Choctaw Trail of Tears
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.
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. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1830, and the U.S. President Andrew Jackson was anxious to make it a model of removal. George W. Harkins wrote a letter to the American people before the removals began.
We go forth sorrowful, knowing that wrong has been done. Will you extend to us your sympathizing regards until all traces of disagreeable oppositions are obliterated, and we again shall have confidence in the professions of our white brethren. Here is the land of our progenitors, and here are their bones; they left them as a sacred deposit, and we have been compelled to venerate its trust; it dear to us, yet we cannot stay, my people is dear to me, with them I must go. Could I stay and forget them and leave them to struggle alone, unaided, unfriended, and forgotten, by our great father? I should then be unworthy the name of a Choctaw, and be a disgrace to my blood. I must go with them; my destiny is cast among the Choctaw people. If they suffer, so will I; if they prosper, then will I rejoice. Let me again ask you to regard us with feelings of kindness.— George W. Harkins, George W. Harkins to the American People
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." Removal continued throughout the 19th century. In 1846 1,000 Choctaw removed, and by 1930 1,665 remained in Mississippi.
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.
The Treaty of Hopewell was signed in 1786, and although it did not cede any land to the United States, this treaty was important because Article 9 gave the United States Congress the right to regulate, trade, and "manage all their affairs in such a manner as they think proper".
The Treaty of Fort Adams signed to cede the land at the mouth of the Yazoo River. The Choctaws believed that ceding over 2 million acres of to the United States would be enough to satisfy the American need for land, but it was not enough. Six months later the General Wilkinson came back with a new treaty.
The Treaty of Mount Dexter was signed in November 1805, and it ceded more land than any of the previous treaties. During this time, the plan of the Jefferson Administration was to force the Choctaws into debt and then allow them to pay that debt back with their land. In the case of the Mount Dexter Treaty, the Choctaw received $48,000 for the 4.1 million acres of land that they were giving up. With this money, they then had to pay back $51,000 for the trading houses they used.
The Treaty of Doak's Stand was considered one Jackson's greatest achievement since the battle of New Orleans, and one of the first "significant achievement of Calhoun's policy of moderation." The treaty had the Choctaws ceding five million acres of land, but they were to receive thirteen million acres of land in Arkansas. This treaty foreshadows the removal and degradation of all Indians. This became problematic because the people in Arkansas felt as though their government had abandoned them in order to remove the Indians from Mississippi, so they began launching an all-out effort to prevent the treaty from being ratified. Although the treaty was ratified, President Calhoun appointed a surveyor to find another border line that would give the Choctaws the same amount of Land without upsetting the status quo of the whites.
Although many leaders of the Choctaw tribe were opposed to the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, "most of the leaders had been aligned securely by bribery with the government and the treaty." Greenwood LeFlore, Nitakechi, Mushulatubbe, and more than 50 other "favored members" gained land by signing the treaty. LeFlore himself had personal interest in removing the tribes as he often boasted to President Jackson about his ability to remove the tribe even if the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was not ratified. Before the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek had been ratified, the government allowed LeFlore to send a great number of unorganized and ill-provisioned tribe members to the west. Of the one thousand Choctaw Emigrants that were sent west by Leflore, only eighty-eight arrived, and they were in starving condition.
Although there are so many treaties where we see the Choctaws ceding land, they still resisted this land succession the entire time. This desire for land continued until the Choctaw fought alongside the Americans, and against the Creeks in the Creek War of 1813. After this War, the Choctaw were seen as comrades of the Americans and they were even treated well by the white settlers. When the Choctaw signed the treaty of Fort St. Stephens, they felt as though they were having "a friendly banquet [rather than] a meeting of opposing forces". In exchange for the land, the Choctaw received $6,000 for the next 20 years and merchandise like guns, blankets, and tools that would add up to $10,000.
|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)|
Nearly 15,000 Choctaws together with 1000 slaves made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma. 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. 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. 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." 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." The removals continued well into the early 20th century. In 1903, three hundred Mississippi Choctaws were persuaded to move to the Nation in Oklahoma.
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