On September 15, 1830, at Little Dancing Rabbit Creek, the Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation and representatives of the U.S. met to discuss the impact of a bill recently passed by the Congress of the U.S. This bill, with all the same good intentions of those today who believe they know better than we how to conduct our lives, allowed for the removal of all Indian peoples to the West of the Mississippi River.
It had been made clear to the Choctaw, that the Whites in Washington cared little for our situation, that either we willingly moved, or by military force we would be moved. We were not ignorant savages, but industrious farmers, merchants, and businessmen of all types. We were educated people, many were Christians. We had an organized system of government and a codified body of law. Some of these people were not even Indians, many strangers and orphans had been taken in over the years.Order now
The Chiefs and Warriors signed the treaty, realizing they had no option.
For doing this the government officials guaranteed, in the body of the treaty, safe conveyance to our new homes. (Do not forget for a moment that in this treaty, the Choctaw traded 10.3 million acres of land east of the Mississippi for 10.3 acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas that we already owned under previous treaties) Further, it included provisions and monetary annuities, to assist the people to make a new start. One half of the people were to depart almost immediately, the rest the next year.
After the signing of the treaty, many saw their land and property sold before their own eyes.
The “conveyances” promised turn out to be a forced march. At the point of a gun, the pace killed many of the old, exposure and bad food killed most. Rotten beef and vegetables are poor provisions, even for the idle. Many walked the entire distance without shoes, barely clothed. What supplies were given had been rejected by the whites. This cannot directly blamed on the government, nearly all of this was done by unscrupulous men, interested only in maximizing their profits.
They government’s fault lies in not being watchful of those taken into their charge. Many of the old and the children died on the road. At each allowed stop, the dead were buried. Hearing of this many escaped. They knew that as they signed the rolls, to be “removed”, that this might as well be their death warrants. They took refuge in the hills, the swamps, and other places too inhospitable for the whites.
Even as this occurred, those in charge reported their “peaceful progress” to Congress, who looked no further.
Those of us who evaded the rolls were accepted by neither the whites nor the “papered” Indians. Still others claimed to be “Black Dutch,” Spanish, Creole, or Black. (My own grandfather later lied to the census taker, saying he was one sixty-fourth. At that degree, he could still live and own land on the reservation. He was “enrolled” at that number.
Granny claimed to be Black Dutch). Many others fled to Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, even into the swamps of the Okeefenokee.
The “fertile lands, alive with game, lush with forests” turned out to be bone-dry and covered in alkalai pits, and a strange black ooze that stank and caught fire easily. Blistering hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, this land was still their own. And then the whites decided they needed more land. Again, pressure was brought to bear on the Choctaw.
By this time the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Cree, Kickapoo, Seminole, Wyandotte, Lenapi, Mohawk, and others whose names you would not recognize, had their reservations shrunk around them. The Choctaw had only been the first to be removed, the government drunk with power and in fit of lust for land, had removed nearly all. The Mississippi Band of the Choctaw had temporarily avoided displacement, but had their land stripped down to 500 acres, but within five years none of that land was in Indian hands. Already Arkansas had begun to be settled by whites, who ignored the treaties. Even those who fled to California were being displaced by miners, farmers .