Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black (Indian) History Month: Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen Leaders

It has always been curious to me who the leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen community were and how they developed as leaders. Fortunately there are a few documents that illustrate their activities following emancipation from the two “nations” but I’m certain there is much more to learn.

1890 Chickasaw Nation Census

One document that I strongly feel gives us insight about the men and women who became proactive about their lives and the lives of their children was Senate Executive Document 82; 40th Congress, 2nd Session. One of the important aspects of this document has to do with the date, July 24, 1868.

This date is important because the leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen realized that the two year limit for the nations to adopt the former slaves and their descendants was drawing near and the freedmen had not been adopted as citizens in the nation of their birth.

Clearly in the beginning the majority of leaders were men and it will take a more comprehensive study of freedmen life and culture to discover the women who contributed to the political and economic welfare of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen.

Much of my research is dedicated to discovering the “Voices of Indian Territory” so that their life and legacy is preserved while telling "THEIR STORY" with "THEIR WORDS."

Senate Executive Document 82 provides a window into the thoughts, efforts and desires of the men and women who only two years earlier had been enslaved; yet they were not considered worthy of citizenship in the land of their birth and they certainly were not citizens of the United States.

Senate Executive Document 82; 40th Congress, 2nd Session p4
Another important aspects of this remarkable document is the identification of numerous leaders who signed on to this petition as they voiced their concerns to the United States Congress. One of the surprising facts that this petition to Congress provides is the desire by a group of freedmen to accept their portion of the $300,000 and relocate somewhere outside of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. They were willing to relocate because the Choctaws, Chickasaws and the United States government all failed to secure the same treaty terms that were provided the Seminole, Cherokee and Creek freedmen.

Watson BROWN Choctaw Freedman card #1205

However it is no surprise the United States or the tribes failed to pay the former slaves this money. The Choctaw freedmen were allowed to languish for another twenty years in the Choctaw Nation without rights as citizens. The Chickasaw freedmen would endure forty years of denial as citizens in the nation of their birth when they finally became citizens of the United States in 1907.

Chickasaw Freedman card # 218
It would be remiss of me to discover this document with the names of the early leaders in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen communities and not attempt to locate additional information on each of them, if possible!

Isom FLINT Choctaw Freedman card #1159

I was aware of at least four record groups that might shed some light on these men and give me an idea of who they were and how they came to be leaders in their community. The first record group was the Civil War Pension files, the second record group would be the 1885 Choctaw Freedmen census, the 1890 Chickasaw Nation Census and finally the Dawes Allotment records.

Isaac ALEXANDER Civil War Pension File Courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji

Unfortunately most of the men were deceased by the time of the Dawes Allotment process but I was able to locate a sizable number of records for some of these men. Among this early group of leaders were many men who served in the Unites States Colored Troops and fought for their freedom as well as their families back in Indian Territory.

Excerpt from Dawes Jacket Bynum COLBERT Choctaw Freedmen card #1477

Byington (Bynum) COLBERT, Isaac ALEXANDER stand out as men who served their country and their people as they courageously fought the Confederate forces in Indian Territory and the United States.

King BLUE, and Henry CRITTENDON would distinguish themselves as a leaders in their communities as they advocated for the education of freedmen children. Henry CRITTENDON was instrumental in establishing the Oakhill Academy Valiant.


Nathan COCHRAN, Bart FRANKLIN and Dick BRASHEARS were impressive leaders in their communities as well. It was the efforts of Dick BRASHEARS and James LADD that caused them to be charged with “intent to disturb the peace and tranquility of the United States in the month of November 1869.” gathering.

After being cleared of the charges BRASHEARS, LADD, J. KEARNEY and another Civil War hero Thomas BLACKWATER called for another meeting at Skullyville in January of 1870.

Damaged headstone Thomas BLACKWATER USCT
Photo by Terry Ligon © 2011
We owe a great deal to these brave men, without their strong shoulders we could not stand as tall today. We need to preserve their legacy by locating their resting places, and maintain them in the manner befitting their contribution to Black (Indian) History.

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