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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 168

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This is the grave of Pushmataha.

Probably born in 1764 in modern-day Mississippi, Pushmataha became a warrior at an early age among the Choctaw and fought in their many wars against their Creek enemies. This was a time of extremely rapid change for the southern tribes, as the deer trade with Europeans that had become the basis of their economy since the late 17th century was in complete collapse due to overhunting. The many wars of the period were based around access to the last deer and the problems that led from the end of an era. He became a leader of war parties into what is today Arkansas and Oklahoma.

After 1800, Pushmataha was a leader of the Choctaw. But onward came white Americans, plague of the planet. Desperate to expand slavery, in part because of their insatiable greed and in part because of their horrendous land management practices that forced westward migration after their farms eroded away, the pressure on the Choctaw to cede land grew and grew. He was leader of the Okla Hannali group of the Choctaw and thus was at the negotiating table to deal with the Americans. That started with the 1805 Treaty of Fort Dexter, ceding over 4 million acres in what is today southern Mississippi to the United States.

Overall, Pushmataha was an accommodationist with the Americans. Believing his people could live in peace and not wanting war with the superior power, he was the leader of the Choctaw resistance to Tecumseh’s attempt to unite the western tribes against the Americans in a war to the death. This is an entirely reasonable position to take given the hopelessness of such a war, even if the British had won the War of 1812. But there was no way to avoid conflict with the Americans either. But he put this off by allying the Choctaw with the US in the War of 1812. With the Creeks allying with the British, Pushmataha led Choctaw forces against the Creeks, leading to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, when Andrew Jackson and the Choctaw devastated the Creeks.

But in the aftermath of the war, there was no way to avoid the reckoning. The Americans forced repeated land cessions, including in 1816 and especially in 1820, when the Treaty of Doak’s Stand forced massive cessions of the Choctaw heartland. He tried to resist Andrew Jackson on this treaty, but Jackson bullied him into signing the treaty with supposed guarantees to resist squatters on the remaining Choctaw territory. Of course, this was never going to happen.

By 1824, the continued pressure from the Americans had placed the Choctaw in a desperate position. Pushmataha led a party to Washington to try and work this out with the federal government. He met with James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. He reminded them of the long alliance between the Choctaw and the U.S. Of course neither man cared. He then got a respiratory infection and died on Christmas Eve.

The Choctaw were finally forced out of their homeland during the genocidal Indian Removal of the Jackson and Van Buren administrations.

Pushmataha is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC.

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