Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation
“Learning from our past to better plan our future.”

The Historic Choctaw Nation Council House

The Choctaw Nation has a rich and varied history, well documented, with much of it in Print. We are constantly adding links and articles, so please check back often if you can’t find what you are looking for right away. Feel free to contact us if you can’t find what you want, or let us know about a source of information.

  • Government Throughout the Years

    Government Overview

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is an American Indian Tribe organized pursuant to the provisions of the Act of June 26, 1936-49. Stat. 1967. and is federally recognized by the United States government through the Secretary of the Interior.

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma consists of ten and o­ne-half counties in the southeastern part of Oklahoma. The Choctaw Nation is bounded o­n the east by the State of Arkansas, o­n the south by the Red River, o­n the north by the South Canadian, Canadian and Arkansas Rivers. The western boundary generally follows a line slightly west of Durant, then due north to the South Canadian River.


    The Tribe is governed by the Choctaw Nation Constitution which was ratified by the people o­n June 9, 1984. The Constitution provides for an Executive, a Legislative and a Judicial branch of government. The Chief of the Choctaw Tribe, elected every four years, is not a voting member of the Tribal Council. The legislative authority of the Tribe is vested in the Tribal Council, which consists of 12 members. Members of the Tribal Council are elected by the Choctaw people. Twelve Council members are elected representing each of the twelve districts in the Choctaw Nation.

    In order to be elected as a Council member, it is required that the candidate must have resided in their respective districts for at least o­ne year immediately preceding the election. They must remain a resident of the district from which they were elected during the tenure of their office. This policy ensures the involvement and interaction of successful candidates with their constituency.

    Once in office, the Tribal Council Members continue to receive input from the Choctaw citizens through regularly scheduled county council meetings. The presence of these tribal leaders in the Indian community creates a sense of understanding of their community and it’s needs. And since the Indian people traditionally look to the tribal representation for guidance and leadership, it is obvious that each council member has a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of his or her district and it’s needs.

    The Tribal Council is responsible for adopting rules and regulations which govern the Choctaw Nation, for approving all budgets, making decisions concerning the management of tribal property, and all other legislative matters. The Tribal Council Members are the voice and representation of the Choctaw people in the tribal government.

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma believes that responsibility for achieving self-sufficiency rests with the governing body of the Tribe. It is the Tribal Council’s responsibility to assist the community in its ability to implement an economic development strategy and to plan, organize, and direct Tribal resources in a comprehensive manner which results in self-sufficiency. The Tribal Council recognizes the need to strengthen the Nation’s economy, with primary efforts being focused o­n the creation of additional job opportunities through promotion and development. By planning and implementing its own programs and building a strong economic base, the Choctaw Nation applies its own fiscal, natural, and human resources to develop self-sufficiency. These efforts can o­nly succeed through strong governance, sound economic development, and positive social development.

  • Lighthorsemen

    Choctaw Lighthorsemen

    Lighthorsemen Choctaw Lighthorsemen were a hard fighting body of men, with a reputation for straight shooting and hard riding. The Treaty of Doak’s Stand in 1820 provided an annual appropriation of $600 for the purpose of organizing and maintaining the Lighthorsemen. The first corps were organized in 1824 with a primary purpose of settling difficulties. The Lighthorsemen had the authority to arrest, try and punish violators of tribal law.

    By the mid-1800’s the Choctaw Lighthorsemen no longer had judicial duties, but did continue to make arrests and carry out the sentences of the courts. By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Lighthorsemen’s job consisted mainly of keeping peace. Today, a Choctaw Lighthorseman is selected to serve in the Tribal Court system.

  • General History

    Choctaw History at Glance

    The Choctaw are native to the Southeastern United States and members of the Muskogean linguistic family, which traces its roots to a mound-building, maize-based society that flourished in the Mississippi River Valley for more than a thousand years before European contact.

    Although their first encounter with Europeans ended in a bloody battle with Hernando de Soto’s fortune-hunting expedition in 1540, the Choctaw would come to embrace European traders who arrived in their homeland nearly two centuries later. By the time President George Washington initiated a program to integrate Southeastern Indians into European American culture following the Revolutionary War, many Choctaw had already intermarried, converted to Christianity and adopted other white customs. The Choctaw became known as one of America’s Five Civilized Tribes, which also included the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole.

    Trail of Tears

    The Choctaw signed nine treaties with the United States before the Civil War, beginning with the Treaty of Hopewell in 1786 – which set boundaries and established universal peace between the two nations. Subsequent treaties, however, reshaped those borders and forced the Choctaw to cede millions of acres of land. In 1830, the United States seized the last of the Choctaw’s ancestral territory and relocated the tribe to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. The Choctaw were the first to walk the Trail of Tears. Nearly 2,500 members perished along the way.

    Despite the many lives lost, the Choctaw remained a hopeful and generous people. The first order of business upon arriving in their new homeland was to start a school and a church. They drafted a new constitution. And when the great potato famine befell the people of Ireland, the Choctaws collected money to help alleviate the country’s suffering.


    The Choctaw entered a new era post Civil War, when the United States ceded 2 million acres of Indian land, abolished commonly held tribal lands and created the Oklahoma Territory. It set up the Dawes Commission to register Indian families and parcel out individual plots of land. In 1889, the Oklahoma Territory was opened to white settlement. The ensuring land run overwhelmed the Choctaw Nation. The Choctaw suffered thefts, violent crimes and murders at the hands of whites and other tribal members.

    Code Talkers

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    Despite their struggle to survive as a nation during much of the 20th century, the Choctaw continued to serve their country. During World War I, Choctaw servicemen worked with the U.S. Army to pioneer a code based on their native language. The Choctaw code talkers helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in France during the German’s final push, which in turn helped to end the war.

    Self Determination

    From the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s, the United States pursued a policy of Indian termination, whereby the rights of sovereign tribes were eliminated and Native Americans were assimilated into mainstream America. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma was scheduled for termination when Congress repealed the law in 1970, citing the policy’s documented failure in helping Native Americans.

    The repeal galvanized a new generation of Choctaw. In 1971, the tribe held its first popular election of a chief since Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907. During the same decade, it established a tribal newspaper, enrolled more Choctaw and launched a movement to preserve the Choctaw language. The 1970s also marked congressional passage of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act, which gave the Choctaw power to negotiate and contract directly with the federal government for services that benefited its people most.

    If the 1970s set the Choctaw in a new direction, the 1980s paved the Nation’s future. During this decade, a new Constitution was ratified by a vote of the people, providing for an executive, legislative and judicial branch of the government. On the economic front, the Choctaw opened a Bingo hall in Durant that would eventually become a successful resort and lead to new casinos. The tribe also launched new business enterprises, planned new schools, initiated educational programs and scholarships, and established new health centers.

    Today, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is nearly 200,000 strong and self sufficient, dedicated to improving the lives of its people. As they continue their long journey through history, the Choctaw’s future looks brighter than ever.

  • Trail of Tears

    Choctaw Removal Was Really a “Trail of Tears”

    Reprinted in Mar. 1995 Bishinik, p. 4

    By Len Green

    After the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, George Gaines was named by Secretary of War Lewis Coss as general supervisor for the removal of the Choctaws from Mississippi to what is now southern Oklahoma. Gaines determined that the best, method of handling the removal was to move about one-third of the Choctaws per year in each of the years 1831, 1832 and 1833. Gaines set removal of the first one-third of the Choctaws to begin on November 1, 1831.

    The Choctaws moving from Ahi Apet Okla and northern Okla Falaya were to be gathered at Memphis, Tenn., and those from Okla Hannali and southern Okla Falaya were to be gathered at Vicksburg, Miss. Across the river from Memphis and Vicksburg, Capt. Jacob Brown, removal agent west of the Mississippi, had been ordered to secure wagons, oxen, horses and supplies to take the Choctaws west.

    Secretary Coss had named George Gibson as removal agent east of the great river, and Gibson had acted as the “peacemaker” standing between general agent George Gaines and Francis Armstrong, who were long standing enemies. Gibson convinced Gaines to serve only in a general supervisory capacity while Gibson would supervise the gathering of the Choctaws at Memphis and Armstrong would be in charge of getting the southern Choctaws to Vicksburg.

    The Choctaws were allowed the first two weeks of October to gather their crops, assemble their personal property and sell their houses and chattels, so that they could be at the two ferry points on Nov. 1, 1831. Because of the urging of the state of Mississippi, the Choctaws were ordered to leave all of their livestock in Mississippi and promised that they would be furnished new livestock when they reached the “Choctaw Nation in the West.”


    In the meantime, the newly created Bureau of Indian Affairs, not to be left out of the act, came up with a new wrinkle. The BIA said it would offer special incentives to any Choctaw willing to walk to the new land. Each Indian who decided to walk would be paid $10 in gold, given a new rifle and three-month supply of powder and ammunition, be fed along the way and be furnished with a qualified guide to lead them to the new land. Approximately 300 of the Choctaws decided that the BIA plan was the way to go. There was “one fly in the ointment” though. The “guide” hired by Capt. Brown, whose name is (probably fortunately) lost to history, was not the expert on the west he represented himself to be to Capt. Brown.

    Beginning in mid-October, Gibson and Armstrong began sending Army wagons through the three Mississippi districts, gathering up the Indian families who would travel west in the first year of the migration. Thus, during the final week of October, encampments of Choctaws began to spring up all around the outskirts of Memphis and Vicksburg, with the population of these encampments growing daily.

    And, along with the Choctaws came something else. . RAIN! These heavy rains came and stayed, flooding the Mississippi, St. Francis, White, Arkansas and Big Fork (Ouachita) Rivers, turning the river valleys into quagmires.

    A quick conference between George Gaines and his principal removal agents revealed that the floods would make the roads impassable so that there was no way the Choctaws could be taken west from the Mississippi by wagon as originally planned. This left only one alternative - to make the removal by steamboat. With the government having already cancelled its order for such boats, the Choctaws had to wait while new boats were rounded up. Finally, Gaines and his crew were able to round up five steamboats, the Walter Scott, the Brandywine, the Reindeer, the Talma and the Cleopatra, the latter three being smaller steamers with less passenger capacity. And, while the boats gathered, the Choctaws had to wait outside Memphis and Vicksburg. They soon ate up all of the available rations, as Gaines had anticipated a Nov. 1 start and had not furnished any additional food for contingencies.

    Already uneasy with “all those injuns” camped just outside of town, residents of Vicksburg and Memphis soon found themselves facing food shortages and battling profiteers for the available foodstuffs. To make matters worse, as the steamers began to gather, one of the two larger boats, the Brandywine, caught fire while moored at Memphis and was so badly damaged that it could not be used in the operation. This left the Reindeer and Walter Scott available at Memphis and the Talma and Cleopatra available at Vicksburg.


    The 300 Choctaws who had “taken the bait” on the offer to walk were ferried across the Mississippi on the Reindeer, and there turned over to the guides who would lead them to the new land. George Gaines and his agents determined that the Choctaws at Memphis would be taken by steamboat up the Arkansas River to Little Rock or Fort Smith, and from there by wagon on into their new territory. And, the Choctaws waiting at Vicksburg would be taken down the Mississippi to the Red River, up the Red to Big Fork (Ouachita) and up that river to Ecore a’ Fabre (which by this time was also beginning to be known as John Camden’s Post and would later become Camden, Ark.) and hauled by wagon from there to Fort Towson.

    There were approximately 2,000 Choctaws at Memphis. Sometime in mid November they were crammed aboard the Walter Scott and Reindeer and dispatched up the Arkansas River toward their new homeland. But, at Arkansas Post, which was only about 60 miles up the Arkansas from the Mississippi, the Army halted the steam-boats, said they needed them to transport a new detachment to Fort Smith, and unloaded all of the Choctaws.

    Following the floods, a blizzard was setting in with strong, cold northerly winds, snow and sleet dancing across the landscape. Most of the Choctaws were scantily clad, with some of the children naked. And, all the small military detachment at Arkansas Post could offer were 60 small army tents to help shelter the more than 2,000 Choctaws from the freezing storm. Rations were in very short supply, as Arkansas Post had not expected to find itself playing host to 2,000 cold and hungry Choctaws, so strict rationing had to be imposed. And, despite this fact, within a few days most of the rations were gone. By the time help arrived, both the Choctaw and the soldier were receiving a ration of one handful of boiled or parched corn, one turnip and two cups of heated water per day.

    To make matters worse, the temperature remained below the freezing mark for six days, and the Arkansas River become so clogged with ice that the Reindeer and Walter Scott were iced in at Fort Smith and could not make it back down river to Arkansas Post. After eight days, 40 government wagons were sent to Arkansas Post from Little Rock to begin relaying the Choctaws on to Fort Smith, fortunately bringing food and blankets to the starving soldiers, many of whom had already frozen to death or died of pneumonia.

    When the first wagons reached Little Rock, a famous term that would eventually burn itself into history was born. In an interview with an Arkansas Gazette reporter, one of the Choctaw Chiefs (thought to be either Thomas Harkins or Nitikechi) was quoted as saying that the removal to that point had been a “trail of tears and death.” The “trail of tears” quotation was picked up by the eastern press and widely quoted. It soon become a term analogous with the removal of any Indian tribe and was later burned into the American language by the brutal removal of the Cherokees in 1838.

    In the meantime, steaming from Vicksburg, the Talma and Cleopatra, with some 3,000 Choctaws aboard moved up the Red to the Big Fork and up that river as for as Monroe, La. They were halted at Monroe with the tale of what had happened to the 300 Choctaws who had decided to “hoof it” to the new land. Led off by the path by their incompetent guide and then caught in the blizzard, the walking party had become lost in the Lake Providence swamps. A rescue party from Monroe Was dispatched to locate what remained of the lost Indians and bring them the 60 remaining miles into Monroe.

    But, at Monroe, the Talma developed engine problems and was forced to off-load all of the Choctaws and their supplies there, from where they would be ferried in groups on up the Big Fork to Ecore a’ Fabre by the Cleopatra. However, while waiting at Monroe for the Cleopatra to take them on up river, the Choctaws did not fare as badly as had their fellow Indians who had been kicked off the steamers at Arkansas Post. The residents of Monroe had good supplies of corn, dried beans, pumpkins and onions on hand, sharing them freely, and there were woods enough to provide some shelter from the storm. On its final trip from Monroe to Ecore a’ Fabre, the Cleopatra took the remainder of the 300 Indians who had decided to walk along with the lost group of Choctaws in the removal.

    But, the Choctaws who had traveled the southern route had not missed the privations and troubles that harassed the entire 1831 removal party. Their troubles were just beginning. Either through a breakdown in communications or ill-advised and lazy removal agents, very few preparations had been made to care for the Choctaws after their arrival at Ecore a’ Fabre. Not expecting 3,000 Choctaws, the removal agents had not purchased enough rations, and there were only a dozen Army wagons available to escort the Choctaws the remaining 150 miles plus to the boundaries of their new territory. This meant that only the tiniest children and the most elderly, ill or infirm among the Choctaws could be transported by wagon. Any Choctaw who was able to stand and place one foot in front of the other was forced to walk. Despite their assurances of cooperation to George Gaines, the Arkansas farmers along the route, realizing how short supplies for the Choctaws were, demanded $2 per bushel for their corn and tripled or quadrupled the price of any meat or animals they had to sell.

    To make matters even worse, the white man’s diseases, particularly dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid raged among the Choctaws as they dragged themselves slowly westward toward their promised land. Progress was extremely slow as halts to bury their dead or tend their illnesses come often. The leaders of the escort party did not know the routes they were to follow and constantly held up the party as they studied maps or consulted residents of the area. As a result of the sickness, deaths and pauses caused by the escort, it took almost three months for the Choctaws to drag themselves the 150 miles from Ecore a’ Fabre to the new land.

    Upon reaching Mountain Fork River, one group of Choctaws halted and established a “town”, which they would come to call Eagle (later to become old Eagletown). Others moved southward and settled in the area around the burned site of the old Miller County, Ark., courthouse. Still others traveled on westward to settle near Fort Towson, and still others went on a few miles southwestward to “Horse Prairie”, a site settled by the Rev. Alexander Tolley and the 400 Choctaws who had voluntarily left Mississippi in 1830.

    Thus by April 1, 1832, all of the Choctaws who had remained alive through the first removal were located in their new homeland, as those who traveled the northern route settled principally not far from Fort Smith, calling their main town “skullyville” (“skully” is a Choctaw word for money and the “ville” is English meaning village or town). Counting the party that had come in advance, by April 1 of 1832, of approximately 6,000 Choctaws who had started out from Mississippi in the fall of 1831, only slightly more than 4,000 remained alive. Military records from Little Rock indicate that in April of 1832, some 536 Indians received rations at Skullyville and 3,749 rations were issued at Fort Towson, Eagle, Miller Courthouse and Horse Prairie. This means that at the end of the first migration, 4,285 Choctaws were alive and had survived, including the approximately 400 “sooners.” In brief, more than 2,000 had died along the way … and there were two more years of removal to go.

    From the near disaster of the 1831 removal, one might think George Gaines and his removal agents should have learned something, and have been able to improve conditions on subsequent removals. But, improper planning, white man’s diseases and mother nature were again to turn the 1832 removal into a debacle of death and disaster for the Choctaws. Despite the fact that the smoothest part of the 1831 operation had been the removal from Vicksburg up the Red and Big Fork to Ecore a’ Fabre, the 1832 plan did not include the use of this route at all. Also, no use was to be made of Memphis, which necessitated transporting the Choctaws from Ahi Apet Okla and northern Okla Falaya over much longer distances as all were to be gathered at Vicksburg. From Vicksburg, they were to be transported to Arkansas Post by steamboat, from there to Little Rock by wagon, and divided there with Okla Falayans and Okla Hannalians taking the Military Trace from Little Rock to Fort Towson and the Ahi Apet Oklans taking the Little Rock-Fort Smith road.

    Gaines also decreed that on these journeys, wagon transportation was to be furnished only for the ill or infirm. The remainder of the Choctaws were to march. As in 1831, the gathering began in mid October. But, while the Choctaws were being gathered and herded toward Vicksburg, an epidemic of cholera broke out in Vicksburg, with several hundred dying, from the dreaded disease and the remainder of the population of that city fleeing in an effort to escape. It was only natural, of course, that the fleeing citizens of Vicksburg spread the cholera epidemic, infecting everyone they encountered including the Choctaws who were enroute to Vicksburg. The cholera hit the Choctaws harder than it did the whites, as they had no natural immunity to the disease. There is no record of how many Choctaws died from this plague on their way to or at Vicksburg. Because of the highly contagious nature of cholera, when any person, Choctaw or white, died from the disease, their bodies were heaped in piles, covered with brush, doused with kerosene or whale oil and burned.

    When the Choctaws reached Vicksburg, they found the city deserted, and faced famine even before starting their trip. Frightened farmers, who had food supplies stored, hid from both white and Indian alike and refused to sell any of their food stocks. Even the steamboats waiting to take the Indians to Arkansas Post, the Walter Scott and the repaired Brandywine, had been deserted by their crews fleeing from the cholera threat. George Gibson had his agents offload some of the supplies from the two steamboats and, by setting up a strict rationing program, managed to keep the Choctaws alive until boat crews could be rounded up to move them west.

    If the 1832 removal had a white hero, it had to be Francis W. Armstrong, who was so hated by George Gaines, the chief removal agent, but was liked and trusted by Gibson. Armstrong, upon hearing of the cholera in Vicksburg, diverted the more than 1,000 Choctaws he had gathered, marching them to Memphis instead of trying to take them to Vicksburg. At Memphis, however, there was very little steamboat transportation available, but Armstrong was determined to remove his contingent of Choctaws and keep them away from the cholera. He commandeered the snagboat, Archimedes. It was not equipped for passengers. But Armstrong had the dredges and snag removing equipment pulled off the Archimedes and ordered his more than 1,000 Choctaws aboard. The little steamer was so crowded that there was only room either above or below decks for the Indian to sit. There was absolutely no way they could lie down or sleep. However, despite the crowding, the Archimedes made it to Arkansas Post with a minimum amount of sickness and death. And, wonder of wonders, the wagons and supplies for the trip to Little Rock were waiting at Arkansas Post to take this 1,000 Choctaws on to Little Rock.

    In the meantime, back in Vicksburg, Gaines and Gibson had gathered up enough steamboat crew members to man one of the two steamers. And since the Brandywine was the larger of the two, Gaines and Gibson crammed more than 2,000 Choctaws aboard and started for Arkansas Post. However, the rains started again, and by the time the Brandywine reached Arkansas Post, the lowlands around that post were so badly flooded that the steamboat could not unload its massed cargo of human flesh. After considerable bickering, it was decided that the Brandywine would proceed on up the White River, also in flood stage, and would unload the Choctaws at Rock Row, a point of high ground some 70 miles east of Little Rock. At Rock Row, the Choctaws were unloaded. There were, of course, no wagons and no rations, save what were aboard the Brandywine, available in Rock Row. The Choctaws were told they would have to walk to Little Rock, getting by on what rations they could carry on their persons. Of the 70 miles between Rock Row and Little Rock, a bit more than 30 miles was covered with floodwaters, backwaters and swamps, forcing the Choctaws to wade almost half of the distance. At points the water was more than three feet deep, many of the Choctaws were still suffering and dying from the cholera and, on top of that, another outbreak of dysentery had struck. As in the march to Vicksburg, no records were kept of the Choctaws who died along the route, but four days after wading away from Rock Row, the remainder of the 2,000 Choctaws struggled into Little Rock where they were fed and given medicine and fresh clothing. At Little Rock, those who had survived “the long wade” joined the 1,000 who had been brought from Memphis by Francis W. Armstrong.

    Despite his meritorious action, George Gaines still despised Francis W. Armstrong, and took this chance to “get rid” of him by persuading Secretary of War Coss to appoint Armstrong as the first United States Agent to the Choctaws. At Little Rock, the Choctaws divided, with about 2,000 choosing to travel by the Military Trace to Fort Towson, and the remaining 1,000 or so deciding to travel to Skullyville by way of Fort Smith. At least one phase of Gaines’ plan worked. Rations had been cached along the two roads, so that the Choctaws had ample rations to sustain them on the final leg of the 1832 journey.Before Dec. 30, 1832, all of the Choctaws still living at the end of the trail had reached their new Choctaw Nation in the West, and their new agent and friend, Francis W. Armstrong, had set up his headquarters in Skullyville.


    The last federally supervised removal of the Choctaws from Mississippi came in the fall of 1833, and again George Gaines chose to follow the plan he had set up for the 1832 removal. The Choctaws were gathered at Vicksburg, transported by steamboat from there to Arkansas Post, by wagon from there to Little Rock and then on to the Choctaw Nation in the manner of the previous year. Only about 1,000 Choctaws showed up for removal. No outstanding misfortunes occurred, other than that one of the steamboats split a boiler and another experienced a broken shaft. However, there were other boats available and no floods, so the 1833 migration went more smoothly than its two predecessors.

    In his final report on the removal, George Gaines wrote Lewis Cass, “in the three years of removal, we have transported more than 6,000 Choctaws from Mississippi to the new Choctaw Nation in the West.” Actually, the figure was from 1500 to 2000 more than Gaines had estimated in his report to Cass. By Jan. 1, 1834, there were from 7,500 to 8,000 Choctaws residing in the new western lands.

    The new Okla Falaya was bounded on the north by the ridgeline of the Mazzern (now Ouachita) Mountains, on the south by Red River, on the east by Arkansas and on the west by the Kiamichi River. The district’s chief, Greenwood LeFlore, had chosen to give up his Choctaw citizenship and remain in Mississippi. His cousin, Thomas LeFlore, was designated as chief of Okla Falaya, assisted by another cousin, Thomas Harkins.

    The new Okla Hannali was bounded on the east by the Kiamichi River, on the west by a line north from Island Bayou to the Canadian River, on the south by Red River and on the north by a line extending due west from the Okla Falaya northern border. Okla Hannali district chief was Nitikechi, a nephew of Pushmataha.

    The new Ahi Apet Okla, which sometimes was called Okla Tannip, was bordered on the south by Okla Falaya and Okla Hannali, on the north by the Canadian River, on the East by Arkansas and on the west by the line extending northward from the source of Island Bayou. The last of the “great three” district chiefs, Moshulatubbee, was again the district’s leader.

    The “trail of tears” had ended.

  • 1972-1990

  • 1907-1972 Federal Legislation

    1934 Indian Reorganization Act

    Federal Government, U.S.A.
    The Indian Reorganization Act, June 18, 1934

    (Wheeler-Howard Act)

    An Act to conserve and develop Indian lands and resources;
    to extend to Indians the right to form business and other organizations;
    to establish a credit system for Indians;
    to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians;
    to provide for vocational education for Indians;
    and for other purposes.

    BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That hereafter no land of any Indian reservation, created or set apart by treaty or agreement with the Indians, Act of Congress, Executive order, purchase, or otherwise, shall be allotted in severalty to any Indian.

    Sec. 2.

    The existing periods of trust placed upon any Indian lands and any restriction on alienation thereof are hereby extended and continued until otherwise directed by Congress.v

    Sec. 3.

    The Secretary of the Interior, if he shall find it to be in the public interest, is hereby authorized to restore to tribal ownership the remaining surplus lands of any Indian reservation heretofore opened, or authorized to be opened, to sale, or any other form of disposal by Presidential proclamation, or by any of the public land laws of the United States; Provided, however, That valid rights or claims of any persons to any lands so withdrawn existing on the date of the withdrawal shall not be affected by this Act: Provided further, That this section shall not apply to lands within any reclamation project heretofore authorized in any Indian reservation: Provided further, That this section shall not apply to lands within any reclamation project heretofore authorized in any Indian reservation: Provided further, That the order of the Department of the interior signed, dated, and approved by Honorable Ray Lyman Wilbur, as Secretary of the Interior, on October 28, 1932, temporarily withdrawing lands of the Papago Indian Reservation in Arizona from all forms of mineral entry or claim under the public land mining laws is hereby revoked and rescinded, and the lands of the said Papago Indian Reservation are hereby restored to exploration and location, under the existing mining laws of the United States, in accordance with the express terms and provisions declared and set forth in the Executive orders establishing said Papago Indian Reservation: Provided further, That the damages shall be paid to the Papago Tribe for loss of any improvements of any land located for mining in such a sum as may be determined by the Secretary of the Interior but not exceed the cost of said improvements: Provided further, That a yearly rental not to exceed five cents per acre shall be paid to the Papago Indian Tribe: Provided further, That in the event that any person or persons, partnership, corporation, or association, desires a mineral patent, according to the mining laws of the United States, he or they shall first deposit in the treasury of the United States to the credit of the Papago Tribe the sum of $1.00 per acre in lieu of annual rental, as hereinbefore provided, to compensate for the loss or occupancy of the lands withdrawn by the requirements of mining operations: Provided further, That patentee shall also pay into the Treasury of the United States to the credit of the Papago Tribe damages for the loss of improvements not heretofore said in such a sum as may be determined by the Secretary of the Interior, but not to exceed the cost thereof; the payment of $1.00 per acre for surface use to be refunded to patentee in the event that the patent is not required.v

    Nothing herein contained shall restrict the granting or use of permits for easements or rights-of-way; or ingress or egress over the lands for all proper and lawful purposes; and nothing contained therein, except as expressly provided, shall be construed as authority by the Secretary of the Interior, or any other person, to issue or promulgate a rule or regulation in conflict with the Executive order of February 1, 1917, creating the Papago Indian Reservation in Arizona or the Act of February 21, 1931 (46 Stat. 1202).

    Sec. 4.

    Except as herein provided, no sale, devise, gift, exchange or other transfer of restricted Indian lands or of shares in the assets of any Indian tribe or corporation organized hereunder, shall be made or approved: Provided, however, That such lands or interests may, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, be sold, devised, or otherwise transferred to the Indian tribe in which the lands or shares are located or from which the shares were derived or to a successor corporation; and in all instances such lands or interests shall descend or be devised, in accordance with the then existing laws of the State, or Federal laws where applicable, in which said lands are located or in which the subject matter of the corporation is located, to any member of such tribe or of such corporation or any heirs of such member: Provided further, That the Secretary of the Interior may authorize voluntary exchanges of lands of equal value and the voluntary exchange of shares of equal value whenever such exchange, in his judgement, is expedient and beneficial for or compatible with the proper consolidation of Indian lands and for the benefit of cooperative organizations.

    Sec. 5.

    The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to acquire through purchase, relinquishment, gift, exchange, or assignment, any interest in lands, water rights or surface rights to lands, within or without existing reservations, including trust or otherwise restricted allotments whether the allottee be living or deceased, for the purpose of providing lands for Indians.

    For the acquisition of such lands, interests in lands, water rights, and surface rights, and for expenses incident to such acquisition, there is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, a sum not to exceed $2,000,000 in any one fiscal year: Provided, That no part of such funds shall be used to acquire additional land outside of the exterior boundaries of Navajo Indian Reservation for the Navajo Indians in Arizona and New Mexico, in the event that the proposed Navajo boundary extension measures now pending in congress and embodied in the bills (S. 2531 and H.R. 8927) to define the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, and for other purposes, and the bills (S. 2531 and H.R. 8982) to define the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico and for other purposes, or similar legislation, become law.

    The unexpended balances of any appropriations made pursuant to this section shall remain available until expended.

    Title to any lands or rights acquired pursuant to this Act shall be taken in the name of the United States in trust for the Indian tribe or individual Indian for which the land is acquired, and such lands or rights shall be exempt from State and local taxation.

    Sec. 6.

    The Secretary of the Interior is directed to make rules and regulations for the operation and management of Indian forestry units on the principle of sustained-yield management, to restrict the number of livestock grazed on Indian range units to the estimated carrying capacity of such ranges, and to promulgate such other rules and regulations as may be necessary to protect the range from deterioration, to prevent soil erosion, to assure full utilization of the range, and like purposes.

    Sec. 7.

    The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to proclaim new Indian reservations on lands acquired pursuant to any authority conferred by this Act, or to add such lands to existing reservations: Provided, That lands added to existing reservations shall be designated for the exclusive use of Indians entitled by enrollment or by tribal membership to residence at such reservations shall be designated for the exclusive use of Indians entitled by enrollment or by tribal membership to residence at such reservations.

    Sec. 8.

    Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to relate to Indian holdings of allotments or homesteads upon the public domain outside of the geographic boundaries of any Indian reservation now existing or established hereafter.

    Sec. 9.

    There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, such sums as may be necessary, but not to exceed $250,000 in any fiscal year, to be expended at the order of the Secretary of the Interior, in defraying the expenses of organizing Indian chartered corporations or other organizations created under this Act.

    Sec. 10.

    There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sum of $10,000,000 to be established as a revolving fund from which the Secretary of the Interior, under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe, may make loans to Indian chartered corporations for the purpose of promoting the economic development of such tribes and of their members, and may defray the expenses of administering such loans. Repayment of amounts loaned under this authorization shall be credited to the revolving fund and shall be available for the purposes for which the fund is established. A report shall be made annually to Congress of transactions under this authorization.

    Sec. 11.

    There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any funds in the United States Treasury not otherwise appropriated, a sum not to exceed $250,000 annually, together with any unexpended balances of previous appropriations made pursuant to this section, for loans to Indians for the payment of tuition and other expenses in recognized vocational and trade schools: Provided, That not more than $50,000 of such sum shall be available for loans to Indian students in high schools and colleges. Such loans shall be reimbursable under rules established by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

    Sec. 12.

    The Secretary of the Interior is directed to establish standards of health, age, character, experience, knowledge, and ability for Indians who maybe appointed, without regard to civil-service laws, to the various positions maintained, now or hereafter, by the Indian office, in the administrations functions or services affecting any Indian tribe. Such qualified Indians shall hereafter have the preference to appointment to vacancies in any such positions.

    Sec. 13.

    The provisions of this Act shall not apply to any of the Territories, colonies, or insular possessions of the United States, except that sections 9, 10, 11, 12, and 16 shall apply to the Territory of Alaska: Provided, That Sections 2, 4, 7, 16, 17, and 18 of this Act shall not apply to the following named Indian tribes, together with members of other tribes affiliated with such named located in the State of Oklahoma, as follows: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Caddo, Delaware, Wichita, Osage, Kaw, Otoe, Tonkawa, Pawnee, Ponca, Shawnee, Ottawa, Quapaw, Seneca, Wyandotte, Iowa, Sac and Fox, Kickapoo, Pottawatomi, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. Section 4 of this Act shall not apply to the indians of the Klamath Reservation in Oregon.

    Sec. 14.

    The Secretary of the Interior is hereby directed to continue the allowance of the articles enumerated in section 17 of the Act of March 2, 1889 (25 Stat.L. 891), or their commuted cash value under the Act of June 10, 1886 (29 Stat.L. 334), to all Sioux Indians who would be eligible, but for the provisions of this Act, to receive allotments of lands in severalty under section 19 of the Act of May 29, 1908 (25 (35) Stat.L. 451), or under any prior Act, and who have the prescribed status of the head of a family or single person over the age of eighteen years, and his approval shall be final and conclusive, claims therefor to be paid as formerly from the permanent appropriation made by said section 17 and carried on the books of the Treasury for this purpose. No person shall receive in his own right more than one allowance of the benefits, and application must be made and approved during the lifetime of the allottee or the right shall lapse. Such benefits shall continue to be paid upon such reservation until such time as the lands available therein for allotment at the time of the passage of this Act would have been exhausted by the award to each person receiving such benefits of an allotment of eighty acres of such land.

    Sec. 15.

    Nothing in this Act shall be construed to impair or prejudice any claim or suit of any Indian tribe against the United States. It is hereby declared to be the intent of Congress that no expenditures for the benefit of Indians made out of appropriations authorized by this Act shall be considered as offsets in any suit brought to recover upon any claim of such Indians against the United States.

    Sec. 16.

    Any Indian tribe, or tribes, residing on the same reservation, shall have the right to organize for its common welfare, and may adopt an appropriate constitution and bylaws, which shall become effective when ratified by a majority vote of the adult members of the tribe, or of the adult Indians residing on such reservation, as the case may be, at a special election authorized by the Secretary of the Interior under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe. Such constitution and bylaws when ratified as aforesaid and approved by the Secretary of the Interior shall be revocable by an election open to the same voters and conducted in the same manner as hereinabove provided. Amendments to the constitution and bylaws may be ratified and approved by the Secretary in the same manner as the original constitution and bylaws.

    In addition to all powers vested in any Indian tribe or tribal council by existing law, the constitution adopted by said tribe shall also vest in such tribe or its tribal council the following rights and powers: To employ legal counsel, the choice of counsel and fixing of fees to be subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior; to prevent the sale, disposition, lease, or encumbrance of tribal lands, interests in lands, or other tribal assets without the consent of the tribe; and to negotiate with the Federal, State, and local Governments. The Secretary of the Interior shall advise such tribe or its tribal council of all appropriation estimates or Federal projects for the benefit of the tribe prior to the submission of such estimates to the Bureau of the Budget and the Congress.

    Sec. 17.

    The Secretary of the Interior may, upon petition by at least one-third of the adult Indians, issue a charter of incorporation to such tribe: Provided, That such charter shall not become operative until ratified at a special election by a majority vote of the adult Indians living on the reservation. Such charter may convey to the incorporated tribe the power to purchase, take by gift, or bequest, or otherwise, own, hold, manage, operate, and dispose of property of every description, real and personal, including the power to purchase restricted Indian lands and to issue in exchange therefor interests in corporate property, and such further powers as may be incidental to the conduct of corporate business, not inconsistent with law, but no authority shall be granted to sell, mortgage, or lease for a period exceeding ten years any of the land included in the limits of the reservation. Any charter so issued shall not be revoked or surrendered except by Act of Congress.

    Sec. 18.

    This Act shall not apply to any reservation wherein a majority of the adult Indians, voting at a special election duly called by the Secretary of the Interior, shall vote against it application. It shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Interior, within one year after the passage and approval of this Act, to call such an election, which election shall be held by secret ballot upon thirty days’ notice.

    Sec. 19.

    The term “Indian” as used in this Act shall include all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction, and all person who are descendants of such members who were, on June 1, 1934, residing within the present boundaries of any reservation, and shall further include all other persons of one-half or more Indian blood. For the purposes of this Act, Eskimos and other aboriginal peoples of Alaska shall be considered Indians. The term “tribe” wherever used in this Act shall be construed to refer to any Indian tribe, organized band, pueblo, or the Indians residing on one reservation. The words “adult Indians” wherever used in this Act shall be construed to refer to Indians who have attained the age of twenty-one years.

    Approved, June 18, 1934.

    Note: There have been many ammendments to this act through the years.

  • Pre-Removal

    In 1700’s, Choctaw Doctors’ Opinion

    Could Mean Life or Death

    In “History of the American Indians”, published in 1775, Adair says that the Indians of his acquaintance believed the time of a man’s death to be fated, and the following item regarding Choctaw doctors would seem to indicate that this fate was revealed to and consummated through the medical fraternity:

    “The Choctaw (sic) are so exceedingly infatuated in favor of the infallible judgment of their pretended prophets, as to allow them without the least regret to dislocate the necks of any of their sick who are in a weak state of body, to put them out of their pain, when they presume to reveal the determined will of the Deity to shorten his days, which is asserted to be communicated in a dream.

    Since a doctor who lost a patient might be in jeopardy of his life while he was permitted to put an end to the existence of one whose death he had prophesied, it might be thought that the scales would be weighted heavily against the patient. This lends credibility to the following story reported in the memoirs of Milfort while visiting the Creek Nation:

    The Choctaws revere greatly the priests or medicine men of whom I have just spoken, and in whom they have a blind confidence which the latter often abuse. These doctors exact high payments for their labors over a sick man, and almost always in advance. Their avarice is such that, when illness lasts for a long time, and the patient has nothing left with which to pay the doctor, the latter calls a meeting of the sick man’s family and informs them that he has employed all of the resources of his profession, but the sickness is incurable and it can end only in death.

    The family thus forewarned decides that, the patient having already suffered a long time and being without hope of recovery, it would be inhuman to prolong his sufferings further and it is right to end them. Then, one or two of the strongest of them go to the sick man, ask him, in the presence of the entire family, how he is, and while the latter is replying to this question, they throw themselves upon him and strangle him.

    In 1782 one of these who had been sick for a long time and who had nothing more to give to his doctor, found himself in danger of being strangled in the manner I have just described. As he was suspicious and was on his guard, he watched for the moment his family was assembled to hear the report of the doctor and decide to put an end to his sufferings by putting him to death. He took advantage of this moment to flee and escape the ceremony, which awaited him. He dragged himself, as well as he was able, as far as a forest, which fortunately was near his dwelling. He was not able to carry with him provisions of any kind, and found himself reduced to the necessity of living on the flesh of wood rats, known under the name of “opossum,” which are very appetizing and very healthful. His flight caused all his family great astonishment, but the doctor persuaded them that he had gone away only to conceal his inevitable death.

    While this unfortunate was wandering in the forest, he remembered that he had frequently visited the Creeks in order to carry thither the belts or strings of beads which serve them as records. He determined to take refuge with them and inform them of his reasons for fleeing from his own country, not doubting that he would find help and protection in a nation with the generosity of which he was acquainted. He then sought out McGillivray, who was at that time head chief, and explained to him the reasons for his journey. He reminded him that he had visited him many times on behalf of his chiefs. McGillivray received him kindly though he was unable to recognize him for he looked like a skeleton. Food was given him and as he was still sick, some days later he had him take some emetic (i.e., cassina) diluted with sassafras water. This medicine was sufficient to cure his sickness, but as this savage had suffered much and had been ill for a long time, he remained four or five months with McGillivray in order to become wholly restored to health; I saw him often and he related his adventure to me himself. When he felt entirely restored, he returned to his own nation. About eight months had then elapsed since his escape, and his family had raised a scaffold and performed all the ceremonial rites preceding and accompanying funerals which I have described above. The doctor had so strongly persuaded the relatives of this savage that he could not recover from his illness that, when he appeared in their midst, they looked upon him as a ghost, and all fled. Seeing that he was left alone, he went to the house of one of his neighbors who, seized with the same terror, threw himself on the ground, and persuaded that this was only a spirit, spoke to him as follows:

    “Why have you left the abode of souls if you were happy there? Why do you return to us? Is it in order to be present at the last feast, which your family and your friends hold for you? Go! Return to the country of the dead lest you renew the grief which they have experienced at your loss!”

    The other, seeing that his presence caused the same fright every where, determined to return to the Creeks, where he saw again, in course of time, many of his relatives, since these were in the habit of coming there every year. It was only then that he was able to disabuse them and persuade them that the doctor had deceived them. They, angered at such a piece of rascality, sought out the doctor, heaped upon him the most violent reproaches, and afterwards killed him so that might deceive no one else. They then made all possible representations to this savage in order to induce him to return to them, but he refused steadily and married a woman of the Taaskiguys by whom he had three children, and he lives at the place where Fort Toulouse formerly stood.

    Text in this historical article is from Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians, by John R. Swanton. (Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution,) pages 213-214.

  • Removal

  • 1834-1907 Post Removal

  • How the People found a home

    told by D.L. Birchfield
    originally published in ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum, Tonawanda, NY

    In the oldest memory of The People, there was a time when The People did not have a home. They wandered here and there until their numbers became many. Everywhere they went they carried the bones of their dead. It was a great burden, but The People would not abandon the bones.
    One day, two of The People were out hunting when they saw a glow of light on a hill in the distance. They hurried to it but found nothing. They camped nearby, and the next morning the light appeared again. It was a woman, who said, “I am very hungry.” The two hunters did not have much food, but they gave her what they had. She ate a little of it, and then she said, “Come here tomorrow and I will give you something.”
    The next day the two hunters returned. Where the woman had been standing they found a beautiful plant. It was corn. They took it to The People. The People learned to grow the corn, but they had to camp for a long time before it was ready to eat. Before long, some of The People began to complain when it was time to move.
    Two brothers, Chahtah and Chickasah, who were leaders of The People, heard the complaints and consulted with a hopaii about what to do. The hopaii erected a pole. He said,”In the morning, if the pole is leaning in any direction, we must follow it to find a home.” The next morning the pole was leaning toward the rising sun. Chahtah and Chickasah gathered The People together. They started on a great journey. Each night the hopaii planted the pole, and each morning the pole was found leaning toward the rising sun. The journey lasted a long time. It was a hard journey and many died. After a while The People found it necessary to go forward only one half day, carrying the bones of the dead, and then returning for the rest of the bones.
    They came to a great river. It was so mighty that it had to be beyond age, so they named it Misha Sipokni. They built rafts and spent many days crossing the river. Not long after crossing Misha Sipokni, they came to a beautiful stream and followed it to its source. It was time to plant the corn, so they camped for a long time. The land was abundant in game and berries and many useful plants. The corn produced a big crop. When it came time to move, the hopaii planted the pole. But the next morning the pole was found standing straight. The People rejoiced when the hopaii announced they had found their home.
    The People built a great mound, and when they saw that it was leaning, they laughed and named it Nanih Waiya. They said this mound will be our mother and we will spread from here to make our homes.
    Chickasah led the first ones out to make their homes. One evening he was smoking some tobacco and dropped some fire. When Chahtah went out to see where Chickasah had gone, he found that the fire had destroyed the trail, and he could not find him. Many years later the ones who had followed Chickasah were found again, but they had been gone so long that their speech had changed slightly. They now call themselves Chickasaws, and the ones who had followed Chahtah now called themselves Choctaws, and they became two separate nations, always living near each other.
    POSTSCRIPT.- Many different versions of the Choctaw migration story have been recorded, beginning with the French, who settled near the Choctaws in present-day Mississippi early in the 18th century. Some versions incorporate the story of the gift of corn, some do not, some tell of the two brothers leading the migration, some tell of only Chahta, while others mention only a nameless prophet. Some versions are short, some run to thousands of words. Today, traditional storytellers will tell the story differently, and at different length, depending upon the occasion and the audience. There are also a number of other stories which account for the origin of the Choctaws, many of them centered around the sacred mound Nanih Waiya (the “leaning hill,” now preserved as a state park).
    The most thorough analysis of many early Choctaw origin stories can be found in Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians, by John R. Swanton, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 103 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931), pps. 5-37.
    For a more recent analysis see “Choctaw Oral Tradition Relating to Tribal Origin,” by William Brescia, Jr., in The Choctaw Before Removal, edited by Carolyn Keller Reeves (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985), pps. 3-16. For an excellent recent example of two Choctaw traditional stories told by a Native American storyteller (among two dozen stories from several different nations), see Native American Animal Stories, told by Joseph Bruchac (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1992).

  • The Choctaw Horse by Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD

    The Choctaw Horse Author, Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD Respectfully submitted by tribal member, Monique Sheaffer of Windrider Farm Choctaw Horse Conservation

    Choctaw Horses are one of a handful of distinct Native American tribal strains of Colonial Spanish Horse that are surviving by a thin thread. The historical record for the Choctaw Horse is extensive, and more details are known for this strain than for nearly any other strain of Colonial Spanish Horse. Part of the documentation of the Choctaw Horse includes extensive oral pedigrees from old breeders, with many such pedigrees going back well into the 1800s.

    Spanish horses were first introduced into the southeast by the Spanish during the 1600s. The Spanish had a chain of missions across the deep south, and they introduced horses, cattle, goats, sheep, hogs, and plantation based agriculture to this region. The Choctaws quickly became expert in raising livestock. The high quality of their livestock, especially the horses, was frequently mentioned in travel journals of that era. In the early 1800s the Choctaw nation had an extensive trade network with the areas that are now Texas and Oklahoma. During this time the Choctaws acquired numerous Spanish type horses through these western trade contacts.

    In the early 1800s the Choctaw nation was removed from its original Mississippi homeland to Oklahoma, then called Indian Territory, to make way for Anglo plantation owners. Many members of the Five Civilized Tribes were forcibly removed in a migration known as the Trail of Tears. Many Choctaws, seeing what the future would hold, had already left Mississippi a few years earlier, and these people managed to transport most of their livestock and wealth to then Indian Territory. The Choctaws as well as other tribes settled in the eastern part of the territory, where they frequently acted as intermediaries between the USA and non-settled tribes. No doubt exchanges of Spanish horses occurred by this means, since trading was popular among the Native Americans, and most of the available horses were of Colonial Spanish type. The Choctaws prospered as a nation until they were dragged into the Civil War in the 1860s, where they were pawns between the southern Confederacy and the northern Union. The final blow to the Choctaw nation was Oklahoma statehood in 1907, when the Choctaw nation ceased to exist as a separate entity and was absorbed into Oklahoma.

    Throughout all of this complex history the Choctaws managed to maintain their Colonial Spanish Horses. The present Choctaw Horses have an external type consistent with a Spanish origin. Blood types of the horses are also consistent with a Spanish origin. The horses average about 14 to 14.2 hands high, with a characteristic athletic build that helps them perform over long distances and for long workdays. Many of the horses are gaited, and they come in nearly all colors known to horses.

    Up until the 1970s it was possible to find up to 1500 of the original type Choctaw Horses in southeast Oklahoma. Since that time their numbers have been drastically reduced, and in the late 1980s they may have been down to close to 50 horses. Numbers have rebounded to about 300 in 2011. As is typical of rare breed conservation, the Choctaw Horse is closely associated with a few people who have saved it from extinction. The people most associated with the survival of the Choctaw horse are Bryant and Darlene Rickman, who have assembled remnants of the Choctaw strain from Gilbert Jones and a few other older breeders. Few if any of the Choctaw tribal members still breed the traditional Choctaw Horses. This is a recent phenomenon, since older family strains were jealously guarded, and had extensive oral pedigrees that went back to the time of removal in the early 1800s. Such family strains were common up until the 1970s.

    The Choctaw Horses that remain are from different families within the general Choctaw strain. These come from different counties within the old Choctaw nation, and many of these had regional ranges over which the horses roamed as feral animals. The major families that preserved the Choctaw Horses until recently were the Brame, Crisp, Locke, Self, Helms, Thurman, and Carter families. Horses were run on the open range in areas where other types of horses were not kept, and horses were captured and trained as needed. Many of these families had hundreds of horses of consistent Spanish type and widely varying colors including the “Spanish roan” sabino type, leopard and blanketed, and others such as overo paints. The Choctaw Horses are occasionally gaited. They are also quick. Hal Brame was noted for taking his little overo horse to parties and dances and would wager on races over 50 yards. He won a lot of money from cowboys with Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds who went away with increased respect for small, spotted Indian horses!

    The size of Choctaw Horses varies from 13.2 to 15 hands high. They have typical Spanish conformation, with broad heads and narrow faces. Small hooked ears are typical. Chests are deep but narrow, making them strong and durable. The croup is sloped and the tail is set on low. Colors include nearly the full range available in horses: black, bay, brown, chestnut, sorrel, line-backed duns, palominos and buckskins, tobiano, frame overo, sabino, blankets, varnish roans, and leopards. A few other colors may still exist as well, including the elusive champagne group of colors. A very few Choctaw horses are curly, although this trait is nearly extinct in the strain. Many of the horses do a running walk in addition to, or instead of, the usual trot of horses. As a result they are comfortable to ride.

    One trait of the Choctaw Horses that helps their conservation is their tough feet. A handful of Oklahoma ranchers prefer these horses to the more widely available Quarter Horses since the Choctaw Horses can work all day without being shod. The ranchers therefore save on horseshoeing costs. An additional savings comes from the endurance of the Choctaw Horses which can tolerate a whole day’s work, while the competing breeds can usually only tolerate a half day of hard use.

    The present status of the Choctaw Horses is tenuous, and the strain needs to enlist more breeders. The Rickmans have assembled a good number of horses from a variety of strains, and young animals are now available from their herds. In addition to the Rickmans’ horses, there are a few other herds in California (Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary), Pennsylvania (Choctaw Nation of OK tribal members, the Sheaffers’ Windrider Farm), Texas, New Mexico, Vermont and Virginia (Jamie & Mary McConnell). The goal of the Choctaw conservation program is to assure that the pure Choctaw Horses go into conservation programs - especially the mares but also many of the colts. A group of dedicated breeders is slowly developing around these horses, with their top priority the assurance that the strain will persist.

    – D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD Professor, Pathology and Genetics Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA 24060 USA

    E-mail: Telephone: 1-540-231-4805 Facsimile: 1-540-231-6033

  • The Spirit of Blackjack Mountain: The Story of the Choctaw Pony

    Contributed by Francine Locke Bray (, research consultant and great-granddaughter of Victor and Susan (McKenney) Locke

    On April 30, Bryant Rickman, president of the Southwest Spanish Mustang Association, and I gave a presentation at the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Annual Meeting in Durant. The title of the presentation was, “The Spirit of Blackjack Mountain: The Story of the Choctaw Pony.” Over the past year, it has become evident that there is quite a bit of misunderstanding about how and why we call the horses that lived on Blackjack Mountain, “Choctaw ponies.”

    This strain of Colonial Spanish horse claimed the mountain as home in Pushmataha County for well over 120 years and was developed from horses purchased and collected from Native Americans in the region in the early 20th century. The discovery and documentation of their origin includes four important aspects: 1) oral and written history; 2) location; 3) phenotype evaluation; and 4) genetic testing.

    Written history of the horses, of their use and value to the Choctaw people has been sketchy. However, one of the most important sources is the missionary journals. Henry C. Benson (1860) was a missionary at Fort Coffee between 1842 and 1845; and H.B. Cushman (1899) grew up among the Choctaw in pre-removal days. Both published their memoirs. In addition, James Taylor Carson (1995) has done extensive studies and writings on Choctaw horse culture.

    In the 1600s the Choctaw probably obtained their horses through raids on the Caddo and several other tribes living west of the Mississippi. Throughout the history of the Choctaw in Mississippi, the horse played a very integral part in the social, economic, and spiritual life of the people. While they at first used horses for food, their value as pack horses was quickly recognized. Before acquiring horses, the women would carry the food home from the hunt on their backs and were responsible for the movement of the household goods during their seasonal relocations. With the evolution of a horse culture these practices changed and the horse became important to not only these daily activities but also as a means for transporting trade goods, thus widening the range of trade.

    When a Choctaw child was born, it was customary to give that child a pony, a cow, and a hog. Thus, when reaching adulthood, the young adult would now have herds of his own. Cushman (1899) tells of the use of the “famous little Choctaw pony” as a means of transportation for children. Once a child was too large for his/her mother’s back sling, he/she would be placed on the back of one of the ponies and secured to the saddle. At approximately the age of four or five he/she would be considered old enough and skilled enough to ride without any restraints. “They were all equestrians, men, women, and children; each had his pony and saddle, and to ride on horseback was the first lesson ever learned” (Benson 1860).

    According to Carson (1995), the Choctaw horse played an important role in the funeral practices of the Nation. In the 18th Century, when a man died and after his bones were placed in the “village bonehouse,” the horse(s) of the deceased were slaughtered and a feast held in honor of the deceased’s passage, reaffirming the bonds of community and kinship. By the late 18th Century, the Choctaw were beginning to bury their dead men, including in the grave the deceased’s guns, tomahawks and favorite horse(s). The above practices ceased sometime in the early 19th Century as both men and women began to depend on the horses for their transportation and livelihood. By 1828 the Choctaw herd is said to have numbered 15,000, a ratio of 0.7 per capita, similar to Mississippi’s 1840 ratio of 0.8 per capita. The missionaries estimated the average horse’s worth at $60, putting the value of the Choctaw horse herd, in 1828, at $900,000 (Carson 1995).

    There are numerous records on the removal of the Choctaw horse during the migrations to Oklahoma Territory in 1831, 1832, and 1834 in the National Archives Indian Emigration records. One of interest is a letter cited in Forman (1932). “Nine hundred Choctaw horses crossed the Mississippi river that winter; 500 passed Little Rock, 300 going to the Kiamichi river, and 200 to Fort Smith; 400 went to the Red river country by way of Ecor à Fabri (Brown to Gibson, April 30, 1832, ibid., 444, and OIA, “Choctaw Emigration”).”

    We have been able to trace ownership of herds of Choctaw horses, since removal, through one Choctaw family, the McKenney-Locke family of Antlers. John McKenney owned a stand on the Robinson Road in Mississippi and was captain of a group that emigrated in the first removal in 1831. In 1836 he was elected Chief of the Mush District. The National Archives has a letter John wrote discussing the stock held by himself and his neighbors. In addition, in the 1835 claim filed by the Choctaws against the government for lost horses, John is listed as having lost several horses on that emigration. All told, over 2,300 horses are listed in this document as “lost,” worth approximately $80,000.

    In 1871, Susan, Thomson’s daughter, married Victor M. Locke from Ten Mile Stand, Tenn. They raised a large family in the Pushmataha County area and founded Antlers. We have traced their land holdings throughout the county, specifically in the Blackjack Mountain area. This was a very large family, including Victor’s two brothers who followed him to the Territory and married Choctaw women. Most family members had extensive land and stock holdings, many original allotments.

    Victor and Susan’s children were prolific storytellers and writers. Dollye Locke Archer, in the late 1940s, wrote her nieces of her mother, as a young “girl,” riding across Winding Stair Mountain from Skullyville to Fort Towson on her “pony.” She concluded the story, saying, “…after all, not a small feat, it was 100 miles and she rode side-saddle.” Dollye’s brother, Ben, wrote while a patient in the Muskogee VA Hospital stories of his childhood, most of which include the use and love of the horses. Ben’s grandson, in 1998 wrote a letter telling of going to the Antlers area in the late 1930s to see if he and his Dad could find some of his father’s horses. They had been branded “VL” and, much to their surprise, they did find one being used by an Indian family as the family pet. One Locke family treasure is a photo album, predating 1913, which includes a number of pictures of the horses with riders.

    Gilbert Jones came to the Antlers area in the early 1950s and subsequently owned and lived at Medicine Springs on Blackjack Mountain. He was an owner and breeder of Spanish Mustangs and began to search out the “elders” of the area and collect what he could of the oral history of the horses. Many of his findings are scattered throughout his large collection of books, including the statement that the Locke family at one time owned a herd of over 1000 horses. During this time and up until his death, Gilbert also collected and bred the best of the horses he found on Blackjack Mountain, preserving the strains that were owned by the Indian families of the area. In the late 1970’s Gilbert began working with Phil Sponenberg of both Virginia Tech and the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy (ALBC) to conduct phenotypic evaluations and DNA testing on the herd. Sponenberg’s initial physical evaluations indicated that the herd had strong Spanish-type conformation across the board and, to his trained eye, were classic Colonial Spanish horses. To support these findings DNA testing was then conducted with the end results proving that the Choctaw horses on Blackjack Mountain were indeed direct descendents of the horses that first arrived with Spanish settlers in the 1500’s. The scientific findings combined with oral and written history and location prove that these horses are the animals Native American tribes would have kept and raised in the region.

    Acknowledgement: I would like to acknowledge the help of Jeannette Beranger, Research and Technical Programs Manager, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for her assistance with this article, especially for the comments on the phenotypic evaluations, DNA testing, and the scientific findings.

    References cited: Archer, Dollye Locke (Unpublished Letters). To Susan and Her Sisters. Benson, Henry C, A.M. (1860). Life Among The Choctaw Indians and Sketches of the South-West. L. Swormstedt & A. Poe, Cincinnati. Carson, James Taylor (1995). “Horses and the Economy and Culture of the Choctaw Indians, 1960 – 1840. Ethnohistory, Vol 42, No. 3. (Summer, 1995), pp. 495-511. Cushman, H.B. History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. Edited, with a Foreword, by Angie Debo (1999). Originally published in 1899. Foreman, Grant (1932). Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. University of Oklahoma Press, Normal. P. 53: Brown to Gibson, April 30, 1832, ibid., 444, and OIA, “Choctaw Emigration” Schedule of horses alleged to have been lost during removal, Horses and the Choctaw Indians 5138 October 1837, United States, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Choctaw Agency West, 1825-1838, M234.

    © Francine Locke Bray (2010)

  • Choctaws helped starving Irish in 1847 – this act shaped tribal culture

    Irish Famine Donation

    The Choctaw people have a history of helping others – one of the best examples is the $170 that was given to the Irish in 1847 during the potato famine. To realize the beauty and generosity of this story, one has to understand what a challenging couple of decades this had been for the Indian people.

    In 1831 the Choctaw Indians were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi to what is now known as Oklahoma. The Choctaws were the first of several tribes to make the trek along The Trail of Tears. The years during and immediately following this journey were very difficult for the tribal people. The winter of this particular Trail of Tears was the coldest on record - the food and clothing of the people were severely inadequate and transportation needs were not properly met. Many of the Choctaws did not survive the trip, and those that did not perish faced hardships establishing new homes, schools, and churches.

    A few years after this long, sad march, the Choctaws learned of people starving to death in Ireland. The Irish were dying because although there were other crops being grown in their country, all but the potato were marked for export by the British rulers. The Irish poor were not allowed any other sustenance than the potato, and from 1845-1849 this vegetable was diseased. Only sixteen years had passed since the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears, and a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar story coming from across the ocean. Individuals made donations totaling $170 in 1847 to send to assist the Irish people. These noble Choctaw people, who had such meager resources, gave all they could on behalf of others in greater need.

    This charitable attitude resonates still today when crisis situations occur across the world. In 2001, tribal people made a huge contribution to the Firefighters Fund after the Twin Towers attack in New York City and have since made major contributions to Save the Children and the Red Cross for the 2004 tsunami relief and 2005 Hurricane Katrina and victims of the Haiti earthquake. Good works are not exclusive to humanitarian organizations and funds. The Choctaw Nation received the 2008 United States Freedom Award for the efforts made for the members of the National Guard and Reserve and their families. There are countless stories of Choctaw individuals and churches who have looked past their own needs to help their neighbors. “It is only right that the tribe share what God has so generously allowed us,” said Choctaw Chief Gregory E. Pyle.

    The people of Ireland have never forgotten the kindness shown from the Choctaw Indians. The Irish, realizing that these Native American had delved deep into their own pockets for what little they had to share, have welcomed delegations from the Choctaw Nation and have visited the tribal lands in Oklahoma. In 1992, a plaque was unveiled at the Lord Mayor’s Mansion in Dublin, Ireland that reads, “Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

    Check out this Childrens book. (Amazon sells it)

    The Long March: The Choctaw’s Gift to Irish Famine Relief by author/illustrator Mary-Louise Fitzpatrick

    Endorsed by the Choctaw Nation.‚ A Smithsonian Notable Book for Children, 1998.‚ Children’s Books of Ireland BISTO Book of the Year Merit Award, 1999.

    ** also - There is a facebook page for Choctaw Irish Famine

  • Choctaw Courtship and Wedding

    The following is a brief summary of the ritual of selecting a mate and the wedding of a Choctaw couple.

    The Courtship

    The ancient manner of Choctaw courtship was quiet and fairly easy even for the bashful or timid young man.
    When a young man had selected someone from his tribe he wanted to marry, he kept his decision in deep silence to himself.
    Not even disclosing to the chosen one his desire to make her his bride. After selecting a girl, he then had to see if she would choose him back. He would put on his best clothing and with a fluttering heart put himself in the midst of the young maiden and her family.
    In this instance, it is during a social event with dancing and song. He waited for an opportunity during the social dancing and song.
    He waited for an opportunity during the social when he would be comfortable in making his move. When this moment came, he flipped a small pebble or token, which is carried for that purpose, toward the girl of his choice. She observed the source from which it came and understood the meaning of the little messenger of love. If she approved, she would slyly return the messenger in the same manner in which it came. If she did not approved, she would suddenly rise from her seat and frowning disapproval, would, leave the room.
    As the Choctaw tribe in matriarchal, the two intended run separately to tell their aunts. The Aunts then question their relative’s choice with personal questions… If the aunts satisfied that they have made a good choice, they will approach a minister to ask for his services.

    The Chase

    On the wedding day, members of both families gathered at a designated site. The relatives of the bride had begun the day before, preparing food for the wedding feast.
    Before either party sat down to eat, the girl at a given signal started away from the group on the run and her intended husband pursued her, with her being assisted by her relatives and him with his.
    If the boy caught the girl too soon, she was considered weak and indifferent to the match and the wedding might be called off. On the other hand, if he were unable to catch her in a reasonable length of time, he might be considered weak and indifferent.

    The Wedding

    The Native American Indians respected the four cardinal directions and its effects on their social life. The Choctaw wedding included a firm instructional speech from the elder or presiding spiritual person to the couple. The couple is instructed to always face the oncoming life together and not to face each other in disrespect.



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Original Enrollees


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