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. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

John Wesley and the Chickasaws

John Wesley Preaching to the Indians

          Yesterday I was going through some old Chickasaw newspapers and came across an article about a conversation between John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, and some Chickasaw warriors. The conversation took place in Savannah, Georgia, shortly after the Chickasaws' victory over the French at the village of Ackia in 1776, (See Post of 10/4/2010, The French Chickasaw War of 1736) and the warriors who responded to Wesley's invitation had taken part in the battle.

          John Wesley had come to Georgia the previous year at the invitation of the governor, James Oglethorpe, to become the pastor of a parish there. Wesley had earned a reputation in England for evangelistic preaching and for speaking out for social reform. He aspired to create a mission among the Native Americans.

          The five Chickasaw warriors who came to see Wesley were from a party of twenty, apparently in Savannah seeking supplies, or possibly a little help in their war with the French. Among them were two chiefs, Paustoobee and Mingo Mattaw. The conversation went as follows:

Wesley: Do you believe there is one above, who is over all things?

Paustoobee: We believe there are Four Beloved Things above: The Clouds, The Sun, The Clear Sky, and He that lives in the Clear Sky.

W: Do you believe there is but One that lives in the Clear Sky?

P: We believe there are two with Him, three in all.

W: Do you think He made the Sun, and the other Beloved Things?

P: We cannot tell, Who hath seen?

W: Do you think He made you?

P: We think He made all Men at first.

W: How did He make them at first?

P: Out of the Ground.

W: Do you believe He loves you?

P: I don't know. I cannot see Him.

W: But has He not often saved your life?

P: He has. Many bullets have gone on this side, and many on that side, but he would not let them hurt me. And many bullets have gone into these young men, and yet they are alive.

W: Then can't he save you from your enemies now?

P: Yes, but we know not if he will. We have now so many Enemies round about us, that I think nothing but Death, and if I am to die, I shall die, and I will die like a Man. But if he will have me to live, I shall live. Tho I have ever so many Enemies, He can destroy them all.

W: How do you know that?

P: From what I have seen. When our Enemies came against us before, then the Beloved Clouds came for us. And often much Rain, and sometimes Hail has come upon them, and that on a very hot day. And I saw, when many French and Choctaws, and other Nations, came against one of our towns. And the Ground made noise under them, and the Beloved Ones in the Air behind them. And they were afraid, and went away, and left their meat and drink and their guns. I tell no lie. All these saw it too.

        Torrential rains delayed the arrival of French forces from Illinois under Major Pierre D'Artaguette, enabling the Chickasaws to destroy them before they could join Louisiana Governor Bienville in his attack on the Chickasaw village of Ackia. Chickasaws believed that hail on a hot day signified fury from the Gods.

        Wesley asked several more questions about the sounds made by the Beloved Ones prompting Chief Paustoobee to tell more about the battle:

P: The night before I dream'd I heard many drums up there, and much stamping of feet and shouting. Till then I thought we should all die. But then I thought the Beloved Ones were come to help us. And the next day I heard above a hundred guns go off, before the fight began. And I said, "When the Sun is there, the Beloved Ones will help us, and we shall conquer our Enemies. And we did so."

W: Do you often think and talk of the Beloved Ones?

P: We think of them always, whenever wherever we are. We talk of them and to them, at home and abroad, in Peace, in War, before and after we fight, and indeed whenever and wherever we meet together.

W: Where do you think your souls go after Death?

P: We believe the Souls of Red Men walk up and down near the Place where they died, or where their bodies lie. For we have often heard cries and noises near where the prisoners had been burnt.

W: Where do the Souls of White Men go after Death?

P: We can't tell. We have not seen.

W: Our Belief is, that the Souls of bad men only walk up and down; but the Souls of good men go up.

P: I believe so too. But I told you the Talk of the Nation.

          At this point Wesley asked the chief if he would be interested in learning  about the Bible. Chief Paustoobee politely refused Wesley's offer saying that he had no time, since his tribe was at war.  

          According to Swanton in his book Chickasaw Society and Religion, the souls of those killed in battle haunted their living relatives until they had been avenged. Then they were able to proceed westward and into the Land of the One Above. The path they travelled was the Milky Way. The Chickasaws were careful to retrieve the bones of the departed, even from the field of battle. Each person was buried with the things he or she might need in the afterlife. They believed that the souls of the departed would return at some later time, to gather their possessions and to enjoy their favorite hunting grounds.
          In the meantime many spirits inhabited the Chickasaws' world. Sometimes they were helpful, warning the living of danger, but sometimes they caused trouble and had to be scared away.

          John Wesley decided after his interview with the Chickasaws that "The Gods of these Heathens … are but Devils," but he might have taken a lesson from their sincerity and humility. He was later sued for defamation of character by a woman with whom he had an affair on his voyage to the colonies, and he was challenged to a duel by her husband. Wesley escaped back to England before his trial.  

          As for the Indians, John Wesley didn't make much of an impression on them either. His efforts to create a Native American church failed. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Creek Removal

Chief Menawa

          Like the Seminoles, the Creeks were led in their struggle against removal by a survivor of the massacre at Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Chief Menawa, leader of the Red Stick defenders, was shot seven times during the battle. He was lying with his fallen comrades and assumed dead when he awakened to see a militiaman looting the body of a Creek warrior nearby. Menawa raised himself on one elbow and shot the soldier. Again he was shot and again left for dead, but when night fell Menawa managed to pull himself down to the river, climb into a canoe, and push himself into the current. He was discovered by a group of Creek women camped downstream from the battleground, rescued and nursed back to health.    

          Nearly 8000 Creeks were rendered destitute by the burning of their villages and crops during the Red Stick War. The Creeks were forced to sign an admission of guilt for the war, even those who had fought alongside the Americans against their brethren. Then they were forced to cede 2/3 of their domain.

          These devastating concessions left the Creeks divided and demoralized. Finally, in 1822, on the urging of the Cherokees, their council voted to adopt written laws, and to accept missionary schools in an effort to learn to live in the white man's world. Their resolution stated, "We were here before there was the face of a white man seen on this island," and "We earnestly admonish our white brethren … to treat us with tenderness and justice." At about the same time they passed a law forbidding any chief to cede more tribal land to the whites, under penalty of death.

Opothle Yahola

          In 1825, one of the Creek chiefs who had apposed the Red Sticks, a mixed blood named William McIntosh, met with federal commissioners and drew up a treaty exchanging all the Creek land in Georgia for land in the west. What made it worse was that McIntosh was a cousin of the Governor of Georgia and had been given a $25,000 bribe. The Creek Council sent a messenger, a young chief named Opothle Yahola, to warn McIntosh of the consequences of signing the treaty. Opothle Yahola climbed on a rock in McIntosh' front yard, called him to his window, and, surrounded by his fellow chiefs, said:

Brothers, the Great Spirit has met here with his children of the woods and their pale face brethren. I see his golden locks in the sunshine; he fans the warrior's brows with his wings and whispers sweet music in the winds; the beetle joins his hymn and the mocking bird his song. You are charmed! Brothers, you are deceived! A snake has been coiled in shade and you are running into his open mouth, deceived by the double tongue of the pale face chief, and drunk with the fire water of the pale face. Brothers, our grounds are gone, and the plow of the pale face will soon turn over the bones of our fathers. Brothers, are you tame? Will you submit? Opothle Yahola says NO!

          Then, turning to McIntosh, he continued:

           "As for you, double tongued snake, before many moons have waned, your own blood shall wash out the memory of this hated treaty. Brothers, I have spoken."

          McIntosh signed the treaty anyway, and the Council sent out a war party, led by Chief Menawa, the veteran of Horseshoe Bend. The party set McIntosh' house on fire, and when the chief ran out, the death sentence was carried out. When President Adams found out that the treaty had been signed without the Council's consent, he refused to send it to Congress. Instead he called the Creek leaders to Washington, including Menawa and Opothle Yahola, and a new treaty, not much different from the McIntosh treaty, was drawn up and signed. It became known as "Menawa's Treaty," and by 1830 about 3000 tribal members had migrated west under its terms.  

          Although initial reports of Indian Territory had been favorable, some emigrants returned later with tales of disease, poverty, and attacks by hostile tribes. These stories made those remaining in the east more reluctant to leave. In 1829 the Creek Council met and voted to stay in their native homeland and submit to state laws.

          When local authorities failed to expel whites encroaching on Creek land, one chief sent a list to Washington of 1500 illegal settlers, asking for federal help. Andrew Jackson was now President, and he gave the Creeks what would become his standard reply, that he was helpless to intervene in state affairs, and that the Indians' only choice was to move west.

          By 1832 more chiefs, including Opothle Yahola, had decided that removal was inevitable, and they signed another treaty, this time agreeing to give up their remaining lands in the east. The terms of the treaty were similar to those of the Choctaws. Settlers were to be kept out of Creek land, and those who decided to stay were to be given allotments. Creeks who emigrated were to be paid for their property, given transportation west, and subsistence for one year after arrival.

          But like the Choctaws, the Creeks were given none of the protection promised by their treaty. Swindlers found ways to trick them into signing away their allotments, and they had no legal recourse in the courts. When the Indians refused to move, land hungry settlers raided their farms. In 1836, eighty year old Chief Eneah Emathla led a party of warriors to retaliate. Sadly Opothle Yahola was forced to lead his warriors against the old man to prevent further bloodshed.

          With another "Indian uprising" as an excuse, U. S. troops were sent in under General Winfield Scott, and the rebel groups were forced to surrender. About 800 Indian warriors were marched 90 miles to Montgomery, Alabama, and paraded through the streets before being loaded onto barges bound for Mobile, and then Indian Territory. The experience was so humiliating for these proud people that several warriors committed suicide. After these "hostiles" and their families arrived in Indian Territory, they were released there without food, weapons, farming tools, or even cooking utensils, to live or die. Only about half survived the trip.

          To escape being sent west, several groups of Creek Indians fled to the Cherokee and  Chickasaw nations where they were given refuge, and some went to Florida to fight with the Seminoles. Those remaining in Alabama were hunted down and either hanged or placed into slavery.

          By the end of 1837, 15,000 Creeks had been forcibly removed to Indian Territory. The hardships they underwent were similar to those of the Choctaws. They suffered diseases like smallpox and cholera. They were forced to march in freezing cold weather without proper clothing, and were left to die if they couldn't keep up. One of the steamboats crammed full with 600 Creek captives sank in the Mississippi River, killing half its passengers.

          One elderly lady began to sing a song as she marched and soon she was joined by the others:

"I have no more land. I am driven away from home, driven up the red waters, let us all go, let us all die together."

          The old chiefs Eneah Emathla and Menawa were among those who died during the Removal. Opothle Yahola continued to lead his people in the new Indian Territory.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chickasaw Culture Center

One of the highlights of my childhood was going swimming in Sulfur, Oklahoma. Sulfur has its name for a reason. There are natural springs there with a high sulfur content, and they smell like rotten eggs. The swimming pool is nice, but the smell is hard to ignore.

I haven’t been to Sulfur in probably 60 years, but I went back last week during a trip to Oklahoma in order to see the Chickasaw Culture Center which opened there last month. Sulfur, Oklahoma was a meeting place for Chickasaws back in Territory days. Jim told me, “Mamma and Pappa used to go there for meetings. It took three hours to get there from Pauls Valley by horse and buggy.”

I invited my cousin Christeen to go along with me. She lives in Elmore City which is also a three or four hour buggy ride from Sulfur, but it only takes about 30 minutes by auto. As it turns out Christeen had already been there, but before it was completed.

The Center is spread out over several acres of land. It is dotted with lakes and streams and the buildings are connected by paved paths. The first thing you see on the walkway leading into the Center is a bigger than life statue of a Chickasaw warrior. It is really breathtaking. He’s surrounded by trees, like he just walked out of the forest.

There are several buildings in the complex: an administration building with a gift shop, a museum, a restaurant, a theater, and a research building. They have also built a “Chickasaw village” with a council house, some traditional Chickasaw dwellings, and a corn crib. The Chickasaws had summer houses that were open to let in the breeze and winter houses that were enclosed. There is also a stickball field and a burial mound.

We went first to the administration building to get oriented. The lady at the information desk gave us a nice booklet and we talked for a while. She had a Chickasaw English dictionary so I asked her to look up my aunts’ names: Kaliteyo and Oteka. I have a Chickasaw dictionary but it’s English to Chickasaw so it’s hard to look up a word unless you know what it means. She tried to find the names but couldn’t get very close. The closest she came was “oka’ aalhto” for Oteka. It means ‘water container.’ We had heard that Oteka meant ‘daughter of the moon.’ I like that better than water container.

Next we visited the museum. A young lady wearing traditional Chickasaw clothing first led us into a small auditorium designed to look like a Chickasaw council house from the inside, with thick wooden pillars and a thatched roof. The young lady gave a short talk, taught us a couple of Chickasaw words, and then showed us a short movie about Chickasaw history. The movie screen then rose up into the ceiling revealing a door which led to the "Spirit Forest." It was very fancy, like going to Universal Studios.

On the path through the forest there were animals representing different Chickasaw clans and recordings of a legend about each. The trail also follows the “Trail of Tears,” telling the story of the Chickasaw people’s forced removal to Oklahoma from their ancient homeland in Mississippi in the 1830's.

On the other side of the forest are exhibits which show pictures and artifacts from various stages in Chickasaw history. Also on display are examples of traditional Chickasaw costumes, a dugout canoe, bows and arrows and tomahawks; also corn, squash and beans, the staple crops of the Indians. There were also two large holographic screens, one showing a Chickasaw stomp dance and the other a stick ball game.

After seeing the museum we went over to the Chickasaw Honor Garden. It was quite a ways over there, but we were given a ride in a golf cart. I didn’t want Christeen to have to walk that far. The garden consists of several concentric circular walls mounted with plaques showing pictures and some information about each of the Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductees. We have several relatives represented there so we especially wanted to see it. It’s nice. It has streams of water running through it. For some reason the water doesn’t smell bad. Maybe it just smells bad close to the swimming pool.

It was lunch time when we got back to the Culture Center so we went into the restaurant. The menu included Indian fry bread and pashofa! I was excited to get to try the pashofa, a traditional Chickasaw dish that is supposed to have healing properties. It’s made from cracked corn and pork. Christeen ordered a chicken salad sandwich and she kept offering to let me have part of it, saying she had eaten pashofa before, and it wasn’t all that good. I turned her down and ate my pashofa, but it was pretty bland, kind of like eating grits with pork mixed in. It could have used a dollop of butter. The fry bread was pretty good.

All in all it was a wonderful day. I’d recommend it to anyone. Thinking back we missed the demonstrations. The lady at the information desk said there would be someone demonstrating Indian crafts. We’ll have to go back another time. It started raining and we also missed seeing the Chickasaw village.                                   

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choctaw Removal, Part II

Reading about the Choctaw Removal makes you cry. It really does. I've been rereading Grant Foreman's account, which is basically a collection of letters, diary entries, newspaper stories and government documents from the time of the Removal. There are dozens of stories: stories of groups, stories of individuals. It is overwhelming, and Foreman's account is only a sampling. The Removal was like a steam roller that crushed the once proud Choctaw nation. There is no record of how many deaths occurred during their removal, but the census in 1830 listed about 20000 Choctaws in Mississippi, and another accounting done in 1844 by the commissioner of Indian affairs listed only 13000 living in Indian Territory, so you can guess that the mortality rate was in the order of 20 to 30 per cent.

The government was anxious to get started with the Removal. They thought that the removal of the Choctaws would put pressure on their sister tribe, the  Chickasaws, into signing a removal treaty as well. In the fall of 1831 when Secretary of War John Eaton tried to get the Choctaws to agree to sell part of the new territory to the Chickasaws, the Choctaw council refused, telling the secretary to wait for them to get their feet on the new land before asking them to sell it.

There were other pressures as well. 1930 had been a bad year for crops, and in 1831 many of the Choctaws didn't plant crops anyway. Not only were they despondent about losing their homeland, white settlers were crowding them out. Whiskey peddlers took advantage of the Choctaws' demoralized state and some spent their meager annuity on alcohol instead of food. Many were reduced to eating roots.

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek had guaranteed each Choctaw the option of becoming a US citizen, and being granted a section of land in Mississippi. These promises were disregarded by the settlers who swarmed into the Choctaw domain, and by the government as well. When those who wanted to stay applied for their land titles, federal agents refused to register them.

For those Choctaws choosing to migrate, the treaty promised payment for their property, transportation west, and food for a year after their arrival in the new land. Not only did the Indians get no payment for their property, they were presented with fraudulent legal claims which prevented the departure of many until mid winter.

As if being prayed upon by greedy whites wasn't enough, one of the Choctaws' own chiefs, Greenwood Leflore, set himself up as a real estate agent, and for a fee, he sold the full bloods' property at bargain prices and sent them west. Leflore assigned some of his captains to lead these people, some of the poorest in the nation, but provided them with little money. Their instructions were to charge their expenses to the credit of the tribe. In a letter to Secretary Eaton Leflore predicted that the emigrants would "reach the place of their future residence in a very destitute condition."

The destination of the emigrating Choctaws was 350 - 400 miles away at Ft. Towson, where the Red and Kiamichi Rivers meet. The old fort had been abandoned in 1829 and was in ruins. In the spring of 1831 a lieutenant was sent there to make arrangements for provisions. He found 88 of Leflore's first party there, huddled in the ruins of the fort, starving. Immigrants continued to trickle into the Ft Towson area, and by October, 427 had arrived, out of the 1000 or so that had left the previous fall. 

In the fall of 1831 the Removal really began in earnest. The army planned to move 1/3 of the 20,000 Choctaws that year. After the miserable experience of Leflore's emigrants the year before, the Army had made some plans. The Choctaws were responsible for their own transportation for the first fifty miles or so to the Mississippi River. Then they were to be divided into groups of 500 or so under a "conductor," and subdivided into smaller groups of 50. Three routes were planned, and supply points were set up along the way. This was the plan.

As it worked out, the conductors for the expedition were given no money, and were expected to obtain supplies on credit. The supply depots hadn't received any money either. The agent for the Removal, F W Armstrong, had been given $50,000 in September, but he didn't arrive with the money at Ft Smith until mid January. He said he was afraid of thieves, and besides he didn't like traveling in the winter. At Little Rock, Captain Brown, in charge of procuring supplies there, wrote to his superior officer at Ft Smith:

Four of my agents are now in charge of emigrants, … and all are begging for funds…fifty days and over have passed since you informed me that funds had left…I have no money…three days ago I parted with the last five dollars of my own money.  

The winter of 1831 was the worst in memory. Even the Mississippi River was closed down much of the time due to large chunks of ice floating down its channel. The Indians carried only the clothes on their backs. Many had no shoes, and they were issued one blanket per family.

I've chosen one group of emigrants to illustrate the problems the Choctaws encountered, not because they had the worst experience - that distinction belongs to the groups that entered the swamp and never emerged - but because I have more information about them.

The group consisted of 250 Choctaws from Leflore's district. They were among about 1000 Choctaws who decided to travel on their own in exchange for a "commutation certificate" worth $10 apiece. Their leader was Silas Fisher, a mixed blood Choctaw, and their government assigned agent or "conductor" was W S Colquhoun, who had applied for a job in the Removal because his mill dam had been washed away and he was in financial straits. The group got a late start. It was December when they arrived in Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, having traveled the last 24 hours through snow and sleet. Most had no shoes.

Alexis de Toqueville, the French statesman and writer, visited one of the Choctaw camps as the Indians prepared to cross the Mississippi River to begin their journey. He wrote:

It was then in the depths of winter, and that year the cold was exceptionally severe; the snow was hard on the ground, and huge masses of ice drifted on the river. The Indians brought their families with them: there were among them the wounded, the sick, newborn babies, and old men on the point of death. They had neither tents nor wagons, but only some provisions and weapons. I saw them embark to cross the great river, and the sight will never fade from my memory. Neither sob not complaint rose from that silent assembly. Their afflictions were of long standing, and they felt them to be irremediable. 
The Choctaws in Fisher's group were finally loaded on the steamboat  Walter Scott, which carried them down the Mississippi to the Red River, and then up the Quachita. The boat could get no further than Monroe, Louisiana, because of the ice. At Monroe, Lt. Colquhoun was able to rent a farmhouse to give shelter to a few. There he picked up 44 more Indians whose conductor had gone back into the swamp to rescue some of his party left behind.

Here is an excerpt from a letter written to the Secretary of War by Joseph Kerr whose house was next to the road over which the Indians traveled:

(There) are two large deep streams that must be crossed in a boat or on a raft, and one other nearly impassable in any way. This they had to perform or perish, there being no provision made for them on the way. This too was to be done in the worst time of weather I have ever seen in any country - a heavy sleet having broken and bowed down all the small and much of the larger timber. And this was to be performed under the pressure of hunger, by old women and young children, without any covering for their feet, legs or body except a cotton underdress generally. In passing, before they reached the place of getting rations here, I gave a party leave to enter a small field in which pumpkins were. They would not enter without leave, though starving. These they ate raw with the greatest avidity.

After a brief rest, Fisher's party was issued provisions for an eighty mile journey, fifty of which was through the swamp. On leaving Monroe, the group became lost, and actually headed deeper into the swamp. Fortunately, another group of Choctaws who had made it to Ecor 'a Fabre further up the river, refused to go on unless their conductor, S. T. Cross, went back to search for Fisher's group. When he found them they had been without food for 6 days and several had died. 

The Fisher party reached Washington, Arkansas, in mid January. I have no specific record of them past this point, but they faced another 100 mile trek at that point. The road was poor; there were rivers to ford, and the food supply was uncertain. According to accounts of other groups the road was lined with graves.

The next year several thousand more Choctaws crossed over to Indian Territory. The chiefs tried to get their parties started sooner to avoid the winter which had caused so much suffering and death the year before. The army planned different routes to avoid as much as possible the swamps along the Mississippi delta, and the army built a road between Ft Gibson and Ft Towson in order to facilitate the transfer of supplies. Another problem faced the emigrants the second year however, cholera.

The two major cities along the Mississippi where the Choctaws were to assemble, Memphis and Vicksburg, were having a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1832. When the Choctaw emigrants found out, many deserted their parties and returned home. Others took their chances in the swamps where so many had died the year before. Some of those who boarded the steamboats contracted cholera, and the crowded conditions on board caused the disease to spread. When the boats stopped for supplies, the merchants refused to do business with them. When the teamsters hired to drive the wagons found out their charges were infected with cholera, many quit. In one party there were 13 wagons full of the sick.

The Choctaw agent Armstrong, who the year before had neglected to provide the army commissary officers with the money needed to buy supplies, was convinced that the Indians removed the previous year had been "spoiled," and he  went along with one of the parties to supervise. When Armstrong neglected to issue each family their blanket, and refused to let the Indians disembark when the boats stopped, Colquhouon, conductor of the unfortunate Fisher group the previous year, complained. An argument ensued and Colquhoun pulled out his pistol and tried to kill Armstrong. Colquhoun was dismissed.    

The fortitude of the Indians impressed even Armstrong however. He wrote: 

"No man but one who was present can form any idea of the difficulties that we have encountered due to the cholera… Luckily they are a people that will walk to the last, or I don't know how we would get on."

Unfortunately for the Indians, Armstrong was not one to slow down for stragglers. Those who could not keep up were abandoned by the side of the road. Occasionally the Indians balked. When one of their beloved chiefs, Etotahoma, was unable to keep up with the group, the Choctaw group leaders refused to go further until the old chief caught up. After this occurred twice, the officer in charge had the old man's cart repaired and hired a team to pull it.

In Indian Territory the Choctaws continued to die of afflictions acquired on their journey. During the year of government support allowed by the treaty, few had the means or the will to plant enough crops to support themselves. In June of 1833 the Arkansas River flooded and destroyed the crops of the Choctaws living there, along with their corn cribs, and many of their homes. In the fall of 1833, when the deadline for emigration was past, the government discharged all their conductors, shut down their supply depots, and recalled the officers assigned to assist in the Removal. The Choctaws were starving in their new country, and dying. An observer commented that there were no longer any old people among them. In February of 1833, the agent Armstrong asked General Arbuckle at Ft. Gibson for corn for the Indians settled near the fort many of whom had gone 4 or 5 days without anything to eat.

After the three years allotted for the Removal, the army had removed 6000 Choctaws, and about 3500 more had moved on their own for the commutation fee of $10 each. 7000 remained in Mississippi, still being swindled out of their property in the courts, and being unable to claim the allotments promised them in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Government agents and Choctaw volunteers went to Mississippi to convince those remaining there to come west, and every year another wave of immigrants came to Indian Territory. Finally there were only about 600 left in Mississippi.

In spite of their poverty and the prejudice they had to bear, these "Mississippi Choctaws," as they came to be known, remained firm in their decision to remain in their native land. Here is the reply of Chief Cobb, leader of a group of Choctaws in Mississippi to an army officer who visited them in 1844 to ask them to emigrate:

Brother: When you were young we were strong; we fought by your side; but our arms are now broken. You have grown large. My people have become small.
Brother: My voice is weak; you can scarcely hear me; it is not the shout of a warrior but the wail of an infant. I have lost it in mourning over the misfortunes of my people. These are their graves, and in those aged pines you hear the ghosts of the departed - their ashes are here, and we have been left to protect them. Our warriors are nearly all gone to the far country west; but here are our dead. Shall we go too, and give their bones to the wolves?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Choctaw Removal, Part I


The Choctaws were proud that they had never fought against the US Government. When Tecumseh visited them in 1811 trying to drum up support for his Indian alliance, the Choctaw council told him to leave their nation under penalty of death.  Choctaw warriors fought with Andrew Jackson in his war against the Creek rebellion of 1814, and they also joined him in his victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The Choctaws' beloved chief Pushmataha considered Andrew Jackson a friend, so when Jackson met with him at Doaks Stand in 1820 offering to exchange some of the tribe's land in Mississippi for a huge tract in the present state of Oklahoma, Pushmataha supported the agreement. The land was allegedly just for the use of those who wanted to continue to live by hunting. Those who wished could live in Mississippi under their own government. The treaty also promised to help support the Choctaw  school system, and it provided an annuity for 16 years.  

The treaty of Doak's Stand was a great success, except for the fact that none of the Choctaws took the U S Government up on its offer to move them west. Just like the other tribes, the Choctaws loved their native country. In order to be accepted by their white neighbors they had become farmers instead of hunters. They like the Chickasaws welcomed white men traveling through their nation, and provided them with lodging and supplies. In 1817 the Choctaws invited missionaries to establish a school system for their children, and in 1825 they established a school in Kentucky to provide higher education for young Choctaw men. The director was Richard Mentor Johnson, former Vice President of the United States. In 1826 a police force was created, and a code of laws. There was a religious revival in 1828, and hundreds of Choctaws became Christians.

None of this mattered to the white settlers though. In 1829, Mississippi passed a law bringing the Choctaws under state law, even though this violated their previous treaties with the US government. Later that year Mississippi made it a crime for Choctaw officials to perform their functions.

The Choctaws were also getting pressure from the federal government. Two delegations had come from Washington, one in 1826 and the other in 1829, to negotiate another treaty for Choctaw removal, but they had run up against a brick wall . Support for removal was building in Washington however. Andrew Jackson had been elected President in 1828, and the Indian Removal Act was working its way through congress. The bill would give the president authority to offer lands in the west in exchange for the Indians' homelands.

                     Greenwood Leflore

While the majority of Choctaw citizens still considered removal as unthinkable, many of their leaders, especially the mixed bloods, began to accept it as inevitable. One of those leaders, Greenwood Leflore, decided that if the Choctaws had to sign a treaty it would be better for them to write it themselves, so in March of 1830 he called a meeting of the tribal council which he stacked with his supporters, and wrote a treaty. When the leaders opposed to removal found out about this, they wrote a letter to Washington saying that Leflore didn't represent the tribe and the treaty should not be ratified.

This suited Congress just fine because they thought Leflore's treaty was too generous anyway, and they voted it down. In May the Indian Removal Act was passed, and four days later President Jackson had his Secretary of War, John H. Eaton, write a letter inviting Choctaw leaders to meet the President in Franklin, Tennessee in August to negotiate another treaty.

When August came, the Choctaws didn't show up for the meeting. They were on the brink of a civil war.


Before Pushmataha died in 1824, he warned his people never to allow anyone to participate in their government who had a drop of white blood. In 1830 he must have been rolling over in his grave. All three district chiefs were mixed bloods. In 1826 the Choctaw Council had voted to make the office of chief an elected position, but the hereditary chiefs still considered themselves responsible for the tribe and they were supported by the majority of their people, in spite of the vote. It was the two hereditary chiefs, Mushulatubbe and Nitakechi, who had written the letter to Washington protesting Leflore's treaty.

As soon as Greenwood Leflore found out about the protest he wrote a letter to Mushalatubbe demanding that he resign as chief. Mushulatubbe ignored the letter. When it came time to gather for annuity payments, Leflore came to the area with 1400 warriors, painted with war paint and armed with rifles and war clubs. He sent a message to Mushulatubbe threatening to attack and kill him if he would not resign as chief. Mushulatubbe replied that he would never acknowledge Leflore as chief, so Leflore, surrounded by his warriors, came to Mushulatubbe's camp and confronted him personally. The old chief calmly walked out of the house in which he was staying and told Leflore that he and his men were unarmed, but if Leflore wanted a fight, just name the time and place.   

At that Leflore backed down. He said he had nothing against Mushulatubbe or his people and only wanted peace.

                       Peter P Pitchlynn

In September of 1830 the Presidential Commissioners met with the Choctaw Council at Dancing Rabbit Creek. Leflore represented his district but it was Peter Pitchlynn a college educated mixed blood Choctaw who chaired the meeting. Sec of War Eaton threatened and cajoled. He tried his usual tactic of offering bribes, and when that didn't work, he told the Choctaws that they would be destroyed by an army of Mississippi whites if they didn't move west. The parties were still at an impasse after two weeks, and many of the delegates had gone home when Pitchlynn made a suggestion that tilted the balance. He proposed that George S Gaines, a trader whom the Choctaws trusted, be placed in charge of the removal. This satisfied everyone. The resulting treaty was signed by both the mixed blood and the full blood leaders.

The treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek promised to the Choctaws autonomy and sovereignty: 

…no Territory or State shall ever have a right to pass laws for the government of the Choctaw Nation of Red People and their descendants; and that no part of the land granted them shall ever be embraced in any Territory or State; but the U.S. shall forever secure said Choctaw Nation from, and against all laws except such as from time to time may be enacted in their own National Councils…

but in the log run was just another promise made to be broken by the U.S. government.

After the treaty was signed there was chaos in the Choctaw nation. The chiefs who had signed the treaty were ousted, and letters were again written to Washington saying the Council didn't represent the wishes of the tribe, but the U.S. government refused to acknowledge any other leaders, and the treaty was ratified by Congress. By the time the removal began there had been no planning, and no coordination between leaders. What followed was the greatest tragedy in the tribe's history.

Greenwood Leflore, who without the support of the tribe had rushed the Choctaws so precipitously into the Removal, ended up abandoning his people. In November, two months after the treaty was signed, George S Gaines, the trader, led a group to explore the new domain, and Leflore declined to accompany them. He was busy negotiating deals with Mississippi white settlers to buy Indian land. When his district moved west they went without a chief. Leflore settled in Mississippi where he lived comfortably off the profits he made from the Removal.