Choctaw Trail of Tears

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The complete Choctaw Nation shaded in blue in relation to the U.S. state of Mississippi.

The Choctaw Trail of Tears was the relocation of the Choctaw Nation from their country referred to now as the Deep South (Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana) to lands west of the Mississippi River in Indian Territory in the 1830s. A Choctaw minko (chief) was quoted by the Arkansas Gazette that the removal was a "trail of tears and death." After removal the Choctaws became three distinct groups, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.


In 1832 a young 22-year-old Harkins wrote the Farewell Letter to the American People.

After ceding nearly 11,000,000 acres (45,000 km2), the Choctaw emigrated in three stages: the first in the fall of 1831, the second in 1832 and the last in 1833.[1] The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1831, and the U.S. President Andrew Jackson was anxious to make it a model of removal.[1] George W. Harkins wrote a letter to the American people before the removals began.

The first wave of removal suffered the most. The second and third wave "sowed their fields promptly and experienced fewer hardships than the Indians of most of the other expatriated tribes."[3] Removal continued throughout the 19th century. In 1846 1,000 Choctaw removed, and by 1930 1,665 remained in Mississippi.[3]


The Choctaw and the United States agreed to nine treaties between 1786 and 1830. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was the last to be signed agreeing to the final removal of the Choctaw Nation. Choctaw land was systematically obtained through treaties, legislation, and threats of warfare. Treaties were made with Great Britain, France, and Spain. Nine treaties were signed with the United States. Some treaties, like the Treaty of San Lorenzo, indirectly affected the Choctaws.

The Choctaws considered European laws and diplomacy foreign and puzzling. The most confusing aspect of treaty making was writing which was impressive for a people who have not developed a written system. Choctaw history, as with many Native Americans, was passed orally from generation to generation. During treaty negotiations the three main Choctaw tribal areas (Upper Towns, Six town, and Lower Towns) had a "Miko" (chief) to represent them. Spain had the earliest claims to Choctaw country which was followed by French claims starting in the late 17th century. The United States, following the Treaty of San Lorenzo, laid claim to Choctaw country starting in 1795.

Treaty Year Ceded Land
Hopewell 1786 n/a
Fort Adams 1801 2,641,920 acres (10,691.5 km2)
Fort Confederation 1802 10,000 acres (40 km2)
Hoe Buckintoopa 1803 853,760 acres (3,455.0 km2)
Mount Dexter 1805 4,142,720 acres (16,765.0 km2)
Fort St. Stephens 1816 10,000 acres (40 km2)
Doak's Stand 1820 5,169,788 acres (20,921.39 km2)
Washington City 1825 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2)
Dancing Rabbit Creek 1830 10,523,130 acres (42,585.6 km2)


Choctaws were removed west of the Mississippi started in 1831. Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou by Alfred Boisseau was painted in 1846.
Historic Marker in Marion Arkansas for the Trail of Tears

Nearly 15,000 Choctaws together with 1000 slaves made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma.[4][5] The population transfer occurred in three migrations during the 1831-33 period including the devastating winter blizzard of 1830-31 and the cholera epidemic of 1832.[5] About 2,500 died along the trail of tears. Approximately 5,000–6,000 Choctaws remained in Mississippi in 1831 after the initial removal efforts.[6][7] For the next ten years they were objects of increasing legal conflict, harassment, and intimidation. The Choctaws describe their situation in 1849, "we have had our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died."[7] Racism was rampant. Joseph B. Cobb, who moved to Mississippi from Georgia, described Choctaws as having "no nobility or virtue at all, and in some respect he found blacks, especially native Africans, more interesting and admirable, the red man's superior in every way. The Choctaw and Chickasaw, the tribes he knew best, were beneath contempt, that is, even worse than black slaves."[8] The removals continued well into the early 20th century. In 1903, three hundred Mississippi Choctaws were persuaded to move to the Nation in Oklahoma.[9][citation needed]

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External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Remini, Robert (1998) [1977]. ""Brothers, Listen ...". Andrew Jackson. History Book Club. p. 273. 
  2. ^ Harkins, George (1831). "1831 - December - George W. Harkins to the American People". Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  3. ^ a b Swanton, John (1931). "Choctaw Social and Ceremonial Life". Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians. The University of Alabama Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-8173-1109-2. 
  4. ^ Satz, Ronald (1986). "The Mississippi Choctaw: From the Removal Treaty of the Federal Agency". In Samuel J. Wells and Roseanna Tuby. After Removal: The Choctaw in Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi. p. 7. ISBN 0-87805-289-5. 
  5. ^ a b Sandra Faiman-Silva (1997). Choctaws at the Crossroads. University of Nebraska Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0803269026. 
  6. ^ Baird, David (1973). "The Choctaws Meet the Americans, 1783 to 1843". The Choctaw People. United States: Indian Tribal Series. p. 36. LCCN 73-80708. 
  7. ^ a b Walter, Williams (1979). "Three Efforts at Development among the Choctaws of Mississippi". Southeastern Indians: Since the Removal Era. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. 
  8. ^ Hudson, Charles (1971). "The Ante-Bellum Elite". Red, White, and Black; Symposium on Indians in the Old South. University of Georgia Press. p. 80. ISBN 0820303089. 
  9. ^ Ferguson, Bob; Leigh Marshall (1997). "Chronology". Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Retrieved 2008-04-23. [dead link]