Living in the Land of Death

Living in the Land of Death: The Choctaw Nation, 1830-1860

Donna L. Akers
Copyright Date: 2004
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  • Book Info
    Living in the Land of Death
    Book Description:

    With the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Choctaw people began their journey over the Trail of Tears from their homelands in Mississippi to the new lands of the Choctaw Nation. Suffering a death rate of nearly 20 percent due to exposure, disease, mismanagement, and fraud, they limped into Indian Territory, or, as they knew it, the Land of the Dead (the route taken by the souls of Choctaw people after death on their way to the Choctaw afterlife). Their first few years in the new nation affirmed their name for the land, as hundreds more died from whooping cough, floods, starvation, cholera, and smallpox.Living in the Land of the Deaddepicts the story of Choctaw survival, and the evolution of the Choctaw people in their new environment. Culturally, over time, their adaptation was one of homesteads and agriculture, eventually making them self-sufficient in the rich new lands of Indian Territory. Along the Red River and other major waterways several Choctaw families of mixed heritage built plantations, and imported large crews of slave labor to work cotton fields. They developed a sub-economy based on interaction with the world market. However, the vast majority of Choctaws continued with their traditional subsistence economy that was easily adapted to their new environment.The immigrant Choctaws did not, however, move into land that was vacant. The U.S. government, through many questionable and some outright corrupt extralegal maneuvers, chose to believe it had gained title through negotiations with some of the peoples whose homelands and hunting grounds formed Indian Territory. Many of these indigenous peoples reacted furiously to the incursion of the Choctaws onto their rightful lands. They threatened and attacked the Choctaws and other immigrant Indian Nations for years. Intruding on others' rightful homelands, the farming-based Choctaws, through occupation and economics, disrupted the traditional hunting economy practiced by the Southern Plains Indians, and contributed to the demise of the Plains ways of life.

    eISBN: 978-0-87013-883-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Preface
    (pp. IX-X)
    Donna L. Akers
  5. Introduction
    (pp. XI-XXVIII)

    The historical literature specifically regarding the Choctaw people is very thin, and most is written from the perspective of outsiders. Almost without exception, historians of the Choctaw people exclude sources written in Choctaw, and do not examine the Choctaw language from a sociolinguistic perspective. Scholars almost invariably omit from consideration oral traditions and Choctaw history as related by the Choctaw people themselves. Even the most astute researchers neglect these significant and valuable sources. Because of this omission, the Choctaw perspective is missing from most historical accounts.

    In addition, most works on the Choctaw people focus on their relationship with the...

  6. 1 A Brief History of the Choctaw People to 1817
    (pp. 1-20)

    The old Choctaw man closed his rheumy eyes, retreating to a place and time that no one else could see. Asked to tell of the origin of the Choctaw people, he cleared his throat, and in an aged, shaky voice began to speak:

    Long ago, in a place near the setting sun, the Choctaw Nation was in turmoil. Threats from enemies caused the people to have to flee their homeland. Gathering the bones of the ancestors and placing them in packs on their backs, the Okla Chahta moved out in long columns of old and young, well and unwell. Young...

  7. 2 History, Change, and Tradition
    (pp. 21-40)

    President Monroe’s first annual message to Congress on 2 December 1817 presaged the complete reorganization of American Indian policy. After extensive review, the new secretary of war, John C. Calhoun, recommended three important changes in American policy. First, he suggested that the United States drop the pretense of treating native tribal groups as sovereign nations. Secondly, he recommended that the United States try to prevent the complete extinction of the native people through education and “civilization,” although he clarified that native people were not ready for instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but should instead be instructed in manual arts—...

  8. 3 The Physical and Spiritual World of the Choctaw People
    (pp. 41-66)

    The world Euro-Americans called “Indian Territory” was a living, breathing, feeling being—an enormously complex, self-sustaining system that encompassed an infinite number of creatures, people, and spirits. The physical and spiritual worlds overlapped more extensively in the native conceptualization of the world than in that of western Euro-Americans. For example, native people believed that spirits were literally all around them, that they heard and monitored the behavior of men, and that they actively affected their lives. They believed that spirits communicated with humans through dreams and visions, and therefore they paid careful attention to the spirit world, knowing that it...

  9. 4 After Doak’s Stand: Indian Territory in the 1820s
    (pp. 67-86)

    The ink with which the Americans wrote the Treaty of Doak’s Stand was hardly dry before they asked the Choctaws to give some of the land back to the United States. Mingo Pushmataha was correct when he pointed out to Andrew Jackson during the treaty negotiations that hundreds and hundreds of Euro-Americans were already living within in the area the United States proposed that the Choctaws to take in exchange for their homelands in the East.

    White intruders had moved into the area that became the new Choctaw Nation in the West during the first decades of the nineteenth century....

  10. 5 A Perfect Picture of Chaos
    (pp. 87-102)

    During the late 1820s, the Choctaws scrambled to avoid dispossession from their homelands. Various factions formed, each strategizing ways in which to deal with the U.S. government. All of these Choctaw factions knew that southern and western Americans would settle for nothing less than the confiscation of the Indian nation’s lands, but still they fought to rouse the conscience of Americans through active alliance with the whites, living primarily on the East Coast, who seemed to side with them in their struggle. Each of the Choctaw factions was desperate in its attempts to stave off dispossession, and, unfortunately, the U.S....

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. 6 A New Life in the Land of Death: Decade of Despair
    (pp. 103-116)

    Arriving in their new lands, the Choctaw people began to build a new life. They had little choice but to put the horrors of their dispossession behind them. Despite the misfortunes and trauma of the past decade, the children still got hungry, crops and animals still had to be tended, water still had to be drawn—life had to go on. For some, anger and bitterness persisted. Others were in shock; their lives, their families, their loved ones—everything had been disrupted. As the Choctaw people began to build a new life, they re-examined their responses and adaptations to the...

  13. 7 Making Death Literal
    (pp. 117-132)

    During the period before the Civil War, the Choctaw people were assailed by new forms of old, familiar problems. Three major issues emerged to threaten their future existence. These issues were interrelated, and derived from their subjugation by the United States, and the Americans’ efforts to increase their hegemony. First, the whole nation seemed to be erupting into a state of anarchy. Serious crimes occurred daily, and “who was killed this week” became an almost daily topic of conversation.¹

    Second, conflict escalated with American encroachments on Choctaw legal jurisdiction. This concern was, in actuality, a gradual, but constant, erosion of...

  14. 8 Cultural Continuity and Change
    (pp. 133-146)

    In the previous chapter, the violence that resulted from the disintegration of traditional male gender roles, white intruders, confusion over jurisdiction between the U.S. and the Choctaws, the importation of alcohol, and the growing anxiety over slavery and the coming Civil War in the U.S. was explored. The Choctaws had another major crisis in their government and political system that exacerbated these conditions.

    In the 1850s, two oppositional forces continued to wreak havoc within the Choctaw Nation. Intermarried white men and more acculturated Choctaw men of mixed heritage tried to steer the Choctaw people toward further adaptation of white culture,...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 147-152)

    The Choctaw people have a long tradition of survival as a separate, identifiable people. The greatest challenge to their independent identity was the American onslaught of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most damaging aspect of this onslaught has been the American construction of natives as savages and Euro-Americans as civilized. Many generations of Choctaws were affected by these teachings, which engendered a sense of self-loathing. The internalization of the norms of white people and of their scorn for native cultures produced many Choctaw people who were ashamed of their heritage and who taught their children to be ashamed,...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 153-172)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-196)
  18. Index
    (pp. 197-203)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 204-204)