Series #8, #9, and #10 – Choctaw History Through the Eyes of an Artist

Happy New Year, everyone!

This week Karen Clarkson’s art focuses on the topics of Commerce and Railroads through Indian Territory, the Oklahoma Land Rush, and the controversial Blood Quantum statistic.

Well-known Choctaw artist and award recipient, Karen Clarkson has put together a collection of compelling and provocative original art that reflects the heart-rending issues besetting the Choctaw throughout their long history. The collection is titled “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.”

Her collection will be featured in a one-artist show opening Tuesday, January 9, 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona at the Coconino Center for the Arts.   The show will continue through February 10, during regular hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an opening reception on Saturday, January 13.

>>>See my prior blogs on Karen Clarkson’s art series, “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.”


1880 – present

By the 1880s Indian Territory was seen more and more as a barrier to commerce and traffic between the neighboring states. Congress now took measures to allow further railroad construction through Oklahoma. In 1888 Congress enacted “an act to authorize the Choctaw Coal and Railway through Indian Territory, and for other purposes.” The primary provisions are that Congress gave this company the right to condemn land for a Railroad to cross it.

By 1890, the Choctaws were outnumbered by Americans within their own country by more than three to one. The Americans did not have the right to own land, were not allowed representation within the nation, and were not allowed to send their children to the Choctaw public schools. They were required to pay taxes, which the Americans considered intolerable. Rather than leave, they clamored for Congress to abolish the Indian nations.

The U.S. Congress had already decided, unilaterally, that the government no longer needed to enter into treaties with Indian nations and that the Congress would legislate Indian affairs. In 1893, Congress authorized the president to seek the dissolution of the nations of the Five Civilized Tribes by persuading them to either allot their land to their individual citizens or cede it to the United States. Under the auspices of the so-called Dawes Commission that resulted, the government spent three years attempting to pressure the Indians into agreeing to allot their lands. Finally, under the threat that Congress would allot the lands for them, the Choctaws negotiated and signed the Atoka Agreement of 1897, providing for the allotment of the tribal estate. In this way they avoided being subjected to the much harsher terms they were being threatened with if they did not negotiate. In 1906, enrollment of tribal members for allotment was closed by the Congress, and in 1907, the Choctaw nation was absorbed into the new state of Oklahoma. 

In 1900 the total 10 month’s earnings for the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad was listed as $2,185,793.00 – World Almanac Book of Facts

 Illustration: This painting memorializes the “Choctaw Route” using a railroad stock certificate and a painting of a Choctaw woman as she would have appeared during the late 1800’s.

8-coconino Commerce and Traffic 2543x1806



On March 2, 1889 Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Bill, proclaiming unassigned lands were to be part of the public domain. This was the first step toward the famous Oklahoma Land Rush in which 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available 2 million acres. Because of this land rush both Oklahoma City and Guthrie were established. Guthrie was established in two days and within a month Oklahoma City had five banks and six newspapers. The following quote shows the current sentiment toward the Choctaw in Oklahoma at the time.

“Oklahoma” is a Choctaw word meaning “Home of the Red Man.” And the red man knows not how to translate it into something else. Since the brave chief spoke these words he has gone to the Oklahoma that will never need surrender, and his people who has heard him plead for peace will go as he has gone. Then may the whistles of Caucasian commerce blow without discord to a single human ear. Till then, those who are left of the lost kingdom must look with backward searching gaze upon their confiscated hunting-ground on which nothing of theirs now remains but the name – for the white man, too has called it Oklahoma. – Sturms Oklahoma Magazine

Illustration: A painting of a Choctaw man on a copy of the Saturday Globe Newspaper. The paper announces the Land Rush in what is now known as Oklahoma. A hand-written quote by Andrew Jackson describes the sentiment of the day.

9-coconino choctaw land rush article.tiff


1887 – present

The Catch 22 is that one cannot be an American Indian unless s/he is “federally recognized.” Conversely, one cannot be “federally recognized” unless one is an American Indian. – Native American Consultants, Inc.

Most tribes require a specific percentage of Native “blood,” called blood quantum, in addition to being able to document which tribal member you descend from. Because of this policy, few if any Native Americans, regardless of upbringing in rural, reservation, or urban setting, ignore their own and other Indians’ blood quantum in everyday life.

During the Removal and Allotment years when Indians from the southeast United States were moved to Oklahoma and other western territories, government agents would declare “incompetent” certain “full bloods,” thereby denying them allotment payments for land taken from them. At the same time, the agents declared other Indians “disqualified” for payments due to their being “mixed blood.” The Burke Act 1906 authorized the Secretary of the Interior the power to issue land to allottees considered “competent and capable” but deny land to those determined “incompetent.”

Moreover, the government’s policy of certifying the identities of American Indian peoples on the basis of blood quantum not only continues to deny them the right to self-definition but also provides legal and bureaucratic pretexts for excluding noncertified Indians from land, political power, and social services. – Steven Gregory, Roger Sanjek, Rutgers University Press, (1994).

10-coconino blood quantum 3449x5033.tiffIllustration: A petition, to the Commission for the Five Civilized Tribes, for inclusion into the final rolls. In it my great grand parents request inclusion for their daughter Ella Toile. In today’s world if she was not on this roll, she would not be eligible to be a member of the Choctaw Nation.  This painting represents the importance of blood recognition in determining a prescribed tribal status.






Photo-Karen ClarksonKaren Clarkson lives in Prescott, Arizona, with her husband Bill and their three little dogs. Although many of her works are of Native Americans, Clarkson also creates landscapes and still life, as well as portraits in other mediums.  Among a variety of other awards and juried competitions, Clarkson won Best in Show at the Choctaw Indian Arts Show in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Her current work can be seen at the Lyn A. Fox Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and on her personal website.


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