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Living in the Land of Death

The Choctaw Nation, 1830-1860

Donna L. Akers

Publication Year: 2004

With the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Choctaw people began their journey over the Trail of Tears from their homelands in Mississippi to the new lands of the Choctaw Nation. Suffering a death rate of nearly 20 percent due to exposure, disease, mismanagement, and fraud, they limped into Indian Territory, or, as they knew it, the Land of the Dead (the route taken by the souls of Choctaw people after death on their way to the Choctaw afterlife). Their first few years in the new nation affirmed their name for the land, as hundreds more died from whooping cough, floods, starvation, cholera, and smallpox.
     Living in the Land of the Dead depicts the story of Choctaw survival, and the evolution of the Choctaw people in their new environment. Culturally, over time, their adaptation was one of homesteads and agriculture, eventually making them self-sufficient in the rich new lands of Indian Territory. Along the Red River and other major waterways several Choctaw families of mixed heritage built plantations, and imported large crews of slave labor to work cotton fields. They developed a sub-economy based on interaction with the world market. However, the vast majority of Choctaws continued with their traditional subsistence economy that was easily adapted to their new environment.
     The immigrant Choctaws did not, however, move into land that was vacant. The U.S. government, through many questionable and some outright corrupt extralegal maneuvers, chose to believe it had gained title through negotiations with some of the peoples whose homelands and hunting grounds formed Indian Territory. Many of these indigenous peoples reacted furiously to the incursion of the Choctaws onto their rightful lands. They threatened and attacked the Choctaws and other immigrant Indian Nations for years. Intruding on others’ rightful homelands, the farming-based Choctaws, through occupation and economics, disrupted the traditional hunting economy practiced by the Southern Plains Indians, and contributed to the demise of the Plains ways of life. 

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This manuscript has been possible only through the kindness and assistance of numerous people and organizations. I would especially like to thank my family and friends of the Choctaw Nation, Clifford E. Trafzer (Wyandot) and William T. Hagan, respected mentors and friends. ...

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pp. ix-x

During the 1830s, the American government under President Andrew Jackson implemented a policy called “Indian Removal.” It was, perhaps, a time in American history that modern historians would love to make disappear. Not only was this policy a disaster for the Indian people affected, it was one of the most disgraceful events in U.S. history. ...

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pp. xi-xxviii

The historical literature specifically regarding the Choctaw people is very thin, and most is written from the perspective of outsiders. Almost without exception, historians of the Choctaw people exclude sources written in Choctaw, and do not examine the Choctaw language from a sociolinguistic perspective. ...

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Ch. 1 - A Brief History of the Choctaw People to 1817

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pp. 1-20

The old man’s head sunk on his chest, and for a moment everyone stared, silently wondering if death had taken the Storyteller. But then, as though waking from a momentary dream, the old man’s eyes opened wide. He looked around at the gathered crowd of people, then slowly he arose and walked away. ...

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Ch. 2 - History, Change, and Tradition

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pp. 21-40

President Monroe’s first annual message to Congress on 2 December 1817 presaged the complete reorganization of American Indian policy. After extensive review, the new secretary of war, John C. Calhoun, recommended three important changes in American policy. ...

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Ch. 3 - The Physical and Spiritual World of the Choctaw People

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pp. 41-66

The world Euro-Americans called “Indian Territory” was a living, breathing, feeling being—an enormously complex, self-sustaining system that encompassed an infinite number of creatures, people, and spirits. The physical and spiritual worlds overlapped more extensively in the native conceptualization of the world than in that of western Euro-Americans. ...

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Ch. 4 - After Doak’s Stand: Indian Territory in the 1820s

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pp. 67-86

The ink with which the Americans wrote the Treaty of Doak’s Stand was hardly dry before they asked the Choctaws to give some of the land back to the United States. Mingo Pushmataha was correct when he pointed out to Andrew Jackson during the treaty negotiations that hundreds and hundreds of Euro-Americans were already living within in the area ...

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Ch. 5 - A Perfect Picture of Chaos

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pp. 87-102

During the late 1820s, the Choctaws scrambled to avoid dispossession from their homelands. Various factions formed, each strategizing ways in which to deal with the U.S. government. All of these Choctaw factions knew that southern and western Americans would settle for nothing less than the confiscation of the Indian nation’s lands, ...

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Ch. 6 - A New Life in the Land of Death: Decade of Despair

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pp. 103-116

Arriving in their new lands, the Choctaw people began to build a new life. They had little choice but to put the horrors of their dispossession behind them. Despite the misfortunes and trauma of the past decade, the children still got hungry, crops and animals still had to be tended, water still had to be drawn—life had to go on. ...

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Ch. 7 - Making Death Literal

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pp. 117-132

During the period before the Civil War, the Choctaw people were assailed by new forms of old, familiar problems. Three major issues emerged to threaten their future existence. These issues were interrelated, and derived from their subjugation by the United States, and the Americans’ efforts to increase their hegemony. ...

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Ch. 8 - Cultural Continuity and Change

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pp. 133-146

In the previous chapter, the violence that resulted from the disintegration of traditional male gender roles, white intruders, confusion over jurisdiction between the U.S. and the Choctaws, the importation of alcohol, and the growing anxiety over slavery and the coming Civil War in the U.S. was explored. ...

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pp. 147-152

The Choctaw people have a long tradition of survival as a separate, identifiable people. The greatest challenge to their independent identity was the American onslaught of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most damaging aspect of this onslaught has been the American construction of natives as savages and Euro-Americans as civilized. ...


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pp. 182-189


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pp. 153-172


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pp. 173-196


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pp. 197-202

Production Notes

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p. 241-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780870138836
E-ISBN-10: 0870138839
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870136849
Print-ISBN-10: 0870136844

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2004

Edition: 1st