Page 9

 

Schemes 

     In view of the many schemes to rob the Mississippi Choctaw of his claim, it will doubtless appear that his condition was not improved by his removal to the Indian Territory. Such might have been the case had it not been for the protecting mantle of the law. It seems that Congress must have foreseen these greedy attempts at exploiting him, and made every provision for his protection. 

     It has already been seen that section twelve of the Supplemental Treaty provided for each allottee a homestead to include one half of his allotment, which homestead was secured to him by a provision of law, making it impossible for him to convey, encumber, or in anyway part with his title to it during his natural life or for a period of twenty-one years. Sections fifteen and sixteen of this treaty further provide that:

16. All lands allotted to the members of said tribes, except such land as is set aside to each for a homestead as herein provided, shall be alienable after issuance of patent as follows: One-fourth in acreage in one year, one-fourth in acreage in three years, and the balance in five years; in each case from date of patent: Provided, That such land shall not be alienable by the allottee or his heirs at any time before the expiration of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribal Governments for less than its appraised value
     Various efforts were made to evade this law. To obviate the condition of legal inability of the Choctaw to sell his property, in connection with the contract for part of the allotment, a lease was usually taken spanning the shorter periods of disability. These leases were no more enforceable against the Choctaw than the contract for the allotment, but it was generally regarded as highly improbable that the lease would ever be called into question. It was the bona fide intention of holder of these leases to make valuable improvements on the allotment during the existence of the lease. These improvements he could afford to make as he was to get the use and profit of the land during the life of the lease, which would well pay him for all moneys he might expend in improvements and in a measure compensate him for whatever sums he might have advanced to the lessor while in Mississippi for transportation, or in the Indian Territory for supplies. 

     Furthermore, the improvements were calculated, it was thought, to keep up a proper public sentiment, as well as to keep the Choctaw landlord contented and on the best of terms with his tenant. It was intended that no controversy should arise, and consequently no occasion for a decision of the courts declaring a particular lease null and void. 

     As a part of this whole scheme must be mentioned the unusually good treatment accorded the Indian landlord for the purpose of making a fast friend of him, relying upon his sense of honor and honesty, which, be it said to his credit, was much stronger and more enduring than that of some of the white people with whom he came in contact, to carry out the terms of his contract in full in spite of the absence of authority of law. Much, of course, depended upon the Indianís ignorance, and the lessees felt justified in assuming that the Indian under whom they held their lands would never know of the peculiar strength of his claims, nor of the peculiar weakness of theirs.

     The lease and contract scheme might have worked admirably with the Indian had it not been for the discontented white man, who after having spent all his means on Indian claims, had been crowded out and had fallen by the wayside. That such a scheme should have been originated and trusted by the land corporations of the Indian Territory at this time seems most extraordinary. They had a complete illustration of the utter impracticability of their schemes. Reference is here made to the land tenancy of the Indian Territory, a brief account of which will be given, even at the risk of digression, that the folly of trusting this method may be fully appreciated.

     A parole agreement merely, and for a long time without sanction of law, this tenancy at best was only a tenancy at sufferance, the lowest estate in land known to the law, subject at all times to be defeated at the will of the landlord. But a family of white people often lived on the same tract of land by virtue of this tenancy for many years unmolested, and as secure as if they were the owners in fee. The Indian made an ideal landlord from a tenantís point of view, and white people might have lived in peace as his tenants for life had it not been for outside interference. 

     This interference came about in this way. One white man would want the home of another. The land was hard to put into cultivation. Much labor was required, and the yield for the first few years was short. So, rather than pay the price for his home with his honest toil, he would seek to reap the labor of his faithful brother, to turn him out of his home and to occupy it in his stead. With dishonest promises, and false and fraudulent charges against his more honest and industrious brother he would win favor with the landlord, and often succeed in legally ousting the old tenant, when he would occupy the premises himself.  To be thrown out of doors with oneís family is a great grievance; and when it is remembered that this ouster was subject to take place at any time of the year, in summer as well as in winter, regardless of crops whether growing or ready for harvest, it will be better understood how the shotgun often came to be the court of last resort. 

     The tenancy of the country permitted these evils, but the evils themselves were the creations of discontented white people, but for whom the evils never would have existed.  This, in brief, is the example which should have demonstrated to the satisfaction of anyone the uncertainties of results from contracting with Indians where there is no law to force the Indian to carry out his part of the contract, and especially should it have proved the utter impracticability of the lease and contract schemes of those so energetic in helping the Indian file on his claim by which help they expected to hold him under their control until he could make them a deed to his land.
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     That there was more or less risk in spending money in helping the Mississippi Choctaw perfect his filing and locate and settle his claim all admitted.í But able lawyers gave it as their opinion that where valuable and adequate help was given the Choctaw, and no undue advantage taken of him, that the courts would upon proof of these facts enforce these contracts as a matter of right and equity. They relied too on the fact that this help was necessary, that it was utterly impossible for a full-blood Choctaw in Mississippi ever to take advantage of his claim in the Indian Territory, or to secure any part of the same without help.  Some one must step in and render this assistance, and who would undertake the work if there was no profit to be made out of it? This help had been given in good faith, the Mississippi Choctaw had accepted it, and had been and was now being greatly benefited by it. The land corporations would, if necessary, come into court with clean hands and ask not only that their rights be enforced but that additional rights be created. 

     At the time, this appeared to be a strong argument. True, the law was against them, but they hoped to avoid the courts, and if they must resort to law they would appear as defendants. Would the government carry out to the letter this charitable policy with the Mississippi Choctaws?  Many thought that it would not. Had not the great body of them been moved over and cared for at private expense?  Had there not existed all the time a prejudice among the Indian citizens against the Mississippi Choctaw? Had he not been discouraged by the Commission, and treated differently from the natives?  Was he not too poor to employ able counsel to represent him? 

     By means of such arguments the land corporations consoled themselves that they had a kind of security. Still it was a fact, evident to all, that they were purely interrneddlers, and as such would have a poor standing in court.  Could they control the Indian as they hoped to do and avoid litigation, they would feel more secure. But, even then they were in danger. The Indian, because of his connection with them, had violated the law and forfeited his claim to a patent.  Should the government make proof of this fact and enforce the forfeiture against the Indian, both the Indian and the land corporation would be left with an empty bag.



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Ellen Pack