

5. There's another caveat which I'll make in advance. I have been raised by my mother with a respect, with a kind of awe for the Chickasaws, and I'm sure that comes out in my writing. I make no excuses for that. I'm proud of my heritage.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cherokee Removal



          The Cherokees succeeded probably more than any other tribe in adapting to the white man's world. In 1801 they invited missionaries into their domain to build schools. In 1808 they wrote a legal code, and in 1828 a constitution. By then they were living on farms much like their white neighbors.

          In 1821 a young Cherokee man named Sequoyia, who could neither speak nor write English, created an alphabet for the Cherokee language. Sequoyia's alphabet represented the sounds of the language so completely that soon a large portion of the tribe became literate just by memorizing its characters. By 1828 the Cherokees were printing their own newspaper.  

          Two more events occurred in 1828, however, that doomed to failure all the efforts the Cherokees had made to fit into the white world. First gold was discovered in the Cherokee domain, and gold prospectors flocked in to claim it, disregarding the Cherokees' sovereignty. Secondly, and perhaps more ominous was the election of Andrew Jackson as President of the United States. Jackson, who in 1814 had massacred almost 1000 Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend and rendered thousands more homeless by destroying their villages, who had entered Florida illegally in 1817 to attack the Seminoles, and who as a government commissioner had threatened and bribed Indians to sign away millions of acres, all the while pretending to be their friend and protector. 

                                   Andrew Jackson, the Great Father

         The election of Jackson gave the southern states all the encouragement they needed to proceed with ridding themselves of the "Indian problem." In 1830 the Georgia legislature passed laws forbidding the Cherokee courts to function, and the council to meet, except to consider treaties. The Cherokees were forbidden to mine their own gold, and Georgia began to survey the Cherokee land to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. As they had done with the Creeks, Georgia land speculators brought fraudulent claims against the Cherokees to cheat them out of their land. The Cherokees were thrown into jail and beaten, and were not allowed to bring suit or even testify in court. 

         Instead of upholding the treaties which guaranteed the Indians protection against the  whites, President Jackson informed the Indians he was powerless to counteract the state laws. He even stopped the Cherokee annuity, saying that the tribal government was extinct.  


                                                        John Ross

          At the time the Cherokees adopted their constitution, they had elected John Ross as chief. John Ross was only an eighth Cherokee by blood, "but all Cherokee in feeling," as historian Angie Debo put it. He was educated; he knew influential people, and he knew how the system worked, so he got a lawyer and sued the state of Georgia. Without an annuity the tribe had no funds, but Ross' friends donated money. The lawsuit, Cherokee Nation vs Georgia, went to the Supreme Court in 1831. The case was intended to establish property rights for Cherokee citizens, but the Supreme Court refused to hear it, saying they did not have jurisdiction because the Cherokee Nation was a dependant nation of the United States government and could not sue in a state court. 

          The arrogant Georgians then passed another law which gave the Cherokees another opportunity. This law required any white man working among the Cherokees to take an oath of allegiance to the state of Georgia. Two missionaries, Samuel Worchester and Elizur Butler, refused to take the oath and were sent to prison. The Cherokees then sued on behalf of Reverend Worchester. This time the Supreme Court heard the case, and they ruled in favor of the Cherokees! It was February 1832. John Marshall, the Chief Justice, wrote the opinion for the majority:

          The Cherokee Nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties and with the acts of Congress. The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States.

The law under which Worcester and Butler were convicted:

… is consequently void, and the judgment is a nullity.
          Meanwhile, as the Cherokees rejoiced, President Jackson reassured Georgia that in spite of the court's ruling, the Cherokees would get no support from him. Jackson was reported to have said, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it." Worcester and Butler were soon given pardons, but Georgia went ahead with its land lottery. The Cherokees' homes, their government buildings at the capital of New Echota, their churches and schools, were all auctioned off. Chief Ross' family was evicted and forced to move across the Georgia state line where they were taken in by relatives. The Cherokees' printing press was confiscated.

          Many gave up hope of remaining in their ancient homeland. Some of the more militant Cherokees had already migrated west. As time passed they were joined by more of their western brothers. Of those who stayed, a few began to negotiate with the government commissioners. Among them were chiefs Major Ridge, his son, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot, and Stand Watie. These men presented their treaty to the Cherokee Council, but it was unanimously rejected. The Council voted instead to send John Ross to Washington to negotiate another treaty. As Ross prepared to go, a contingent of the Georgia guard arrested him and threw him into jail. Hanging from the beams in his cell was the body of a Cherokee brave who had been hanged. Chief Ross however was released after 13 days. He proceeded to Washington and attempted to deal with the commissioners but was ignored. In his absence, on December 29, 1835, the Ridge party signed the original treaty, agreeing to sell the vast Cherokee domain for a mere $5 million, about 50₵ per acre. Afterward, John Ross presented a petition to Congress renouncing the treaty. The petition contained 16,000 names, virtually the entire Cherokee population, but Congress ratified the treaty anyway.

          After the Treaty of New Echota, as it was called, the Cherokees stubbornly refused to leave their land. Many thought that the new President Martin Van Buren would be more sympathetic to their plight. In 1837 Major Ridge, one of the signers of the hated treaty, wrote a letter to the President, pleading for support:

          They have got our lands and now they are preparing to fleece us of the money accruing from the treaty. We found our plantations taken either in whole or in part by the Georgians - suits instituted against us for back rents for our own farms. Thus our funds will be filched from our people, and we shall be compelled to leave our country as beggars and in want. Even the Georgian laws, which deny us our oaths, are thrown aside and notwithstanding the cries of our people, and protestation or our innocence and peace, the lowest classes of the white people are flogging the Cherokees with cowhides, hickories, and clubs. We are not safe in our houses - our people are assailed by day and night by the rabble. Even justices of the peace and constables are concerned in this business. This barbarous treatment is not confined to men, but the women are stripped also and whipped without law or mercy…Send regular troops to protect us from these lawless assaults, and to protect our people as they depart for the West. If it is not done, we shall carry off nothing but the scars of the lash on our backs, and our oppressors will get all the money.
          We talk plainly, as chiefs having property and life in danger, and we appeal to you for protection.   

          General Ellis Wool, in charge of the federal troops sent to the Cherokee Nation to prevent opposition to removal, was appalled when he became aware of the Indians' situation. In February, 1837, he reported on the Cherokees' unity in opposing removal:

It is, however, vain to talk to a people almost universally opposed to the treaty and who maintain that they never made such a treaty. So determined are they in their opposition that not one … however poor or destitute, would receive either rations or clothing from the United States lest they might compromise themselves in regard to the treaty. These same people … during the summer past, preferred living upon the roots and sap of trees rather than receive provisions from the United States, and thousands, as I have been informed have had no other food for weeks. Many have said they will die before they will leave the country.

          While in command, Wool did what he could to protect the Cherokees from squatters. In July 1837, Wool was brought before an army court of inquiry at the request of the governor and legislature of Alabama, on the charge that he had "trampled upon the rights of the citizens." (by evicting them from Cherokee land) The court ruled that Wool had performed his duties in strict accord with the provisions of the treaty. Wool was not the only army officer who sympathized with the Indians. General Dunlap of Tennessee refused to move his troops into Georgia, declaring "that he would never dishonor the Tennessee arms by aiding to carry into execution at the point of a bayonet a treaty by a lean minority against the will and authority of the Cherokee people."

          The Cherokees waited. Not only were they getting some support from the military, there had been much public outcry against their mistreatment, and perhaps most importantly, they had faith in their chief, John Ross, who continued to stand fast, from his little cabin in Tennessee, where he had lived since being evicted from his farm n Georgia.

          But the Cherokees' battle, fought peacefully in the press and in the courts, was no more successful than the bloody rebellions of the Seminoles and the Creeks. Finally, in May 1838, after being threatened with a military confrontation by the governor of Georgia, President Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott into Georgia with 7000 troops to remove the Cherokees by force.

          General Scott set up stockades at the Cherokee capital of New Echota. The Cherokees were defenseless. They had already been disarmed during General Wool's occupation. Troops surrounded the Cherokee communities and then went house to house rounding them up. 

          Families at dinner were startled by the sudden gleam of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows an oaths along the weary miles of trail that led to the stockade. Men were seized in their fields or going along the road, women were taken from their wheels and children from their play. In many cases on turning for one last look as they crossed the ridge, they saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage … A Georgia volunteer, afterward a colonel in the Confederate service, said: "I fought through the Civil War and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by the thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."

          By the end of June most of the 16,500 Cherokees remaining in the east had been captured. Several parties were started on the 800 mile journey west, and soon they were dying by the hundreds. Citizens of Tennessee and Kentucky, observing the emigrants as they passed by, protested the treatment of the Indians. Finally General Scott announced that the removal of the remaining Cherokees would be delayed until after the "sick season" as the summer months were known. In the interim, Chief Ross pled with General Scott for the tribe to be allowed to organize their own removal. The general agreed, but the remaining 13000 Cherokees spent the rest of the summer crowded together in stockades. 

          The final march began in October and went overland through Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas. A few of the more well to do Cherokees rode in wagons but most of the 13000 walked. They were separated into groups of about 1000. Ross and others stayed behind to coordinate the provision of food and equipment. They provided warm clothing for the winter. The men were provided with a few rifles so they could hunt along the way. Still many families were forced to go without even cooking utensils. The older women made pots of clay and fired them, using skills the young people had never witnessed. 

          The Cherokee people suffered from disease along the way: malaria, flux, measles, whooping cough, as well as malnutrition and exposure. The parties stopped on Sundays to pray, some to the Great Spirit of their ancestors, and some to the Christian God.

          It was estimated that 4000 died on the march. Chief Ross' wife Quatie was among those who didn't survive the journey. One night the Ross party was camped in a storm of sleet and snow, and Quatie gave her blanket to a sick child. The child recovered, but Quatie came down with pneumonia. An army private wrote in his journal: "I was on guard duty the night Mrs. Ross died," he reported. "When relieved at midnight I did not retire, but remained around the wagon out of sympathy for Chief Ross and at daylight was detailed … to assist in the burial. … Her uncoffined body was buried in a shallow grave … and the sorrowing cavalcade moved on."

          The Cherokee Council had met August 1,1838, before leaving Georgia. They reaffirmed the "Inherent sovereignty of their nation" and declared their constitution and laws to be in full force and effect, including the law imposing the death penalty on anyone agreeing to sell or exchange tribal lands. The "pretended treaty" under which they were expelled from their homelands was renounced.

          Soon after their arrival in Indian Territory the Cherokee Council met again. Three days later, on the morning of June 22, 1839, the signers of the hated Treaty of New Echota: John Ridge, Major Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, were assassinated. Only Stand Watie escaped.