Friday, November 12, 2021

Booknotes: Choctaw Confederates

New Arrival:
Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country by Fay A. Yarbrough (UNC Press, 2021).

As one of the so-called "Five Civilized Tribes" of Indian Territory to sign alliance treaties with the Confederacy, the Choctaw found several reasons to commit themselves to that risky military and political realignment, among them their sudden abandonment by the federal government, their cultural affinity with southern society, and concerns of self-interest/self-preservation. The literature of Civil War-period Indian Territory is dominated by Cherokee and Creek studies (especially the former), so the publication of Fay Yarbrough's Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country is notably welcome on that measure alone.

Of course, a major element of the aforementioned affinity with southern culture was slavery. From the description: "When the Choctaw Nation was forcibly resettled in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, it was joined by enslaved Black people—the tribe had owned enslaved Blacks since the 1720s. By the eve of the Civil War, 14 percent of the Choctaw Nation consisted of enslaved Blacks."

Across Indian Territory, support for the Confederacy was far from universal, however, and the war deeply divided some tribes and exacerbated preexisting internal factionalism that had its origins in the Removal treaties of previous decades. According to Yarbrough, the Choctaw ranked among the more enthusiastic Confederates. More from the description: "Avid supporters of the Confederate States of America, the Nation passed a measure requiring all whites living in its territory to swear allegiance to the Confederacy and deemed any criticism of it or its army treasonous and punishable by death. Choctaws also raised an infantry force and a cavalry to fight alongside Confederate forces."

Organized in the summer of 1861, the First Regiment, Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles (commanded by former Indian agent Douglas Cooper and mixed-blood Choctaw Lt. Col. Tandy Walker) is the best known unit of Confederate Choctaws, fighting in the Trans-Mississippi theater across a wide geographical area of operation that included parts of Indian Territory, Missouri, and Arkansas. The regiment is also the primary source of Yarbrough's investigation into Choctaw wartime motivations and experiences. Her groundbreaking study "reveals that, while sovereignty and states' rights mattered to Choctaw leaders, the survival of slavery also determined the Nation's support of the Confederacy. Mining service records for approximately 3,000 members of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, Yarbrough examines the experiences of Choctaw soldiers and notes that although their enthusiasm waned as the war persisted, military service allowed them to embrace traditional masculine roles that were disappearing in a changing political and economic landscape."

In the end, by "drawing parallels between the Choctaw Nation and the Confederate states, Yarbrough looks beyond the traditional binary of the Union and Confederacy and reconsiders the historical relationship between Native populations and slavery."

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you wish to comment, please sign your name. Otherwise, your submission may be rejected, at the moderator's discretion. Comments containing outside promotions and/or links will be deleted.