Head of Choctaw Nation Reaffirms His Tribe's Position (21 October 1863)

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After April 1861, both Union and Confederate troops were desperate for soldiers, so they recruited among the Native Americans living on the western frontier. Though most of the nations had been forced to relocate to the Indian Territory earlier in the century, many retained loyalties with their native regions, particularly the Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, Chickasaws, and Cherokees, who were from the south.

The Confederate Native Americans, however, fared little better in the Civil War than they did during their own wars with the settlers. As Choctaw leader Chief P. P. Pitchlynn described in this letter, the Native American troops were widely neglected and frequently robbed. His letter illuminates the difficult position of the Native American allied to the Southern cause. After the war, tribes who fought for the South were punished with further relocations and injustices.

Leah R.Shafer,
Cornell University

See also Choctaw ; Civil War ; Indians in the Civil War .

Col. Eakin—Editor Telegraph—Dear sir:

Inasmuch as reports are in circulation prejudicial to me as a Southern man and Choctaw, I solicit a place in your columns that I may place myself right before your public. I am represented by some as a Union man, by others as favoring a treaty of union with the Lincoln Government, and by others as being, at best, lukewarm in the Southern cause. To these several reports I can truthfully affirm that there is no truth in them whatever. As regards the first point in the charge, I reply that I am a Southern man by birth, education, association and interest. As to favoring or suggesting a treaty with the Lincoln Government, the charge is as untrue as it is unjust or impracticable. We have consulted with each other in regard to our situation. The Federal forces were advancing without opposition—destruction and desolation following in their wake. What is to be the fate of the Choctaw people if their neighbors and friends from Arkansas and Texas forsake them in this their day of trial and gloom? Reports were current that the white forces would be withdrawn from this department. Will the Confederates leave them to the Federal mercy and merciless jayhawkers? This Nation is the only abiding place for the poor Choctaws. For unlike the white man, there are no sister States to which he can emigrate. In view of such state of affairs, it was suggested, as the last resort, that permission be solicited of the Confederate States for the Choctaws to make an armistice. But in no instance, and under no conditions whatever, did the Choctaws intend to switch without the consent of the Confederate States; nor did they intend to act on that suggestion only as a means of preserving a home for the poor Choctaws, and, also, as securing a temporary abiding place to those unfortunates of other tribes amongst us. But so long as our neighbors and allies stood by us in defense of our common cause, I have urged, in speeches to the Choctaws, that they should unitedly peril their lives and their all in defence of the South. If I have appeared lukewarm, it has grown out of denunciations which the interference in the affairs of this department by Confederate commanders, unconnected with it, have provoked. It is well known that arms, clothing and money intended for the Indian allies were used elsewhere. Such interference has caused the Indian allies to think that they were treated with indifference and neglect. And it also greatly embarrassed the commanders in this department in their operations against the enemy. Had I been a Union man, these things would have passed with indifference; but a desire to see justice done the Choctaw people cause me to "cry aloud and spare not." Furthermore, the constitution of my mind and not its convictions may have caused me to appear lukewarm to the casual observer; yet while others have been hot I have been warm; while some have been blatant for Southern rights I have been consistent and hopeful; while some have professed zeal for the cause and love for its defenders I have furnished sons for the battle, kept an open door and free table for the Southern soldiers. My desire to sustain my consistency before the better class of Southern people induces me to thus publicly notice and give character to irresponsible reports.

Very respectfully,

P. P. Pitchlynn