Viewing original Choctaw treaties at National Archives
From the desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle
It was an emotional experience to view some of the original treaties between the Choctaws and the United States government. Realizing that this was a rare opportunity, I was anxious to see the documents that had signed our Mississippi homelands over to the United States, sending our ancestors along the Trail of Tears. In preparation for this appointment, we had placed a request on behalf of the tribal government weeks in advance to see the original papers. The treaties are kept in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in a small room with extremely high security.
Entering the archives, we were met by a host, one of only four people with a key to the secure room holding the treaties. She checked our identifications against our reservations and then led us through a maze of security checkpoints to the vault with the treaties. One by one, seven treaties dealing with our tribe were laid out for view.
Each of the official documents shown us were very different in size and appearance. The first treaty we saw was the Fort Confederation on the Tombigbee Treaty of 1802, which redefined boundaries and ceded 10,000 acres of land in Mississippi. Signatures of many of the Choctaw representatives were simply an “X” with a representative putting their name beside the X. The second treaty was dated Nov. 16, 1805, and gave a cession of Tombigbee River and redefined the English treaty of 1765.
With heart pounding so loud I thought everyone in the room could hear, the next treaty I gazed on was Dancing Rabbit Creek – Sept. 27, 1830. This is the first removal treaty. About 11 million acres in Mississippi were ceded in exchange for about 15 million acres in Indian Territory. Shortly following, the Choctaws began the very first Trail of Tears, emigrating in three main stages, the fall of 1831, again in 1832 and 1833.
Under this treaty, Choctaws who chose to remain in Mississippi were allowed to become United States citizens – the first major tribal people to gain United States citizenship.
We saw several other treaties, but none compared in emotion to viewing the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Thousands of Choctaws died along the Trail of Tears as a result of this treaty and the ensuing removal.
Although the original treaties are kept under lock and key, the text of these documents can be read in books and on the Internet. For people who wish to research treaties dealing with Choctaw Nation, here are some of the dates to look for:
Hopewell Treaty, 1786
Fort Adams Treaty, 1801
Fort Confederation Treaty, 1802
Hoe Buckintoopa Treaty, 1803
Mount Dexter Treaty, 1805
Fort St. Stephens Treaty, 1816
Doaks Stand Treaty, 1820
Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty, 1830
Camp Holmes Treaty, 1835
Doaksville Treaty, 1854
Choctaw and Chickasaw Treaty, 1866
Our treaties are so important they are kept in the same small vault as the first acts of the very first Congress of the United States. We were privileged to see the first public law passed by the first Congress, oaths of office for the first Senate and House of Representatives. This was a huge parchment, signed by President George Washington and John Adams. I was awed to see such documents shelved beside our treaties, and proud to know that our Choctaw history is housed in the same prestigious and secure environment as the United States treasures!