The Emigrating Choctaws: An Epic Journey

Articles from the Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Winter 1831-1832

About two years ago, while visiting the library at the Oklahoma History Center, I attempted to find a newspaper reference to that evocative phrase “Trail of Tears.” I had read a reference to a Choctaw Mingo at Little Rock, telling newspaper reporters that it had been a “trail of tears and death.” If that event occurred, I have not found proof. But I did collect an amazing series of articles.

In honor of Indigeneous Peoples’ Day [ the former Columbus Day], I wanted to blog today, with the help of these articles, about this most epic event in our history.

Everyone will see something different in these articles. I will leave that discernment to you, dear reader. But one thing I did not expect to find in the Little Rock newspaper was the reflection of the impression in that community that, yes, indeed, the Choctaws were going to their own country. You have to assume that was the mindset of the entire United States.

As back drop to this epic event, I added news about the brutal winter weather, the massive ongoing troop movements, and the non-stop steamboat travel up and down the regional rivers. Trying to move the entire 7th Cavalry at the same time as the first wave of Choctaw Indians was a recipe for disaster once the rivers began to freeze, and steamboat travel halted. The encampment at Arkansas Post, amid a rare winter blizzard, became the heart of the crisis as troop requirements left the Choctaws stranded with inadequate shelter and few rations.

In case you have the impression that the U.S. Army ran smoothly back then, please take a look at this article from the Chronicles of Oklahoma in which Captain John Stuart, tasked in early 1832 with building a new road through the Choctaw Nation, complains about lack of directions, lack of maps, lack of men, lack of wagons, and lack of food, not necessarily in that order.


The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Monday ~ Nov 28, 1831


We have received a letter from Col. W.H. Rector, Special Agent for Superintending the Removal and Subsistence of the Indian, dated at Vicksburg, Miss, 11th inst. From which we learn that about 4000 Choctaw Indians were expected to reach that place, by the 20th inst., about 3500 of which he supposed would ascend the Arkansas [River], and the balance would emigrate by land, via Monroe, La., with their horses, cattle, &c.

The gentleman, who was the bearer of the letter above referred to, informed us that from 50 to 100 Indians had reached Vicksburg, before he left, and that about 2000 more were but a short distance behind them. It was understood that the Agents found considerable difficulty in getting the Indians started.

We also learn that Capt. Brown, Superintendent, &c. has received information from Memphis, that a party of 500 Indians were expected to arrive at that place from the 22d to the 28th inst.

We shall endeavor to keep our readers advised of the movements of the Indians, to enable those residing on or near the routes they may travel to make some calculations as to the probable market they will meet with for the sale of their corn and other surplus produce which they may have to dispose of.


The steamboat Laurel, Capt. Smith, arrived at this place on Wednesday evening last, from Mouth of White River, and left on the following day, bound up the river. The Laurel carried up two Companies of the 7th U. S. Infantry, under the command of Maj. Young. These troops compose a part of the command of Col. Maxey, recently stationed at Cantonment Jesup [Natchitoches, La.], which had been ordered to join the remainder of the regiment at Cantonment Gibson. The balance of the detachment, consisting of two Companies, remains at the Post of Arkansas, waiting for a conveyance up the Arkansas. When these four Companies reach their destination, the whole of the 7th Infantry will be concentrated at Cantonment Gibson.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Dec 14, 1831

The mail due from Memphis, on Thursday last, has not yet arrived; and the mail from the West (Crawford and Washington counties), due on the same day, did not arrive until Saturday evening last. The detention of the latter was occasioned by the late cold weather and bad traveling, and we presume the failure of the last is owing to the same cause.

Cold Weather – All who have felt the remarkably cold weather, which we have experienced during the last 10 or 12 days, and witnessed the unusually severe snow storms with which we have been visited during the same period, cannot but be almost impressed with the idea that, in the revolutions of the world, Arkansas must have been placed in a much colder region than that which her geographical position on the map would seem to indicate. But, be that as it may, the weather which we have experienced here, for several days past, appears to be better suited to the climate of Canada, at this season of the year, than to that of Arkansas.

In our last, we mentioned, that it commenced snowing early on Tuesday morning [Dec 6] and that it did not cease until in the night of the same day. On Wednesday [Dec 7] the weather was clear and cold, accompanied with a keen north-wester. On Thursday morning [Dec 8] it again commenced snowing and continued through the day, and on the following morning, the snow was from four to six inches deep on a level, and has not diminished much since, in consequence of the coldness of the weather.

Large quantities of ice have been floating in the Arkansas for several days past, but not so much within the last day or two as previously, upon which we infer that the river is probably thawed above.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Dec 21, 1831

The Emigrating Indians – A small party of 13 or 20 Choctaw, having in charge about 100 head of Indian horses, arrived on the opposite side of the river on Sunday evening last, and left there yesterday morning for Fort Smith. They crossed the Mississippi at Memphis and came through by land from that place.

We also understand that a considerable party of the Choctaws [is] now in the Big Prairie, on their way up from Post of Arkansas, and that they are expected to reach here today or tomorrow.

It gives us great pleasure to learn that these Indians have suffered much less with the cold during the late unusually inclement weather, than could have been expected; and that they express much satisfaction with the arrangements which have been made for their comfort by the Agents appointed to superintend their removal.

The steamboat Reindeer was lying at Post of Arkansas, a few days ago, waiting for a rise of water, to bring up a load of Emigrating Indians.

White River frozen over – A letter to the Editor from a gentleman at Batesville, dated 11th inst. Informs us, that White River was closed with ice, a circumstance no know before for twenty years.

We learn from Mouth of White River, that vast quantities of ice were floating in the Mississippi at that place and for 40 or 50 miles below; and that boats which had passed up, were compelled to lay by between that place and Helena [Arkansas], in consequence of the immense bodies of the ice with which the river was filled, rending it impracticable for them to proceed on their voyages. We do not recollect ever to have heard before of the progress of the steamboats being impeded by ice so low down the Mississippi. Indeed, we believe, it is very unusual for it to be seen in any considerable quantities as low down as the Mouth of White River.

The Arkansas has not been quite frozen over here yet, but its navigation has been greatly interrupted, and the crossing at the ferry frequently suspended for hours, in consequence of the vast quantities of floating ice which have been passing down for near two weeks past. We understand, however, that the river is frozen over about 20 miles above this place, and that the ice is sufficiently strong for persons to cross in safety.

The “Frontier Reporter,” printed at Natchitoches, La., notices the departure from that vicinity, of that portion of the 7th U.S. Infantry which has been stationed on Red River for several past years [Fort Jesup]. Four companies of the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Army, under the command of Lieut. Co. J. B. MANY, left this place in the steamboat Enterprise for Cantonment Gibson, on the Arkansas River.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Dec 28, 1831

The Emigrating Indians – Between five and six hundred Choctaw Indians, of Col. Folsom’s party, under the charge of Lieut. Ryan arrived opposite this place on Wednesday last, from Post of Arkansas, and the whole of the remainder of the week was consumed in transporting them and their baggage, horses, etc., across the Arkansas [River], and removing them to a suitable site, selected by Capt. Brown, for their encampment, about three miles south of this place where they still remain. A great number of teams have been employed for the purpose of removing these Indian to the south, and we understand they will probably break up their encampment tomorrow, and proceed on their journey to Red River.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Jan 4, 1832


Ninety large wagons, with teams of 4 and 6 horses or oxen, engaged in the transportation of the Choctaw Emigrants, left this place and vicinity on Thursday last 29th, ult., in opposite directions and in about equal numbers.

One portion of them with about 550 emigrants, under their Chief, Col. D. Folsom, have gone to the west, and are bound for the Red River section of the New Choctaw Country. These people will settle within 30 miles of the western boundary of this Territory, on the waters of Mountain and Glover’s Forks.

The other portion of the teams have gone to the Post of Arkansas, to convey another party of emigrants from thence to the Kiamechia, via this place, and are expected here by the 20th instant.

About 1000 emigrants, via Red River and the Washita, it is expected, passed [the town of] Washington, Hempstead County, on or about the 1st inst., on their way to Kiamechia; and there are about 2000 now at the Post of Arkansas, awaiting the arrival of wagons to convey them to their destination. About 1400 of the latter number go to the Kiamechia – the residue will settle on the Arkansas [River], near Fort Smith.

We visited the emigrants while they lay at Camp Pope, about 3 miles south of this place, a few days previous to their leaving for the south, and were very agreeably surprised to remark the degree of cheerfulness and contentment which seemed to prevail in every part of the Camp. They appeared to be bountifully fed with bacon, fresh beef, and corn, and with very few exceptions, comfortably clad, and to exhibit generally quite as great a degree of comfort as is usual to be found about an Indian camp.

Some few cases of sickness and a few deaths had occurred, but the number of either was much smaller than might have been reasonably expected when the inclemency of the weather, which they had encountered on their journey from the Post of Arkansas, was taken into consideration. Those who were ill, were restored by the attentions of a Physician provided by Capt. Brown, and by the rest which they were able to obtain while the party lay in camp, and few, if any, cases of illness remained when they resumed their journey to the south.

We conversed with several of the emigrants, some of whom spoke English fluently, and were gratified to learn that the party were perfectly satisfied with the arrangements made by Capt. Brown, for their comfort, and could not learn that a murmur or complaint against him, or any of the Agents of the Government employed in their removal, was to be heard throughout the camp. The party left the Saline [River?], 30 miles south of this, on Saturday morning last, and was proceeding on very finely when last heard from.


Lt. Col. Many left here yesterday morning, by land, for Cantonment Gibson. He was accompanied by Lieuts. Ross and Dawson. The commandment of the detachment lying about three miles below town, devolves on Maj. Birch, the senior officer.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Jan 18, 1832


The steamboat Reindeer, Capt. Miller, arrived on Sunday evening last, from Post of Arkansas, with a keel-boat of 170 tons burthen in tow, both filled with Emigrating Choctaw Indians, under the direction of Col. W. Rector, of whom upward of 1100 were brought up. The Reindeer, having discharged her passengers and freight, left on Monday evening, for Mouth of White River, and if the state of the river will admit of her getting up, may be expected back with another party of Emigrants, on Monday or Tuesday next.

The Indians were landed near half a mile below town, from whence, by direction of Capt. Brown, the Superintendent, they have since been removed, with their baggage, to Camp Pope, about 3 miles south of this place, where they will remain for a few days, until the public wagons arrive from Post of Arkansas to convey them to their future homes on Red River.

We visited them two or three times while they were encamped below the landing; and our town has been almost constantly thronged with them since their arrival, and we can truly say, that we have never met with a parcel of Indians who appeared to be more contented and happy than they do. They are well fed and quite as comfortably clad as Indians generally are, and we heard of but few cases of illness among them – indeed, fewer than might have been reasonably expected in so large a body. They appear to be perfectly docile and harmless, exhibiting, as far as we can learn, no disposition to encroach on the rights of our citizens; and it gives us much satisfaction to state, that we have not heard of a single instance of disturbance or collision between them and the whites, and we sincerely hope the same terms of friendship and amity may long subsist between them and their white neighbors.

Another party of between 300 and 400 Emigrants left the Post of Arkansas some days since, by land, and may be looked for here about the last of this or the beginning of next week.

A company of about 400 Choctaws, of Capt. Jere. Folsom’s party, crossed the Mississippi at Point Chicot [southern Arkansas], about the last of Dec. and will proceed by land to their country on Red River, via Ecore a Fabre [Camden] and Washington, under the charge of Wm. McK. Ball, Esq., Special Agent for Subsisting and Removing Indians.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Jan 18, 1832


A party of about 400 Emigrating Choctaws, in charge of Col. Childress, arrived at this place, by land, from the Post of Arkansas on Sunday last, and have since been removed to Camp Pope, and rejoined Col. Rector’s party which has been encamped there for several days, and now consists of about 1500 souls. This party is expected to take up their line of march for the south in a day or two.

The Steamboat Reindeer, Capt. Miller, arrived on Sunday evening last, from Mouth of White River, with a keel-boat in tow, having performed her trip from hence to the Mouth and back in a few hours over six days. She brought up about 500 Emigrating Choctaw, in charge of Dr. John T. Fulton, Special Agent for the removal of Indians, and left on Monday evening for Fort Smith, where the Emigrants will be landed.


Maj. Francis Armstrong, who has been recently appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Choctaw Nation West of the Mississippi, arrived at this place on Friday last, on his way to the Western Choctaw Agency.

The weather has been remarkably fine and pleasant during nearly the whole of the present month, until yesterday morning, when it suddenly turned cold, and has since been almost as boisterous and unpleasant as at any time during the winter.

Steamboat Disasters – We regret to learn, by the Steamboat Reindeer, that the breaking up of the ice in the Ohio [River] has caused the destruction of a great number of Steamboats. Our informant has given us the names of the following boats which are among those that are lost, viz., the New York, Oregon, New Jersey, Robert Fulton, Antelope, Courier, Benjamin Franklin, and Lady Washington.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Feb 1, 1832


About 1800 of the Emigrating Choctaws, under the direction of Col. Rector, Special Agent of the Removal and Subsistence of Indians, occupying fifty large wagons, broke up their encampment in the vicinity of this place on Sunday last, and re-commenced their journey for the Red River section of their new country, near the Kiamiche, where it is understood, they intend settling.

For the want of a sufficient number of wagons, about 200 Emigrants, encamped with the above, and belonging to the same party, were obliged to remain behind until other means could be procured for their transportation. Wagons have since been obtained, and we are informed by the Superintendent, Capt. Brown, that the party will leave in the course of today, for the south, and will probably overtake the main body before they reach their destination in their new country. It is expected these people will arrive at their new homes by the 1st of March next, and we heartily wish them, more peace and quietness there, than they have enjoyed for several years past at those which they have led east of the Mississippi.

The party of Emigrants, under the direction of Dr. Fulton, Special Agent, etc., which left here on the Reindeer, on the 23d, ult. were landed about 80 or 90 miles above this, the low stage on the river rendering it impracticable for the steamboat to ascend farther, and will proceed from thence in keelboats to their destination of Fort Smith, which they are expected to reach on or about the 10th inst.


The detachment, consisting of two Companies of U. S. soldiers under the command of Maj. Birch, who have been in quarters at Camp Interference, about 3 miles below this town, near the bank of the Arkansas [River], since the early part of December, broke up their encampment on Monday morning last, and embarked on board of two keelboats, in which they have proceeded up the river for Cantonment Gibson. When they reach there, the whole of the 7th U.S. Infantry will be concentrated at that post.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Feb 9, 1832


The party of Emigrating Choctaws noticed in our last, as being encamped in this vicinity, left for their new homes in the Red River country, on Wednesday evening last, under the charge of Col. Samuel M. Rutherford, Special Agent in the Removal and Subsistence of Indians. This party consists of about 200 souls, and is the last party that is expected to pass through this place during the present season. The emigration will re-commence next autumn.

A gentleman who arrived here yesterday morning from the vicinity of Cantonment Towson, in the Red River section of the Choctaw country, informs us, that the party of emigrants, who left here on the 29th Dec. last, in charge of Lieut. Ryan, had reached their destination, and appeared to be well pleased with their country, as far as they had seen it.

The party which left here, in charge of Col. Rector, on the 28th ult., was passed on this side of the Caddo, waiting for a recent rise in that stream to subside sufficiently for them to cross it. And Col. Rutherford’s party was passed in Hot Springs County, about 50 miles on this side of Col. Rector’s party, progressing very well.

The Gazette ~ Little Rock

Wednesday ~ Feb 22, 1832

The steamboat Elk, Capt. Krepps, passed down, on Monday morning last, in about twenty hours from Fort Smith, and it expected back from Mouth of White River about the last of this week. We understand she took on board, at the Dardanelles [north of Little Rock], Dr. Fulton’s party of Choctaw Emigrants, and landed them all safely at Fort Smith.

The steamship Reindeer passed Fort Smith on Friday last, with the detachment of the U.S. troops who recently left this vicinity, for Can’t Gibson. She may be looked for here about the last of this week, and will leave, by Monday next, for New Orleans.

The steamboat, Saratoga, Capt. Kimball, arrived at this place, on Saturday morning last, from New Orleans, and departed early on Sunday morning, on her return to same port. Her freight up consisted principally of the stores of Col. Decatur, Sutler to that part of the 7th regiment, now at Cantonment Gibson, which were recently transferred from Cantonment Jesup [Natchitoches, La.].


***Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***

3 thoughts on “The Emigrating Choctaws: An Epic Journey

  1. Wow, reading this you would think the forceable relocation was a walk in the park. Everyone was happy and loved their new location???

  2. A friend of mine said “THANK YOU! ” She was referring to the newspaper story from Dec 21, 1831 that tells about the band of 100 Choctaw horses on their way to Fort Smith, after traversing the Mississippi River (at Memphis) then coming overland to Little Rock. She supports the Spanish Mustangs of Blackjack Mountain-check out their Facebook page for their next event.

  3. “In the midst of all this suffering, the Arkansas Gazette ironically reported to the American people that the Choctaw appeared to be cheerful, content, and well-supplied with food and clothing.”
    – This quote from Arthur H. DeRosier, Jr., author of The Removal of the Choctaw Indians.

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