Trail of Tears 1

Bishinik, August 1986, page 6

Choctaw Were First To Walk The Trail of Tears

The following is condensed from an article by Virginia Allen that appeared in The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Spring, 1970.

The Choctaw Indians were the first tribe to arrive in Indian Territory. The Choctaw “Trail of Tears” from Mississippi to Indian Territory began in 1831, with the main removals continuing through 1834. The trip of 550 miles passed through unsettled country of dense forests, swamps, thick cane brakes, and swollen rivers. The suffering, caused by the mistakes and inefficiency of the War Department combined with one of the region’s worse blizzards in history, was Indescribable. Wagons were in short supply and many roads became impassable except by foot. Inadequate clothing and supplies caused great suffering and sickness. Choctaw Agent William S. Colquhoun at Vicksburg, Mississippi, reported that a party arrived there after marching nearly naked and barefooted through the sleet and snow for twenty four hours. Colquhoun also stated that an error had thrown together three groups of Choctaws, a total of 2300, which were intended to travel separately. Transportation problems became critical as did the weather. Of the Indians’ plight, Colquhoun said: “Their situation is distressing and must get worse, they are often very naked and few moccasins are seen amongst them.”

A party of 2,500 Choctaws traveling by steamboat were disembarked at Arkansas Post and kept in open camps throughout the worst of the blizzard. Many had to remain for weeks awaiting horses which were being driven overland from Louisiana. Respiratory diseases and other illnesses which resulted from exposure and shortage of food took a heavy toll of the emigrants.

Provisions and preparations for the continuing migration in 1832 were improved,  but a cholera epidemic brought new tragedy to the Indians. The disease which had been gradually creeping westward from India since 1816 reached New Orleans in January, 1832. Along the rivers, steamboats left their dead at every landing. Fear of the cholera had a demoralizing effect and alarmed both the Indians and their agents. Cholera broke out on a boatload of Choctaws nearing Memphis, a transfer station on the Mississippi River, and sickness and death became constant companions. Many panic stricken women and children refused to board another steamboat. They were ferried across the river and continued the journey by land. Incessant rains had made many roads through the swamp impassable, and some of the emigrants traveled thirty miles, knee to waist deep in water. All of the emigrants experienced great suffering and illness due to exposure and cold.

The Reverend Cyrus Byington, who was a missionary among the Choctaws before removal and who traveled with them, estimated that at the time of removal there were 40,000 Choctaws, of whom 6,000 died during migration. The losses incurred because of the appalling circumstances encountered during the removal permanently decreased the population of the tribe. The health of the Indians in their new home was affected for some time by the rigors of the trip.