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Union Strategy in Indian Territory, Annotated

Annotated editorial from the Chicago Tribune to provide some context about slavery in the Choctaw Nation.

Excerpt from a newspaper article
The Chicago Tribune, January, 1862

Transcription in italics, annotations in brackets.

The slaves of these Nations [In Indian Territory] are quite numerous, the Seminoles being the probably poorest in this species of property. The Choctaws, who live in the extreme southeast of the Territory, in the Red River section, on the Texas border, are large slaveholders, successful and wealthy cotton planters, and are all secessionists. [Secession was "popular" in the nation due to the slaveholders, and the promise from the Confederacy that joining their fight would result in the removal of federal control from Indian Territory. Young Choctaw men may have also been keen on warfare for ancient rites of passage.] There are many characteristics of the slave element among the Indians, which renders it vastly superior in that in other sections. [The writer is referring to the slave states where the majority of enslavers were white.]

I have seen many runaways form the Cherokees and Creeks, and have always remarked in them a self-respect, manly quickness and intelligence, which the Missouri slaves, for instance, seldom possessed. This is owing doubtless in some degree to the more equal footing upon which the two races meet and mingle, but more probably to the greater latitude which border isolation has given. [The Red River was the border between federal territory and slave states: Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Kidnapping enslaved people from the territory to be sold in the markets at Natchez or New Orleans was fairly common, which is why the Choctaws provided arms to them to prevent this crime.]

Most of the male adult slaves own, or have owned, a gun; they have been inured to many pursuits, such as hunting, and above all it is the custom among them to have small patches of land to cultivate. They have thus acquired property, such as stock, etc., and this give them habits of self-respect, which only the pride of ownership can give a a people. [The crops that Choctaw Africans planted tended to be corn and greens. Women also gathered wild plants to make teas, medicinal tinctures, and to flavor food; they also processed salt from the waters and collected limestone to use as baking powders. They kept chickens and hogs, and men killed or trapped rabbits, possums, turtle, and other small game. Because the Choctaws bred livestock, like longhorns from Texas, enslaved men were "employed" as cowboys and issued horses and guns to kill coyotes, bears, and wolves.]

That they are brave, the stories told and authenticated of the prowess of the runaways, who have often encountered the slave patrol and fought them successfully show. As those Indian slave holders never take a fugitive, but kill in the event of recapture, it takes bold men to get away. They do it in scores, as I know from personal observation. [Slave patrols made up of slave-holding men were common in all areas around the Red River. Many enslavers attached themselves to the Texas Rangers (before the Civil War) and to Confederate companies (during the Civil War) to intimidate, harass, imprison, and sometimes kill the enslaved people. That many people still ran away from slavery in the Indian Territory is a testament to the incredible longing to be free.]

By far the largest portion of the slaves are held by the secession half breeds in all tribes. [Half-breed is a derogatory term for the native people who had intermarried with whites in the "old country" of their native homelands. Choctaw and Chickasaw men attended mission schools, where they adopted European customs of dress, religion, cash crops, and chattel slavery. While slavery had existed with the Choctaws prior to colonization, theirs tended to be terroristic (warfare and intimidation slavery), not a continuous social class forced into non-ending labor. Choctaw men married white, southern women, which provided them with property. Thus, the men who had intermarried, and their offspring, introduced chattel slavery into Indian Territory. Choctaw women also married white men, many of whom were from Texas and coveted the lands that the Choctaws had received in the removal treaties of the 1820s. These white men were derogatorily referred to as "squaw men" in newspapers.]

They [slaves] will make and excellent auxiliary force and it is to be hoped that they will be armed as we move into Dixie. [The Union miscalculated: the slaveholders actually sent most of their enslaved people into Texas to prevent them from joining the Union armies, and to speculate on their increased values once the South won the war (which was their miscalculation). The U.S. army actually abandoned the federal forts in Indian Territory, which left the region unprotected from gangs, thieves, and rapists, and led many native people to seek protection in Kansas. The Union army did not attempt to regain Indian Territory until 1864, but they were unsuccessful due to reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas. An exception was Louisiana, which had a very large population of "free people of color." While they were drafted into Confederate service, the majority of Creole regulars took up arms against their southern oppressors once the Union entered the state in 1864.]

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