Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Greenwood LeFlore

In the wake of the Treaty of Doak's Stand (1820), Greenwood LeFlore emerged on the Choctaw political scene in the mid-1820s as the United States exerted pressure on the Choctaw to cede more land.

Born in Hinds County, Mississippi, on June 3, 1800, LeFlore used his upbringing by his Choctaw mother and the American-style education insisted on by his French father to fulfill his political ambitions and enrich himself during the Choctaw removal period. LeFlore was at first strongly anti-removal. In 1826, he, David Folsom, and Samuel Garland replaced Mushulatubbee, Robert Cole, and Tapanahoma as district chiefs and helped defeat the treaty negotiations then going on between the Choctaw and U.S. agents William Clark, Thomas Hinds, and John Coffee. That summer, LeFlore called a council to draft a constitution that established a council with power to adopt laws. One law it passed forbade the sale of Choctaw land.

Apparently understanding LeFlore's nature, Secretary of War Thomas McKenney set about undermining the young chief's anti-removal stand. In 1828, he appointed LeFlore to lead a Choctaw delegation to look at lands in the West. McKenney flattered him, comparing him to Moses. However, the promised land LeFlore expected to find was disagreeable to him, and he apparently determined to find a way to remain in Mississippi even if the rest of the nation removed.

The pressure for removal resulted in continued political shifts in the Choctaw Nation. The election of Andrew Jackson, followed by his aggressive removal policy, made some of the older chiefs more willing to talk, whereas leaders like LeFlore and Folsom remained opposed. Shortly after Mississippi extended state law over the Choctaw in early 1830, the Choctaw deposed Folsom and Garland and put Mushulatubbee and Nitakechi in their place. LeFlore threatened to send an armed force against them, but instead he took advantage of the unsettled state of affairs. Without authority, he began to negotiate with Commissioner McKenney, developing a removal treaty he hoped the Choctaw would accept and that would motivate them to retain him as chief. In April, he asked Mushulatubbee to put the proposed treaty before the council. At the council, LeFlore defended the treaty so eloquently and persuasively that the Choctaw believed he had found a way out of their dilemma. Recognizing him as their leader, they made him chief of the whole Nation, an office that the Choctaw had not had before. When LeFlore sent the treaty to Washington, Jackson thought the document was too generous to the Choctaw; however, in early May he recommended it to the Senate, which rejected it.

Passage of the Indian Removal Act (1830) later that month forced the Choctaw to act. Those who favored removal were angry at rejection of their treaty offer, those who opposed it were angry at the chiefs, and some made threats against them. That summer, Secretary John H. Eaton and President Jackson invited the Choctaw to meet them at Franklin, Tennessee, to discuss removal, but LeFlore, still chief of the Nation, refused to negotiate outside its boundaries. However, earlier that year, he had let it be known that if the United States would allow him to stay in Mississippi and give him the land and resources necessary to set himself up as a planter when the Choctaw removed, he would guarantee Choctaw removal. Thus, he invited War Department officials to go to the Choctaw Nation for negotiations.

Eaton and Coffee arrived in the Choctaw Nation in September 1830 and negotiated the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830). The chiefs and captains of the Nation wanted to select 20 delegates representing all districts, but LeFlore wanted to appoint all of the delegates. Ultimately they agreed that the chiefs could select 10 and LeFlore could select 10. The treaty ceded the Choctaw lands in return for lands west of the Mississippi and called for an early removal of the Nation. It also provided allotments for Choctaw who wished to remain in Mississippi and live under state law, as well as grants of four sections of land and generous pensions to LeFlore, Mushulatubbee, and Nitakechi, the three district chiefs. Some 17 sections went to LeFlore and his relatives.

The Choctaw were angry at the removal provisions of the treaty and at the signers. They questioned the authority of some of the signers and believed some had taken bribes. In October they deposed the sitting district chiefs. George W. Harkins defeated LeFlore in the northwestern district, Joel H. Nail replaced Nitakechi in the southern district, and Peter Pitchlynn replaced Mushulatubbee in the northeastern district. However, the United States refused to recognize any chiefs except those who had signed the treaty.

Meanwhile, LeFlore worked to push the removal process forward. In November 1830, he refused to accompany an exploring party, led by Nitakechi and including Mushulatubbee, that was to look at the western lands. He was already deeply involved in the removal process. He sent a number of removal parties to the West across southern Arkansas by way of Ecore Fabre and Washington. It was a hard winter, they were poorly organized and outfitted, they had insufficient provisions, and they were destitute when they arrived in the West. LeFlore, on the other hand, had fared well. As the agent responsible for disposing of the property of Choctaw he had sent west, he had enriched himself in the process.

LeFlore had reached his goal: to remove his tribe but to remain in Mississippi with an economic base to establish his plantation. His Malmaison became well known for its opulence, paid for by the labor of his large number of slaves. LeFlore lived the life of a wealthy planter and was elected to the Mississippi State Legislature, while the majority of his fellow Choctaw hacked out a new life for themselves in the West. He died at Malmaison on August 31, 1865.

Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr.


Further Reading
DeRosier, Arthur H., Jr. The Removal of the Choctaw Indians. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1970; Kidwell, Clara S. Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995; Satz, Ronald N. American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975; Young, Mary E. Redskins, Ruffleshirts and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830–1860. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.
 

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