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Ask Rufus: The local press

 

Choctaw District Chief Moshulitubbee, who had a house near present-day Brooksville, was the subject of an 1819 Tuscaloosa newspaper article. In 1834, George Catlin painted his portraits in the Indian Territory. This engraving after Catlin's portrait is from an 1844 copy of his book North American Indians. It is

Choctaw District Chief Moshulitubbee, who had a house near present-day Brooksville, was the subject of an 1819 Tuscaloosa newspaper article. In 1834, George Catlin painted his portraits in the Indian Territory. This engraving after Catlin's portrait is from an 1844 copy of his book North American Indians. It is "Mo-sho-la-tub-bee" 221, who is Moshulitubbee. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

In history books we read the big picture of important events, but all too often the details and working personalities behind those events are overlooked. It is in documents, recollections and local newspapers from long ago that we learn not only of the actions of famous people but the actions of those working out of the glare of the lights. 

 

I came across such an account of work in 1819 on a Choctaw Indian treaty in Mississippi. The account had been published in the Tuscaloosa Republican on July 1, 1819, and reprinted in the July 21, 1819, Mobile Gazette & Commercial Advertiser. Interestingly, my copy of that newspaper had been owned by John Quincy Adams. 

 

After the end of the Creek Indian War of 1813-14 and Mississippi statehood in 1817, the Anglo-American settlers in the new state and in the Alabama Territory wanted more land. They pressed for the Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations removed across the Mississippi River so that their rich lands could be opened for development. Some land was opened by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Treaties of 1816. The site of Columbus was ceded by the Choctaw Treaty of 1816 with the first house being built in 1817 at about the present location of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

 

In 1818, there was increasing pressure on the U.S. government to remove the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Much of the historical material relates to the conflicting views between Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and the hero of New Orleans, Gen. Andrew Jackson, on how to proceed with treaty negotiations. Calhoun proposed treating the Indian nations "with kindness and liberality." Jackson preferred firmness and the use of as much pressure and threat as necessary.  

 

The Choctaw negotiations of 1819 did not produce a treaty. A year later, new negotiations led by Jackson did pressure the Choctaw into signing the Treaty of Doak's Stand, which ceded Indian lands that included present-day Jackson. Final removal of the Choctaw Nation was accomplished in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. 

 

While most history books reflect on the disagreements between Calhoun and Jackson and the pressure applied on and false promises made to the Choctaws, little is found about what was happening on the ground. That is what makes the local press coverage so interesting. When the Tuscaloosa Republican published an article on a possible Choctaw treaty on July 1, 1819, Columbus was just developing as a town, and it would be five months before it was officially recognized as the Town of Columbus. Tuscaloosa was the closest town with a newspaper. 

 

The Republican article said: "By a gentleman recently returned from the Tombeckbe we are informed that Gen. Jackson has written to Meshuleetubbee, head chief of one of the three grand divisions of the Choctaw nation, thro' the interpreter, Peachland (John Pitchlynn lived at Plymouth Bluff, now the West Bank of the Columbus Lock and Dam), requesting to meet him at a time and place specified ... to hold a conference on the subject of the sale of that part of their nation to the United States. When our informant left there, Meshuleetubbee and Peachland were on a tour through the District, to consult the other chiefs and head men on the subject: and the opinion was almost universal among the whites in the neighborhood, that the District will be ceded to the United States either by sale or in exchange for lands on the Arkansaw - though not immediately. 

 

"We learn from another source that a deputation from the Choctaw Nation has visited the country on the Arkansaw, with a view to such an exchange, and have made a very favorable report, both of the country and quantity of game. In consequence of which a great number of the Choctaws have expressed willingness to exchange with the U.S. on the same terms granted to the Cherokees. The District embraces the Military Crossing on the Beckbe (present day Columbus), where it has lately been determined, the great federal road from Nashville to New Orleans shall cross that river." 

 

Tuscaloosa newspapers in 1819 provided first-person accounts of what was being observed by people living in our area of the events of 198 years ago.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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