BY MURIEL H. WRIGHT
The election of Andrew Jackson, as President of the United States, turned the tide in the question of ownership of Indian lands, in favor of the southern planters and settlers who had for many years coveted the fertile tracts claimed and occupied by the Choctaws in Eastern Mississippi. In his message to Congress, December 8, 1829, President Jackson reviewed the condition of the various Indian tribes east of the Mississippi, and pointed out the necessity of adopting a new policy regarding them. He recommended that Congress enact legislation setting apart “an ample district west of the Mississippi * * * to be granted to the Indian tribes as long as they should occupy it. * * * There they may be secured in the enjoyments of governments of their own choice, subject to no control from the United States than such as may be necessary to preserve peace on the frontier and between the several tribes.”1
In compliance with this request and the urgent demands of citizens in certain sections of the United States, Congress passed an act, approved May 28, 1830, providing for an exchange of lands with the Indians. Section 3 of the Act expressly stated “That in the making of any such ex-
1The country set aside for all the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River lay west of Missouri and Arkansas, extending as far west as supposed inhabitable country, or about 250 miles. Among the several plans submitted to the Government for the organization of an Indian state or territory, were those offered on October 15, 1832, by Rev. Isaac McCoy, a missionary of the Baptist Convention. He suggested that the territory be named “Aboriginia” or “Indian Territory.” From about that time, the latter name was held in common usage for all the country lying west of Missouri and Arkansas from the Niobrara River (in Nebraska) to the Red River of the South, and extending as far west as the degree of longitude which divided the United States from Mexican territory. The Government settled many Indian tribes in this region. The Indian Territory was never organized as a regular territory of the United States. The name was finally applied to the eastern half of what is now the state of Oklahoma, from 1890 to 1907, which section included the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes.
change or exchanges, it shall be and may be lawful for the President to solemnly assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made that the United States will forever secure and guarantee to them and their heirs or successors the country so exchanged with them * * *.” It only remained for duly authorized commissioners of the Government to negotiate treaties with the different tribes in order to obtain an exchange of lands and to secure the removal of the members of the tribe to the West.
In furtherance of this policy of the Government commissioners were appointed to visit the Choctaws in Mississippi. They succeeded in negotiating a treaty which was signed by the chiefs and captains at Dancing Rabbit Creek, on September 27, 1830. Under its terms, the Choctaws relinquished to the United States the last of their holdings east of the Mississippi River, amounting to 10,421,139 acres of land. In return, the country west of Arkansas Territory, lying between the Arkansas and Canadian rivers on the north and the Red River on the south, in what is now Oklahoma, was to be granted with a title in fee simple. This country had been previously ceded to the tribe in 1820, at the treaty of Doak’s Stand, in consideration for 4,150,000 acres of Choctaw land in the delta region—the richest cotton lands in the South—relinquished to the United States at that time. The new proposal in the treaty at Dancing Rabbit Creek was the clause granting the Choctaw Nation a patent to their reservation in the West. The second important provision in the treaty had to do with the removal of the Choctaws to this country and subsistence for one year, after their arrival, at the expense of the United States.
In view of the circumstances surrounding them, the chiefs and captains were forced to sign the treaty as a matter of expediency in behalf of their people. The particular inducement that led them to attach their signatures was the 14th article of the treaty, allowing any Choctaw the right to remain in Mississippi and to select for himself and other members of his family a stipulated amount of tribal land, provided he made known his intentions to the United States agent of the Choctaws, within six months after the signing of the treaty, and lived on the land five years. The 19th
article also provided that any Choctaw who had cultivated land and lived on it during the year of 1830, would be allowed a certain number of acres, in proportion to the field he had cultivated, which he himself could either relinquish to the United States at fifty cents an acre or sell to any other individual, with the consent of the President.2
Other provisions of the treaty covered the setting aside of sums of money for education, the payments of annuities due under former agreements with the United States, the appraisement and the sale of all cattle and farm implements, under the supervision of the Government, for the benefit of the individual Choctaw owner at the time of his immigration to the West. In addition, each Choctaw warrior was to receive “a riffle, moulds, wipers, and ammunition”; also, 400 looms, 1000 axes, ploughs, hoes, wheels and cards, and 2100 blankets were to be distributed among the approximate 18,800 members of the tribe. The government decided that these articles would be distributed after the Choctaws arrived in their new country. Every inducement was offered to secure their removal, with assurances, that all would be well with them west of the Mississippi River. But many months passed before the people generally knew of the terms of the treaty, other than its main provisions, as no copies were returned to the chiefs until May, 1831.
Consternation reigned among the Choctaws when word spread throughout their country that the treaty had been signed at Dancing Rabbit Creek, for the great majority were bitterly opposed to the sale of the tribal lands and the removal to the West. It was truthfully said that the nation “was literally in mourning.” All efforts toward self-improvement ceased. The thought of some of the Choctaws was expressed by one who said, “I will not go to the West; I might as well die here as there.” Yet another who had been under the influence of the Christian missionaries made the statement, “I can neither sing nor pray, and why should I pretend to do so when my heart is not in it?” A third said that he did not wish to leave the country where his
2For many years there was much confusion resulting from the 14th and 19th articles of the treaty, that brought about land frauds and suits in the courts of Mississippi. Very few Choctaws derived any benefits from the provisions of these two articles, at the time of the removal.
ancestors lay buried; that many relatives were dependent upon him, some of whom were old people, and since he had no means to move them to a new country, they might die from exposure to cold and hunger on the way. He added that, “The Secretary of War came and took my country. I am in distress. * * * When I see the women and children weeping in sorrow, I am distressed. This I tell you.”
In January, 1830, the laws of the state of Mississippi had been extended over the Choctaw Nation, by an act of the State Legislature. This act annulled the old tribal laws and the former authority of the chiefs and the captains over their people.3 Since President Jackson recognized the act of the Legislature as a right of the State, many persons took the position that the Federal laws, in existence at that time, regulating the Indian trade, had been superseded by the state laws, and that all Choctaw land had become public land with the signing of the treaty at Dancing Rabbit Creek. Taking advantage of the situation, evil influences were unrestrained from preying upon the unprotected Choctaws, the liquor traffic flourished and the country was overrun with speculators.
In the midst of these disturbed conditions, factions arose among the Choctaws within a few weeks after the signing of the treaty. New chiefs were elected in each of the three districts of the Nation; namely, George W. Harkins in the place of Greenwood LeFlore of the Northwestern District; Joel H. Nail in place of Nitakechi of the Southern District; while David Folsom and Peter P. Pitchlynn were rivals for the position of Chief Musholatubbee of the Northeastern District, with Musholatubbee favoring his nephew, Pitchlynn. The new chiefs and their followers called themselves the “Republican Party,” their opponents the “Despotic Party.” In some instances, friends of the “Republican Party” contemplated sending protests to Congress against the treaty, but the administration at Washington refused to recognize the new chiefs or to consider any results of the factional disturbances, replying that Colonel LeFlore, Nitakechi, and Musholatubbee, as the leading chiefs who had signed the treaty, should re-
3The title of “captain” was given the head-man of the tribe, without any significance in a military sense. So also, the title of “colonel” usually was applied to a chief or ex-chief bearing an English name.
main in power until a tribal council could assemble in the country west of the Mississippi. The removal of the Choctaws from their old country to the Indian Territory was inevitable.4
On account of the general confusion in their country and in anticipation of their forced emigration, small parties of Choctaws made their departure for the new country as early as November, 1830. This was before the treaty was ratified by the United States Senate and before the Government took any steps in perfecting plans for the removal of the tribe. The first emigrants who were from the Northwestern District were encouraged to make their departure through the efforts of the Methodist missionaries, who had been working among the people in that section of the country, aided by Colonel LeFlore. At the time of their setting forth to the West, Rev. Alexander Talley, the leading Methodist missionary to the tribe, hurried ahead with some of the Choctaw captains on an exploring trip to their new country.5 Before he left, Colonel LeFlore authorized him to purchase corn for the parties that would soon arrive in the new country; he was also directed to purchase tools and iron, that a blacksmith shop might be set up for their use at some convenient location.6 Early in January, 1831, Reverend Talley contracted for one thousand bushels of corn, at one dollar a bushel, from some white settlers living in Arkansas Territory, not far from the line of the new Choctaw country. He then stat-
4Greenwood LeFlore, George W. Harkins, Joel H. Nail, David Folsom, and Peter P. Pitchlynn were all sons of white men and Choctaw mothers. The antagonism between Musholatubbee, a full-blood Choctaw, and David Folsom had existed since 1826, at which time Musholatubbee had been forced to resign his position as chief by the “Christian Party,” a constitution being adopted for the Choctaw Nation, and David Folsom being elected the first chief of the Northeastern District under the new regime. Shortly before the treaty at Dancing Rabbit Creek, Musholatubbee was reinstated by his followers as chief of the District.
5The missionaries of the Methodist and Baptist denominations favored the removal of the Indians to the west, under the idea that the Indians would thus be saved from the contaminating influences always found upon the frontier. The Presbyterian missionaries, who had started their work and established missions among the tribes of the South before the Methodists and Baptists, were opposed to the removal, saying the progress and the interest of the Indians in their own improvement would thus be retarded.
ioned himself at the mouth of the Kiamichi River to await the arrival of the emigrants.
In the meanwhile the first party had traveled overland to the Mississippi River where they were overtaken by Mr. Thomas Myers, a Methodist teacher, who with his family had accompanied a second party. After much difficulty, a boat was secured and all the emigrants were ferried across the river, Mr. Myers and some of his companions afterward pressing ahead to the Saline River in Arkansas where they were detained five weeks building a ferry for those that followed. The emigrant parties traveled slowly, since they had to hunt game for food and graze their ponies in the cane-brakes and the deep forests along the way.
After extreme suffering from hunger and exposure to severe winter weather much of the jouney of four hundred miles from the Mississippi River, during which one of the party starved to death, ninety-two Choctaws arrived in an emaciated condition at the Kiamichi River some time in February. Here they occupied the abandoned log cabins of old Fort Towson,7 and lived on a scanty supply of the corn—in comparison to the number of persons to be fed—that had been previously engaged by Reverend Talley and brought on packhorses from the nearest settlements many miles away.8
Word having reached Washington the latter part of
7Fort Towson had been established at the mouth of the Kiamichi River in 1824. The post was abandoned in 1829 when the garrison was moved to Camp Jesup, Louisiana. A short time later the main buildings at old Fort Towson burned, only a few log cabins being left near the site. After the treaty with the Choctaws, the post was re-established in 1831, about six miles northeast of the mouth of the Kiamichi. The new post was called Camp Phoenix for a time, being given the name of Fort Towson some months later.
8After learning of the suffering of the first party of Choctaws, Reverend Talley made efforts to furnish provisions to those who would follow, from Ecore de Fabre (Camden, Ark.), to Fort Towson. Though he had been promised funds out of the annuity payment of 1831 of the Northwestern District, to settle the obligations he incurred for the first parties of Choctaws, he was finally obliged to apply to the Secretary of War for approval of his accounts. Reverend Talley remained as a missionary among the Choctaws in their new country until 1833, when he was forced to leave on account of ill health. He died in 1834, a victim of the cholera, while in charge of the La Fayette Mission near New Orleans.
December, 1830, that many Choctaws were on their way West, General George A. Gibson, Commissary General of Subsistence took steps to provide them with rations upon their arrival, in compliance with the terms of the recent treaty and in anticipation of its ratification by the Senate. He issued orders to Lieut. J. F. Stephenson, of the 7th Infantry, to proceed from Fort Gibson to the mouth of the Kiamichi to take charge of distributing supplies to the Choctaws who would settle in that vicinity. Arriving at old Fort Towson on March 7, after the first party of emigrants, Lieutenant Stephenson immediately began his plans for subsisting them and others who would continue to arrive in that region. Upon agreement with Reverend Talley, he assumed responsibility for all the corn that had been engaged, at the contract price, and, also, made additional contracts with citizens of Arkansas to furnish beef and pork. By October, 1831, 427 Choctaws had arrived from Mississippi, and were being subsisted at the Kiamichie station. Lieutenant Stephenson remained in charge of the subsistence stations in the Red River region until the last year of the removal of Choctaws, in 1833.
Government Organization for the Removal
Under the terms of the treaty at Dancing Rabbit Creek, the Choctaws were to be removed from Mississippi in steamboats and wagons at the expense of the United States. They were to be furnished a plentiful supply of beef, or pork, and corn en route, and for one year thereafter in the new country.9 They were to emigrate under the supervision of the Government, during a period of three years, beginning with 1831, the first emigration to equal about one-third of the people, or an estimate of between five thousand and eight thousand persons. The President approved of a commutation plan in the summer of 1831, by which ten dollars was allowed each Choctaw
9Rations to each individual, by order of General George Gibson in 1831, consisted of 1 ½ lbs. of beef or pork, 1 pint of corn, or equivalent of corn-meal or flour, with two quarts of salt to the hundred rations. The pint of corn was raised to one quart in the fall of 1831.
who went West at his own expense, this sum to be paid the individual upon his arrival in the new country.10
Perfecting plans for the removal of the Choctaws proved a greater task for the Government than had been contemplated by those who urged the policy. In the first place there was no information at Washington upon which definite orders could be based for carrying out the promises of the United States to furnish transportation and supplies for thousands of emigrants. On account of the slow means, of travel and the lack of prompt communication, it required months to secure the necessary details concerning conditions in the country that lay between the old Choctaw Nation in Mississippi and the new Nation in the Indian Territory, a distance of 550 miles over which the Choctaws would have to pass.
In 1830, vast and dangerous swamps, averaging fifty miles in width, were on either side of the Mississippi River. Northern Louisiana and Arkansas Territory were a part of the western frontier, regions of heavy forests, unfordable streams, impenetrable swamps, and dense cane-brakes. The few white settlements were scattered along the larger streams which were the highways of travel for canoes and keel-boats. During high water, small steamboats ascended the Arkansas as far as Fort Smith, less often Fort Gibson, and up the Ouachita River as far as Ecore de Fabre (the present site of Camden, Arkansas). Overland travel was generally on horseback and pack animals along rough trails.
It was originally determined that the War Department should have charge of the important duty of starting the parties of emigrating Choctaws and conducting them to the western bank of the Mississippi River. From there, the office of the Commissary General of Subsistence should have charge, conduct the parties to their new coun-
10The commutation was raised to $13 in 1832. Ferriage was also paid at the Mississippi River, and rations were given free to the emigrants if they happened to pass a government supply depot en route. It cost about $25 per individual removing in Government parties.
try, and have supervision of the depots for their subsistence.11
The organization for the removal east of the Mississippi was delayed awaiting the ratification of the treaty by the Senate, and the subsequent carrying out of the provision granting the “cultivation claims,” under the 19th article. To fulfill these terms and to supply information concerning the members of the tribe, preparatory to the removal east of the River, Major Francis W. Armstrong, of Tennessee, was appointed on April 26, 1831, to take a census of the Choctaws. Major Armstrong began this work by the first week in July, completing it on September 7. He was then appointed Choctaw agent west of the Mississippi, the agency headquarters to be established near Fort Smith in the new Nation, at a place afterward known as Skullyville.
On August 12, 1831, the Secretary of War had appointed George S. Gaines, a licensed trader of the old Choctaw Nation, as superintendent of the removal, east of the Mississippi. With his appointment a request was forwarded that he make his reports to the office of the Commissary General of Subsistence instead of to the War Department. By this change, the office of the Commissary General was given supervision of the whole eastern organization in the removal, in addition to the western organization, practically at the last moment. It was originally planned that the first parties of Choctaws should emigrate by the first week in September, in order that they might build their new cabins and prepare land in the fall for cultivation the next season.
In the meantime, the western organization for the removal was begun early in the spring. Immediately after the ratification of the Choctaw treaty by the Senate, February 24, 1831, Capt. J. B. Clark, of the 3rd Infantry, U. S. Army, was appointed superintendent of the removal, west of the Mississippi. He was first ordered to Fort Smith to repair the abandoned barracks and other buildings of the old fort, preparatory to establishing the prin-
11At Fort Towson, in the fall of 1831, beef contracts called for $3.90 per hundred; corn averaged $1.67 ½ per bushel, delivered; salt was $2 a bushel. Corn was generally delivered by keel-boat up the Red River to the mouth of the Klamichi.
cipal supply station for the Choctaws. His duties included making estimates and contracts for provisions, that might be purchased in Arkansas Territory, besides all disbursements in connection with the western organization.
All officers and agents in connection with the removal of the Indians were particularly advised to be very careful in the expenditure of Government funds. Not a cent was to be spent upon the removal except for bare necessities. Every dollar should be accounted for to the Department at Washington. Though, subsequent to their appointments, the principal officers were allowed to use their own judgment in the use of funds, as the occasion demanded at the scene of action, yet they hesitated to assume responsibility in changing any orders from Washington. This situation called for a great deal of correspondence with the Department, causing many delays and hampering the progress of preparation for the removal.12
Soon after the appointment of Captain Clark, the original plan of transporting the Choctaws in steamboats was held in abeyance by the War Department. Advice had been received from the West that it would be cheaper for the Government to remove the Choctaws in wagons the whole distance from Mississippi to the Indian Territory. It was now necessary for General Gibson to order extra wagons from the Assistant Commissary at Louisville, Kentucky, to be sent to the mouth of White River or to Arkansas Post.13 He also ordered the headquarters of the western organization to be changed from Fort Smith to Little Rock, this word being received by Captain Clark on May 17, 1831.
12Throughout the whole period of removal, settlers along the routes over which the emigrants traveled, in many instances formed combinations among themselves to exact high prices for corn and beef from the Government contracts. Officials in charge of the removal had to be exceedingly watchful to avoid exorbitant prices, in consequence. Letter of Geo. Gibson, Commissary General Subsistence, to Captain J. Brown, Principal Disbursing Agent Indian Removal, Little Rock, dated November 30, 1833.
13A total of forty wagons was ordered. Considerable time and trouble was spent in attempting to have twenty of the wagons made in the vicinity of Louisville, finally the Assistant Commissary had to order them from Pittsburgh. When these were delivered, they were so heavy as to be almost impracticable for use over the roads through Arkansas.
Throughout the summer, Captain Clark was deterred from making definite contracts for furnishing rations or from establishing supply stations for the Choctaws en route through Arkansas Territory, since he was unable to secure any information from east of the Mississippi, as to how many emigrants there would be and which routes they would be apt to travel. He received no word that Colonel Gaines had been appointed superintendent in the East until September 15. Sometime previous to this Captain Clark had asked to be relieved from his position as superintendent at Little Rock, because he could get no information of any final plans and was aware that insurmountable difficulties lay in store for those in charge of the removal west of the Mississippi.14 With his resignation, Captain Jacob Brown, of the 6th Infantry, U. S. Army, was appointed to succeed him.
On October 19, Captain Brown was undertaking his duties as superintendent of the western organization. At the same time, a hasty, almost incoherent message had just been received at Little Rock, to the effect that upward of five thousand Choctaws would begin crossing the Mississippi by November 1, at three points; namely, Memphis, at Blanton’s Ferry opposite Point Chicot, Arkansas, and at Vicksburg. Assistant agents of the western organization were immediately hurried to these places for duty. Even yet the western superintendent was not definitely informed how the emigrating parties would be separated, though he supposed the emigrants would divide into an equal number at each crossing of the River.15
The Emigration of 1831-2
By September 21, Colonel Gaines and his assistants were making arrangements necessary for the first season’s removal. The unprecedented rains throughout the summer and early fall of 1831, made overland travel through the Mississippi swamps impracticable, so that they had to abandon the idea of conveying the parties in wagons the whole distance, and to return to the first plan of sending
15Acting as assistant agents under the western organization, Dr. J. T. Fulton was sent to Memphis; William McK. Ball, to Point Chicot; and Wharton Rector, to Vicksburg.
them in steamboats as far as possible up the Arkansas and the Ouachita rivers. It took weeks to gather the Choctaws for the emigration on account of conditions among them. On their part the chiefs had advised that the parties begin their journey to the West after the first white frost, on account of the wet season during which fever and sickness was prevalent throughout the country. In some instances the members of the tribe were called to meet in district councils where the conditions of the removal were explained by the chiefs or the captains; in other portions of the Nation, the people were informed by their leaders who traveled from house to house. Most of the Choctaws were slow in making a final decision, especially if they owned any property. Many had to gather their cattle from the open range. Those entitled to individual land claims tried to dispose of them.16
Upward of a thousand Choctaws decided to go West in self-emigrating parties, under the commutation plan of the Government, generally choosing a leader from their number to act as a guide along the route. Those who preferred emigrating under the supervision of the Government agents were gathered in wagons sent throughout the different districts and brought together at several rendezvous, among which were the old Choctaw Agency in Musholatubbee’s District, about 160 miles from Vicksburg; Doak’s Stand in Colonel LeFlore’s District; and another in
16Under the 11th article of the treaty, all cattle belonging to the individual Choctaw was to be valued by a regularly appointed Government agent, the Indian owner to receive either the amount in money or other cattle, in lieu of those he relinquished, after he arrived in the West. The first plan adopted by the Government, for valuing the cattle belonging to the Choctaws, proved impractical, since it was impossible for the one agent to go to each house of hundreds of Choctaws living in different sections of the Nation, within the few weeks before the emigrating parties left for the west. Also, generally in the fall of the year, most of the cattle were in the cane-brakes of the swamps, making it impossible to round them up. In the midst of the preparations for the removal in 1831, the Government agent for valuing the cattle died, necessitating the appointment of a new agent to complete the business. For these reasons, many of the people who emigrated that fall suffered total losses on their stock, as they were compelled to depart before they could make any disposition of this property. Those Choctaws who succeeded in having their cattle valued and took other cattle in lieu thereof, did not receive payment until more than a year later which meant a loss in the increase of their herds for 1832.
Nitakechi’s District, near Jackson, Mississippi. Not only the white settlers living in Mississippi, near the Choctaw line, but also a number of Choctaws themselves contracted with the agents, to hire their teams and wagons and to furnish corn for use in the emigration as far as the Mississippi River. Others among the Choctaws helped to enroll their people or acted as conductors of the Government parties.
By the first week in November, four thousand Choctaws—some in wagons, some on horseback, some on foot—were on their way to the Mississippi River. They were leaving their old homes forever, taking little with them in the way of personal belongings, since no provision was made for carrying extra baggage with the parties. Five hundred emigrants from the Northeastern District took the trail north to Memphis where they embarked by steamboat for Arkansas Post. The rest set out for Vicksburg. As the parties arrived here, they camped upon the hills outside the town.
Though Colonel Gaines had made efforts ahead of time to engage steamboats for the emigrants, by advertising, none were ready at Vicksburg to receive them. By the last of November, four steamboats were secured at very high prices; namely, the Walter Scott, the Reindeer, the Talma, and the Cleopatra, the three latter, especially being of light draught. A commutation party of about three hundred was ferried across to Lake Providence, Louisiana, from there to travel through Northern Louisiana and Southern Arkansas to the Indian Territory. The Walter Scott and the Reindeer, crowded to their utmost capacity, with two thousand emigrants, steamed up the River for Arkansas Post and Little Rock, respectively. The Talma and the Cleopatra with more than a thousand on board went down the Mississippi to the mouth of Red River, thence by way of that stream and the Ouachita for Ecore de Fabre.
Scarcely had the Choctaws started their voyage along the Mississippi, when a fierce winter storm began, and there followed the worst blizzard ever experienced in the South and West. The last emigrants, a commutation party of two hundred, set out down the Mississippi for the
Ouachita on December 10, exhausted and wretched after having walked for twenty-four hours barefoot through the snow and ice before reaching Vicksburg.
On account of conflicting orders, all the emigrants on board the Reindeer and the Walter Scott, besides the party that went by Memphis, disembarked at Arkansas Post, from November 30 to December 8.17 Here 2500 Choctaws huddled in open camps throughout the terrible storm. Captain Brown was unprepared to care for such a number, as no previous notice had been sent to the Superintendent’s headquarters at Little Rock. On their part, the emigrants were helpless, since they included men and women—the aged and infirm—and little children. Few blankets and mocassins or shoes were seen among them; the women generally were barefoot and the young children naked. Sixty common army tents, which had been distributed to these parties at Vicksburg, were all that sheltered them from the heavy snow and sleet and the high winds that raged down from the North. For a time, rations were short. Want of food and exposure to zero weather were followed by sickness and death. Many of the parties were compelled to remain in camp for weeks, awaiting their horses which were being driven overland from Northern Louisiana.
In the miserable conditions surrounding them, the suffering of the Choctaws only exceeded the great strain upon the officers and agents in charge, for the success of the removal fell upon their shoulders at this point. Navigation of the Arkansas was impossible for days, since the River was low and blocked with ice. There were only forty wagons belonging to the Government ready for use in transporting the emigrants overland, a distance of 350 miles to the Kiamichi.18 The road between Arkansas Post
17By order of the Superintendent at Little Rock, Wharton Rector was to have accompanied the parties of Choctaws who intended to travel by way of Lake Providence. Instead, he was persuaded by Colonel Gaines, who suffered from an attack of influenza at Vicksburg, to accompany the parties on board the Walter Scott to Arkansas Post. Also, the party on board the Reindeer, in charge of Nathaniel Norwood, of the eastern organization, was landed at Arkansas Post, in order that the steamboat might be used for transporting the soldiers of the 7th Infantry to Little Rock.
and Little Rock called for heavy repairs after the storm. The new road between Little Rock and Washington, in Southern Arkansas, which had been cleared and causewayed much of the distance during the previous summer, was also impassable because of the long spell of freezing weather. In the face of these difficulties, Captain Brown was also short of funds with which to purchase supplies and hire wagons and teams from the citizens of Arkansas, some of whom brought their team from settlements two hundred miles away.19
The terrible blizzard and its effects lasted for many weeks. On January 22, the steam boat, Reindeer, with a keel-boat in tow, passed Little Rock with the last party of emigrants bound for the country in the vicinity of Fort Smith. Up to that time more than two thousand Choctaws had passed Little Rock en route for the Mamichi in wagons. Travel over the 250 miles that lay ahead of them was necessarily slow and tedious, twelve to fifteen miles being a good day’s journey. Repairs on the old trail in that direction required much labor, obstructed as it was by fallen timber, washouts, and wrecked bridges. Heavy rains through February and continuous use by the wagon trains, made this road a quagmire, especially for the last parties. Swollen streams also detained the emigrants many days.
In the meantime, the Choctaws who had proceeded by way of the Ouachita River in charge of S. T. Cross, of the eastern organization, arrived at Ecore de Fabre only to find no agent of the western organization within less than 150 miles. This situation, also, was due to countermand of the western Superintendent’s orders by Colonel Gaines. Upon hearing that the commutation party coming from Lake Province were perishing in the swamp west of that place, Mr. Cross left his parties and returned to rescue the sufferers. Of their condition, an eye witness wrote a few months later:
“I do not know who is the contractor for furnishing them rations. But be he or them, who they may, their object is to make money without the least feeling for the suffering of this unfortunate people. From Vicksburg to
this place [Lake Providence] is sixty-eight miles. On this route they received a scanty supply, and only then a part of the parties once. Here they received worse than a scanty supply, to do them eighty miles through an uninhabitated country, fifty miles of which is overflowed swamps, and in which distance are two large deep streams that must be crossed in a boat or on a raft, and one other nearly impassable for them, on the way. This, too, was to be done during 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 large timber. And this was to be performed under 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 for 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 people have with them a great number of horses, and some cattle, chiefly oxen. The time required to get the horses and cattle together in the morning when traveling through a country thickly covered with strong cane as this is, must be very considerable in good weather, and in bad weather days are often spent at the same camp.20
After rescuing the Choctaws from the swamps, Mr. Cross marched them to Monroe, Louisiana. Rechartering the steamboat, Talma, he had them taken to Ecore de Fabre, where his first parties, who were their friends, anxiously awaited them. The total number of emigrants now concentrated at Ecore de Fabre was more than eleven hundred. Here, also, during the severe weather, wagons had to be hired for the overland journey of 165 miles to Fort Towson, over impossible roads. As a result of lack of preparation, prices for corn and team and wagon hire were exorbitant. There arose complaints and scandals of graft against those who contracted to supply provisions to the Choctaws by way of Ecore de Fabre, some of the ac-
20Letter of Joseph Kerr to Hon. Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, dated from Lake Providence, La., June 14, 1832.
counts not being settled by the Government for more than two years.21
The last emigrating party of 1831 reached their destination in the region of Red River during the first week in March 1832. On April 30, Lieutenant Stephenson recorded, 3749 Choctaws being rationed at four stations; namely, Horse Prairie, Fort Towson, old Miller Court House, and Mountain Fork. In the vicinity of Fort Smith, 536 Choctaws rations were being issued under the direction of Lieut. G. J. Rains, assistant agent.22
The Emigration of 1832-3
Profiting by the experiences during the first year’s emigration of the Choctaws, a new set of regulations was issued by the War Department, in May, 1832. Henceforth the Commissary General of Subsistence should have entire supervision of the Indian emigrations. Special agents, appointed under this Department, should have charge of the general operations connected with the emi-
21R. C. Byrd and L. Belding, men of political influence in Arkansas, were the contractors for furnishing supplies by way of Lake Providence and Ecore de Fabre. Their contract called for 12 ½ cents per ration, whereas elsewhere the contracts called for 6 to 6 1/4 cents per ration. Since there was no agent of the western organization at Ecore de Fabre, the assistant agents of the eastern organization were compelled to accompany the Government parties of Choctaws from that place to Fort Towson. In securing transportation from the settlers, they were forced to pay at the rate of $7 a day for wagons and teams. The settlers in turn paid Byrd & Belding at the rate of $2 a bushel for corn for feed. When the accounts came in Captain Brown refused to pay them, saying the prices were exorbitant (the contract for rations had been made before his arrival at Little Rock), and that the contracts for wagon hire were made under agents of the eastern organization, for which he was in no way responsible. In the final settlement, the Department found that many irregularities in the way of proper receipts, etc. were due to unbusinesslike methods in the hurry and pressure of circumstances at the time of the emigration by way of Ecore de Fabre. The contractors claimed that the high prices were due to the severity of the winter and the scarcity of provisions at that time. Agent Cross was held in no way responsible, as he had left the parties at Ecore de Fabre under orders of Colonel Gaines, and proceeded to Point Chicot. He was a model of efficiency in his work, and remained in the employ of the Government during the removal period.
22According to Major Armstrong’s census returns, there were about 467 negro slaves in the Choctaw Nation in 1831. The Indian owner was allowed rations, ferriages, etc., for his slaves during the removal and subsistence after the arrival in the West; in the case of sell-emigrating parties, the owner was allowed commutation payment for his slaves.
grating parties. All disbursements were to be made by officers of the Army assigned for that duty. No transportation overland was to be provided for the emigrants, except for those who were too young or infirm to walk. Those who provided their own horses were not allowed feed for them.23
Under the new plans, Captain Jacob Brown was made principal disbursing agent of the removal. Major Francis W. Armstrong, in addition to his duties as Choctaw agent, was appointed special agent for the removal and subsistence of the Choctaws, west of the Mississippi. His brother, Captain William Armstrong of Tennessee, was appointed superintendent of the Choctaw removal east of the River; to him was left the selection of the routes to be followed by the emigrating parties in their Journey to the West. By agreement between Major Armstrong and his brother, all assistant agents were to continue with the same parties from the old Nation to the Indian Territory, thus avoiding confusion by changing agents at the River. Memphis and Vicksburg were selected as the points of embarkation on the Mississippi, all the Choctaws to be landed at either Rock Row, on White River, or at Arkansas Post, thence to proceed in relays to the new Nation.
Plans for assembling the emigration parties were well under way early in September, 1832. Government officials were sanguine that from 8000 to 10,000 Choctaws would be ready to go West. However, as had been the case during the previous year, the number from Colonel LeFlore’s District was disappointing; only 617 finally entered their names on the muster-rolls, 2000 having refused to leave at the last moment.24 By the middle of October, more than 1900 emigrants left Garland’s Old
23The ration under the new regulations in 1832 consisted of 1 ¼ lbs. of fresh beef or fresh pork, or ¾ lb. of salt pork, and ¾ qt. of corn or corn-meal, or 1 lb. of wheat flour, to each person, and 4 quarts of salt to every one hundred persons.
24This situation was said to be due to certain Choctaw leaders in Colonel LeFlore’s district, who were determined “to have the benefit of their own speculations in removing.” In remarking upon the capacity of some of the Choctaws in making a trade, the United States marshal of Mississippi wrote, “I could not discover that the Indians lacked less acuteness in their transactions than the most cunning Yankee.”
Field, the rendezvous in Nitakechi’s District, setting out for Vicksburg. At the same time, 2700 were mustered at the Council House in Musholatubbee’s District, to take the route by way of Memphis.
All went well as the parties began their journey toward the Mississippi. Generally several hundred head of cattle were driven along to provide beef. This season many of the Choctaws walked. Wagons were provided for the old people and the young children, besides 1500 pounds of baggage to every fifty persons on the muster-rolls of the party. However, an unforseen obstacle arose.
Early in the fall, the epidemic of cholera, at that time prevalent in the United States, swept down the Mississippi. There was great mortality among the passengers of all steamboats from the cities of the North, a number of dead being left at every landing. Inhabitants fled from the towns along the River toward the interior of the country, trying to escape the terrible epidemic.
Fear of the cholera had its demoralizing effects on the whole Indian removal. The Choctaws and their agents, also, grew much alarmed when reports continued to reach them that the disease was spreading throughout the country. At some places along the way, people refused to sell them supplies.
As the first of the emigrants neared Memphis, the cholera broke out in their ranks.25 Sickness and death were now hourly among them.26 Upon reaching Memphis during the first week in November, the women and children were panic stricken, many refusing to go on board a steamboat. It was necessary to ferry many of the emigrants across the Mississippi and let them proceed by land to Little Rock rather than convey them up the Arkansas
25“The cholera is actually in our camp, and all through the country, at all the landings and towns even in the rear of this. Therefore you see we must go ahead, for in this matter we cannot stop to look around.” Letter of F. W. Armstrong, Superintendent West Mississippi, to General George Gibson, C. G. S., dated Memphis, 31st October, 1832.
26Most of the dead were quickly buried in unmarked graves along the road. Throughout the accounts rendered by officers during the first and second season’s removal, along with the statements for corn, teams, wagons, rations, ferriages, wagon repairs, shoeing horses and oxen, medical attendance on Indians, building roads, etc., one finds such items as, “Making three coffins for Indians—$14.00,” “Repairing boat 7 dollars, 2 coffins for Indians 4 dollars—$11.00,” “1 box for coffin—75 cents.”
to that place. Since steamboats were hard to procure and the woodyards at the river landings, in many cases, were abandoned, the Government snag boat, “Archimedes,” was used as a ferry boat to advantage. In this way hundred of emigrants and their horses and baggage were carried over the river at one trip. Incessant rains in the late fall having made the Mississippi swamp almost impassable, many of these people died from exposure, the road along which they traveled being knee to waist deep in water for more than thirty miles. However, every effort was made to assist them, as Captain Armstrong sent provisions to last them through the swamp and a special messenger to act as a guide.
The parties that had proceeded toward Vicksburg, crossed the Pearl River, in Mississippi, on October 25. Immediately afterward, the report reached them that the cholera was raging in Vicksburg and the inhabitants of the town were fleeing from the vicinity toward the interior of the State, by the very road over which the Choctaws were traveling. The agent in charge of the emigrating parties now determined to change his course toward the river, adopting a circuitous route, that caused delay and great expense since provisions were scarce in the country through which the parties were forced to travel. Again much sickness occurred from exposure to cold, rainy weather. Finally, in spite of all efforts to avoid Vicksburg, the emigrants were ordered to proceed to that place, embarking by steamboat for Rock Row, Arkansas, on November 12 and 13.
On December 2, 1832, the last parties, emigrating under charge of the Government’s agents, had passed Little Rock. Three parties, in relays of 600 persons each, were on their way to the Kiamichi. A large party of 1300 was approaching Fort Smith. Major Armstrong reported that extra wagons had been hired to haul those emigrants who were sick, at the rate of five wagons to every 1000 persons, adding, “Fortunately they are a people that will walk to the last, or I do not know how we could get on.”
By the middle of January, 1833, more than 300 Choctaws had arrived in charge of the Government’s agents, in the vicinity of Fort Towson, and over 2000 near Fort
Smith. Small, self-emigrating parties straggled in throughout of the winter making the second season’s emigration from Mississippi amount to more than 6000 persons.
The Emigration of the Last Season, 1833
In the fall of 1833, more than 6000 Choctaws yet remained in the old Nation to follow their kinsmen over the “Trail of Tears,” as they now called the road to the West. Of those that remained, it was estimated 4000 were in Colonel LeFlore’s District; 1500 in Nitakechi’s District, and about 700 in Musholatubbee’s District. Most of these people positively refused to emigrate or have anything to do with the enrolling agents. Finally, 900 Choctaws were persuaded to emigrate by the middle of October, and set out overland for Memphis.
Again there was trouble in crossing the Mississippi River. The snag boat, Archimedes, broke her shaft and was out of commission at the last moment. The steamboat, T. Yeatman, engaged for the removal of the emigrants, burst one of her boilers and a number of hands on board were killed in sight of the River landing. This frightened many of the women and children. All that could be persuaded to go by water were landed at Rock Row on November 7. Since they had brought a great number of horses and oxen with them, the last parties in charge of the Government passed Little Rock by November 21.
Small, self-emigrating parties continued to arrive for some months during the early part of 1834, both at Fort Towson and Fort Smith, but owing to their tardiness, many failed to receive the benefits of commutation from the Government.27 The number of Choctaws who had come to live in the Indian Territory now amounted toabout 12,500. More than 5000 members of the tribe still remained in Mississippi in 1834. All of these people or their descendants—with the exception of 1200 who live in Mississippi to-day, 1928—came to the Indian Territory throughout the succeeding years, some of them as late as 1902.28
27The total number of Choctaws emigrating on their own expense from November, 1832, to November, 1833, was given as 3,215. Letter Captain Brown to General Gibson, November 17, 1833.
In estimating the cost of the removal of the Choctaws, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reported on January 21, 1833, the total would be about $475,000, or approximately $25 a person. The cost of subsistence during the emigration period would be about $608,000. Twenty-six years later, in a statement of accounts with the Choctaws, under a resolution of the United States Senate on March 9, 1859, the total cost of the removal and subsistence was given as $813,927, by the Office of Indian Affairs. This sum together with every expense incurred under the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek came to a total of $5,097,367.50, which even included the salaries and expenses of the United States Commissioners appointed to settle the land frauds in Mississippi between 1837 and 1845.
The United States received $8,095,614.89 for the sale of Choctaw lands in Mississippi, relinquished at the time of the treaty of 1830. This sum was later involved in the well-known “Net Proceeds” claim of the Choctaws against the Government, since the Commissioners during the negotiations at Dancing Rabbit Creek emphatically denied “the idea that the United States sought any pecuniary profits from their [i. e. the Choctaw] lands, or desired anything beyond a mere jurisdiction over the country.”29 In adjudicating this claim the Government deducted the total cosats incurred under the treaty from the total sum of the land sales, leaving $2,981,247.39 due the Choctaws. Practically the whole of this amount was absorbed in furthering the claim, since it was not finally settled by the Government until nearly sixty years after the treaty of 1830.
Thus the Choctaws not only endured every suffering from hunger and cold to sickness and death in the removal to their new home in the Indian Territory, but also paid every dollar of the expenses incurred under the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. And this in spite of the positive assurances mace them by the Government that they would receive every advantage for welfare and progress if they would yield the tribal lands in Mississippi.
Bibliography Notes to go with Bibliography
1Treaties with the Choctaws reprinted by Kappler.
Big Sand, November 3, 1830.
Dear Doctor: I arrived here two days ago. I find the Indians emigrating in large parties. Col. Leflore is moving on in good order, and says he will carry the treaty into effect by having all the Choctaws at their new homes in a year or two, whether the treaty is ratified or not, if the President will back him; and I have assured him there will be no failure on the part of the President. I have no doubt but that the President will have supplies ready on the Red River and Arkansas, as soon as the party, that will leave here in a few days, arrives in that country. There will be several hundred there by the first of January, and you may rest assured the President will meet all contracts you may make over there, in getting corn for the Choctaws, until he gets his contractors there. The opposition are coming over every day and agreeing to emigrate this fall. Be prompt at your post, and you will be rewarded for your trouble. The President has the five hundred thousand dollars at his disposal, and he never will let the Choctaws suffer that emigrate. Do not be timid in providing for the poor Choctaws, on your arrival on Red River, as General Jackson will not let you or Col. Leflore lose for your magnanimous conduct in saving those unfortunate people; and you will find me, as you always have, ready to back you and Col. Leflore. Let the people say what they please, the Choctaws must go or be lost. They cannot remain here any longer. All that are entitled to reservations by the treaty, are selling them daily to white people, under the inspection of Col. Leflore, and he gives the purchasers permission to come in and take possession. This enables the Indians to sell their corn and stock, and all their loose property. Ned Perry and Charles Hay sold their two half sections to-day for $3,200, and if the men could not have got possession until the expiration of the three years, they would not have given them five hundred for it. I have no doubt there will be upwards of one hundred white families in this district, by the first day of February. It will save the Government thousands of dollars, as the Indians will dispose of most of their stock to whites.
May the Ruler of all things preserve your health on your journey, and bless you with many years; and that you may continue to do good for our friends, the Choctaws, you have my sincere wishes as a friend, wherever you be. Doctor, I do not expect to ever see you again in this
life, as I know of no business that will ever call me to your country—the land of the Choctaws.
D. W. HALEY.
P. S. I informed the Secretary of War that you are pushing ahead. Thomas Myers conducts a party of about a hundred that starts in a few days.
Col. Gaines is here on his way to the west. I hope the President will appoint him agent for the Choctaws.
Rev. Alexander Talley.
[NOTE: David W. Haley was a citizen of Mississippi and a personal friend of President Jackson, who had been instrumental in securing the removal of the Choctaws. This letter was submitted to the Secretary of War by Reverend Talley, in June, 1831, to prove the influence under which he acted in making contracts for corn and supplies. M. H. W.]
Little Rock, August 5, 1831.
General: By my letter of this instant, I informed you that I would not make a contract to supply the Indians on the route, as per my advertisement enclosed to you in the letter, until I could get something more definite as to the time when the removal would commence. By Major Hook’s (Acting Commissary General at Washington) letter of the 9th ultimo, I am informed that a large party will start in September next. I will therefore go on to make arrangements for their arrival on this side of the Mississippi in October next. My prospect so far is not flattering, and I will be agreeably disappointed if the removal, during the approaching fall, should pass off only tolerably well. With a hope that you may find, without difficulty, a person every way better qualified to superintend the matter of so much responsibility, than myself, I have only to say that you will add to the very many obligations I owe you already, by having me relieved as soon as practicable.
I am, sir, with great respect,
Your most obedient servant,
J. B. CLARK,
To General Geo. Gibson,
Commissary General Subsistence, Washington City.
Little Rock, A. T., December 15, 1831. Sir: In my last, I incidentally mentioned the extreme cold weather for the season, since which it has continued, and with increased rigor; the mercury has been down to zero, and for ten days past has averaged about twelve freezing degrees. The six inches of snow that fell on the 5th and 8th makes excellent sleighing. The river is frequently impassable, being choked with ice, and this morning is one of those periods. So much, and so severe cold weather, has never before been experienced
in this section of the country, and if it is with you, in proportion to your northern location, you must have a Siberian winter of it.
This unexpected cold weather must produce much human suffering. Our poor emigrants, many of them quite naked, and without much shelter, must suffer: it is impossible to be otherwise; and my great fears are, that many of them will get frosted. It is impossible to make any progress in movements to their destination: hence, how unfortunate the time for this operation! An overland journey just commenced, of about three hundred and fifty miles, to be accomplished at mid-winter, through a country little settled, and literally impassable to anything but wild beasts. How I shall succeed with such elements to contend against, is impossible now to tell, and can only say that I am prepared to avail myself of the first favorable change in the weather, with all the team force that can be obtained within one hundred miles of this place.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
J. BROWN, Captain, U. S. A.,
Superintendent of removal and subsistence of Indians.
To General George Gibson,
C. G. S., Washington City.
Government funds were generally deposited in the banks at New Orleans. However, it was necessary to have a supply of ready cash at Little Rock to pay off local expenses. For this reason, the Department had to send out large sums, often amounting to several thousands of dollars, in gold and silver from Washington, in charge of some respolisible party. The following is an excerpt of a letter from Captain Brown to General Gibson, dated January 11, 1832.
“Four of my agents are now in charge of emigrants, and all are begging for funds. They tell me it will be impossible to sustain themselves and parties much longer. Drafts are coming in from all quarters; the holders are disappointed, they are clamorous; some have come two hundred and fifty miles, and have to return without their money.
“The consequences resulting from much longer delay in the receipt of money will be terrible; and with many, I fear, greatly to be deplored, independent of the injury it will be to the cause of the emigration.
“I shall do everything that is within scope of human possibility. Three days ago, I parted with the last five dollars of my own money to start an express to the post. God grant the speedy arrival of funds!”
“As the last remnant of the Choctaws who removed from the State under the Dancing Rabbit Treaty was crossing the Mississippi River, at Vickburg, the editor of the Daily Sentinel made note of this event in the following words:
“’To one who, like the writer, has been familiar to their bronze inexpressive faces from infancy it brings associations of peculiar sadness to see them bidding a last farewell perhaps to the old hills which
gave birth and are doubtless equally dear to him and them alike. The first playmates of our infancy were the young Choctaw boys of the then woods of Warren County. Their language was once scarcely less familiar to us than our mother English. We know we think the character of the Choctaw well. We knew many of their present stalwart braves in those days of early life when Indian and white alike forgot disguise, but in the unchecked exuberance of youthful feeling, show real character that policy and habit may afterwards conceal; and we know that under the stolid, stoic look he assumes, there is burning in the Indian’s nature a heart of fire and feeling—and an all-observing keenness of apprehension that marks and remembers everything that occurs and every insult he receives—Cunni-at-a-hah!—They are going away!—With a visible reluctance which nothing has overcome but the stern necessity they feel impelling them, they have looked their last on the graves of their sires-the scenes of their youth—and have taken up their slow toilsome march with their household goods among them to their new home in a strange land. They leave names to many of our rivers, towns and counties; and so long as our State remains the Choctaws who once owned most of her soil will be remembered.’”—Franklin L. Riley in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VIII, page 392.