Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830)

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was agreed upon in September 1830 between representatives of the Choctaw Nation and the United States. It was the first treaty signed after the creation of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to begin the removal of eastern Indians to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. In it, the Choctaw ceded control of their communally held lands in central Mississippi and west-central Alabama, more than 10 million acres, to the U.S. government. The Alabama area ceded by the Choctaws includes the town of Livingston and surrounding land west of the Tombigbee River.

Pushmataha In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the Choctaws and Creek Indians in the Southeast ceded millions of acres to the United States that enabled the creation of the Mississippi Territory in 1798. In 1818, the territory was divided in half to form the state of Mississippi and the Alabama Territory. Soon after, the U.S. government, with the support of Mississippi government officials, began treaty negotiations with the Choctaws (whose traditional homeland encompassed much of present-day east-central Mississippi and west-central Alabama) for their removal west of the Mississippi River. That initial attempt in 1818 failed because the Choctaw people unanimously opposed removal; however, U.S. representatives, including Gen. Andrew Jackson, Mississippi state senator Daniel Burnett, and U.S. Indian agent John McKee, returned in August 1819 to renew their negotiations with Choctaw leadership. Famed Choctaw chief Pushmataha, who had led Choctaw military forces in support of the United States during the War of 1812 and the Creek War of 1813-14, eloquently but forcefully rejected the U.S. request to trade Choctaw lands in Mississippi for new lands west of the Mississippi River.

Angered by the unwillingness of the Choctaws to negotiate, Mississippi officials insisted that the national government do something to dissolve the Choctaws’ title to lands that the state considered its own. Andrew Jackson pressured Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to authorize him to lead yet another series of negotiations. Duly deputized, along with Mississippi representatives Christopher Rankin and Gen. Thomas Hinds, Jackson bullied and cajoled the Choctaw chiefs into agreeing to the Treaty of Doak’s Stand in October 1820 by emphasizing that the U.S. government had in mind the Choctaws’ best interests. This treaty ceded about half of the remaining Choctaw land in Mississippi to the United States in exchange for nearly 13 million acres in southwest Arkansas that had recently been ceded to the U.S. by the Quapaws. White settlers quickly took over the newly ceded area in Mississippi and established a county, naming it after Hinds, and naming their new state capital after Jackson.

Choctaw Land Cessions in Mississippi and Alabama Problems with the treaty emerged quickly, especially because non-Indians had already begun to establish homesteads on the new Choctaw land in Arkansas. A Choctaw delegation arrived in Washington, D.C., in late 1824 to work out a solution, but the leading chiefs, Apuckshunubbee and Pushmataha, died during the trip, leaving the remaining delegation to cede the eastern portion of the Arkansas lands back to the United States. Throughout this period, nearly all the Choctaws continued to live on their lands in Mississippi, and state officials continued to press for their removal. In 1826, Mississippi governor Gerard Brandon called on the state legislature to put the full force of state efforts behind forcing the Choctaws out; even further, state legislators called for the expulsion of missionaries living among the Indians because they were perceived as fostering resistance to removal. Neither idea was put into force because of concerns about state-versus-national constitutional authority over Indian affairs. In 1825, the Choctaws responded to these continued threats by strengthening their sovereignty claims through establishing a constitutional government, electing leaders, and creating a national police force, protections for private property, and a court system.

The election of Andrew Jackson as U.S. president in 1828 forever altered the relationship between Americans and Indians living east of the Mississippi River. Even before Jackson was inaugurated in March 1829, the Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi legislatures passed laws extending state jurisdiction over all Indian lands within their borders, knowing that they would now have an ally in the White House. That election also brought Democratic Party domination to the national government and with it widespread support for Indian removal. Southern state “extension laws,” as they were known, outlawed Indian governments, forbade communal land holdings, and declared that Indians were state citizens. When Jackson took office, he urged southern Indians to remove voluntarily while simultaneously supporting legislation to enact removal. Because of the state actions, Jackson was able to cast the Indian removal policy as necessary to solve the “constitutional crisis” over whether the states or the federal government held jurisdiction over Indian affairs.

John Coffee The Indian Removal Act became law on May 28, 1830. It authorized the president to appoint commissioners to meet with each eastern Indian tribe to set conditions for giving up title to their existing land in exchange for lands in Indian Territory (now the states of Oklahoma and Kansas) west of the Mississippi River. The Choctaws were the first group to negotiate such a treaty. In September 1830, more than 6,000 Choctaws met with U.S. commissioners Secretary of War John Eaton and Jackson’s long-time friend and Tennessee militia general John Coffee at Dancing Rabbit Creek in present-day Noxubbee County, Mississippi. Twice, the chiefs rejected the terms because a group of seven women elders (who sat front-and-center at the negotiations) refused to permit the sale of any of their ancestral lands. Under the matrilineal society of the Choctaws, women traditionally controlled access to and governance of land and families. Furious, Eaton and Coffee called off the negotiations and instead met secretly with Choctaw chiefs Greenwood Leflore, Mushulatubbee, and others to produce a treaty on which they could agree. Included in this new document was Article 14, which enabled individual Choctaw men and their families to claim title to specific allotments of land in Mississippi on which they could then live as state citizens or sell and use the proceeds to fund their move to the west. An additional supplement to the original treaty also authorized extra allotments of land to those chiefs who signed the treaty and their family members, to other pro-Removal Choctaws, and to traders to whom the Choctaws were indebted, such as agent George Strother Gaines. The U.S. land agents responsible for recording individual Choctaw land titles, especially William Ward, were corrupt and incompetent, and they failed to record the vast majority of Choctaw claims before the three-year deadline passed.

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed by the chiefs and U.S. diplomats on September 27, 1830, and was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1831. By the late fall of 1830, Gaines began organizing parties of Choctaws for immediate immigration to Indian Territory. Around 13,000 Choctaws travelled by wagon, on horseback, by boat, and on foot over the next few years, experiencing much hardship and death along the way. Movement of Choctaws from Mississippi to Indian Territory, Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. Approximately 6,000 Choctaws never left or returned to Mississippi and Alabama to eke out an existence. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians regained federal recognition as an Indian tribe in 1945, but in Alabama, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians remain unrecognized by the federal government. Despite the ethnic cleansing represented by Indian Removal, the Choctaws maintain these and other communities throughout the country today, and the Choctaw language and many traditional cultural expressions, such as stickball, continue to thrive.

Further Reading

  • Baird, W. David. Peter Pitchlynn: Chief of the Choctaws. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.
  • Carson, James Tyler. Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
  • DeRosier, Arthur H., Jr. The Removal of the Choctaw Indians. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
  • Kidwell, Clara Sue. Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818-1918. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
  • O’Brien, Greg. Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750-1830. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  • ———, ed. Pre-removal Choctaw History: Exploring New Paths. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.
  • Young, Mary Elizabeth. Redskins, Ruffleshirts and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830-1860. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.

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