Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Divided nation- a look at Choctaw politicians

The Choctaw nation between 1825-1830 was one that was divided politically. There is a lot of information on the period in history books, but today I want to look at four of the prominent mixed Choctaws who were involved in that period. All are my relatives.

James L. McDonald is perhaps the least known by non historians, sadly, since what we know about him shows that he was in fact one of the shining stars for the Choctaws. Educated in Washington he was the first Choctaw to obtain a law degree. The little correspondence you find from him lies in letters in the Peter Pitchlynn Collection, Thompson McKinney's records, and in correspondence with the government. His correspondence on the behalf of my ancestor Peggy Trahern show that it was his influence, along with that of Robert M. Jones that included Peggy and her sister Delilah in the supplement to the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. His letters show a man torn with his failings with alcohol, who loved his people and sadly, is rumored to have killed himself over the love of a white woman who shunned him.

James wrote that all Choctaws needed to be encouraged to emigrate because he felt (rightly) that the government would not honor the 14th article of the treaty. He was considering a run for politics, and was very outspoken against Jackson. Which is why I say he was rumored to have killed himself. Honestly I am not so sure. A lifelong resident of Jackson, Mississippi (except for his youth in D.C.), James came from a politically advantage lineage. (His mother Molly was given land in both 1820 and 1830, as was James and his nephew James M. Hamilton). Unlike most of his counterparts, he had years of exposure to the very decision makers the Choctaw were fighting. He was perhaps the best educated for his time, and he was known to have felt the conflict between his native and white lineage. He may have been disposed to melancholy, but just before his death, he didn't appear to be so despondent in his letters.

Robert M. Jones, a first cousin of James L. McDonald and paternal half nephew of my ancestor Peggy, is unlike his cousin James, well known among Choctaw descendants and historians. It is from Jeff Fortney, PhD that I know that Robert spoke of his childhood on his father's trading post on the Natchez Trace, and that Robert spoke English from childhood. Like all four, Robert M. Jones was undeniably a patriot for the Choctaw, but, it is reasonably argued from the wealth he acquired, he wasn't above profiting from them either. Despite his business acumen, Robert M. Jones spent a lot of time on behalf of relatives that were in the Choctaw tradition not his relatives.

Sadly most of his correspondence burned with his mansion, but what we do have shows that like James, he is well spoken, well educated, and his desire to further the education among the Choctaw can't be denied. His involvement in politics appears more in relation to schools than tribal leadership. His letter about the confrontation between Mushulatubbee and Greenwood Leflore at the Choctaw trading post shows respect for the elder leadership, despite disappointment with it. For me, this is perhaps one of his most redeeming qualities. I don't really like Greenwood Leflore or David Folsom when I look at their actions. Not very academic, but I am not one, so I can feel however I want to.

Jones had a lifelong friendship with another relative, Peter Pitchlynn. Peter Pitchlynn's mother was a first cousin of my ancestor Susan Riddle. Where Jones and McDonald I believe had familial ties to either Apuckshunubbee or Franchiamastabe, Pitchlynn was a great nephew of Mushulatubbee. It is from his journal, and much less the letters in his collection (few are from Peter), that we can glimpse this man. He acknowledged both his mother's Uncles (the Folsoms, who weren't traditional relatives) as relatives, along with his mother's brother, Captain Joseph Kincade. In a letter to an unknown relative, he speaks of his mother who wanted all her children to speak English in their home. He states because of this, not all of his siblings were fluent in Choctaw.

Pitchlynn like Jones had a similar education. His correspondence shows a man much more literate in grammar than his father John Pitchlynn when you look at letters written by both. According to the correspondence, his great Uncle had stepped down in favor of Peter Pitchlynn but reneged on it during these trying times. We don't have letters from Peter that show his opinion on the matter, but we do know that there was not an armed conflict to remove Mushulatubbee, or if there was, I haven't ran across it.  During this time, there are letters to Washington D.C. where David Folsom is writing that Mushulatubbe and Tappenahoma aren't fit for office, but no one has ever suggested that Peter wrote anything like that.

I think like James McDonald and Robert M. Jones, Peter Pitchlynn had a different patriotic approach to the push for the Choctaws to remove. After the treaty, Peter Pitchlynn spent many years in Washington D.C. attempting to get the government to honor the treaty. As much as  Jones, if not more, you can definitely argue that Peter profited from the Choctaws as well. Choctaw leaders never saw anything wrong with gifts, or taking money for their services, and especially in this day and age, looking back at a lot of their actions is prone to make one raise their eyebrows at the wealth accumulated by some. Nevertheless, I don't think any mixed blood did more for the Choctaws when you look at Peter's work with the Choctaw Academy, as Chief, with developing the Choctaw school system and with his tireless work in Washington D.C. Work that his family tried to get a large sum of the Net proceeds for. Definitely you can argue they were asking for more than their fair share.

The last mixed blood I want to talk about is Pierre Juzan. The eldest son of my ancestor Peggy and her husband Charles Juzan, Pierre was educated at the Choctaw academy as well. However, if one reads his correspondence it lacks the polish and grammar of the other three. Many have said that he was fluent in four languages, but to me, his grammar suggests that he learned English later, his verb usage is similar to someone who hasn't spoken English as a young child. It is quite possible he learned French or Spanish from his father, but then, the Spanish were out of the Choctaw nation, though not far away, by the time Pierre was born.

Pierre is the opposite from his contemporaries. There isn't a lot of documentation and correspondence from him, but what there is shows he had strong ties to his maternal uncles Oklahoma and Tappenahoma, and that unlike those mixed bloods who stepped forward to lead, he supported another full blood (unlikely a relative) Nitakechi. Where Greenwood Leflore and David Folsom openly, and Robert M. Jones, Peter Pitchlynn and James McDonald in correspondence, criticized the full blood contingent during this time, nothing shows that Pierre was ever involved. He was a far more traditional mixed blood than the others, whether because of his Kunsha roots, where there are far fewer mixed bloods of prominence, or because of his beliefs, we don't see the same rebellion against the establishment from him.

Where I haven't seen much on what Robert M. Jones and Peter Pitchlynn did during removal, we know that Pierre and his brother William were involved. And we also know from testimonies in the court of claims, Pierre was brutal in enforcing removal. Ironic, because it doesn't appear that removal was something that Nitakechi or Pierre supported. It is almost as if, once done, they were going to make sure that their villages complied, even if it meant beating and humiliating the village chiefs in the process. If Peter Pitchlynn and Robert M. Jones represent a new approach to leading the Choctaw nation, Pierre Juzan represents a traditional one.

There is nothing that I know of that links a relationship between Robert M. Jones and Pierre Juzan, despite the fact that he shares the same relationship with him as my ancestor James N. Trahern did. I am not clear if it's a rejection of the relationship, which does not exist in Choctaw terms, or if it is just lack of proof. I know that James N. Trahern resided with Jones for a time after he returned from the Choctaw Academy. James spent 9 years there, so he would have definitely been influenced by Christianity in a way that the Juzan family was not in 1830. Such an effect would effect a view on family relationships from a Choctaw one, to a European one.

All of these men, even Greenwood Leflore and David Folsom, were undeniably patriotic. Although I will argue that the children of Louis Leflore were the least traditional of all the families. Yet despite that love of their people, they didn't always see the direction and leadership needs of their nation the same. Choctaw history is not bloodless. Until the Dawes act, it wasn't uncommon to see murder occur over political, and not so political reasons. There was a rift between the mixed blood and full blood components that started at least by 1825 if not before, until the Dawes Act which for a time, effectively ended the Choctaw nation as a tribe. (The position of chief was abolished with the Dawes Act until 1934).

Some may argue that the Choctaw nation isn't an example, I would argue maybe it can be an example that American's can learn from. I think that the nepotism, the division, the violence, and the struggles that the nation went through are lessons that every one can learn from.


  1. Interesting, do you have any information on Israel Cooper ( probate) via Chief Mush. To Susan King and so on...

    1. i only know of the testimonies for the net proceeds and then only some of the info

    2. Do you have any more information on Robert Kincaid and his wife. My grandmother was a Kincaid.