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
Web posted October 28, 2007
· Chronicles of Oklahoma
· 1860 Arkansas Slave Schedule