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When the white man discovered and took possession of North America, he found the red man and his many tribes here, and under a total misapprehension of having found a new continent, he named this strange people Indians. The new world might have been called Columbia, and the people Columbians. Again, instead of being sparse tribes of individuals fringing the shores of the Atlantic Ocean there were 478 tribes, occupying nearly the whole of the north half of this western hemisphere; some in powerful tribes, like the Iroquois; some were rude agricultural and commercial peoples, some living in houses of logs or stone, permanent residents of their localities; others warriors and hunters only, and still others migratory in their nature, pirates and parasites.
What is now Arkansas has been the possession of the following Indian tribes; no one tribe, it seems, occupied or owned the territory in its entirety, but their possessions extended into the lines, covering a portion of the lands only, and then reaching many degrees, sometimes to the north, south and west: The Osages, a once numerous tribe, were said to own the country south of the Missouri River to Red River, including a large portion of Arkansas. The Quapaws, also a powerful nation, were the chief possessors, and occupied nearly the whole of the State, “time out of mind;” the Cherokees were forced out of Georgia and South Carolina, and removed west of the Mississippi River in 1836; the Hitchittees were removed from the Chattahoochee River to Arkansas. They speak the Maskogee dialect – were 600 strong when removed; the Choctaws were removed to the west, after the Cherokees. In 1812 they were 15,000 strong.
The Quapaw Tribe
The Quapaws, of all the tribes connected with Arkansas, may be regarded as the oldest settlers, having possessed more of its territory in well defined limits than any of the others. In the early part of the eighteenth century they constituted a powerful tribe. In the year 1720 they were decimated by smallpox; reduced by this and other calamities, in 1820, one hundred years after, they were found scattered along the south side of the Arkansas River, numbering only 700 souls. They never regained their former numerical strength or warlike importance, but remained but a band of wretched, ragged beggars, about whose hunting grounds the white man was ever lessening and tightening the lines.
January 5, 1819, Gov. Clark and Pierre Chouteau made a treaty with the tribe by which was ceded to the United States the most of their territory. The descriptive part of the treaty is in the following words: “Beginning at the mouth of the Arkansas River; thence extending up the Arkansas to the Canadian Fork, and up the Canadian Fork to its source; thence south to the big Red River, and down the middle of that river to the Big Raft; thence in a direct line so as to strike the Mississippi River, thirty leagues in a straight line, below the mouth of the Arkansas, together with all their claims to lands east of the Mississippi River and north of the Arkansas River. With the exception and reservation following, that is to say, that tract of country bounded as follows: Beginning at a point on the Arkansas River opposite the present Post of Arkansas, and running thence a due southwest course to the Washita River; thence up that river to the Saline Fork, to a point from whence a due north course would strike the Arkansas River at the Little Rock, and thence down the right bank of the Arkansas to the place of beginning. ” In addition to this a tract was reserved north of the Arkansas River, which the treaty says is indicated by “marks on the accompanying map.” This west line of the Quapaw reservation struck the river about where is now Rock Street.
In November, 1824, Robert Crittenden, the first Territorial secretary, effected a treaty with the Quapaws, at Harrington’s, Ark., which ceded the above reservation and forever extinguished all title of that tribe to any portion of Arkansas. The tribe was then removed to the Indian Territory.
The Osage Tribe
The other original occupants or claimants to the Arkansas Territory were the Osages. Of these there were many tribes, and in 1830 numbered 4,000 strong, but mostly along the Osage River. Their claim lapped over, it seems, all that portion of the Quapaw lands lying north of the Arkansas River.
The title of the Osages was extinguished to what is now Arkansas by a treaty of November 10, 1808, made at Fort Clark, on the Missouri River. By this treaty they ceded all the country east of a line running due south from Fort Clark to the Arkansas River, and down said river to its confluence with the Mississippi River. These Indians occupied only the country along the Missouri and Osage Rivers, and if they were ever on what they claimed as their southern boundary, the Arkansas River, it was merely on expeditions.
The Cherokee and Choctaw Tribes
About 1818, Georgia and South Carolina commenced agitating the subject of getting rid of the Indians, and removing them west. They wanted their lands and did not want their presence. At first they used persuasion and strategy, and finally force. They were artful in representing to the Indians the glories of the Arkansas country, both for game and rich lands. During the twenty years of agitating the subject Indians of the tribes of those States came singly and in small bands to Arkansas, and were encouraged to settle anywhere they might desire north of the Arkansas River, on the Osage ceded lands. The final act of removal of the Indians was consummated in 1839, when the last of the Cherokees were brought west. Simultaneous with the arrival of this last delegation of Indians an alarm passed around among the settlers that the Indians were preparing to make a foray on the white settlements and murder them all. Many people were greatly alarmed, and in some settlements there were hasty preparations made to flee to places of safety. In the meantime the poor, distressed Cherokees and Choctaws were innocent of the stories in circulation about them, and were trying to adjust themselves to their new homes and to repair their ruined fortunes. The Cherokees were the most highly civilized of all the tribes, as they were the most intelligent, and had mingled and intermarried with the whites until there were few of pure blood left among them. They had men of force and character, good schools and printing presses, and published and edited papers, as well as their own school books. These conditions were largely true, also, of the Chickasaws. The Cherokees and Chickasaws were removed west under President Jackson’s administration. The Cherokees were brought by water to Little Rock, and a straight road was cut out from Little Rock to the corner of their reservation, fifteen miles above Batesville, in Independence County, over which they were taken. Their southeast boundary line was a straight line, at the point designated above Batesville, to the mouth of Point Remove Creek.
The history of the removal of the Cherokee Indians (and much of the same is true of the removal of the Chickasaws and Creeks), is not a pleasant chapter in American history. The Creeks of Florida had waged war, and when conquered Gen. Scott removed them beyond the Mississippi River. When the final consummation of the removal of the Cherokees was effected, it was done by virtue of a treaty, said to have been the work of traitors, and unauthorized by the proper Indian authorities. At all events the artful whites had divided the head-men of the tribe, and procured their signatures to a treaty which drove the last of the nation beyond the Mississippi. The chief men in making this treaty were the Ridges, Boudinot, Bell and Rogers. This was the treaty of 1835. In June, 1839, the Ridges, Boudinot and Bell were assassinated. About forty Indians went to Ridge’s house, Independence County, and cruelly murdered young Ridge; they then pursued the elder Ridge and, over-taking him at the foot of Boston Mountains, as he was on his way to visit friends in Van Buren, Ark. , shot him to death. It seems there was an old law of the nation back in Georgia, by which any one forfeited his life who bartered any part of their lands.
The Choctaws by treaty ceded to the United States all their claim to lands lying within the limits of Arkansas, October 20, 1820.
On the 6th of May, 1828, the Cherokees ceded all claim to their lands that lay within the Territorial limit of Arkansas.
This was about the end of Indian occupation or claims within the State of Arkansas, but not the end of important communication, and acts of neighborly friendship, between the whites and the Cherokees especially. A considerable number of Indians, most of them having only a slight mixture of Indian blood, remained in the State and were useful and in some instances highly influential citizens. Among them were prominent farmers, merchants and professional men. And very often now may be met some prominent citizen, who, after even an extended acquaintance, is found to be an Indian. Among that race of people they recognize as full members of the tribe all who have any trace of their blood in their veins, whether it shows or not. In this respect it seems that nearly all races differ from the white man. With the latter the least mixture of blood of any other color pronounces them at once to be not white.
The Cherokee Indians, especially, have always held kindly intercourse with the people of Arkansas. In the late Civil War they went with the State in the secession movement without hesitation. A brigade of Cherokees was raised and Gen. Albert Pike was elected to the command. The eminent Indians in the command were Gen. Stand Waitie and Col. E. C. Boudinot. Until 1863 the Indians were unanimous in behalf of the Southern cause, but in that year Chief Ross went over to the Federal side, and thus the old time divisions in the Indian councils were revived.
Col. Elias C. Boudinot was born in Georgia, in August, 1835, the same year of the treaty removing the Indians from that State. Practically, therefore, he is an Arkansan. He shows a strong trace of Indian blood, though the features of the white race predominate. He is a man of education and careful culture, and when admitted to the bar he soon won a place in the splendid array of talent then so greatly distinguishing Arkansas. A born orator, strong enough in intellect to think without emotion, morally and physically a hero, he has spent much of his life pleading for his people to be made citizens – the owners of their individual homes, as the only hope to stay that swift decay that is upon them, but the ignorance of his tribe and the scheming of demagogues and selfish “agents,” have thwarted his efforts and practically exiled him from his race.
A few years ago Col. Boudinot was invited to address Congress and the people of Washington on the subject of the Indian races. The masterly address by this man, one of the greatest of all the representatives of American Indians, will be fixed in history as the most pathetic epilogue of the greatest of dramas, the curtain of which was raised in 1492. Who will ever read and fully understand his emotions when he repeated the lines:
Their light canoes have vanished From off the crested waves – Amid the forests where they roamed There rings no hunter’s shout.
And all their cone-like cabins That clustered o’er the vale, Have disappeared as withered leaves, Before the autumn gale.