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

Four months after the signing of the Indian Removal Act the commissioners traveled to Mississippi to begin treaty negotiations.  Once Colonel Coffee arrived he started to establish a campground for the negotiations.  Colonel George S. Gaines was assigned to gather provisions for the meeting.  How many people were they providing groceries for at the treaty site?  Some numbers are 3000 and others I’ve read were 6000, but regardless there were a lot of people coming for this meeting. Gaines hired a well known Alabama frontiersman Sam Dale to assist in gathering and transporting supplies including cattle he drove to the meeting site.  Dale ended up settling in the area afterward becoming one of the first settlers of Lauderdale County and founding the town of Daleville.  

We get most of our eyewitness accounts from Henry Halbert.  Through his writings, we also get the greatest understanding of Choctaw culture.  Henry Halbert lived from 1827-1916 and was a Catholic missionary and teacher to the Choctaws from around 1888-1900.  From his time living in Neshoba County and Newton County at Conehatta, MS Halbert provides detailed descriptions of Choctaw culture and history.  On September 15, 1830, Major Eaton and Colonel Coffee arrive at what the Choctaw called “Chunkfi-Ahihlabok” or “Rabbit There Dances a Creek” later to be known simply as Dancing Rabbit Creek.  The Choctaw selected campsites according to their station.  Chief Greenwood LeFlore of the western district and his people camped on the highest ground on Big Rabbit Creek, Chief Mushulatubbee of the northwestern district and his people camped below LeFlore, and Chief Nittakeche of the southeastern district camped below them, and lastly Chief Hopaii Iskitini also called “Little Leader” arrived last and camped along Little Rabbit Creek.  Halbert described the clothes the leaders wore with LeFlore dressed in fine civilian clothes, Mushulatubbee wore a new blue military uniform obtained through his rank in the U.S. Army and a gift of President Jackson, and Nittakechi was the only one who chose to wear the traditional Choctaw clothing of buckskins, silver ornaments, a crescent on his chest, and beadwork.  There are also descriptions of the treaty grounds.  The woods along the river were beautiful with tall trees and very little underbrush so that you could see long distances through the open forest.  In those beautiful woods saloons selling an alcoholic drink called Okahomi and gambling tables were set up in tents throughout the area.  At night the Choctaw danced and sang late into the night after negotiations for the day ended.  The Christian Indians arrived with David Folsom and camped just off the treaty grounds as the commissioners said there could be no missionaries on the treaty site.  Apparently, the commissioners feared that the Christian Indians and missionaries would have a negative and distracting effect on negotiations.  Saloons, alcoholic beverages, and gambling were okay but religion was not?  Okay then.  

General John Coffee
From September 15-17, 1830 the U.S. Representatives and the Choctaw prepared for treaty negotiations.  On September 18 negotiations started when commissioners Eaton and Coffee with the help of interpreter John Pitchlynn addressed the assembled group and stated their objective.  That objective was the removal of the Choctaw people to land west of the Mississippi River.  The meeting started at 11 o’clock with Major Eaton doing most of the talking.  He referenced the prior Treaty of Doak’s Stand in 1820.  He stated that this treaty had ceded an “extensive and fertile land west of the Mississippi and that the Choctaw had already agreed to remove their people to this land.”  These statements were completely untrue as the land had already been given back to the United States.  Ever heard the saying, “Proceed as you expect to continue?” This opening rhetoric of twisting the truth and outright lying was to be the standard by which negotiations with the Choctaw would continue.  He ended that day with the final statement of,

“After the present time we shall no more offer to treat with you.  You have seen commissioners from our country for the last time.  Hereafter you will be left to yourselves and to the laws of the state within which you reside; and when weary of them your nation must remove as it can and at its own expense.”  

After this, the meeting ended.  

Two days later on the 20th, the Choctaw let the commissioners know they were ready to meet again.  But, the meeting was short as the Indians argued among themselves about who would have the most representatives on committees to review the proposals.  Major Eaton had to intervene and the meeting adjourned.  On the 21st and 22nd, the Choctaw inquired about the terms of the treaty and the commissioners offered them terms they hoped would be considered liberal.  The two commissioners and 60 Choctaw councilmen met and sat in a circle.  Also, seven of the oldest Choctaw women sat in the center of the circle to listen to the meeting.  The Choctaw female elders might not have spoken during the meetings but they were very important to the decision making process.  They talked before and after meetings and were closely listened to by the tribe. The Choctaws, like many Native American groups, are a matriarchal society meaning that the men received their leadership positions through their female line.  The women controlled access and governance of land and families.  A Choctaw leader Killihota was favorable to moving west and spoke about the beauty of Oklahoma, the fertile land, and abundant game.  He was agreeable to leaving his lands after hearing the terms of the treaty, but one of the old women sitting in the middle of the circle threatened to kill Killihota with a large knife calling him a disgrace to the tribe for giving up his lands.  I guess that is one way to end an argument. This was followed by a speech from Chief Hopaii Iskitini; he spoke strongly against removal saying,

“Any Chief who may sign a treaty selling our country is a traitor and should suffer death.  I go home to prepare my people to fight for our home and the graves of our fathers.”  

Even after the treaty Chief Hopaii Iskitini chose not to remove with the tribe.  He ultimately lived, died, and was buried in Mississippi.  Mushulitubbee and other leaders also took the opportunity to speak out against the treaty.  Finally, the Choctaw took a vote by passing a stick around the circle.  Only those who struck the ground with the stick were in favor of leaving.  Killihota alone struck the ground with the stick saying, “Yakni kanchi lishkeh.” This translated to “I am for selling the country.”  After the vote they smoked tobacco signaling a time of quiet meditation, this also signaled sincere intentions.  They adjourned for the day at 2:00 p.m.  

Major John Eaton

On the 7th day of the negotiations, September 23rd, the Choctaw protested that they could not keep their land as described in the 1820 Tr Doak’s Stand Treaty.  Due to this, the Choctaw had decided to reject the treaty.  They were now using John Pitchlynn’s son Peter Pitchlynn as their interpreter to cast the negative vote.  They had decided to stay in Mississippi.  Major Eaton was enraged. He informed them they had no other choice but to sell their land and move.  He used harsh language, threatened to leave the treaty grounds, and indulged in theatrics to try and sway the Choctaw.  Eaton told them if they refused to leave that within 20 days the United States Army would be sent to remove them and the President himself would march an army into their country and war would ruin the tribe.  Even if passive in resistance their lands would be seized by U.S. appointed judges.   Major Eaton also said, “It would be just as foolish as it would be for a baby to expect to overcome a giant” as it would be for the Choctaw to make war on the U.S. government.  They were offended and rightly so at the high handed and arrogant threats of the Major.  Sadly enough his scare tactics were effective because the Choctaw knew he was the Secretary of War and they also knew the strength of the U.S. Army after fighting alongside them. Colonel Coffee wanted no part of the threats and it is recorded in several places that he objected to the general approach which he likened to persuasion at gunpoint.  

Many Choctaw left the council grounds and headed home.  They felt it was impossible to come to a reasonable settlement with the commissioners.  Other Choctaw asked the commissioners not to go back home.  They wanted to talk further and everyone retired for the day.  Day 8, September 24, saw the Choctaw who opposed the treaty going home having had their fill of threats and coercion.  This left Choctaw at the treaty grounds who were favorable to the treaty. Chief Greenwood LeFlore and his group were in favor of a treaty having seen from past experience it was better to have something in writing than not.  The commissioners asked LeFlore to help in drafting a new treaty.  LeFlore promised to have a new treaty drafted within 24 hours if the commissioners would agree to some added articles.  The articles he wanted to add would allot land to each head of a family who chose to remain in Mississippi.  I find it interesting that LeFlore was in favor of removal when he never moved west.  He ultimately became a large plantation and slave owner in the Mississippi delta even serving in the Mississippi State Senate.  Greenwood, MS located in LeFlore County are both named for him.   

They met again on the following day September 25, 1830, at 11 o’clock.  The newly revised treaty was submitted and Major Eaton declared that the Choctaws requests were “inadmissible.”  Major Eaton spoke to the group again painting a dark picture.  Here are his opening remarks:

“Among other things of like character, the Great Father, General Jackson, by whose side many [of them] had fought, cherished a particular regard for his Choctaw children feeling a deep interest in their welfare, he had sent him, the Secretary of War to make arrangement with them, whereby the evil with which they were threatened might be averted and their happiness and prosperity as a people secured and promoted.”

He told them if they did not sign the treaty the President would laugh at their calamities.  He also told them the United States would offer them no protection at all unless they agreed to the terms of the treaty.  I looked up why this was so worrying to the Choctaw to be under the state government of Mississippi since he had used this threat more than once.  Prior to this treaty and after the Indian Removal Act was passed southern states including Mississippi had passed “extension laws.”  These laws outlawed Indian government, forbade communal land holdings, and declared Indians state citizens.  Without U.S. federal protection they would be at the mercy of the state government and these laws.  Alarmed and threatened, concerned that the protection of the United States would be withdrawn and filled with apprehension and fear the chiefs and heads of the tribes signed the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek at 1:00 pm.  

Colonel Gaines

But, in keeping with the theme of this whole event the camp immediately became filled with excitement and anger.  The Choctaws made threats against the chiefs that had signed the treaty as well as the commissioners.  This was because according to one source when the commissioners were unable to get an agreement out of the group they pulled the Choctaw chiefs into a secret meeting where they finally signed the treaty.  Colonel Gaines was appointed by the commissioners to try and pacify the Indians.  The Indians in return said they would meet again tomorrow to discuss revisions to the treaty in the form of a supplement.  

A final meeting was held on day 10, September 26th to make final changes which the chiefs agreed to and signed at 4:00 p.m. At the closing ceremonies, Colonel Coffee buried a pine knot as was traditional among the Indians and said that as long as the pine knot was buried the United States would never again ask for more land from the Indians.  To this, an old Choctaw warrior Tushka Mastubbee replied, “I don’t believe you.  Your tongue is as forked as a chicken’s foot.”  Seems like Tushka had a perfect grasp of what working with the government was going to be like in the years to come.  After this, the Choctaw and the commissioners went their separate ways.  Major Eaton’s final remarks in the commissioner's journal were that they left the Indians “quiet and peaceable.”  On February 24, 1831, the treaty was ratified by the United States Senate and a new section of Mississippi was opened for settlement.  

So what happened after the treaty?  Article 14 of the treaty that was added allowed for Choctaws that wanted to stay in Mississippi to sign up for a portion of the 500 square miles of land in Mississippi that was allotted to them.  A great idea in theory but William Ward who was assigned the task of Indian agent and who was supposed to manage the land registration was unsympathetic to the Choctaw as well as negligent and a drunkard.  Many times he simply refused to do his job and register applicants for their land and at other times he would loan out the registration ledger to people who were hostile to the Indians even being there.  You can imagine the tampering and destruction that happened to those records.  As a result of his gross negligence during the three-year signup period only 69 names were submitted of the thousands who wanted to stay.  Those that did stay were soon homeless, being driven out by the newer white settlers.  Of the 500 square miles of land that had been allotted to Choctaw families under the treaty, not a single section has remained in Choctaw ownership.  

Local Choctaws at the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty monument in the 1940s.  photo from the Lowndes County Public Library archives

A little bit of this land was finally taken back by the Choctaw in the 1930s.  At the time the DAR marker was erected in 1928 there was a small band of Choctaw in the area making a living by sharecropping on local cotton farms.  The band of about 50 was led by Chief Cameron Wesley.  During the 1930s and into the 1940s this group of Choctaw would meet at the treaty site during the year to dance, camp, and of course, play stickball.  When one of the group died in the 1930s he was buried adjacent to the historical marker as was Evein Tubbee another member that was killed by Chief Wesley.  It stopped being a meeting site after the 1940s but has continued to be used as a Choctaw Cemetery.  

Grave marker of Chief Cameraon Wesley

In 1972 Chief Wesley was buried there among the other members of his tribe.  He son Barney recalled:

“...he told us he wanted to be buried here.  He said he wanted to spend the rest of time at this treaty ground...he wouldn’t give up.  He felt like it was Choctaw land anyway, even if the white people said they owned it.”

A row of concrete paving stones, the names written on by hand mark a row of graves

Today there are no remains of the council house.  There are a few covered pavilions and tables like you find at older churches that still hold “dinner on the grounds.”  But after visiting the place I will say that it definitely has an eerie atmosphere.  There is a mixture of typical graves with traditional granite or marble headstones, but there are other homemade concrete and wooden markers, and a row of graves simply marked with concrete pavers the names and dates written on by hand.  Trinkets, toys, and even a bottled Mountain Dew have been left for the deceased by their loved ones along with flowers and other mementos.  The site is very secluded and honestly, I was there for over an hour and not one car passed by the site, I think the silence and the remoteness add to the atmosphere.   

Trinkets and gifts adorn many graves

A favorite beverage left for a loved one....

A statue rests atop a grave marker    

I’ve been to quite a few graveyards in my time.  I grew up in a good southern family that was adamant about memorial and knowing where your ancestors rested so you could honor their memory.  And this graveyard feels like it requires and demands your reverence and respect.  The feeling you get looking at the graves from the simple wooden crosses to the ornate markers with intricate engraving is hard to describe.  It’s a place for quiet contemplation with the dappled sunlight falling through the tall pines.  A pinwheel on a child’s grave turns in the breeze and a windchime tinkles at the foot of another.  A place off the beaten path but definitely worth the trip.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry.  It’s probably the longest and most well researched of my Stories of the South posts I’ve ever written and it’s been a post a year in the making.  I do have some Native American blood in my family thanks to a couple of past great grandfathers several times removed marrying a native lady after he migrated to Mississippi from the Carolinas.  Actually this happened on both sides of my family.  You’d never think that with my blonde hair and pale complexion but I promise it’s there.  I had read a little about the Trail of Tears, but I honestly knew nothing about these treaties before last year and always knew that American dealings with Native Americans was shady but never could have dreamed they were this deceitful.  Hopefully, you learned something new, let me know if you did!

Have a great one my lovelies and thanks as always for your patience and for reading!


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