Thursday, July 15, 2010

1887 Letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs

 We have a remarkable document in which various Chickasaw Freedmen leaders stated that in 1866 the Chickasaw Freedmen would have willingly left the nation but in the twenty years following their “emancipation” they had “become attached themselves to the country” and “not willing to move now unless the Government thought if best.”

This is one statement that clearly demonstrated how the United States government again failed to address the issues of Chickasaw Indians adopting their former slaves according to the Treaty of 1866. This negligence contributed to the subsequent detrimental effects of forty years with Chickasaw Freedmen living in a country that did not respect their rights as humans and did not respect their rights under the Constitution of the United States and refused to adopt them as citizens in the "nation of their birth."

The fact that the Indian agent and other governmental representatives continued to misrepresent the desires of the freedmen preventing them from participating in the land give away that Americans participated in during the land runs of Oklahoma. Had they been permitted to acquire land like the Americans, the Chickasaw Freedmencould have acquired one hundred and sixty acres of land on par with the Seminole, Cherokee Creek freedmen as well as the settlers who did not have treaty rights in Indian Territory is suspicious.

Each leader represented a Chickasaw Freedmen settlement estimated that a population between 200 to 250 people lived within the settlement. Additionally agent Owens defined and named these settlements more descriptively. These men estimated that between two to three thousand “Chickasaw Negroes were farming and owned stock with all the appearance of well dressed “fairly prosperous. “

The leaders clearly counted heads before they approached Agent Owens to arrive at that number. Later we will see how remarkably accurate the population figures appear to be by the reaction and reluctance of the Chickasaw legislature to adopt the freedmen. One other glaring fact is mentioned in this letter that also deserves examination; the Chickasaw Indians “received $55,000 on account of these Freedmen.”

This latter fact had significant repercussions because it was a part of the Treaty of 1866 and should have required a specific action by the United States government to provide for the removal of the Chickasaw Freedmen to a land of their own according to the treaty provisions. The fact that the Chickasaw did not adopt the freedmen as the Choctaw nation did for their former slaves in 1885 yet accepted their portion of the $300,000 that was central to the treaty meant the United States government failed to live up to the agreement.

Back to the population figures; the Choctaw’s and Chickasaw’s argued that their slave population at the time the Treaty of 1866 was signed numbered 3,000. The fact that twenty years later there were approximately three thousand Chickasaw freedmen is not an unreasonable number considering they tended to reproduce faster than the Indians and when you look at the numbers of actual Chickasaw freedmen on the final Dawes roll, they numbered approximately 4,500 men, women and children. Which meant that in the twenty years since the leaders of the fifteen Chickasaw freedmen communities gave an informal census of their population they increased between 800 to 1500 people, not unreasonable considering the influx of “state Negroes” in the population figures.

The reaction to this population is what I believe is the true basis for the Chickasaw Nation never adopting their former slaves and descendants. The Chickasaw government leaders concluded that the former slaves could one day control the nation’s government with the assumption that would be detrimental and intolerable for them as a nation.

Agent Owens’ response to this quandary is another revealing aspect of this letter that deserves a great deal of scrutiny. Agent Owens recommended “the fourth article of the treaty of 1866 should be carried out as soon as suitable legislation can be had on that subject.” He pointed out that “a fertile country immediately adjacent to the Chickasaw Nation and on the north and west of the Pottawattamie country, on the Canadian River which might be occupied by these people under the Treaty with the Creeks.”

The fact the Chickasaw nation accepted their portion of the $300,000 earmarked in the Treaty of 1866 meant that it should have triggered the very suggestion United States Indian Agent Owens was suggesting demonstrates just how remarkable this document bearing the names of notable Chickasaw Freedmen leaders truly is and how the issue of land and citizenship was shaped almost one hundred and twenty five years ago due to the failure of Congress.


  1. True or false: Chickasaws gave up land (40 acres per enrollee) but did not extend citizenship as did the other four Nations? Does this summarize the above article?

  2. @ Norse, The Chickasaw Nation DID NOT give up land to their former slaves. In fact, they filed a suit against the United States for the land "given" to the former slaves in the Chickasaw Nation.