The policy of the United States Government, for many years, has been to colonize the Indian tribes in a separate territory upon the western frontier. By consulting the maps published fifteen or twenty years since, a region of country, west of the states, will be seen, with its metes and bounds distinctly defined, designated, the INDIAN TERRITORY. It was bounded on the east by Arkansas and Missouri; on the north by Platte river; on the south by Red river, and on the west by the wild tribes, known as the “Prairie Indians.”
Within the Indian, territory, not including the wild tribes, there were over twenty distinct races, of which the following were most important: the Wyandotts, Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, Pottawattomies, Osages, Cherokees, Creeks–or Muscogees–Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. Of these the Osages alone are indigenous; all the other tribes named formerly resided on reserved lands, within the states east of the Mississippi river. The tribes that may be regarded as indigenous, being found within the territory, are the Omahas, Pawnees, Otoes, Kaws, and Quapaws. There are a few other remnants perhaps. The small tribes were removed from the northern states; they are feeble, and many of them well-nigh extinct. The Wyandotts are the most hopeful.
The largest and most promising races were removed from the southern states; the Cherokees from Georgia; the Choctaws and Creeks from Mississippi, and the Seminoles from Florida. The Chickasaws were also from Mississippi, and are now incorporated with the Choctaws, speaking the same language; and in all respects resembling them, they are evidently a branch of the same family. The tribes have been removed to their present homes at different periods within the past twenty-five years. The General Government has been greatly censured for its treatment of the Indians; and, in some instances, without doubt, the censure has been merited. And yet the reasons for that policy have been numerous and weighty; reasons which looked to the interests of the Indians no less than those of the whites. To the small tribes a removal was not merely desirable, but absolutely necessary; for it was not possible that a handful of people, uneducated, and occupying but a few square miles, could maintain a distinct nationality and independence in the heart of a great and growing state. So situated they could not long survive the ravages of corrupt and vicious white men, who would not cease to prowl around to rob them of character and of property. On the other hand, it could scarcely be expected that the whites would consent to have in their midst an inhomogeneous community, incapable of assimilation or citizenship. As the elements of equality did not exist, the necessity seemed to be absolute for. subordination, extinction, or removal; and the last was surely the most humane and merciful. We may deeply regret, yet we may not wholly ignore the existence of such necessity. The designs of the Government, in removing the Indians to the western border, we believe to have been wise and benevolent, having in view the best interests of these unfortunate people. That agents and employees have, in some instances, utterly failed to carry out the intentions of the Government, we are fully aware. Honest and equitable treaties have generally been made, securing to the Indians equally fertile and much more extensive lands and homes, where the surrounding influences would be less pernicious, and the circumstances altogether more favorable to their improvement and permanent prosperity. In addition to their new homes, they receive annuities which, if wisely expended, may greatly aid in the education and advancement of their children and youth, in the arts and habits of civilization.
So far as we are informed, but two of the tribes have been fraudulently dispossessed and forcibly driven from their lands and their former homes. And those acts of perfidy toward feeble tribes, who were powerless to defend and maintain their rights, can not fail to receive the merited condemnation of upright and virtuous men in all coining time. It will remain forever a dark page in our history. It shows a destitution of that magnanimity which should ever characterize the strong in their dealings with the weak and the helpless. By the system of colonizing the Indians the various tribes are located contiguous to each other, so as mutually to stimulate and encourage one another in their efforts to improve themselves, and to promote those interests which are common to all the tribes.
Thus situated they will develop the better traits of character, will be more ambitious and energetic in their efforts to become intelligent and respectable, than if they had continued to occupy their reservations, in the several states from which they have been removed.
Previous to their emigration to the territory they were declining in numbers, and desponding with regard to their future. But their doom seems to have been averted, and many of the larger tribes have increased in numbers, in wealth, and in intelligence. This statement applies especially to the Cherokees and Choctaws, who are, in all respects, the most promising and hopeful Indians of the border. In 1845 the Cherokees and the Creeks, or Muscogees, numbered each about twenty-five thousand souls; the Choctaws and Chickasaws, united, about sixteen thousand; but there were about eight thousand Choctaws, at that period, in the old nations in Mississippi, who have been removed west since that time. The Cherokee territory lies on the north side of the Arkansas river, bounded by the state on the east, and extending north as far as to the south-west corner of Missouri. The Choctaw nation, including the Chickasaws, occupies the entire country between the Arkansas and Red rivers. The Creeks and Seminoles are settled west of the northern district of the Choctaws, between the Canadian river and the middle fork of the Arkansas. The tribes named are by far the most numerous, intelligent, and promising of the Indians of the border. The Cherokees, Choctaws, and Creeks embrace more than seventy-five per cent. of the entire number of the Indians who have been removed west by the United States Government. They are more than seventy per cent. of the Indians on the border between the head waters of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Chickasaws were incorporated among the Choctaw nation, having a district set apart for themselves. They were located on the Red river, west and south of Washita. They claimed to be cousins of the Choctaws, and spoke the same language, with a slight variation in accent. According to the tradition there were two brothers who were heads of families living upon the same lands; but as they became numerous they finally agreed to separate, and like Abraham and lot each selected his lands and hunting grounds. The Chickasaws were feeble as to numbers, but richer in annuities than their neighbors. Fort Washita was in their territory, and at that time under the command of Colonel Harney, who was kind and courteous to the missionaries that were appointed to labor with that people.