A New Chahta Homeland: A History by the Decade, 1940-1950
May 1, 2022
Iti Fabvssa is currently running a series that covers the span of Oklahoma Choctaw history. By examining each decade since the Choctaw government arrived in our new homelands using Choctaw-created documents, we better understand Choctaw ancestors’ experiences and how they made decisions that have led us into the present. This month covers the 1940-1950 period when Choctaws worked with U.S. Congressmen to address issues regarding land restrictions and sell their coal and asphalt lands.
Throughout the 1900s, Chief William Durant (in office 1937-1948) and Chief Harry J. W. Belvin (in office 1948-1971) worked with Oklahoma’s U.S. congressional delegation on numerous issues facing the Choctaw people.
Since statehood, the Choctaw chief was in constant contact with their congressional representative.
Given the Choctaws’ nation-to-nation relationship with the United States, the Oklahoma congress members who represented District 3, where Choctaw treaty territory was located, were an important ally to the Choctaw people.
Often the congressional representative served as an intermediary between the federal government (especially the Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the Choctaw Nation.
Throughout much of the 1900s, Oklahoma was home to the largest Native population in the United States.
Given this, Native people were important to local politicians hoping to get elected as local representatives. Congressional District 3 covered the southeastern corner of Oklahoma where Choctaws and Chickasaw people held their allotments and lived. This made them a significant voter base.
As a result, aspiring politicians and local representatives worked with the Choctaw and Chickasaw chiefs as much as they could to secure their votes during election season.
Numerous members of Congress were critical allies to Choctaws throughout the 20th century.
One particularly significant congressman was a Choctaw named William G. Stigler.
In 1944, Stigler was elected to U.S. Congress as the Oklahoma representative for District 2. This area included northeastern Oklahoma, part of Cherokee and Creek treaty territory.
As someone involved in Choctaw affairs throughout his life, he worked with Native leaders – Choctaw leaders in particular – to make sure the Native people’s needs were recognized and addressed by the federal government. Stigler remained in office until he died in 1952.
Elmer Thomas, who served in the U.S. Senate, was also an important ally who championed welfare legislation advocated for by Choctaws.
After his election as the U.S. congressional representative for Oklahoma’s District 3 in 1949, Carl Albert would become another critical ally in U.S. Congress to the Choctaw people.
Given the close relationship that members of Congress had with Choctaw leaders, individual Choctaw citizens wrote letters directly to them to request help with issues they faced regarding their lands or issues with the state. These congressmen often redirected their letters to the correct office that could help them, or those congressmen would reach out to other government officials on the individuals’ behalf.
For instance, many Choctaws wrote to congressional representatives like Stigler about how they needed the per capita payments from the sale of the coal and asphalt lands to help them pay their bills, as well as how they needed to extend the period of restrictions on their lands to prevent them from losing them.
Other individuals also called for removing restrictions so they would no longer have to go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for permission to manage their lands how they wanted.
In response, Congressman Stigler worked with Chief William Durant and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop legislation to address Choctaws’ needs and desires regarding land restrictions.
In response to many of the issues that Choctaws had regarding land restrictions, Congressman Stigler pushed for an act that would create a uniform set of regulations for the Five Tribes.
Since the Five Tribes’ lands were governed differently due to their unique treaties, the laws governing allotment for the Five Tribes were slightly different, as mentioned in previous Iti Fabvssa articles.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs managed land restrictions that exempted allotments from taxation and that made the Five Tribes’ allotments particularly unique.
Choctaws responded in diverse ways to these restrictions, which were initially planned to be only temporary. When the restrictions were set to expire in 1928, many full-blood Choctaws asked for the period of land restrictions to be extended, while Choctaws with lower blood quantum (calculated through the Dawes Rolls) often advocated for the removal of restrictions.
Of course, it was not always the case that a full-blood would want to keep land restrictions, and those with less blood quantum would not since it varied case by case. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs nevertheless received a lot of requests (and was often unable to keep up with the volume of requests), and this was the general trend that they found.
To address Choctaws’ varied demands regarding land restrictions and to ease the caseloads of the BIA, U.S. Congress passed an act that stated that removed the restrictions on land allotments for Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, Muscogee Creeks and Seminoles with less than 50% blood quantum in 1947.
Decades later, Choctaws would deal with the unintended consequences of this act.
In 2018, Choctaw Nation worked with local members of Congress to amend the 1947 act to remove the blood quantum requirement.
Another major issue that Choctaws worked with Oklahoma Congress members on was the sale of the coal and asphalt lands.
In 1938, Choctaws and Chickasaws jointly owned 376,757 acres of coal deposits and 3,040 acres of asphalt lands. The coal lands encompassed the areas that are now Atoka, Coal, Pittsburg, Latimer, Le Flore and Haskell counties, while the asphalt lands were all located in Pushmataha, Murray and Carter counties.
After the U.S. government appraised the lands, they calculated them to be worth $10,041,030. In 1918, 1919, 1920 and 1925, the U.S. government offered these lands for sale at the appraised value but could only sell smaller parcels.
The inability to sell the remaining 376,757 acres frustrated Choctaws, who were unable to receive per capita payments that would have come from the sale of those lands. As a result, the Choctaw Advisory Council passed a resolution requesting that the U.S. government purchase the remaining coal and asphalt lands.
In 1949, the Bureau of Indian Affairs finally sold the coal and asphalt lands they had been trying to sell since Oklahoma statehood.
The next challenge for Choctaw and Chickasaw leaders was the distribution of payments of citizens listed on the Dawes Rolls and the increasing push for Choctaw Termination, which we will cover next month for the 1950-1960 period.
About Iti Fabvssa
Iti Fabvssa seeks to increase knowledge about the past, strengthen the Choctaw people and develop a more informed and culturally grounded understanding of where the Choctaw people are headed in the future.
If you have questions or would like more information on the sources, please contact Megan Baker at [email protected]