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The Choctaw Indians
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Choctaw Code Talkers in WWI
The Code Talkers: Solomon Louis, Bennington Mitchell Bobb, Smithville Ben Carterby (Bismark), Wright City Robert Taylor, Bokchito or Boswell Jeff Nelson, Kullitukle Pete Maytubby, Broken Bow James Edwards, Ida (now Battiest) Calvin Wilson, Goodwater
Near the end of World War I, the American Army struggled to keep the Germans from breaking their communication codes. Eight Choctaw men who were all serving in the same battalion were overheard speaking in their native language by their Captain. He immediately suggested that the messages be given in Choctaw and then translated back into English. This “code” prevented the Germans from figuring out the American's next move and assisted in the Allies' victory in the Mouse-Argonne Campaign. These victories proved the last big push the Allies needed to send the Germans into retreat and win the war. While these eight Choctaw soldiers were instrumental in the Allied victory, they never received any public recognition or military honors. Their efforts, however, did influence the use of Indian code talkers in World War II, which again aided in an American victory.
Choctaw Donation to Irish during Great Famine
The Choctaw Nation made a generous gift to the starving men, women and children of Ireland during the Great Famine. This was just years after the Choctaw faced starvation and death themselves in their removal from their native lands.
Snake Band Dream Of New Choctaw Nation In Mexico
Our educated people tell us that the white man came to this country to avoid conditions which were not as bad as the present conditions are to us: that he come across the great ocean and sought new homes on order to avoid things which to him were distasteful and wrong.
"All we ask is that we may be permitted to exercise the same privilege. While some of our people might choose to remain here and mingle with the white man, we believe that the Great Father of All created the Indian to fill a proper place in the world and that he has the right to exist as a race." These words were uttered by Choctaw leader Jacob B. Jackson to a delegation of United States Congressmen in Washington, D.C. in 1906. His plea fell upon deaf ears. The request was being made by Jackson and a delegation of Choctaws for the right of a group of some 2,000 Choctaw Indian full-bloods to sell their holdings which are now a port of Oklahoma (mostly in McCurtain County) for the purpose of purchasing land for a new Choctaw Nation in Mexico.
To understand the plea being made by Jackson and the tenor of the times, we must go back to 1893, when the United States Government authorized Sen. William B. Dawes to get up the Dawes Commission to treat with the Indians and cajole or force them to submit communal control of Indian lands and breaking up such lands into individual allotments. In order to "break the back of" the Choctaw Nation, the United States had to accomplish two things. One of these was to force the Choctaw to change his form of government from "horizontal" to "vertical," copying the European governments and to end the so-called "common ownership" of land. The change from "horizontal" to "vertical" government had been accomplished over a long period of years, beginning with the first written Choctaw Constitution in 1826 (not accepted by the tribe) down through the Constitution of 1860 which finally conformed to the form desired by the US Government.
For, with the Constitution of 1860, the Choctaws fully embraced the European form of vertical" government, with a Principal Chief and downward "chain of command" thus ending much of the Choctaw's individual power within his government. However, the Choctaws still held fast to their belief that the land belonged to no one and everyone ... that the land was brother to man and with man's sister ..the water.. was placed here for the use of anyone and everyone in keeping with his or her needs and desires.
In 1894, the Choctaws had elected a strong anti-allotment Principal Chief in Jefferson Gardner, who successfully strangled the efforts of the Dawes Commission for the next two years by simply ignoring them. However, elements within Gardner's own party did not approve of his methods, and as a result the party, officially called the National Party but better known as the "Buzzards" split. Meeting at Tuskahoma in the fall of 1895, one branch of the National Party changed its name to the Independent Party, and nominated Jefferson Gardner for re-election and a second term as Principal Chief.
Then in February of 1896, the other branch of the National Party, made up mostly of full-bloods who resented the leadership of mixed-bloods, met in Atoka and nominated Jacob B. Jackson who was at that time serving as national secretary. In March of 1896, the Progressive Party, popularly known as the "Hawks," met in Talihina and attempted to nominate Gilbert W. Dukes as their standard bearer to challenge the two conservative or "hard-shelled" candidates. However, since this action did not sit too well with some elements of the Progressive Party, they decided to break with the "Hawks," and met in May of 1896 in Tuskahoma, naming their "new" group the Tuskahoma Party and choosing Green McCurtain, a known pro-allotment force, as their candidate.
When all the votes had been counted after the August 1896 election, Green McCurtain held 1,405 votes, Jacob Jackson had received 1,195, Gilbert Dukes had polled 613 votes and the incumbent, Jefferson Gardner, had received 596.
Because McCurtain represented those wishing to deal with the Dawes Commission and his national secretary, Jacob Jackson, opposed any dealings with Dawes, McCurtain's first move was to oust Jackson from office and replace him with Solomon J. Homer. Green McCurtain then led a delegation of Choctaws to South McAlester to meet on Nov. 11, 1896, with the Dawes Commission to "talk the situation over." In addition to McCurtain, this delegation included J. S. Standley, N. B. Ainsworth, Amos Henry, A. S. Williams, Wesley Anderson, D. C. Garland, E. N. Wright and Ben Hampton.
As a result of the McAlester meeting, the delegation recommended to the General Council that the Choctaw Nation enter negotiations with the Dawes Commission and Chief McCurtain was empowered by the Council to enter such negotiations. This led to another meeting on April 1, 1897, between the Choctaw Delegation and the Dawes Commission in Atoka, and on April 23, the "Atoka Agreement" was signed by Green McCurtain and his fellow delegates. The Atoka Agreement provided that Choctaw lands would be allotted, that the Choctaws might reserve townsites and certain mineral rights and that the tribal government could continue to operate but only within specified limits to be set by the United States Government. At a special session of the Choctaw Council, meeting in Tuskahoma, the Atoka Agreement was ratified by a 13-6 vote in the House of Representatives and a 6-4 vote in the Choctaw Senate.
In the meantime up in the Creek Nation, Chito Horjo, a Creek Indian who become popularly known by the white man as "Crazy Snake" because he used a coiled rattle snake as the symbol of effort, was beginning what was to become known as the "Snake Rebellion."
Insisting that the Dawes Commission had no authority to force the Indians to give up their tribal governments or allot tribal lands, Horjo traveled among other tribes enlisting support for his efforts. Soon, most of the major tribes living in the so-called Indian Territory (now eastern Oklahoma) had formed a "Snake Band," made up principally of full-bloods who still embraced the "old ways" and opposed allotments and an end of self-government.
Meeting at Smithville, about 600 Choctaws formed the initial Snake Band, electing Jacob B. Jackson as Chief and naming J. C. Folsom, S. E. Coe, Saul Folsom and Willis Jones to the Snake Council. Jackson owned a home and store at a post he called Hocha Tahli (later Hochatown), and most of the activities of the Choctaw Snake Bond were planned and implemented from that area.
In 1898, the National party did not nominate a candidate for Principal Chief. The Tuskahoma Party nominated Green McCurtain for a second term and the Union Party chose Wilson N. Jones as its standard bearer. McCurtain won. Two years later, in the elections of 1900, the Snake Band, now about 2,000 strong, reactivated the old National Party, and naturally nominated Snake Chief Jacob B. Jackson as its candidate.
Jackson had confirmed his leadership in the Snake Rebellion in 1897-98 by leading a group of Choctaws to Mexico where they talked with the Mexican government about relocating the Choctaw Nation from the United States to Mexico. Negotiations had even reached a point that Jackson and his delegation was willing to sell to the tribe. In addition, the Mexican government pledged that they would allow the Choctaws self-rule, and would see that non-Indians stayed outside the boundaries of the proposed "Choctaw Nation of Mexico."
Since the Constitution of 1860 provided that a chief might serve only two consecutive terms, the Tuskahoma Party nominated Gilbert W. Dukes to succeed Green McCurtain. The Union Party nominated E. N. Wright. But in the August 1900 elections, the Tuskahoma Party hold enough power to elect Dukes over Jackson and Wright, but not by a clear majority. The polarization continued for the next two years, so much so that in 1902 the National Party (or Snake Party) did not even attempt to nominate a candidate for Principal Chief and did not participate in the election.
Over the objections of Gilbert W. Dukes, who felt that he should be allowed to seek a second term, the Tuskahoma Party abandoned him and again turned to Green McCurtain as its candidate. Because of what he considered ill treatment at the hands of the Tuskahoma Party, when the Progressive Party nominated Thomas W. Hunter, Gilbert Dukes threw his support to Hunter.
Balloting was held as usual on the third Wednesday in August, but when the ballots arrived at Tuskahoma, Chief Dukes ordered them locked into a shed and apparently never had them counted. At the request of the Tuskahoma Party, U.S. Army troops from Fort Reno, under the command of Major Starr, were dispatched to Tuskahoma to supervise the counting of the votes. In the meantime, outgoing Chief Gilbert Dukes hod appointed Thomas W. Hunter as Principal Chief and called the General Council into early session in an effort to get them to confirm his appointment.
When the votes were finally counted, Green McCurtain had received 1,645 votes and Hunter had received 956. This was the last time that the Choctaws would elect a Principal chief until 1971.
In the meantime, the Snake Council and Chief Jacob B. Jackson were continuing to promote the idea of relocating the Choctaw Nation from the Indian Territory to Mexico. So it was that in early 1906, armed with petitions carrying the names of more than 2,000 Choctaws (mostly full-bloods), Snake Chief Jacob Jackson led a delegation to Washington, D.C. His proposition was simple. Instead of allotting the land of the petitioners, the United States government would buy it and Jackson and his followers would take that money and use it to purchase a new homeland in Mexico. Despite Jackson's impassioned and logical pleas, the United States government refused and informed Jackson and his followers that they would receive individual allotments as would all Indians residing in the Indian Territory.
In the meantime, Chito Harjo, the leader of the Snake Rebellion come under attack at his home far up in the Creek Nation, and was grievously wounded when a "posse" attacked his home. Since a well-meaning "friend" had enrolled Harjo against his wishes and since he feared to return to his own home, "Crazy Snake" somehow made his way all the way from the Creek Nation to the home of his friend, Charles Babb, about four miles south of Smithville. Possibly because of the bullet fragments still in his leg or because of the long forced trip, Harjo's wounds failed to heal properly, yet he continued to live for almost two years as a guest of Charles Babb. Early in 1910, Chito Harjo died at the Babb home, without ever again seeing his wife or his children, and was buried in the Babb family cemetery south of Smithville. Several years ago, the Oklahoma Historical Society placed a granite marker on Harjo's grove, which stands in the front yard of a home not far from Smithville.
After his failure to earn his people a new nation in Mexico, Jacob B. Jackson returned to his home, now a 160 acre allotment near Hochatown, and quietly lived out his remaining years.
- May 1979
Trail of Tears: The Removal
Following is the introduction to a book I did with nine other Choctaw authors (Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears).
How do you preserve history, culture, and values for generations when there is no written language? Through story. Oral storytelling is an old tradition for Choctaws as it is with many cultures throughout the world. Our ancestors knew the lives they lived and the lessons they learned were important enough to pass on. They did this by telling stories regularly to their children and grandchildren, who in turn matured and passed those stories, as well as their own, to the next generation.
But a time came when these stories began to be forgotten. In boarding school, children were forbidden to tell them in their native language. They became the elders, and concealed the stories of their lives. It became shameful to be Choctaw.
However, in the midst of this loss, Choctaws still carried tradition, language, and story into the next decade and the next. The tribe flourished and grew to the third largest in the United States. And our stories are still alive today.
How many stories have been lost, stories of everyday lives we could learn from? Countless. But there are those Choctaw writers who preserve the history. The work goes far beyond preservation.
We are sharing our stories with the world.
Cultural expert Olin Williams says, “The world needs to know about our history. We need to get our stories down so we can tell others who we are.”
We tell the stories. In our native language, in English, in writing. We tell of the Trail of Tears, the prejudices, the injustices. But we also tell of the triumphs and the faith.
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek
This treaty was the single most important treaty made between the United States and the Choctaw Nation. It forced the Choctaw people to leave their Mississippi homelands for an unknown and, in their eyes, lesser territory.
It wasn’t just about leaving or what monetary possessions they were losing. This was their home from ancient times.
They were connected to the land in a way the white man did not comprehend.
The bones of their ancestors rested there. Nanih Waiya, the sacred mound, could not move with them.
How did such a treaty take place? Four major groups were instrumental in negotiating various treaties and agreements: the Choctaw Nation, the U.S. government, the Christian missionaries, and the settlers of the State of Mississippi. Greed served as the driving factor, hunger for land and westward expansion. Celebrations took place among Mississippians when Andrew Jackson was elected to the presidency. “Remove or be annihilated” became the running threat against the Choctaw people.
The U.S. government had been forcing treaties on the Choctaws for many years. And for as many years, the government had broken those same treaties, sometimes even before the ink dried on the signatures. In early treaties, Choctaws gave up millions of acres of land both in the Alabama and Mississippi territories. This was primarily to repay debts incurred at the government trading posts, set up for that purpose.
In September 1830, the fateful negotiations began at the meeting place of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Some say the main Choctaw leaders walked away near the end, refusing to sign the treaty, and other leaders stepped in to get what they could from the deal. Some say there was simply no choice if they wanted to preserve their status as a nation. Regardless the motivations, on September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed and the fate of the Choctaw Nation, sealed.
This forced a heartbreaking decision: go to the wilderness country west of Arkansas and remain a nation or stay behind among the white people in Mississippi. If they stayed, they were promised farmland and United States citizenship. But they would have to be neighbors with strangers, some of whom were thieves and murderers. The people were split as to whether they should go or stay. Lifelong friends divided. Clans divided. Families divided. But most came to the realization that giving up their homeland and going west was inevitable.
The Trail of Tears
The long journey began in 1831, spread over three main trips, all disastrous for the Choctaw Removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). One Choctaw chief is noted for saying to a reporter,
“This has been a trail of tears and death.”
Thus originated the term Trail of Tears, used to this day to describe the removals of the five “civilized” tribes of the eastern United States.
During the Trail of Tears—which primarily took place over three years—an estimated two thousand of the twenty thousand Choctaws perished from disease, hunger, cold, and drowning. At age eleven, one of my great-grandfathers buried his father along the trail.
Despite the hardships and loss, the Choctaw Nation found ways to thrive in the new land. Their primary tool in this was establishing the tribe as a Christian nation. One section in the 1857 Constitution of the Choctaw Nation states: “No person who denies the being of a God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this nation, nor shall he be allowed his oath in any court of justice.”
Each year, our commemorative Trail of Tears walk is opened with prayer. We remember those who walked the trail for us. We remember the Creator who brought us through.
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was a catalyst to horrific and unjust events. But placed in God’s hands, it was a step toward where the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is today.
Oklahoma is another story to be told. It shows how two cultures have accepted each other and grown together into a great state. “Oklahoma” is a Choctaw word meaning Red People.
The Challenge of this Collection
The tragedies and triumphs of this marked event in both U.S. and Choctaw history inspired the challenging undertaking of compiling this anthology of Removal stories. Some are based on family stories. Some are based on general historical facts.
They all draw on the spirit of the Choctaw people to overcome, to persevere, to thrive.
This is celebrated throughout the collection, while not forgetting the One who did not leave nor forsake our nation.
Choctaw authors from five states spent months meticulously researching and capturing the facts as well as the emotions of our ancestors and the journey they endured. Not all walked the same trail nor during the same time periods. Following the main three trips, the Removal went on for decades with small bands deciding they would join those already in Indian Territory.
Our stories are in danger of not only being lost forever with the forgotten memories of our elders, but are in danger of obscurity in online and federal archives. Our mission is to preserve these in a way that not only insures our children and grandchildren can someday read them, but that they reach audiences around the world.
The stories you are about to read are not in chronological order. Rather, they are arranged to give you background and details, building on each other as you experience the Trail of Tears. Most of the characters in the stories speak Choctaw; however, the dialogue is shown in English with a taste of Choctaw words added in. You will find a glossary of Choctaw words located at the back of the book.
The third largest federal recognized tribe in the United States, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma represents the resilience and faith of a people to overcome in spite of their tragedies. And their many tears.
Touch them through our stories.
Chahta siah hoke,
I am Choctaw,
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer