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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 2
June, 1936

By Edward Davis,
Professor of American History East Central State Teachers College, Ada, Oklahoma

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The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Indians are known as the Five Civilized Tribes. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1932, we have 317,234 Indians in the United States. Of the above Indians, 72,634, after excluding whites and Negroes enrolled as members of the tribes, were members of the five tribes. This shows that approximately 22.5 percent of the Indians of the United States are members of these tribes.1 The fact that five tribes, rated as civilized, constitute such a large portion of the Indians of the United States invites a study of the civilizing influences which raised the standard of culture of these Indians, and enabled them to maintain their numbers while many other tribes formerly strong became miserable remnants of their former selves.

The Southern Indians were far advanced in civilization prior to the time of their first contact with the whites. Their economy was based on agriculture, and corn constituted the chief food in their diet. In addition, they raised pumpkins, several vareities of beans, squash, artichokes and tobacco. They utilized the wild fruits of the forest, and made oil for cooking from acorns and hickory nuts. They fished and hunted to secure their meat and fat for cooking, while bear, deer, beaver, otter, and other skins constituted most of the sources of their bedding, carpets, and clothing. As soon as white contacts were made with them, they adopted many of the white customs and methods and made quick adjustments to them. This ability to adjust themselves to competitive society was of immense benefit when the frontiersmen began to press heavily upon them.2

Four influences seemed to have predominated in the transformation of these Southern Indians. One influence was the whites who infiltrated into the Indian country, became members of the

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tribes, intermarried with them and came to exert a large influence in Indian life and government. A second force for regeneration was the United States government which through its Indian agents, trading stations, and protection by the United States soldiers exerted a salutary influence on the tribes. The missionaries were a third influence which induced the Indians to accept, at least in part, Christian ideals and customs for the more repulsive primitive Indian customs. Finally the Indians themselves definitely accepted the white man's civilization and government in order to compete with the white civilization and combat the pressure of the States about them.

The first white man to come in contact with the Southern Indians was De Soto in his expedition 1539-1541. The Spaniards did not immediately follow this expedition up with further explorations of settlements. The French who settled Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans had considerable contact with the Choctaws and Creeks. They incurred the enmity of the Chickasaws and were never able to win their friendship. A French mission existed among the Choctaws for some time in the early part of the 18th century but with little evidence of converting the Indians to Catholicism or of permanent results. Christian Priber, a French Jesuit, was among the Cherokees from 1736 to about 1745. He seems to have taught many Bible stories to the Cherokees and laid a foundation of knowledge that the Protestant missionaries built upon when they came to the Nation about 1800. Many French intermarried among the Choctaws and Creeks. Greenwood LeFlore, Chief of the Choctaws at the time of removal, was the son of a French father. Alexander McGillivray, Chief of the Creeks during Washington's administration, was the son of a French-Creek mother.3

In the English colonies the Germans and particularly the Scotch or Scotch Irish usually occupied the frontier positions and often served as traders in the Indian trade. Such men naturally formed marriage alliances with the Indian women and came to reside in the Indian country. The Revolutionary war gave an

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added impetus for white men to press into the Indian country. These men were often Tories and sometimes caused friction between the Indians and the United States. They often came from families of wealth and culture. They took their slaves with them and set up farms in the Indian country. The sons of these pioneers were educated in the States. After the Creek War 1813-1814 and Jackson's attack on the foreign traders in Florida in 1817, they supported the United States more loyally and came to exert a wholesome influence in Indian culture and government. Their homes and farms were, whether intentional or not, models of excellence for the Indians to copy and their home methods tended gradually to be absorbed by the Indians. The tribes, from about 1810 until the time the removals to the west were completed, were controlled in a large measure by these mixed blood Indians.4

The early Indian policy of the United States, strangely enough, was stated by George II, King of England, in a proclamation of October 7, 1763. In this proclamation the Indians' right of occupancy were recognized over their hunting grounds and they were not to be molested in that possession. Subjects of Great Britian were to remove from recognized Indian lands and to refrain from future settlements. The right of purchase of Indian lands was reserved to the government and private parties were forbidden to make such purchases. The right to trade with the Indians was strictly limited to persons licensed by government officials.5

The Congress under the Articles of Confederation followed the lines of the Proclamation of King George and in a Chickasaw treaty of 1786 with the United States, certain specified lands were guaranteed to the Indians, white intruders were to be removed therefrom, the Indians, pledged themselves to trade only with traders licensed by the United States government, and both sides pledged themselves not to injure the innocent of the other by retaliation. The United States tirade treaties with the Cherokees in 1785 and the Choctaws in 1786 in which like terms were made.6

The white settlers continued to press on to Indian lands and

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new treaties were soon made in which the Indians were forced to cede additional lands. A topic common to most of these treaties of the 1790's was the insertion of clauses regulating horse stealing between whites and Indians along the frontier. The Indians except the Choctaws had been friends of the English during the Revolutionary War. They had foraged along the frontier and obtained a supply of livestock. They learned to conserve and propagate these horses, cattle and other livestock. These stock, increased by many introduced by the whites, served to lift the level of the Indian life. The food supply of the Indians was increased and horses were beginning to be used, for plowing to replace the crude hand methods of earlier days. As beneficial as the acquisition of livestock was to the Indians, horse stealing was one of the very surest means of friction between the white frontiersmen and the Indians. The Indian agents made strenuous attempts to repress horse stealing. Benjamin Hawkins, the United States Agent to the Creeks, required horses offered for sale in the Creek country to be registered. Soon the conditions improved and less and less friction arose from horse stealing.7

The Creek Treaty of August 7, 1790 pledged the Creek tribe to restore to the troops of the United States such whites or Negroes as they might have in their possession. The treaty of June 19, 1796 added property taken from citizens of the United States to the list. The treaty of January 8, 1821 specified that the Creeks should pay to the State of Georgia in five annual installments the value of property taken before 1802 provided that the five payments should not exceed $250,000.00. Undoubtedly the Creeks were held responsible for Negroes who fled through the Creek Nation and into the Seminole country. This led to much later controversy. At the time of the Seminole removal, the Creeks and other tribes assisted the United States in despoiling them of their Negroes. Although many of such slaves were the legitimate property of citizens of the United States, the matter became a racket in which

7Kappler, Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties, II, 27, 31, 24, 54; Governor Blount to Henry Knox, Secretary of War, Knoxville, May 5, 1792, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, I, 265 and 382-383; and W: C. Claibourne to Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War, April 8, 1802, Rowland, Dunbar, Mississippi Territorial Archives, I, 405-406.

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Indians and whites participated. This matter delayed and sorely complicated the Seminole removal and advancement problem.8

The Indian agents, blacksmiths, and interpreters did fine work for a number of years inducing the Indians to use horse culture, to raise more livestock, to change communal cultivation for individual fields, and to induce the Indian men to do a greater portion of the work in cultivating the fields. They showed the Indians how to care for, protect, and increase their livestock. They taught the Indians to plant and care for many varieties of fruit instead of depending on the wild fruits as they had formerly done. In the way of home conveniences they taught the Indian men to manufacture spinning wheels, looms, and like devices for the making of cloth in the homes. Many of these tools and articles were introduced and soon the primitive Indian clothing gave way, almost entirely, to civilized dress.9

The traders from the Spanish territory in their trade relations with the Southern Indians were a source of much trouble to the United States. They plied the Indians with whisky and drove hard bargains with their drunken customers. They, further, incited the Indians to hostilities against the United States. These conditons were aggravated by the Seminoles who were in the Spanish territory and freely harbored slaves fleeing from the adjoining states. Alexander McGillivray, Chief of the Creeks during Washington's first administration, was in league with the traders and benefited by the trade. He played British, Spanish and Americans off against each other and was under the pay of each. Such situations were very detrimental to our relations with the Indian tribes.10

Congress under the Articles of Confederation had already evolved a plan that aided materially in combatting the menace of the foreign traders. The government established trading houses with goods owned by it. These goods could be provided to the Indians cheaper than those from Pensacola. Not only was whiskey prohibited in their trading but they cooperated in keeping it from

8Kappler, Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties, II, 26, 48, 196, and 204; Foreman, Advancing the Frontier 159-162; Foreman, Indian Removal, Chapters 27 and 28.

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the Indians. Between 1795 and 1810 fourteen such stations were established with four of them among the five tribes. The Coleraine station was first established on the St. Mary's River in Georgia in 1795. This station was moved to the Oconee in 1797 and again to Fort Hawkins on the Okmulgee in 1806. Tellico Station was established in the Southwest Territory in 1795. A station was founded at Fort Stephens on the Mobile River in 1802. Still another was established at Chickasaw Bluffs, now Memphis, on the Mississippi River in Tennessee in 1802. These trading stations were well distributed and did much to break the power of the Spanish and Britsh in these tribes. Their goods were cheaper than their competitors. They sought to cooperate with the Indian agents in introducing plants, animals, farm tools, and home utensils among the Indians. When the system was discontinued in 1822, it was found that the stations had been operated at a financial loss to the federal government. They should be given, however, much credit for the forward progress of the Indians.11

These earlier treaties of the five tribes with the United States provided the tribes with blacksmiths and interpreters. The Cherokee treaty of February 27, 1819, provided for a tract of land 12 miles square to be set aside as a school fund. The lands were sold by the United States and the proceeds invested as Cherokee school fund. The Choctaw treaty of 1820 likewise provided 54 sections of land for sale and investment as a school fund. In 1825, the United States, in addition, made permanent a Choctaw annuity of $6000 which they had been using for schools. Then under the treaty of September 27, 1830, provision was made for the education of 20 Choctaw youths annually for twenty years. The Creek treaty of November 15, 1827 provided for $10,000 for education and $5,000 for relief. The sum of $5,000 was to be spent for Creek youths at "Choctaw Academy in Kentucky," $2,000 at two schools in Creek Nation and $3,000 for mills, cards, and wheels. The Chickasaw Treaty of May 24, 1834 likewise provided $3,000 yearly for 15 years for the education of Chickasaw youths in the states. The Cherokee treaty of December 29, 1835 set aside $50,000 for a fund for education and care of orphans and $200,000 in addition to existing school funds for a permanent school fund. These il-

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lustrate the beginnings of the school funds and of aid to education on the part of these tribes.12

As a forerunner of an active missionary effort among the Indians, the Moravians were the first Protestant denomination to establish a school among these tribes. This school was opened at Spring Place, Georgia in 1801. Soon after this they established four stations among the Chickasaws.13

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, a cooperative board of Presbyterian and Congregational churches, was next in this field. The Indians had requested schools and not churches. This Board therefore placed its major emphasis upon schools, but was mildly evangelistic from the beginning.14 The missionaries established Brainard Mission which gave the name to Missionary Ridge near present Chattanooga, Tennessee in January 1817. The next year they established Eliott Mission on the Yalobusha River in Northern Mississippi. This station was on the border between the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. These institutions aimed to give the Indian chldren training in agriculture, in mechanics, and in household arts. The missionaries worked side by side with their charges in the school homes, shops, and farms. The younger Indians progressed rapidly and soon acquired facility in the English language and in various arts. The adult Indians copied the clothing, houses and agriculture of the mission stations. The stations thus became, in a sense, experiment farms for the Indian tribes.15

These first American Board stations were followed by others. In 1828 there were seven mission stations and 34 workers among the Cherokees and nine stations and 34 workers among the Choctaws and one station among the Chickasaws.l6 This Board soon began the evangelization of the Indians. Many prominent Cherokees were converted and became members of Churches established in that

12Kappler, Indian Affairs Laws and Treaties, 86, 177-179, 193, 212, 315 and 443-444; American State Papers, Indian Affairs, II, 187-189 and 275-276.

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Nation. Evangelization was slow, at first, in the Choctaw Nation but some definite progress was made.17

The Baptist and Methodist Churches entered the field of missions to these Indians somewhat later than the Moravians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. The Baptists established one school among the Creeks in 1823 and two school among the Cherokees soon after. The Methodists had one school among the Creeks and four missionaries among the Cherokees in 1828. The active work of these two Churches was in camp meetings and in evangelistic effort. The more prominent mixed blood Indians often allied themselves with the Churches, and hastened the adoption of Christian ideals.18

A Baptist school of great importance in the education of these Indians was the Choctaw Academy located near Great Crossing, Kentucky. Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson founded the school in 1825 for Choctaw boys. Colonel Johnson was a member of the United States Senate when the school was founded and became Vice President of the United States in 1837. The first term opened with 21 Choctaw boys and Rev. Thomas Henderson in charge. The next year more Choctaw boys attended and in addition 13 Creek boys entered. In 1834, there were 62 Choctaw, 15 Cherokee, 8 Seminole and 14 Creek boys in attendance. A few months later 11 Chickasaw boys entered. This made a representation from each of the five tribes. The Chiefs of the tribes seem to have picked the boys from the leading families. They went back to their tribes and became tribal or district leaders. After the tribes were removed to the West, they ceased to patronize a school so far from their homes and it ceased operation about 1845. It had, in the twenty years of its existence, been a tremendous influence in Indian education and training.19

The three factors treated above constitute a great source of Indian advancement. The Indians themselves tremendously furthered the objectives of these benefactors when they began to choose the "white man's road" of their own volition. The Cherokees met

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in 1808 with all the 7 clans present and passed an act of oblivion for past offenses and renounced future retaliation. After this date only horse thieves might be killed without trial and a provision was made for trials for them. Regulating companies were organized to enforce the law and punish horse thieves and murderers and to probate estates.20

The Cherokee legislation was amplified in 1810. The accidental killing of Indians was not to be punished. The murderer was to be punished although he might be the brother of the deceased. This law as the previous one left the thief of a horse at the mercy of the owner of the horse, and the murderer of the horse thief should not be punished.21

A very distinct step forward was made in an act of the Cherokee Council of October 24, 1820. This act organized the Cherokee Nation into eight court districts and provided for a system of district and appellate courts and for district Councils. Each district was to have one Judge and a Marshal. A circuit Judge was provided for each two districts. A company of light horse police was provided to accompany judges and punish offenders. A council house was established in each district and Councils met in the spring and fall. The act provided for the collection of debts. A ranger was created to take up stray horses and if possible find their owners. A rigid system of permits to traders and white laborers was provided for in October of 1819. The occupation taxes arising from the law of 1819 were used indefraying the cost of the courts.22

The Choctaws soon made some notable attempts to discard their ancient customs and adopt the white civilization. As an example, a particularly repulsive burial custom of placing their dead on scaffolds and later removing the bones and placing them in a bonehouse was changed about 1800 to burial with poles about the grave. They held celebrations and "pulled" or lifted the poles out of the ground. From about 1820 to 1830 they discarded this ceremony and adopted a from of Christian burial.23

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This striving for advancement is shown in a letter written by Oboho Kulla Humma, a fulblood Choctaw District Chief, to Cyrus Kingsbury in October 1822. The Chief explained that the previous year his district had passed laws for the prevention of infanticide, introducing whisky, stealing hogs or cattle, or running away with another man's wife. He then made a very touching appeal to the American Board to send missionaries to organize a school in his district. He asserted that the above laws had been passed in order that the Indians might follow in the ways of the white man. He pleaded for schools and education to supplement this work of legislation.24

The Northeastern District of the Choctaw Nation in October 1821, created a system of Light Horse Police. These were to have charge of the execution of criminal laws and the collection of debts. The Light Horse apprehended criminals, tried the cases and on conviction, executed the sentences. This system was quickly extended to other districts of the Nation. Greenwood LeFlore became District Chief in 1824. Under his influence and that of David Folsom and Peter P. Pitchlynn, the Choctaws made great strides in the abolition of primitive practices as witchcraft and blood revenge. Soon the Choctaws modified their district organizations and adopted a system of tribal legislation, tribal chiefs, and a code of written laws.25

The Chickasaw movements have not been treated at very great length. An investigation of 1830 showed them to have a set of laws which promoted peace and good order among themselves.26

The Cherokees had been among the first to accept the white standards. They still continued to advance. In 1821 Sequoyah invented the Cherokee alphabet. In 1826, a national newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix was founded. This paper was printed in both English and Cherokee for the greater part of the time until about 1900. Then in July, 1827 the Cherokee Council met and formulated a Constitution for the. tribe. This tribe now had a

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Constitution and laws very similar to that of the states about them.27

The Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee tribes had adopted laws and governments patterned after the whites. The Creeks had progressed in agriculture and made some progress in the acceptance of Christianity. The Seminoles had been so much involved in wars and contests that they had made the least progress. This start toward civilization would probably have become greater had not the removal problem intervened. This problem served to embitter the Indians and stay the progress. Even though the educating influences were not given time to work out their logical conclusion a foundation for civilization had been laid that has later proved of immeasurable worth to the tribes.

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