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The Choctaws were removed to their present homes in the year 1837, or about that period. The boundaries of their territory have been given already. Their country was one hundred and twenty miles in extent from north to south, and about fifty in width from east to west; the western boundary, however, was not definitely fixed. Their lands were amply sufficient for their wants present and prospective. The soil was not generally very fertile or productive, except the bottoms, which were not extensive, and liable to inundations so late in the summer as to injure and frequently destroy the growing crops of corn and cotton. The uplands were thin and gravelly, as to soil, and incapable of producing good crops. The timber in the bottoms consisted of cottonwood, elm, walnut, hickory, pecan, and bois d’arc, or osage orange. The timber of the uplands consisted principally of oak of every species and all of a stunted growth. There were dense canebrakes along the water-courses, some of which were of several miles extent, and growing so thickly that a bird would find it difficult to fly through them. The canes in the rich alluvial soil grew from twenty to thirty feet in height, and a single reed was sometimes from four to five inches in circumference. The country was not very rich and inviting to the farmer who should make agriculture his only business, but it was well adapted to grazing purposes. The growth of grass upon the light, thin soil was not luxuriant, but the range was extensive; and when the grass on the dry lands was consumed the marshes afforded a heavy crop, and if all the grass should be consumed the new growth of cane was rich, and afforded an inexhaustible supply of food for horses and cattle during the entire winter. The winters in that climate are very mild and short, so that the stock may pass through the season without grain or fodder being laid up for them, and be kept in good condition. Cattle and horses running on the commons look well through the entire year.
The country and climate seem to be peculiarly adapted to the condition and necessities of the Indians, who were much more inclined to produce live stock than to procure a living by the cultivation of the soil. They were all giving some attention to the grazing business; many of them owned fine herds of cattle, which were rapidly increasing. It required no great amount of labor to keep their stock branded and gentle, so that none might stray and be lost.
During our residence in that country we purchased our beef-cattle of the natives, who drove them in from the commons to be slaughtered. They were never stallfed to prepare them for market, and, though brought in and butchered at all seasons of the year, we usually found them fat and tender.
The face of the country was rough and wild; it was mountainous and rugged, yet it presented a novel, variegated, and picturesque landscape. The Ozark range of mountains passes diagonally through the nation from the north-east to the south-west. The springs and rivulets rising in the hills, and flowing down the mountain sides, afforded pure and excellent water. The country, indeed, was bountifully supplied with living streams, which is an indispensable requisite in the stock-producing business.
The winters were wet but not cold; snows were very rare, even in the extreme north portion of the tribe, and when they fell would rarely cover the ground. I never saw the rivers frozen over; though the editor of a weekly newspaper, published at Van Buren, once complained bitterly of the intense and intolerably cold season. “The thermometer,” said he, “is down to twenty-four degrees, and the river is frozen half over!” But his statement was considerably exaggerated. The fruit-trees bloomed in February, and gardens were made in that month; and it was important to plant crops early, as it seldom rained much after the month of July. Autumnal rains were not very common–they were usually accompanied by such thunder and lightning as are rarely, if ever, witnessed farther north. Rains in August and September were usually attended with gusts of wind, and such an amount of electricity in the clouds as to render a thunder-storm a serious visitation. Every cloud seemed to be a galvanic battery, charged to its utmost capacity, and sending forth its irresistible currents, making the heavens to blaze and the earth to tremble beneath its power. Having been occasionally caught out in those autumnal storms, we were fully prepared to appreciate their grandeur and sublimity.