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).
 
The Creation of Indian Territory
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.
"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 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.
Choctaw Learning
"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.

A Rebirth
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.
Caddos         Wichitas         Comanches         Kiowas
Shawnees        Osages        Tonkawas
Choctaws        Chickasaws        End of the Trail
The End of the Trail
Aptly named motel in Broken Bow
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.
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)
In 1819, Arkansas
Territory separated
from Missouri
Territory, and by
1824, the western
portion of Arkansas
Territory became
the
new Indian Territory
(1826 Barry
Lawrence
Ruderman). Click on
map to see a larger
image.
Wheelock
Academy,
founded in 1842,
is now a National
Historic Site.
A marker
commemorates the
Choctaw Trail of Tears
on the grounds of the
Wheelock Academy.
The Armstrong
Academy, built in
1845, burned n
1921. (Durant
Democrat)