The Choctaw are a Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States (Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana). They are of the Muskogean linguistic group. The word Choctaw (also known as Chahta, Chactas ,Chato, Tchakta, and Chocktaw) may derive from the Castilian word "chato," meaning flat; however, noted anthropologist John Swanton suggests that the name belonged to a Choctaw leader. They were a part of the Mississippian culture which was located throughout the Mississippi River valley. The early Spanish explorers, according to historian Walter Williams, encountered their antecedents. In the 19th century, Choctaws were known as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" because they had integrated numerous cultural and technological practices of their European American colonial neighbors. Although smaller Choctaw groups are located in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are the two primary Choctaw associations.
During the American Revolution most Choctaws supported the thirteen colonies' bid for independence from the British Crown. The Choctaws and the United States had agreed to nine treaties. The last three treaties (Treaty of Doak's Stand, Washington City, and Dancing Rabbit) were designed to deracinate most Choctaws west of the Mississippi River. U.S. President Andrew Jackson made the Choctaw exiles a model of Indian removal as the first to march the Trail of Tears. The Choctaws were exiled (to the area now called Oklahoma) because the U.S. desired to expand, desired to "save" them from extinction, and wanted to acquire their natural resources.
In 1831 when the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was ratified, Choctaws who chose to stay in the newly formed state of Mississippi were the first major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens. The Choctaw also sought to be represented in the Congress of the United States. They are also remembered for their generosity in providing humanitarian relief during the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), twenty years prior to the founding of the Red Cross. During the American Civil War the Choctaw in both Oklahoma and Mississippi mostly sided with the Confederate States of America. After the Civil War the Mississippi Choctaws fell into obscurity and the Choctaws in Oklahoma struggled to maintain a nation. In World War I, they served in the U.S. Army as codetalkers using the Choctaw language as a natural code. After World War II Choctaws attracted and developed business industires such as wire harnessing. Today they operate business ventures (both in Mississippi and Oklahoma) in Gaming, Electronics, and Hospitality industries, and they continue to practice their language and cultural traditions.
Historian Patricia Galloway argues from fragmentary archaeological and cartographic evidence that the Choctaw did not exist as a unified people before the 17th century: only at that time did various southeastern peoples, who are remnants of Moundville, Plaquemine, and other Mississippian cultures, coalesce to form a self-consciously Choctaw people. Regardless of the time frame, however, the homeland of the Choctaw, or of the peoples from whom the Choctaw nation arose, includes Nanih Waiya. Nanih Waiya is a earthen mound; it and its surrounding area are sacred ground to Choctaws, and are a central point of connection between the Choctaws and their homeland.
French explorer Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, in his Histoire de La Louisiane (Paris, 1758) recounted that "...when I asked them from whence the Chat-kas [sic] came, to express the suddenness of their appearance they replied that they had come out from under the earth." This was intended to explain the Choctaws' immediate appearance, and is not a literal creation account. This is perhaps the first European writing to contain the seed of the origin story.
These people are the only nation from whom I could learn any idea of a traditional account of a first origin; and that is their coming out of a hole in the ground, which they shew between their nation and the Chickasaws; they tell us also that their neighbours were surprised at seeing a people rise at once out of the earth.|20px|20px|Bernard Romans- Natural History of East and West FloridaAs told by both early 19th century as well as contemporary Mississippi Choctaw storytellers, it was either Nanih Waiya or a cave nearby from which the Choctaw people emerged. The companion story describes their journey from the west.
The Choctaws, a great many winters ago, commenced moving from the country where they then lived, which was a great distance to the west of the great river and the mountains of snow, and they were a great many years on their way. A great medicine man led them the whole way, by going before with a red pole, which he stuck in the ground every night where they encamped. This pole was every morning found leaning to the east, and he told them that they must continue to travel to the east until the pole would stand upright in their encampment, and that there the Great Spirit had directed that they should live.|20px|20px|George Catlin- Smithsonian Report
The antecedents of the Choctaw were part of the Mississippian culture in the Mississippi river valley. The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American culture that flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from 800 to 1500 C.E. At the time the Spanish made their first forays inland from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the political centers of the Mississippians were already in decline, or gone. The region is best described as a collection of moderately-sized native chiefdoms (such as the Coosa chiefdom on the Coosa River) interspersed with completely autonomous villages and tribal groups. The Mississippian culture is what the earliest Spanish explorers encountered, beginning on April 2, 1513, with Juan Ponce De León's Florida landing and the 1526 Lucas Vázquez De Ayllón expedition in South Carolina.
After castaway Cabeza De Vaca of the ill-fated Narváez expedition returned to Spain, he described to the Court of Hernando De Soto that the New World was the "richest country in the world." Hernando De Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first expedition into the interior of the North American continent. De Soto, convinced of the "riches", wanted Cabeza De Vaca to go on the expedition, but Cabeza De Vaca later declined his offer because of a payment dispute of a ship. From 1540–1543, Hernando De Soto travelled through Florida and Georgia, and then down into the Alabama and Mississippi area that would later be inhabited by the Choctaw.
De Soto had the best-equipped army at the time. His successes were well-known throughout Spain, and many people from all backgrounds joined his quest for untold riches to be plundered in the New World. However, the brutalities of the De Soto expedition were known by the antecedents of the Choctaw, so they decided to defend their country. This battle, known as the Battle of Mabila, was a turning point for the De Soto venture; the battle "broke the back" of the campaign, and they never fully recovered.
Hernando De Soto, leading his well-equipped Spanish fortune hunters, made contact with the Choctaws in the year 1540. He had been one of a triumvirate which wrecked and plundered the Inca empire and, as a result, was one of the wealthiest men of his time. His invading army lacked nothing in equipage. In true conquistador style, he took as hostage a chief named Chief Tuskaloosa|Tuscaloosa (Black Warrior), demanding of him carriers and women. The carriers he got at once. The women, Tuscaloosa said, would be waiting in Mabila (Mobile). The chief neglected to mention that he had also summoned his warriors to be waiting in Mabila. On October 18, 1540, De Soto entered the town and received a gracious welcome. The Choctaws feasted with him, danced for him, then attacked him.|20px|20px|Bob Ferguson- Choctaw Chronology
George Washington (first U.S. President) and Henry Knox (first U.S. Secretary of War) proposed the cultural transformation of Native Americans. Washington believed that Native Americans were equals but that their society was inferior. He formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process, and Thomas Jefferson continued it. Noted historian Robert Remini wrote "they presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans." Washington's six-point plan included impartial justice toward Indians; regulated buying of Indian lands; promotion of commerce; promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Indian society; presidential authority to give presents; and punishing those who violated Indian rights. The government appointed agents, like Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Indians and to teach them, through example and instruction, how to live like whites. The Choctaws accepted Washington's policy as they established schools, adopted yeoman farming practices, converted to Christianity, and built homes like their colonial neighbors.
During the American Revolution, Choctaws, divided over whether to support Britain or Spain, decided to support the newly formed United States of America; however, head chief of the Choctaw Franchimastabe led a war party with British forces against American rebels in Natchez. Choctaw companies joined Washington's army during the war, and served the entire duration. Bob Ferguson, a noted Southeastern Indian historian, states, "[in] 1775 The American Revolution began a period of new alignments for the Choctaws and other southern Indians. Choctaw scouts served under Washington, Morgan, Wayne and Sullivan." After the Revolutionary War, the Choctaws were reluctant to ally themselves with countries hostile to the U.S. John R. Swanton wrote, "the Choctaw were never at war with the Americans. A few were induced by Tecumseh (a Shawnee leader who sought support from various Native American tribes) to ally themselves with the hostile Creeks, but the Nation as a whole was kept out of anti-American alliances by the influence of Apushmataha, greatest of all Choctaw chiefs."
Ferguson also writes that "1783 [was the] End of American Revolution. Franchimastabe, Choctaw head chief, went to Savannah, Georgia to secure American trade." Some Choctaw scouts served with U.S. General Anthony Wayne in the Northwest Indian War.
Starting in October 1785, Taboca, a Choctaw prophet/chief, led over 125 Choctaws to the Keowee, near Seneca Old Town, now known as Hopewell, South Carolina. After two months of travel they met with U.S. representatives Benjamin Hawkins, Andrew Pickens, and Joseph Martin.
In high Choctaw ceremonial symbolism, they named, adopted, smoked, and performed dances, revealing the complex and serious nature of Choctaw diplomacy. One such dance was the eagle tail dance. They explained that the Bald Eagle, who has direct contact with the upper world of the sun, is a symbol of peace. Choctaw women painted in white would adopt and name commissioners as kin.Smoking sealed agreements between peoples and sanctified peace between the two nations. After the rituals, the Choctaws asked for John Woods to live with them to improve communication with the U.S. and in exchange allow Taboca to visit the United States Congress. On January 3, 1786, the Treaty of Hopewell was signed. Article 11 stated, "the hatchet shall be forever buried, and the peace given by the United States of America, and friendship re-established between the said states on the one part, and all the Choctaw nation on the other part, shall be universal; and the contracting parties shall use their utmost endeavors to maintain the peace given as aforesaid, and friend ship re-established."
The treaty required the return of escaped slaves, turning over of any Choctaws who had been convicted of crimes by the U.S., establishment of borderlines between the U.S. and Choctaw Nation, and the return of any property which had been captured during the Revolutionary War.
|"These white Americans ... give us fair exchange, their cloth, their guns, their tools, implements, and other things which the Choctaws need but do not make ... They have given us cotton gins, which simplify the spinning and sale of our cotton; they have encouraged and helped us in the production of our crops; they have taken many of our wives into their homes to teach them useful things, and pay them for their work while learning ... They doctored our sick; they clothed our suffering; they fed our hungry ... So in marked contrast with the experience of the Shawnees, it will be seen that the whites and Indians in this section are living on friendly and mutually beneficial terms." |
Pushmataha, 1811 - Sharing Choctaw History.
Tecumseh, 1811 - The Portable North American Indian Reader.
Early in 1811, Tecumseh attempted to recover lands from U.S. settlers. Tecumseh met the Choctaws to persuade them to join the alliance. Pushmataha, considered by historians to be the greatest Choctaw leader, countered Tecumseh's influence. As chief for the Six Towns district, Pushmataha strongly resisted such a plan, arguing that the Choctaw and their neighbors the Chickasaw had always lived in peace with European-Americans, had learned valuable skills and technologies, and had received honest treatment and fair trade. The joint Choctaw-Chickasaw council then voted against alliance with Tecumseh. On Tecumseh's departure, Pushmataha accused him of tyranny over his own Shawnee tribe and other tribes. Pushmataha warned Tecumeseh that he would fight against those who fought the United States.
With the outbreak of war, Pushmataha led the Choctaws in alliance with the U.S., arguing in favor of opposing the Creek alliance with Britain after the massacre at Fort Mims. He arrived at St. Stephens, Alabama in mid-1813 with an offer of alliance and recruitment. He was escorted to Mobile to speak with General Flournoy, then commanding the district. Flournoy initially declined Pushmataha's offer, offending the chief. However, Flournoy's staff quickly convinced him to reverse his decision, and a courier with a message accepting the offer of alliance caught up with Pushmataha at St. Stephens.
Returning to Choctaw territory, Pushmataha raised a company of 125 Choctaw warriors with a rousing speech and was commissioned (as either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Brigadier General) in the United States Army at St. Stephens. After observing that the officers and their wives would promenade along the Alabama River, Pushmataha summoned his own wife to St. Stephens and also took part in this custom, helping to elevate women's status in his tribe.
Pushmataha joined the U.S. Army under General Claiborne in mid-November, and 125 Choctaw warriors took part in an attack on Creek forces at Kantachi (near present day Econochaca, Alabama) on 23 December 1813. With this victory, Choctaws began to volunteer in greater numbers from the other two districts of the tribe. By February 1814, a larger band of Choctaws under Pushmataha had joined General Andrew Jackson's force for the sweeping of the Creek territories near Pensacola, Florida. Many Choctaws departed from the Jackon's main force after the final defeat of the Creek at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. By the Battle of New Orleans, only a few Choctaws remained with the army; however, they were the only Native American tribe represented in the battle.
In October 1820, Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hinds were sent, as commissioners representing the United States, to conduct a treaty that would surrender a portion of Choctaw country in present day Mississippi. They met with chiefs, mingos (leaders), and headsmen like Colonel Silas Dinsmore and Chief Pushmataha at Doak's Stand on the Natchez Trace. The convention began on October 10 with a talk by "Sharp Knife", the nickname of Jackson, to more than 500 Choctaws. Pushmataha accused Jackson of deceiving them about the quality of land west of the Mississippi. Pushmataha responded to Jackson's retort with "I know the country well ... The grass is everywhere very short ... There are but few beavers, and the honey and fruit are rare things." Jackson resorted to threats, which pressured the Choctaws to sign the Doak's Stand treaty. Historian Anna Lewis reports that Apuckshunubbee was blackmailed by Jackson to sign the treaty. On October 18, the Treaty of Doak's Stand was signed.
Finally Jackson resorted to threats and a temper tantrum to gain their consent. He warned them of the loss of American friendship; he promised to wage war against them and destroy the Nation; finally he shouted his determination to remove them whether they liked it or not.|20px|20px|- Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson
Article 4 of the Treaty of Doak's Stand prepared Choctaws to become U.S. citizens when he or she became "civilized." This article would later influence Article 14 in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. In four years Choctaws would meet with Americans in Washington City to discuss ceding more land.
ARTICLE 4. The boundaries hereby established between the Choctaw Indians and the United States, on this side of the Mississippi river, shall remain without alteration until the period at which said nation shall become so civilized and enlightened as to be made citizens of the United States ... |20px|20px|- Treaty with the Choctaw, 1820
Apuckshunubbee, Pushmataha, and Mosholatubbee, the principal leaders of the Choctaws, went to Washington City (the 19th century name for Washington, D.C.) to discuss encroaching settlement, and to seek either expulsion of the settlers or financial compensation. The group also included Talking Warrior, Red Fort, Nittahkachee, Col. Robert Cole and David Folsom, both half-breed Indians, Captain Daniel McCurtain, and Major John Pitchlynn, the U.S. Interpreter.
Pushmataha met with President James Monroe and gave a speech to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, reminding him of the longstanding alliances between the United States and the Choctaws. He said, "[I] can say and tell the truth that no Choctaw ever drew his bow against the United States ... My nation has given of their country until it is very small. We are in trouble." On January 20, 1825, the Treaty of Washington City was signed which ceded even more Choctaw country.
''Mingo [Apuckshunubee] died the last of October or first of November 1824. In attempting to go to the river in Maysville, he missed his way and was precipitated over the abutments below, a distance of from 15 to 20 feet and received so severe a contusion on his head with other injuries as to render his recovery hopeless ... His remains were conveyed to the narrow house of the grave and interred with military honors. He was about 80 years of age ...'|20px|20px|- Maysville Eagle, 1824.
Apuckshunubbee died in Maysville, Kentucky; and Pushmataha died in Washington. Apuckshunubbee was reported to have died from a broken neck caused by a fall from a hotel balcony. Other historians say he fell from a cliff. Pushmataha died of croup, even though the disease usually only afflicts infants and young children. Pushmataha was giving full U.S. Military burial honors and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The deaths of these two leaders effectively crippled the Choctaw Nation. Within six years the Choctaw were forced to cede their last remaining territory in Mississippi to the United States.
On August 25, 1830, the Choctaws were supposed to meet with Andrew Jackson in Franklin, Tennessee, but Greenwood Leflore informed Secretary of War John H. Eaton that the warriors were fiercely opposed to attending. President Jackson was angered. Journalist Len Green writes "although angered by the Choctaw refusal to meet him in Tennessee, Jackson felt from LeFlore's words that he might have a foot in the door and dispatched Secretary of War Eaton and John Coffee to meet with the Choctaws in their nation." Jackson appointed Eaton and General John Coffee as commissioners to represent him to meet the Choctaws where the rabbits gather to dance.
The commissioners met with the chiefs and headmen on September 15, 1830, at Dancing Rabbit Creek. In carnival-like atmosphere, the policy of removal was explained to a audience of 6,000 men, women and children. The Choctaws would now face migration or submit to U.S. law as citizens. The treaty would sign away the remaining traditional homeland to the United States; however, a provision in the treaty made removal more acceptable.
ART. XIV. Each Choctaw head of a family being desirous to remain and become a citizen of the States, shall be permitted to do so, by signifying his intention to the Agent within six months from the ratification of this Treaty, and he or she shall thereupon be entitled to a reservation of one section of six hundred and forty acres of land ...|20px|20px|- Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, 1830
On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed. It was one of the largest ever signed between the U.S. Government and Native Americans without being instigated by warfare. The treaty signed away the remaining traditional homelands and opened it up for American settlement. Article 14 allowed for Choctaws to remain in the state of Mississippi and to become the first major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens. Article 22 sought to put a Choctaw representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Choctaw at this crucial time became two distinct groups—the Nation in Oklahoma and the Tribe in Mississippi. The nation retained its autonomy, but the tribe in Mississippi submitted to state and federal laws.
To the voters of Mississippi. Fellow Citizens:-I have fought for you, I have been by your own act, made a citizen of your state; ... According to your laws I am an American citizen, ... I have always battled on the side of this republic ... I have been told by my white brethren, that the pen of history is impartial, and that in after years, our forlorn kindred will have justice and "mercy too" ... I wish you would elect me a member to the next Congress of the [United] States.|20px|20px| Mushulatubba, Christian Mirror and N.H. Observer, July 1830.
After ceding nearly , the Choctaw emigrated in three stages: the first in the fall of 1831, the second in 1832 and the last in 1833. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1831, and the President was anxious to make it a model of removal. George W. Harkins wrote a letter to the American people before the removals began.
It is with considerable diffidence that I attempt to address the American people, knowing and feeling sensibly my incompetency; and believing that your highly and well improved minds would not be well entertained by the address of a Choctaw ... We as Choctaws rather chose to suffer and be free ...|20px|20px|-George W. Harkins, George W. Harkins to the American People
In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn't watch without feeling one's heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. "To be free," he answered, could never get any other reason out of him. We ... watch the expulsion ... of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.|20px|20px|- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Approximately 5,000–6,000 Choctaws remained in Mississippi in 1831 after the initial removal efforts. U.S. agent William Ward, who was responsible for registration under article XIV, violently opposed the Choctaws’ treaty rights; however, he reluctantly registered some Choctaws out of token compliance. For the next ten years they were objects of increasing legal conflict, racism, harassment, and intimidation. The Choctaws describe their situation in 1849, "we have had our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died." Joseph B. Cobb, who moved to Mississippi from Georgia, described Choctaws as having "no nobility or virtue at all, and in some respect he found blacks, especially native Africans, more interesting and admirable, the red man's superior in every way. The Choctaw and Chickasaw, the tribes he knew best, were beneath contempt, that is, even worse than black slaves." Removal continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1846 1,000 Choctaws removed, and in 1903 three hundred Mississippi Choctaws were persuaded to move to the Nation in Oklahoma. By 1930 only 1,665 remained in Mississippi.
In the 1840s, the Choctaw chief Greenwood LeFlore stayed in Mississippi after the signing of Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and became an American citizen, a successful businessman, and a state politician. He was a Mississippi representative and senator, a fixture of Mississippi high society, and a personal friend of Jefferson Davis. He represented his county in the house for two terms and served as a senator for one term. The Latin language was a popular communication vehicle among the elite and was from time to time used in politics. LeFlore, in defense of his heritage, spoke in the Choctaw language and asked the floor which was better understood, Latin or Choctaw.
Midway through the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), a group of Choctaws collected $710 (although many articles say the original amount was $170 after a misprint in Angi Debo's "The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Nation") and sent it to help starving Irish men, women and children. "It had been just 16 years since the Choctaw people had experienced the Trail of Tears, and they had faced starvation ... It was an amazing gesture. By today's standards, it might be a million dollars" according to Judy Allen, editor of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma's newspaper, Bishinik, based at the Oklahoma Choctaw tribal headquarters in Durant, Oklahoma. To mark the 150th anniversary, eight Irish people retraced the Trail of Tears.
Peter Pitchlynn, who was in Washington City in 1861 when the war started, immediately returned home, hoping to escape the expected strife. He had been there to address national affairs of the Choctaws. Soon Confederate battalions were formed in Oklahoma and later in Mississippi in support of the southern cause. The Choctaws, who were expecting support from the Confederates, got little. Webb Garrison, a Civil War historian, describes their response: when Confederate Brigadier General Albert Pike authorized the raising of regiments during the fall of 1860, Creeks, Choctaws, and Cherokees responded with considerable enthusiasm. Their zeal for the Confederate cause, however, began to evaporate when they found that neither arms nor pay had been arranged for them. A disgusted officer later acknowledged that "with the exception of a partial supply for the Choctaw regiment, no tents, clothing, or camp and garrison equippage was furnished to any of them."
In Oklahoma, Jackson McCurtain, who would later become a district chief, was elected as representative from Sugar Loaf County to the National Council in October 1859. On June 22, 1861, he enlisted in the First Regiment of Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles. He was commissioned Captain of Company G under the command of Colonel Douglas H. Cooper of the Confederate Army. In 1862 he became a Lieutenant Colonel of the First Choctaw Battalion.
The Confederacy wanted to recruit Indians in 1862, so they opened up a recruiting camp in Mobile, Alabama "at the foot of Stone Street." The Mobile Advertiser and Register would advertise for a chance at military service.
A Chance for Active Service. The Secretary of War has authorized me to enlist all the Indians east of the Mississippi River into the service of the Confederate States, as Scouts. In addition to the Indians, I will receive all white male citizens, who are good marksmen. To each member, Fifty Dollars Bounty, clothes, arms, camp equipage &c: furnished. The weapons shall be Enfield Rifles. For further information address me at Mobile, Ala. (Signed) S.G. Spann, Comm'ing Choctaw Forces.|20px|20px|- Jacqueline Anderson Matte, They Say the Wind is Red
General Arnold Spann organized the first battalion of Choctaws in Mississippi in February 1863. After a train wreck, referred to as the Chunky Creek Train Wreck of 1863, near Hickory, Mississippi, the Choctaw Battalion, which had been organized days earlier, led rescue and recovery efforts. Spann described the scene, "the engineer was under military orders, and his long train of cars was filled with Confederate soldiers, who, like the engineer, were animated with but one impulse—to Vicksburg! To victory or death! Onward rushed the engineer. All passed over except the hindmost car. The bridge had swerved out of plumb, and into the raging waters with nearly one hundred soldiers the rear car was precipitated. 'Help!' was the cry, but there was no help." Boggan writes of the rescue, "help came quicker than expected. The First Battalion of Choctaw Indians, under the command of Major S. G. Spann, was based at a Confederate military training camp near the crash scene. Led by Jack Amos and Elder Williams, the Indians rushed to the scene, stripped, and plunged into the flooded creek. Many of the passengers were rescued due to their heroic acts." Noted Choctaw Historian Clara Kidwell writes, "in an act of heroism in Mississippi, Choctaws rescued twenty three survivors and retrieved ninety bodies when a Confederate troop train plunged off a bridge and fell into the Chunky River."
Major S. G. Spann, Commander of Dabney H. Maury Camp of Meridian, Mississippi, wrote about the deeds of the Choctaw years after the Civil War had ended.
Many earnest friends and comrades insist that the Choctaw Indian as a Confederate soldier should receive his proper place on the scroll of events during the American Civil War. This task having been so nearly ignored, I send some reminiscences that will be an exponent of the extraordinary merit of the Choctaw Indian on the American Continent. My connection with the Choctaw Indians was brought about incidentally: Maj. J.W. Pearce, of Hazelhurst, Miss., organized a battalion of Choctaw Indians, of Kemper, DeKalb, Neshoba, Jasper, Scott], and Newton Counties, Miss., known as "First Battalion of Choctaw Indians, Confederate army."|20px|20px|Maj. S. G. Spann- Confederate Veteran Magazine Volume XIII
Mississippi Choctaws were captured in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, and several died in a Union prison in New York. Spann describes the incident, "[Maj. J.W. Pearce] established two camps—a recruiting camp in Newton County and a drill camp at Tangipahoa—just beyond the State boundary line in Louisiana in the fall of 1862. New Orleans at that time was in the hands of the Federal Gen. B.F. Butler. Without notice a reconnoitering party of the enemy raided the camp, and captured over two dozen Indians and several noncommissioned white officers and carried them to New Orleans. All the officers and several of the Indians escaped and returned to the Newton County camp; but all the balance of the captured Indians were carried to New York, and were daily paraded in the public parks as curiosities for the sport of sight-seers."
From about 1865 to 1918, Mississippi Choctaws were largely ignored by governmental, health, and educational services and fell into obscurity. Records about the Mississippi Choctaw during this period are non-existent. They had no legal recourse and so were bullied and intimidated by local whites. They choose to live in isolation and practiced their culture as they had for generations. Mississippi Choctaws had become socially similar to African-Americans; they were non-white, landless, and had minimal legal protection. Most men would earn a living by becoming sharecroppers while the women created and sold traditional hand-woven baskets. Choctaw sharecropping declined in the 1950s when farming mechanization became more prevalent.
Prior to removal, the Choctaws had interacted with Africans in their native homeland of Mississippi. Slavery was an European-American institution which the Choctaws adapted. During the pre-civil war period African-American slaves had more legal protection than did the Choctaw. Moshulatubbee, an important Choctaw chief, had slaves, as did many of the Europeans who married into the Choctaw nation. Slavery remained in the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma until 1866. Former slaves of the Choctaw Nation were called the Choctaw Freedmen; the Choctaw Freedmen were granted citizenship to the Choctaw Nation in 1885.
In 1861 the Choctaws in Oklahoma signed the Treaty with Choctaws and Chickasaws with the Confederate States of America. As slave holders, they identified with the Southern cause and, only being a generation passed, remembered well the Indian removals from thirty years earlier. The main reason the Choctaw Nation agreed to sign the treaty was for protection from regional tribes. The Confederacy’s loss was also the Choctaw Nation’s loss. Soon new treaties were made with the U.S. government acquiring land and access rights across Indian Territory. Choctaw chief Allen Wright suggested “Oklahoma” (red people) as the name of the new recently ceded territory. In the mean time the U.S. government was devising more plans to acquire even more Indian lands.
The Indian Appropriations Bill of 1889 was passed and signed into law with an amendment by Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer, that authorized President Benjamin Harrison to open the two million acres (8,000 km²) for settlement resulting in the Land Run of 1889. The nation was overwhelmed with new settlers and couldn’t regulate their activities.
In 1905, the Five Civilized Tribes met at the Sequoyah Convention to counter dissolution of their governments by proposing the State of Sequoyah, but the motion was aborted. The convention's Sequoyah state model became the model for the new state's constitution. Indian Territory was combined with Oklahoma territory becoming the 46th state to enter the union. Eventually in 1906 the U.S. dissolved the governments of the Five Civilized Tribes; however, the Choctaw Nation continued to protect resources not stipulated in treaty or law.
In the closing days of World War I, a group of Choctaws serving in the U.S. Army used their native language as a secret code. The Choctaws were the forerunners to Native Americans from various nations, most notably the Navajo, who served as telephone and radio operators, or code talkers, during World War II. Captain Lawrence, who was a company commander, overheard Solomon Louis and Mitchell Bobb conversing in the Choctaw language. He asked them if there were more Choctaws and found out there were eight men in the battalion.
Eventually fourteen Choctaw Indian men in the Army's 36th Division, trained to use their language, helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France, the final big German push of the war. Within 24 hours after the Choctaw language was pressed into service, the tide of the battle had turned, and in less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were on full attack. The Code Talker Recognition Act (HR 4597 and S 1035) will recognize these veterans, and those of all tribes, who were often until recently ignored for their service performed for the United States. The 14 Choctaw Code Talkers were Albert Billy, Mitchell Bobb, Victor Brown, Ben Caterby, James Edwards, Tobias Frazer, Ben Hampton, Solomon Louis, Pete Maytubby, Jeff Nelson, Joseph Oklahombi, Robert Taylor, Calvin Wilson, and Walter Veach.
In 1918 a Choctaw Agency was established to address the needs of the Mississippi Choctaw; it based in Philadelphia, Mississippi with Dr. Frank McKinley as the first superintendent. Prior to McKinley's arrival, the Choctaws had grouped themselves in six communities. A Special Narrative Report was sent to John Collier in 1933 describing the welfare of Mississippi Choctaws; it was instrumental in re-organizing the Mississippi Choctaw as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
In 1945, lands in Neshoba County, Mississippi and the surrounding counties were set aside as a federal Indian reservation. There are eight communities of reservation land: Bogue Chitto, Bogue Homa, Conehatta, Crystal Ridge, Pearl River, Red Water, Tucker, and Standing Pine. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 allowed the Mississippi Choctaws to become re-organized on April 20, 1945 as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
In the 1950s, Phillip Martin, who had served in the U. S. Army in Europe during World War II, intended only to visit his Neshoba county home; but after seeing the poverty of his people, he was compelled by conscience to stay. Martin served as chairperson in various Choctaw committees up until 1977. Martin was then elected in 1977 as Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians where he served until 2007. Will Campbell, a Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist, witnessed the destitution of the Choctaw. He would later write , "the thing I remember the most ... was the depressing sight of the Choctaws, their shanties along the country roads, grown men lounging on the dirt streets of their villages in demeaning idleness, sometimes drinking from a common bottle, sharing a roll-your-own cigarette, their half-clad children a picture of hurting that would never end."
Indian termination policy was a policy that the United States Congress legislated in 1953 to assimilate the Native American communities with mainstream America. In 1959, the Choctaw Termination Act was passed. Unless repealed by the federal government, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma would effectively be terminated as a sovereign nation as of August 25, 1970.
The Choctaws witnessed the social forces that brought Freedom Summer to their ancient homeland. The Civil Rights Era produced significant social change for the Choctaws in Mississippi. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most jobs were given to whites, then blacks. The Choctaws, who for 150 years had been neither white nor black, were left where they had always been. Donna Ladd wrote that a Choctaw, now in her 40s, remembers "as a little girl, she thought that a 'white only' sign in a local store meant she could only order white, or vanilla, ice cream. It was a small story, but one that shows how a third race can easily get left out of the attempts for understanding." The end of racial segregation permitted the Choctaws to participate in institutions that were reserved exclusively for white patrons.
On June 21, 1964 James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (renowned civil rights workers) disappeared; their remains were later found in a newly constructed dam. A crucial turning point in the FBI investigation came when the charred remains of the murdered Mississippi civil rights workers' station wagon was found on a Mississippi Choctaw reservation. Two Choctaw women, who were in the back seat of a deputy's patrol car, said they witnessed the meeting of two conspirators who expressed their desire to "beat-up" the boys.
Between 1965 and 1982 Native Americans realized the value of their ancient heritage; the trend toward abandoment of Indian culture and tradition was dramatically reversed. In the 1970s, the Choctaws repudiated the Indian activism. The Oklahoma Choctaw sought a local grassroots solution to reclaim their cultural identity and sovereignty as a nation. 1975 also marked the year that the United States Congress passed the landmark Indian Self-determination and Education Act.
In 1987 the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that federally recognized tribes could operate gaming facilities free from state regulation. U.S. Congress soon enacted the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which sets the terms for how Native American tribes are permitted to operate casinos. In 1992 Governor Kirk Fordice finally gave permission, after a long wait under the Ray Mabus administration, for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw to develop a Class III gaming casino and resort.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) has one of the largest casinos located in Choctaw, Mississippi. The Silver Star Casino opened its doors in 1994. The Golden Moon Casino opened in 2002. The casinos are collectively known as the Pearl River Resort. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma also operates the Choctaw Casino Resort and Choctaw Casino Bingo, popular gaming destinations in Durant (near the Oklahoma-Texas border) for residents of Southern Oklahoma and North Texas, most notably the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon inflated and divided profits from $15 million in payment from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Congressional hearings were held and charges were brought against Abramoff and Scanlon. In an e-mail sent January 29, 2002, Abramoff tells Scanlon "I have to meet with the monkeys from the Choctaw tribal council."
After nearly two hundred years, Nanih Waiya was returned. Nanih Waiya was a state park of Mississippi until the Mississippi Legislature State Bill 2803 officially returned control to Choctaws in 2006.
Choctaw culture has greatly evolved over the centuries combining mostly European-American influences; however, interaction with Spain, France, and England greatly shaped it as well. They were known for their rapid incorporation of modernity, developing a written language, transitioning to yeoman farming methods, and accepting European-Americans and African-Americans into their society. In mid-summer the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians celebrate their culture during the Choctaw Indian Fair with ball games, dancing, cooking and entertainment.
Choctaw stickball, the oldest field sport in North America, was also know as the "little brother of war" because of its roughness and substitution for war. When disputes arose between Choctaw communities, stickball provided a civil way to settle issues. The stickball games would involve as few as twenty or as many as 300 players. The goal posts could be from a few hundred feet apart to a few miles. Goal posts were sometimes located within each opposing team's village. A Jesuit priest referenced stickball in 1729, and George Catlin painted the subject. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians continue to practice the sport.
Chunke was a game that consisted of a stone shaped disk that was about 1–2 inches in length. The disk was thrown down a corridor so that it could roll past the players at great speed. The disk would roll down the corridor, and players would throw wooden shafts at the moving disk. The object of the game was to strike the disk or prevent your opponents from hitting it.
Other games included a corn, cane, and moccasin games. The corn game included 5–7 kernals of corn. One side was blackened and the other side white. Points were assigned for each color. One point was awarded for the black side and 5-7 points for the white side. There were usually only two players.
The Choctaw language is a member of the Muskogean family and was well known among the frontiersmen, such as U.S. President Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, of the early 19th century. The language is closely related to Chickasaw and some linguists consider the two dialects a single language. The Choctaw language is the essence of tribal culture, tradition, and identity. Many Choctaw adults learned to speak the language before speaking English. The language is a part of daily life on the Mississippi Choctaw reservation. The following table is an example of Choctaw text and its translation:
|Chata Anumpa: Hattak yuka keyu hokʊtto yakohmit itibachʊfat hieli kʊt, nan isht imaiʊlhpiesa atokmʊt itilawashke; yohmi ha hattak nana hohkia, keyukmʊt kanohmi hohkia okla moma nana isht aim aiʊlhpiesa, micha isht aimaiʊlhtoba he aima ka kanohmi bano hosh isht ik imaiʊlhpieso kashke. Amba moma kʊt nana isht imachukma chi ho tuksʊli hokmakashke.|
|English Language: That all free men, when they form a special compact, are equal in rights, and that no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive, separate public emolument or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services.|
The Choctaws believed in a good spirit and an evil spirit, and they may have been sun, or Hushtahli, worshipers. Swanton writes, "the Choctaws anciently regarded the sun as a deity ... the sun was ascribed the power of life and death. He was represented as looking down upon the earth, and as long as he kept his flaming eye fixed on any one, the person was safe ... fire, as the most striking representation of the sun, was considered as possessing intelligence, and as acting in concert with the sun ... [having] constant intercourse with the sun ..." The word nanpisa (the one who sees) expresses the reverence the Choctaw had for the sun.
Anthropologist theorize that the Mississippian ancestors of the Choctaw placed the sun at the center of their cosmological system. Mid-eighteenth-century Choctaws did view the sun as a being endowed with life. Choctaw diplomats, for example, spoke only on sunny days. If the day of a conference were cloudy or rainy, Choctaws delayed the meeting, usually on the pretext that they needed more time to discuss particulars, until the sun returned. The sun made sure that all talks were honest. The sun as a symbol of great power and reverence is a major componenet of southeastern Indian cultures.|20px|20px|- Greg O'Brien, Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750-1830
Prayers may have been introduced by missionaries; however, Choctaw prophets were known to have addressed the sun. Swanton writes, "an old Choctaw informed Wright that before the arrival of the missionaries, they had no conception of prayer. However, he adds, 'I have indeed heard it asserted by some, that anciently their hopaii, or prophets, on some occasions were accustomed to address the sun ...'"
The colorful dresses worn by today's Choctaw are made by hand and adapted from 19th century European-American designs. Choctaws today wear Choctaw clothing mainly for special events. Choctaw elders, especially the Choctaw women, dress in their traditional garb every day. Choctaw dresses are trimmed by full diamond, half diamond or circle and crosses that represent stickball sticks.
Land was the most valuable asset Native Americans held in collective stewardship. Choctaw land was systematcially obtained through treaties, legislation, and threats of warfare. Although there were many treaties with Great Britain, France, and Spain; nine treaties were signed between the Choctaws and the United States. Some treaties, like the Treaty of San Lorenzo, indirectly affected the Choctaws.
Reservations can be found in Alabama-(MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians), Louisiana-(Jena Band of Choctaw Indians; United Houma Nation; Choctaw-Apache of Ebarb; Bayou Lacombe Choctaw; Clifton Choctaw), Texas-(Mount Tabor Indian Community), Mississippi-(Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians), and Oklahoma-(Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma). Other population centers include California, Oregon, Dallas, Houston and Chicago.
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