Stories of the South - Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek Part I




On a hot day last summer I went on a little adventure.  I knew the area I wanted to investigate was on a gravel road so I waited until I felt sure the threat of mud and getting stuck was no longer a worry and on the way back from Louisville one day I turned off highway 14 toward Mashulaville on the hunt for the site of the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty located in rural Noxubee County.  On June 28,1928 a commemorative marker was placed by the Bernard Romans chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Columbus, Mississippi.  The 6000 pound pearl gray granite boulder is five feet high, 3 feet wide, and reads:





Here on September 27, 1830, was signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek
The Choctaw Nation of Indians surrendered their lands to the U.S. and removed west of the Miss.


Commissioners Choctaw Chiefs  
John Coffee Greenwood LeFleur
John H. Eaton Mushulatubbee  
Little Leader
Interpreter
John Pitchlynn


Erected by Bernard Romans Chapter D.A.R. Columbus, MS



The Bernard Romans Chapter not only erected the stone, but they also purchased land around it from Miss Pearl Jackson.  The monument site is believed to be the location where the treaty was actually signed.  The area was a well-known meeting place to the Choctaw with a council house and the land forming a natural amphitheater around it as well as being a plentiful hunting ground and site of Dancing Rabbit Spring.  It was no doubt selected for the treaty negotiations because of its many favorable features.  


The treaty was a turning point in Mississippi and United States history. In this treaty the Choctaw Indians traded 11 million acres in Mississippi for 15 million acres in what is now Oklahoma.  It was the largest treaty ever signed between native people and the U.S. government in a time of peace and it allowed the Choctaw Nation to become the first non-European ethnic group to become United States citizens.  It was a huge success for the United States and should have been an effective compromise for the Choctaw but as we know this was not to be the case. It was also the first treaty signed after the creation of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and while all of this was settled peacefully, was it honest?  

To many it has been called one of the most blatant swindling jobs in American history.  The road to the treaty is a long one with many different players.  Entire books have been written on the treaty so I’ll try to be as concise as I can, but let’s be honest, this will be at least two blog posts. Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and I’ll share what I’ve learned.


As early as 1798 when the Mississippi Territory was created from land ceded by the Choctaw and Creek Indians after the American Revolution we saw settlers moving into the new territory.  There was a demand for new lands for farming, for cotton production, and as the northern states and cities became crowded people saw an opportunity in the South with its rich land and climate perfect for farming.  There was also abundant game, virgin forests, and the promise of carving a new life out of the wilderness.  Sounds perfect, sounds exciting...but there were already inhabitants of this land. They were the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creeks, the Seminole, the Cherokee, and on and on.  All of the South was scattered with the towns and farms of the Native Americans.  You would have thought there would be plenty of room for everyone, but as we know from even our earliest history classes this was not the case.  


The Indians saw quickly that they had a problem on their hands with the white settlers.  In 1811 the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh traveled the Choctaw “Six Town Trail” to try and unify the Southern tribes.  He met with Choctaw and Chickasaw leaders at Dancing Rabbit Creek with apparently no luck.  His purpose was not peace and other leaders he met with after listening to him threatened to throw him out of their territory because of his ideas.  After unsuccessfully meeting with the Choctaw he moved into northern Alabama to try and incite the Creek Indians.  There he was successful with some of the Indians being receptive to his rhetoric.  One of the factions that followed him were called the Red Sticks due to the red painted wooden war clubs they carried.  This group was held responsible for the Massacre of Fort Mims near Mobile, Alabama on August 30, 1813.  About 700 Creek Indian warriors destroyed the fort killing 250  and taking 200 captives.  General Andrew Jackson and his volunteer Tennessee militia were sent by the Secretary of War John Armstrong to put down the uprising which ended up becoming the Creek Wars with the Massacre of Fort Mims becoming the first major battle.  

Why is all this important?  


President Andrew Jackson


General Jackson who would later become President Jackson commanded a regiment led by Colonel John Coffee who would later be sent to negotiate several Indian treaties including Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty with the Choctaw and the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek with the Chickasaw.  Also under his leadership was Major John H. Eaton who would be appointed his Secretary of War and also negotiate with the Choctaw and Chickasaw.  Due to his experiences with the Creek Wars, Jackson knew how important successful negotiations with the Choctaw and Chickasaw would be in the future.  He knew what kind of fighters they could be as the Choctaw were an essential part of the Creek Wars fighting alongside the United States Army.  Choctaw Chief Pushmataha even became a field commissioned Brigadier General during the war.  





The Choctaw had their own history going into the treaty as well.  As the white settlers moved into the newly opened areas of the South they of course came into contact with the native people.  As the Choctaw and other Indians realized their new white neighbors were there to stay the Choctaws decided to take part in the developing community.  They began raising and selling livestock and horses, cultivating cotton, and marketing their products like deer skins, baskets, and other handmade items.  They also owned African American slaves.  Brilliantly they welcomed Christian missionaries into the Choctaw nation.  From these missionaries, they learned to write and speak English, basic math, Christian teachings and beliefs, European farming methods, business skills, and basically how to live alongside the new settlers.  


The Choctaw were the largest native tribe in Mississippi composed of three main groups - the western, eastern, and southern (or Six Towns) divisions.  At one time they had held an area of about 23 million acres. The majority of this area was in Mississippi with smaller holdings in Alabama and Louisiana.  




So with a group this big, they were dealing with their own internal power struggles as well.  Many saw treaties with the whites as a way to secure their own positions along with gaining gifts and money to give to their tribes to engender good will.  Combine this with the new settlers desire to avoid conflict, make peace, and gain natural resources and the stage was set for negotiations with the Choctaw.   


There were several treaties made with the Choctaw beginning in 1786, but these did not call for the Choctaw to leave the state.  An initial attempt was made to try and move the Choctaw west in 1818.  This failed as the Choctaw voted against removal.  General Andrew Jackson, State Senator Daniel Burnett, and Indian Agent John McKee arrived in August 1819 to try and renew negotiations.  Again the Choctaw said no frustrating General Jackson and the Mississippi representatives.  A treaty with the Choctaw was finally reached, The Treaty of Doak’s Stand. Andrew Jackson and Mississippi Representatives Christopher Rankin and General Thomas Hinds met with the Choctaw in October 1820.  Jackson bullied and persuaded the Choctaw to agree to a treaty that ceded what would become the top half of Mississippi to the United States government. Chief Mushulatubbee, a future player at the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty, supported this treaty to boost his own leadership within the tribe.  The Treaty of Doak’s Stand provided the Choctaws with land west of the Mississippi River in present-day Arkansas in exchange for land in Mississippi.  Mushulatubbee received gifts from this treaty he took back to his supporters in the eastern and western divisions.


Chief Mushulatubbee Painted by George Catlin
The only problem with this was the Choctaws never migrated to the area in Arkansas and it was soon settled by others who had no knowledge of the treaty or simply didn’t care.  Mushulatubbee and other Indian leaders traveled to Washington, D.C. to cede that land back to the U.S.  This did not end well for Mushulatubbee.  He was replaced as leader by a rival, David Folsom.  Folsom was only half Choctaw, the son of British trader Nathaniel Folsom and a full-blooded Choctaw woman Ai-ni-chi-ho-yo who was a direct descendant of a long line of royal Choctaw chiefs.  Folsom had been a vocal critic of Mushulatubbee for years and argued that he was not defending Choctaw lands.  To him, Mushulatubbee was a sellout.  In a power play, Mushulatubbee let the Americans know he would support a Choctaw treaty and removal if they would recognize him as the true and legitimate leader of the Choctaw eastern division. Among the Choctaw, he argued that Folsom, who was a Christian, and the Christian missionaries he welcomed were causing the Choctaw to abandon traditional Choctaw culture and beliefs for that of the whites.  Mushulatubbee was a walking, talking contradiction.  He supported removal and a move west and at the same time continued to blame Folsom and his missionaries for the whole thing.  Mushulatubbee even went so far as to never allow missionaries among his people once they moved west.  




So we begin to see just how complicated all of this was.  The government and white settlers wanted to make a peaceful treaty because they knew what the results were otherwise.  In 1828 General Andrew Jackson became President Andrew Jackson and history changed forever.  Politicians in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi knew they now had a powerful ally against the native people.  After Jackson took office he urged for the Indians to voluntarily remove to the west.  At the same time, he supported legislation for removal.  One way or another the Indians were going to move.  He signed the Indian Removal Act into law May 28, 1830. This authorized the President to appoint commissioners to meet with the eastern tribes and negotiate with them to give up their land and move west of the Mississippi River.  President Jackson chose two commissioners to meet with the Choctaw, Major John H. Eaton the current Secretary of War, and Colonel John R. Coffee.  The President gave his representatives one instruction, “fail not to make a treaty,”  Andrew Jackson was not a man to accept excuses or failure and Major Eaton and Colonel Coffee would have known this better than most after serving under Jackson during the Creek Wars and the War of 1812.  On the other side is a large but disparate band of Choctaw.  Prior to this in April 1830 Chief Greenwood LeFlore had sent a draft of a treaty to President Jackson he thought his people would accept.  President Andrew Jackson rejected it as much too favorable to the Choctaw.  This along with the internal struggle between Mushulatubbee and Folsom caused friction and division.  But overall the Choctaw were determined to not sign any more treaties that would cost them their Mississippi homeland.  A heated confrontation could not help but erupt from this beginning.  

That's the end of part one friends. Hopefully that will give you some backstory going into the treaty and in Part II we will go into the treaty negotiations themselves.  

Have any questions? Comments? Criticism? Let me know in the comments below! Until next time.

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