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Life in Mississippi for the Choctaws

     It was in this condition of indolence and ease that the white man found the Choctaw in his home to the east of the Mississippi river.  Doubtless it was represented to him in the year 1830 that in exchanging his home in Mississippi for his home in the West he was finding another wild country.  Probably reports of such a country sent back from the West to those left behind in Mississippi helped to keep up the migration westward for several years.

     But in spite of earnest efforts made to remove all Choctaws from the State of Mississippi, many remained. These came to be called Mississippi Choctaws to distinguish them from those who had moved to the West.  They sought to secure homes and become citizens of the States as was provided in the 14th article of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek

     Had the provisions of this treaty been carried out by the United States Government through its Indian agent, thousands of acres of land throughout southern and central Mississippi in addition to what was actually received by the Mississippi Choctaws would have belonged to them by right of patent from the United States Government.  It is highly probable that many of them would have sold their lands to white people, but at best the public domain of the State would have been greatly diminished. But patents to these lands were not issued to the Mississippi Choctaws, save only in few instances; and as there were but these few reservations on file in the United States land office to the credit of the Mississippi Choctaws, the public domain has since been preempted and is owned by white people. 

     The Mississippi Choctaws, having lost their homes in Mississippi, made application at different times to regain their rights; but in these efforts they were the easy prey of unscrupulous land speculators, who wrought such bold and dastard frauds that the people defeated their claims in the interest of the public good.

     Deprived of their homes, the Mississippi Choctaws in most instances lived in indolence and poverty, usually as squatters or trespassers on Government land.  They sometimes gathered themselves together into small colonies of a few hundred each, lived in tents or huts, cultivated small patches of ground, hunted, fished and made and peddled cane baskets.  These baskets they made in convenient sizes and shapes, and bartered to white ladies for household use, getting in return a basketfull of some article of food, as meal, meat, or potatoes. 

     In their little homes they had but scanty property; a few pots, some rugs, quilts and sometimes a bed constituted about all their household goods. As to live stock they had several dogs and one or more “Indian ponies.”  These ponies are small, and usually fitted for no work save that of their master, to whom they are a great convenience and a nominal expense, as they make their own living by grazing when not in use.  Such a colony of a few hundred Mississippi Choctaws was known to the writer in the northeastern part of Scott county, Mississippi, where they kept up many of their old customs. They had churches and a school, their teacher being paid by the State without expense to them.

Five Civilized Tribes

     It was thought that the Choctaw land claims had been settled about the year 1845, and the subject received but little, if any, further consideration for about fifty years thereafter. The revival of these old claims came about in this way:

      The Indian reservations in the West had come in late years to contain many white people, so whatever may have been the original intention of Congress as to the permanency of the Indian reservations as such, the inhabitants of the territory occupied by what is now known as the Five Civilized Tribes, to wit, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw 
petitioned Congress for the passage of laws looking toward the winding up of tribal affairs in the aforesaid tribes, preparatory for an organized territory to develop finally into a state. As a result of this overture to Congress an Indian Commission was created, known as the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. 

Atoka Agreement

     This Commission on the 23rd day of April, 1897, made an agreement with commissions representing the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, known as the Atoka Agreement. This agreement amended and enacted into law as amended by Congress was embodied in what is known as the Curtis Bill, and approved by the President, June 28, 1898. This bill was submitted to the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and by proper manipulation their ratification of it was secured by ballot, August 24, 1898, and immediately thereafter it became law.  It provides for the winding up of the tribal governments as follows:

“It is further agreed, in view of the modification of legislative authority and judicial jurisdiction herein provided, and the necessity of the continuance of the tribal governments so modified in order to carry out the requirements of this agreement, that the same shall continue for the period of eight years from the fourth day of March, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight. This stipulation is made in the belief that the tribal governments so modified will prove so satisfactory that there will be no need or desire for further change till the lands now occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes shall, in the opinion of Congress, be prepared for admission as a State to the Union. * * * 

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Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved
Ellen Pack