How to Lose a Nation in Seven Not-So-Easy Treaties
by Len Green
The original Choctaw homeland took in most of what is now the state of Mississippi, plus some smaller land holdings in what are now the present states of Georgia and Alabama. It was rich land, bordered on the west by the Mississippi River, and included the rich bottomlands of both the Tombigbee and Pearl Rivers and their tributaries plus millions of acres of rich timber and hunting lands.
By 1800, the Choctaw Nation had developed into three distinct districts, Okla Hannali (six people or six towns), Ahi Apet Okla (potato eating people) and Okla Falaya (long people or separated people). Okla Hannali occupied the southeastern quarter of the nation, taking up all of the Tombigbee River valley. It drew its name from the fact that the original district (moiety) was made up of a coalition of six iksas (clans). Chief of Okla Hannali district was the redoubtable Pushmataha.
Ahi Apet Okla (later also called Okla Tannip or Upper Towns) drew its name from the fact that instead of preserving potatoes in rock cairns for the winter, as did the two other districts, they sliced the potatoes into thin slivers and dried them with hickory smoke (the world's first potato chips?) and then stored them in baskets. Chief of this district was Moshulotubbee.
Okla Falaya, largest of the three districts took up all of the western half of the Choctaw Nation. Because the district was protected from other warlike Indian tribes by the two other districts on the east and the Mississippi on the west, the families could live farther apart and did not have to congregate into towns for self protection. This explains the name of Okla Falaya. The people were no taller than any other Choctaws, but lived farther apart and wore their hair longer than Choctaws of the other districts. Chief of Okla Falaya District was Apukshunnubbee.
By 1800, enough white families had begun to drift into the area now known as the state of Mississippi to begin a push for statehood and to start an effort to push the Choctaws out of their rich river bottom farming lands and their forest lands. However, the first of the seven treaties that would lead to the removal of the Choctaws was based upon what the United States considered as a military need. This is recorded in history as the "Treaty of Fort Adams."
In the year of 1800 in the Treaty of San Idlefonso, Spain had ceded back to France all of the "Louisiana Territory" given them by France in the Treaty of 1763 including the strategic Mississippi river port city of New Orleans. It was decided by the U. S. Military, who found themselves looking at a French port just across the river, that they needed an extensive "piece of pie" shaped chunk of the Choctaw Nation as a buffer against any possible French invasion through Indian country. Calling the Choctaw leaders into council at Fort Adams, the U. S. Government negotiators asked the Choctaws to cede them 2,641,920 acres, bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico and on the west by the Mississippi. Since all of this acreage would be torn from Okla Falaya district, Apukshunnubbee was unalterably opposed to the treaty and telling the other chiefs that he would never agree to giving up any part of Okla Falaya, withdrew his delegation from the negotiations within hours after the proposal had been made. However, with gifts and offers of trade and money, the leaders of Ahi Apet Okla and Okla Hannali (who weren't losing any of their land) were wooed into signing the treaty. Thus the first treaty, the Treaty of Fort Adams, was signed on Dec. 17, 1801.
In less than two years, the Americans were back, but this time their demands for land were a little more modest. This time, they only wanted the Choctaws to cede them 853,760 acres. Since most of this cession was to be taken from Okla Hannali district, this time Pushmataha was also unhappy with the treaty proposal, and both he and Apukshunnubbee refused to negotiate with the United States. But, despite the fact that only one of the three major chiefs, Moshulatubbee, would sign, the negotiators got what they considered enough Choctaw signatures that they completed and confirmed the Treaty of Hoe Buckintoopo on Aug. 31, 1803.
True to form, within two years, principally because of the pushing and lobbying from Mississippians and other Southerners, United States negotiators were back with even bigger demands for Choctaw lands. This time, they wanted 4,142,720 acres, including another large chunk of Okla Falaya as well as another slice from Okla Hannali, which would give them most of the rich Tombigbee River valley farming lands. Again the negotiators encountered opposition from Apukshunnubbee and Pushmataha but were supported in their efforts by Moshulatubbee, all of whose Ahi Apet Okla district was still untouched by demands. Again, despite very few Choctaws attending the negotiations, the conference agreed and the Treaty of Mount Dexter was signed Nov. 16, 1805. It is ironic to note that in this treaty the U.S. government pledged "this is the last time that the United States will ask the Choctaw Nation to give up any of its traditional homeland and will hereafter respect the Choctaw borders and Choctaw laws." They lived up to this pledge for 15 years, although there was another treaty signed between the Choctaw and the United States government in 1816. This was the treaty of Fort St. Stephen, signed Oct. 24, 1816. It provided a covenant under which Pushmataha led his Choctaw warriors into the American's war against the Creek Tribe in return for trading posts and trading systems between the two nations.
It should be noted that, in the meantime, between the 1805 Treaty of Mt. Dexter and 1820, there had been a major shift in policy concerning the Indians of the southeast within the U.S. Government. And, the decision had been reached that the southeastern tribes, including Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Cherokees and Seminoles must be removed to "someplace in the west" giving all of the rich cotton growing lands east of the Mississippi to the whites. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun apparently settled upon the idea of using the Choctaw Nation as the first target because he was aware of a strong bond of friendship between his chief negotiator, Andrew Jackson, and Pushmataha.
Jackson suggested to Calhoun that perhaps the best approach to the problem of removing the Choctaws would be to offer to exchange a portion of the land in the west to the Choctaws for their homelands in Mississippi. The only western land of which Calhoun had any knowledge was what is known to history as the "Quapaw Cession." His records showed that on Aug. 24, 1818, the Quapaw tribe had ceded to the United States some 13 million acres including all of the land between the Arkansas and the Red Rivers from their sources to their confluence with the Mississippi. This, Calhoun directed Jackson to offer the Choctaws all or any portion of the "Quapaw Cession" deemed necessary, but get them "the farthest south and the farthest west as possible." Jackson asked for enough money from the U.S. government to perhaps "bribe" the Choctaw leaders into signing, but all he managed to jar loose from Calhoun was a sum of $20,000. Jackson was sure that he would have opposition from the Choctaw chiefs, especially Apukshunnubbee. And he also knew that the usually cooperative Moshulatubbee and his old friend, Pushmataha, would also oppose leaving their traditional homeland. However, Jackson also knew that he had one strong ally in the Choctaw Nation, John Pitchlynn (father of Peter P. Pitchlynn and father-in-law of Samuel Garland, both of whom would later serve as principal chiefs of the Choctaw Nation in the west following the Constitution of 1860).
It took Jackson almost a year before he could get the Choctaw leaders to even agree to meet and treat with him. Finally, they reluctantly agreed to meet in council with him on the first Monday in October of 1820 at a Choctaw trading post known as Doak's Stand. With only $20,000 to work with, hope of bribery was out, so Jackson used the money to lay in a 20-day supply of beef and corn and hundreds of gallons of liquor, hoping that a three-week party would dull the senses of the Choctaws enough to get them to sign.
Apukshunnubbee sent word to Jackson that he would meet with him on friendly terms, but would not sell or exchange even one more foot of Okla Falaya. He also said that the negotiators should make no special preparations as his delegation would bring their own supplies to the meeting. However, some of the Choctaws were beginning to waver, as Jackson reported to Calhoun in late August that "Red Food (a prominent Choctaw sub-chief) does not wish to sell any land, but he seems to like the idea of exchanging some of the Choctaw land for new land west of the Mississippi." With all of his preparations made, Jackson left Washington in mid September, arriving at Doaks Stand on Sept. 28 to complete preparations for the negotiations and confer with John Pitchlynn and the "pro-removal" forces Pitchlynn had gathered.
On Oct. 2, Moshulatubbee and his delegation from Ahi Apet Okla arrived at the treaty site, and on the following day, Pushmataha and Apukshunnubbee arrived, each with delegations of about 80 tribesmen from their districts. The Okla Hannali and Ahi Apet Okla Choctaws accepted Jackson's hospitality and his whiskey, but Apukshunnubbee and his men refused rations and whiskey, feeling that they would oppose any deal and not wanting to take the president's hospitality under false pretenses.
On Oct. 3, Jackson addressed the delegation, receiving a strongly negative response to any land exchange. When he asked why they distrusted their old friend from Tennessee (Jackson), Apukshunnubbee replied that their missionary friends had told them Jackson and his commission was "out to cheat" them. Jackson realized that before he could make any headway with the Okla Falayans, he would have to silence or convert the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, a Presbyterian missionary who had become one of the most influential persons inside that district.
So, on Oct. 5, Jackson managed to isolate Rev. Kingsbury, and somehow convinced Kingsbury that there were only two alternatives ... either the Choctaws must agree to the land exchange or face an all out attack by the U. S. Military. Realizing that in event of total war his beloved Choctaws would be annihilated, Cyrus Kingsbury met with Apukshunnubbee, Pushmataha and Moshulatubbee and reluctantly advised them that it would be in their best interest to enter into negotiations with Jackson.
On Oct. 10, formal negotiations were opened, and on Oct. 13 beginning to grow desperate, Jackson offered to exchange the 13 million acre Quapaw Cession west of the Mississippi to the Choctaws for some five million acres of the Choctaw lands in Mississippi. Pushmataha, who as a youth had lived in this area, actually knew more about the land being offered for trade than did Jackson or the United States military, and in secret session with other Choctaw leaders he promoted the deal. After all, the Choctaws would still have some 10 million acres in Mississippi, plus some rich new hunting lands in the west. And, also, Jackson had "sweetened" the pot by offering each Choctaw who emigrated west a blanket, an iron kettle, a rifle, a bullet mold, lead, powder and enough corn to last his family a full year. After wheedling, promising, losing his temper and preaching and hard bargaining, Andrew Jackson convinced enough of the Choctaws, and the Treaty of Doaks Stand was signed on Oct. 18, 1820, the Treaty of Doaks Stand was signed. Even Apukshunnubbee's name appears on the treaty. However, Apukshunnubbee was later reported to have said this was a forgery as he had withdrawn his delegation and left Doaks Stand the day before the treaty was signed, when it become apparent that Pushmataha and Moshulatubbee were going to agree to terms.
Two things became apparent within a month after Andrew Jackson's triumphant inducement of the Choctaws to sign the Treaty of Doaks Stand. First, in pressing for an advantage over the Choctaws, the United States government had ceded the Choctaws more than one third of the land already claimed by the Territory of Arkansas. Second, the vast majority of the Choctaws had no intention of leaving their traditional homeland in Mississippi although their holdings had been reduced to a mere 10,432,130 acres. When the government of the Territory of Arkansas learned that the Choctaws now owned practically half of their territory, they immediately raised a howl demanding that the treaty be rescinded.
But, Calhoun, intent on his plan, was already urging William Ward, his agent to the Choctaws, to get the Choctaws off the land they had ceded to the United States under the treaty headed west. When Ward reported no luck, he was replaced with Edmund Fulsom, who had just about as much success as did Ward. In 1822, Calhoun slacked off his removal effort to cool the rising boundary dispute between the United States and the Territory of Arkansas concerning lands ceded to the Choctaws.
In January of 1823, Calhoun delegated Gen. Thomas Hinds of Mississippi and William Woodward of Arkansas Territory to go into the Choctaw Nation and convince the chiefs that the boundary should be negotiated. They failed. However, the Choctaw chiefs, by this time tired of the bickering, were at least willing to talk about it, and offered to send a delegation to Washington, D. C. to at least discuss the boundary problem.
At first Calhoun refused the Choctaw request for talks. But later, after all else had failed, Calhoun again turned to his old friend and Choctaw "expert," Andrew Jackson, for advice. The wily Jackson, knowing that trying to negotiate with the Choctaws in their own homeland would be a failure, advised Calhoun to bring the chiefs to Washington where they might possibly be "wined, dined and bribed" in to agreeing to the necessary boundary changes. Seeing the wisdom of Jackson's suggestion, Calhoun invited the chiefs to Washington, even increasing the Choctaw delegation to 12, which would allow the three old chiefs to bring their sub-chiefs, war chiefs and a scribe or advisor. He set June 15, 1824 as the date to begin negotiations. But with typical disregard to the white man's concept of time, the Choctaws didn't even leave the nation for Washington until Sept. 20, 1824.
On Sept. 23, 1824, the Choctaw delegation and its military escort reached Maysville, Ky., and here paused for the night. It was here that the Okla Falaya chief Apukshunnubbee was to die. Just what happened to Apukshunnubbee has remained a matter of conjecture among historians. One authority says that Apukshunnubbee, while walking from the hotel to the river, fell from an embankment. Another equally noted authority says that he fell from a second story balcony of the hotel where they were spending the night. Since Apukshunnubbee had always taken the hardest line against the United States in all treaty negotiations and had openly expressed his reluctance to give up anything else to the white man, many Choctaws believed that perhaps the old chief might have received a little "help" from the whites in his "accidental" death. Regardless of how the accident occurred, Apukshunnubbee died from his injuries within 48 hours, and was buried at Maysville.
The remaining chiefs and sub-chiefs decided among themselves that instead of turning back, David Folsom, an intermarried white and a respected sub-chief, would be empowered to speak and act for the Okla Falayans in Washington, where the group arrived on Nov. 1, 1824. After a few tentative maneuvers, Calhoun sensed that if he were to reach an agreement with the Choctaws in the boundary dispute, it would have to be on terms stipulated by the chiefs.
As a result, it was a good treaty for the Choctaws. Atop the gifts and favors already agreed to at Doaks Stand, the Choctaws were granted an additional annual annuity, the government waived all debts owed by the Choctaws and agreed to pay all Choctaws who had fought in the War of 1812 and the Creek War of 1816. And, of course the boundary was fixed. The western boundary of the nation would be the 100th parallel, the southern boundary the south bank of the Red River, the northern boundary the Canadian River to its confluence with the Arkansas River and the Arkansas River to the eastern boundary. The eastern boundary was to begin 100 paces west of the southwest corner of the main garrison at Fort Smith and extend due south to its intersection with the Red River. This is currently the eastern border of Oklahoma. Additionally, the government agreed to clear all whites from the lands assigned to the Indians.
Yet, still another loss was to hit the Choctaw Nation even before the Treaty of 1825 was signed. Pushmataha, patriarch chief of Okla Hannali district, died in Washington on Dec. 24, 1824, almost a month before the treaty was signed. Officially, cause of death was listed as "croup" but many Choctaws felt it was from too much of the white man's whiskey and high living. Pushmataha was buried in Washington's Arlington cemetery.
After the Treaty of 1825 was signed on Jan. 20, 1825, the Choctaw leaders returned to their homeland in Mississippi with all of their concessions. There, despite Calhoun's urging, the Choctaws continued to live.
In March of 1825, John Quincy Adams succeeded James Monroe as president with John C. Calhoun as his vice-president. Adams appointed James Barbour of Virginia as his Secretary of War. Barbour was apparently not surprised at the Choctaw refusal to leave the traditional homeland, and as a general rule he took a conciliatory but "hands off" attitude toward complaints both from the State of Mississippi and the Territory of Arkansas. Thus, the Choctaws enjoyed four years of uneasy peace. But that ended in 1828. Andrew Jackson was elected president, and he was determined to move not only the Choctaws, but also the Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole and Cherokee tribes out of the lands east of the Mississippi.
In the meantime, James S. Conway of Arkansas Territory and Sullivan & Brown Surveyors of St. Louis, Missouri Territory, had been appointed and had surveyed and set up the eastern boundary line of the Indian Territory. And, once the boundary was fixed and approved by the new Bureau of Indian Affairs the white population, which had infiltrated into eastern Oklahoma as far west as the Kiamichi River, was removed back east of the boundary by the military.
Immediately upon assuming office in March of 1829, Andrew Jackson began his promised task of clearing out the Indians. Thus, on July 30, 1829, Secretary of War James Eaton informed Okla Hannali Chief David Folsom that the Choctaws could not continue to survive if they persisted to live east of the Mississippi. Folsom and Greenwood LeFlore, who was serving as chief of Okla Falaya district, tried through the remainder of 1829 to organize the Choctaws into a solid front opposing removal. They even wrote a constitution for the now Choctaw Nation and tried to designate Greenwood LeFlore as Principal Chief. But in early October of 1829, a general council was held which wiped out the efforts of LeFlore and Folsom, with Moshulatubbee named to lead Ahi Apet Okla, Nitakechi (a nephew of Pushmataha) named chief of Okla Hannali, and George W. Harkins (another nephew of Apukshunnubbee) head of Okla Falaya.
While the Choctaws were vainly fighting to "close ranks," and probably at the urging of Andrew Jackson, the Mississippi Legislature, ignoring the fact that the Choctaw Nation was recognized by the United States government as a separate entity, passed strict laws aimed at forcing the Choctaws to leave the state or suffer heavy consequences. In January of 1830, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that all land remaining in the Choctaw Nation belonged to the State of Mississippi and that the Choctaws must pay taxes on that land and must be responsible to Mississippi laws. And, on June 30, 1830, President Jackson signed into law his Indian Policy, making removal of the Choctaws mandatory.
In the meantime, though deposed as chief, Greenwood LeFlore apparently assumed the role of "double agent" working both with the Choctaws and Jackson. He drew up a compromise treaty, forwarding copies to all of the Choctaw chiefs as well as to president Jackson. On April 8, 1830, speaking before a Choctaw general council, LeFlore convinced the tribal leaders that if his proposed treaty for removal could be approved, it would be the best thing for the tribe. He must have been convincing, because on the following morning, the chiefs and sub-chiefs come forward, endorsed Greenwood LeFlore's actions and named him as "chief spokesman" for all three Choctaw districts.
On May 6, Jackson received a copy of the proposed treaty. He was at first surprised that the Choctaws appeared willing to leave Mississippi, but realizing how the treaty favored the Choctaws, he recommended to Congress that it be rejected. Naturally, the senate rejected the treaty. Jackson then invited the Choctaw chiefs to come and talk with him during his summer vacation in Franklin, Tenn. But stung by the rejection of their treaty, the Choctaws refused. Greenwood LeFlore wrote to the president however, stating "we wish our president would send us a talk by some good men who will explain to us in full council the views of the government on the subject of the removal of our people west of the Mississippi," LeFlore wrote.
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. This meeting was scheduled for Sept. 15, 1830, at a location in Noxubbee County between the two prongs of Dancing Rabbit Creek. By the time the Indians began arriving at the meeting site, gambling spots of all sorts were in operation, free whiskey was being dispensed lavishly and all missionaries had been removed from the area and forbidden to return while talks were in progress.
At noon on Saturday, Sept. 18, amidst a carnival type atmosphere, Eaton and Coffee unveiled their treaty terms, along with an ill-concealed threat that failure to negotiate would result on open war between Choctaw and white. The Choctaws were promised all of the provisions of the Treaty of Doaks Stand (kettle, blanket, rifle, ammunition and year's supply of corn) plus provisions for the first three years in the new land and an annuity of $10 per family for a period of 10 years if they would accept removal. The government also agreed to stand all the expense of the removal, offered education to the Choctaws for the next 20 years, and waiting in the new land, a gift of 2,100 blankets, 1,000 axes, 400 cloth weaving looms and additional rifles, powder, ammunition and hand tools for building new homes. The Choctaws were warned that if they chose to remain in Mississippi, they would have to give up their birthright, become citizens of the state and subject to Mississippi laws and each would be allotted an acreage of land commensurate with age or station in life. Faced with no choice, the Choctaw leaders reluctantly signed the seventh treaty... the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek... on Sept. 27, 1830, thus writing a finish to the old Choctaw Nation in Mississippi.