Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek

The United States Post Office, 1940, was Macon, Mississippi's first federal building according to E. Pauline Barrow (2001), who compiled the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Macon Historic District.  Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory described the post office as "...odd, watered-down variation of the Colonial Revival style."  MDAH puts the construction date as 1941.
I am not sure what earned this building, looking a lot like many of the post offices in Mississippi constructed during this time period, the description, but perhaps it is that wrought iron portico?
The Mississippi Legislature passed an act in January, 1830 that extended control of Mississippi to the land occupied by the Chickasaws and Choctaws (Samuel O. McGahey, Mississippi Department of Archives & History,1972).  This provided the impetus to begin removal of the Choctaws from their extensive holdings in Mississippi.  They had already ceded some 23 million acres to the United States, and did not want to leave the land they loved.  Most of the Choctaw rejected the terms of the treaty, and left negotiations, and what happened afterward is apparently not fully established due to varying reports (McGahey).  Following threats of ruin and destruction by the US military (Navarro, see below), and possible bribes to the chiefs who remained (McGahey, citing General Gaines' report), the treaty was signed and the removal to the southeastern corner of Oklahoma began. 
The Choctaw were the first to walk the Trail of Tears.  Nearly 2,500 members perished along the way.  Despite the many lives lost, the Choctaw remained a hopeful and generous people.  The first order of business upon arriving in their new homeland was to start a school and a church.  They drafted a new constitution.  And when the great potato famine befell the people of Ireland, the Choctaws collected money to help alleviate the country's suffering. ("Choctaw History at a Glance," Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)

S. Douglass Crockwell was primarily an illustrator, and his work was similar to that of Norman Rockwell and he was featured frequently in the Saturday Evening Post.   He departed significantly from that style to illustrate the signing of the treaty for the mural to be featured in the Macon post office, near where the signing occurred in Noxubee County.
Image used with permission of USPS
In the Post Office in Macon, Mississippi, a commercial illustrator departed from type and explored dark and emotive styling to depict...The Signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, September 27, 1830.
 Crockwell's choice of "...dark color palette, flowing human shapes, and evocative environmental elements...draws upon these themes of darkness and loss..." (Meghan A. Navarro, Indians at the Post Office, Smithsonian Institute Postal Museum).  As a whole, the post office murals accepted for installation were of the regional or realism genre, and while significant history of the community or region was one of the preferred topics, the Treasury Department sponsored program tended to avoid topics that might be seen unfavorably--at least in the eyes of the dominant culture.  Current interpretations of some of the subject matter of murals that depict Native Americans, those of Mexican descent, and African Americans are often involved in controversy.
Image used with permission of USPS
It is clear that this was a sad and dark time for the Choctaw, as they were coerced into accepting a Treaty they did not want, and whose terms were not honored. This mural draws upon these themes of darkness and loss through its dark colors, deep shadows, and the despairing expression of the Choctaw painted in the lower right of the mural. As noted above, the mural is a marked departure from Crockwell’s wholesome commercial depictions of American life, and more of an expressionist or abstract depiction of a historical event, heavy with emotion. Notably, the Choctaw in the foreground is the only figure in the mural whose face is painted clearly. In fact, Eaton, Coffee, and the other United States representatives are all painted from behind. The physical postures of those Choctaw who are distinguishable as individuals are tense, and the rest of the Choctaw surrounding the clearing melt into one large mass of inseparable faces and bodies. Circling the clearing in which the Treaty is being signed, they resemble the close-growing trees, and seem to fade into them, as though into the background and the shades of the past. There is also something primitive about them, a mass of people all painted in flesh tones, with no clothing distinguishable. (Navarro)
 I think it was the image on the face of the man--the only face clearly revealed in the mural--that has haunted me every time I look at it.  What must it have felt like to experience every element of your life and experience disappear, and the future of yourself, your children, your people, your nation be an uncertainty?  In 1855, the Choctaw who had been removed to Oklahoma appeared at the White House to appeal for "right and justice" (Papers relating to the claims of the Choctaw nation against the United States, arising out of the Treaty of 1830, Library of Congress).
Once our possessions embraced the valuable and fertile territory now included in the States of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and over which our sway was undisputed and supreme...But another and a stronger race came and swept us away into a distant and wilderness land, where we had long to struggle against the depressing effects of sad and painful reflections upon the hard and unyielding policy which deprived us of our father-land and cherished homes.  At the time of our first treaty with the United States in 1786, when the Choctaws placed themselves under their protection, they owned and possessed about fifty millions of acres of land east of the Mississippi river, which was gradually and by piece-meal wrested from us, until, in 1830, we were required to cede the last foot of it to the government.  For all this magnificent domain...which has put millions upon millions into the treasury of the United States, we received the most meagre and inconsiderable consideration. (Papers relating to the claims, pp. 5 & 6)
The delegation went on to describe the relationship between the Choctaws and the United States government, and in particular, that the Choctaw Nation was the only tribe which had never been engaged in hostile conflict with the government, broken a promise or violated the treaties, and that they were calling for just compensation: to receive the amount of money that had been acquired by the United States government for the sale of the lands belonging to the Choctaw, and compensation for their livestock holdings and personal belongings that they were required to leave behind, with the promise they would be paid for or provided in Oklahoma.  These claims for compensation under the treaty were under negotiation and appeals from 1830, until 1855, with no resolution.  Under the 14th article of the treaty, each head of family could elect to remain in Mississippi and receive sufficient land to be independent, which was identified as 640 acres (Choctaw Nation v. United States; United States v. Choctaw Nation, November 15, 1886).  Of those 143 heads of families who were able to register and actually received land--neither Mississippi nor the federal government wanted any of them to remain (Edward Davis, 1932, The Mississippi Choctaws, Chronicles of Oklahoma, 10(2) and they were subsequently forced from those lands.

The case finally reached the Supreme Court after many delays, including those caused by the secession of Mississippi and the formation of the Confederate States of the south.  November 15, 1886, the Supreme Court mandated judgment for the sum of $2,858,798.62 to the Choctaw Nation (Decisions of the Supreme Court in Appealed Cases, from October, 1886, to May, 1887, Charles C. Nott and Archibald Hopkins, Washington Government Printing Office).


LindaRe said...

Sad, disturbing piece of our nation's history. The painting is also sad, tho beautiful.

Suzassippi said...

Yes, it is.

Lana Pugh said...

There's not a single time I have been in that post office the mural doesn't make me pause. It's so dark compared to others that I've seen and the depiction of the man in the lower right hand corner is so sad.

Suzassippi said...

I find it very interesting to wonder what the artist was thinking when he decided on this. At least, unlike the one in Okolona, this one still exists and was not painted over. I think it is a beautiful and highly evocative piece, and sometimes, art that makes us think is part of the intention.

Edward Albee, the playwright used to say, I want people to leave the theatre after seeing my play and think about more than where they parked the car."