Choctaw Removal
by Jerri (Rogers) Chasteen


        The Georgia Compact of 1802 provided that the federal government, at their own expense, would "as soon as could peaceable be accomplished" extinguish the Indian title to all lands within the reserved limits that the state of Georgia had claimed for themselves. At that time this area extended westward to the eastern banks of the Mississippi River, and included the lands (then held by treaties) of the Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes. More and more so-called "treaties" were imposed upon these tribes, but many times negotiated with corruptible chiefs, and not to the benefit of the tribes general population. In modern terms this has been compared to the present-day state of Delaware, on account of special favours and considerations to their population, voting to cede the entire United States to a foreign nation, and that vote being upheld!

        After the Louisiana Purchase of the lands west of the Mississippi, more pressure and inducements were provided to these tribes who stubbornly refuse to leave the lands of their ancestors. The 1820 treaty of Doaks Stand "exchanged" 4,150,000 acres of the prime cotton-growing delta region of the Choctaw Nation for lands of questionable quality west of the Mississippi River, in the (then) new "Indian Territory".

        By 1830 these tribes fate had been sealed by the well-known Indian hating president; Andrew Jackson. "Peaceably" or otherwise, their lands would be forfeited to the ever increasing pressures of the land-hungry settlers. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, negotiated between the federal government and the Choctaw tribe, was only a token formality. Under these terms all of the lands remaining under the control of the Choctaw Nation, being 10,421,139 acres, would be exchanged for the same land in Indian Territory that the Choctaws already owned under the terms of the Treaty of Doaks Stand! The Choctaw Nation would receive title in fee simple to an area west of Arkansas Territory, lying between the Arkansas and Canadian rivers on the north and the Red River on the south.

        The 14th article of the treaty provided for those Choctaw citizens who wished to remain and become citizens of the United States to be issued Choctaw Land Script. This would allow these people to purchase, at a reduced cost, any public land of the United States. Many of the Choctaws had been issued these transferable land scripts, and then returned to their home to prepare for their journey to the west. Had they even wanted to stay and use this script, it would be in a land that would become overrun with the white settlers. In addition, they had no money with which to purchase this land even at a reduced price. In fact, they would not receive their "final accounting" under the terms of the treaty for another 60 years! The script did serve a purpose, however. During the forced removal by agents of the government who were totally ill prepared as far as transportation and provisions for these Indians, many of the land certificates were exchanged to the greedy merchants along the way for a mere sack of corn to feed their starving children. Most of these certificates were bartered in Arkansas Territory, and were then resold to the white settlers then coming into the territory to purchase public lands in the newly opened regions. This would mean that the white settler could afford to purchase a larger amount of land at a price actually less than a smaller area would have cost them, had they not held the script. Unfortunately, since the release of the Arkansas land records on CD-Rom by the Bureau of Land Management, many people are confused into believing that their ancestors were Choctaw, simply because the ancestor used Choctaw Script to purchase land in that state, and the name of the Indian is listed in the records.

        In an account publish at that time the area between the old lands in Mississippi and the new lands that these people would be passing through to go to the west was described as including many vast and dangerous swamps, averaging fifty miles in width, heavy forests, unfordable streams, impenetratable swamps and dense cane breaks. The very few white settlements were scattered along the larger streams, which were the frontier's "highways" and used by keel-boats bringing in supplies to these communities. During the times of high-water, the smaller steamboats could ascend the Arkansas River as far as Fort Smith, occasionally to Fort Gibson, and up the Ouachita as far as the present-day town of Camden Arkansas. Overland travel was difficult and only made over rough trails on horseback and with pack animals.

        The great majority of the Choctaws were bitterly opposed to the sale of the tribal lands and the removal to the west. It was truthfully said that the nation "was literally in mourning". Small parties of Choctaws made their departure for the new country as early as November of 1830. These first parties pressed ahead to the Saline river in Arkansas where they stopped for five weeks to build a ferry for those who were to follow. After extreme suffering from hunger and exposure to severe winter weather during much of the 550 mile journey, the surviving ninety-two Choctaws arrived in an emaciated condition at the Kiamichi River in February of 1831. Here they settled into the shelter of the abandoned and partially burned old Fort Towson, to barely survive on a scant supply of corn. These small provisions had been brought many miles by packhorses by one of their missionaries, the Reverend Talley, who had preceded them to the western lands.

        During the following several years other groups were brought from the Choctaw Nation, usually with the same disastrous consequence. One group of 4,000 Choctaws were scarcely in boats on the Mississippi River when a severe winter storm overtook them. This was the beginning of one of the worst blizzards ever experienced to that time. 2,500 Choctaws were huddled in the open near the Arkansas Post, some bare-footed, many without blankets, to suffer the fury of the storm. The next group of about 8,000 were exposed and contracted cholera in the waterfronts along the river, while awaiting their turn to board the boats, resulting in a heavy loss of lives. Another group of 300 Choctaws, being transported from the southern part of their nation and on a ferry crossing Lake Providence in Louisiana, were struck by a sudden storm, but it did not appear that any lives were lost. In total it is estimated that 17,500 Choctaws emigrated to Indian Territory, with another 1,200 who remained in Mississippi.

        The Choctaws not only endured the suffering from hunger and cold, the sickness and death in the removal to Indian Territory, but (as previously remarked) to collect the amounts adjudicated to them through the courts took over 60 years, and almost all of the money due to them under the terms of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

        The descendants of this proud race have many reasons to honor them. Never forget that only by your ancestor's sacrifices, their resiliency and their steadfast determination to survive as a tribal entity are you able to say---

"I am Choctaw"

 This article is the work of , any comments or question should be sent to Jerri, please.