The Trail of Tears
Many of you may think you know what the Trail of Tears was all about, perhaps some
of you do. Something my Blood Brother, Ron LaFitte (Warrior), sent me recently made it abundantly clear that the story must
be repeated. Once again, this is what happened. Remember, this was but four generations ago.
On September 15, 1830, at Little Dancing Rabbit Creek, the Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation and representatives of the U.S. met
to discuss the impact of a bill recently passed by the Congress of the U.S. This bill, with all the same good intentions of
those today who believe they know better than we how to conduct our lives, allowed for the removal of all Indian peoples to
the West of the Mississippi River.
It had been made clear to the Choctaw, that the Whites in Washington cared little for our situation, that either we willingly
moved, or by military force we would be moved. We were not ignorant savages, but industrious farmers, merchants, and businessmen
of all types. We were educated people, many were Christians. We had an organized system of government and a codified body
of law. Some of these people were not even Indians, many strangers and orphans had been taken in over the years.
The Chiefs and Warriors signed the treaty, realizing they had no option. For doing this the government officials guaranteed,
in the body of the treaty, safe conveyance to our new homes. (Do not forget for a moment that in this treaty, the Choctaw
traded 10.3 million acres of land east of the Mississipi for 10.3 acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas that we already owned under
previous treaties) Further, it included provisions and monetary annuities, to assist the people to make a new start. One half
of the people were to depart almost immediately, the rest the next year.
After the signing of the treaty, many saw their land and property sold before their own eyes. The "conveyances" promised
turn out to be a forced march. At the point of a gun, the pace killed many of the old, exposure and bad food killed most.
Rotten beef and vegatables are poor provisions, even for the idle. Many walked the entire distance without shoes, barely clothed.
What supplies were given had been rejected by the whites. This cannot directly blamed on the goverment, nearly all of this
was done by unscrupulous men, interested only in maximizing their profits. They government's fault lies in not being watchful
of those taken into their charge. Many of the old and the children died on the road. At each allowed stop, the dead were buried.
Hearing of this many escaped. They knew that as they signed the rolls, to be "removed", that this might as well be their death
warrants. They took refuge in the hills, the swamps, and other places too inhospitable for the whites. Even as this ocurred,
those in charge reported their "peaceful progress" to Congress, who looked no further.
Those of us who evaded the rolls were accepted by neither the whites nor the "papered" Indians. Still others claimed to
be "Black Dutch," Spanish, Creole, or Black. (My own granfather later lied to the census taker, saying he was one sixty-fourth.
At that degree, he could still live and own land on the reservation. He was "enrolled" at that number. Granny claimed to be
Black Dutch). Many others fled to Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, even into the swamps of the Okeefenokee.
The "fertile lands, alive with game, lush with forests" turned out to be bone-dry and covered in alkalai pits, and a strange
black ooze that stank and caught fire easily. Blistering hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, this land was still their
own. And then the whites decided they needed more land. Again, pressure was brought to bear on the Choctaw. By this time the
Cherokee, Chickasaw, Cree, Kickapoo, Seminole, Wyandotte, Lenapi, Mohawk, and others whose names you would not recognize,
had their reservations shrunk around them. The Choctaw had only been the first to be removed, the goverment drunk with power
and in fit of lust for land, had removed nearly all. The Mississippi Band of the Choctaw had temporarily avoided displacement,
but had their land stripped down to 500 acres, but within five years none of that land was in Indian hands. Already Arkansas
had begun to be settled by whites, who ignored the treaties. Even those who fled to California were being displaced by miners,
famers and ranchers. The discovery of gold galvanized the vise forming around the Indian people, so that expansion from the
East was equalled by expansion from the West.
The altruistic government, in love and charity removed many of the young to "boarding schools" where they were "civilized,"
which meant being given white names, speaking only English, and being forbidden to worship their "pagan" gods. To this day
most Indians, even full-bloods, are not fluent in their own mother-tongues.
The final blow came when the white decided he needed the black ooze and again the process accelerated. By that time, Custer,
making illegal sorties into the Black Hills, had discovered gold there too. The Lakota watched their lands, cut to almost
a third and then again until nearly all was gone.
In the 1880's, came Wovoka, who offered a message of hope and peace. With him he brought the Ghost Dance and all tribes
listened to that Siren song. At the peak of this frenzy came Wounded Knee. There, unarmed and innocent men, women, and children
were murdered by scared Cavalry, who never took the time to find out what this was all about. Adding insult to injury, Medals
of Honor were given to these men. Every white child knew, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."
Even now, when the tribes speak of sovereignty, men like Senator Gorton wonder why. All we ever asked for was the dignity
of free men, to live at peace, and worship God in our own ways