Sunday, March 10, 2013

Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s-1907

St. Jean, Wendy. Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s-1907. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011.

As Wendy St. Jean explains, this book "is a study of the Chickasaw Nation's struggle, in the wake of encroachments by the federal government and groups of noncitizen immigrants, to restrict tribal membership and assert its flagging sovereignty in the nineteenth century" (5).

The author relates that upon removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory in the 1830s, Chickasaws faced trouble on many sides. To the east lived the more numerous Choctaws, who agreed to sell land to the Chickasaws provided they would forfeit their political autonomy and merge with the Choctaws. To the west were "wild" (as opposed to "civilized") Indians--Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches, and other fierce tribes--who considered the Chickasaws intruders and who commonly came into their land, stealing what they could. To the south were Texans, who often mistook Chickasaws for dangerous, "wild" Indians, which made the Texans as vicious as any of the western tribes.

By the 1850s, the U.S. government came to recognize a political distinction between Choctaws and Chickasaws, giving the Chickasaw Nation an independence that they had never known before in Indian Territory. But following the Civil War, Chickasaws were required to deal with former slaves and white intruders, all of whom sought from the tribal nation citizenship with its tremendous economic opportunities. St. Jean notes the most remarkable aspect of this story, and the events that ensued, as follows:

Despite the nation's small population and internal divisions, the Chickasaw government managed to hold on to a measure of independence and inheritance longer and more effectively than its Indian neighbors. In state and federal courts and in the court of public opinion, the Chickasaws challenged noncitizens' claims and sometimes won privileges that other Indian nations surrendered without a fight. For example, the Chickasaw Nation delayed Indian Removal the longest, got the best payments for its southeastern lands, secured the right to tax and use force against white intruders, excluded intermarried whites from voting in critical national elections (1880s through the 1890s), surrendered its schools last, and was the only tribe to gain compensation for allotments that the U.S. government granted to freedpeople. The Chickasaws' leadership methods and attempts to redefine tribal membership helped them to accomplish these political and legal feats (6-7).

Thus, in successive chapters, St. Jean takes up different parts of the history of Chickasaw political resistance and cultural maintenance. Along the way, she tells various stories like the Chickasaw's post-War decision not to adopt former slaves, the claim to the right to tax or eject U.S. citizens in tribal lands, and the attempt to maintain schools conducted by and for the Chickasaw people. By the end of the book, the reader can only admire the courageous battle the Chickasaws waged for one long decade after another, and lament the loss of what might have been.

Much like Clara Sue Kidwell's book, The Choctaws in Oklahoma: From Tribe to Nation, 1855-1970 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), St. Jean's fine, deeply-researched study mainly focuses on the political and legal aspects of one tribe's history. In much the same way that political surveys of U.S. history leave out so much of the American story, both books present portraits that should be supplemented by works that take into account other contours of the histories of the respective tribes. A good follow-up to both books would be Theda Perdue, Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).


David said...

You had a post last month on "The Philosophy of Religion" that I can no longer find. I had shared the link "" with several others and some of them had not yet gotten around to reading it. Can you repost it?

Frank Bellizzi said...

David, sorry about that. I took that post down because I had meant to clean it up a bit. In some places, the audiences for that post were not the same. The whole thing was sort of inconsistent, because I wrote it in different stages and then didn't even it out. Anyway, I'll put it back up now, warts and all.