Choctaw - Agriculturists of the Southern
important tribe of the
family, this tribe formerly occupied the middle and south
with their territory extending as far east as Florida in their most
flourishing days. They trace their roots to a mound-building, maize-based
society that flourished in the Mississippi River
Valley for more than a thousand years before European contact.
Choctaw Village, by Francois Bernard, 1869.
The Choctaw were preeminently the
agriculturists of the southern Indians.
They were known for their rapid incorporation of white customs, developed
a written language, and welcomed European-Americans and African-Americans
into their society, leading them to become known as one of the Five
Civilized Tribes .
The earliest notice of these Indians
is found in the Hernando de Soto's narratives in 1540. Though this
encounter would end in a bloody battle, as the brutalities of the
expedition became known, the Choctaw would come to embrace European
traders nearly two centuries later.
When the French, in the beginning of the 18th
century, began to settle colonies at Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi;
and New Orleans, Louisiana, they befriended the Choctaw, who became their
allies in wars against other Indian
tribes. Though the Choctaw were closely related to the Chickasaw tribe in
language and customs, they were constantly at war with them.
Later, English traders succeeded in drawing
over to the English interest, some of the eastern Choctaw towns, which
brought on a war within the Choctaw, with those who were still loyal to
the French. This animosity continued until the French and Indian War was
over in 1763. After the French had surrendered their American possessions
to Great Britain, and to some extent previously thereto, members of the
tribe began to move across the Mississippi River.
During the American Revolution, most Choctaw
supported the Thirteen Colonies' bid for independence from the British
Crown. By the time President George Washington initiated a program to
integrate Southeastern Indians
into European American culture following the American Revolution, many
Choctaw had already intermarried, converted to Christianity and adopted
other white customs.
Over the next several years, the Choctaw would
enter into nine treaties with the U.S. Government, the last three of which
were designed to move the Choctaw west of the Mississippi River.
During the Indian Removal Period, President Andrew Jackson made the
Choctaw exile a model of Indian removal. In 1831, nearly 17,000 Choctaw
became the first
Americans to walk the Trail of
Tears to Indian Territory (Oklahoma.)
Nearly 2,500 members perished along the way.
The last treaty; however, also provided that
Choctaw members could choose to stay in Mississippi and become U.S.
Citizens, subject to the laws of the country and the state. Approximately
5,000-6,000 chose to remain, but would suffer legal conflict, harassment,
and intimidation at the hands of the white settlers.
The Choctaw in Mississippi were later reformed
as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
and the removed Choctaw became the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The Choctaw were removed west of the
1831, painting by Alfred Boisseau,
Despite the many lives lost on the Trail
of Tears, the Oklahoma
Choctaw remained a hopeful and generous people. The first order of
business upon arriving in their new homeland was to start a school and
a church and drafted a new constitution.
the Choctaw in both Oklahoma
and Mississippi mostly sided with the Confederate States of America.
At the beginning of the war, Albert Pike was appointed as the
Confederate envoy to Native Americans. In this capacity he
negotiated several treaties, including the Treaty with Choctaw and
Chickasaw in July 1861.
Some Choctaw identified with the Southern
cause and a few owned slaves. In addition, they well remembered and
resented the Indian removals from thirty years earlier and poor
service they received from the federal government.
However, the main reason the Choctaw Nation
agreed to sign the treaty, was for protection from regional tribes. Soon
Confederate battalions were formed in Indian Territory and later in
Mississippi in support of the southern cause.
the Mississippi Choctaw were largely ignored by the government and fell
into obscurity, though they continued to practice their culture as they
had for generations. In the meantime, the Choctaw in
struggled to maintain their nation, as land cessions were required by the Five Civilized Tribes, who had supported the
They were also required to free their slaves and make them
citizens. Called Choctaw Freedmen, considerable debates occurred over the
next several years, but they were finally granted Choctaw Nation
citizenship in 1885.
In 1889, the government used its railroad access to the Oklahoma
Territory to stimulate development there and opened two million acres for
settlement, resulting in the Land Run of 1889. The Choctaw Nation was
overwhelmed with new settlers and could not regulate their activities,
suffering from violent crimes, murders, thefts and assaults from new
settlers and other tribal members.
The struggle over land with the U.S. Government continued
and soon the Dawes Commission was established to end the tribal lands held
in common, and allot acreage to tribal members individually and dissolve
the governments of the Five Civilized Tribes. Though the nations fought
hard against this, the governments were dissolved in 1906 and the
following year, Oklahoma
was admitted as the 46th state.
In World War I, the Choctaw served in the U.S.
military as the first Native American code talkers, using the Choctaw language as a natural code. Tribal members also served in World
War II, after which the nation began efforts to reestablish itself. For
the next two decades they worked hard to attract and develop new
businesses and fight legislation to eliminate
American rights of sovereignty. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
was scheduled for termination when Congress repealed the law in 1970,
citing the policy’s documented failure in helping Native Americans.
The repeal set the Choctaw in a new direction and in 1971, the nation held its first popular
election of a chief since Oklahoma
achieved statehood in 1907. They also established a tribal newspaper,
began to enroll more members, and launched a movement to preserve the
Choctaw language. Before long, a new Constitution was ratified which provided
for an executive, legislative and judicial branch of the government.
The population of the tribe when it first came into relations with the
French, about the year 1700, was estimated from 15,000 to 20,000. Their
number in 1894 was 18,981 citizens of the Choctaw
Nation, 1,639 Mississippi Choctaw, and 5,994 Freedmen. Today, they number nearly 200,000 strong. They
operate business ventures, both in Mississippi and Oklahoma,
in Gaming, Electronics, and Hospitality industries, while continuing to
practice their language and cultural traditions.
The Choctaw Nation of
and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
are the two primary Choctaw associations today, although smaller Choctaw
groups are also located in Alabama, Louisiana, and
of America, updated April, 2017.
Choctaw Nation of
P.0. Box 1210
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
101 Industrial Road
Choctaw, Mississippi 39350
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