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Chapter 29: in Caddo.

The Negro slaves were free; but free in a separate Indian country, in the midst of savage Indian camps!

In President Lincoln's proclamation not a word was said about the ten thousand Negroes who were then living as slaves on Indian soil. This country lies beyond the Pale. Only ten months after the battle of Pea Ridge the proclamation of freedom came out, but the heat and burthen of the strife had been so great on other fields, that people had forgotten how the war-whoop and the scalping-knife had been employed on Pea Ridge. In fact, the Red man's slaves were overlooked.

Alone with their late owners, and beyond the reach of help from Washington, what were the liberated slaves to do? In theory they were free; in substance they were only free to starve. They had no tents, no guns, no ponies. Not an acre of [294] the land belonged to them, nor had they now a place within the tribe. While they were overlooked on the Potomac, these Negroes found no change in their condition on the Arkansas and Red River. They are a feeble folk, these coloured people;. and their masters, though unwilling to face small bodies of White men, are ready to fight any number of Blacks. When news arrived at Fort Gibson and Fort Scott that the war was over and the Negroes emancipated, the Cherokee and Choctaw masters yielded with a sullen fury to their loss. They kicked the liberated Negroes from their camp.

Beyond the reach of help from Boston and New York, even if Boston and New York had means of helping them, how were the Blacks to live? In theory they were now free; but having neither tents nor lodges, where could they find a shelter from the snow and rain? Without guns and ponies, how were they to follow deer and elk? They had no nets for taking fish, no snares for catching birds. Having no place in any Indian tribe, they had no right to stay on any of the tribal lands. Nor were they dowered with the invention and resources of [295] men accustomed to the fight for life. Brought up with squaws, they had the ways of squaws. Set to dig roots, to cut wood, to pitch and pack tents, to dry and cure skins, they might dawdle through the day, sulking at their toil and muttering oaths below their breath. But with the task imposed on them they stopped. From labour of a larger kind, and from adventure with a dash of peril, they recoiled in laziness and fright. A Negro seldom rode a horse. Not many Negroes knew the use of firearms. Slaves were never trained by Indians to the chase; for hunting was the trade of freeborn braves, the pastime of warriors, seers and chiefs. A Negro rarely marched with the young braves, and never learnt to lie in wait for scalps. In Creek and Seminole creeds, a Negro was a squaw, and not a brave.

A life of servitude unfits a man for independent arts. Helpless as a pony or a papoose, the Negro was now cut adrift. While he remained a slave he had a place in tent and tribe, as part of a chiefs family; having ceased to be a slave, he lost his right of counting in the lodge, and sank into the grade of outcast. He belonged to no one. As an [296] alien he had no place in the system, and the country spewed him forth, a waif and stray, whom any man might chase and kill. For him there was no law, no court, no judge. In every other part of the United States a Negro was protected in his freedom; but the Indian country is a separate commonwealth, in which the White man's law has no effect. A Redskin has his rules; and while the Black men linger on his soil they must submit, even though the Redskin's rule should be enforced with poisoned arrow, pony-hoof, and salted fire.

The Creeks and Cherokees have borrowed some of the forms of civilised communities. They have assemblies, more or less comic; they have schools and justice-rooms, more or less comic. Some of the chiefs are hankering after private property in land. A few seem not unwilling that their boys should learn the English alphabet and the Christian Catechism. But none of these good things are open to the liberated slave, who still remains on Indian territory. A Negro casts no vote. He may not send his child to school, or ask a hearing in the justice-room. He never owns a rood of soil. When kicked from the Indian lodge, as an in--296 [297] truder, he is left to find such food and shelter as the waste supplies. Naked and free he wanders into space; he and the poor old squaw whom they have given to him as a wife. He dares not squat .on Indian ground, for though the President pronounces him a free man, his recent master has the power to kill him as before, and neither judge nor sheriff would attach that master for his blood.

What wonder that the liberated Negroes melt from the Indian soil, much as a herd of ponies turned into the waste might melt from the soil?

Some hundreds of these emancipated slaves have fled across the frontier into Arkansas and Texas; trusting to the White man's sense of justice for protection in the commoner sort of civil rights. But as a rule the poorer people in a district cannot seek new homes. Like plants and animals, they must brave their lot or sink into the soil. To many fugitives from Choctaw lodges and Chickasaw tents, Caddo has become a home.

The site on which these outcasts have squatted is a piece of ground abandoned by the Caddoes, a small and wandering tribelet, who in former days --whipt these creeks for fish and raked these woods [298] for game. Reduced in numbers, the Caddoes have moved into the Washita region, leaving their ancient hunting-fields to the coyotes and wolves. In theory the district lies in Choctaw country, but the Choctaws never occupied this valley, and the coming in of railway men, with teams and tools, induced the nearer families to move their lodges farther back. Caddo, abandoned to the iron horse and liberated slave, became a town. A Negro has no legal right to squat in Caddo, but squatting is the game of folks who stand outside the ordinary law. Others, besides unemancipated slaves, show a taste for squatting. Have we not here the “ Oklahoma Star,” edited by a man who is neither Choctaw, Negro, nor Zambo, but a free rover of the waste, a literary Rob Roy?

Barring accidents, the “Star” comes out once a week. On asking for last week's issue we learn that no paper appeared last Friday morning, “owing to the illness of our printer.” Some experience of the press having taught me that press faults are always due to the printer, I enquire no further, but on turning to the current sheet my eyes rest on a paragraph which explains the matter. Granville [299] McPherson appears to be editor of the “ Star,” and Granville McPherson was at Fort Washita last week, on his wedding trip. These facts I find announced to the people of Caddo, and to all the happy hunting-fields between Red River and Limestone Gap:

“ When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for the editor of a public journal to chronicle to an anxious and waiting world the glad tidings of his own nuptials, modesty would dictate that it be done in as few words as the solemnity of the occasion will admit. Adhering to this principle, we will simply say that on the eighteenth instant, at Fort Washita, C. N. Granville McPherson, of the Indian Territory, and Mrs. Lydia Star Hunter, of Oskaloosa, were united in the holy bonds of matrimony ... Well, strange things will happen sometimes, and why not with us as well any?”

Strange tilings will happen! Yes, strange things indeed. To gain a right of settlement in the Choctaw country, Granville McPherson should have taken to himself a Choctaw bride, instead of whom he has married irs. Star Hunter, of Oskaloosa, Iowa. Granville has fallen to his fate. How could an [300] editor of the “Oklahoma Star” escape being run down, when a widow called Mrs. Star Hunter was in chase?

Caddo, as might be expected from her origin, is radical, not to say revolutionary, in her politics. The Negroes and their Zambo offspring not being Indians, and having no part in the Indian system, the people of Caddo wish to change the whole existing order of things — the separate Indian nationality; the distribution of Indians into tribes and families; the exclusion of strangers from the Indian country; the abolition of Indian blood-feuds, despotic chiefs, and the common property in land.

“What do you want to have done by way of change?” I ask a Negro politician.

“By way of change?” replies the Black radical. “Let us change everything. We want to put down tribes, to found a regular government, to open the Territory to labour and capital, to abolish the rule of chiefs, the sale of squaws, and the common property in land. That's what we want for others; but we want a few things also for ourselves. Well, hear ·.me out. As yet we have acquired no rights. You find us here in Caddo, but we are living here by sufferance, 3co [301] not by right. We have no title in our fields. At any hour we may be driven away, without being paid a cent for the improvements we have made.”

“Some of the Choctaw chiefs tell me they will act justly towards you.”

“ Yes; so they may; but who will make them? We require a good deal more than promises from chiefs. We want the right to vote, the right to hold offices, the right to own land, the right to sit on juries, the right to send our lads to school. We should like to have these rights secured to us by Acts of Congress, not by promises of Choctaw chiefs.”

Such are the politics of Caddo, a hamlet peopled by Negroes and Zambos; such the principles of the “Oklahoma Star,” a paper edited by a journalistic Rob Roy.

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