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The Effects of Removal on American Indian Tribes
Clara Sue Kidwell, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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(part 5 of 7)

Although the terrain was different, one element of native knowledge that persisted and adapted from the southeast to the Indian Territory was the use of herbal medicines. In the west Choctaws in the early 1900s century used a tea made from boiled blackroot as a laxative, blood weed for purifying blood, black root and fall willow for measles and smallpox (European-introduced diseases), and broom weed for colds and coughs. It could also prevent pneumonia if taken in time. Other medicines described by Choctaws in Oklahoma include Sycamore bark, which was boiled into a tea for coughs, slippery elm, which,was mixed with milk and used for burns, and "rusty water"—water in which iron chains were allowed to stand for a few days—which was used as a tonic. The use of rusty water was obviously an adaptation to white society.

 McClung Museum
Collection of Chrokee herbal medicines, ca. 1827
 Collection of Cherokee herbal medicines, ca. 1827
 full text of book

   Place cursor on recipes for text.

The use of plants for medicine was not unique to native people, either in the southeast or in the Indian Territory. European settlers had brought well-established beliefs in the power of herbal medicines, which were based on similarities of form between plants and the human body, while Native beliefs were based on the idea that plants were living beings. Choctaw people adapted the plants of their new environment to their beliefs in herbal medicines.

"Within the past six years, the Indian's sentiments have undergone a radical change respecting railroads. He now hauls to the stations on the line his pecans, pork, cotton, and his surplus game, receives a liberal sum of money in exchange, and goes home satisfied that the railroad is a friendly institution."

T. R. Jenness, "The Indian Territory," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1879   full text

As the tribes of the southeast moved to new lands in the west, they had already entered an economic system that made land a commodity with a monetary value. Domesticated animals-horses, cattle, pigs-had replaced the game that they had hunted to supply the earlier European trade in meat and hides. In 1840 a missionary described the Choctaws in Indian territory as living in log cabins, raising corn, pumpkins, peas, melons, and yams. Their farms generally ranged from one to ten acres, and black slaves were generally used as field hands on larger farms. Men worked the fields, and hunting was limited to small animals such as rabbits and squirrels to supplement the family diet. A favorite settling place for wealthier tribal members was by
Sandra Riley
Choctaw coal mine, Lehigh (Coal County), Oklahoma, ca. 1920
Choctaw coal mine, Lehigh (Coal County), Oklahoma, ca. 1920

waterfalls that would run their grist mills for their grain. Coal and oil deposits in the Choctaw territory provided a new source of wealth in the later part of the century, and railroads which began to cross Indian territory after the Civil War led to a demand for timber for railroad ties and stone.

Through the process of removal, Indians had to adapt to both new environments and a new sense of their place in American society. The tribes of the southeast adapted to a new environment, but one that, like America in general, was exploiting natural resources for economic development. The forces at work in America in the latter part of the nineteenth century would change the relationship of Indian people to their land in an economic sense.
Valjean Hessing/Heard Museum
Valjean Hessing (Choctaw artist), Choctaw Immigrants, 1972
Valjean Hessing (Choctaw artist), Choctaw Immigrants, 1972

It would not, however, totally destroy their religious connection to it. Cherokee and Creek ceremonial grounds persist in Oklahoma today. Some Choctaws still use herbal medicines. The origin traditions that explained their original homelands are preserved in written form and in stories that may still be told in some homes. The history of their removal is also recorded in books and stories passed down through generations. The history of removal is part of the identity of members of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole tribes. It is an essential part of explaining the role of changing environments for contemporary tribal members.

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"Native Americans and the Land" Essays
Pleistocene Die-Off | The Columbian Exchange | Indian Removal | Buffalo Tales
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