Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Chickasaw Removal

The last of the southeastern tribes to agree to remove, the Chickasaw chose to pay for their own removal, experienced a removal that differed greatly from the hardships endured by other tribes, and remained unified throughout the period, ensuring the survival of their Nation.

Between 1830 and 1837, the Chickasaw negotiated four removal treaties and agreements. Ratification of the Franklin Treaty (1830), the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek (October 20, 1832), the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek (October 22, 1832), and the Articles of Convention and Agreement (1834) at Washington, which amended the latter, depended on the Chickasaw finding land in the West that suited them. Their searches were unsuccessful until 1837, when, in the Treaty of Doaksville (1837), they agreed to remove and occupy the westernmost district of the Choctaw Nation in present-day south central Oklahoma.

Terms of removal were set down in the Pontotoc Treaty and the Washington Articles. While the Doaksville document confirmed removal, the Pontotoc treaties ceded all Chickasaw land east of the Mississippi and provided for allotments of land to heads of households, according to the number of people in the household, and to single men and orphan girls. Money from sale of surplus land would be used to pay expenses of land survey and sales, removal, and subsistence of the people for one year after removal. The treaty also provided for compensation for abandoned improvements on their homesteads when they removed. Land sales were to be public in an effort to prevent land speculation. Two years later, the Articles of Convention and Agreement addressed Chickasaw objections to some provisions of the Pontotoc Treaty. They adjusted the size of allotments for households, provided more generous allotments for orphans, and called for investing the money generated from sales of land that had not been allotted and use of the earnings from investments to pay for land survey and sales and removal. Individuals were to receive title to their allotments in fee simple, and when the allotments were sold at removal, the money would go to the individuals. The Articles also established a commission of seven Chickasaw leaders to oversee land sales and determine the competency of individuals to do business and therefore receive their money.

While Chickasaw exploring parties searched for lands in the West, the Chickasaw received their allotments and awaited removal. Living under the civil and criminal laws of Mississippi and Alabama, which the states began to press in late 1828 and early 1829, they suffered from a loss of their tribal government, which was forbidden, and the social disruption that followed the influx of whites into their lands and the actions of American merchants, who encouraged the whiskey trade and sought to get the Chickasaw in debt.

Removal began in the summer of 1837. Insistence on paying for their own removal gave the Chickasaw a good deal of independence that other tribes did not experience during removal. A good example is the first party of more than 400 Chickasaw, who removed for Sealey's District of the Chickasaw Nation in June and July 1837. Traveling overland to Memphis, the Chickasaw were supposed to take steamboats from there to Indian Territory. However, at Memphis they decided to travel through the Mississippi Swamp to Little Rock. There the government agent had assumed that they would travel up the Military Road to Fort Gibson and beyond. However, about 300 chose to cross the Arkansas River at Little Rock and go to Fort Towson. They traveled at leisure, going only 35 miles in two weeks, hunting and supplying their own needs. Summer was the "sickly" season in Arkansas, and some became ill, suffering primarily from fevers, but only a few died. The people were beset by horse thieves and whiskey dealers from the time they left Little Rock until they entered the Choctaw Nation near present-day De Queen, Arkansas. Although government agents threatened and cajoled them into a faster pace from time to time, the Chickasaw clearly controlled their own movements.

The largest removal occurred in the fall of 1837, when an estimated 4,000 Chickasaw converged on Memphis. They, too, were supposed to go by steamboat from that point, but a majority of them chose, instead, to go overland. Water levels were good, and those who traveled by water reached Fort Coffee in about a week. Those who went by land passed through the Mississippi Swamp, crossed the St. Francis, and turned southwest to Mouth of Cache, known today as Clarendon. From there they crossed the Grand Prairie to Little Rock. From that point, most went up the Military Road to the Choctaw Agency and Fort Coffee while others took to the boats.

No other large-scale removals occurred. Small groups removed in early 1838, choosing for the most part to travel by land, with other small parties following in 1838 and 1839. An estimated 1,000 Chickasaw moved on their own resources. By the fall of 1839, the vast majority of Chickasaw and their slaves (some 7,968) were in the West. The government "officially" closed Chickasaw removal in 1839, but the Chickasaw continued to arrive in the West as late as 1850.

Unlike the other tribes, many of whose members were reduced to poverty by removal, the Chickasaw were deemed wealthy because of the money received from the sale of their land and because of their determination to take their personal property with them. Although government regulations allowed each person in other tribes to take only 30 pounds of personal property on the removal trail, the Chickasaw averaged more than 450 pounds. In addition, the Chickasaw drove great herds of livestock, including more than 7,000 horses. Thus they escaped many of the rigors of overland travel. Few Chickasaw walked; nearly all rode horses or traveled in wagons or other vehicles.

The Chickasaw also experienced low mortality rates. They avoided epidemic diseases such as cholera that attacked other tribes and were vaccinated either on the trail or upon their arrival against smallpox, which was raging in the West at the time of their removal.

For many Chickasaw, the most difficult times followed their arrival in the West. The subsistence rations system, established to help them during their first year, at times failed. The Chickasaw hoped that proceeds from land sales would benefit individuals by helping them bear the expenses of removal and reestablish themselves in the West, but many saw no immediate benefits. The federal government held the money of the so-called "incompetents" and orphans, who spent years attempting to obtain what was due them. The Chickasaw commissioners extended the ration period an extra seven months. Still, the people experienced hard economic times that led to a highly inflated credit economy, based on IOUs known as "due bills" issued by merchants in the Choctaw Nation.

Throughout the removal period, the Chickasaw people maintained a remarkable sense of unity that the other southeastern tribes did not. For more than 20 years following 1834, the Chickasaw Commission acted as a de facto government for the Chickasaw. Consisting of the hereditary minko Ishtehotopa and six others, the body resembled the old Chickasaw hereditary form of government, preferred by most Chickasaw to the Choctaw system, under which they lived. Although the Chickasaw had a district chief and council members who represented them in the Choctaw national council, they considered the society and laws of the Choctaw too Americanized and sought a separation from them, which they achieved in a treaty in 1855.

The Chickasaw were determined to reunite their people in the West. From 1839 onward, the Chickasaw Commission encouraged those Chickasaw who had remained east of the Mississippi to join them in the West, paying $30 per person to defray their expenses. Chickasaw removals on those terms continued at least until 1850. As a result, the Chickasaw were the only major tribe from the southeast who left no remnant tribe east of the Mississippi.

Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr.


Further Reading
Paige, Amanda, et al. Chickasaw Removal. Ada, OK: Chickasaw Press, 2010; Atkinson, James. Splendid Land, Splendid People. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 2004; Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972; Gibson, Arrell. The Chickasaws. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971; Hitchcock, Ethan. A Traveler in Indian Territory. Grant Foreman, ed. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press, 1930.
 

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