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About Choctaw, OK
The archaeological record for the period between 1567 and 1699 is not complete or well-studied. It appears that some Mississippian settlements were abandoned well before the 17th century. Similarities in pottery coloring and burials suggest the following scenario for the emergence of the distinctive Choctaw society.
According to Patricia Galloway, the Choctaw region of Mississippi, generally located between the Yazoo basin to the north and the Natchez bluffs to the south, was slowly occupied by Burial Urn people from the Bottle Creek Indian Mounds area in the Mobile, Alabama delta. They were joined by remnants of people from the Moundville chiefdom (near present-day Tuscaloosa, Alabama), which had collapsed some years before. Facing severe depopulation, these groups moved westward, where they combined with the Plaquemine and a group of "prairie people" living near the area. When this occurred is not clear. In the space of several generations and the process of ethnogenesis, they developed a new society which became known as Choctaw (albeit with a strong Mississippian background).
Other scholars note the Choctaw oral history recounts their long migration to the Mississippi area from west of the Mississippi River.
The contemporary historian Patricia Galloway argues from fragmentary archaeological and cartographic evidence that the Choctaw did not exist as a unified culture before the 17th century. Only then did various southeastern peoples, remnants of Moundville, Plaquemine, and other Mississippian cultures, coalesce to form a self-consciously Choctaw people. The historical homeland of the Choctaw, or of the peoples from whom the Choctaw nation arose, included the area of Nanih Waiya, an earthwork mound in present-day Winston County, Mississippi, which they considered sacred ground. Their homeland was bounded by the Tombigbee River to the east, the Pearl River on the north and west, and "the Leaf-Pascagoula system" to the South. This area was mostly uninhabited during the Mississippian -culture period.
While Nanih Waiya mound continued to be a ceremonial center and object of veneration, scholars believe Native Americans traveled to it during the Mississippian culture period. From the 17th century on, the Choctaw occupied this area and revered this site as the center of their origin stories. These included stories of migration to this site from west of the great river (believed to refer to the Mississippi River.)
In Histoire de La Louisiane (Paris, 1758), French explorer Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz recounted that "...when I asked them from whence the Chat-kas [sic] came, to express the suddenness of their appearance they replied that they had come out from under the earth." American scholars later took this as intended to explain the Choctaws' immediate appearance, and not as a literal creation account. It was perhaps the first European writing that included part of the Choctaw origin story.
Early 19th century and contemporary Choctaw storytellers describe that the Choctaw people emerged from either Nanih Waiya mound or cave. A companion story describes their migration journey from the west, beyond the Mississippi River, when they were directed by their leader's use of a sacred red pole.
In 1682 La Salle was the first French explorer to venture into the southeast along the Mississippi River. His expedition did not meet with the Choctaw; it established a post along the Arkansas River to the west of the Mississippi. The post signaled to the English that the French were serious at colonization in the South.
The first direct recorded contact between the Choctaw and the French was with Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in 1699. Indirect contact had likely occurred between the Choctaw and English traders through other tribes, including the Muscogee Creek and Chickasaw. The Choctaw, along with other tribes, formed a relationship with French settlers in New France and Louisiana. Illegal fur trading may have led to further unofficial contact. The Choctaw allied with the French primarily to defend against slave raids from Indian tribes allied to English colonists in Carolina such as the Chickasaw.
As the historian Greg O'Brien has noted, the Choctaw developed three distinct political and geographic regions. During the colonial period, these regions sometimes had differing alliances with trading partners among French, Spanish and English colonists, often dependent on geography and the nearest trading partner. They also expressed differences during and after the American Revolutionary War. Their divisions were roughly eastern, western (near present-day Vicksburg, Mississippi) and southern (Six Towns). Each division was headed by a principal chief, and subordinate chiefs led each of the towns within the area. The chiefs met on a National Council, but the society was highly decentralized for some time, and based in town decisionmaking.
Before the Seven Years' War, the French were the main trading partners of the Choctaw, as they had gotten established in the Mobile and New Orleans areas of La Louisiane. The British had primarily colonized along the Atlantic Coast, from which some traders traveled to interior tribes. Trade disputes between the eastern and western divisions contributed to the Choctaw Civil War, which was fought between 1747 and 1750, with the pro-French eastern division emerging victorious.
After being defeated by Great Britain in the Seven Years' War, France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi River to Britain. From 1763 to 1781, Britain was the Choctaw main European trading partner. Spanish forces were based in New Orleans in 1766, after they took over French territory west of the Mississippi. The western Choctaw sometimes traded with them in that area. Spain declared war against Great Britain in 1779, during the American Revolution.
During the American Revolution, the Choctaw bands divided over whether to support Britain or Spain. Some Choctaw warriors from the western and eastern divisions supported the British in the defense of Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. Chief Franchimastabé led a Choctaw war party with British forces against American rebels in Natchez. The Americans had left by the time Franchimastabé arrived, but the Choctaw occupied Natchez for weeks and convinced residents to remain loyal to Britain.
Other Choctaw companies joined Washington's army during the war, and served the entire duration. Bob Ferguson, a Southeastern Indian historian, noted, "[In] 1775 the American Revolution began a period of new alignments for the Choctaws and other southern Indians. Choctaw scouts served under Washington, Morgan, Wayne and Sullivan."
More than 1,000 Choctaw fought for Britain, largely against Spain's campaigns along the Gulf Coast. At the same time, a significant number of Choctaw aided Spain.
Ferguson wrote that with the end of the Revolution, "'Franchimastabe', Choctaw head chief, went to Savannah, Georgia to secure American trade." In the next few years, some Choctaw scouts served in Ohio with U.S. General Anthony Wayne in the Northwest Indian War.
George Washington (first U.S. President) and Henry Knox (first U.S. Secretary of War) proposed the cultural transformation of Native Americans. While Washington believed that Native American society was inferior to that of the European Americans, he also recognized the Choctaw and the other Civilized Tribes as equals (an uncommon opinion for American leaders at the time). He formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process, and Thomas Jefferson continued it. Historian Robert Remini wrote, "[T]hey presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans."
Washington's six-point plan included impartial justice toward Indians; regulated buying of Indian lands; promotion of commerce; promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Indian society; presidential authority to give presents; and punishing those who violated Indian rights. The government appointed agents, such as Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Southeast Indians and to teach them through example and instruction, how to live like whites. While living among the Choctaw for nearly 30 years, Hawkins married Lavinia Downs, a Choctaw woman.
As the people had a matrilineal kinship system of property and hereditary leadership, their children were considered born into the mother's family and clan, and gained their social status from her people. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, numerous Scots-Irish traders also lived among the Choctaw and married high-status women. Choctaw chiefs saw these as strategic alliances to build stronger relationships with the Americans in a changing environment that influenced ideas of capital and property. The children of such marriages were Choctaw, first and foremost. Some of the sons were educated in Anglo-American schools and became important interpreters and negotiators for Choctaw-US relations.
Starting in October 1785, Taboca, a Choctaw prophet/chief, led over 125 Choctaws to the Keowee River, near Seneca Old Town. (It is now known as Hopewell, South Carolina.) After two months of travel, they met with U.S. representatives Benjamin Hawkins, Andrew Pickens, and Joseph Martin. In high Choctaw ceremonial symbolism, they named, adopted, smoked, and performed dances, revealing the complex and serious nature of Choctaw diplomacy. One such dance was the eagle tail dance. The Choctaw explained that the bald eagle, who has direct contact with the upper world of the sun, is a symbol of peace. Choctaw women painted in white would adopt and name the American commissioners as kin. Smoking sealed the agreements between peoples, and the shared pipes sanctified peace between the two nations.
After the rituals, the Choctaw asked John Woods to live with them to improve communication with the U.S. In exchange they allowed Taboca to visit the United States Congress. On January 3, 1786, the Treaty of Hopewell was signed. Article 11 stated, "[T]he hatchet shall be forever buried, and the peace given by the United States of America, and friendship re-established between the said states on the one part, and all the Choctaw nation on the other part, shall be universal; and the contracting parties shall use their utmost endeavors to maintain the peace given as aforesaid, and friendship re-established."
The treaty required the Choctaw to return escaped enslaved Africans to colonists, to turn over any Choctaw convicted of crimes by the U.S., establish borderlines between the U.S. and Choctaw Nation, and to return any property captured from colonists during the Revolutionary War.
In the early nineteenth century, President Thomas Jefferson considered a Choctaw proposal to settle debts with traders by selling land to the United States.
After the Revolutionary War, the Choctaw were reluctant to ally with countries hostile to the United States. John Swanton later wrote, "the Choctaw were never at war with the Americans. A few were induced by Tecumseh (a Shawnee leader who sought support from various Native American tribes) to ally themselves with the hostile Creeks [in the early 19th century], but the Nation as a whole was kept out of anti-American alliances by the influence of Apushmataha, greatest of all Choctaw chiefs."
Early in 1811, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh gathered Indian tribes in an alliance to try to expel U.S. settlers from the Northwest area south of the Great Lakes and generally north of the Ohio River. Tecumseh met with Choctaw leaders to persuade them to join the alliance to expel European Americans from the Southeast. Pushmataha, considered by historians to be the greatest Choctaw leader, countered Tecumseh's influence. As chief for the Six Towns (southern) district, Pushmataha strongly resisted such a plan, arguing that the Choctaw and their neighboring Chickasaw had always lived in peace with European Americans, had learned valuable skills and technologies, and had received honest treatment and fair trade. The joint Choctaw-Chickasaw council voted against alliance with Tecumseh. On Tecumseh's departure, Pushmataha accused him of tyranny over his own Shawnee and other tribes. Pushmataha warned Tecumseh that he would fight against those who fought the United States.
On the eve of the War of 1812, Governor William C. C. Claiborne of Louisiana sent interpreter Simon Favre to talk to the Choctaws, urging them to stay out of this "white man's war." But the Choctaw did become involved, and Pushmataha led the Choctaw in alliance with the U.S. He argued against the Creek Red Sticks' (the traditional towns of that tribe) alliance with Britain after the massacre at Fort Mims. Pushmataha traveled to St. Stephens, Alabama in mid-1813 to offer an alliance with US forces and to recruit Choctaw warriors. He was escorted further to Mobile to speak with General Flournoy, commander of the district. Flournoy initially declined Pushmataha's offer and offended the chief. But the general's staff quickly convinced him to reverse his decision. A courier caught up with Pushmataha at St. Stephens, with a message of Flournoy's acceptance.
In Choctaw territory, Pushmataha raised a company of 125 Choctaw warriors, and was commissioned by the Americans as either a lieutenant colonel or a brigadier general) in the United States Army at St. Stephens. After observing the Us officers and their wives promenading along the Alabama River, Pushmataha invited his own wife to St. Stephens to accompany him.
He joined the U.S. Army under General Ferdinand Claiborne in mid-November, and some 125 Choctaw warriors took part in an attack on Creek forces at Kantachi (near present day Econochaca, Alabama) on 23 December 1813. After this victory, Choctaw began to volunteer in greater numbers from their other two districts. By February 1814, Pushmataha commanded a larger Choctaw force, and joined General Andrew Jackson units to sweep Creek territories near Pensacola, Florida. After the final defeat of the Creek at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, many Choctaw left. By the Battle of New Orleans, only a small group of Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors remained with Jackson's force. A Native American warrior who was a half breed named Pierre Juzan but also at times called Captain Pierre Jegeat led a force of the Choctaw warriors supporting Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans. Pierre Juzan and his Choctaw warriors under his command ambushed and harassed the British. The Choctaw warriors were described as lurking "way out in the swamp, basking on logs, like so many alligators." The Choctaws "came unexpectedly out of the swamp on the British right rear and delivered a most destructive fire at short rifle-range without themselves breaking cover at all." Juzan and the Choctaws simply terrorized the British. The Choctaw "patrolled the edge of the swamp, leaping unperceived from one log to another...and shot every redcoat who came within rifle range. Not less than fifty British soldiers were killed and many more severely wounded by this method of assassination." One of the notable Choctaw warriors who was of mixed blood named Poindexter killed 5 British sentries over the space of three nights while lurking in the swamps.
In October 1820, Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hinds were sent as commissioners representing the United States, to conduct a treaty that would require the Choctaw to surrender to the United States a portion of their country located in present day Mississippi. They met with chiefs, mingos (leaders), and headsmen such as Colonel Silas Dinsmore and Chief Pushmataha at Doak's Stand on the Natchez Trace.
The convention began on October 10 with a talk by "Sharp Knife", the nickname of Jackson, to more than 500 Choctaws. Pushmataha accused Jackson of deceiving them about the quality of land west of the Mississippi. Pushmataha responded to Jackson's retort with "I know the country well ... The grass is everywhere very short ... There are but few beavers, and the honey and fruit are rare things." Jackson resorted to threats, which pressured the Choctaws to sign the Doak's Stand treaty. Pushmataha would continue to argue with Jackson about the conditions of the treaty. Pushmataha assertively stated "that no alteration shall be made in the boundaries of the portion of our territory that will remain, until the Choctaw people are sufficiently progressed in the arts of civilization to become citizens of the States, owning land and homes of their own, on an equal footing with the white people." Jackson responded with "That ... is a magnificent rangement and we consent to it, [American Citizenship], readily." Historian Anna Lewis stated that Apuckshunubbee, a Choctaw district chief, was blackmailed by Jackson to sign the treaty. On October 18, the Treaty of Doak's Stand was signed.
Article 4 of the Treaty of Doak's Stand prepared Choctaws to become U.S. citizens by becoming "civilized." This article would later influence Article 14 in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
Apuckshunubbee, Pushmataha, and Mosholatubbee, the principal chiefs of the three divisions of Choctaw, led a delegation to Washington City (the 19th-century name for Washington, D.C.) to discuss the problems of European Americans' squatting on Choctaw lands. They sought either expulsion of the settlers or financial compensation for the loss of use of their lands. The group included Talking Warrior, Red Fort; Nittahkachee, who was later Principal Chief; Col. Robert Cole, and David Folsom, both Choctaw of mixed-race ancestry; Captain Daniel McCurtain, and Major John Pitchlynn, the U.S. interpreter, who had been raised by the Choctaw and married a Choctaw woman, after having been orphaned when young. Apuckshunubbee died in Maysville, Kentucky of an accident before the party reached Washington.
Pushmataha met with President James Monroe and gave a speech to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, reminding him of the longstanding alliances between the United States and the Choctaw. He said, "[I] can say and tell the truth that no Choctaw ever drew his bow against the United States ... My nation has given of their country until it is very small. We are in trouble." On January 20, 1825, Choctaw chiefs signed the Treaty of Washington City, by which the Choctaw ceded more territory to the United States.
Pushmataha died in Washington of a respiratory disease described as croup, before the delegation returned to the Choctaw Nation. He was given full U.S. military burial honors at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
The deaths of these two strong division leaders was a major loss to the Choctaw Nation, but younger leaders were rising, some educated in European-American schools, who led adaptation of the culture. Threatened with European-American encroachment, the Choctaw continued to adapt: they took on some technology and housing styles, and accepted missionaries to their people. They hoped to gain acceptance by the Mississippi and national governments, to end encroachment of their lands. In 1825 the National Council approved founding the Choctaw Academy, to educate their young men, as urged by Peter Pitchlynn, a young leader and future chief. The school was established in Blue Spring, Scott County, Kentucky. It operated there until 1842, when the staff and students moved to the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory after removal of most of the tribe. There they founded the Spencer Academy in 1844.
With the election of Andrew Jackson as president in 1828, many of the Choctaw realized that removal was inevitable. They continued to adopt useful European practices but faced Jackson's and settlers' unrelenting pressure to give up their lands.
In March 1830 the division chiefs resigned, and the National Council elected Greenwood LeFlore, chief of the western division, as Principal Chief of the nation to negotiate with the US government on their behalf, the first time such a position had been authorized. Believing removal was inevitable and hoping to preserve rights for Choctaw in Indian Territory and Mississippi, LeFlore drafted a treaty and sent it to Washington, DC. There was considerable turmoil in the Choctaw Nation among people who thought he would and could resist removal, but the chiefs had agreed they could not undertake armed resistance.
At Andrew Jackson's request, the United States Congress opened what became a fierce debate on an Indian Removal Bill. In the end, the bill passed, but the vote was very close. The Senate passed the measure 28 to 19, while in the House it narrowly passed, 102 to 97. Jackson signed the legislation into law June 30, 1830, and turned his focus onto the Choctaw in Mississippi Territory.
On August 25, 1830, the Choctaw were supposed to meet with Andrew Jackson in Franklin, Tennessee, but Greenwood Leflore, a district Choctaw chief, informed Secretary of War John H. Eaton that his warriors were fiercely opposed to attending. President Jackson was angered. Journalist Len Green writes "although angered by the Choctaw refusal to meet him in Tennessee, Jackson felt from LeFlore's words that he might have a foot in the door and dispatched Secretary of War Eaton and John Coffee to meet with the Choctaws in their nation." Jackson appointed Eaton and General John Coffee as commissioners to represent him to meet the Choctaws at the Dancing Rabbit Creek near present-day Noxubee, Mississippi Territory. although the actual site of the Treaty was never specifically mentioned.
The commissioners met with the chiefs and headmen on September 15, 1830, at Dancing Rabbit Creek. In a carnival-like atmosphere, they tried to explain the policy of removal to an audience of 6,000 men, women, and children. The Choctaws faced migration or submitting to U.S. law as citizens. The treaty required them to cede their remaining traditional homeland to the United States; however, a provision in the treaty made removal more acceptable.
On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed. It represented one of the largest transfers of land that was signed between the U.S. Government and Native Americans without being instigated by warfare. By the treaty, the Choctaw signed away their remaining traditional homelands, opening them up for European-American settlement. Article 14 allowed for some Choctaw to stay in Mississippi, and nearly 1,300 Choctaws chose to do so. They were one of the first major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens. Article 22 sought to put a Choctaw representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Choctaw at this crucial time split into two distinct groups: the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The nation retained its autonomy, but the tribe in Mississippi submitted to state and federal laws.
After ceding nearly 11,000,000 acres (45,000 km), the Choctaw emigrated in three stages: the first in the fall of 1831, the second in 1832 and the last in 1833. Nearly 15,000 Choctaws made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma. About 2,500 died along the Trail of Tears. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1831, and the President was anxious to make it a model of removal. Principal Chief George W. Harkins wrote a farewell letter to the American people before the removals began. It was widely published
Alexis de Tocqueville, noted French political thinker and historian, witnessed the Choctaw removals while in Memphis, Tennessee in 1831:
Approximately 4,000–6,000 Choctaw remained in Mississippi in 1831 after the initial removal efforts. The U.S. agent William Ward, who was responsible for Choctaw registration in Mississippi under article XIV, strongly opposed their treaty rights. Although estimates suggested 5000 Choctaw remained in Mississippi, only 143 family heads (for a total of 276 adult persons) received lands under the provisions of Article 14. For the next ten years, the Choctaws in Mississippi were objects of increasing legal conflict, racism, harassment, and intimidation. The Choctaws described 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." Joseph B. Cobb, who moved to Mississippi from Georgia, described the Choctaw 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." Removal continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1846 1,000 Choctaw removed, and in 1903, another 300 Mississippi Choctaw were persuaded to move to the Nation in Oklahoma. By 1930 only 1,665 remained in Mississippi.
Choctaw chief Greenwood LeFlore stayed in Mississippi after the signing of Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and removal of most of the tribe. He became a US citizen, successful businessman, and state politician. He was elected as a Mississippi state representative and later as a senator, was a fixture of Mississippi high society, and became a friend of Jefferson Davis. He represented his county in the state house for two terms and served as a state senator for one term. Some of the elite used Latin language, an indulgence used by some politicians. LeFlore spoke in Choctaw and asked the Senate floor which was better understood in the region, Latin or Choctaw.
Midway through the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), the Choctaw agency at Fort Smith, Arkansas raised funds totaling $170 and sent it to help starving Irish men, women, and children. The Arkansas Intelligencer reported that "all subscribed, agents, missionaries, traders and Indians, a considerable portion of which fund was made up by the latter."
To mark the 150th anniversary, eight Irish people retraced the Trail of Tears. In the late 20th century, Irish President Mary Robinson extolled the donation in a public commemoration. On 18 June 2017 the Kindred Spirits memorial by the sculptor Alex Pentek, a circle of six-metre-tall steel feathers making a bowl and representing both the Choctaw tradition and a symbolic bowl of food, was unveiled in Midleton, County Cork. A Choctaw delegation, which included Chief Gary Batton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation, and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., attended the memorial's dedication ceremony that involved presentations of both Choctaw and Irish culture. On 12 March 2018 the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a new scholarship program to allow Choctaw students to travel to and study in Ireland. In the spring of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, an Irish charity drive raised more than $1.8 million to support the struggling Navajo and Hopi Nations as repayment for the Choctaws' donation more than a century before.
For the Choctaw who remained in or returned to Mississippi after 1855, the situation deteriorated. Many lost their lands and money to unscrupulous whites. The state of Mississippi refused the Choctaw any participation in government. Most were isolated by their limited understanding of the English language, which made it difficult for them to work in mainstream society. In addition, the European Americans had classified them as free people of color and excluded them from segregated white educational institutions. The state had no public schools before those established during the Reconstruction era.
In May 1853, Choctaws sailed out of Mobile, Alabama for Boston and New York. They were to participate in America's "first" world's fair: Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations.
Both Indian Territory and Mississippi Choctaws in the American Civil War allied with the Confederate States of America. They signed the Treaty with Choctaws and Chickasaws in July 1861, which promised Choctaw and Chickasaw national sovereignty. Historian Horatio B. Cushman, wrote that the, "United States abandoned the Choctaws and Chickasaws" when Confederate troops had entered into their nation. Upon defeat, the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory signed a 1866 Reconstruction Treaty that ceded the western portion of their lands to the United States.
From about 1865 to 1914, Mississippi Choctaws were largely ignored by governmental, health, and educational services and fell into obscurity. In the aftermath of the Civil War, their issues were pushed aside in the struggle between defeated Confederates, freedmen and Union sympathizers. Records about the Mississippi Choctaw during this period are few. They had no legal recourse, and were often bullied and intimidated by local whites, who tried to re-establish white supremacy. They chose to live in isolation and practiced their culture as they had for generations.
Following the Reconstruction era and conservative Democrats' regaining political power in the late 1870s, white state legislators passed laws establishing Jim Crow laws and legal segregation by race. In addition, they effectively disfranchised freedmen and Native Americans by the new Mississippi constitution of 1890, which changed rules regarding voter registration and elections to discriminate against both groups. The white legislators effectively divided society into two groups: white and "colored," into which they classified Mississippi Choctaw and other Native Americans. They subjected the Choctaw to racial segregation and exclusion from public facilities along with freedmen and their descendants. The Choctaw were non-white, landless, and had minimal legal protection.
Because the state remained dependent on agriculture, despite the declining price of cotton, most landless men earned a living by becoming sharecroppers. The women created and sold traditional hand-woven baskets. Choctaw sharecropping declined following World War II as major planters had adopted mechanization, which reduced the need for labor.
The Confederacy's loss was also the Choctaw Nation's loss. Prior to removal, the Choctaws had interacted with Africans in their native homeland of Mississippi, and the wealthiest had bought slaves. The Choctaw who developed larger plantations adopted chattel slavery, as practiced by European Americans, to gain sufficient labor. During the antebellum period, enslaved African Americans had more formal legal protection under United States law than did the Choctaw. Moshulatubbee, the chief of the western region, held slaves, as did many of the Europeans who married into the Choctaw nation. The Choctaw took slaves with them to Indian Territory during removal, and descendants purchased others there. They kept slavery until 1866. After the Civil War, they were required by treaty with the United States to emancipate the slaves within their Nation and, for those who chose to stay, offer them full citizenship and rights. Former slaves of the Choctaw Nation were called the Choctaw Freedmen. After considerable debate, the Choctaw Nation granted Choctaw Freedmen citizenship in 1885. In post-war treaties, the US government also acquired land in the western part of the territory and access rights for railroads to be built across Indian Territory. Choctaw chief, Allen Wright, suggested Oklahoma (red man, a portmanteau of the Choctaw words okla "man" and humma "red") as the name of a territory created from Indian Territory in 1890.
The improved transportation afforded by the railroads increased the pressure on the Choctaw Nation. It drew large-scale mining and timber operations, which added to tribal receipts. But, the railroads and industries also attracted European-American settlers, including new immigrants to the United States.
With the goal of assimilating the Native Americans, the Curtis Act of 1898, sponsored by a Native American who believed that was the way for his people to do better, ended tribal governments. In addition, it proposed the end of communal, tribal lands. Continuing the struggle over land and assimilation, the US proposed the end to the tribal lands held in common, and allotment of lands to tribal members in severalty (individually). The US declared land in excess of the registered households needs to be "surplus" to the tribe, and took it for sale to new European-American settlers. In addition, individual ownership meant that Native Americans could sell their individual plots. This would also enable new settlers to buy land from those Native Americans who wished to sell. The US government set up the Dawes Commission to manage the land allotment policy; it registered members of the tribe and made allocations of lands.
Beginning in 1894, the Dawes Commission was established to register Choctaw and other families of the Indian Territory, so that the former tribal lands could be properly distributed among them. The final list included 18,981 citizens of the Choctaw Nation, 1,639 Mississippi Choctaw, and 5,994 former slaves (and descendants of former slaves), most held by Choctaws in the Indian/Oklahoma Territory. (At the same time, the Dawes Commission registered members of the other Five Civilized Tribes for the same purpose. The Dawes Rolls have become important records for proving tribal membership.) Following completion of the land allotments, the US proposed to end tribal governments of the Five Civilized Tribes and admit the two territories jointly as a state.
The establishment of Oklahoma Territory following the Civil War was a required land cession by the Five Civilized Tribes, who had supported the Confederacy. The government used its railroad access to the Oklahoma Territory to stimulate development there. The Indian Appropriations Bill of 1889 included an amendment by Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer, that authorized President Benjamin Harrison to open the two million acres (8,000 km²) of Oklahoma Territory for settlement, resulting in the Land Run of 1889. The Choctaw Nation was overwhelmed with new settlers and could not regulate their activities. In the late 19th century, Choctaws suffered almost daily from violent crimes, murders, thefts and assaults from whites and from other Choctaws. Intense factionalism divided the traditionalistic "Nationalists" and pro-assimilation "Progressives," who fought for control.
In 1905, delegates of the Five Civilized Tribes met at the Sequoyah Convention to write a constitution for an Indian-controlled state. They wanted to have Indian Territory admitted as the State of Sequoyah. Although they took a thoroughly developed proposal to Washington, DC, seeking approval, eastern states' representatives opposed it, not wanting to have two western states created in the area, as the Republicans feared that both would be Democrat-dominated, as the territories had a southern tradition of settlement. President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, ruled that the Oklahoma and Indian territories had to be jointly admitted as one state, Oklahoma. To achieve this, tribal governments had to end and all residents accept state government. Many of the leading Native American representatives from the Sequoyah Convention participated in the new state convention. Its constitution was based on many elements of the one developed for the State of Sequoyah.
In 1906 the U.S. dissolved the governments of the Five Civilized Tribes. This action was part of continuing negotiations by Native Americans and European Americans over the best proposals for the future. The Choctaw Nation continued to protect resources not stipulated in treaty or law. On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was admitted to the union as the 46th state.
By 1907, the Mississippi Choctaw were in danger of becoming extinct. The Dawes Commission had sent a large number of the Mississippi Choctaws to Indian Territory, and only 1,253 members remained. Meetings were held in April and May 1913 to try to find a solution to this problem. Wesley Johnson was elected chief of the newly formed Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana Choctaw Council at the May 1913 meeting. After some deliberation, the council selected delegates to send to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to their plight. Historian Robert Bruce Ferguson wrote in his 2015 article that:
Nearly two years after the trip to Washington, the Indian Appropriations Act of May 18, 1916 was passed. A stipulation allowed $1,000 for a investigation on the Mississippi Choctaws' condition. John R. T. Reeves was to "investigate the condition of the Indians living in Mississippi and report to Congress ... as to their needs for additional land and school facilities ..." Reeves submitted his report on November 6, 1916.
In March 1917, federal representatives held hearings, attended by around 100 Choctaws, to examine the needs of the Mississippi Choctaws. Some of the congressmen who presided over the hearings were: Charles D. Carter of Oklahoma, William W. Hastings of Oklahoma, Carl T. Hayden of Arizona, John N. Tillman of Arkansas, and William W. Venable of Mississippi. These hearings resulted in improvements such as improved access to health care, housing, and schools.
After Cato H. Sells investigated the Choctaws' condition, the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs established the Choctaw Agency on October 8 of 1918. The Choctaw Agency was based in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the center of Indian activity. Dr. Frank J. McKinley was its first superintendent, and he was also the physician.
Before 1916, six Indian schools operated in three counties: two in Leake, three in Neshoba, and one in Newton. The names of those schools were: Tubby Rock Indian School, Calcutta Indian School, Revenue Indian school, Red Water Indian School, and Gum Springs Indian School. The Newton Indian school's name is not known. The agency established new schools in the following Indian communities: Bogue Chitto, Bogue Homo, Conehatta, Pearl River, Red Water, Standing Pine, and Tucker. Under segregation, few schools were open to Choctaw children, whom the white southerners classified as non-whites.
The Mississippi Choctaws' improvements may have continued if it wasn't dramatically interrupted by world events. World War I slowed down progress for the Indians as Washington's bureaucracy focused on the war. Some Mississippi Choctaws also served during the war. The Spanish Influenza also slowed progress as many Choctaws were killed by the world-wide epidemic.
In the closing days of World War I, a group of Oklahoma Choctaws serving in the U.S. Army used their native language as the basis for secret communication among Americans, as Germans could not understand it. They are now called the Choctaw Code Talkers. The Choctaws were the Native American innovators who served as code talkers. Captain Lawrence, a company commander, overheard Solomon Louis and Mitchell Bobb conversing in the Choctaw language. He learned there were eight Choctaw men in the battalion.
Fourteen Choctaw Indian men in the Army's 36th Division trained to use their language for military communications. Their communications, which could not be understood by Germans, helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France, during the last big German offensive of the war. Within 24 hours after the US Army starting using the Choctaw speakers, they turned the tide of battle by controlling their communications. In less than 72 hours, the Germans were retreating and the Allies were on full attack. The 14 Choctaw Code Talkers were Albert Billy, Mitchell Bobb, Victor Brown, Ben Caterby, James Edwards, Tobias Frazer, Ben Hampton, Solomon Louis, Pete Maytubby, Jeff Nelson, Joseph Oklahombi, Robert Taylor, Calvin Wilson, and Captain Walter Veach.
More than 70 years passed before the contributions of the Choctaw Code talkers were fully recognized. On November 3, 1989, in recognition of the important role the Choctaw Code Talkers played during World War I, the French government presented the Chevalier de L'Ordre National du Mérite (the Knight of the National Order of Merit) to the Choctaws Code Talkers.
The US Army again used Choctaw speakers for coded language during World War II.
During the Great Depression and the Roosevelt Administration, officials began numerous initiatives to alleviate some of the social and economic conditions in the South. The 1933 Special Narrative Report described the dismal state of welfare of Mississippi Choctaws, whose population by 1930 had slightly increased to 1,665 people. John Collier, the US Commissioner for Indian Affairs (now BIA), had worked for a decade on Indian affairs and been developing ideas to change federal policy. He used the report as instrumental support to re-organize the Mississippi Choctaw as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. This enabled them to establish their own tribal government, and gain a beneficial relationship with the federal government.
In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Indian Reorganization Act. This law proved critical for survival of the Mississippi Choctaw. Baxter York, Emmett York, and Joe Chitto worked on gaining recognition for the Choctaw. They realized that the only way to gain recognition was to adopt a constitution. A rival organization, the Mississippi Choctaw Indian Federation, opposed tribal recognition because of fears of dominance by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). They disbanded after leaders of the opposition were moved to another jurisdiction. The first Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians tribal council members were Baxter and Emmett York with Joe Chitto as the first chairperson.
With the tribe's adoption of government, in 1944 the Secretary of the Interior declared that 18,000 acres (73 km) would be held in trust for the Choctaw of Mississippi. Lands in Neshoba and surrounding counties were set aside as a federal Indian reservation. Eight communities were included in the reservation land: Bogue Chitto, Bogue Homa, Conehatta, Crystal Ridge, Pearl River, Red Water, Tucker, and Standing Pine.
Under the Indian Reorganization Act, the Mississippi Choctaws re-organized on April 20, 1945 as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. This gave them some independence from the Democrat-dominated state government, which continued with enforcement of racial segregation and discrimination.
World War II was a significant turning point for Choctaws and Native Americans in general. Although the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek stated Mississippi Choctaws had U.S. citizenship, they had become associated with "colored people" as non-white in a state that had imposed racial segregation under Jim Crow laws. State services for Native Americans were non-existent. The state was poor and still dependent on agriculture. In its system of segregation, services for minorities were consistently underfunded. The state constitution and voter registration rules dating from the turn of the 20th century kept most Native Americans from voting, making them ineligible to serve on juries or to be candidates for local or state offices. They were without political representation.
A Mississippi Choctaw veteran stated, "Indians were not supposed to go in the military back then ... the military was mainly for whites. My category was white instead of Indian. I don't know why they did that. Even though Indians weren't citizens of this country, couldn't register to vote, didn't have a draft card or anything, they took us anyway."
Van Barfoot, a Choctaw from Mississippi, who was a sergeant and later a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division, received the Medal of Honor. Barfoot was commissioned a second lieutenant after he destroyed two German machine gun nests, took 17 prisoners, and disabled an enemy tank.
Lt. Colonel Edward E. McClish from Oklahoma was a guerrilla leader in the Philippines.
The first Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians regular tribal council meeting was held on July 10, 1945. The members were Joe Chitto (Chairman), J.C. Allen (Vice Chairman), Nicholas Bell (Secretary Treasurer), Tom Bell, Preatice Jackson, Dempsey Morris, Woodrow W. Jackson, Lonnie Anderson, Joseph Farve, Phillip Farve, Will Wilson, Hensley Gibson, Will Jimmie, Baxter York, Ennis Martin, and Jimpson McMillan.
After World War II, pressure in Congress mounted to reduce Washington's authority on Native American lands and liquidate the government's responsibilities to them. In 1953 the House of Representatives passed Resolution 108, proposing an end to federal services for 13 tribes deemed ready to handle their own affairs. The same year, Public Law 280 transferred jurisdiction over tribal lands to state and local governments in five states. Within a decade Congress terminated federal services to more than sixty groups despite intense opposition by Indians. Congress settled on a policy to terminate tribes as quickly as possible. Out of concern for the isolation of many Native Americans in rural areas, the federal government created relocation programs to cities to try to expand their employment opportunities. Indian policy experts hoped to expedite assimilation of Native Americans to the larger American society, which was becoming urban. In 1959, the Choctaw Termination Act was passed. Unless repealed by the federal government, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma would effectively be terminated as a sovereign nation as of August 25, 1970.
President John F. Kennedy halted further termination in 1961 and decided against implementing additional terminations. He did enact some of the last terminations in process, such as with the Ponca. Both presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon repudiated termination of the federal government's relationship with Native American tribes.
The Choctaw people continued to struggle economically due to bigotry, cultural isolation, and lack of jobs. The Choctaw, who for 150 years had been neither white nor black, were "left where they had always been"—in poverty. Will D. Campbell, a Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist, witnessed the destitution of the Choctaw. He would later write, "the thing I remember the most ... was the depressing sight of the Choctaws, their shanties along the country roads, grown men lounging on the dirt streets of their villages in demeaning idleness, sometimes drinking from a common bottle, sharing a roll-your-own cigarette, their half-clad children a picture of hurting that would never end." With reorganization and establishment of tribal government, however, over the next decades they took control of "schools, health care facilities, legal and judicial systems, and social service programs."
The Choctaws witnessed the social forces that brought Freedom Summer and its after effects to their ancient homeland. The civil rights movement produced significant social change for the Choctaw in Mississippi, as their civil rights were enhanced. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most jobs were given to whites, then blacks. Donna Ladd wrote that a Choctaw, now in her 40s, remembers "as a little girl, she thought that a 'white only' sign in a local store meant she could only order white, or vanilla, ice cream. It was a small story, but one that shows how a third race can easily get left out of the attempts for understanding."
On June 21, 1964 James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (renowned civil rights workers) disappeared; their remains were later found in a newly constructed dam. A crucial turning point in the FBI investigation came when the charred remains of the murdered civil rights workers' station wagon was found on a Mississippi Choctaw reservation. Two Choctaw women, who were in the back seat of a deputy's patrol car, said they witnessed the meeting
of two conspirators who expressed their desire to "beat-up" the boys. The end of legalized racial segregation permitted the Choctaws to participate in public institutions and facilities that had been reserved exclusively for white patrons.
Phillip Martin, who had served in the U. S. Army in Europe during World War II, returned to visit his former Neshoba County, Mississippi home. After seeing the poverty of his people, he decided to stay to help. Martin served as chairperson in various Choctaw committees up until 1977.
Martin was elected as Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He served a total of 30 years, being re-elected until 2007. Martin died in Jackson, Mississippi, on February 4, 2010. He was eulogized as a visionary leader, who had lifted his people out of poverty with businesses and casinos built on tribal land.