The Indian Nations

May 28, 1861
On May 25, the Chickasaw Nation in the Indian Territories (what is now Oklahoma) officially threw in with the Confederacy. Their reasoned that the United States had abandoned them by removing army posts upon the start of the war, plus they sought to protect themselves from “Lincoln hordes” and “Kansas ruffians.”

Indian Territory during the Civil War

It is certainly no stretch to realize that the Chickasaws, plus the rest of the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Choctaws, Cherokees, Seminoles, and Creeks — had little love for the United States following their forced removal from their homelands in the southeastern United States to the territories. The Chickasaws also noted in their declaration of southern allegiance that most of the four other nations would follow them south.

Benjamin McCulloch

Today, Texas military legend Ben McCulloch arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, — just a river’s width east of the “nations” — to check on the status of Native American sympathies to the South.

McCulloch was a native Tennessean. He moved to Texas in its Mexican colonial days, and he distinguished himself in the Texas war of independence in 1836.  He captained one of two six-pounder cannon (known as the “twin sisters”) that the Texas army had at the Battle of San Jacinto, which sealed Texas independence.

After the war, McCulloch became a Texas Ranger, noted for fighting both Native Americans and Mexicans who did not acknowledge Texas independence. He later fought in the U.S.-Mexican War.

Now he was working with Confederate Indian agent Albert Pike to ensure the allegiance of the Indian Nations, or at best, their neutrality.

In a memo to Confederate Secretary of War L.P. Walker, McCulloch said that it looked as if the Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles were squarely in the Confederate camp. Cherokees, however, were another story.

The Cherokees had long been split in their allegiance to the United States, ranging back to the removal days. Now it seemed that some were ready to go south, others ready to stay loyal to the North.

McCulloch told Walker that he intended to visit John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokees, to convince him to allow a Confederate force in the Cherokee Nation to protect it from northern incursion.

While Indian Territory gets little notice in the overall saga of the Civil War, it was as split as between loyalties as any other border area.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 3, pp. 585-587.

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