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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 4
December, 1939
NOTES AND DOCUMENTS

THE NEGOTIATIONS LEADING TO THE CHICKASAW-CHOCTAW AGREEMENT, JANUARY 17, 1837

Edited by Gaston L. Litton1

Page 417

In the summer of 1830 President Jackson met a delegation of chiefs and headmen of the Chickasaw Nation at Franklin, Tennessee; and, after several days' negotiations, a provisional treaty was signed with them which provided for the sale of their ancestral lands in Mississippi and for their removal to the West.2

This treaty, though never ratified by the United States Senate, was conditioned upon the Chickasaws being provided a home in the West, on the lands of their old allies and neighbors, the Choctaws. Accordingly, a joint exploring party in the autumn of 1830 was dispatched to the West to negotiate with representatives of the Choctaw Nation. The delegates of the two tribes could not reach an agreement, however; and the project was abandoned for the time and the treaty became void.

The government was impatient to secure the removal of the Chickasaws from their valuable and coveted lands east of the Mississippi, and in 1832 commissioners were again appointed to negotiate with the tribal officials. John Coffee represented the United States in the deliberations which were held at the Chickasaw council house on Pontotoc Creek from September 20 to October 22. The result was the treaty of October 20, 1832, by the terms of which the tribe ceded outright to the United States all its lands. These were to be put on the market and sold as public lands, the proceeds to be held in trust by the government for the Chickasaws.3 As in the instance of the Cherokee removal treaty of 1835, there was considerable objection among the Chickasaws to the treaty; but tribal officials appearing in Washington to protest against its ratification received scant attention from the government.

To fulfill the objectives of the new treaty an exploring party of Chickasaw chiefs and headmen set out from Tuscumbia in the autumn of 1833 to meet the Choctaws and negotiate with them again







Page 418

for a part of their new lands. A conference was arranged, but again the deliberations were futile; and the Chickasaw party returned home without having accomplished its objective.

A third party was sent west of the Mississippi River in an effort to purchase lands from the Choctaws. The councils were held in November 1835; but the representatives were no more successful in reaching an agreement than they had been two years earlier.4 It was not until late in the summer of 1836 that another effort was made by the Chickasaws to secure a home among the Choctaws.

In September of that year the Chickasaw chiefs, in general council, memorialized the President of the United States on the subject of their securing a home for themselves in the West.5 In a restrained and dignified manner they complained of the white intrusion upon their lands following the signing of the later unratified treaty of 1830. They "beheld their people without a home, surrounded by men whose language they can neither speak nor understand; subject to laws of which they are wholly ignorant, degraded, debased, and ruined by strong drink and vicious habits, and pursuits." They stated that a delegation had been appointed in council to make another trip to the West in search of a future residence for their people, and they solicited the friendly aid and influence of the President in their behalf. In looking westward for a new home, they stated that their minds were naturally directed to their "old allies and neighbors, the Choctaws." They wished, however, to have the entire control over the country they purchased, retaining their national character, and having their national affairs in their own hands. This delegation, they concluded, would be ready to set out about the first of November next.

The memorial was submitted to Benjamin Reynolds, their agent, who enclosed it in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs,





Page 419

in which he urged a prompt and favorable reception of the suggestions of the Chickasaws.6 "Their distress," he argued, "if they remain here any length of time will be even worse than they are set forth in the memorial."

Early in November the delegation was ready to make the trip West, and credentials were issued by Chickasaw King Ish-te-a-ho-to-pa and his headmen to Major John McLish, Captain James Perry, Major Pitman Colbert, Major James Brown and Captain Isaac Albertson. "You have been commissioned," their instructions read, "to go west of the Mississippi River, in behalf of the Chickasaw Indians, to procure for them a Home. Impressed as you are with the necessity of the speedy removal of the Chickasaws, we doubt not that you will use every honourable exertion to carry out the views of those whom you represent and we would observe that in the purchase of a Tract of country destined for the residence of the Chickasaw Indians, you will in no wise exceed the sum of one Million of dollars, out of the funds arising from the sale of the Chickasaw lands, subject to the approval of the President of the United States." The land was to be "free from all incumbrance or difficulty as to title," and should the delegation fail in its negotiations with the Choctaws the representatives were authorized and empowered to procure a home in "such other part of the Country west of the Mississippi River as they may deem fit and suitable."7

The Chickasaws expressed the desire to have "a discreet white person" go with them, and to that place was appointed Henry R. Carter. The Chickasaw delegation departed from the ancestral homes and made its way to the West. The Choctaw Agent west of the Mississippi, William Armstrong, reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on February 3, 1837, the manner in which the meeting was arranged.8 Commenting upon how widely scattered were the settlements of Choctaws, Agent Reynolds explained, "I saw there was no way to get the Choctaws together, except to propose to the Chief & Captains at the time we paid the annuity here the last of December to make a selection, including the Chief, of some half-dozen Captains; and ascertain the wishes of the Choctaws here, and let those selected be fully authorized to meet the two districts on Red River; and whatever agreement should be made with the Chickasaws would be satisfactory. This arrangement was made; and to get the Chief and those selected to go over, I had to agree to pay their expenses. When we met to pay the annuity at Fort







Page 420

Towson, I stated to the two districts assembled what had been done by the other district on Arkansaw and requested them to make a similar selection from each of these districts and let the Choctaws, now together amounting to about three thousand, give them similar authority to meet the Chickasaws; this was done. . ."

The Chickasaw delegation met representatives from the Choctaw tribe, as explained by the agent, at Doakesville near Fort Towson. On January 11th the negotiations were begun that led to the famed Chickasaw-Choctaw Agreement of 1837, by which the former were admitted at last into the domain of the latter. Below is reproduced, exactly as it was written and preserved at that time, the,

CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE CHICKASAW DELEGATION AND CHOCTAW COMMISSIONERS DURING A NEGOTIATION FOR THE PURCHASE OF A TRACT OF COUNTRY FOR THE CHICKASAW INDIANS TO REMOVE AND SETTLE UPON:9

No. 1

To the Chiefs, Captains & Warriors of the Choctaw Nation

Brothers: We have been delegated by our Chiefs & Headmen to visit your country to present to your council the Talk of our Chiefs and head men, to consult with you and to lay before you, in the plain language of truth & honesty, the condition of our people, and if possible to procure from you, our old friends and neighbors, a home or resting place for our destitute and homeless people. We sincerely hope that you will consider well the Talk of our Chiefs & headmen and deliberate maturely on the condition of our people, that they may be saved from the destruction which now seems to await them!

We, therefore, the undersigned Delegation of the Chickasaw tribe of Indians. duly commissioned and empowered by our Chiefs & headmen for that purpose, do propose to procure a District of country of the Choctaw nation by purchase, to be governed by our own laws & regulations

January 11th, 1837                                            (Signed) Pitman Colbert10
                                            J. McLish
                                            James Brown, his x mark
                                            James Perry, his x mark

Answer to No. 1

To the Chickasaw Delegation

Brothers: Your talk of yesterday to our Chiefs and people has been received and duly considered by the undersigned Commissioners, appointed by the Headmen and people of the Choctaw nation for that purpose; and have to say that perhaps no people on earth is more disposed to sym-





Page 421

pathise with a distressed and homeless people than ourselves; and more particularly the condition of our brothers the Chickasaws, with whom we are united together by every tie of friendship that binds one people to another. But we regret that we cannot in no shape or form accede to your proposition to obtain of our people a home or resting place by purchase.

We are your friends & brothers.

Doaksville                                                          (Signed)
      Jany 12th 1837  
            P. P. Pitchlynn
            G. W. Harkins
            Israel Folsom
            R. M. Jones
            John McKinney
            Eyach-a-ho-pia
            Geo. Pusley

No. 2

To the, Chiefs, Captains, & Warriors of the Choctaw Nation

Brothers: As you are opposed to ceding a portion of your country to the Chickasaws, to be governed by their own laws and regulations; and being desirous & duly impressed with the necessity of procuring a permanent home for our own people; and being anxious that they should continue to be your friends & neighbors; We the undersigned Commissioners on the part of the Chickasaw tribe of Indians, do propose to obtain of the Choctaw Nation the privilege of forming a District within the limits of their country, to be called the Chickasaw district of the Choctaw nation; to be placed on an equal footing with the other districts of said nation; and its citizens to be subject to all the burthen & duties & entitled to all the rights & privileges of a Choctaw, with the exception of participating in the Choctaw annuity & the consideration which may be given for these rights & privileges, but reserving to the Chickasaws the right and privilege of controuling the residue of their funds & of electing such officers for that purpose as they may think proper.

Jany 12th 1837                                            J. McLish
Pitman Colbert &c.&c.

Answer to No. 2

To the Chickasaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your last proposition to us yesterday, requesting the privilege to be admitted into our country as one of the Districts of our nation, has been duly considered by the undersigned Commissioners on the part of the Choctaw nation. We are truly sorry to have to make an arrangement with any people to set apart a portion of our country for any purpose. The subject is one which calls to memory past events which almost makes our hearts bleed. But as your situation is one which demands the sympathy of our world, especially that of the Red Men, we have concluded to accede to your proposition provided we can agree on the terms. It may seem proper and right for us first to state the terms upon which we will admit you into our country; but as we are not anxious to set apart a portion of our country, and we consider the subject quite a different one from the ordinary course of transacting business of trade and barter, we respectfully and frankly ask you the question: What are you willing to give our people for the privilege which you ask.

Jany 13th 1837                                           (Signed R. M. Jones
         Israel Folsom
         Geo. W. Harkins
         P. P. Pitchlynn
         Silas D. Fisher &c. &c.

Page 422

No. 3

To the Choctaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your answer to our Second proposition has been received & duly considered; and we deem it essential to our arrival at a conclusion as to the amount of the consideration to be paid for the privileges embrased therein, to ascertain what part of your country you would be willing to assign to our people.

We are your friends & brothers.

Doaksville
      Jany 13th 1837                                               
J. McLish
Pitman Colbert &c. &c.

Answer to No. 3

To the Chickasaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your communication to us yesterday requesting to know [what] portion of our country we could assign your people, as a District, previous to your arriving at a conclusion what would be a proper consideration for that privilege, has had due deliberation; and we have agreed in behalf of our people, to assign your people the following District of country, forming the fourth District in our nation, provided your terms will suit our views, viz:

1st  Beginning on the North bank of Red River, at the mouth of Island Bayou about 8 or 10 miles below the mouth of False Wachita, thence running North along the main channel of said Bayou to its source; thence to the road leading from Fort Gibson to False Wachita; thence along said road to the line dividing Mushulatubbee from Pushmataha, thence eastwardly along said District line, to the source of Brushy Creek; thence down said Creek to where it flows into the Canadian river, 10 or 12 miles above the mouth of Gaines Creek or South Fork, thence West along the Canadian Fork to its source, if in the limits of the United States; or to those limits, thence due South to Red River; and down Red River to the beginning.

Doaksville                                                               R. M. Jones
      January 14th 1837 P. P. Pitchlynn
  Silas D. Fisher
  Israel Folsom &c. &c.

No. 4

To the Choctaw Commissioners

Brothers: After mature consideration on the District of country embraced in your communication of today, which you are willing to assign to our people as a future home, we regret exceedingly to say from our own knowledge & the information derived from others, we are convinced that that district of country would not be acceptable to our people, suited to their wants or adapted to their improvement. It is the first wish of our hearts that our people may be settled in a district where a system of improvement may be practised, where they may be easily prevailed on to abandon the precarious mode of subsisting by hunting, so prejudicial to civilization; and inducements held out to follow agricultural pursuits; and become generally enlightened. We had earnestly hoped that our Brothers would have assignd us a country where these views might have been carried out successfully, in the benefits of which, according to the terms of our second proposition, our brothers would not have been debarred from participating, and to effect which purpose we reserved to the Chickasaws the controul of a part of their funds. From the great and numerous disadvantages of those who will reside in it, as to render any attempt to

Page 423

enlighten or improve our people, entirely hopeless. We therefore earnestly pray you, as that country which you express a willingness to set apart as a District for our people, cannot answer any of our conttemplated purposes of improvement & civilization from the general sterility of the soil, the numerous and extensive prairies with which it abounds, the consequent great scarcity of timber, besides many other serious disadvantages so to change its boundaries as to include the lands between the South Fork of the Canadian; the Canadian, the Arkansas from below the mouth of the Canadian; and the creek which empties into the Arkansas at Pheasant Bluff; or some other lands which would enable us to effect the object so much desired & so essential to the preservation and future welfare of the Red Man.

We duly appreciate the frankness and candour with which our brothers have conducted themselves in this matter, and assure them that the same spirit shall characterise the negotiation on our part.

We are your friend & brothers.

Doaksville
      January 14, 1837                                   
J. McLish
Pitman Colbert, &c. &c.

Answer to No. 4

To the Chickasaw Commissioners

Friends & brothers: Your answer of this date, to our propositions bounding a district of country for our Chickasaw brothers, has been received. We regret that you have felt yourselves compelled to decline acceding to the proposal we have made you. We say to you with candour & honesty that we wish to see you provided for but we have a solemn duty to perform to our own people; and in laying out a district for you, we have offered you a favorite section of country, with the privilege of settling in any part of the Choctaw Nation, upon terms of reciprocity with our own people. We therefore after mature deliberation must say to you that we can negotiate no further.

Your friends & brothers.

Doaksville, C. N. R. M. Jones
      Jany 14th 1837                                    P. P. Pitchlynn
  Silas D. Fisher
  Israel Folsom
  John McKinney
  Geo. W. Harkins
  Eyach-a-ho-pia
  Geo. Pusley &c. &c.

No. 5

To the Choctaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your communication of this evening has been received, and we most heartily regret that you can negotiate no further.

Brothers: Be assured that your brethren meant not the least disrespect, or to give the least offence.

Brothers: Be pleased to remember that we are acting in the very delicate character of representatives, like yourselves; that we felt it our duty as representatives to say what we did in our last communication, and pray of you to look upon it in that light.

Brothers: We were misinformed as to the country which you were willing to assign us as a District for our people, and regret the haste with which we came to a conclusion respecting it, and are now willing to accept the District you are willing to set apart for us.

Page 424

Brothers: We must earnestly ask you in the name of your old friends & allies to negotiate further with us on this subject, that our homeless and destitute people may have a spot, where they can rest & continue to be your friends & neighbors.

We are your friends & brothers.

Doaksville J. McLish
     Jany 14th 1837                                    Pitman Colbert
  James Brown
  James Perry

Answer to No. 6

To the Chickasaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your last communication last evening is before us; and as your explanation therein contained seems to be a reasonable one, and which has in some measure reconciled the feelings of our Chiefs and Commissioners in behalf of our people, we have to say to you again, we are willing to hear any proposition or offer you may think proper to make us. When we heard of the distresses of our old friends and brothers, the Chickasaws, we felt for their condition; and were disposed in a plain & frank manner to state to you what we were willing to do—for them—and we regret that an impression on our part was formed that our brothers, the Chickasaw Commissioners, were trifling with our liberal offer. We therefore hope our correspondence in future will be carried on in the frank & candid manner usual among Red men.

We are your friends & brothers.

Doaksville, C. N. R. M. Jones
       Jany 15th 1837                                    P. P. Pitchlynn
  Geo. W. Harkins
  Israel Folsom
  John McKinney
  Geo. Pusley &c. &c.

No. 6

To the Choctaw Commissioners

Brothers: In common with yourselves, it is with the most heartfelt sorrow that there should have grown out of our correspondence the least misunderstanding or unpleasant feelings on the part of our brothers; for we do most solemnly assure them that there was not the slightest intention of trifling with your liberal offer to our people; of disrespect to yourselves as individuals or as representatives.

Brothers: It is with more than ordinary pleasure, we learn that the feelings of yourselves & your Chiefs have become reconciled; and feel our depressed spirits revived at your willingness to hear propositions from us to obtain a Home for our distressed & homeless people, who we candidly acknowledge are dependent on their Brothers to provide for them a resting place; and we rejoice at the renewed good feelings of friendship, which we hope will always exist between us and our old friends & neighbors.

Brothers: With yourselves, we feel the necessity of conducting our future correspondence in the frank & candid manner usual among Red men, which shall be truly observed on our part, and we can bear testimony has pervaded that of our brothers.

Brothers: We therefore accept the district of country as a future home for our people, which our brothers tendered us on yesterday; and as you have been liberal and candid with us, we will be so to our brothers. We accordingly propose in behalf of the Chief & Headmen of the Chicka-

Page 425

saw tribe of Indians, to give as a consideration to our brothers the Choctaws, for the privileges mentioned in our second proposition the sum of Five Hundred thousand dollars—the mode and terms of payment, we leave entirely to the choice of our Brothers.

Brothers: We earnestly hope you will consider this proposition liberal and if it be desired by you, we will state orally or in writing the many contingent expenses attending the sales of our public lands, a decision of the President of the United States, respecting the boundary of our country east of the Mississippi; and many other causes by which our funds have been greatly diminished.

We are your friends & brothers.

Doaksville J. McLish
       Jany 15th 1837                                    James Perry
  Pitman Colbert
  James Brown

No. 7

To the Chickasaw Commissioners

Brothers: Previous to our giving you an answer to the offer which you have made us for a home in our country, we respectfully request that our brothers give us a statement of their funds arising from the sale of their country or the amount they expect to have after their contingent expenses &c are deducted.

We are your Brothers &c.

January 15th 1837                                                  R. M. Jones
  P. P. Pitchlynn
  Geo. W. Harkins &c. &c.

Answer to No. 7

To the Choctaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your communication of this morning has been received and after reflecting on the inquiry therein made, from the best information we have been enabled to obtain, we would suppose that the probable amount of the monies arising from the sale of our public lands, after deducting every expense, except that of removing our people from their present country, will not exceed eight or nine hundred thousand dollars; and deducting the Five hundred thousand which [we] have proposed to give our Brothers for the privileges mentioned in our second proposition, will leave a balance of three or four hundred thousand dollars. But from the necessity of the case, we are not able to form anything like a correct idea on this subject. We will state candidly the circumstances which put it out of our power to say anything like certainity about this matter. The immense number of reservations (the number not known to us) to which individual claimants were entitled under our treaty with the United States, had generally to be located before the sale commenced; which as they were sold to speculating whitemen, were located on the best lands in the nation, a considerable number (unknown to us how many) are still unlocated, a few of which individuals are now residents of your country. By a late decision of the President of the U. S. we lost the best part of our country of about 22 miles bare on the Mississippi and one hundred and two miles in length. We have two agents—one certifying, and the other an approving Agent & five Commrs; one of the Agents with a salary (the amount unknown to us) paid out of our funds, but the expenses of both are paid out of the same; a clerk to each agent with salaries; the Genl Surveyor & Chain carriers &c &c, with salaries; the expenses of the different delegations & the expenses of removing &c &c, of which [we]

Page 426

can form but a very imperfect idea; and the combination of speculators at the public sales, to put down competition, which prevents lands however good from selling for more than a dollar and a quarter per acre. The immense deal of lands in our country, which from their quality can never be sold, our ignorance as to the extent of country included in its boundaries. There are no doubt many contingent expenses, which we are unable to specify, and some of which we cannot at present recollect.

Doaksville
       Jany 15th 1837                                   
J. McLish
Pitman Colbert &c. &c.

No. 8

To the Chickasaw Commissioners

Brothers: Your last verbal proposition received through our Agent Capt Armstrong, giving an addition of thirty thousand dollars to the Five hundred thousand in your former proposition, has been received; and we are ready now to make it with the second communication received, a basis of an agreement between the Chickasaws and Choctaws. We have had many conflicting difficulties to encounter; and now that every obstacle is removed we assure you that we desire to receive you cordially as friends and brothers. We are satisfied our people cheerfully acquiese in what we have done; and as their representatives we have felt bound to protect their rights and interests. We hope you will appoint a Committee to meet one of ours in the morning to draw up the articles of agreement between us.

We are your friends & brothers.

Doaksville
       Jany 16th 1837                                   
J. McLish
Pitman Colbert &c. &c

The Commissioners, meeting in joint session the following day, framed an agreement which was signed by them in the presence of their respective agents.11 The conductor of the Chickasaw delegation, Henry H. Carter, later delivered the original agreement to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

By the terms of this agreement at Doaksville the Chickasaws were given the privilege of forming within the Choctaw country a "Chickasaw District of the Choctaw Nation."12 This district, the boundaries of which were inexactly defined, was to be held by the Chickasaws on the same terms with the Choctaws. The Chickasaw were to enjoy equal representation in the Choctaw general council; indeed, their district was to be placed on "an equal footing in every other respect with any of the other districts" of the Choctaw Nation. Conversely, the Chickasaws were subject to the Choctaw laws. The finances of the two tribes, however, were to be kept separate. As




12This agreement is printed in full in Kappler, op. cit., II, 486-488; in the Statutes at Large, and elsewhere. Since the treaty is generally available it has not been thought necessary to reproduce it here.

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a consideration for these rights and privileges the Chickasaws agreed to pay to the Choctaws the sum of $530,000.13

Upon the signing of this agreement the Chickasaw delegates returned to Pontotoc, their capital. There in general council with King Ish-te-ho-to-pa, the venerable Tishomingo, and other. chiefs and headmen of the Chickasaw Nation, the delegates reported on their negotiations with the Choctaws. In a memorial to the President of the United States, the Chickasaws in council on February 17 stated that they were "pleased with the prospect of obtaining among their old friends and allies the Choctaws a new, and as they hope, a permanent home for their people, now almost destitute and houseless."14 They stated that as soon as arrangements could be made, probably by the first of the following May, a considerable portion of their people would be ready to emigrate to the new lands. They expressed the hope that the Great Father would lend them his aid to procure their speedy removal.15 Efforts were made by the government to hasten the removal of the Chickasaws; and, within a few months, the Nation was on the march westward to its newly-chosen home among the Choctaws.

Under the arrangement agreed to by representatives of the two tribes meeting at Doaksville in January 1837, the Chickasaws and Choctaws lived until 1855. By that time the two tribes had become sufficiently oriented in their new lands west of the Mississippi to want to live as separate autonomous nations. Their relations during this eighteen-year period at times were unharmonious, as might have been expected. But the Doaksville agreement of 1837 served satisfactorily to stabilize the affairs of these two proud peoples at a time when they were weak from the demoralizing influence of the removal from their ancestral lands east of the Mississippi.







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