Historical Context

  • Map of the Trail of Tears


Brief Timeline of Choctaw Removal

1785-1786 — The Treaty of Hopewell was signed, giving Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw land to the United States government. It was supposed to designate lands for Native American tribes.
1802 Compact of 1802 – An agreement between the United States and the State of Georgia that the Federal government would get rid of the American Indian land titles in Georgia.
1802 Treaty of Fort Confederation – The Choctaw tribe ceded land to the government and the government was given the ability to redraw lines of indigenous land.
1805 — Treaty of Mount Dexter – Over 4 million acres of Choctaw land were ceded.
1825   Treaty of Washington City – United States government agrees to give the Choctaw tribe yearly payments in exchange for land.
1830   The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was signed, authorizing the removal of Native American tribes from their native land and moving them west of the Mississippi River.
1833   The removal of the Choctaw tribe is completed.



Information on the Choctaw Nation:

The tribe that Isaac and his family belong to is the Choctaw Nation. This tribe was originally located in the region of modern-day Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The tribe was in good social standing with the colonists, as they conformed to many of the standards that the colonists were putting in place. This led to them being categorized as being one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” a term used by the colonists to describe the tribes that followed their conformed to them. Over the course of many decades, the tribe agreed to multiple treaties with the settlers, resulting in the loss of land for the tribe and forcing them further west. The multiple treaties are discussed in the novel, made obvious when Isaac and his family react poorly to the news of a treaty, meaning they knew the results of previous treaties.. Eventually, the Indian Removal Act was passed and they were relocated to the area of present day Oklahoma. In more recent history, the Choctaw tribe became known for being used as “code talkers” in World War I, by speaking their own native language. They were a vital presence in the United States’ role within the war.


The Indian Removal Act of 1830:

The overarching plot of the novel is that Isaac and the other members of his tribe are being removed from their homeland and forced to head west on what would later be called the Trail of Tears. For the many tribes that were relocated on the Trail of Tears, the story began in a similar way. Initially, these tribes worked cohesively with the white settlers who came to establish the United States. The tribes became ingrained in the life of the southeastern states. The settlers began to want to expand their grasp on the land and wrote treaties with the local tribes. These treaties would take land away from the tribes and it would be handed over to the settlers. After a multitude of treaties, the tribes were left with very little, especially for the amount of people they had. In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, and that began the forceful removal of native people from their land and they had to walk to the new designated land, in modern Oklahoma. The first of the tribes to be removed was the Choctaw. An important fact about the 1830 treaty to remove the Choctaw tribe is that it allowed a small number of native people to stay and not go to the new land. Those who were able to stay were given American citizenship. Up to 6,000 members of the Choctaw tribe died on the journey to their new land. Each of the tribes had drastically different experiences with the removal. Some tribes, like the Seminoles, fought back against the soldiers, while other tribes like the Chickasaw nation were given a payment for the land they were leaving. More information on the Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act can be found at the links provided.


Smallpox Blankets:

One of the first obstacles encountered by Isaac’s family is the disease of smallpox. They encounter the disease when the tribesmen are gifted blankets by the soldiers, who ran them out of their town. These blankets were infected with smallpox and, in turn, passed the smallpox onto the Choctaw people, who began to die from the disease. In reality, there is only one documented case of Native Americans being gifted blankets, with the purpose of infecting them with smallpox. This occurred on June 24, 1763, during a siege of Fort Pitt by members of the Lenape tribe. Two members of the tribe were selected to try and negotiate with the British commander of the fort. In a diary entry, Simeon Ecuyer, the commander of the fort, wrote that they gifted blankets from the smallpox hospital to the two Lenape negotiators, and that he hoped they would have the desired effect. There have, of course, been other cases of settlers spreading diseases to native people, especially on accident, but this is the only instant that has a reputable source stating the intentions to purposefully spread the disease.


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Connor Keefe 2020

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