The End of the Trail in McCurtain County
Within two decades of the first Choctaw arrivals from their homelands at the Mississippi River to the
unknown Indian Territory, the Wheelock Presybterian church was erected near the nation's first school.
When most readers of history hear terms like "Indian removal" or "Trail of Tears," it's the tragic saga of the Cherokees' that may immediately
spring to mind. But actually, the Choctaws - a large tribe from Mississippi - were the first people to be confronted with the policies of forced
removal.

Mississippi Home...
Indian removal for the Choctaws actually began in 1805, in a treaty between envoys of Thomas Jefferson and the Mingoes, Chiefs, and
warriors of the Choctaw Nation (Mingoes were the major spiritual and tribal leaders). In this treaty, the Choctaw nation ceded lands in
southern Mississippi - their ancestral homelands- to the United States in exchange for annuities. This occurred, of course, just two years
after the Louisiana Purchase. This land cession did not include the sliver of coastal lands claimed by Spanish Florida, but did curtail the
Choctaws' territory heavily. Their nation had shrunk to include only northern Mississippi.

A few decades later, American planters coveted the Choctaw lands in northern Mississippi, too. Planters along the eastern coast of the  U.S.
had depleted their own lands, but also wanted to expand their plantations to increase cotton production, the South's main cash crop. By this
time, the Choctaws had been assimilating quite well into Anglo American, antebellum culture. Many had intermarried with whites and had
established their own plantations, which included enslaved people. Several Choctaws actually made a good living by participating in the
slave trade. They also sent their children to schools sponsored by missionaries to learn the ways of the whites.

This assimilation did not suffice, however. In 1820, the Indian agent in charge of the southern region, Andrew Jackson (the future president)
signed the
Treaty of Doak's Stand with several Choctaw leaders - the Medal Mingoes, such as Mushulatubbee, and chiefs such as General
Humming Bird and Choctawistonocka - that exchanged their ancestral lands for territory between the Arkansas and Red Rivers. In addition to
the land, the men who left for the new country would also receive "a blanket, kettle, rifle gun, bullet moulds and nippers, and ammunition
sufficient for hunting and defense, for one year. Said warrior shall also be supplied with corn to support him and his family, for the same
period, and whilst traveling to the country above ceded to the Choctaw nation." (Art. 5, Treaty of Doak's Stand, 1820).  
This atlas map from 1835 shows the locations of the original
homelands of the Choctaws and Chickasaws. Click on the image
to view it on a larger scale (Library of Congress).
In 1814, the state of Louisiana was carved out of the Louisiana Territory, and
the vast lands north of the boundary became the Missouri Territory. (LOC)
The Creation of Indian Territory
Why was the area so far away from the Mississippi River even considered for Indian removal? Again, this comes back to the Louisiana
Purchase. After the Louisiana Territory was subdivided into the state of Louisiana and the Missouri Territory in 1814, American settlers began
to pour into the southern portion of the Missouri Territory. By 1819, that area became the
Arkansas Territory, stretching from the Mississippi
River in the east to the 100th Meridian in the west, and from the 36th parallel southward. Then, in 1824, Congress authorized the creation of
Indian Territory in the western portion of Arkansas Territory in preparation for the plethora of Indian Removal treaties that the U.S. and the
Indian nations east of the southern Mississippi River were signing.

With the signing of the Doak's Stand Treaty, the Choctaws were thus the first southeastern Indian nation to venture into Arkansas, then Indian
Territory. Upon entering their new homelands, these early settlers established a post called Osi Tamaha, or Eagletown, in today's McCurtain
County. The area had been settled previously by
Anglo Americans, but they had been forced out by federal soldiers after the establishment of
Indian Territory - they suddenly found themselves being removed as well.
In 1819, Arkansas Territory separated from Missouri Territory, and by 1824, the western portion of Arkansas Territory became
the new Indian Territory (1826 map, courtesy Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antiques). Click on map to see a larger image.
"Not a Free Country"
Early Anglo American settlers were not the only people who had to leave Indian Territory after it was formed. The territory acted as  a kind of
"bufferzone" between Spanish Texas and the United States, and many Native people were pushed informally into the region. The Caddos,
whose original homelands included southeastern Indian Territory, discovered that after the creation of the territory, they were essentially
strangers in their own land. The Shawnees, a tribe from the Ohio River Valley who had become homeless after their defeat at the Battle of
Tippecanoe in 1811, had moved to the Red River Valley to set up homes, but learned they were unwelcome there as well.

To protect the incoming Choctaws from hostile Anglos, Caddos, and Shawnees,
Cantonment Towson was built in 1824. Angry Anglo American
settlers attacked the garrison and even threatened the life of its commander. Though the troops were instrumental in building military and
postal roads in the new territory, the constant danger and attempts at arson made the post close within five years.

By this time, an Anglo trader named Josiah Doak - at whose trading post the 1820 treaty was signed - set up a new store just west of the fort.  
Doak had assisted the Choctaws in getting adequate provisions for their journey westward, and negotiated with American traders along the
removal trail for fair prices. Doak was considered a trustworthy ally, and many Choctaws set up their own homes and businesses next to his
trading post. This new trading post became the town of
Doaksville.

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, which was bolstered by the federal Indian Removal Act that same year, forced all of the
remaining Choctaws out of Mississippi and onto their very own "trail of tears." Eagletown became the first stop in this new land; Fort Towson
the protector; and Doaksville the first permanent settlement.  But one thing was sorely lacking - a school for the children of the incoming
Choctaws.
A marker commemorates the Choctaw Trail of Tears on
the grounds of the
Wheelock Academy.
Choctaw Learning
Formal, American-style education for Choctaw children began at the turn of the 19th century, when the concept of "assimilation" and
"Americanization" of Indians included building boarding schools to teach native children the "ways of the white man." Inside these schools,
young boys received religious education, manual labor training, and basic English literacy.  The boarding schools were often located quite
far from the homelands of the tribes, in order to encourage immersion and discourage traditions. For example, from 1825 to 1848, the
Johnson Indian Academy ran on the grounds of a plantation in Kentucky owned by Richard Johnson, hundreds of miles away from the
Choctaws' national boundaries. Within the school, the children were given Christian names (such as "John" or "Charles") and speaking in
their native Choctaw was a punishable offense. Other children from other tribes, such as the Chickasaws and Cherokees, also attended
Johnson Academy.

When the Choctaw Nation moved into Indian Territory, the missionaries followed... and established, along with the Choctaws and the Bureau
of Indian Affairs,
boarding schools within the new nation. But there was a big change. Now, Choctaw children could be educated in their
home territory and could retain their familial connections. In addition, policy included girls' education, too. However, speaking Choctaw was
forbidden, as was practicing their indiginous religion. A reader of Red River Historian pointed out that her grandmother, who attended the
Wheelock Academy, had a clothespin clamped to her mouth when she was caught speaking Choctaw.
Wheelock Academy, founded in 1842, is now a National Historic Site.
In 1842, the Choctaw Nation and the Wrights, a missionary couple from the Presbytery, founded the Wheelock Academy  between Eagletown
and
Doaksville. Eventually, the small wooden building became a large educational complex that included dormitories, classrooms, a dining
hall, a laboratory, and an art studio. With the building of Armstrong Academy west of Doaksville in 1845, the schools became gender
segregated: Wheelock was reserved for girls, and Armstrong for boys. Adults could also take classes there, which ranged from the standard
religious education to academic subjects in anatomy, algebra, and Greek classics as well as practical education in farming, gardening, food
preservation, arts, and crafts. In 1847, the first stone church in Indian Territory was built at Wheelock, and stands to this day.

Not all Choctaws benefited from these educational facilities, however. Poorer Choctaw families could not afford to send their children to
schools, and the enslaved people owned by Choctaw planters could not attend at all.

When the Choctaw Nation faced removal from their homelands, they set out to inhabit a new, unfamiliar territory - and were able to make it
work.
Eagletown, Wheelock Academy, Fort Towson, and Doaksville still exist as these remnants of memory for a displaced but resilient
people, and I encourage you to explore these sites to recognize and enjoy their history.
The Armstrong Academy, built in 1845, burned n 1921. (Durant Democrat)
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com