Chickasaw Freedmen Background
"The people known as the Chickasaws, like the Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, are of Muskoghean linguistic stock and, like those tribes and the Cherokees, are known as one of the Five Civilized Tribes because of their rapid acculturation in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. When Hernando deSoto made his historic expedition into the interior of, the American continent in 1540, he found the Chickasaws occupying the lands between the headwaters of the Tombigbee and the Tallahatchie Rivers in northeastern Mississippi. These were the lands they apparently settled after they had separated from the Choctaws, whose language they share. Their name was derived from a Choctaw phrase meaning "they left as a tribe not a very great while ago." The Chickasaws lived in settlements that consisted of small villages, a number of houses-the circular winter houses, the rectangular summerhouses, sweathouses, cribs, and potato houses-in one locality. Near each family dwelling was a small plot of ground where corn, beans, peas, pumpkins, and melons were raised. The Chickasaws supplemented their vegetable diet with fish and game.
Never a large tribe, the Chickasaws were nevertheless fierce and war- like. Strong allies of the English throughout the eighteenth century, they conducted predatory warfare upon the tribes of the Mississippi Valley, including the Choctaws, who were allies of the French and Spanish. The Chickasaws also successfully defended their homelands against the French and their allies as well as against the Creeks. After the American Revolution, the Chickasaws fell under American influence. In 1786, the Treaty of Hopewell recognized the Ohio River as the northern boundary of their lands, but subsequent pressure from white settlers resulted in land cessions in 1795, 1816, and 1818, the last fixing their northern boundary at the southern boundary of Tennessee. During the next two decades, the Chickasaws, like the other Civilized Tribes, received constant pressure from the United States to give up their homelands east of the Mississippi and take up new lands in the West.
Removal of the Chickasaws, to the West was provided for by treaties in 1832 and 1834, the execution of which depended upon the location of suitable lands in the West. While those lands were being sought, the Chickasaws chose individual allotments of Mississippi land to use until a new home was found, at which time the eastern lands would be sold for the Indians' benefit. The Chickasaws were harassed and trespassed upon by whites until 1837, when removal occurred. On January 17 of that year, the Chickasaws signed a treaty with the Choctaws, agreeing to settle on Choctaw lands west of Arkansas. For $530,000 paid from their tribal funds, they were to receive all the rights of Choctaw citizens and equal representation in the Choctaw council. Although the Choctaws and Chickasaws could settle wherever they desired, and all lands were held in common, a Chickasaw district was established in the western part of the Choctaw lands, where it was assumed most of the Chickasaws would settle.
By the time of removal, the Chickasaws had given up much of their traditional life style. Corruptive influences begun by early contact with the French, Spanish, and British had been hastened by American contact after the Revolutionary War. The vessels of such influence were tribal factionalism, politically ambitious mixed-blood Chickasaws, white traders, .and missionaries. In 1801, Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins had reported that the Chickasaw were settling away from their old towns, establishing and fencing their farms, raising cattle and hogs, and beginning to cultivate cotton, to spin and weave, and to accumulate individual property, including slaves of African descent. Missionaries, too promoted industry and agriculture. In 1823, the Presbyterian missionaries said of the Chickasaws: "Their previous dependence for a subsistence has, every year, become more pre- carious: and the only alternative left is to abandon the pursuit of game, and to turn their attention to the culture of the Soil.
An important by-product of the movement toward an agricultural society was the institution of slavery. Little is known about it among the Chickasaws east of the Mississippi. However, it is known that slaveholding was apparently not extensive at first, The Chickasaws probably had their first contact with people of African descent in 1540, when deSoto's expeditionary force encamped in the Chickasaw country. No extensive contact occurred, however, until the first two decades of the eighteenth century, when English trade flourished among the Chickasaws. Goods were carried overland from Charleston by horse or on the backs of slaves. African slavery was introduced among the Chickasaws themselves by British traders about 1750. By that time the Chickasaws well understood the concept of slavery. As the demand had grown for European trade goods, the Chickasaws had engaged in the traffic of Indian slaves, with which they purchased English goods. They preyed upon not only the Choctaws but the small tribes below them on both sides of the Mississippi and above them in the Illinois country. The Chickasaws themselves were victims of slaving raids by the Indian allies of the French. At first, slave owning among the Chickasaws was confined to whites who married natives. Some were traders, such as James Colbert, a Scot who had settled among the Chickasaws in the 1740s and who was reported in 1782 to have 150 slaves working his plantation. Others were political refugees. British loyalists such as John McIntosh, James Gunn, and Thomas Love, for instance, came to the Chickasaw country after the Spanish took control of West Florida following the Revolutionary War. These men were the progenitors of some of the best-known mixed-blood families in Chickasaw history.
Little is known about the role or condition of slaves in the eastern Chickasaw country. It is certain that travelers in the Chickasaw country found them useful. But there were instances of cruelty to and violent treatment of blacks. In 18 16, for example, Chickasaw Agent William Cocke reported that "several negroes" had lately been murdered in the Chickasaw Nation "in a most barbarous, cruel, and unprovoked manner." An Indian who bore a grudge against Thomas Love shot one of Love's slaves, who was riving boards in Love's yard. The Chickasaw chiefs refused to punish the killer because he was a relative of Love. A few weeks earlier Young Factor had whipped and burned to death one of his slaves.
Slaves obtained from white traders or planters quickly learned the Indian language and, apparently, most were bilingual. In 1799, when the Reverend Joseph Bullen began missionary work among the Chickasaws, interpreter Malcolm McGee told him that because the whites, half bloods, and slaves spoke English, they had great influence over the Indians. He urged Bullen to begin his work among those classes, which, in turn, would "have good talks" with the Indians.
Early missionaries quickly learned the usefulness of blacks in the acculturation process. The first missionary work among the Chickasaws was undertaken by the Presbyterians. The New York Missionary Society sent Bullen and Ebenezer Rice to the Chickasaw country in 1799. Bullen found blacks' bilingualism crucial to his work and the blacks most susceptible to his efforts. He arrived at Big Town, west of present-day Tupelo, Mississippi, on May 20, 1799, where he held "some talk by the help of a negro who could interpret." He sought out the Scottish interpreter Malcolm McGee, who could not read, had never heard a sermon, and was so ignorant he scriptures that he could not interpret. He therefore urged Bullen to work through the whites, mixed bloods, and blacks.
Everywhere, Bullen found the blacks especially receptive to his preaching. McGee's wife and blacks, understanding English, were "happy to hear." At the home of William Colbert, about twenty slaves "dressed themselves" came to Bullen's room, where they prayed together. Bullen read them several passages from the Bible and "explained to them the character and great love of Christ, that he loves poor blacks as well as others." An "aged negro woman" belonging to Colbert traveled thirty miles to Tockshish to hear a sermon and told Bullen "me live long in heathen land, am very glad ear the blessed gospel." At his school, which he opened near present day Pontotoc, Mississippi, in 1800, Bullen found that his preaching made the "most serious impressions" on the blacks, and blacks sought him out for instructions on how to keep the Sabbath. In August of 1800, Bullen baptized William and his four children, slaves of James Gunn. To Bullen,William appeared "to be a true disciple of Jesus" and the children appeared "teachable." Gunn read and prayed with his slaves and was teaching theming and the catechism. Wrote Bullen, "The negroes say, it is a blessed thing to have such a master." Bullen conducted his missionary efforts among the blacks and Indians for four years. His mission was discontinued 1803 when the conduct of two of his helpers turned the Indians against mission.
It was nearly twenty years before missionary efforts were resumed. In 1821, the Reverend Thomas C. Stuart, under the direction of the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia, began building a mission called Monroe about six miles south of present day Pontotoc. Stations were subsequently established at Tockshish and Martyn in 1825 and Caney Creek in 1826. The only Church, however, was at Monroe, established on June 7, 1823. Missionary efforts in the Chickasaw Nation were transferred to the American Board of Foreign Missions in December of 1827.
These missionaries, as Bullen before them, found the blacks most susceptible to their preaching. Monroe was located in the most populous part of the Nation. The missionaries estimated that more than 800 people lived within ten miles of the mission: "Five-eights of them are Chickasaws, and the remainder colored people of African descent, with a few white men having Chickasaw families." When the church was established, the membership consisted of the mission family and one black woman "who was the first fruits of missionary labors there." Work went slowly, only sixteen members being added until a religious revival was felt in the Chickasaw country in 1827. Between March of that year and summer of 1828, forty-two more were added, so that the membership was fifty-eight, excluding the mission family. In October, 1828, four blacks "gave satisfactory evidence of a change of heart" and were "admitted to the privileges of the church." The religious fervor continued, the meetings being well attended. Of the seventeen people admitted to church membership during the year following July 1, 1828, nine were black. A protracted meeting was held at Tockshish on July 3-6, 1829. On Saturday, four Chickasaws and three blacks were admitted to the church, and on Sunday, the Lord's Supper was administered to about one hundred persons "in the presence of a multitude of heathens." On Sunday afternoon, about thirty, "principally black people," came forward as anxious inquirers," and on the next day "a number more," including some Chickasaws, came forward."
Interest in Christianity had become so great by early 1829 that many were attending who did not speak English. Therefore, a translator was regularly employed. But by the fall of 1829, it appeared that a decline in religious fervor had begun. Apprehension of removal to the West had begun to demoralize the people. But there were about twenty people, mainly blacks, who. appeared to be seriously concerned about religion; of that number, the missionaries had hopes that several were Christians. The decline in fervor was more evident at a meeting held in October of 1829. However, two Indians and two blacks were admitted to the church, and at the four protracted meetings in 1830, fourteen Chickasaws and seven blacks were admitted. Between May, 1823, and September, 1831, when the Monroe church was a member of the North Alabama Presbytery, 57 of the 104 persons admitted to church membership were blacks; the remaining consisted of 23 whites and 24 lndians.
With the breaking up of the Chickasaw government and the extension of Mississippi laws over the country, conditions among the people became worse, and some church members defected. In the summer of 1832, the membership stood at ninety-three, including the missionaries at Martyn. Conditions continued to get worse. In the last three months of 1832, over three hundred gallons of whiskey were brought by white traders into the neighborhood of the church; whiskey was sold at a grocery store that had been built nearby. In early 1833, four Chickasaw, one white, and two black members of the church were ousted because of backsliding. By the end of the year, it was reported that the "enemies of truth" were having too much success in their efforts "to decoy the members of the church and congregation at Tockshish and turn them aside from their steadfastness." The mission was abandoned as a lost cause in 1835.
Although much of the missionary work was conducted by means of the protracted meetings called "sacramental meetings," there were regular services. The usual meeting on the Sabbath consisted of the reading of an English sermon; an explanation, through an interpreter, of free salvation through the gospel; hymns sung in Chickasaw; and a concluding prayer and exhortation. By 1829, the missionaries were holding two conferences each week, one for the Chickasaws and one for the blacks." There were as well prayer meetings among the blacks and Indians. In all of these services, the blacks played a vital role.
The blacks were used as interpreters. On the day the church was organized at Monroe in 1823, a black woman named Dinah was received into the church on a profession of faith. A slave of James Gunn, Dinah had become concerned about her future during the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 and had tried to lead a better life. When preaching started at the Monroe mission, she became a regular attendant. She learned to read and became a reader of the Bible, carrying a New Testament around with her. Dinah was a native of the Chickasaw country, and although Chickasaw was her native language, she was also fluent in English. Because she had the confidence of the Indians, Stuart employed her as an interpreter for several years, and she was said to have delivered the missionaries' messages "with great earnestness." Dinah saved enough money to purchase her freedom and helped her husband to purchase his.
Blacks seized with religious fervor also spread the gospel. One member of the church at Monroe was Sarah, a black who lived a few miles from the mission. A native of Africa, she had been taken when small to the West Indies, where she was first introduced to the gospel, but not understanding English, she was not much impressed by it. After many years of slavery in the islands, she was taken to New Orleans, where she lived a number of years among the French. She was already entering old age when she came to the Chickasaw country, the Lord, she said, leading her "by the hand, though unseen, into this land, where he revealed himself to me as a God pardoning sin." She became a regular attendant at the Monroe church but was not converted until about a year before her death in 1828. The missionaries believed that Sarah had a premonition of her death, for ten days before it occurred, she went "from house to house, exhorting sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and encouraging Christians to faithfulness in their Master's service." She died on the night that the regular monthly prayer meeting was held at her house. A "little corn- pany" of blacks had gathered for prayer, and Sarah, appearing unusually happy, asked for a favorite hymn about halfway through the service. As the company sang, Sarah got up from the bed on which she had been sitting, went about the room shaking hands with everyone, went back to the bed, lay down, and died. The missionaries estimated that she was about seventy years old.
By early 1830, the missionaries had begun to look upon the blacks as a means of getting at the Chickasaws, especially the full bloods who did not speak English. Although the missionaries discouraged lay preaching among the slaves, because "of their ignorance, and for other reasons," they encouraged them as leaders in prayer meetings, such as those held at Sarah's house. In 1830, they credited the increase in the number of full bloods attending their services to the efforts of a black slave who lived ten or twelve miles from Monroe and who had "been in the habit, for two or three years, of having a prayer-meeting in his hut every Wednesday evening." At first, half a dozen blacks attended, but in late 1829, Indians began to attend, at one time numbering twenty-three among the fifty-five persons present. The services were conducted by "Christian slaves" in the "Chickasaw language." One of the slaves could read, so a portion of the scripture was read, hymns were sung, and prayers were offered. In later years, the Reverend Stuart recalled that in the fall of 1830, about half of the church members at Monroe were blacks, who generally spoke the Indian language. Because of their "being on equality" with their Chickasaw owners and because they had more contact with them than the whites had, they were used as instruments for extending a knowledge of the gospel to the Indians.
Blacks figured significantly in the acculturation process in other ways. They were important in the transition of the Chickasaws to an agricultural economy. In 1836, Albert Gallatin recognized their importance when he stated that "the number of plows in The Five Tribes answered for the Number of able bodied negroes." As historian Arrell Gibson has pointed out, by the time of removal there was the beginning of a mixed-blood aristocracy who consciously tried to adopt the ways of white planters in dress, homes, and life styles, and slavery was a part of their aristocratic pose. Slavery also provided the labor force to do the work the Indians , would have been slow in doing clearing the lands and opening fields. As time passes, slave holding became more popular and widespread. By 1830, the Chickasaw had given up the hunt, maintained herds, and exported cotton, beef, and pork. Most of the farm labor was done by men instead of women. With profits from their goods, the Chickasaws brought not only necessities but luxury items and slaves as well. Just prior to their removal in 1837, a great many Chickasaws sold their homes and reservations that were reserved to them under the treaties, for negroes, paid large prices for them, and emigrated west to their new homes with them, believing they were good property giving valuable consideration to the white men for them.
Census rolls of Chickasaw taken west listed list 1,223 slaves held by 255 owners. Twenty of these 255 owners owned ten or more slaves. Of these twenty, the Colberts owned the most, but others who held large numbers were Tennessee Buynam, Rhoda Gunn, Richard Humphries, James McGlothlin, Jack Kemp, Tecumseh Brown, and A Pitchlynn. The owners with the larges number was Pitman Colbert, who held 150, and Rodi Colbert, who held 95. Although there were a few with Indian names, most of the slaveholders were of mixed blood. There was on the roll as well as a man named Jack, apparently a free black, who listed six slaves in his household.
Removal resulted in further disruption of traditional life styles among the Chickasaws. But despite the drastic and rapid changes that occurred in Chickasaw society during the first forty years of the century, there were many full-blood conservatives who remained attached to and tried to preserve the traditional ways. They held tenaciously to the native religion and opposed the missionaries' efforts among the tribe. Among the full bloods in general, the Chickasaw language was retained, as were significant elements of cultural practices in such matters as religion, dress, and food. These practices persisted, to a large extent, throughout the nineteenth century.
When the Chickasaws arrived in the West, they did not settle in the Chickasaw district as expected. Because they had funds from the sale of their lands in Mississippi, and because the western part of the Choctaw lands was overrun by hostile western tribes, the Chickasaws settled mainly on the Boggy and Blue rivers in the Choctaw district. In the fertile river bottoms the mixed bloods opened large plantations and began farming cotton and other crops by use of slave labor. While many were at first demoralized by removal, some invested in livestock and began building herds. The Indians to the west stole their livestock and blacks, and Texans committed depredations upon their property. As a result, in 1842, the United States established Fort Washita on the lower Washita River, and a few Chickasaws moved to the region. Although the Indian raids became less frequent, blacks continued to run away to the wild tribes, who harbored them for a while and then sold them to the Comanches. A few were brought back by the Shawnees and Delawares, who charged the Chickasaws exorbitant prices for their own slaves.
Under the protection of this fort, the Chickasaws settled down to farming. The full bloods farmed small patches with their slaves; the mixed bloods raised cotton, corn, and other grains on an extensive scale, and they opened cotton gins and grist mills and developed large herds. However, the Indians between the Washita and the Red River, presumably Wichitas and Kichais, continued to be a problem. In 1843 a slave of Sloan Love, who lived near the mouth of the Washita, was wounded by Kichai arrows. Foot soldiers went after the attackers but without success.
Although there was internal strife among the Chickasaws in the early 1840s, they began to settle their differences. As the population of Texas grew and with the gold rush in California, the Chickasaws found a ready market for their surplus crops among the immigrants. With the aid of missionaries they began to build schools to educate their children. As Indian depredations declined, the Chickasaws moved slowly westward into their own territory. Perhaps the most unifying force was their opposition to Choctaw dominance. Although they maintained their independence in fiscal matters, the Chickasaws were outnumbered by the Choctaws three to one. Recovery from removal was more rapid among the Choctaws, and as time passed, social as well as political differences between the tribes became greater. In 1846 and 1848 the Chickasaws attempted to write a constitution. After 1848, they held regular councils in which they dealt with school and financial matters and sought separation from the Choctaw Nation. By 1851 a third of the Chickasaws still lived in the Choctaw district. After Fort Arbuckle was established in the central part of their district, they began to move from the Choctaw Nation. Their delegation to Washington urged separation in 1851, charging that they had no effective voice in the Choctaw council and that those living in the Choctaw district were discriminated against. There was also contention over the eastern boundary of the Chickasaw district. In l854, tension between the tribes became greater over the boundary issue, and open hostilities looked possible for a time. Agent Douglas H. Cooper had the line surveyed, to which survey the tribes agreed.
The difficulties between the tribes led to the making of a treaty in Washington on June 22, 1855. The Chickasaws obtained the right to self-government in the Chickasaw district. The Choctaws and Chickasaws granted the United States a perpetual lease on their lands lying between the ninety-eighth and one hundredth meridians, from that time known as the Leased District. The $800,000 lease fee was divided between the tribes according to their population, three-fourths to the Choctaws and one- fourth to the Chickasaws. The land set aside as the Chickasaw Nation was bounded by the Canadian River on the north, the Red River on the south, and the ninety-eighth meridian on the west. The eastern boundary was formed by Island Bayou and a line running north from its headwaters to the Canadian. These lands consisted of 7,267 square miles, containing 4,650,935 acres, in present-day Oklahoma, embracing Pontotoc, Johnson, Marshall, Love, Carter, Murray, Garvin, and McClain counties, the western part of Coal County, the southwestern part of Bryan County, and all but the extreme western portions of Grady, Stephens, and Jefferson counties. In August, l856, the Chickasaws held a constitutional convention and formally established their government. The document was lost on its way to the printer and was rewritten in l857. Modeled after the U .S. Constitution, the Chickasaw document contained a bill of rights that guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, the right to a speedy trial by jury , and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, excessive bail, and double jeopardy. The powers of government were divided into legislative, judical, and executive branches. The Nation was divided into four legislative and judicial districts: Panola, Pickens, Tishomingo, and Pontotoc. Male citizens nineteen years of age and older elected representatives according to population and two senators from each district. The bicameral legislature met annually in September at Tishomingo to enact legislation. The judiciary consisted of county and district courts and a supreme court; the executive office of the Nation was the governor, who elected to a two-year term. While the Chickasaw were assembled as a constitutional convention, they added a provision to their constitution prohibiting the legislature from emancipation slaves without their owner's consent or without paying the owner, before the emancipation, the full value of the slaves. The legislature could, however, in order to protect creditors, pass laws to prevent owners from emancipating slaves. It could also require owners to treat slaves humanely that is, provide them with necessary food and clothing and to abstain from injuring them. The constitutional provision also directed the legislature to pass laws prohibiting the introduction into the Nation of any slaves who had committed high crimes in other countries.
Until this time, the Chickasaws and their slaves had been subjected to The legislature of 1857 passed an act that made it an offense to harbor or clandestinely support "any runaway negro slave, or slaves, or negroes indentured for a term of years." Conviction resulted in a fine of $100 to $500, one-half of which was to go to the informer. Failure to pay the fine would result in a sentence of six months to a year in the national jail. The legislature also passed an act forbidding any slave to own any horse, mule, cow, hog, sheep, gun pistol, or knife over four inches long in the blade," Any such property in the hands of slaves was to be seized and sold to the highest bidder, and the slave was to receive thirty-nine lashes on his bare back. The law also prohibited blacks from possessing spirituous liquors; violators received the same thirty-nine lashes. The 1857 legislature also provided for the removal of all whites known to be abolitionists or who might thereafter advocate the cause of abolitionism as "unfriendly and dangerous to the interests of the Chickasaw people," Finally, the legislature forbade any black or the descendant of any black to hold office or to vote.
This last law was amended by the legislature of 1858 to deny blacks and their descendants "any of the rights, privileges and immunities of citizens" of the Nation and to prohibit the acceptance of a black's oath in the courts of the Nation in cases where any persons but blacks or their descendants were interested. The same legislature defined as murder the willful and malicious murder of a slave or such cruel treatment of a slave so as to cause his death. It also directed the judges of the respective counties to order free blacks out of the Nation. If they refused to go, they were to be seized and sold to the highest bidder for terms of one year until they agreed to leave the Nation. Any free blacks who left the Nation and returned were subject to the same law. The legislature of 1859 amended the language of this last act and passed an act prohibiting any person from trading with any blacks or slaves without a permit from their owners or persons having them in charge. Violators were given fines of fifteen to forty dollars. Any citizen of the United States found guilty of the charge was to be arrested and taken to the agent for expulsion.
It was customary among Chickasaws and Choctaws that children of slave women were slaves even if their fathers were Indian or white. Blacks had no rights as citizens, and free blacks were not allowed to marry Indian women, whereas whites could intermarry and be adopted by the tribe. Although there were explicit laws forbidding free blacks to remain in the Nation, there were exceptions to the law. A prime example was Charles Cohee, Sr , a free man of part-Chickasaw blood, who removed with the Chickasaws in 1837 and later acted as an interpreter. Another example was Lydia Jackson, a free woman whose husband was a white citizen of the United States.
There is evidence as well that the slave code makes the institution of slavery appear more severe than it was in practice in the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. If slaves from different plantations married, for instance, they lived on one farm or the other and went to their respective plantations to work. Former slaves stated that they were allowed to do what they pleased as long as they got their work done and did not run off. They were allowed to visit slaves on neighboring plantations. However, there were patrollers who enforced the slave laws. The enforcers sometimes whipped slaves, and sometimes they asked for passes, accused blacks of staying overtime, and beat them. Former slaves stated that their Indian masters did not work them as hard as slaveholders in the states worked their slaves because, one theorized, the land was so fertile that agriculture did not require much labor. Some slaveholders had overseers, and sometimes blacks were used as bosses.
In 1906, Chickasaw and Choctaw freedmen testified that the condition of bondage with the Indian people was less rigorous than with whites, and more nearly approached a plane of equality. There was therefore a larger percentage of educated freedmen in the nation than could be found in the plantation districts of the South, it being true that the house servants and many others were allowed the privileges of the Indian schools which were established.
Outside observers reached the same conclusion. Wiley Brit ton, serving with the Union Army on the frontier during the Civil War, made the general observation that slavery never existed among the Indians in the form it did in the states: The worst features of slavery, such as the hard treatment imposed upon the slaves of the South was hardly known to the slaves of these Indians prior to the war. Indeed, the negroes brought up among the Indians were under such feeble restraint from infancy up that the owners and dealers in slaves in Missouri and Arkansas did not hestiate to acknowledge that Indian negroes were undesirable because of the difficulty of controlling them.
Laxity in enforcing the slave code apparently coincided generally with the degree of Indian blood of the master. Most of the slave owners were mixed bloods, but some full bloods did own slaves. Lemon Butler, a former slave who had removed west with the Choctaws, said in 1872 that many of the slaves did better than their full-blood masters, whose concept of slavery was probably based more on the concept of war captives than on the concept of plantation slavery adopted by the mixed bloods. The slaves could do what they pleased, Butler said. They could leave the master's premises for as long as they liked, come back, give the master four or five dollars, and the master was satisfied. Some slaves did not work as hard as their masters. "The slave would take his gun and horse and ride and hunt all the time," said Butler.
Contemporary observers presented similar observations. In l842, Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock, on a fact-finding tour in the Indian Territory , wrote at Doaksville, The full-blood Indian rarely works himself and but few of them make their slaves work. A slave among wild Indians is almost as free 'as his owner, who scarcely exercises the authority of a master, beyond requiring something like a tax paid in corn or other product of labor. Proceeding from this condition, more service is required from the slave until among the half-breeds and the whites who have married natives, they become slaves indeed in all manner of work.
On the frontier, living conditions for the slaves were probably not greatly different from those of their Chickasaw and Choctaw masters. They lived in single log cabins, while their masters had double log cabins with a breezeway between to be used for an eating and storage area, and some masters allowed their slaves to farm small plots of their own. Most had adopted American-style dress. Some masters provided clothing for their slaves, but for the most part, the Chickasaws had spinning wheels for making the homespun in which the slaves were dressed. They made their own shoes and sometimes made coats from buckskin. Not all of the slaves learned the Indian language, and the .'Indians who learned at all generally learned to talk English through their slaves." In 1842, Major Hitchcock conversed with a slave belonging to Greenwood, an old Chickasaw head. man. Dirty and in a "tattered dress," she told him that she had formerly belonged to Jim Adkins of Madison, Alabama, and had been among the Chickasaws five or six years. When Hitchcock asked her if she spoke the Indians' language, she replied, "I can mumble it a little."
Missionaries resumed their activities among the Chickasaws in the 1840s. As church membership increased, a large number of the members were blacks. Near the Humphries and Colbert plantations Major Hitchcock observed a church service conducted by a missionary, where, he said, "There were about thirty-five persons present of both sexes and colors, white, red, black and mixed, of all shades." It was later reported that the slaves attended church with the Indians but sat in a brush arbor apart from them. However, they could take part in the singing. Besides hymns, the slaves sang plantation songs, probably learned in Mississippi, such as "Steal Away to Jesus," "The Angels Are Coming," "I'm a Rolling," and 'Swing Low ."
The exposed condition of the Chickasaws on the southwestern frontier made them and their slaves vulnerable to depredations from various sources. During the early years in the West, they had suffered attacks from the tribes to the west. In the decade and a half before the Civil War there were slaving raids by Texans, who stole blacks and sold them in the states. In late 1847, for instance, a party of Texans under the leadership of Thomas Williams and James Shannon of Red River County crossed the Red River and took seven slaves. Four belonged to the wife of Overton Love, and three belonged to John R. Guest, both of whom were half-blood Chickasaws. Shannon, Williams, and others made another raid on January 25, 1848, the Texans taking blacks belonging to Benjamin Love and his wife, some belonging to orphan children, and one belonging to Ish-te-cho-cultha. As late as 1860, the slaves had not been returned, nor had indemnity been made.
Conflicts regarding slaves developed between the Chickasaws and the Choctaws. In 1846, for instance, a controversy arose between Chickasaw Pitman Colbert and Dr. John McDonna, the widower of Vicy Colbert McDonna, Colbert's half sister. Colbert claimed the property, but Mrs. McDonna had apparently willed it to her young son shortly before she died. McDonna sold the blacks to R. M. Jones, a half-blood Choctaw, and in 1848, Colbert tried unsuccessfully to get the Indian Office to intercede and obtain the property for him. Perhaps the best-known slave controversy occurred in February , 1857, when a party of armed Choctaw light-horse police raided the home of Edmond Pickens near Salt Springs on the Red River in the Chickasaw Nation. They captured a slave woman, Sarah, and her two children, Matilda and Alexander. Pickens had won the blacks by a suit in the Choctaw courts in 1853. Tickfunka, who had lost the suit, had nevertheless sold title to the slaves to Peter Baptiste. The Choctaw light-horse police who took the blacks in 1857 were apparently related to Baptiste. The event nearly led to open hostilities. The Choctaw and Chickasaw agent had to use his authority and promise speedy justice in the matter .'to prevent Col. Pickens and a strong party of Chickasaws from invading the Choctaw district" in pursuit of the slave captors. Despite the agent's promises and the guarantees in the treaty of 1855 of indemnity for injuries, Pickens never got his slaves back, nor did he receive compensation.
According to the 1860 census, 385 Choctaws owned 2,297 slaves, and 118 Chickasaws owned 917 slaves. The largest number owned by a single Chickasaw was 61, and the 10 owners who held the most slaves owned a total of 275. The average was nearly eight per owner and one to each five and one-half Chickasaws. As always, most slaves were owned by mixed bloods.
Extensive holdings in slaves and the geographical location of the Chickasaws made their sympathy for the Confederate States of America almost inevitable. After the Civil War, Agent Isaac Coleman blamed the disloyalty of the Chickasaws and Choctaws on the whites who lived among them. He specifically blamed Elias Rector, an Arkansan who was serving as the Southern Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and other agents appointed by the United States. The Indians had always looked to these agents for guidance. In the spring of 1861 these appointees of James Buchanan, pro- slavery in sentiment, returned to the Indian Territory from Washington and told the tribes that there was no longer a United States government, that it had been destroyed and could not protect them, and that the tribes must join the new Confederate government "or be ground to powder ." Many of these men later organized and led 'Confederate Indian military units.
The Chickasaws and Choctaws later claimed that they "were not induced by the machinations" of Confederate agents to join the Confederacy but did so in order to preserve their independence and national integrity. Because the seceding states represented such a large part of the United States, the tribes thought that the states had a right to secede. When the war began, the United States withdrew its troops from the Indian Territory, leaving the country to the Confederates. The seceding states, the tribes said, "organized an army, took military possession of our country, and established posts and garrisons" within the limits of the nations, offering them protection. The Chickasaws and Choctaws had little choice but to join them.
In January of 1861, the Chickasaws led the way in making contingency plans if the Union dissolved. They called for a council of the tribes in that event, to which the Civilized Tribes, except the Cherokees, agreed, the latter arguing that the Indians should remain neutral. Nevertheless, the council convened in February, but nothing was decided. In March the Chickasaws and Choctaws met at Boggy Depot, where they were visited by representatives from Texas. In February the Choctaws declared their sympathy for the South, and on May 25, the Chickasaws declared in resolutions that the United States had deserted them. The Chickasaws declared their, independence; the Choctaws took a similar step on June 14.
In February and March, 1861, the Confederate Congress had provided for the establishment of an Indian bureau and for sending an agent to the Indian Territory. Albert Pike of Arkansas was sent as special agent. Douglas H. Cooper, former agent to the Choctaws and Chickasaws, was commissioned by the Confederacy to raise troops among the Chickasaws, Choctaws, and other tribes. When federal troops were withdrawn from the Indian Territory in the spring of 1861 because of war activities in the East, Texan Benjamin F. McCulloch was given command of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas troops in the Indian Territory, as well as the units organized among the tribes.
On June 12, the Choctaws and Chickasaws signed a treaty that guaranteed territorial integrity and representation in the Confederate Congress, control over trading activities, and the existence of slavery. The tribes placed themselves under the protection of the Confederate States and guaranteed their rights to establish military posts, courts, and postal systems and to assume the financial relations formerly maintained with the tribes by the United States.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw governments decreed that anyone going north was to be killed and his property confiscated. Some of the loyal Chickasaws were arrested, and three were killed before the others started north with only the clothes they wore and the horses they rode. Governor Winchester Colbert ordered their livestock, grain, and other property confiscated and sold. Only 212 Choctaws were known to have remained loyal to the United States, 12 of the men serving in Union Army units. The number of loyal Chickasaws was uncertain, but it was known to be very small.
The First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles was organized on July 31, 1861. Troops from that unit, Creek and Seminole units, and the Ninth Texas Cavalry were involved in the first battles in the Indian Territory late in 1861, when they tried to cut off the retreat to Kansas by the pro-Union Creeks, Seminoles, and a few loyal Chickasaws under the Creek leader Opothleyohola. Most of the military activity of the war took place in the Cherokee and Creek country in the northern part of the Indian Territory. Southern sympathizers from the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Nations fled their countries and went to Texas or to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. They established refugee camps along the major streams but especially along the Washita and Red Rivers in the Chickasaw Nation. They lived in poverty with little food or medical attention. The loyal Chickasaws and Choctaws fared as badly as those in the Indian Territory. Life in the refugee camps at the Sac and Fox agency in Kansas was difficult for a people who had been used to comfortable homes and sufficient supplies of fresh food and clothing. Sickness was common and mortality was high.
In the spring of 1863, Federal troops reoccupied Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation, and by the following fall there were reports that Southern sympathy was eroding among the Choctaws and Chickasaws. About three hundred had returned to the Union fold. Union leagues had supposedly been formed, and a large portion of the population were ready to throw over the Confederates if Union troops appeared. Refugees who escaped from the Chickasaw Nation that year charged that Texas troops were stationed in the Nation to watch loyalist movements.
In March of 1864, overtures of peace were made to the Choctaws and Chickasaws by military authorities in the Indian Territory. Representatives of those tribes and four others met at Tishomingo in April to discuss the peace proposal. While there were many who wanted to submit, it was determined to make one more stand on the Red River. The people were discouraged. The refugees from other tribes were clustered along the Washita and Red Rivers, where they tried to make crops, and slave owners, apparently fearing loss of Confederate control of the area, had for a month been taking their slaves to the Brazos in Texas.
In May, 1865, the tribes and tribal factions, including the Chickasaws and Choctaws, who had been allied with the Confederacy met in council in the Choctaw Nation and appointed delegates from each tribe to visit Washington and confer with the government. The war was over. General Douglas H. Cooper surrendered his troops in June, as did the Choctaws. The Chickasaws surrendered on July 14. Instead of asking the impoverished tribes to send peace delegations to Washington, the government sent a board of commissioners to meet the delegates at Fort Smith, Arkansas. It consisted of Dennis N. Cooley, commissioner of Indian affairs; Elijah Sells, superintendent for the Southern Superintendency; Thomas Wistar, a leader among the Society of Friends; Brigadier General W. S. Harney of the U.S. Army; and Colonel Ely S. Parker of General Grant's staff.
When the meeting convened at Fort Smith on September 8, 1865, the Confederate Indians had not arrived. The loyal factions were there, including the Chickasaws Et-tor-lutkee (John Lewis), Lewis Johnson, Esh-ma-tubba, A. G. Griffith, Mahardy Colbert, and ten others; and Choctaws William S. Patton, Robert B. Patton, A. J. Stanton, and Jeremiah Ward. Cooley presented to them the President's wishes to renew alliances with the Indians. They were told that by aligning themselves with the Confederacy, they had forfeited all rights due them under former treaties with the United States and must consider themselves at the mercy of the government. The commissioners, however, assured them that the government would recognize the loyalty of those who had fought for the Union and had suffered in its behalf.
The Indians were surprised by these statements. They had apparently thought that the object of the council was to make peace with their disloyal brothers. Et-tor-lutkee said, "I expected to hear something between us and the south, and wanted to hear what sort of laws you would lay down for the south; but have heard nothing." And Alfred Griffith said, "We all understand what we have come here for, but still there is some misunderstanding. How is it?" Despite such questions by the Chickasaws and others, the commissioners continued their council because the Southern delegations were expected in a few days.
On the second day, Cooley made plain the penalties that the government would assess for the Indians' disloyalty. By way of new treaties, the President would insist on certain stipulations, among them that slavery be abolished and that all persons held in bondage be unconditionally emancipated and incorporated into the tribes on an equal footing with the original members or that they be otherwise provided for. Another condition was that slavery or involuntary servitude could never exist in the tribes except as punishment for a crime. The government would also require the tribes to cede some of their lands for the settlement of tribes from Kansas and elsewhere and would support a policy of unifying the Indian Territory under a territorial government according to a plan proposed in a bill then pending in Congress. Finally, no whites "except officers, agents, and employee's of the government " could reside in the territory unless incorporated into the tribes.
On the third day, the Chickasaw and Choctaw delegations were informed by a letter from Winchester Colbert, the Chickasaw governor, and P. P. Pitchlynn, the principal chief of the Choctaws, that the Southern delegations were on their way to Fort Smith. Meanwhile, the United States commissioners were ready to listen to anything the loyal delegations might have to say. In behalf of the Chickasaws, A. G. Griffith responded to the government's demands presented on the day before. The delegation had not been empowered by the people to make a treaty because they thought the purpose of the meeting was to settle their internal affairs. The Chickasaws were willing, Griffith said, to abolish slavery , emancipate their blacks, and make suitable provisions for them. However, Griffith did not say that they were willing to put the blacks on an equal footing with the Indians. As for the cession of lands and the abolishment of involuntary servitude, the delegates said that they were only a small part of the Nation and were not authorized to act. As for the final proposition, they wanted it to state "that no person except our former slaves, or free persons of color, now residents of the nation, will be permitted to reside in the nation or tribe, unless formally incorporated into the same," except officials or employees of the government. Similar responses were given by the Choctaw delegates.
The refusal of these tribes and others to negotiate convinced the commissioners that no final treaties could be concluded until the differences between the pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions were resolved. Therefore, they drafted a preliminary treaty to be signed by those delegates present, rejecting treaties with all other parties, and reaffirming allegiance to the United States. This preliminary agreement was read on the fifth day and signed by the loyal Chickasaw delegation on the sixth. Before signing, Lewis Johnson reaffirmed his loyalty to the United States and said, I have heard much said about the black folks. They suffered as much as we did. I have always understood that the President esteemed the colored people, and we are willing to do just as our Father may wish, arid take them in and assist them, and let them help us. So I think and feel towards them. I agree with all the wishes of my Great Father, and I expect he will henceforth protect me. I am telling you this from the center of my heart, and everything I say is heartfelt.
When the Southern Chickasaw and Choctaw delegates arrived, they reviewed and signed the preliminary treaty. They did so, however, with reservations. First, they refused to assent to any control by the United States over their internal affairs except in the question of slavery, which, they said, was "open to further negotiation." Second, they argued that they had in effect little choice but to join the Confederacy, which, in 1861, had military supremacy in the region.
Throughout the remaining days of the meeting, the commissioners accomplished little more than making arrangements for delegations from both factions of each tribe to go to Washington at a later date to work out a treaty. A joint committee of the Chickasaws and Choctaws offered amendments and changes for the proposed treaties, but the commission refused to accept them. Thus the council was adjourned to meet at the call of the secretary of the interior .
In October, 1865, as soon as the delegations returned from Fort Smith, the Chickasaw legislature met. In his message to the body, Governor Colbert told the lawmakers that emancipation of the slaves was inevitable and urged them to pass the proper legislation at the earliest practicable time. Meanwhile, he urged that the blacks be cared for and that they be made useful to the community. Since there was diversity of opinion among the people concerning the status of the blacks, he asked the legislature to establish uniform rules regarding slaves so as "to reduce confusion in the minds of Indians and blacks alike. The legislators ratified the preliminary peace treaty signed in Fort Smith and passed an act to provide for amending the constitution to abolish involuntary servitude. The legislature refused to pass a law abolishing slavery because the constitution forbade it without first paying the owners the value of their slaves. Too, the Chickasaws believed that the peace treaty had placed jurisdiction over the matter with the United States and that the President or other authority would free the slaves by proclamation. The legislature authorized Governor Colbert to issue a proclamation to the Chickasaws advising them to make "arrangements with their slaves as will best subserve the interests of all concerned." By early October many Chickasaw slaveholders had already voluntarily given their slaves the choice of either being free or staying with and working for their owners "for their food, clothing, doctor's bills, and the support of the old and the young who cannot work." In his proclamation, issued on October 11, Colbert suggested a plan of apprenticing to their former owners all minor blacks until they were twenty-one. He also suggested that owners provide for the aged over fifty and the infirm and hire "the middle-aged at fair wages." Colbert argued that since it was by such a system that Pennsylvania and other northern states abolished slavery, he believed that it would satisfy the government's requirement that the emancipated slaves be provided for. He hoped it would meet the approval of the President and the non-slaveholding states.
The anomalous condition in which the Chickasaw blacks found themselves in the fall of 1865 was typical of their future condition. Because of the blacks' numbers and because of racial prejudice, the Chickasaws did not want to adopt the blacks and would insist that they were the responsibility of the United States. Yet the Chickasaws were not forceful in their denial of responsibility because the labor of the freedmen in post Civil War years was an economic necessity. United States officials, on the other hand, placed responsibility for the blacks squarely on the Chickasaws. The uncertain status with which the blacks entered the Reconstruction period unfortunately typified their existence for the next forty years.
Despite attempts by the Chickasaws to oust them, the freedmen would tenaciously hang on to their foothold in the Chickasaw Nation. For the most part, they identified with the Chickasaws. Slaves such as the one Hitchcock interviewed in 1842 were representative of the acculturation process. For decades, the blacks had been an influential channel for the white man's ideas. Those purchased from whites had brought with them knowledge of husbandry, agricultural methods, technology , and domestic practices. The domestic activities of a slave in a Chickasaw's cabin in the Indian Territory could not fail to be influenced by her performance of those activities on the plantation of her white master in Alabama. Since many slaves had been purchased just before removal, the results of an infusion of new ideas were no doubt apparent shortly after removal. But the cultural transfer had gone both ways. By the time of removal, some families of blacks had been among the Chickasaws for generations. They knew no other language or culture. They had learned the Indian mode of agriculture and had adopted the Indians' diet, medicine, and dress. In 1837, the Chickasaw blacks were described as "picturesque looking Indian negroes, with dresses belonging to no country but partaking of all. "Over fifty years later the blacks of the Five Civilized Tribes were described as "picturesque in the extreme" because of the bright colors in which they dressed and because they wore "their kinky hair in knotty little braids bound with innumerable strings, feathers in their hats, and frequently immense brass ear-rings." Amalgamation had also occurred before and after removal, and in the appearance of many families, the Indian blood predominated. Thus throughout the next forty years, despite the Chickasaws' rejection of them, the freedmen insisted on their right to share in the bounty of the nation to which they had blood and cultural ties."