Indian Removal and the Legacy

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[177]The articles of removal of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek were set into motion immediately. By 1831 and 1832 when Removal was in full force mixed bloods still maintained their positions of trust and authority within the tribe. During Removal the percentage of mixed-blood captains — the headmen and leaders of the organized emigrant bands bound for the new Indian nation -was greater than their percentage within the overall population of the tribe (see Chart 22). Their understanding of the English language and the ways of Americans became even more valuable as the bands of emigrants made their way into western Arkansas and present day Oklahoma. As the emigrants reported to the government agents west of the Mississippi River a note of each arrival was entered in a journal in order to establish eligibility for the year’s supplies granted in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (see Database of Choctaw Mixed Blood Names).

[178] Prior to the emigrants’ departure from Mississippi federal officials had conducted a census to ascertain not only a population count but also to obtain available information about individual land holdings and improvements. Popularly called the Armstrong Roll, this census indicated sizes of families and also identified some mixed bloods (see Database of Choctaw Mixed Blood Names). The Armstrong Roll also contained the geographical locations of the Indians, documenting the fact that many mixed bloods and full bloods either lived together in the same or adjoining household or as close neighbors, while others lived in communities made up exclusively of full bloods or exclusively of mixed bloods.[1] The full blood Indian wives of countrymen and mixed bloods preferred living near their full blood Choctaw relatives if possible. Since their husband’s influence and power often stemmed from the wife’s family connections, which were enhanced by proximity, the family unit normally remained near the traditional home.

This pattern eventually did change as some mixed bloods moved from the traditional home grounds to better farm and grazing lands. But even at the time of Removal many families, such as the mixed-blood Andersons, Juzans, and Favres, remained on their old holdings. There also was a large degree of family interaction between mixed bloods[179] and full bloods as they participated in joint ventures. The many anecdotal accounts of Cushman, J.F.H. Claiborne, Halbert and Gaines indicate that mixed blood rode alongside full blood during the Tecumseh incidents in 1811, the Creek War, and the Jackson campaigns at Pensacola and New Orleans in 1814 and 1815. Most mixed bloods and full bloods were in agreement at the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, and on into Removal there was no exclusive division of powers and influence along quantitative bloodlines. Both full bloods and mixed bloods held high positions. In fact there is a long and documented history of cooperation, co-existence, and cohabitation between what outsiders have viewed as two separate groups. Most of the writings of the mixed bloods before and after removal indicate their strong identity, not as mixed bloods, but as Choctaw.

In earlier days a cultural chasm did exist between some mixed bloods and full bloods within the Choctaw Nation. Where the boundaries of two societies met, a dynamic, acculturative synthesis occurred. From the earliest periods– when traders settled in the tribe with their obvious practical advantages of foreign language and trading acumen to the exodus from Mississippi — a constant, gradual process of cultural syncretism changed the several peoples coexisting in Choctaw country into a more homogenous whole. Full blood Indians learned some French, Spanish, and English words and customs, while white countrymen acquired a taste for corn and ball games along with Choctaw phrases and[180] Indian wives. Many Indian customs such as binding infant’s heads to achieve fattened shape which was considered particularly desirable, infanticide, lex talionis, scaffolding the dead then “bonepicking” the remains of the deceased, and other practices either disappeared or were altered through pressure from missionaries and white or mixed-blood relatives. The tribe was gradually adopting some western ways.

By the time of Removal the culture of the Choctaw Indians already changed appreciably from that found by DeSoto in the sixteenth century. A major change lay in the number of mixed bloods contained within the tribe, which conservatively can be estimated at around fifteen to twenty percent, and liberally at over thirty percent. Should that count seem high, it is wise to remember that Jedidiah Morse in his 1822 report on Indians stated that the Cherokee nation “by actual enumeration of the Agent in 1809, was 12,395 Cherokees, half of whom were of mixed blood…”[2] Although the number of mixed bloods in the Choctaw Nation was not as high as in the Cherokee Nation, it was high enough to cause major cultural changes at a time when the tribe was experiencing great stress from the forces in favor of Indian Removal.

[181]The diplomatic disposition of the Choctaw people which permitted them calmly to accept cultural evolution and change, and the growing number of mixed-blood tribal members who quickly grasped the idea that the American government’s policies of “civilization” could enhance Choctaw self-sufficiency and wealth, made for consistent relations from Washington’s administration through Jackson’s nearly half a century later. A major factor during this time was the changing ratio of Indians to white settlers on the Southern frontier, especially along the Mississippi River and most particularly around New Orleans and the Gulf region. As long as the settlers remained in the minority the American administrations followed a policy of pacification of the Indians through liberal trade agreements and monetary reward for those headmen and chiefs willing to accommodate the Americans. And it was not simply a matter of American officials tempting the Indian “children” with bribes; the cultural practices of the Southern tribes strongly favored acceptance of those traders and civil officials (including the earliest Frenchmen, Spaniards, Englishmen through the American commissioners in the 1820s) who offered gifts.

Although it is easy for modern commentators to affix moral labels to the gift-giving which almost always accompanied any major trading session or treaty talk, the practice was one for which the Indian tribesmen were as much responsible as were the Europeans who used the accepted[182] Native American practice to effect trade agreements and military alliances. To assume that the tribal leaders were gulled into unfair pacts is to embrace the most crass sort of ethnocentrism which insults the intelligence and civilization of the Indians in question.

The fact that the Choctaw tribe existed in harmony and peace with the European occupiers of their territory from the early days of the eighteenth century through the first third of the nineteenth century is a tribute to their diplomatic acumen and maturity. There is little doubt that the tribe slowly lost territory to the several foreign governments which held the Gulf region, but it is also a fact that the tribe only relinquished peripheral lands upon which it had only tentative claims until the very last when it ceded its heartland at the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. In all, that is an enviable record when compared to the fate of Indian populations earlier in Mexico and South America or those plains Indians in the United States after the Civil War; both of the latter groups were overwhelmed in short order by superior military technology and strength. The Choctaw chose diplomacy over war and thereby lengthened their existence and identity as a people.

The tribe’s toleration of white traders also eased the friction which always exists between distinct and separate cultures in early contact with each other. The intermarriages and resulting mixed-blood progeny only made the bonds of identity and similarity stronger as the[183] traders’ children were welcomed into the tribe. It is at this point, when an easily acculturated group of mixed bloods began to appear within the tribe, that some historians manufacture a schism between this new “breed” of Indian and their full-blood relatives. Except for a few isolated cases of family friction, which is common enough even in un-mixed societies, the record is silent in regard to any such schism. Instead, the extant evidence shows co-existence and community between these peoples.

Some students of American Indians have retroactively constructed a post-removal western social stigma towards mixed bloods, which simply did not exist to any measurable degree during the eighteenth century among the Choctaw Indians. In fact one finds a very different Indian culture in the trans-Mississippi west, than in the cis-Mississippi region prior to Removal. In this case the image of the pre-Removal Choctaw tribe would be viewed through quite distorted lenses and could easily be misinterpreted.

As the number of Choctaw mixed bloods grew so did the ease with which the United States officials were able to introduce “civilizing” programs to the tribe. This study shows that during treaty talks often it was the mixed-blood advisors to the chiefs who recognized the commercial attraction of such things as cotton gins and iron works. As early as 1802 a cotton gin existed in Chickasaw country (at the site of Cotton Gin Port) and expectations were high[183] among the Choctaw mixed bloods that they might obtain the same for their use.[3] It was also the mixed bloods who early in the nineteenth century desired schools, and therefore the missionaries who came with them. In nearly every case of Choctaw acceptance of Jefferson’s proffered tools of civilization, one finds mixed bloods at the head of the line. Of course Jefferson’s program for the Old Southwest included much more than mere Indian pacification and assimilation. To a much greater degree he recognized the palpable weakness of the Southern frontier and acted on several fronts to strengthen it. On the diplomatic front he entered into negotiations with the Spaniards who controlled the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River and later, after extended diplomacy, was able to buy Louisiana from France. On the home front he was keenly aware that the frontiersmen had to provide their own defense and mapped out a plan of prudent purchases of strategic Indian lands along the Mississippi River in order to make lands available for settlement. This influx of settlers, he opined, would put in place a militia able to defend itself and the Mississippi[185] River valley from any foreign enemy.[4]

The Choctaw mixed bloods were an important element allowing the partial acceptance of Jefferson’s policy in the Indian lands of Mississippi Territory. They were given a Jeffersonian-Republican Indian Agent in Silas Dinsmoor from 1802 until the War of 1812, and one of their major interpreters, the countryman John Pitchlynn, also espoused the American ideology or cause. He is on record as being antagonistic to the emigrant Tory royalists who fled to Indian country during and after the American Revolution. He had family ties to Georgia and the Carolinas, and he was in agreement with nearly all requests made by the United States of the tribe. His sons later, after the Creek War, were very instrumental in helping American treaty commissioners persuade and cajole more and more territory from their tribal kinsmen. They communicated with Andrew Jackson from time to time and were in agreement with the overt Jeffersonian policy of acquiring land for settlement and militia purposes.

As a result of this pro-American sentiment among leading mixed bloods who had strong family ties to tribal[186] chiefs, the tribe itself remained friendly to the United States and fought alongside American militiamen throughout the Gulf theatre of the War of 1812 and the Creek War which was encompassed by the larger conflict. The long standing American policy of amity had produced dividends from the Choctaw and their cousins the Chickasaw.

During this period when Jefferson actively pursued cessions from the Choctaw, he was quite sensitive to the possibility of offending them through too blatant an approach and ordered his functionaries to use tact and diplomacy in their dealings with the tribe. Although he has been accused of following an extortive policy of running the Indians into debt to force cessions, there is no record that such a practice followed among the Choctaw tribe. Instead there exists much evidence indicating that the Choctaw factory, one of the largest trading houses, was operated under strict business restraints and only offered credit in small amounts and then only to reputable individuals. Jefferson plainly instructed that the factories were to be operated as non-profit organizations meant mainly to pacify the Indians they served and to further interdict Indian trade with foreigners below the thirty-first parallel in West Florida. The few debts that were allowed by the Choctaw factors were never used as leverage in any treaty talks. The only time debt is mentioned is in regard to foreign traders or when the tribe itself asked that debt be excused or otherwise ameliorated.[187] There is even a sense of government reluctance in the various treaty talks to forgive any Choctaw his individual debts. The debts were fairly equally shared by full blood and mixed blood alike, with no noticeable favoritism being practiced by the factors.

The leading mixed bloods often were traders themselves. Some, such as the venerable Ben James, had earlier been aligned with the Spanish and British trading houses out of Pensacola and Mobile. Others, such as John Pitchlynn, Jr., entered into Indian trade later when the government trading houses were terminated by legislation in the early 1820s. This mixed-blood propensity for trade and
business was a major reason of their importance to the tribe, for most of the tribe were strongly attracted to American and European trade goods. Most tribal traders were considered wealthy and honorable husbands for Choctaw women from influential families.

But trade and economics were not the only forces operating on the tribe during this time. Between 1786, when the tribe recognized the United States as its main political partner at the Treaty of Hopewell, and the Removal of the 1830s, several other important factors also operated upon the tribe. The entire period was a time when great social change was sweeping Europe in the form of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The tribe certainly felt the winds of change as the Spanish power in the region was weakened to the point of ineffectiveness; their French[188] allies of a half-century sold Louisiana and then retired from the local military and diplomatic field. After the British presence was neutered by Jackson’s defeat of Packingham at New Orleans in 1815, the Choctaw chiefs did not need augury and superhuman perception to understand that the United States was emerging as the primary political and military power in the region. The self-evident fact was buttressed by the chiefs’ own perspicacity and the wise counsel of their mixed-blood kinsmen.

Far from being immature children who did not really understand the complexities of modern international tensions, the chiefs were experienced men who viewed the American political structure first-hand when they visited Jefferson in Washington in 1804 and later in 1825. Some of the same individuals were on both trips and certainly recognized the changes of economic growth and demographics, which had transpired during the two decades. Some of the children of leading mixed bloods and full bloods attended academies and schools outside the nation and returned to explain that world to their brothers and kinsmen back home. The mixed bloods and full bloods sensed the futility of actively opposing American expansion and generally resigned themselves to eventual assimilation or Removal.

Added to these considerations were the teachings of the missionaries and their admonishments to do things “the American way.” Although they entered the area late and did not become a major force until the 1820s, the missionaries[189] acted as a catalyst for change within the tribe. As each ancient practice, such as scaffolding the dead, was eradicated, the tribe became less Choctaw and more American. As each Bible verse was learned and each English lesson mastered, the tribe as a distinct Indian culture became less viable. All of the old ways not in consonance with the missionaries’ concept of the Christian ethic were slowly and steadily silenced. The practices of witch killing, infanticide, lex talionis, rainmaking, and so on, all succumbed to “civilizing” pressures. At a time when whites had not yet entered into heated debates over their own practices of abortion, mercy killing, and faith healing, the old Indian ways seemed quite primitive. But one bright event still shines out of the missionary effort, that of creating an alphabet and syllabary of the Choctaw language. Originally intended to ease the task of forcing the Christian Bible upon the non-English speaking tribesmen, the endeavor resulted in preserving the language for posterity and thus saved a crucial facet of Choctaw culture and identity. The Christian religion, like the other forces acting upon the tribe, enjoyed the dual role of destroyer and preserver.

Of all the factors operative upon the tribe only the ideological and political pressures rivaled economics. As the mixed bloods ascended to position of leadership within the three tribal districts in the state of Mississippi in the aftermath of the Creek War, they brought their mixed[190] ideological views with them. They understood and respected old tribal ways, but they also favored changes such as the election of chiefs by the leading men of each district along the lines of the American electoral system, envisioned and created the Choctaw Lighthorse police force along militia lines and began the enforcement of laws by this more European and American method of social control, and moved in the direction of unifying the three autonomous districts of the Choctaw Nation into one democratic chiefdom.

The mixed bloods were not alone in their desire to “modernize” Choctaw ways. Even the vaunted full-blood chief Mushalatubbe once considered throwing his hat into the white political ring and running for a state legislative office. But it was the mixed bloods who found it easiest to adopt American ways. After Removal, Greenwood Leflore did become a Mississippi legislator and prosperous cotton planter, thus realizing the Jeffersonian goal of evolving from Indian to yeoman farmer and beyond.

This changeover was not without its conflicts and intertribal tension. These two chiefs, Leflore and Mushalatubbee, along with Nituckachee, Little Leader, and others, vied for some degree of control of the tribe. Although some historians simplify the struggle as a racial one between mixed and full bloods, correspondence and records indicate that the misunderstandings were regional and sectional in nature. A major misreading of history occurs when historians attempt to moralize about the clash [191] between Leflore and Mushalatubbe in the late 1820s, some siding with Mushalatubbee’s “strong” stance against Leflore’s “despotic” machinations. Both men fall far short of hero status, yet certainly cannot be called villains. Both pursued what they considered to be noble aspirations; both were also guilty of cupidity and self-interest. In essence, they were human. Mushalatubbee seemed much more concerned about his personal pension and land for his relatives and friends than about the disappearing Choctaw culture. Leflore was not shy about seeking power, but after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which he helped orchestrate, he was stung by the tribal reprimand, which demanded his resignation in October 1830. His ouster from office was perhaps the most patently unifying act the tribe affected prior to Removal and foreshadowed later unifying efforts in Indian Territory.

The sectionalism existing within the Choctaw tribe in the early 1800s also underwent a period of nationalism remarkably parallel to the white American and European experiences of the time. Although much attention has been directed to the fuss and bluster of such Choctaw sectional disputes as one section sending more students to Kentucky than did another, or how the treaty annuities should be divided, the rise of Leflore to position of Chief of all the Choctaws was a very important event. It demonstrated that the leading mixed and full bloods could compromise and reach common decisions beyond sectional interests. It a1so helped[192] set the stage for Removal, but that should be viewed in the light of the near certainty of Removal by the late 1820s. Better to say that Removal occurred in spite of Choctaw unification rather than because of it. Of course when negotiations began, the sectional interests of the several chiefs were quite pronounced, but Leflore’s earlier identity as chief helped him sway the other leading men into accepting the treaty. Choctaw unification thus paved the way for the speedy passage of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The pressures for removal were so great at the time- from the state of Mississippi, from the federal government, from many tribal members (mixed and full blood), and even from some missionaries, especially the Methodists- that a treaty would have been soon effected even in the absence of a Leflore. Removal was an event brought about by complex forces operating over decades, not the sellout of one individual, or clique, in the signing of one treaty.

Considering that the many forces behind Removal had been building for years, it is also a bit simplistic to conjure up a super villain in the person of Andrew Jackson and point to him as the supreme nemesis of the American Indian. The Choctaw nation venerated Jackson and looked to[193] him for fair play and justice before and during Removal.[5] Jackson was certainly less than infallible in his Indian policy, but he always referred to the Choctaw Indians in the kindest terms as allies on the field of battle. Jackson’s image suffers from the alcoholic malfeasance of Choctaw Agent William Ward whose failure to register properly those tribesmen desiring to remain on their homesteads in Mississippi led to what was perhaps the most inhumane aspect of Removal, the loss of land by the several thousand Choctaws wishing to remain legally on their ancestral lands.

There seems to be some pervasive element in the human persona, which drives it to single out “great men” and “villains” as prime movers in historic events; yet in Indian Removal it was really the American government acting on a longstanding American policy, which led to the Removal of the Southern Indians. No deviate or perverse personality was the actuator of those deeds the country would later view as distasteful. Analysis of the events of the time suggest that if Andrew Jackson had never been elected president, another frontiersman or westerner would have been elected in his stead because the populace of the country wanted that[194] kind of president to represent their views in Washington. Almost any westerner elected to the presidency in the late 1820s would have yielded to pressures from the growing South and West to bring about Indian Removal; it was what the average citizen there wanted.

The arguments for and against Indian Removal in the United States mainly were geocentric; most of the opposition to Removal came from Northeastern spokesmen and legislators who used idealistic moral issues to pursue pragmatic regional arguments. Growing Southern and Western populations reduced the relative importance and political power of other regions of the country. When Mississippi and Alabama evicted their resident Indian tribes there was an economic boom as land speculators poured into the region bringing the chronicled “flush times” with them. As the prime cotton lands in the Delta region of northwest Mississippi, and the Black Belt region of northeast Mississippi and northwest Alabama, became available to planters, the fabled antebellum South took shape, slavery rapidly spread across the former Mississippi Territory, and the storm clouds of the Civil War began gathering on the horizon. Indian Removal therefore can be viewed as an integral part of the surge in the slave-based Southern plantation economy. It can also be viewed as part of a regionally dichotomous rhetoric, which led to, increased sectionalism.

[195] The Choctaw tribe mainly sympathized with the Southern defense of slavery and condoned the “peculiar institution” itself. Many leaders of the tribe owned slaves and the practice continued within the tribe after Removal; by the time of the American Civil War the tribe found itself as much Southern as Indian and became embroiled in the hostilities. Indeed the values and politics of the Choctaw tribe after Removal can just as easily be viewed as Southern as Indian. And a similar statement can be made about many white Southerners who had more than a few Indian cultural traits.

Many Mississippians and Alabamans retained, to a greater or lesser degree, an “Indianess” which persists to the present day. In other words, Choctaw culture to some extent also diffused into the culture of the early white settlers in the Tombigbee River watershed as well as those in the Pearl River watershed, and can be yet discerned in the rural Mississippi and Alabama border area. The cultural diffusion was accelerated by the many intermarriages into the white families of the day and the many mixed bloods who stayed in their traditional homelands after Removal as “white” Mississippians. The several thousand full blood Choctaw remaining in Mississippi after Removal helped continue this cultural exchange via their connections with their mixed-blood cousins.

Folks in the area today still roam the springtime woods in search of the seasonal mayhaw, the dewberry, the[196] Chickasaw plum, and later in the year the huckleberry and wild muscadine grape. Spring is still greeted with a traditional burning of the woods, and the planting of corn is so necessary a part of the rural South that some white farmers grow it just to give it away in a manner more ritualistic than altruistic. Hunting season is also a time of ritualistic preparations when rural and some urban Southern young men take to the forests to track the deer and turkey which have for centuries filled the larders of the people living in the region. One can still find the old-fashioned Indian style homestead yards where every blade of grass is plucked and the sand and dirt swept clean in order to prevent snakes and vermin from entering the home. And then there’s that ubiquitous high-check-boned Southerner who appears from Texas to Georgia and readily tells any and all comers that his great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess. Even though such evidence is highly anecdotal, once one begins looking for it, the “Indianness” of the South is overwhelming.

The further one traces one’s roots back into time in the South, the greater the chance that the records will prove one’s ancestors were mixed bloods. Given the history and fireworks of race relations in the South, the degree of[197] “Indianness” becomes even more fascinating.[6] In view of these conclusions it is easy to see that Indian history cannot be treated as an isolated, interior occurrence separate from the pressures and events in American and world history. Indian history is an integral part of American and international history and was driven by the same events occurring in the broader arena of world affairs. The enduring message the Choctaw people of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have left us is that they were survivors, not victims.

Footnotes

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  1. This journal can be found on microfilm in the Lackey Collection, McCain Library, University of Southern Mississippi. It is distinct from the earlier Armstrong Roll.
  2. Jedidiah Morse, A Report On Indian Affairs, (New Haven: S. Converse, 1822, reprint ed., New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1970), 152. The author has not verified these figures mentioned by Morse, but has noted a large amount of mixed-blood identifications in early Cherokee censuses.
  3. For a detailed description of Indian cotton growing, see Daniel H. Usner, Jr., “American Indians on the Cotton Frontier: Changing Economic Relations with Citizens and Slaves in the Mississippi Territory,” Journal of American History, 72 (Sept 1985), 297-317.
  4. Dumas Malone in his in-depth six volume study of Jefferson only touches briefly upon the president’s efforts to structure a militia defense on newly acquired lands, but in Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805, p. 514, he does acknowledge the work of Mary P. Adams in “Jefferson’s Reaction to the Treaty of San Ildefonso,” Journal of Southern History, 21 (May 1955), 173-188, as a needed correction to a historical misunderstanding of Jefferson’s defense policies.
  5. Modern Mississippi Choctaw still use a replica of the drum given the tribe by Jackson as a token of his appreciation after their aid in the War of 1812 in their ceremonial parades prior to re-enacting the ancient ball play, and specifically tell their children that the drum was a gift from Jackson. It is interesting how such rituals transcend even scholarly efforts to correct the “truth” about Jackson.
  6. See Appendix A (Database of Choctaw Mixed Blood Names) for the rare documented instances of Indian/Black mixed bloods. Often the records that are available to indicate white-red blood mixes are lacking for red-black mixes though such combinations did exist. In modern times, when documentation of red-black mixtures are available it usually is for a tri-racial mix of Red, White, and Black.



MLA Source Citation:

Wells, Dr. Samuel James. Choctaw Mixed Bloods and the Advent of Removal. University of Southern Mississippi. 1987. © Dr. Samuel James Wells, 1987. Used by permission. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 March 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indian-removal-and-the-legacy.htm - Last updated on Nov 7th, 2013


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