The Choctaw people have been in what is now Mississippi and West Alabama for over 400 years. There are different accounts of how the Choctaw first came to this area. The legend that follows has been handed down from generation to generation.
It tells that the Choctaw once lived in what is now the Western United States and migrated to present-day Mississippi. For reasons unknown, the Choctaws left carrying the bones of their ancestors. The leader’s name was Chata and he led them in the way that they were to go. At the end of each day’s journey, Chata would place the pole in the ground. Each morning the pole would lean toward the east, so they would go in that direction. The journey went on for months like this. One morning, they found the pole standing straight up. This was a sign from the Great Spirit that they were home.
This place is Nanih Waiya which is a large mound of dirt that is near Noxapater, Mississippi. This place is regarded by the Choctaws as their legendary place of birth and is now a state park. It is believed that religious and political meetings were held there from 500 B.C. until Europeans came in the early part of the 1700's.
The first recorded history shows that Hernando de Soto saw the Choctaws in the early part of the sixteenth century in and around Neshoba where they remained until they were removed in the 1830's.
When De Soto was exploring the Southeastern United States in 1540, it is thought that he fought the Choctaws at the Warrior River in Alabama. From that time until about 1700, records are unavailable for the tribe.
Before the Europeans came to America, the Choctaws dominated the Southeast in numbers and language. At this time, there was no private property among the Choctaws. Those that were able helped the ones that were not. There were family lines of leadership, but his did not guarantee succession. The tribal government was divided along lines of war and peace among different leaders called Mikos.
The first white people that influenced the Choctaws were the French. Before the United States gained its independence from England, the Choctaws were influenced by the Spanish and English. When the French left, the English gained control over the Choctaw tribe in 1763. The Choctaws began to use horses and agricultural techniques that they saw the Europeans using. As the Choctaws turned away from their traditional ways of farming, the whites began to try to take over their land. In the American Revolution, Choctaw warriors were scouts for Washington. Treaties with England were signed by Choctaw statesmen. The Miko Franchimastabe went to Georgia to make peace with the United States.
After the American Revolution, the United States began to enter into a series of treaties with the Choctaws to gain their land. The Treaty of Hopewell was signed on January 3, 1789. This was the first of nine agreements they would make with the United States government between 1786 and 1830. The Spanish became concerned about the Choctaws being so friendly with the United States. They talked the Choctaws into parting with some more land. The Spanish convinced them that a fort in this location would protect them if the United States were to become hostile to them. The Spanish presence among the Choctaw did not last long. In 1795, they signed the Pinckney’s Treaty. It was named after Major General Thomas Pinckney, who helped negotiate it. The Spanish left the area and the United States formed a program for dealing with the Choctaws and other southern tribes. The Treaty of Fort Adams was signed on December 17, 1801. With this treaty, the government obtained over two and one half million acres of land in the southwest corner of the Choctaw’s territory. The treaty also said that a road could be constructed from the town of Natchez, on the Mississippi River, northeast across Choctaw country to Nashville, Tennessee.
On October 7, 1802, the Choctaws signed the Treaty of Fort Confederation. This took away about 50,000 acres of the eastern boundary of Choctaw territory. The Choctaws did this to help keep their relationship with the United States friendly. In the next treaty, the Choctaws signed over 850,000 acres of land north of Mobile to the United States government. The Choctaws didn’t want to take part in this, but were reminded of a debt the tribe owed to the British Trading Company of Panton, Leslie and Company. They signed over this land so the United States would pay this bill. This was the Treaty of Hoe Buckintoopa on August 31, 1803.
The United States came up with a new way to get the Choctaw’s land. They would get the Choctaw’s to exchange land for debts they owed. The Choctaws owed another debt to Panton, Leslie and Company in the amount of $48,000. The United States bribed the chiefs by offering them money as long as they were in office. This was the beginning of giving gifts to chiefs in exchange for their cooperation in land deals.
When the United States bought Louisiana from France in 1803, they wanted a place to relocate the Choctaws and use their land for white settlers. Congress passed the Louisiana Territorial Act in 1804. It gave them power to negotiate with the Indians for their land. The United States was continuing removal practices and also moving Americans into Indian owned territory. This caused the leader of the Shawnee tribe, Tecumseh, to try and form an Indian confederacy. Some of the warriors went with him South to Choctaw land to get the tribe to help them rise up against the white intruders in 1811. The chief of the Choctaws at that time was Pushmataha. He didn’t want to get involved because he was friendly with the United States. The council kicked out Tecumseh and he went to the land of the Creek . Along with them, these Creek Indians massacred the whites at Fort Mims in Alabama territory. This caused war between the Creeks and Tecumseh against the United States. The Choctaws sided with the United States army. The Choctaws were once again showing their loyalty to the United States as they had in the War of 1812 against the British.
When they had told everything, they died and went up into the great sky to remain forever.
In the Treaty of 1816, the Indians signed over three million more acres of land east of the Tombigbee. The Choctaws were to be paid $6,000. each year for twenty years. They would also receive the interest from this money. It would be used to help fund the first school in Choctaw territory. It was started in 1818 near the present day town of Grenada. The Choctaws asked Cyrus Kingsbury who was a Presbyterian missionary to set it up. The western portion of the Mississippi territory became the state of Mississippi in 1817. More and more whites came to settle on the land given up by the Choctaws to the government. The government made an effort for peace between the whites and Choctaws. The whites wanted the United States to get more of the Indians’ land and to move the tribe West. At first the Choctaws refused to give up any more territory. In October 1820, General Andrew Jackson and Choctaw chiefs Pushmataha, Moshulatubbee, and Apukshunnubbee met at Doak’s Stand. This is near the Pearl River in central Mississippi. The Choctaws reluctantly signed the Treaty of Dock’s Stand on October 18, 1820. They gave up over five million acres of their land in exchange for about thirteen million acres of land in the west.
Pushmataha had been a Brigadier General under General Jackson as a commander of 800 warriors at the Battles of Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans. He led a group in protest to Washington in 1824. He died of a throat infection before he could make his plea. He was give n a full state military funeral because of his support of the War of 1812. Federal documents tell that James McDonald, a Chootaw of mixed blood that lived in the District of Columbia, was left to protest in Pushmataha’s place. After the American Revolution, both Spain and the United States tried to gain control of the Choctaw tribe. The United States won after they purchased the Louisiana territory.
Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States n 1829. One of his first legislative acts was the Indian Removal Act. It said that any native American that stood in the way of white progress was to be sent West.
From 1800 – 1839 This was dramatic time for the Choctaws. White settlers wanted their land. Bitter debates raged in Congress over Andrew Jackson’s removal bill. Through eight treaties during this time, the Choctaws’ ancestral homeland turned upside down. In 1830, the Choctaws were forced to sign away the last ten million acres of land in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The treaty was conducted by the secretary of war. The negotiations went on for two days, but a majority of the Choctaws walked out. In this treaty, the Choctaw nation east was signed out of existence. Article 14 in the treaty gave the Choctaws a chance to choose a section of land and become citizens of Mississippi or move to Oklahoma. Under the treaty, about five hundred square miles were requested, but the Choctaws never received anything like that. The Choctaws received paper oaths and property in Oklahoma and Arkansas territories that had been taken by the United States from other tribes. Some Choctaws went to check out the land, but found that it was already occupied by white settlers. Only three hundred Choctaws were allotted land. Several thousand others stayed in Mississippi.
he period between 1830 and 1846 was the most corrupt period in the history of the Choctaws. One Indian who did not suffer was Greenwood Leflore. He was elected chief of the entire Choctaw tribe shortly after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. He received one thousand acres of land for his part in the negotiations on the treaty. Some of the Choctaws felt Leflore did them wrong because he was one of the leading chiefs involved in the treaty. He also signed it. Leflore was a Mississippi representative and senator. He also had a city and county named for him. The Choctaw “Trail of Tears” was a march of about twelve thousand to the west that began after the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. After the Civil War, almost all of the land was owned by whites. A Catholic mission was set up in the Tucker community around 1900. About 1910, the Choctaw population was a little over 1,200. One fifth of the remaining population was killed in a flu epidemic in 1918. Because of these conditions, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established the Choctaw Indian Agency in Philadelphia in 1918. By 1930, the number of Choctaw births exceeded the number of deaths. By 1944, the Federal Government had purchased 18,000 acres to be apportioned among eight communities. Theses communities are Pearl River, Red Water, Bogue Chitto, Tucker, Standing Pine, Crystal Ridge, Conehatta, and Bogue Homa.
Descendants of those tribal members who elected to remain in Mississippi under the agreements in The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek are the members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians today. A tribal referendum approved a constitution which established a tribal government in 1945. In the 1960's, federal resources for social programs began to improve the lives of the Choctaw people.
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