Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Freedmen Like All Other Indians?

This is my response to a comment made by a reader of a recent article I blogged about: "Choctaw Freedmen ARE Citizens" 

“To answer why Terry, the reason is simply because Freedmen like all OTHER Indians desire to have full fellowship and Citizen status (sic) within their respective Tribes.”

I have a problem with your characterization that “freedmen like all OTHER Indians” because that is not factually true. The majority of the people known as freedmen and their descendants are not Indian.

Those who were classified as freedmen but had a male ancestor or parent that was “Indian” were systematically refused, ignored and marginalized as not having any Indian blood because their mother or another female ancestor was classified as having African descent.

These factors contributed to the eventual removal of freedmen as citizens. It also contributed to former slaves and their descendants realization that freedmen were people of African descent, which is also how the majority conducted themselves following Oklahoma statehood in 1907.

Despite what appears to your solidarity with freedmen descendants; when you engage in misrepresenting the freedmen and their descendants in my opinion does not support their rights as adopted citizens by the Treaty of 1866.

I've lived almost 60 years as a black man, it would be the height of hypocrasy if I started walking around in some so called "Indian dress" just to prove how much Indian I have in me. I see people who have no problem doing this and I wonder why?

“WHY?! Because it is their BIRTHRIGHT! WHY does anyone want to be American? Because they are American.”

Here we agree, it is their birthright as descendants of the former slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes. They were born in one of the nations and except for the Chickasaw Nation, the former slaves and their descendants were granted citizenship in the nation of their birth; just as someone being born in the United States.

However, it is the leaders in the Five Slave Holding Tribes who choose to ignore this simple fact. Contemporary leaders of the Five Slave Holding Tribes have ignored the Treaty 1866 and devised a strategy of “Indian tribes for Indians.”

“Do Freedmen want second class Citizenship status? NO! WHY not? Because they are no less Citizens than any other Indian.“

Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes have been illegally disenfranchised, it is wrong and should be rectified. J.D. Colbert wrote an *excellent* article about Citizenship, and stated that Citizenship should be about blood quantum and cultural fluency. It's an idea...

I found this argument confusing to say the least. I read the article and came away with the idea Mr. Colbert is in direct opposition to your point of view?

If as he argues “citizenship” should be about “blood quantum and cultural fluency” it again ignores the Treaty of 1866 and the adoption of the former slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes. The Dawes Commission with the complicity of the tribal leaders sought NOT to enroll everyone with “Indian blood” and the constructed separate rolls to insure the former slaves and their descendant’s would not be citizens, despite their already having that distinction before the Dawes enrollment process.

Again, you argue freedmen should be citizens but I’m scratching my head to see how J.D. Colbert’s article supports your argument?

It is that concept that "blood quantum" somehow denotes an Indian racial purity test. If there is a Chickasaw race, Choctaw race, Cherokee race, Creek race, or Seminole race, I fail to see it. The idea that there is an Indian race frankly seems problematic to me.
I've looked at a lot of Dawes cards and there are a lot of I.W.'s (intermarried whites) who appear to be citizens by blood in the nations that refused to honor their treaty adopting "freedmen." Anyone promoting an "Indian Race" from the Five Slave Holding Tribes is someone who does not know their history.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Largest Slave Holder in Indian Territory~Robert M. Jones Choctaw Indian

In 2007 I happened to be reading an online version of the Daily Ardmoreite Newspaper in which an article was written about four people who had a profound impact on the history of Oklahoma. What struck me about the article was an individual who was portrayed as one of the best businessmen in Indian Territory. I recognized the name but as I read the article one important fact was missing from the article in my opinion was significant to the person being discussed.

The article began innocently enough, it informed readers that prior to statehood Oklahoma was known as Indian Territory a fact I was quite familiar. Then the author began telling how the Choctaws were “relocated” to Indian Territory as a consequence of Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory:

“As part of the first treaty signed between the Choctaw government and the United States government in 1820, the federal government would take the sons and daughters of these mixed-blood families, and send them to the Choctaw academy to learn to read and write.”

Clearly this story was meant to be uplifting for a certain segment of the population,  as the author continued it was clear to me he was omitting a significant part of this man life and Indian Territory that has gone under reported by historians far to long.

The subject of this article was Robert M. Jones; the largest slave holder in the Choctaw Nation and arguably the largest slave holder in Indian Territory.

If you include the people enslaved by his wife Susan (Susie) Jones nee Colbert; there is no doubt, together they amassed an enormous amount “wealth” based on the oppression of African descendant slaves. How the writer could omit this part of this man’s background is beyond me.

His parents were described as a white merchant and his mother was a Choctaw,the author also informed his readers that;

 “From a young age Jones was raised to be both the son of a white merchant as well as to take part in the customs and traditions of his Choctaw tribe."

I’m not exactly sure what the “customs and traditions” of the Choctaw tribes consisted of but all indications point to the institution of slavery as being at the core of the tribe upon their arrival in Indian Territory for which the nation would join the Confederacy during the Civil War to maintain the institution.

“In 1861 war came to the Indian Territory. All five of the Five Civilized Tribes aligned themselves with the Confederacy. Jones served as the delegate to the Confederate Congress from the Indian Territory. Once the war was over Jones continued to serve his people. He negotiated with the federal government for the new peace treaty of 1866.

Here we see again an important aspect not only in the life of Robert M. Jones but the entire Choctaw Nation when they “negotiated” the Treaty of 1866 with one of the major articles in it was the abolishment of slavery.

For this writer to omit the true history of this man in an effort to glorify him as one of Oklahoma’s examples of a pioneer and leader is a disservice to every citizen of Oklahoma, especially the descendants of those men and women who were enslaved by him and his family.

The Chronicles of Oklahoma does give a fuller portrait of the man and how he obtained his wealth and stature as an “Oklahoma leader.”

“A mixed-blood Choctaw leader, planter, and entrepreneur, Robert M. Jones operated large plantations and shipping concerns in Indian Territory. At the peak of his success he ran approximately twenty-eight trading stores, six plantations along the Arkansas and Texas borders, and a sugar plantation in Louisiana.

The two largest plantations were Lake West, with almost five thousand acres near present Oberlin, and Rocky Comfort, with approximately ten thousand acres. He was the largest slave holder in Indian Territory, owning approximately 225 slaves at any given time. His two steamboats had regular shipping to New Orleans.”

It is truly unfortunate that the state of Oklahoma and the so called Five Civilized Tribes continue their omission of this sordid chapter in their history. At some point it is hoped they can come to grips with this and begin the process of healing themselves and the descendants of the people they oppressed.

The Five Slave Holding Tribes continue to portray their oppression as an ultimate wrong done to them as victims based on their ignorance of the “white man’s” laws.

However, through the life of Robert M. Jones and many other “mixed blood” families throughout the Five Slave Holding Tribes, their cries of ignorance is not supported by the facts.

“Jones's greatest service to the Choctaw was in the long process of getting the "net proceeds" from the federal government. These were payments promised to the tribe for the land and improvements in Mississippi and Alabama when the tribe was forced to remove to Indian Territory in the 1830s.”

“The Choctaw and Creek tribes elected Jones president of the "United Nations of the Indian Territory," and he was one of the most ardent secessionists in the region during the Civil War. He was most influential as the joint delegate from the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations to the Confederate Congress in Richmond, Virginia.”

“Jones also negotiated the Choctaws' post-war treaty with the federal government, which included the past payment of the "net proceeds." He regained his antebellum wealth by retaining his property and businesses and by selling forty-five hundred bales of cotton that he had earlier stored in New Orleans.”

Perhaps it is time the Five Slaveholding Tribes come clean about their history?


·         “Oklahoma: A unique state with a unique history Historical Society director illustrates his point with stories about four people who impacted state's development”
By Micah Groves
Staff Writer
Web posted October 28, 2007

·         Chronicles of Oklahoma

·         1860 Arkansas Slave Schedule

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let the Record Reflect...

Winchester “Daugherty” COLBERT Chickasaw Indian Slaveholder

It is inescapable the history of slavery among the so called Five Civilized Tribes but somehow their historians omit this sordid chapter in the history of the tribe. In an effort to illustrate just how pervasive this institution was throughout these nations, I will be posting some of the known slave holders along with some of the individuals and  families they held in bondage.

It is unfortunate the Five Slave Holding Tribes engaged in this inhumane institution but it is equally unfortunate for them to remove this chapter from their historical landscape as they promote a “traditional” Native American culture.

We begin to see time after time how the “ruling class” or “mixed blood” elites in the nations become the dominant slave holders in each nation. In the case of the Seminole nation it would appear their system was based more on the traditional practice of paying tribute to their leaders.

©2011 Terry Ligon 
This was in stark contrast to the system we see in the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Nations, where slave holding mixed bloods dominated the institution in order to solidify their control over the economics and politics of their respective nation.

Beginning with Winchester (Daugherty) COLBERT we see how his power and influence was connected to his family’s wealth by owning slaves. This provided a comfortable way of living that was more on the level of southern plantation than the tributary system practiced in the Seminole Nation.

There appears to be another aspect that is consistent with the institution of slavery among the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek nations; the leading men had no problem fathering children with an enslaved woman.

What we discover, just like the system of slavery in the south these men denied the humanity of their enslaved people but had no problem using the women for their pleasure. As usual, race was a barrier to marriage and citizenship but race was not a barrier to sex.

From the information on the Dawes card of his son, Nelson COLBERT, apparently Winchester sold him off to a man by the name of Johnson PERRY; which is not the exception to the rule from what I've seen in the course of my research.

Winchester COLBERT comes from arguably the largest slave owning family of Chickasaw Indians and part of the ruling “mixed blood” elite. Families like the COLBERT’S, LOVE’S AND GAINES’ dominated tribal politics and the Chickasaw economy based directly on slave ownership. Contrary to the stories told by the nation even today, the removal to Indian Territory for these families was not the “Trail of Tears” they like to portray. 

Don Martini "Who Was Who Among the Southern Indians"

Senate Document 166; 50th Congress, 1st Session pg.9

These documents demonstrate clearly the Chickasaw Indians knew the value of owning humans as property and as they complain about “finding themselves oppressed, being ignorant of the language and laws of the United States;” they were engaging in the oppressive institution of slavery!

The claims this tribe in which Winchester COLBERT was a leader, coming from a leading family was nothing less than disingenuous. Let the record reflect Winchester COLBERT took part in negotiating the Treaty of Ft. Smith in 1866; and his signature is a part of that historical document.

Let the record reflect; among the men from the Chickasaw Nation that signed the Treaty of 1866; Winchester COLBERT, Edmund PICKENS, Colbert CARTER and my great great grandfather Robert H. LOVE ALL owned slaves.

Let the record; reflect that slavery was an integral part of the Chickasaw Nation; so much so that one of the major issues in the Treaty of 1866 was the abolishment of slavery.

Let the record reflect; following the “emancipation” of the Chickasaw slaves, the nation did not adopt the people they enslaved as citizens, which that included their own children.

Let the record reflect; for forty years the former slaves of the Chickasaw nation were not citizens in the nation of their birth.

The descendants of those enslaved and the descendants of those who enslaved these men, women and children have an obligation to correct this history but neither can do it without the other. 

Finally let the record reflect; the Chickasaw Nation engaged in the wholesale oppression of people of African and African-Native descent. Despite this, the Chickasaw Nation used their oppression by the United States in their efforts to receive favorable treatment when they were forced to move to Indian Territory. 

Let the record reflect they were incapable of showing the same empathy for the people they enslaved.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Choctaw Freedmen Descendants ARE Citizens...

In 1904 an election was held for Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation; in that election the Tuskahoma Party led by Green McCurtain was seeking the position.  On behalf of the Tuskahoma Party several members of the Executive Committee wrote an open letter to the Choctaw Freedmen seeking their vote for Green McCurtain.

This document illustrates quite clearly just how much the Choctaw Freedmen were integral to keeping that nation together.

We know the Choctaw Nation officially adopted the former slaves of that nation and their descendants in 1885.

This action was done in compliance with the Treaty of Fort Smith in 1866 and gave the former slaves AND THEIR descendants full rights, the same as Choctaw “citizens by blood.”

With that as the background there evidently was some concern that the children of the Choctaw Freedmen born between 1902 and 1906 would have the same rights to citizenship including receiving a land allotment.

These became issues during the campaign for Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation in 1904. It was the aim of the Tuskahoma Party then led by Green McCurtain to campaign for the votes of the Choctaw Freedmen citizens and this is why the Tuskahoma Party included a platform to appeal specifically to the Freedmen.

The method of campaigning for votes used by the Tuskahoma Party seem to be instructive for today’s Choctaw Freedmen descendants as they consider the idea that those rights and privileges given to their ancestors should be in full force today?

Document after document supports the historical fact that Choctaw Freedmen AND THEIR descendants were granted citizenship by the Treaty of 1866 and as late as 1904, they were actively involved with the politics, culture and society of the Choctaw Nation. 

Looking at all of the documentation on the Choctaw Freedmen it is curious how their descendants have been marginalized and ostensibly disenfranchised from citizenship today when everything points to their legal rights to citizenship?

Green McCurtain went on to become Principal Chief in August of 1904 and all the evidence we have indicates the Choctaw Freedmen Minors and Newborns did become citizens and received land allotments.

One can only conclude the Tuskahoma Party fulfilled it’s campaign pledge to the Choctaw Freedmen based on all the available evidence; so why isn’t the Choctaw Nation and it’s people actively seeking out Choctaw Freedmen descendant’s as citizens of the nation?

Green McCurtain from the
Chronicles of Oklahoma
Clearly there were people among the Choctaw who did not share the idea that the former slaves of the Choctaw Nation were entitled to citizenship and clearly they disagreed with the idea that the children of the Choctaw Freedmen should receive land allotments.

The platform of the so called Choctaw Protective Party was silent on this issue as the flyer for the Tuskahoma Party “plainly” pointed out. Perhaps the sentiments of the Choctaw Protective Party have survived and taken root in the Choctaw Nation today?

I can’t recall hearing anyone from the nation today advocating for the inclusion of the Choctaw Freedmen descendants to be citizens.

This is somewhat disturbing when you think about it. Tribal historians rarely if ever discuss the nation’s unfortunate connections to the oppression and enslavement of African and African-Native people but will consistently give voice to their oppression from the United States.

In many respects much of what the so called Five Civilized Tribes receive in entitlements from the United States government is based on “their” oppression; it may be just a matter of time when the descendant’s of the Choctaw Freedmen begin to question why the Choctaw Nation doesn’t start compensating the descendant’s of the people they have oppressed and disenfranchised?

It could be easy to be cynical and look at this as a ploy by the Tuskahoma Party to get the Freedmen votes but looking at the evidence, the leaders of that party honored their agreement with the Choctaw Freedmen.

That may be the last time the Choctaw Nation honored an agreement with the former slaves and their descendant’s?

From Western History Collection Oklahoma University