Choctaw Land

Bishinik, Date unknown

Choctaw history

Lands held in common

Much has been written about the communal landholding system of the Indians, which prevented any individual from obtaining absolute title to the land. All land was legally public domain for the free use of any citizen in any reasonable amount. Under the law, land which a Choctaw had once used but failed to keep in cultivation reverted to the Nation for the use of any other citizen who might have need for it. The Choctaws in general had no desire for an expanding economy; if the increasing white population was not considered, the Choctaw Nation’s population remained relatively static. There was not felt to be a need for individual land titles where good land was free for use as the air they breathed. It made no difference to the individual that he had no title to his land as long as he was protected by his government in the unlimited use of the soil.

This land system of the Choctaws was free enterprise at its best and worst. Under the Choctaw system the energetic and aggressive mixed-bloods and intermarried citizens were in possession and use of thousands of acres of the best land. One observer, considering the Five Tribes as a whole, estimated that by 1891 the best lands were occupied by only one-fourth of the people. Yet, because land was plentiful and the full-bloods were content with their small plots in the mountains where hunting and fishing conditions were good, there was no hardship. The mountain Indian lived happily on his acre and without envy of his mixed-blood brother who enjoyed the products of a thousand acres. The fact that much land was unused, however, attracted the attention and envy of neighboring white settlers. The mixed-blood aristocracy assisted in the overthrow of their own happy situation by using more and more of this land with an increasing flood of white employees. The publication of such advertisements as: “In point of natural resources it is wealthy. It’s pine forests, coal, silver, and lead mines are inexhaustible…” whetted beyond all restraint the white man’s appetite for the country. From the time of the Civil War, large numbers of whites constantly read statements such as the following:

The Indians are in possession of vast tracts of country, abounding in precious metals, or rich in sources of agricultural wealth. These invite the enterprise of the adventurous pioneer, who, seeking a home and fortune, is constantly pressing upon the abode of the red man.

From The Social History of the Choctaw Nation: 1865-1907, by James D. Morrison, edited by James C. Milligan and L. David Norris, pages 65-66, copyright © 1987, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.