Days Gone By - stories from the past

Native Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War – here is part of their story

(Transcribed from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 05, No. 01, Spring Issue 1943 – please remember that the vocabulary used is from a different era than today)


By Mrs. Elliott M. Buchanan,

Chattanooga, Tennessee

(This article was one of a number on the subject written by members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy throughout the country in response to a request by the Editor of this magazine with the offer of a history of Alabama as a prize for the best essay. The essay by Mrs. Buchanan was chosen by a committee appointed by the President of the General U.D. C., as the best of a number submitted.)

For four hundred years the question has been-“From whence came the Indian?” The Indians were without a written history The males of the Creeks from Georgia and Alabama, Cherokees from Tennessee and Georgia Semonoles from Florida, Choctaws and Chickasaws from Alabama and Mississippi and confederate tribes of the Creeks are tall, erect, and moderately robust.Five-Civilized-Tribes-Portraits

They will endure a great many misfortunes, losses and disappointments with out showing themselves, in the least, vexed or uneasy. If they are taken captives or expect a miserable exit, they sing; if death approaches them in sickness, they are not afraid of it.

Chickasaws lost one fourth of their people

The Chickasaws were the most active and warlike tribe of the great Muskhogean Indian stock; a branch of the Choctaws. In the War Between the States, they joined the Confederate side; lost about one fourth of their people and were liable to the penalties of treason. By the treaty of Fort Smith, September 1865, they were conditionally restored to their rights.

The Chickasaws showed personal bravery and unconquerable spirit and almost endless endurance.

Choctaws population reduced by one third

The Choctaws, one of the largest tribes of the great Muskhogean stock and before its deportation was the most advanced in general culture of any except the Creeks. Like all the southern tribes they were slave holders and in 1860 had some 5,000 negro slaves. Their Superintendent and agents were Southerners and they joined the Confederate side of the war between the States. Their population was reduced by one third; and after the war they were for a time deprived of their rights.

Creeks were divided in allegiance

The Creeks, a once powerful confederacy of Gulf Indians, the strongest Indian power south of New York except the Cherokees.They occupied a large part of Georgia and Alabama and formed the largest section of the Muskhogean stock. In 1836 some of the Creeks joined the United States forces against the Seminoles but others began raiding Georgia and Alabama villages. General Scott reduced them and the government at once began deporting them to Arkansas. The government tried to Christianize and civilize them, but they finally refused either missionaries or schools. In the War Between the States they divided.

Seminoles were known through two wars

The Seminole Indians an important tribe of the Muskhogean stock of American Indians. The Seminoles (wanderers) of Florida had broken away from the Creeks, left the main body 1762-68, and removed to the peninsula of Florida where they have resided since the 16th century. The Seminoles are known to history chiefly through their two wars with the United States—the first 1817-1818, provoked by the upper Creeks, and other 1835-42, the bloodiest and most furiously contested struggle with Indians in which the Government has ever engaged, resulted from the refusal of a part of the Indians to remove to the Indian Territory under the provisions of a treaty agreed to by them in 1834.

From the earliest dates at which we hear of the Chickasaws succeeding the settlements made on the Atlantic coast westward by various European nations, the Chickasaws were firm friends of the English. On the other hand the Choctaws and Creeks favored first the Spaniards and then the French.

First treaty with Cherokees made at Hopewell

The first treaty between the United States and the Cherokees was made at Hopewell on the Keener River on November 28, 1775, between a group of men of the United States and the Headmen and Warriors of all the Cherokees. The commissioners were men of the southern part of the Republic.1786-TreatyofHopewell

The Keetowha society was originated among the Cherokees by Reverends Evan and John B. Jones in 1859. It is a secret society for the fuller development of the noble qualities of individualism. It has always been especially active in upbuilding the religious and patriotic instincts of its members and is the only lodge in the United States whose principal emblem is the United States flag During the War Between the States its insigna was a couple of pms crossed on the left coat lapel and for that reason its members were known as “Pin Indians.”

The failure of the United States government to afford to the Southern Indians the protection solemnly guaranteed by the treaty stipulations had been the greatest cause of their entering into an alliance with the Confederacy.

Indians fought on both sides

Veterans of the Confederate service who saw action along the Missouri-Arkansas frontier have frequently complained that military operations in and around Virginia during the War Between the States receive historically so much attention that as a consequence, the steady, stubborn fighting west of the Mississippi River is either totally ignored or at best, lost in dim obscurity

There is much of truth in the criticism but it applies in fullest measure only when the Indians are taken into account; for no accredited history of the American War Between the States that has yet appeared has adequately recognized certain rather interesting facts connected with the period of frontier development; vis; —that Indians fought on both sides in the great sectional struggle; that they weremoved to fight not by instincts of savagery, but by identically the same motives and impulses as the white man and in the final outcome they suffered even more terribly than did the whites.

The Cherokees had under the necessities of the situation divided themselves into the Ross or Anti-removal removal Party, and the Ridge or Treaty Party. After the murder of John Ridge, from whom the party took its name, his nephew, Stand Watie became its leader. He figured conspicuously on the Southern side in the War Between the States.

Early in 1861, Stand Watie, Cherokee Chief of the Ridge faction, organized a company to cooperate with the Confederacy and was made its captain. Other companies having been formed they met near Fort Wayne on July 12 1861 and termed the Cherokee Mounted Rifle Regiment and elected I officers. Removal took place in spite of the steady opposition of the Rossities and the Cherokees went west, piloted by the United States Army.Stand_Watie

photograph of Stand Watie

For the participation of the southern Indians in the American War Between the States the state of Texas and Arkansas were more than measurably responsible. Governor Rector of Arkansas wrote Chief Ross on January 29, 1861, requesting the cooperation of the Cherokees with the Confederacy to which Chief Ross answered avowing neutrality.

The Chief by letters of later dates and in a proclamation, reiterated his stand for this principle. Stand Watie the political opponent of Chief Ross organized his regiment and shortly afterwards the Chief called a general convention of the Cherokees to meet at Tahequah on August 21st.

In keeping with the sentiment the Chief wrote General McCollough that “We are authorized to form an alliance with the Confederate States which we are determined to do as early as practicable. This determination may give rise to movements against the Cherokee people upon their northern border. To be prepared for any such emergency, we have deemed it prudent to proceed to organize a regiment of mounted men and tender for service. They will be raised forthwith by Colonl John Drew and if received by you will require to be armed.”


photograph of Chief John Ross

 Treaty Concluded

Chief Ross then appointed for Drew’s regiment. A treaty was concluded at Hunter’s House the residence of George M. Murrell on October 7, 1861, between the Confederate States and the Cherokee nation and two days later Chief Ross delivered his message to the national council. In part he said; “Events have occurred that will occupy a prominent place in the history of the world. The United States have been dissolved and two governments now exist. The States composing the late Union has erected themselves into a government under the style of the Confederate States of America and as you know we are now engaged in a war for their independence.

The unaninmity (sic) and devotion of the people of the Confederate States must sooner or later secure their success over all opposition and result in the establishment of their independence and a recognition of it by the other nations of the earth. Our geographical position and domestic institutions allies us to the south, the war waged against the Confederate States clearly pointed out the path of our interest”.

Policy was adopted by the Cherokee Nation

This policy was adopted by the Cherokee nation. Messengers dispatched to General Albert Pike, the distinguished Indian Commissioner of the Confederate States, who established relations between his government and other Indians in the southwest, proposing on behalf of the nation to enter into a treaty of alliance with the Confederate States.

Gen. Albert Pike

photograph of Gen. Albert Pike

Major N. B. Pearce was made chief commissary of subsistance (six) for Indian Territory and Western Arkansas; Major G. N. Clarke Depot Quarter-Master. In the sequel of events, both appointments came to have significance rather unusual. The site chosen for this department headquarters was not far from Fort Gibson. The fortifications erected there received the name of Cantonment Davis.

Pike’s great purpose and perhaps it could with no exaggeration be said his only purpose throughout the full extent of his active connection with the Confederacy was to save to that Confederacy the Indian Territory.

The dispersion of Colonel John Drew’s Cherokees, when about to attack Opoeth-le-yo-ho-la, forced a slight reorganization and that, taken in connection with the assertions to the command that came m the interval before the Pea Ridge campaign, brought the force approximately to four regiments, two battalions, and some detached companies.

The four regiments were: the First Regiment Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles under Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, the First Creek Regiment under Colonel D. N. McIntosh, the First Regiment Cherokee Mounted Rifles under Colonel John Drew and the Second Regiment Cherokee Mounted Rifles under Colonel Stand Watie. The battalions were the Choctaw and Chickasaw and the Creek and Seminole, the latter under Lieutenant-Colonel Chilly Mclntosh and Major John Jumper.

Major-General Earl Van Dorn formally assumed command of the newly created Trans-Mississippi District of Department No 2 -January 29, 1861. He was at Little Rock, Arkansas. By February 6th. He had moved up to Jacksonport. His call for troops was; being promptly answered, requisition having been made upon all the state units within the district-Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Indian Territory through Pike and his subordinates was yet to be communicated with; but General Van Dorn had no other plan for Indian troops than to use them to advantage as a means of defense and as a corps of observation. He wanted to protect Arkansas against invasion.

To relieve Missouri, he planned to “attempt St. Louis,” and to drive the Federals out. It was his idea to carry the war, into the enemy’s country beyond the Ohio. His own schemes and plans were all rendered utterly futile. At Cantonment Davis, a Choctaw and Chickasaw battalion and the First Regiment had been furnished with arms and clothing.

The Battle of Pea Ridge was already fought, March 6-7-8, 1862. It was a three day fight. The real battle was the engagement at Leetown and at Elkhorn Tavern. At Leetown, Pike’s Cherokees played a very important part. The Indians then, as always, were chiefly pony-mounted, “entirely undisciplined” and “armed with common rifles and ordinary shot-guns.”battle of pea ridge arkansas

The Indian’s most effective work was done under cover of the woods. Indians, as Pike well knew, could never be induced to face shells in the open and it was without discounting, in the slightest, their innate bravery. He allowed Colonel Drew’s men to fight in a way that was their own fashion “with bow and arrow and with tomahawk.” The Indian war-whoop was indulged in, of itself enough to terrify.

The death of McCollough and Mclntosh made Pike the ranking officer in his part of the field. Colonel Watie’s men under orders from Van Dorn took position on the high ridges where they could watch the movements of the enemy and give timely notice of any attempt to turn the Confederate left flank. Colonel Drew’s regiment not receiving word to move forward, remained in the woods near Leetown but finding it deserted, they drew back towards Camp Stephens where they were soon joined by General Cooper with his regiment and battalion of Choctaws and Chickasaws and by two hundred men of Colonel Mclntosh’s regiment of Creeks.

To the very last of the Pea Ridge engagement, Stand Watie’s men were active. General Pike gave them permission to fight in their own fashion, specifically to the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles who were for the most part full blooded Indians, who had stipulated that they should be allowed to fight as they knew how. Colonel Waite and his regiment made their way to Camp Stephens. Some two hundred of Watie’s Indians were detailed to help take ammunition back to the main army.

The Year 1863 was critical

As with the war as a whole, so with that part of it waged on the Arkansas frontier; the year 1863 proved critical.

So far as my researches have extended, the Chickasaws were the first of the Indians to take official cognizance of the movement of the secession of the Southern States; for on January 5, 1861, both houses of the Chickasaw legislature passed a joint resolution instructing their Governor, Cyrus Harris, to appoint four commissioners for the Chickasaw nation to meet like commissioners representing Choctaws, Creeks, Cherokees and Seminole Indians. John Ross, the principal chief of the Cherokees, was opposed to a withdrawal from the Union, though at times he aided those who were for secession.

And the Supreme Court says that the hall of Congress furnished the last and only refuge of the Indians for that justice so long denied them.—Will a brighter day dawn for the Indians?

In 1911 the Legislature of the new State of Oklahoma honored itself in the passage of an act to place in the rotunda of the capitol, the Hall of Fame at Washington, D. C, a splended (sic) bronze statue of Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, as a famous man from that state. It is a strange thing that no alphabet in all the world reaches the dignity, the simplicity and the value of the Cherokee alphabet as invented by Sequoyah.

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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