by Andy Turner
In times of war, each side looks for as many allies as they can gather. During the Civil War, this was especially true with the Confederate States of America as they were a newly formed nation. They greatly desired help from England and France, but any friends would be gladly accepted. It was on this day in 1861 that the Choctaw Indian Nation resolved to side with the South.
The history of relations between settlers and Native Americans is full of blood and deceit. While there were instances of friendship between the two groups, those are overshadowed by times of violence. For every First Thanksgiving, there are many Sand Creek Massacres.
As tensions increased to the point of secession, the Native American tribes were faced with a dilemma. While most tribes had suffered at some point in their history at the hands of the government of the United States, could they expect any better from the upstart Confederate States? The war could be a way to get even with the U.S. for past grievances. It could also be a way to get in the good favor of the government by supporting them against the South.
In early February 1861, representatives of the Choctaw tribe met in what is now Oklahoma to discuss the matter. The Choctaws had good reason to be angry with the U.S. government and want the Confederacy to succeed. After fighting alongside Gen. Andrew Jackson and the Americans at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, President Jackson made the Choctaws the first Indian nation forced to move west on what became known as the Trail of Tears. It would make sense for them to fight against the government that had treated them that way.
In addition, over the years many Choctaws had intermarried with Southern whites and had joined into white culture and society. A number of tribal leaders owned black slaves and the Choctaw Nation had passed laws in support of slavery.
They did, however, have reasons to remain loyal to that government. While the representatives were meeting to discuss which side to take, one of their leaders, Peter Pitchlynn, was in Washington, D.C. negotiating. He was trying to get the government to pay the tribe compensation for the land taken from them. It looked like he was going to achieve success. They also had to consider the eventual outcome in what looked to be an upcoming war. Even if they had good reason to side with the Confederacy, what would happen if the South lost?
On February 7 they made their decision. They would go with the South. They passed a resolution that stated, in part, if the “permanent dissolution of the American Union takes place” their relations with the United States government must cease. They added that they would follow the interests of their 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.”
In July it became official when Albert Pike, Confederate envoy to the Native Americans, signed a treaty with representatives of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations.
During the war, the Choctaw did not play a large role, in part due to their numbers. They did, however, play their part and several regiments participated, seeing some action. They eventually elected Peter Pitchlynn the Nation’s principle chief, hoping his previous connections in Washington could help them. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, a meeting was held to discuss the future. While continued resistance in the west was possible, it was decided that it would prove useless. The Choctaw Nation officially surrendered on June 19, 1865. They had chosen not to side with the United States, but four years later, were back in the fold.