Land ownership was the desire of many individuals moving west across the United States in the nineteenth century. A person who obtained the initial title for a parcel of land in the public domain states, such as Arkansas, was issued a patent—that is, a deed transferring land ownership from the U.S. government to a buyer. Patents were obtained by various methods. Perhaps the least understood method was the use of Choctaw Scrip certificates to obtain a patent. Descendants of original Arkansas land owners finding Choctaw names on their patents often believed their ancestors either bought the land directly from the Choctaw or were, in fact, Choctaw themselves.
The origins of Choctaw Scrip go back to the U.S. government’s plan to relocate all the major southeastern Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River so as to open more land for white settlement. Although there was talk about solving the so-called Indian problem by moving the Indians west of the Mississippi before 1830, the Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830, was the first congressional act allowing the government to negotiate with tribes the exchange of land east of the Mississippi River for land west of the Mississippi.
The first removal treaty acted upon with a tribe under the Indian Removal Act was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed on September 27, 1830, with the Choctaw tribe of Mississippi. This treaty exchanged Choctaw land east of the Mississippi River for land in “fee simple,” which gives the owner complete ownership, without any limitations or conditions, to land west of Arkansas Territory. The Choctaw, for the most part, were not in favor of a treaty, and many of them had left the treaty grounds before the treaty was signed. One of the ways the government convinced the remaining Choctaw to sign was to insert a provision into the treaty allowing those who wanted to stay in Mississippi to do so. The U.S. Congress ratified the treaty on February 25, 1831.
Article 14 of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek stated: “Each Choctaw head of a family being desirous to remain and become a citizen of the United States, shall be permitted to do so, by signifying his intention with the agent within six months from the ratification of this treaty.” Additional provisions said that each head of a family would receive 640 acres to include the land containing their improvements. Each child over the age of ten living with the family would receive 320 acres, and each child under ten would receive 160 acres. After living on the land for five years after the ratification of the treaty, the Choctaw would receive a grant in fee simple.
In 1836, when the five years of occupancy requirement had been met, the Choctaw remaining in Mississippi who felt they were eligible for land promised in Article 14 of the treaty expected to be granted a patent in fee simple, and, for the most part, they were determined to stay on this land. Some of the land, however, had been sold by 1836 with the Choctaw still living on it. Problems developed when the expectations of the Mississippi citizens conflicted with those of the Choctaw. The Mississippians thought the Choctaw would get their patents, sell the land, and remove west at that time.
Other problems arose when it was discovered that many Choctaw who had tried to register with the Mississippi Choctaw agent, William Ward, by the deadline were not recorded in his book. Ward admitted that he had discouraged the Choctaw from enrolling because he thought that the government wanted all the Choctaw to remove. Others testified that Ward was often drunk during this time period and refused to enroll some Choctaw who came to him. In addition, a page in the register had disappeared. The Choctaw staying in Mississippi who had remained five years on the land wanted their patents. A commission was named to try to resolve the difficulties.
In 1842, an act passed by the U.S. Congress provided that the Choctaw who had complied with Article 14 stipulations would be issued patents for their land, and, in cases where the government had sold their land out from under them, they would be issued scrip certificates. The scrip would be in amounts of 640 acres per each head of family, 320 acres of land for each child over ten, and 160 acres for each child under ten. The children had to be living with the head of the family in 1831, and ages were determined as of 1831.
Between 1842 and 1845, more acts were passed, and additional commissions were appointed to deal with provisions of Article 14 and to solve problems. Most white Mississippians wanted the Choctaw removed west, so by the various congressional acts, it was determined that scrip certificates would be issued for one-half of the number of acres due each Choctaw when the Choctaw were leaving Mississippi for Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), and the other half would be given upon their arrival in Indian Territory. The scrip for the number of acres to be issued in Indian Territory was never issued, and the government decided to invest money equal to $1.25 per acre due each eligible Choctaw as they arrived in the west. The government would then pay them five percent interest on the invested money per year.
The scrip certificates for the half issued to the removing Choctaw was not for specific parcels of land and could be redeemed only in the public land states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The findings of the various commissions were that 1,150 heads of families and their 2,683 children were eligible to receive scrip. Additional provisions determined that many of the original Choctaw eligible for scrip had died by 1845, so their heirs became eligible to receive those Choctaw Scrip certificates. The changes to Article 14 and the findings from various commissions from 1842 to around 1859 presented a very confusing picture to the average Choctaw. To add to the confusion, individuals presented themselves as agents for the Choctaw in Mississippi (many under fraudulent circumstances), alleging that they were entitled to claim the scrip of some Choctaw. The Choctaw were frequently paid values far less than the true value of their scrip. Land speculators frequently rode the steamboats transporting the Choctaw west or waited at the landings ready to have the Choctaw assign their Choctaw Scrip over to them. Each certificate of scrip was assigned a number for the head of the household, and a “B” was added to identify scrip for each child over ten in 1831, and a “C” for each child under ten.
After the Choctaw Scrip was sold and signed over by the individual Choctaw, it became the property of the new owner. As the sales of land were announced for each land office in Arkansas, people holding scrip certificates could pick out the parcel of land they wanted that was available at the land office. They signified the land they wished to purchase, the scrip certificate they owned and planned to use as payment, and the identifying legal land description. The local land agent sent all the documents, including the original endorsed Choctaw Scrip certificate, to Washington DC. The U.S. land office would process the request and supply a patent for the land to the buyer if everything was in order.
Almost every county in Arkansas had some land purchased with Choctaw Scrip. Land speculation was big business. John M. Ross, the largest Arkansas speculator, cashed in scrip for 16,910 acres of land. The second-largest speculator, Joseph Holcomb, cashed in scrip for 7,680 acres. Others such as William E. Woodruff, who ran a land agency in Little Rock (Pulaski County), made a profitable living by hiring out as agent for scrip holders. He also speculated in scrip for 1,340 acres. A total of about 221,000 acres of Arkansas land was acquired in the land grab made possible by the use of Choctaw Scrip.
For additional information:
Hardison, Freda Cruse. “Chowtaw Scrip and Land Speculators.” Carroll County Historical Quarterly 66 (Summer 2021): 64–68.
Kidwell, Clara Sue. Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
Senate Report No. 374, 35th Congress, 2nd session, February 15, 1859.
Young, Mary Elizabeth. Redskins, Ruffleshirts, and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830–1860. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.
Carolyn Yancey Kent
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