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Native Americans and the Civil War

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The poor treatment of Native Americans is incontestable. Removal from their native lands, religious persecution, racism and broken promises from the government all played an important role in the degradation of Native culture. The Civil War did not hold a different fate for natives. Many tribes signed treaties, pledging allegiance with the Confederate United states, which ultimately resulted in further degradation of their traditional cultures. This paper will explore the events which led to the signing of the treaty, as well as the repercussions of that decision.

Removal of the Native Americans is a very grim period in our country's history, with which most are familiar. During this time, Natives became very dependent upon the United States government; having been ripped from their homelands and placed in the western territories which were open to attacks by the more feral tribes, when they were promised safe, fertile lands where they could prosper, did not squelch this dependence. Military garrisons were established to provide the physical protection necessary in order to ensure the tribes' safety and prosperity. (1)

By 1861, the United States had become a country divided. As states quarreled over whether to join the Northern Union States or the Southern Confederate States, Native territories were forced to do the same. Natives had already developed mistrust for the government due to removal, the conditions of removal and the promises that had yet to come to fruition. Julius Folsom, Choctaw, recalled the time in a letter to historian H.B. Cushman;

"Up to this time, our protection was in the United States troops stationed at Fort Washita, under the command of Colonel Emory. But he, as soon as the Confederate troops had entered our country, at once abandoned us and the Fort; and, to make his flight more expeditious and his escape more sure, employed Black Beaver, a Shawnee Indian, under a promise to him of five thousand dollars, to pilot him and his troops out of the Indian country safely without a collision with the Texas Confederates; which Black Beaver accomplished. By this act the United States abandoned the Choctaws and Chickasaws. . . .(2)."

The mistrust and discontentment is obvious in Julius Folsom's retelling of Colonel Emory's retreat from Indian Territory. This sense of abandonment, made the Choctaws and Chickasaws decision very clear, Folsom continues to explain; "Then, there being no other alternative by which to save their country and property, they, as the less of the two evils that confronted them, went with the Southern Confederacy (3)."

After removal most tribes had to assimilate (to some extent) into white culture, due to the option of assimilation or annihilation with which most are familiar. Tribes such as the Choctaw had begun assimilation into white culture as early as 1840 (4) and had intermingled with the white men enough that the tribe was no longer purely Native American. Many of the tribes (most notably the Cherokee John Ross) had engaged in interracial marriages with white men or woman which resulted in interracial children. While they tried to preserve certain aspects of their culture, with any merging of two cultures some traditions will be lost, new traditions gained and some will remain. This is the case with the civilized tribes, and many had adopted the tradition of slavery. Adam Goodheart explains,

". . . There were Choctaw leaders who owned black slaves. There were many Cherokee leaders who owned black slaves. And many of these Indian groups also had become really intermarried with whites at this point. So the divisions between groups in America were much fuzzier than the sort of Union and Confederate, blue and gray categories that we try to fit people into."(5)

It is easy to see how the lines between good and bad, the right and the wrong could be incredibly hazy to the Native American. On one hand, there was a government that had already proven to be untrustworthy, and on the other there was a government that was highly based on slavery and (seemingly) white supremacy.

When the military protectors retreated from Fort Washita to Kansas, the tribes of the area took it as a last nail in the coffin. When the Texas Confederates made their way into Indian Territory, the natives were ready to negotiate a treaty with this new, untested government.

The General Council of the Choctaw Nation addressed the issue of the dividing states on February 7, 1861 in a letter of resolution sent to the United States government, as well as each of the Southern states.

". . . In the event a permanent dissolution of the American Union takes place, our many relations with the General Government must cease, and we shall be left to follow the natural affections, education, institutions, and interests of our people, which indissolubly bind us in every way to the destiny of our neighbors and brethren of the Southern States, upon whom we are confident we can rely for the preservation of our rights of life, liberty and property and the continuance of many acts of friendship, general counsel, and material support. . ."(6).

It is apparent that the Choctaw people believed that the Southern government would before reliable and providing for the Native Territories than the United States had been. Although, the Choctaw people had already made the decision to ally with the Confederate States in February of 1861, it was not until July that they signed a treaty.

On July 1, 1861, the Muscogees, Seminoles, Choctaw and Chickasaw entered into a treaty of alliance with the Confederate States of America. This treaty pledged all four tribes loyalty to the Southern States and ceased all relations with the Northern States, in addition to outlining what the tribes would gain from the Southern States.

There were thirteen articles in the treaty. Article One, of the treaty, ensured freedom, independence and the right for each government to form a government of their own, and a United Nations of Indian Territories (the Grand Council) to make and uphold laws. Article Two expanded upon Article One, by declaring all members of the Grand Council would be elected, democratically on the first Monday of September each year. Article Three further expands upon the first two by placing the responsibility of reporting to the council upon each nation's chief, and specifies that laws and motions shall be passed by majority vote (7).

Article Four gives each chief or delegate the right to bestow the authority of attending the council meetings in his place, should he not be capable of attending and each chief or delegate the right to convene the council as long as the notice is given with due time. Article Five expands upon Article Four giving the Executive Authority of the council the right to appoint other

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